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Daisy Oak is precisely six years, nine months and thirteen days old, and for the third time today she's feeling weird.

She keeps very exact track of her age because her grandpa is a scientist, which is pretty much the coolest job you can have, and he always keeps track of everything. He's the one who taught her how to count, during one of the many weeks in which her parents had been busy travelling around Kanto and Johto for business matters Daisy didn't understand (or care about) and had left her with her grandpa in Pallet Town. This has been happening more and more often recently, so often that Daisy has almost gotten used to her mum and dad not being around. It sounds scary, but she's not a tiny kid anymore.

She also keeps very exact track of when she's feeling weird, because, well, this is also something that has been happening more and more often.

The first time today was early this morning when her mum helped her to get dressed, and like every day, Daisy's had this lingering impression that there is something off with the clothes in her wardrobe, as if they're slowly turning into costumes that make her look different than she actually is. She's tried to ask for other clothes, but her mum usually ends up buying what she thinks looks best. It's not like Daisy hates being pretty; in fact, she just doesn't particularly care about it. Nonetheless, it's making her feel weird.

The second time was just a few minutes ago, when her dad had told her that little girls shouldn't play in the mud, she'd get her new white skirt all dirty. Now the last part she understands, because dirty clothes mean more work for her parents, even though she really doesn't mind wearing a muddy skirt if that means she can keep playing with her grandpa's Psyduck. It's the first part that bothers her – her dad said 'little girls', not 'you', and what makes him think that Daisy Oak is like all the other little girls?

And the third time she's feeling weird is, well, right now, while being introduced to her new neighbour and wearing a very dirty skirt, Psyduck hiding behind her legs.

“This is our daughter, Daisy,” her dad says while patting her head. “Daisy, this is Red. He and his mother just moved in today. We thought the two of you could get to know each other. He's going to Pallet Primary School this autumn, like you.”

Daisy can't really tell where the weird feeling comes from this time, so she tries to forget it and examines the new kid, Red, instead. He's supposed to be as old as her, but he looks much smaller, and his face is half-hidden under a giant baseball cap. He does look at her, though – or rather, stares – and his eyes are an interesting shade of reddish brown. Daisy realises that, since they're going to go to school together, this is probably the first kid her age she meets who she won't be forced to leave behind because her parents have to move again.

Suddenly she really, really wants to be his friend.

“Red can't speak, honey,” her mum tells her quietly. “Be nice to him, yeah?”

Daisy nods and picks up the Psyduck.

“Come on,” she says with a smile that she hopes doesn't look too weird. “We can play in Gramps' garden.”

Red follows her wordlessly while their parents keep making small talk.

And Daisy doesn't feel weird at all for the rest of the day until it's time to change into her Chansey pyjamas.

 

 

They meet up pretty much every day of summer before school starts, and Daisy gets to find out that talking to someone who doesn't speak isn't that hard once you start listening with your eyes. She also gets to find out that Red likes climbing trees (which she's very good at), doesn't mind getting his clothes dirty either, and he has a way of handling pokémon she's never seen before. They instantly trust him, even the Eevee she had to spend long days and nights gently coaxing out of its figurative shell until it even allowed her to feed it.

She's more than a little impressed, and when she tells him, Red smiles and looks away. He smiles a lot, at her and at the pokémon, and sometimes at nothing at all, which is kind of strange. But in the best way possible.

 

 

One of the greatest things about Red, Daisy realises one day, is that he doesn't call her Daisy.

The realisation hits her like a Snorlax rolling downhill after she and her parents have been over at an aunt's house in Vermillion City for the traditional family summer barbecue. Her mum and dad saved the date months ago to plan their busy work schedules accordingly, they put her into a nice dress that feels even more like a disguise than her Chansey pyjamas, and since she's the youngest Oak kid, all she hears that afternoon is Daisy here, Daisy there, Daisy, Daisy, Daisy, until she does't even recognise the name anymore and it just sounds all twisted and wrong.

She doesn't try to put her relief into words when they come home in the early evening and Red is sitting on their front porch, petting the Psyduck and grinning at her arrival, and she doesn't have to hear her name again until her dad calls for dinner.

 

 

The first time Red invites her over, she's a little bit nervous. Originally they had planned to continue the little treehouse they'd been building for a newly moved-in Spearow family on her grandpa's property, but half an hour into their diligent work the sky had exploded into a heavy summer rainfall, and quickly the tree was too wet to hold on even for a Mankey, let alone two six year-old kids. Daisy suggested they seek shelter in her house, but Red had shaken his head and motioned her along until they reached his place.

And here she is now, soaking wet on the doorstep of a house she doesn't really know anything about.

Red's mum opens and ushers them inside. Daisy introduces herself politely like she was taught to, then takes a curious peek at the living room before following Red upstairs to his room. The house appears to be empty aside from the three of them, which makes Daisy wonder. Where is Red's dad? Does he have one? She's not sure if she should feel sorry for him – is it better to have only one parent who is always there, or two who aren't around even half the time?

Either way, Red's mum – Alexandra, as she calls herself – seems nice enough: she makes hot chocolate for them, brings them towels, advises Daisy to have Red lend her some dry clothes, and then leaves them alone.

Red's room is exactly like Daisy thought it would be – not full of stuff, but really cool, with only a few toys lying around, completely different from her own room that is cluttered with books and toys and other things that make her feel vaguely suffocated. While she's busy admiring the picture of a giant Snorlax that has been cut out from a newspaper article, Red walks over to his closet and opens the door. He gestures towards it and waits for her to catch on.

“Can I choose whatever?”

A nod and a smile.

“Sweet!”

Red has some really great t-shirts in his wardrobe, and a mere two minutes later they've both changed into something dry and are lying on the soft carpet, playing 'pokémon battle' with a Nidorina plushie and a Dragonite action figurine. Daisy makes the Dragonite fly through the air.

“Man, that's so cool,” she says because she really can't think of a more fitting adjective. “You're cool, Red.”

Red smiles and looks away, which she has learnt translates into a shy 'thank you'.

Outside, the rain has turned into a soft spray, barely making any noise at all.

 

 

It's three days before they're supposed to start going to school. They're sitting on Red's bed and not really doing much except for eating grapes and occasionally throwing one at the other's face. Daisy's wearing Red's clothes again, like she always does when they're at his house – they just feel much more comfortable than what she has in her closet. Sometimes Red then tries on Daisy's clothes, which she thinks fit him way better than her, but today he's kind of just staring off into space.

When the next grape she flicks just narrowly misses his left ear, Daisy sighs.

“I don't really like my name,” she confesses.

Red's glance turns to her with an obvious question mark on his face.

“It's just...” She gestures vaguely into nothingness. “I need a new one, okay? And you've gotta help me.”

There's something pleading in her voice that she didn't intend to be there, and it makes the whole thing sound far too serious. Thankfully, Red doesn't pry further and just leans forward to listen.

“Let's see.” She doesn't know many names; she's usually bad at remembering them, but they have to start somewhere. “Gramps' name is Samuel. Sam is a good name. Right?”

Red tilts his head to the side. He doesn't seem convinced.

“Okay, okay. Maybe... Alex? Like your mum?”

Vehement head-shaking. She sniggers.

“Yeah, I get it. Wouldn't want your best friend having the same name as your mum.” She thinks about the trainer battles they saw on TV this afternoon. “What about, uh. Will?”

They go over a few other ideas, but none of them seem to really fit her. She's on the verge of giving up and settling for Daisy, as wrong as it sounds, when a pile of colouring crayons on the desk catches her eye.

“Wait,” she says, even though Red wasn't going to say anything anyway. “Your name is Red, right?”

He nods, unsure where she's going with that. She grins triumphantly.

“Then I'll be Green,” she declares.

Red opens his mouth, then closes it again and looks to the side, deep in thought. After a few seconds, he finally nods, an approving smile forming on his face.

“That's settled then! From now on, I'll be known as Green!”

 

 

“Daisy Oak?”

Green flinches in her seat. Only three days, and already she's starting to actually hate her given name, even though no-one except for Red knows that, and Red doesn't call her anything either way.

She stands up to face the teacher. “That's me,” she says, and, after a deep breath, “though, if you don't mind, I'd really like to be called Green.”

The teacher looks up from his list, mildly confused. “Oh, but Daisy is such a nice name. I'm sure you'll end up liking it eventually.”

Green shakes her head and tries not to avert her eyes, but she knew it, she knew grown-ups were going to make everything more complicated than it needs to be –

The chair next to her scrapes over the floor as Red gets to his feet. He's not doing anything at all except for standing next to her and staring at the teacher. Still, somehow, the entire room has gone very quiet.

After almost a minute of eye contact, just when Green is sure she can't bear the tension any longer, it's fine, just call her Daisy, she doesn't want to cause trouble on her very first day, the teacher suddenly nods and clears his throat.

“Well, if it means that much to you. Green Oak it is, yes? I'll make a note on the list for the other teachers. I suppose we could say it's like... like a nickname. Alright?”

Green nods. “Thank you,” she says to him, but her eyes are on Red who quietly sits down in his chair again.

After the lesson, which has been mainly about trying to learn all the names by heart and drawing a picture of the kid next to you to get to know them better, Green gets ready to follow Red out of the room when the teacher calls her back to his desk. She's half-expecting to get scolded for the name thing earlier, but surprisingly he doesn't mention it at all.

“So, Green,” is what he says. “The boy who's sitting next to you – Red – he's your friend, right?”

She nods vigorously. No doubt about that.

“Good. His mother told me that he can't speak. I was wondering – since you already know him, could you help him participate in class, maybe, and also help him make friends?” He smiles. “That would be very nice of you, Green.”

Green's a little bit confused about the fact that Red would ever have to rely on her help, especially when making friends – who wouldn't want to be friends with someone as cool as Red? She promises to do her best nonetheless.

And, if she's honest, it does fill her with a strange sort of pride to think that Red might actually need her.

 

 

Soon enough, Green finds out that their teacher's concern might not have been unjustified.

It happens some time during their first week at school. Green and Red have quickly fallen into a kind of symbiosis where Green would speak up for Red every time he wanted to say something in class, and in return he'd let her borrow his clothes. (Green's not sure if the two things balance each other out, but then again, she wouldn't be able to say which one's worth more.) One day during lunch break she decides that it's time for them to meet new people, and even though Red doesn't seem to agree completely, she still manages to convince him to come along.

She walks up to three kids who are busy playing with some pokémon figurines they brought from home.

“Go, Cubone,” says one of them. “Hyper Beam!”

“Oh no!”, exclaims the other. “Not Hyper Beam!” He makes his Snorlax figurine tip over in defeat.

“Actually,” Green intervenes before she can help herself, “Cubone doesn't even learn Hyper Beam. Also there's no way a Snorlax would faint from that.”

“Really? Ha!” says the boy with the Snorlax and immediately resurrects his pokémon. The first kid frowns.

“How do you know this?” she asks.

“My grandpa is a pokémon professor.” Green makes sure to put enough emphasis on those words. “He knows all about pokémon, and he lets me stay in his lab and tells me stuff about his research.”

“Cool,” the third kid pipes up. “What's your name, again?”

“I'm Green,” Green says. “And this is Red, my best friend. Can we play with you? I can tell you more about pokémon.”

The last part of what she says seems to go unheard, though, because at the mention of Red all three heads turn towards him immediately.

“Hey,” says Snorlax kid. It doesn't sound friendly. “You're that weird guy who doesn't talk, right?”

Green looks at Red, who looks at Green. Were they seriously expecting him to answer?

“He's not weird,” Green explains. “Yeah, he doesn't talk, but he has a really cool room, and he's good at climbing trees, and-”

“I heard he doesn't have a dad,” Cubone girl interrupts him. Green is starting to get irritated.

“How is that important? My parents are never around either. Can we play with you or not?”

“Well, lunch break is almost over,” says the third kid, just as Snorlax boy mumbles “We don't have enough toys for five people anyway”, which are both lies, but Green is quickly getting too angry to care.

“Let's go, Red,” she hisses and drags him away from them. “Their loss. We don't need them.”

Red nods weakly, even though they both know she's the one who wanted to have new friends in the first place.

 

 

Learning how to read is fun for Green, but it's nowhere near as mind-blowing as learning how to write is for Red. It has opened up a completely new world of communication for him, since Pallet Town doesn't have anyone who could have taught him sign language, and Green just kind of got used to listening to his face. Now Red can speak without saying anything, so he completely throws himself into understanding how to attach letters to one another so they can form words, sentences, entire stories.

The better Red gets at writing, the better Green gets at reading what he writes, since she's usually the one who's most interested in what he has to say. She also gets better at correcting his mistakes – proofreading is easier if you can say the words aloud, after all – and they sometimes spend entire afternoons just lying on the soft carpet of Red's room or sitting in Gramps' backyard and passing back and forth a piece of paper. In the beginning, of course, they both don't know nearly enough letters or words to say anything significant, and sometimes it's just the same sentence over and over again. However as time progresses, they come pretty far.

So far, in fact, that nearing the end of the school year, their teacher once again asks Green to come talk to him after the lesson, just like on their very first day, except that this time, it's not about Red, it's about her.

He tells her how far ahead of everyone she is at reading and writing, how good she is at maths, as well (since Gramps taught her about numbers a long time ago), how he has the feeling she might be a little bit bored sometimes in class, and wouldn't she like to go ahead and skip second grade completely to study with the big kids next year?

“They won't be that big, actually,” he explains, smiling the entire time. “You're seven and a half now, and most of them will be eight. That's not a big difference.”

Green doesn't really know what to say. Pride, confusion and fear are too many things to feel at once. “What about Red?” she finally manages.

“Red will be fine,” he reassures her. “It's great to see you two being such good friends, but that shouldn't stop you from progressing at school. You have a lot of potential, you know.”

At the end of the day, Green still says no (mostly because she remembers the rejection and the insults Red had to face all year and is pretty positive that no, he will not be fine without her, and partly because she isn't sure she'd be fine without him, either), but once again her teacher has managed to just presume something she'd never even considered before.

Who'd ever have thought that Red might be stopping her progress?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It's the first week of third grade, and Green is feeling sick.

She can't really tell what's wrong with her – she's spent all summer with Red, just like the summer before that, and like all of first and second grade, and it's all been as usual, so it can't be that. Her Grandpa says she has a little bit of a fever, maybe she's nervous for the new school year.

Or rather, filled with dread, Green darkly thinks as she chews on the thermometer.

It's not that she doesn't like being friends with Red. She still thinks he's really cool and all. It's just that nobody else seems to think that, and after two school years of being politely ignored by her classmates in the best case and openly antagonised in the worst, it gets a little bit much. On top of that, it doesn't even have anything to do with her, it's just because she happens to be friends with Red that they don't like her, and she knows she shouldn't be thinking that, but the fever makes her brain go sluggish, and it really doesn't help having a friend like Red who not only makes her look weird but has to rely entirely on her to defend him.

It's also getting harder to convince people not to call her Daisy.

When they were in first grade, everyone had assumed it was just a little kid's fantasy, having a different, cool name that they got to choose by themselves, and as a result most people had indulged her and gone with her new name. Now however, Green being almost nine years old, they're starting to question her motivations and expecting her to grow out of her childish habits. The worst is that when asked by some new teacher or antagonistic classmate why she insist on being called Green instead of Daisy, she can't even give them a good answer, can't articulate how increasingly strange it's been for her lately to wake up in her room, get dressed, got to school, and have people call her 'young girl' and 'little lady' and 'granddaughter' and, worst of all, Daisy, always Daisy. The only people who even call her Green anymore are her very first teacher, some classmates who probably simply got used to it, her grandpa who says he doesn't really get it, but he respects her wishes, and of course Red, whenever he feels the need to write her name down. And even though it worked well in the beginning, not even the name Green can shield her anymore from the growing feeling of not fitting, of not being good enough, of not being what everyone – what she herself – expects her to be.

She isn't sure if being afraid can cause a fever, but if it could, she really wouldn't be surprised.

Her sickness gets worse over the course of the week, then surprisingly better on Saturday, so Gramps doesn't let any visitors in and has her rest a little before sending her back to school on Monday. She's expected Red to secure her a seat next to him; what she doesn't expect is for him to jump to his feet as soon as she sets foot through the classroom door, run over to her and hug her as though his life depends on it. Usually Red isn't one for physical contact, and Green has to say she feels a little awkward with all the kids staring at that weird boy hugging that weird girl, but just thinking that sentence makes her skin crawl, and on top of that Red is pretty good at hugging, so she just concentrates on that.

“Miss me?” she quips. It's supposed to come out as a joke, but Red nods earnestly into her hair, and she suddenly feels a little bad about not even calling him, even though Gramps must have told him she was far too feverish to even form a proper sentence.

Only now does she notice that the chair to the other side of Red isn't empty like the last two years, but occupied by a girl she's never seen before, with long brown hair, a funny hat and a very big grin.

“Who is that?” Not really expecting an answer, she gets Red to let go of her, walks over to her seat and tries to look as intimidating as possible. “Hey, you! If you're sitting there to annoy Red, that's not happening, so move over.”

The girl doesn't stop smiling as she says, “Nah, don't worry, we're friends. He told me about you.” She extends her hand. “I'm Leaf. I'm new here. You were sick last week, so you didn't get to meet me.”

Green glances over to Red in order to confirm what the girl – Leaf – said, and after Red nods curtly, she shakes her hand.

“The name's Green,” she says with emphasis. “Some people around here call me Daisy, but they're all stupid anyway.”

“Yeah, I know,” Leaf agrees. “People can be really stupid sometimes.”

Against her will, Green smiles. “I like her,” she says to Red. “So, how on earth did you get yourself a friend?”

 

 

It doesn't take Green very long at all to warm up to Leaf. Being friends with a girl is pretty cool, especially since Green herself feels so weirded out every time other people treat her like one, and Leaf can actually help her talk back against those kids who still feel the need to make fun of Red's lack of speech or her self-picked name and increasing tendency to just flat-out take clothes from Red's wardrobe and slowly give away most of her own closet's content to Leaf. (Red's mum does get a little bit suspicious about that, but luckily she doesn't pry too much and instead makes it a point to take her son shopping a little bit more often.)

Green also suspects that Leaf is stronger than her because Leaf actually really doesn't seem to mind being friends with two weirdos.

Either way, after proving she's good at climbing trees and sneaking into kitchens to steal peanut butter jars, Leaf is officially part of the group, so she's allowed to come hang out in Red's cool bedroom.

“Whoa!” is the first thing she says when she enters. “You have so many pillows! Awesome!” With no warning at all, she picks one up and throws it at Red's face, who freezes for two seconds, then hurries to chuck it back. Green really wants to join in, but first she has to find that cool sweater of Red's that he never lets her keep even though it's way too large for him. She quickly pulls it over her head, then starts throwing the Nidorina and Lapras plushies at Leaf's arms.

Within five minutes, they've managed to make Red's room look far more disastrous than it actually is. Green flops down on a pile of cushions on the ground.

“Aren't you gonna help tidy this up?” Leaf scolds while trying to rearrange the plushies on the shelf.

“Why?” Green drawls. “You started it, so you can clean up.”

Leaf sticks her tongue out and plops down next to her. Red joins them, a lot less upset about the state of his room than Leaf.

“Why do you always wear Red's clothes, anyways?”

Green considers the question. “Dunno. It feels more comfortable.”

“But...” Leaf is searching for words. “They're boy's clothes.”

“Well, you don't always wear skirts, do you?”

“No,” she concedes, “but I wear trousers made for girls. There's a difference!”

Green sits up abruptly, dislodging Red's hand that had been wandering into her hair. “Well, if you mind so much, you'll have to leave, because I'm not changing anytime soon!”

Leaf raises her hands up in defence. “No, no! Calm down. I don't mind or anything. I was – I'm trying to understand, okay?” She curls up into a ball and rests her head on her knees. “I mean, you don't like your name and you don't like your clothes, so... Do you not like being a girl, maybe?”

Green stares at her, jaw slack. Out of pure instinct, she scoots back a little and bumps against Red in the process, who lays a steady hand on her shoulder. Leaf immediately back-pedals.

“Did I say something wrong? Oh no, Green, you're all pale – Look, let's just forget I ever said anything, okay? You wear whatever clothes you want, and you'll have whatever name you want.” She forces a grin and taps her head. “I'm stupid.”

Green can't say it, can't put into words how close to home that actually hit, so she just nods her head and tries to remember what she'd usually say in such a situation.

“Yeah, you're stupid all right,” she sneers without actually feeling it. “Now, how about we play with Red's pokémon cards? I get Zapdos!”

Green knows that Leaf might actually forget this incident, but not Red, never Red, so she doesn't look at him for the entire rest of the day, and the day after that, just to be safe.

 

 

The teacher for their last lesson is sick today, and Leaf, Green and Red have planned to meet up in the park to play with Green's new football, so Green makes a quick little detour to her house to fetch it, and maybe some pecha juice, while she's there. Her parents have been home for a few days for a change, even though Green hasn't seen them much because she has to go to school, and if she's honest with herself, she doesn't really mind. After all, they insist on calling her Daisy and shout at her when she doesn't listen and keep telling her that she should give her clothes back to their neighbour kid, doesn't she have enough things of her own in her wardrobe?

The ball is lying around in the backyard, so she secures it under her arm and makes her way towards the house. The back door is open, much to her relief; that means she won't have to ring the bell and risk running into her dad who might criticise her for wearing Red's trousers again. She makes her way towards the kitchen when she hears muffled voices from the living room, one of them sounding like Gramps, the other like a very upset version of her mother.

She tells herself it's bad to eavesdrop on people. Then she decides that she really doesn't care.

“It's just, we've spent so much time apart, I don't see much hope to reconnect with her, you know?” her mum is saying.

“Well, that's your own fault!” That's Gramps. Green's surprised at how angry he sounds. “Both of you could have chosen to spend more time with your kid!”

“We have full-time jobs, Samuel. That's not something you can just quit for having a daughter!”

“Yes, but you're two people. You could have split the time, shared the work...”

Her mum sighs; it sounds deeply exasperated. “That's not how it works. You know I've never wanted a child this early, I... I wanted to live a bit, pursue my career, travel the world, that sort of thing.”

“Then you could've – ”

“Yes, I could've!” her mother suddenly screams. Green flinches in the hallway. “I – We could have done many things, but the point is, we didn't. You promised me you'd always support my choices no matter what, right?”

“Of course I do!” Gramps shouts back, albeit quieter already. “I basically raised your child for you while you were busy living your dreams!”

“Then you'll agree that you'd be a much better guardian for her than us, don't you?” Gramps makes a sound like he wants to say something, but her mother cuts him off. “Please, Samuel. We've been bad parents for too long, and now the common ground has slipped away. We have nothing to build on anymore. It's in everyone's best interest if you just – ”

“Take her off your hands? Are those the words you're looking for?”

Her mother's following silence is worse than anything she could have said. Green's heard enough. Without even bothering to try and be quiet, she runs past her dad who's just coming back from the kitchen, out of the hallway, out of the front door, runs until her lungs hurt, until she reaches the park where Leaf and Red are sitting on the swings.

“Green!” Leaf exclaims and jumps off her swing in an elegant arc. “There you are! You got the ball?”

Green nods and tries to catch her breath. “I forgot the pecha juice though.”

Then she breaks out into tears.

Leaf is fast, but when it comes to Green, Red is just a little bit faster. In an instant, he's pulled her into a tight hug, and something in the back of her mind tells Green that two hugs over the span of not even a year, that's way more than she deserves, the weird Not-Daisy, the little unwanted child everyone just tries to get rid of, so she sobs a little louder to drown out those thoughts. Instead, she concentrates on Leaf stroking her hair, and Red rubbing her back, and she really is overall lucky with the two friends she has, isn't she?

 

 

“Red, Leaf, I need you to cut my hair,” Green announces one day when they're walking home from school.

Red nods like he's expected something like this, but Leaf is curious by nature, so she asks questions. Not the best trait, really, but also not the worst.

“What? Us? Why don't you get your grandpa to take you to the hairdresser?”

“When I told him I want to have it short, and I mean like, really, really short, he said no. So,” Green throws her arms out at the brilliant plan, “I'll have you two cut it, and then he'll have to take me to the hairdresser to make it look more or less presentable again!”

“Hey!” Leaf looks hurt. “Are you saying you doubt our ability at cutting your hair into something more or less presentable?”

Red gives her an eloquent deadpan look, and Green nods. “What he said.”

Leaf sighs. “Okay. Let's do this then.”

Green has picked the perfect day, really – it's Friday, which means that one, Red's mum is out all afternoon for grocery shopping, so they can use her bathroom and scissors, and two, Green will still have all of Saturday to go to the hairdresser and get an actual haircut. It's a foolproof plan.

Or at least that's what she keeps telling herself when she stares at her reflection in the bathroom mirror, Red and Leaf on either side of her chair, each a pair of scissors in hand.

“You're holding them wrong!”

“...”

“Of course, there's tons of ways to hold scissors – Green! Stop moving your head!”

“...”

“Red, you need to look at what I'm doing. Seriously, you're cutting it way shorter than I am!”

“...”

In the end, it doesn't actually look too bad. Red did cut his side a lot shorter than Leaf, but they comb some of her hair over, and it forms a kind of fringe that Green could honestly get used to.

“So, what do you think?” Leaf asks, clearly admiring her own handiwork while Red is already fetching the vacuum cleaner to destroy the evidence before his mother comes home.

“Eh,” says Green, trying to cover up how much this actually means to her. “Could be worse, I guess.”

Of course, Gramps doesn't really agree with her, and she has to endure a stern lecture about listening to your elders, but at least he doesn't ground her, and they do go to the hairdresser on Saturday.

 

 

“What are you gonna be when you get older?” Leaf asks one evening. They're having a sleepover at Red's house; Green brought her Chansey pyjamas, but she snatched one of Red's t-shirts as soon as it was time to change, and now Red's the one wearing them. It would look nice if the colour didn't horribly clash with his eyes.

“Why do you ask that?” Green takes a sip of milk. “That's the kind of question only grown-ups ask. And then they don't even really listen to your answer.”

“Well, I was thinking about the future the other day,” Leaf explains, “and I don't really know much about what I like to do, so I thought – I could go on a pokémon journey!”

“You? Really?”

She huffs. “Why not? Many people do it after middle school or high school. It's supposed to be really cool.”

“Okay, but we've gotta come with you, Red and me,” Green says. “There's no way you can do this alone.”

“Yeah, I was kind of counting on you.” She hugs the Gengar pillow. “Just imagine! We'll all get different starter pokémon, and make really strong teams, and then we're going to battle each other and go camping and catch stuff in the Safari Zone! It's going to be amazing!”

“Huh, I don't know,” Green says, looking over to Red. Unsurprisingly, his face looks about as enthusiastic as Leaf sounds. “What, you wanna do that too?”

He nods vigorously. Green sighs.

“Well then. We'll do this. But only after finishing middle school, okay? Gramps says education is important.”

Red rolls his eyes, as if saying, of course, we all know middle school is mandatory and your grandpa is clever, no need to brag about it.

Leaf drags her finger over the Gengar pillow's mouth.

“I'm going to feed my pokémon peanut butter sandwiches every day,” she declares. “And they're gonna love me.”

 

 

One day, Green Oak, now eleven years old, about to finish fifth grade and, therefore, primary school, wakes up, looks into the mirror and decides it's time he stopped lying to himself.

Red is the first one he tells – of course it's Red, who's never left him alone, never disappointed him even once, even though he's sometimes wished he could speak, only so they wouldn't have both their weirdnesses to deal with, but right now, he's thankful for the silence. Red lets him talk, lets him spill all of the things that have been piling up inside Green, the weird feeling, the not-fitting, the discrepancy that seemed to blur and distort his contours every time others looked at him, every time he looked at himself, like he was looking at a caricature, a bad copy, at something that wasn't even real. And of course, he's told Red about these things before, but never all at once, and never with so much desperation, and it's not long before he's crying a little bit, but he keeps talking, and Red keeps listening. Green isn't sure he's ready to go back to his house and his room just yet, so Red lets him stay overnight, and they both sleep in his bed, which doesn't really make things easier, but it doesn't make them worse either.

Leaf is the next one, the day right after, as they sit in the park which has kind of become their sanctuary, since most of the other kids pretend to be too grown-up to play there by now. Green doesn't cry this time, but Leaf still hugs him very hard and says that since she's now officially the only girl in their group, they'll have to be extra nice to her and buy her ice cream and let her have the first pick when they play with their pokémon cards, and Green doesn't even try to hide how relieved he is that his two best and only friends don't want to leave him.

Third in line is Gramps, which isn't nearly as easy. Green actually prepares a little speech which he practices with Red a few times beforehand, and he's quite proud of himself that when he recites it to his grandpa, his voice shakes only a little bit. Still, it takes far more courage than Green thought he could ever have to stand the thoughtful, scrutinising gaze of his grandfather, who can look quite intimidating if he wants to, and the minute they spend in silence is probably the longest sixty seconds of his life so far.

“Well,” Gramps finally says, “my colleagues are going to be very surprised when I start talking to them about my grandson tomorrow, that's for sure.” He then mumbles something about legal papers and how he hopes Green better not change his name again, it's starting to get confusing at his age, then pauses to ruffle Green's hair and says how he's proud of him for telling him about this, it probably wasn't easy, and if he'd like some other clothes or a new haircut, just ask him about it, no need to pester poor Red, right, kiddo?

And really, Green feels too happily numb to do anything other than nod.

This is actually where the smooth sailing ends, at least for now. Green doesn't bother trying to tell any of his teachers or correct their pronouns, just focuses on getting done with school as fast as possible. Fifth grade is almost over, and so is primary school, which means that in a few week's time, he will get to start over anyway. Red and Leaf are very good at helping him drown out whatever little the other kids have to say to him, and since all of them are so excited to get out of Pallet Town into one of the cool middle schools in Saffron or Cerulean or even Celadon, nobody really pays attention to him anyway. Green already knows that he, Red and Leaf are probably going to middle school in Viridian City, which is not the most popular since it's so close by and has such high standards, but all three of them have pretty good grades so he's sure they'll make it just fine.

He tries not to think too much about what his teachers said, that Red needs his help and slows him down in his progress, that Leaf is just riding along on his success, that they're a bad influence for his academic career, because they're also the best friends he could wish for, and how could success ever matter more than that?

 

 

“Green, do you have time to talk for a second?”

The suspiciously nonchalant and conversational tone that his grandpa has picked makes Green listen up immediately. He follows him into the living room and flops down on the sofa. “Yeah, what is it, Gramps?”

His grandpa sits across from him and presses his fingertips together. “Have you thought about hormone replacement therapy?”

Green blinks. “What. Gramps, we don't have advanced science in fifth grade. What on earth are you talking about?”

“Of course, of course not. Sorry.” He rubs his forehead. “Hormones are... messenger substances in your body that influence you in certain ways. When you're feeling sleepy, or happy, or excited, that's because of hormones.” He pauses for a second. “When most boys get beards and deep voices when they grow up, and most girls don't, that's because of hormones as well.”

Green can sense where this is going, but his grandpa is going to have to be a little bit more precise than that. “So?”

“Well, as certain as you seem to be about being a boy, your body won't really understand that on its own.” He sighs and levels his gaze back at his grandson. “What I'm trying to say is, if you want to look like a man when you're grown up, we will need a doctor to give you extra hormones to help you out. I know it's a very big step to take, and you really don't need to decide about that anytime soon, but they say the earlier you start it, the easier it is, so I just wanted to tell you about the option. Either way, we'll have to go see a specialist before we can start any actual therapy. Just... think about it.”

 

 

“And then he says 'just think about it' and leaves me sitting on the sofa!” Green exclaims. “Like, what am I even supposed to think about? I have no clue what this is going to be like!”

“Wait,” says Leaf. “Hold on a sec. They can make you look all manly by injecting you with weird stuff? Seriously? How awesome is that? Green, that's basically like becoming a superhero! Don't pass up that opportunity!”

“Yeah, I don't think that what it's gonna be.” Green turns his head. “What do you think, Red?”

Red tilts his head to the side and squeezes Green's shoulder.

“Yeah, I know I've gotta do what I think is right, but,” he sighs, “how do I decide that? I don't know anything about this, and I kind of doubt that's the stuff they're gonna teach us in middle school.”

His best friend just raises an eyebrow.

“I guess you're right,” Green concedes. “I need to talk to that 'specialist' before I can make any actual decision, otherwise I'm just going to worry forever.”

Leaf stares at them. “Just... I mean, I know you two are basically soulmates, but how on earth can you read his thoughts so well?”

Green throws Red a grin. “Trial, error and lots of practice since age six. You're getting pretty good too though, I've gotta say.” Red nods in agreement. “Either way, I guess what doesn't sit well with me is...” He runs a hand through his wonderfully short hair. “I am who I am, right? Why would I have to change what I look like just to meet people's expectations?”

That gets them thinking for a bit.

“I guess you don't have to,” Leaf finally says while Red starts scribbling something on a piece of paper. “But it'll probably make things a lot easier if you don't have to up and explain to every single person – if your looks can help people make the right assumption. Sure, it'd be better if they didn't assume anything at all, but,” she makes a dismissive hand gesture, “that's like, really unrealistic. In the end, it's your call, though.”

“Holy popsicle cake, Leaf, that was deep.” Green shoves her playfully. “Someone's been getting smart lately.”

She sticks her tongue out at him, and he responds in kind before reading what Red wrote down.

You might feel better about yourself when you look in a mirror and see what you want to see, it says.

“Have you two been eating fortune cookies for breakfast or what?” he jokes before growing serious again. “Though, uh, Red. I've gotta ask – don't answer if you don't wanna – but... If there was an operation that would make you be able to talk, would you do it?”

Red looks so startled to be put on the spot that Green almost regrets asking, but he doesn't pull back. Leaf seems also really interested, if her silence is any indication. A few moments pass before Red looks down and shakes his head, then writes something on the piece of paper.

But I'm not you.

Green shouldn't be surprised, and really, he isn't.

 

 

His meeting with this specialist person goes better than expected – he and Gramps had to go all the way to Saffron to find a good psychologist, but she's nice and explains everything in simple, practical terms and, probably best of all, doesn't question his feelings even once, and Green's starting to think that maybe, maybe this isn't as much of a dilemma as he'd thought it would be. Red tags along for moral support (Leaf would've come too, but she's on summer holiday in Johto with her parents) and sits in the waiting room with his grandfather until Green comes out with something like a nervous smile on his face.

“She said I seem ready for it, and it's better to start early, as you said. The youngest they've ever tried is twelve, which I'll be in, like, two months, so I still have a little bit longer than that to make the final decision. She's showed me some pictures, and wow, it's so cool what science can do these days!”

“I know, right?” says a guy walking past them, wearing a t-shirt that says 'I <3 Pallet Town'. “Technology is amazing!”

Green doesn't really know what to reply to that, but then again he doesn't need to, given that Red is distracting him with a bone-crushing hug.

“Whoa,” he grins, hugging back, “what's with all the displays of affection lately?”

As Red, predictably, doesn't answer, Gramps barks out a laugh and slaps them both on the shoulder.

“Well, that is good news, isn't it? Now, let's get you home, have some hot chocolate, and then – I do think there's a league battle on TV today.”

 

 

“Guys!” Leaf runs up to them, hopping up and down. “I just,” she stops to catch her breath, “happened to come down from Viridian with my mum, and guess what?” Of course, she doesn't even allow any time for them to guess. “The test results for Viridian middle school are out! And we all made it!”

“Ha!” Green exclaims. “I knew it! That's what you get for doubting yourself, you idiots!” He's grinning widely while he says this, and so are Leaf and Red.

This is going to be the best time of their life.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The first new thing for Green that comes with middle school is that he barely has any classes together with Red and Leaf.

He should have seen that one coming, really. They sort by level in Viridian, to make sure every student gets adequately difficult lessons and nobody feels too overwhelmed or too bored, and Green scored higher than both Leaf and Red in math, literature, science and history, so the only class they share is geography. Leaf was pretty devastated when she heard the news, and he knows he should feel worse about it than he does – truth is, he can't help to see it as a chance to start over, to meet other kids for once, to see how he fares for himself, without Leaf or Red attached to him.

The other new thing is that all of a sudden people actually want to be his friends.

His grandfather made sure to register him with 'Green' as his first name, but of course he left 'Oak' as last, and over here, with the slightly older and better-read students, that last name seems to ring a bell more often than not. Within two weeks the entire school knows that the grandson (didn't he also have a granddaughter? Ah, well) of Professor Oak, the famous pokémon professor and creator of the pokédex, has just started his first year in Viridian middle school, and with excellent test scores at that.

As a result of that, by the end of week two, he has been joined for lunch several times by a group of five of the most popular students in his year, three of which are in nearly all of his classes, and invited over by two of them. They're all awfully nice with him, they do everything in a group, and they always insist on Green tagging along.

He isn't really sure how he deserves this since they don't really know him, they just know his grandfather. He doesn't complain, though.

 

 

“Man, this sucks,” sighs Leaf, leaning back on her swing. “We don't even have lunch break together! Why did you have to be such a smart-ass and score so high on your test anyway?”

“Yeah, that sucks,” Green agrees. He doesn't say that he's already found a group of new friends with whom he'll happily have lunch every day.

Red doesn't seem too fazed at all. He gestures around him and gives them one of his trademark smiles.

“True,” Green says. “Also, it's not like any of us is going to move away. We're still Pallet Town neighbours, right?”

Leaf sighs. “Right. Oh, speaking of Pallet Town – ”

“Hey, Green!”

Green turns his head – it's Amber, Perry and Grey, three of his new friends. He waves over to them.

“You wanna come with us, head to Scarlet's place and check out her bike?” calls Amber. “She's got it from that new bike shop in Cerulean!”

“Uh...” Green looks over to Leaf and Red, who, to his surprise, have both turned very still.

“It's okay,” Leaf says with a strain in her voice that Green is sure wasn't there before. “I was just going to go home anyway. See you later. Come on, Red.”

He watches in bewilderment how Leaf grabs Red by the wrist and practically hurries back into the direction of her house, dragging a mildly apologetic Red behind her.

“Was that Red and Leaf?” Perry asks once Greed has joined them.

“Yeah, they're my,” and somehow, Green feels like 'friends' would be the wrong thing to say here, “neighbours. We went to primary school together.”

“Did you? Huh.” Perry considers this. “Were they always this weird? I mean, Grey's told me some stuff about their first week at Viridian – ”

“Yeah, whatever,” Green says. He's very sure he doesn't want to hear more. “So, what about that bike?”

 

 

“You're hanging around with these guys now?”

“Yeah.” Green burrows deeper into Red's sweater, which is starting to be almost too small for him. “Is that a problem?”

“Well, I don't know, but that Grey kid,” Leaf takes a bite off her cookie, “he's in our math class, and he keeps being mean to Red. Like, he teases him when he exactly knows he can't talk back, and since he's the teacher's favourite, every time I try to shut him up I'm the one who takes the blame.” She frowns. “Our teacher has given me detention twice already just because of that. They're not nice people, Green.”

“They're nice with me,” Green protests. “I mean, Grey might be a bit of a jerk, but to be fair, for people who don't know Red, he probably seems a little...” He trails off when his eyes meet Red's. “Look, all I'm saying is, give them some time, and they'll get over it. They're not that bad, really.”

“Not that bad? Really?” Leaf repeats. “Then tell me, Green Oak, are they not that bad to you because they like you, or because you're the pokémon professor's prodigious grandson?”

Green feels his throat go dry. “What do you mean?”

“They don't like you, they just like your name!”

“What, so I'm not worth having any friends other than you two?”

“That's not what – ”

“You know what I think?” His eyes narrow. “I think you're just jealous, Leaf. Because you'll forever be stuck with – ”

The hand on his arm stops him from going any further. He swallows, not daring to look at Red.

“Sorry,” he mumbles. “Wasn't thinking.” Which is not an excuse, but it's the only thing he can say.

 

 

“Red? Are you sleeping?”

It's a stupid question, but Red turns around to face him and shakes his head anyway. Green's been staring at the ceiling for the past half hour, and he can't really stop his brain from going all kinds of weird places.

“Why are you friends with me?” he asks.

Red just keeps looking at him. Even in the dim Pallet street lights, his eyes seem to glow.

Green sighs. “How can you still believe in me? I – I can't...” He trails off and turns his head. Red's expression doesn't really change, but he does take Green's wrist and stroke it lightly. It makes him feel like they're six years old again.

“I'm not strong,” he says, scared at how pathetic and small his voice sounds. “Not like you or Leaf. Never been. And I don't know if I'll ever be.”

Red doesn't move, just keeps stroking.

He still believes.

 

 

About two thirds through the year, their geography teacher gives them group assignments: in groups of three, they have to pick a part of the city or its surroundings and draw a very precise and to-scale map of the chosen area with all the important information. They'll hand in their maps at the end of the year, and she'll give marks based on accuracy and creativity.

Green thinks this is it, this might be the perfect opportunity for him and Leaf and especially Red (whose constant presence he has kind of started missing) to spend some time together, to work on a common project, maybe create something really cool and impress his other friends so they'll finally understand that they were wrong about Red all along.

Before he can ask any of them though, Perry and Amber are already standing in front of his desk.

“So, Green,” Amber says. “I was thinking we could go to the north of Viridian to see how the city slowly merges into the forest, but Perry says he wants to take a closer look at Route 22 leading up to Victory road. What do you think?”

Green catches Red looking at him out of the corner of his eye. He doesn't know why he feels nervous all of a sudden.

“Victory road sounds cool,” he says.

 

 

He's in the school's hallway with Scarlet and Perry when he sees Leaf and Red come out of the classroom in front of them.

“Hey, Green!” Leaf calls out, just at the same time as Red gets shoved out of the doorway into her back.

“Watch where you're walking, weirdo,” Grey says, pushing past them to come greet his friends. “Or have you lost your eyesight as well?”

“Oh, shut your trap, Grey. Red's not weird, and if anyone is losing their eyesight, it's you!”

Green really wants to believe that he's the one who just said that and not Leaf, but he can't because he knows he would have been a lot wittier. So he does the only thing that comes to his mind: grab Grey and Scarlet by the shoulder and lead them back up the hallway.

“Let's get away from here,” he mumbles.

“Green, what the – ” Grey protests, but Scarlet cuts him off, “Yeah, no need to waste any time on these losers.”

Green does his best to pretend he didn't see the look on Red's face right before they leave, didn't feel those eyes on him, not even accusing, but hurt, and disappointed, so very disappointed.

 

 

He just kind of stops hanging out with Red and Leaf after that.

 

 

“It's been a while since you've been at Red's house,” his grandpa says one of the increasingly rare evenings they have dinner together. Green is busy trying to stab his potato without throwing everything else off his plate.

“Yeah, well. We don't really do much together anymore. I have other friends, though,” he quickly adds.

Oak sighs. “Yes, I've met them. You've showed them around my lab the other day. But, you and Red have always been so close – ”

“Well, people change, Gramps.” Green is determined not to look at him, instead he gets increasingly annoyed at the rebellious potato. “You should know that! You're the old one.”

“...It's not because of the hormone therapy, is it?”

“What?” Okay, now Green has to stare. “Why would it – it's not the hormones! I feel better than ever. Red's just being weird lately. I'm sure it'll work out eventually.”

His grandpa raises an eyebrow. “If you say so, Green.”

 

 

The rest of middle school flies by faster than Green would have expected. He becomes a core member of their little group of popular kids, which doesn't really mean much except that he gets to do everything with them, hangs out in their rich parents' houses, and is invited to nearly every birthday party of his year. And if during lunch break, Grey and Amber sometimes start picking on some of the less popular kids (technically he can't tell if it's Red if he looks the other way), well.

Shortly after he turns thirteen, Green is asked out on his first date, by a girl he has never noticed, her friends giggling in the background. He's caught off-guard and says no, which she seemed to have expected anyway. He gets a laugh out of Grey when he tells him about it later, something along the lines of “good thing you turned her down, Green, that girl's way too plain”. He doesn't try to explain how terrifying the idea of dating seems to him – what if he doesn't know what to say? What if he says too much? What if it doesn't work out – or worse, what if it does, and he has to tell her?

Just to make sure he still fits in, he does go on a few dates, later – not with that 'plain' girl, of course, only with those approved by the group – and it's not too bad, except that he's determined not to let anyone close enough to see farther than the persona he's built for himself. He always breaks it off after one or two months, which is pretty long for middle school, and they usually stay on good terms.

Still, Green walks away with the feeling of betraying himself a little bit more every time.

The first time in a long while he actually really regrets not having Red around anymore is when he's nearing fourteen, and his voice starts to get deeper. He's been on hormones for a year now, but their effects are still completely surreal to him, so he doesn't trust himself to speak much for a few weeks. His friends don't really get why he's being so silent, and he can't help but miss Red's unconditional acceptance, even though he's pretty sure he wouldn't deserve it anymore by now. It hits him that Red will never experience this change of voice, although, unlike Green's, his body would actually be able to do it on its own. And suddenly, Green feels the desire to share that with him, to fix Red's vocal chords with his artificial hormones.

He pushes the thought far away when he realises how broken that means they both are.

On Scarlet's fifteenth birthday, he gets drunk for the very first time. He likes it well enough, this light-headed feeling and that tendency to laugh a little more and a little louder, up until he has a moment of clarity and realises that he's at a party with nothing but people he doesn't really trust very much at all.

From then on, he stays away from alcohol if he can.

 

 

It's their last week of middle school, so of course they're heading to Perry's house to celebrate.

To be honest, Green doesn't feel like celebrating at all, considering that he has no idea what he wants to do with his future. Most of his friends are going to high school to pursue some kind of academic career, but he really can't see himself spending three more years in school. Frankly, his favourite and most realistic option would be going on a pokémon journey and hopefully earn some money out of battling other trainers, which is tough, but he thinks he might do it. Becoming a scientist sounds still appealing as well, albeit less so than it did when Green and Professor Oak were still on good terms, back before Oak started staying late at the lab and Green started staying late wherever. Technically, that means his aspirations haven't changed at all singe he was seven, which is equal parts worrying and comforting.

He's dragged out of his thoughts by the sound of Grey's voice.

“Hey! Look who's there!”

Green knows exactly who that particular tone is reserved for.

“Cut it out, Grey, just this once,” he says just as Red tries to walk past them. Amber doesn't want to let him and grabs his arm, though.

“Oh, come on, Green,” she sneers. “It's literally the last time he'll do this! Let him have some fun.”

It's not fun, Green wants to say, but Grey is louder.

“So, what brings the mute kid into this neighbourhood? Gonna run some errand for whoever gets to be your dad this week?”

Red keeps a perfect poker face and tries to break away from Amber's grip, but he's still awfully small and scrawny for his age, so it doesn't work very well. And it's probably the fact that he doesn't react at all, that he stays so calm, that he's gotten used to it, that he just wants to leave and be left alone, but they won't grant him even that – this is probably what sets Green off.

Or maybe he's still better at reading Red than he thought he was and sees the fear hidden away in his face.

Either way, before he can completely rationalise what he is doing, he has pried Amber's hand off Red's arm and shoved Grey away from him, placing himself between Red and the rest of them.

“What the hell is even your problem?” he yells, and it's as if four years of anger are trying to break out all at once. “What did he ever do to you? I mean, I know you need to harass others to cover up your own insecurities, but picking on someone who can't even tell you how shitty and boring your insults are? That's pathetic even for you, Grey.”

The following silence rings loud in the empty street.

“What the fuck, Green,” Grey finally hisses. “You're siding with that loser?”

Green narrows his eyes. “Yeah, I'm siding with that loser. Watch me.”

“How – I thought we were friends, you ass!” Amber exclaims. He can't help laughing a little bit at that, even though his anger doesn't make it sound funny at all.

“Friends,” he repeats. “Yeah. About that. Hey, did you know that everyone thought I was a girl for the first ten years of my life and that half of what I look like now is because of artificial hormones I stick into my body? Did you know that my parents abandoned me to my grandfather because they didn't want a kid this early and I was just an accident? Did you know that Red, Leaf and I were actually best friends in primary school? They know this stuff because they gave a shit. You don't. So don't say we're friends, because you're just gonna make me laugh some more.”

He can see the looks of horror and disgust on their faces, and he knows he's making a terrible mistake right now, throwing away everything he's worked towards and carefully built around himself for nearly four years of his life, but he's too far in to stop now.

“You're not coming to Perry's home tonight,” Scarlet eventually says, nose wrinkled in disdain. “Or anybody else's home, ever.”

“Yeah,” Green breathes. “Good thing I don't actually care.”

They part ways after that, all of them too shell-shocked to do anything else. Green looks around, but of course Red has left the scene as soon as Amber let go of his arm. The streets are still as empty as they were ten minutes ago.

He is, once again, alone.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Green spends the first part of his summer holidays holed up in his room reading books about pokémon. In their third and fourth year, they'd had a basic class about pokémon, about how types match up and how potions and pokéballs work and the most common things to know about the most common species, but he knows that the things one can learn about pokémon are practically endless, and now that he's actually planning on going on his journey this summer, it seems like a reasonable idea to refresh his knowledge, just so he won't be beaten by some random youngster with a top-percentage Rattata.

It also seems like a reasonable idea not to leave his room too often. Whenever he isn't in there, he usually hangs around in Oak's garden applying his newly gained pokémon expertise to the Eevee he'd cared for ever since his childhood. Now, with said Eevee as his only companion (well, and sometimes that Psyduck, even though it's getting pretty old already), it feels like he's back to square one.

Which is why, when the official day of pokémon distribution by Professor Oak approaches, he goes to see his grandfather in his lab.

“Ah, Green,” Oak says without looking up from his experiment. “Been a while since I've seen you in here.”

“Gramps, can I please have my starter one day earlier?”

Oak frowns. “Why? One day of head start won't give you an advantage, you know. Be patient like everyone else.”

“I don't need an advantage.” Green's getting frustrated already. “I just don't want to have to be there when all the other – You're the Professor, nothing would stop you from doing this!”

Now Oak does look up, very slowly. His eyes narrow. “Red and Leaf will be there. It that what this is about? You don't want to see them?”

Green's silence is more than eloquent.

“Green,” Oak sighs. “Do you expect me to encourage this kind of behaviour? You're not ten anymore.”

“Ah, yeah. Because things are so much easier for me at fifteen than they were at ten?” Green takes a second to calm down. “Please, Gramps. I'm just... I'm not ready.”

“But are you ready for your journey?”

“Well, you can't really be ready for a journey before you make it.”

Oak sighs once again. “Alright. Come to my lab in two days, nine o'clock, and you can pick your starter. Just know that I don't approve of your actions.”

Green can just barely stop himself from laughing. “Yeah, I kind of knew that already.”

 

 

He chooses Charmander because it looks strong and because it's a fire-type, which is always useful. He considers giving it a nickname, but lately getting attached to anything hadn't seemed like a very good choice in general, so he just leaves it to be Charmander. Oak gives him a pokédex (“Just because I don't approve of how you treat your friends doesn't mean you can't do leg work for me”) and a map, and then Green's out of Pallet, on Route One, with nothing but his clothes, his backpack and his pokémon. At first he had wanted to bring Eevee with him, but then he figured it would give him too much of an advantage, since he already knows it so well, and he wants to try something new.

He catches a Pidgey on the very first route. It doesn't seem to be the strongest fighter, but it can fly, which is good. He figures they're going to need some training if they want to get anywhere, so he decides to pitch his tent on Route 22 near Viridian City, the one he remembers vaguely because of that geography project in first year of middle school, and has both Pidgey and Charmander practice against wild pokémon.

It quickly becomes clear that while Charmander has more powerful attacks, it also tires out more quickly, while the Pidgey with its tactics of kicking sand and distracting sounds manages to keep the upper hand for much longer. Still, since it's only their first day, Green's satisfied with both of them. He feeds them some berries he took from Oak's garden, calls them back into their pokéballs and tries to go to sleep.

It would be a lie to say he has never felt more nervous in his life, because he definitely has. It's a close second, though.

 

 

Route 22 is full of Rattata, but there's one in particular that seems to come back to them every time they beat it, and it puts up an impressive fight each time. When it reappears just as Green has finished packing his tent, he thinks it might be time to catch it since it's obviously so keen on battling. He gets Pidgey to kick some sand in its eyes, then calls out Charmander for a weak burn, which only seems to make it more aggressive, but one pokéball is enough to seal it away nonetheless.

He's pretty much ready to leave for Pewter City when he hears footsteps. Fearing it might be a trainer who wouldn't let him heal his weakened pokémon first, he quickly hides behind a few bushes lining the route and waits for the person to pass by.

It's Red.

Of course it's Red. Green quietly curses his rotten luck. Fortunately Red doesn't see him, which should be his cue to leave as fast as possible, but Green can't help but stay and watch him for a while, watch the content look on his face as the small Bulbasaur (of course that's the one Red would pick) waddles beside him, vines waving through the air in excitement.

Suddenly Green realises how long it's been since he's seen Red smile, even just a very small smile like this one.

And that is definitely his cue to leave.

 

 

Brock is impressed at how well-trained his pokémon are, although he does recommend him to go easier on them. Green nods like he gets it, but he knows he's not really going to follow that advice – if not for the training, how would he have beat this gym with all of his type disadvantage and, frankly, quite mediocre pokémon? He already knows that the second gym leader uses water types which he also has no counter for, so it's not like he can cut himself any slack. Still, he shakes Brock's hand and smiles like he means it, spends the afternoon at the pokémon centre to heal his party, and then moves on.

Mt. Moon isn't exactly easy to get through, but it's littered with trainers who don't present too much of a challenge after Brock's seemingly invincible Onix, so they get a good amount of training done. Green is starting to like his Pidgey more and more since its speed and distraction tactics allow it to work around type advantages very well. He's tried to teach Charmander how to obscure the foe's vision with a cloud of smoke, just so it could use a similar tactic, but the little fire-type doesn't seem to get it yet.

As a result, when they reach the (admittedly not very high) peak of Mt. Moon, Pidgey squeaks loudly and spreads its wings to fly up in the air, and when it soars down again it's somehow grown much bigger, with bright red feathers decorating its head and tail. Green checks his pokédex and realises numbly that he has just witnessed an evolution.

He pitches his tent right at the top of Mt. Moon, and while he sleeps, Pidgeotto keeps flying circles above his head.

 

 

Pidgey's evolution makes the second half of the way to Cerulean City much easier. Most trainers here are rookies and don't really stand a chance against a first-stage-pokémon. One particularly quickly defeated girl who has to be around his age even tells him how impressed she's with that Pidgeotto and asks for his number, maybe they could meet up on Route 25 some time? With no peers around to pressure him into anything, Green says no, not even trying to be nice about it. She seems a little bit angry at his rudeness, but at least she leaves him alone, and Green wonders if that's the key – being rude, just so people won't try asking any further.

Instead of heading directly to the gym, he ventures a little bit further up north and spends some time in the tall grass near the Nugget Bridge. Pidgeotto is starting to get way ahead of the rest of his team, and as much as he likes the flying pokémon, he knows it won't fare well alone in the long run, so he takes this opportunity to train up Charmander and Rattata. He's especially proud of the latter when they run into an Abra that tries to teleport away, but Rattata is fast enough to sink its teeth in it tail which allows Green to throw a pokéball just in time.

He thinks that his party is starting to look alright when he sees Red standing on the bridge.

Green doubts Red has noticed him yet, he seems too absorbed by his Bulbasaur and the other pokémon sitting on his shoulder – a Pikachu, if Green recalls correctly. He must have caught it in Viridian Forest, and it's probably taken a fair amount of time to find it, too.

He suddenly gets the feeling Red is following him. Granted, Red has absolutely no reason for doing so (Green hasn't really given him any), and there aren't many different ways to go from Pallet to Cerulean, but their pace is almost too synchronised to be a coincidence. It scares him in a way he doesn't appreciate, and since he doesn't want to spend the rest of his journey worrying about how to avoid Red, the only solution he sees is to sort this out right now.

He calls back Rattata and walks up to him.

“Hey, Red,” he calls. It sounds more antagonistic than he planned. “Out on your pokémon journey, as well? Gramps gave me my starter early, you know. Figured I should get to pick first, potential and all.”

He doesn't know what he's saying. Red looks vaguely unhappy, but Green's not that good at reading him anymore.

“Right, still as talkative as ever,” he smirks without feeling it. “Let's battle.”

He half-expects Red to just walk away and leave him standing there, but instead Red indulges him. He nods to his Pikachu while Green sends out his Pidgeotto.

The match-up isn't the best for Green, but he does have a plan. He orders his Pidgeotto to use its usual distraction tactics while Pikachu hits it with thundershock after thundershock all without a single word from Red. If Green paid attention to the trainer, he would have seen the subtle gestures, but he's too focused on their battle to care. His Pidgeotto goes down, but the Pikachu is completely tired out, which is what he was aiming for. He sends out Rattata, and even though it's still hurt from their training earlier, Pikachu doesn't stand a chance. Surprisingly Red doesn't call it back into its pokéball, but goes to collect it into his arms and gently places it back on his shoulder. Then he motions to Bulbasaur to take its place.

It's stronger than Green thought is would be and makes short work of the Rattata, just charging into it a couple of times. He still has the type advantage though as he finally sends out Charmander, and he's sure he's got the match in the bag.

However Pidgeotto isn't the only one with tactical moves. Bulbasaur takes an ember as though it's nothing and starts throwing poisonous powder into Charmander's face, who recoils in pain. Then it wraps its vines around it to stop it from running away, and Green can only watch his starter slowly be drained of its health. He tells Charmander to go for their smoke strategy, but it still doesn't work very well, and when the grey clouds dissipate, Red has won the match.

“Got pretty lucky there,” he says after calling back his Charmander. He's not sure why he says it, since they both know it's not true. “You should really stop following me, or our next battle is going to turn out very differently.”

And he leaves, without a last look at Red's face.

 

 

They don't meet again until they're both aboard the S.S. Anne and Green has spent an hour fishing for a more or less decent Magikarp. Frankly, he isn't even surprised to pass the deck on the way to his cabin and see Red leaning against the railing, all of his pokémon out of their balls.

Again, Red hasn't seen him yet. He just stands there looking out into the ocean, sunlight in his face, Pikachu curled on his shoulder. At his feet, Green can see the now evolved Ivysaur squabbling with a Spearow over a handful of Oran Berries, and – is that a Squirtle? The other passengers who happen to pass by give them disapproving looks, probably because of the lack of pokéballs or general discipline, but Red doesn't seem to mind.

Green spends about ten minutes wondering why on earth he feels the need to challenge Red right then and there and annihilate his team, why this peaceful scenery still feels like so threatening to him, until realisation finally hits.

He had wanted to start this journey to get away from Pallet Town, away from his past. When he challenges random trainers and moves from route to route, nobody knows anything about him, except maybe that he has strong pokémon and a habit of being rude and overconfident. And nobody wants to know anything more. He's anonymous, alone, and it's incredibly liberating, being able to finally get to the core of himself like that, to figure out what he is doing in this world.

And Red stops him from that.

Red is the one person who knows pretty much everything about him, who was there from the start whether he wanted it or not. Having Red here, on the same journey as him – it's like having the entirety of Pallet Town and all of the things Green hates about himself chained to his feet, making every single step forward a challenge. His teachers were right, back then, when they said Red was slowing him down, albeit not in the sense they meant.

Constantly having to repress how absolutely terrible he feels for the way he's treated Red and Leaf in middle school doesn't help either.

So, Green needs to keep challenging Red, and maybe if he can beat him, he'll finally get away from this. With new determination he walks up to him, and not even five minutes later a small audience has assembled on the deck to watch them. All of Green's pokémon are in their first evolution stage this time, and he makes them fight viciously, without holding back at all. His Charmeleon quickly falls to Red's new Squirtle, though, and then they're both down to their last pokémon.

Raticate is fast, but Squirtle is incredibly sturdy and hits harder than Green would've expected. Still, he doesn't let either of them catch a break, pushes his most aggressive pokémon to the point where it finally takes out the Squirtle, then promptly collapses at his feet.

The self-assigned judge of their match declares it a draw, and the crowd slowly dissipates. Some of them shake hands with Green and want to know what he did to train such a fine Pidgeotto and Kadabra, but he only notices Red, who stares at the fainted Raticate which is still lying on the hard wooden floor, then at him. Green is pretty sure he sees the reproach in his eyes.

“Oh, shut up,” he hisses, calls Raticate back and makes a beeline for his cabin.

 

 

Raticate won't make it, is what they tell him at the centre the next day.

“What?” He slams his hand on the counter. “What does that even mean? It's only fainted! Can't you just heal it like usual?”

Nurse Joy looks at him with pity. “I'm very sorry, but it seems you somehow skipped a few of the mandatory routine checkups. Your Raticate has been suffering from a disease for a long time. It's very common amongst wild pokémon, especially those living near big populations of Mankey, and we would have been able to treat it if you had brought it to us earlier, but it has progressed too far by now. There's really nothing we can do. Again, sorry. You really need to remember your routine checkups, though.”

Green feels the blood drain from his face. Surely this can't be happening.

“What about the rest of my team?” he asks.

“They were contaminated as well, but it wasn't nearly as advanced with them, so your Pidgeotto, Charmeleon, Magikarp and Kadabra should be fine. We could still treat them in time.”

“Thank you.” He pockets the four balls the nurse hands him over the counter. “Can I have my Raticate back, please?”

She looks surprised. “Oh. Yes, of course.” For a few seconds, she leaves him alone, then comes back with a fifth pokéball. “Burying them out in the wild is forbidden,” she explains carefully, “but there's a graveyard in the Pokémon Tower in Lavender Town. It's a little bit expensive, but... Well, your decision.”

He nods and stuffs the last pokéball a little bit too forcefully into his bag.

“Mistakes happen,” the nurse calls after him while he leaves. “Don't beat yourself up too much over this.”

Green turns back and fakes a grin. “How couldn't I?”

 

 

Nurse Joy is right, the graves are pretty expensive. Green's almost willing to pay the price, though, until he realises it makes no sense to invest so much into something that is already dead when he could also spend the money on potions and other medicine that will keep his remaining team members alive. So he finds a spot on the route near town where people can't see him and buries his Raticate and the pokéball there. It would have preferred that to being trapped in some tower anyway.

Feeling far less sorry about breaking the law than he probably should, Green still does visit the Pokémon Tower, just to light a candle and laugh at the fancy grave stones he can't afford. People warn him about the spirits in the tower being restless; they also warn him about team Rocket searching the place for something nobody really knows. Thankfully he hasn't had the misfortune yet to run into any members of this elusive team Rocket, but from what he's heard all they do is steal, mistreat and illegally sell other people's pokémon, so he wouldn't mind getting a shot at kicking their asses.

The ground floor of the tower is eerily quiet like the rest of Lavender Town, but the closer Green gets to the staircase, the more he can hear fighting noises from the first floor. He gets his Kadabra and his newly-traded Exeggcute out, just in case someone decides to ambush them, and heads up the stairs.

The first thing he notices is the half-circle of people in strange uniforms – Rocket grunts, presumably – standing around two small pokémon, a Spearow and a particularly livid-looking Wartortle. The floor is littered with fainted Koffings and Zubats, but a few of them are still standing, lashing out repeatedly at the two cornered pokémon. Green wonders why they don't just run for it, until he sees the unconscious Ivysaur they're guarding.

It's obvious by now to whom they belong, but Red is nowhere to be seen.

The Spearow greets him with a happy squeak as soon as he's in sight, but the grunts are too busy to notice – that is, until Green makes his Exeggcute land a hypnosis on all of their pokémon and has Kadabra teleport them out of the tower in an instant.

Nine heads turn into his direction.

“Hey! What's that kid doing there? And where are our pokémon?”

Green sends out the rest of his team, which is enough to make the pokémon-less grunts understand that now is the time to leave, and soon enough he's alone with Spearow, Wartortle and Ivysaur.

He approaches the unconscious pokémon carefully and kneels down beside it. Wartortle seems reluctant to let him close, but the Spearow holds it back and begins some incomprehensible conversation with Exeggcute instead. Very gently, like he's seen Nurse Joy or Professor Oak do a few times, Green picks up the Ivysaur and sprays it with a potion until it opens its eyes, not without difficulty. He feeds it a soda pop and a sitrus berry he found back in Viridian Forest, which takes a while, but Ivyaur finally swallows the last bit and nestles down into his arms, slowly drifting off to sleep.

Green doesn't really want to know what team Rocket were trying to do to them, or what would have happened if he hadn't come along. He gets to his feet and calls Exeggcute back into its pokéball. Kadabra, who has come back from its little teleporting mission, stays out, just in case; the Spearow is now perched on its shoulder and makes content chirping noises.

Green is just starting to head towards the stairs leading to the second floor when he hears footsteps, and a few seconds later, Red appears in the stairway. He's leading an elderly man by the arm; a seemingly very exhausted Pikachu and a small Cubone are hobbling down the steps beside him. He doesn't see Green until he's right in front of him, which makes sense – it is pretty dark in here, after all.

“The ground floor and this one are both clear of Rocket people,” Green says without preamble. He extends his arms with the wounded pokémon; Red seems frozen in place, but upon seeing his Ivysaur, he snaps back into action and cradles it against his chest carefully. “It seemed pretty hurt. I did what I could, but you should probably let it rest at the centre for a few days.”

Red looks at the sleeping form in his arms. He quickly inspects the rest of his team, who are busy reuniting with Pikachu, then levels a mildly questioning gaze at Green.

“What?” Green snorts. “I'm not challenging you. Go heal Ivysaur. You don't want to return to this tower anytime soon.”

“The spirits are at peace once more,” says the elderly man all of a sudden. “Thank you for your help in chasing away these rude people. What's your name?”

Green looks at the old man with the Cubone at his side, at Red who is stroking Ivysaur's ear.

“Never mind,” he says, and leaves.

 

 

Celadon City is a cool place, but it also leaves Green with a very strange feeling.

The first thing he does is get himself a bicycle – he's starting to grow tired of all the walking, plus he really wants to explore the cycling road and test out whether the trainers on there are really as tough as people say. His guess is that it's all just a show; it takes an actor to recognise one, after all, except that his pokémon are actually strong.

The bike vendor is out of town for the month, he's told. Instead, his seventeen-year-old son is running the business for him. The guy is awfully nice to Green and makes pleasant conversation with him during all the time it takes for him to decide what model he wants, and he doesn't think much of it, until he takes a closer look at his receipt upon leaving the shop and notices the phone number scribbled on the other side.

Green sits down on the first bench he sees and feels very, very stupid. He knows he doesn't really like going out with girls, so why on earth hasn't it ever occurred to him he might simply prefer guys?

Because he was scared of people asking him why he would choose to be a gay boy if he could just have been a perfectly normal girl?

Probably.

He kind of wants to call the bike shop guy now, but they say it's better to wait a few days, so in the meantime, he takes on the gym.

Which is easier said than done, considering that the lady at the entrance doesn't even want to let him inside.

“This gym is for girls only!” she stresses. “It's a safe space for women. No guys allowed.”

“But – ” Green doesn't really know what to say. “Listen. I won't bother anyone, I promise. I'm not even gonna say anything. I'll just battle and leave, okay?”

The lady rolls her eyes. “It's not about that,” she says in the tone of someone who is very tired of explaining the concept of 'safe space'. “Look, if you want your gym badge that badly, I'll ask Erika to come outside, and you can battle on the field here. Sounds good?”

Without waiting for an answer, she slams the door shut.

Green has a feeling that this might take a while, so he sits down with his back to the gym, checks if he has enough healing supplies in his bag, and goes once more over his strategy.

He did train Charmeleon, which gives him at least a type advantage, but grass types are known for being sturdy and sneaky, slowly draining their enemies instead of taking them out in a hit or two, and he doesn't really trust his starter to handle this on its own. Charmeleon isn't a bad pokémon, but he had far higher expectations, and as much as he tries, they don't get along nearly as well as he does with Pidgeotto or Kadabra. Those two will be back-up for the gym, along with Exeggcute who doesn't have much to hurt grass types, but can take a few hits and maybe put something to sleep.

One hour and forty-five minutes later, a short, young woman in a yellow kimono emerges from the gym, accompanied by two more girls, one of them being the lady that stopped Green from entering.

“Tamia says that you didn't complain at all about how unfair and sexist it is that I wouldn't let any guys into my gym,” Erika says as a greeting, “so I'm making an exception for you. Let's battle.”

“Uh. Thanks,” Green says as she's already sending out her first pokémon.

The fight doesn't drag on too long – as expected, Charmeleon can't take all of her pokémon out fast enough and is poisoned early in the match, so Green lets Pidgeot and Exeggcute finish the job.

“Not bad,” Erika says. “Nice Exeggcute you've got there.” She hands him a badge. “Mary, Tamia. Let's head back inside. Don't bother asking for a number,” she adds.

Green laughs. “Yeah, found out yesterday that I'm not really into girls anyway.”

At that, Erika raises her eyebrows. “Oh? In that case, would you care to come to the gym tonight? We're having a little party. No straight guys, but anything other than that is cool. I'll bring a leaf stone for that Exeggcute of yours, I still have plenty of them lying around. See you there, maybe.”

 

 

It's a little bit overwhelming, going to a party he didn't even know yet he was qualified for just yesterday, but Green knows that if he overthinks it, he's never going to enjoy anything, so at ten p.m. that night, he makes his way to the Celadon City gym.

Tamia is still the one guarding the entrance, except this time she lets him through and leads him down the stairs into the basement. They've dimmed the lights down to a cosy atmosphere, there are decorative pillows everywhere and shelves with weird objects Green has never seen in his life, and the room is filled with jazz music from an old stereo. They even set up a bar with a counter and different kinds of liquor in all colours of the rainbow lining the wall behind it. It's not too crowded, but there are enough people for Green to not feel put on the spot completely. Erika spots him as soon as his foot hits the bottom step.

“Hey, Green!” she calls. “Glad you could make it. Here, I brought you the leaf stone. That Exeggcute really is a fine specimen.”

He's surprised she actually remembered it at all, given how absent-minded she seemed during their battle. He mumbles a quick thanks, but Erika just keeps talking.

“Eryn here says he met you already – he's the bike shop's owner's son, you know – so I figured, you could come over here and talk a bit, maybe – has anyone even shown you around town yet? You can't just see Celadon through the eyes of a tourist, you'll miss all the nice spots.”

Eryn grins at him, and yeah, Green definitely remembers that.

 

 

He stays in Celadon for all of eighteen days, which is far more time than he has spent in any other city ever since he started his journey. Most of the time he's exploring round the city, preparing for the long way down the cycling road and, yes, going on dates with Eryn. It's far nicer than the dates he's been on in middle school, which is probably due to the fact that he's not under any kind of pressure by his so-called friends anymore, and they end up sneaking into the game corner together and eating ice cram in the park at night and talking a lot. Eryn's such a good listener that Green eventually finds the courage to tell him about his childhood, as well, for which he has a surprising amount of understanding.

They also end up kissing quite a few times, which is also nicer than it has been with girls so far, but Green can tell he still isn't one hundred percent into it. Why that is, he doesn't know, since Eryn is cool and friendly and attractive, but when it's time to part ways, Green isn't as sad as he would have expected to be.

“It's okay,” Eryn says as Green prepares to leave for cycling road. “You've gotta keep moving, and I get that. I've enjoyed myself though. You're a good guy, Green.” He grins one last time. “Give me a call if you ever come back to Celadon, okay?”

And with that, Green fights his way down to Fuchsia City. The bikers do their best to look tough and frightening, but their battling skills are less than impressive, and frankly, Green has been through too many identity crises in too little time to be intimidated by something as trivial as broad shoulders and leather jackets with Arboks stitched onto them. Not even Koga turns out to be a challenge, and, once he's done catching every single pokémon species in the Safari Zone and finally reaches Saffron, neither does Sabrina. She does however ruin his day a little bit by urging him to 'resolve the emotional issues that are weighing down his soul' and 'come to terms with the regretful events and actions of his past', which, in his head, translates to 'Red's in town, now go find and battle him'.

Which is exactly his intention while he's running around the city and asking passer-bys whether they happened to see a short black-haired guy his age who doesn't say a word, but apparently, someone beat him to it.

“Yeah, I've seen that kid,” says the third person he talks to. “He went into the Silph Co. building just about an hour ago! Wouldn't follow him though, if I were you, that place is crawling with Rocket people. They've taken over the company, from the looks of it. I've heard the authorities are on their way, but... You know how it is.”

Green doesn't even hear that last part; he's already off to the city centre where the head quarters of Silph Co. are located. If Red really is in there, alone, with probably five times as many Rocket members as there were in Lavender Town, he's not going to make it on his own. Green feels a rush of adrenaline at the thought of being needed once again; he doesn't even bother with the teleporting pads, just climbs the stairs until he's almost at the top floor – until he hears the familiar screech of a Fearow on the other side of a door.

He shoves it open and doesn't bother with any introductions, just sends out his team and starts attacking. The grunts that have predictably teamed up on Red and were starting to wear him down are distracted for a second by the giant Gyarados smashing into their lines, which is all the distraction Red needs to call back his team and break through to the staircase to the boss' office.

He doesn't, though. Instead, he chooses once again to stare at Green like he's never seen something quite so strange in his life.

It's only when Green shouts, “What are you waiting for? Go for it!” and actually pushes him towards the stairs that Red starts moving. Green watches him and his pokémon (which now include a Venusaur, a Blastoise and a Fearow, he realises) disappear up the stairs, then focuses again on warding off the grunts. Red's team has already done a number on them, so it doesn't take very long until the last of them is out of pokémon. The police arrive shortly after to arrest the grunts Green had the presence of mind to actually keep locked in the room using his Alakazam's fairly versatile psychic powers. They thank Green for his assistance, but when he asks them where the other kid and the boss are, all they can do is point him towards the giant hole in the roof on top of the building.

 

 

Green hasn't even spent twenty minutes in Cinnabar Island's Pokémon Mansion, and already this Growlithe is refusing to leave his side.

He doesn't really have space in his party for yet another fire type, but he doesn't know how to get rid of it either, so he catches it (with a regular pokéball, since the little guy has no intention of breaking out) and sends it to Professor Oak with a message to please introduce this one to Eevee, they'll probably get along quite well. The weather is nice on the island this time of year, even though summer has been over for about three months already, and he tries delaying the gym fight as long as possible in favour of long strolls along the beach and a lot of fine-tuning to his team – so much fine-tuning, in fact, that Pidgeot has started flying off with Charizard whenever he sends them out to practice, and both Alakazam and Exeggcute (whom he still hasn't used the leaf stone on) have tried to make him oversleep or forget about his training plans for the day. The reason for his stalling is not that Green's afraid of Blaine – it's that he's afraid of having to go back to Viridian after that.

But Blaine is an old friend of Oak's, so he recognises his grandson immediately when he spots him walking on the beach, and Green can forget about his procrastination tactics right then and there.

“Ah, the youngest Oak!” Blaine says heartily. “Heard you go by Green? Good idea, choosing your own name, kid. Don't let others dictate your life for you. Now, you're here for the badge, aren't you? Don't make me wait then. Two hours, Cinnabar Gym. I'm not getting any younger, you know!”

And thus, two hours and thirteen minutes later, Green has the weight of seven badges in his pocket, and the weight of a metaphorical fully-grown Snorlax on his chest.

 

 

He kind of expected to run into a familiar face in Viridian; what he doesn't expect is for it to happen within the first half hour of his stay.

“Green? Wow, it's been a while!”

Before he can stop her, Scarlet sits down next to him on the pokémon centre bench. She's alone, which simultaneously confuses and calms him.

“Yeah. Six months, pretty much,” he says.

“You've been on a journey, I heard?” she asks. “How is it going?”

He shows her the badge case. She looks impressed.

“Damn, Green. In such a short time, too. That's really cool.” He can only stare in disbelief as she smiles and tilts her head to the side a bit. “So, how does it feel, traveling Kanto all on your own? Or, I mean, I guess you have your pokémon team with you – ”

“Why are you talking to me?” he asks, unable to find another way to put it. “Last time we saw each other, I was under the impression you wouldn't want to see me ever again.”

“Oh. Yeah. About that.” She scratches the side of her face, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “Well, what you said there... To be honest, I was really scared and put off by you lashing out at us like that, but what you said got me thinking. I – I'd never realised how mean the things we said – I mean, Grey especially, but also Amber and me and even Perry – how much they could hurt someone. I'd just... never thought about it. I'm not trying to make excuses or anything,” she hurries. “But I figured, I could as well make an effort to be nicer.”

“What about the others?”

“Um... To be honest, I'm not really in touch with them anymore. They all went to some fancy high school in Johto three months ago, which I was planning to do as well, except that I decided against it last minute. Now... Well, right now I'm helping out at the Viridian City pokémon centre – they've got a lot of work on their hands ever since the gym leader reappeared, you know – and I was thinking to maybe get the professor to give me a pokémon, if he has any left over, and head over to Lavender town to start an apprenticeship with Mr. Fuji in the Pokémon House, or maybe at the Daycare centre. I could always go to high school afterwards. Speaking of jobs, though,” she glances at the clock, “I'm actually in the middle of my shift right now, and we've still got sixty crates of super potions to unbox and sort, so – catch you later, maybe?”

“Sure,” Green says. He isn't sure if he'll follow through on this yet. It's a relief to hear that the rest of his middle school clique aren't in town anymore; at the same time though, he realises he was looking for some kind of closure he will now probably never get. Still, it's better than nothing, even if he doesn't quite trust Scarlet's change of heart completely.

The gym is exactly where it used to be, only one block away from Viridian Middle School, but there are no trainers inside, except for the elusive leader who was gone for almost a year, but has apparently magically come back just in time for Green to get his badge. He's sitting on a chair made of ebony in the middle of a complicated tile spinning puzzle that Green has absolutely no patience to solve right now, so he calls out his Pidgeot and has it fly him directly on the spot of the battlefield made for the challengers.

“Good!” says the gym leader, occupying his seat as if it were a throne. “Thinking outside of the box. That's what got me here.” The gym isn't very well lit, but Green can still se his eyes narrow. “You're that trainer from Lavender Town, aren't you? The one that handed almost a third of Team Rocket's members over to the police in Silph Co. and helped that Red boy get to the top?”

“Yeah, that's me,” Green confirms, throat suddenly dry. How does he know this? “You wouldn't happen to know where Red is right now, would you?”

“No, not really. After our last encounter I have no desire to find him again. But don't worry.” He's grinning now. “If you're even nearly as good as him, this should be an interesting match.”

“Oh, trust me.” Green really doesn't like how raspy his voice sounds. “I am.”

The fight does turn out to be interesting, and it's the closest win for Green so far, but he still gets less satisfaction out of it than he had hoped. Giovanni, as the gym leader calls himself, commends him on his choice of pokémon and the moves he's taught them, as well as the way he plays their strength and weaknesses, but recommends him to evolve his Exeggcute soon and to add something physically defensive to his team, intimidation and evasion tactics won't always cut it. It's good advice, and Green finds himself withdrawing the Rhyhorn he caught in the Safari Zone from his PC after some consideration. The leaf stone remains untouched in his pocket for now, though.

 

 

He decides to head home for a few days before moving on to Victory Road, and then Indigo Plateau, probably. Back when he'd started his journey, he'd never assumed he would make it this far in so little time, but he's better at battling than he thought, and he's beginning to think he might have a chance at beating the champion. Of course, that wouldn't mean he'd become the champion; there is a little bit more political power involved in that than just the question of who has the strongest pokémon. But still, he'd get the title, the entry in the Hall of Fame and the little official sticker on his trainer card.

Now that he thinks about it, those things do sound horribly trivial, but he's come too far not to finish what he started.

His grandfather welcomes him, if not particularly warmly – the five months of absence haven't really helped to mend their relationship in any way. Still, Green's glad to get to see Eevee again, who, as predicted, has become good friends with Growlithe. It's a little bit intimidated by all the giant grown-up pokémon that make up Green's party now, but after the initial nervousness has died down, they spend a lot of time together in Oak's garden.

So, while his pokémon are keeping themselves busy on his grandpa's property, Green lies down in the grass and takes the time to think about Red.

Ever since the battle against Giovanni – ever since long before that, in fact, but it's beginning to get worse – Red has been at the forefront of his mind. Green set off on his journey to try and get to the core of himself, discover who he is and what he wants and all that jazz, and here he is now, nearing the end, and feels like he's farther away from himself than ever. He's beginning to realise Red wasn't the one weighing him down at all, it's Green himself who isn't able to let go of anything, who has faced down gym leaders and criminal organisations and is still too damn scared of himself and his former best friend.

So, what does he even want from Red?

The answer comes very quickly: forgiveness. For that, he would need to apologise. And for that, he'd need to admit to his faults, his cowardice. And for that, he'd need to promise and make sure that he wouldn't be a coward again.

And he's not sure he can do that just yet.

Aside from that, of course, Red has every right to refuse forgiving him. Some might consider it petty, but it would definitely be justified, for all of the ways in which Green has proven to be a bad friend to him.

Still, he wonders why he doesn't feel quite the same way about Leaf. Sure, his friendship with her didn't go as far back as Red's, but she was there for him from the start, and he let her down just as much. He supposes that she was never targeted quite as badly by all those kids that made fun of Red for nor talking, but in the end, she's the one who stuck with him. She's the one who stayed strong when he couldn't. Granted, Green had had issues of his own at the time (still has, in some way), but does that justify abandoning the two most precious people in his life?

A last battle, Green decides. That's what he needs. Just one last battle. And then maybe he can let go.

 

 

Of course, Red's timing doesn't really care about what he needs, so four days after Green's arrived in Pallet Town and practically ready to hit the road again, Red shows up at his doorstep.

He doesn't seem surprised when it's Green and not the professor opening the door, but then again, Green's well past the point of being even remotely good at reading him anymore. Red motions for him to come along, and Green, completely at a loss for what to do, follows. He takes his pokémon and his backpack with him as an afterthought; it didn't look like Red would just invite him over for dinner.

They walk in silence for a while, all the way over to Viridian, then up Route 22. Red's pokémon never seem to be in their pokéballs, which makes Green a little bit nervous right now considering they could all rip his head off anytime if they wanted to, so he sends out his own team to keep them company. It's kind of strange how well they get along, even with the newly added Rhyhorn and the persistent uneasy silence between their trainers.

Red stops right at the entrance to Victory Road. He turns around and looks at him expectantly. Green senses that now would be the perfect time for him to say all these things he's been mulling over for the past days, but he can't think of a single coherent sentence with those reddish eyes blazing in the sunset and burning holes into his face. So he steps back a little and motions for his Pidgeot to take its place on the battlefield.

It ends up being as close as the battle with Giovanni, only this time, Green loses. He can't even really tell why anymore – both their strategies are about equally good, but Red seems to guide his pokémon a little better. Or rather, he overall knows them better, not only their strengths and weaknesses in battle, but their selves, something which Green, well. He does know a few things about his pokémon's personalities, but he's never made the conscious effort to actually get to know them. And as he watches how Red tends to their wounds after battle, he thinks that they must know him very well, too, having been through so much together, and, well, he can't help being a little bit jealous.

This time, it's Red who leaves him.

 

 

Many say that one feels like a different person after making it through Victory Road. Green wouldn't necessarily confirm that, although he definitely feels like a much dirtier person, with all of the mud and cave dust clinging to him, and he's glad that the pokémon centre at Indigo Plateau provides not only a bed and a free meal for every trainer coming this way, but also an actual shower and not just some rain water in a barrel.

He registers for the matches as soon as he arrives, and since there aren't very many challengers around right at the beginning of winter, he gets a spot for the following day. The lady at the counter explains the rules to him once again – five battles in a row, Elite Four plus Champion Lance, no pausing, no in-battle healing, and only self-administered medicine in between. It's not only testing the pokémon's endurance, she explains, but also the trainer's concentration – even though every battle tends to last only around ten minutes, the constant pressure of making the right decision takes an incredible toll on the challenger's mind, and are you sure you can handle that?

Green isn't sure at all, but he nods and signs the forms nonetheless.

First up is Lorelei. None of her pokémon hit very hard, but they're bulky and do everything in their power to avoid hits and tire his party out. He takes his time though, makes sure to stay calm and give orders to his team only in the exact moment he knows they can land an attack. Gyarados puts in most of the work, which is good considering he won't be needed until they face the champion, if they happen to come that far.

The fight against Bruno is next, and this one follows a completely different pace. Every single of his hits could secure a K.O., and Green is very glad he's spent extra time teaching Pidgeot and Alakazam how to predict and evade enemy attacks. It's over very quickly, and he wins, but with a considerable dent in his team.

Agatha is third in line, and he's beginning to see why these matches are so tiring – every member of the Elite Four seems to have a widely different approach to battling. He's heard many things about the ghost-type trainer, but one thing in particular: Not all of them are actually ghost types. They are, however, all part poison, so he lets Alakazam have a field day. Agatha's general tactic seems to be playing mind tricks – she has two Gengar which she likes to switch out a lot, as well as a Haunter that tries to eat its opponent's dreams – but given Alakazam's own powerful mental powers, this plan backfires, and before he knows it, her Arbok falls and he's more than halfway through the league.

Before facing the last member, Karen, who uses dark types, which aren't native to Kanto at all and are meant to provide an extra challenge, Green takes a minute and finally uses Erika's leaf stone on Exeggcute. It turns out to be the right call. Karen's pokémon are incredibly sturdy, and some of them hit hard in addition to that, so he alternates between whittling them down with sleep and leech seeds and sending in Charizard to attack. It drags on for far longer than he would have hoped, especially with both of them constantly switching strategies and trying to out-predict each other, and Green can't quite believe it when that devil of an Umbreon finally goes down, and he has officially beaten the Elite Four.

“Congratulations,” says Karen. “Now, let's see whether you still have enough energy left for the champion, shall we?”

Green feels incredibly light-headed when he steps into the next room.

 

 

The light-headed feeling doesn't stop, even after Lance has called back his Dragonite and goes to shake his hand.

“Well done, challenger Green,” he says. “Or rather, Champion Green. Very well done. You team is balanced, and your pokémon seem rigorously trained.”

“Yeah, they are,” Green replies.

“You do realise though that training and fighting strategies are only one part of pokémon battling? The bond to your team – ”

“I get it,” he interrupts. “The bond is important. I've still got a lot to learn.”

Lance seem to miss the sarcasm in his words. “Good. That is the best thing a champion could say right after winning. Let's head to the Hall of Fame, shall we?”

Green swallows. “Sure. Can I make a call first?”

 

 

“What do you mean, Red isn't in Pallet Town anymore?”

“Well,” a machine whirrs in the background, “he came back shortly after the two of you left, grabbed his backpack and headed onto Viridian City. It looked like he was going to make his way through Victory Road – wouldn't be surprised if he was already done with it, he has an incredibly strong team of – but Green, tell me more about you. This is your moment after all!”

“I beat the champion, Gramps,” Green says, and why does he sound so hollow? “There's really nothing more to it.”

“Alright, I get it. You'll have to fill me in later. I'm on my way as soon as the measurement over here is finished, alright?”

“Yeah. See you then.”

“I'm proud of you, Green.”

“Sure, Gramps.”

After he hangs up, Lance leads him into a room full of photographs and statues, with no furniture except for a pokéball table placed in the middle, similar to those Green has seen in a centre. His hands are shaking when Lance asks him to place his team into the holes for registration.

“These are all the teams that have beaten the Indigo League in the history of Kanto,” Lance explains. “You might just have set the record for the shortest successful journey, though. I read your form – five months.” He gives him a clap on the shoulder. “You must have been on one hell of a schedule to make it through Kanto that fast and even see anything.”

The door in the back of the room swings open before Green can think about a reply. It's the lady from the counter.

“Champion Lance!” she calls. “There's another challenger I scheduled for today, and – well, he just won the match against Bruno. I'd like to know what kind of line-up you suggest?”

Lance looks at Green for a long time, then turns back to the lady.

“That's a unique situation,” he slowly says. “Tell Karen to take a break. I'll be the fourth Elite member, and then we'll see how Champion Green fares against his first official challenger.”

The lady looks delighted. “Oooh, that's an interesting idea. I doubt we can get a camera team on such a short notice, but I'll call Goldenrod Radio, see if they want to broadcast – ”

“Wait,” Green interrupts. “Do I get a say in this? You can't just throw another battle at me. I've just faced a bunch of powerful trainers in a row!”

“So has your challenger if he gets here,” Lance retorts. “There's still a chance he won't make it. I thought a challenge was what you were looking for? Why else would you take on the Indigo League? Or need I remind you that you gave us your signature in case this exact event occurs?”

Green sighs. “Yeah, no need to get all legal on me. I'll do it.” He looks around himself. “Does the champion have a throne or something? I kind of wanna sit down.”

 

 

It would have been far too much of a coincidence for this 'mysterious' challenger not to be Red, so Green isn't surprised at all when he sees the familiar face hidden beneath the cap. It seems like a cruel twist of fate, really.

“You can't leave me alone, can you?” he says in lieu of a greeting. “Do we even need to battle? You've beaten me every time we fought. No, wait,” he corrects himself. “We tied once. My Raticate died after that, you know. Well, I guess there's no avoiding this. Let's not waste any more time.”

He doesn't even bother trying to decipher Red's expression.

Goldenrod agreed to broadcast their match with a commentary over the radio, which is a little bit less dramatic than it could have been since both the trainers and their teams are physically and mentally at their limits, but on the other hand, that makes it just that much more interesting. After five tiring battles, Green has lost all concept of time – he's running on pure adrenaline now, unable to think farther ahead than the next two moves. The quick movements on the battlefield are starting to blur dangerously, so he mostly keeps his eyes on Red, who gives his silent commands a little bit slower than usual.

“Venusaur is down!” he hears the commentary in the distance. “That means both challenger Red and Champion Green are down to their last pokémon! What a breathtaking match!”

His brain randomly comes up with the thought that saying how breathtaking something is doesn't really make it more breathtaking, but seeing as he really is down to his last pokémon, he doesn't quite have the time to expand on that idea.

It's Pidgeot against Pikachu now. Green hasn't seen the yellow electric type all match, which leads him to believe Red saved it for this exact moment. He orders his pokémon to begin its usual distraction tactics, kicking sand, screeching and dodging as many moves as possible, but Pikachu doesn't seem to fall for it very easily anymore. Green knows that one landed thunderbolt is enough for him to lose the match. His only chance is attacking.

“Pidgeot! Brave bird!” he calls.

In the exact moment Pidgeot dives down towards its foe, Pikachu jumps high up in the air to dodge the move and discharges the electricity from its cheeks.

“Pidgeot is down!” screams the radio commentary. “Challenger Red wins the match!”

Green just wants to laugh, wants to tell everyone that no, he's not disappointed or sad or angry, why would he be, he knew it would turn out like this after all. He can't beat Red, just like he can't forget about his past.

“I think we're supposed to shake hands,” he says. Red carefully places Pikachu on his shoulder and walks up to Green. He looks pretty tired – who wouldn't be? – but his eyes remain fixed on Green, as if he were trying to tell him something very important.

“Dude, I'm not that good at reading you anymore,” Green says quietly. “Anyway, congratulations. I don't really know how the Hall of Fame stuff works, so I guess Lance'll take you to do that.”

Red nods, although he doesn't really seem to listen. Green's starting to get nervous under his scrutiny, but before he can do anything about it, the doors swing open, and Lance comes in, closely followed by Professor Oak.

“Red! Green!” the latter exclaims. “I heard the broadcast of your battle on the way here! Incredible. Almost too much, at my old age.” He laughs and claps them both on the shoulder. “Sorry I couldn't make it earlier. I'm assuming you know why you lost, Green?”

“Yeah, well. I definitely know why you think I've lost. Do you need me for anything else?” he adds, addressing Lance.

“No, I'll take it from here. It's been a pleasure to battle with you, Green.”

“Whatever. Likewise.”

Fatigue is slowly catching up with him, and he's already preparing to leave, when he sees that Red is still looking at him, and something clicks.

Problem is, Green's not sure what exactly.

He can feel it's important though.

“Red!” he calls out, just as he's about to disappear in the Hall of Fame and become one of the countless other champions before them. “Could you – do me a favour, okay? Be patient with me. I still... I need more time.” Only now he notices both Lance and Oak staring at him. “Yeah. I'm out of here.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The first thing Green does when he's back in Pallet Town is release his Charizard.

They've never really gotten along anyway, and he didn't quite know how to fit it into his team most of the time, so the separation isn't too tearful, except maybe for Pidgeot who does look a little bit sad. Still, it seems to be the better choice for all of them.

“Go fly around the region, and then maybe find a better trainer for yourself,” Green says. Charizard roars in agreement and disappears into the clouds.

“I'm going to travel Kanto again,” he then explains to the rest of his party, “but you're not coming with me. I'm only taking Pidgeot. Stay in Oak's garden, or explore the area, I don't care. I'll be back in a few months anyway. Got it?”

Rhyhorn doesn't look like it gets it, but Gyarados makes a few grunting noises that lead Green to believe the message got across. He packs a new bag, lighter this time, and, after some consideration, goes to look for Eevee and Growlithe in the backyard. They're sitting on a pile of reddish-brown leaves, curled around each other. As he approaches, Growlithe jumps to its feet to lick his hands while Eevee follows a little bit more calmly.

“Hey, you two,” he grins, Growlithe now munching on the hem of his jeans. “Care for going on an adventure?”

 

 

He goes to visit Scarlet in the Viridian City pokémon centre, then Brock in Pewter City. Actually he planned on just dropping by, but three of the gym leader's younger siblings start obsessing over his Growlithe as soon as they see it, and since he isn't running from anything this time, he stays with their family for a few days. It's completely different to the way he grew up, never having even a moment of solitude in a house full of children. At the end of his stay, he thinks he could almost get used to it.

The next stop is Saffron, say hi to his psychologist and all, but Green decides to make a detour through Lavender Town first. He finds out that Mr. Fuji, the founder of the Pokémon House, is actually the old guy Red saved from the tower during that team Rocket incident. Mr. Fuji is a friendly man, and he commends Green's latest decision to leave his pokémon out of their balls most of the time.

“The way pokéballs work is very refined,” he explains, “but I've conducted several behaviour tests that clearly show they feel happier when they get to see the world. You'd think that would be the intuitive assumption, but it's amazing how good people are at ignoring obvious things when they're also inconvenient to think about.”

Green can only agree with that.

The rudimentary (and illegal) grave he made for Raticate on the route near town has vanished.

“Probably better this way,” he tells Pidgeot, who replies with a friendly screech.

 

 

Celadon City is as nice as it was a few months ago. As promised, he gives Eryn a call as soon as he's settled into his room at the pokémon centre. They meet up for coffee on the roof of the shopping mall and chat about this and that, and Green finds out that even though he does like the bike vendor's son, they really don't have all that much in common. Still, it's enough for being friends.

It's also through Eryn that Green finds out about the get-together at Erika's gym now being a regular thing, so he decides to go there this evening and, of course, promptly runs into Leaf at the bar.

“Green?” she says, mildly surprised. “What are you...”

“Have you drunk anything yet?” Green asks.

“No, nothing. Not really in the mood. Why?”

“I need you to listen for a second, preferably sober.” He takes a deep breath. “Leaf, I'm sorry. Really sincerely sorry. I was an ass in middle school, and I really, really didn't mean to let our friendship slip away like that, but... Well, I was too caught up in my business to notice what I was losing.” He pauses. “That's all I wanted to say. I get it if you still don't want to see me, just – nothing was ever your fault. I was just being tremendously stupid.”

“Oh, Green.” Leaf shakes her head with a slight grin. “What am I supposed to do now? I mean, I've kind of gotten over it, but, well. We were really good friends, weren't we?” She starts tracing patterns with her fingers on the makeshift counter. Green sits there and waits patiently. He's more anxious to hear her answer than he expected to be.

“Okay, how about that,” she says eventually. “I'll give you another chance, and we'll see how it works out.”

Well, if that isn't the best thing he's heard in a while. “So it's peace for now?”

“Yeah, I forgive you. Until you're starting to get on my nerves again, that is.” She bites her lip, eyes growing thoughtful. “Can't speak for Red though.”

“No one really can.”

“You were pretty good at it in primary school.”

“Mmh,” Green makes. “Don't think I deserve that back just yet.”

“Wow, someone's grown over the past few months.” She asks the barkeeper who happens to pass by for a lemonade, then turns back to him. “Speaking of Red, do you know where he went?”

“Why? Is he gone?”

“Well, he kind of vanished a few hours after your battle, which was pretty epic, by the way. Especially considering we all started at the same time, and I'm still stuck here trying to get Erika's badge. Never thought a Goldenrod Radio broadcast could keep me on my toes like that.”

“I have no clue why people keep telling me that,” Green sighs. “We were both tired as shit, and I knew he was gonna win anyway.”

“He followed you, you know. During your journey,” she comments. “Tried to keep up with you. I think he was trying to see whether you'd change... He really wants to believe in you. Even after you failed him so badly in middle school,” she adds mercilessly, and Green has the decency to feel terrible and hopeful at the same time.

“I'll keep an eye open for him,” he promises. “See if I can find him. You'll be the first one to know. Well, after his mum, maybe.”

“Good.”

“Thanks, Leaf. For everything.”

The barkeeper slides her lemonade over the bar, and she takes a long sip. “How did you get in here anyway? I heard Tamia is pretty rigorous about who gets in and who doesn't.”

“Uh, yeah. About that.” Green runs a hand through his hair. This doesn't really get any easier, but then again it's Leaf, so he just goes for it. “I'm pretty sure I'm into guys.”

Leaf stops with the glass at her lips. Slowly, she sets it down on the counter.

“Shit, Green,” she says. “Are you trying to break the system all by yourself or what?”

Then she hops off her stool and throws his arms around him, which he isn't sure he deserves.

It feels like home nonetheless.

 

 

“Have you considered applying for the gym leader position in Viridian City?” Blaine asks while pouring Green a new cup of tea.

They're sitting on the balcony of Blaine's apartment on Cinnabar Island that overlooks both the sea and the volcano. Growlithe is curled up at Green's feet, along with Blaine's much taller Arcanine, Eevee has taken to devour the sugar cubes from the bowl on the table, one by one, and Pidgeot is flying circles somewhere in the distance.

“I've... thought about it, yeah. Now that it looks like Giovanni's disappeared for good...”

“Not that they'd ever let him come back, what with the whole team Rocket ordeal.” Blaine drops a sugar cube that Eevee hasn't chewed on yet into his cup. “Either way, I think you'd make a good replacement. You definitely qualify in terms of skill, and it'll make for some interesting new experiences. Plus, everyone who wants to battle you will need to get past my gym first!”

“I think I've read that you need to have at least one year of battling experience, though,” Green slowly says. “I've barely got eight months. I don't think they'll leave the spot open until I'm ready.”

Blaine laughs heartily. “I'm sure they'll make an exception for an official Kanto champion. It takes forever for the paper work to be finished anyway. You can get some more practice for your strategies during that time.” He throws another cube into his tea. “Speaking of which – how about we find out tomorrow what that Growlithe of yours can do?”

 

 

Green originally planned to fly back to Pallet Town directly, but on impulse, he tells Pidgeot to land on one of the small islands on Route 21 and decides to spend the night out in the open. It's not summer yet, but the weather in Kanto is never particularly cold anyways, and Growlithe radiates enough heat for all of them. The soft sand feels actually quite comfortable (even though he knows he's going to find it in all kinds of absurd places tomorrow morning), especially with Eevee as a pillow, and the night sky stretches above them, completely black with just a sprinkle of stars.

Inevitably, Green winds up thinking about Red.

He's starting to believe he's fallen in love with him, kind of. It's a strange thought, but it does make sense, and Green really needs to stop lying to himself just because the truth is weird or not very convenient. Admitting it to himself actually feels better than he ever thought it would; even though it doesn't make things easier in the least, at least he knows where he stands now.

He's going to take his time to grow. Then he's going to find Red. And then, hopefully, he can try and mend some of the thing's he's broken.

 

 

As Blaine had predicted, the Indigo League accepts Green's candidacy for the vacant spot in Viridian's gym in spite of his lack of experience. They don't seem to mind that his team isn't specialised on one type, either, which leads him to suspect that the position of eighth gym leader can't be the most desired one. He has about a month's time before his new job officially starts, which is more than enough to train and evolve Growlithe so it can fill the gap Charizard has left in his party, as well as rematch a few trainers in Victory Road, just to test out his team's versatility.

When the league is finally ready to open the doors of Viridian Gym, the most important thing he learns is that being the final gym leader means he can pretty much do whatever he wants. The first few weeks are spent redesigning the gym puzzle and hand-picking his ace trainers; since he's no expert at either of those things, he decides to turn them both into a contest. Calls are made, newspaper advertisements are written, battles are organised, and soon enough he finds himself with an independent architect who has come up with an incredibly creative layout of spinning tiles, mirrors and conveyor belts on the one side, and the winners of his little tournament on the other.

This is already turning out to be more interesting than he thought it would.

 

 

On Green's seventeenth birthday, Leaf is there with a cake and a gym challenge for him. She barely loses, even though the three pokémon she has – Blastoise, Clefairy and Koffing – work together very well and have an insane amount of tricks up their metaphorical sleeves. They do eat the cake together afterwards.

“See, I'm keeping those team spots open because I'm planning to travel to Johto soon,” she explains with her mouth full of crumbs. “There are a ton of cool pokémon there, and I'm really not patient enough to rotate like you do with that Machamp and Aerodactyl of yours, so I'm running on three for now. Also, it means I don't spend as much money on medicine and can buy more peanut butter for all of us.”

“Sounds reasonable. Where on earth did you get that cake?”

She raises an eyebrow. “What makes you think I bought it?”

“Oh, come on. It's way too delicious for you to have made it yourself.”

“Wha – How dare you doubt my kitchen abilities?”

“Leaf,” Green deadpans. “You invited me over for dinner last week. Now, remember who ended up having to do all the cooking?”

“Oh. Right. I kind of forgot about that.” She licks her fork clean, then immediately goes for another bite. “How's the search going?”

“I've narrowed it down to either Seafoam Island, Mt. Silver or the Tohjo Falls, Mt. Silver seeming most likely,” Green says. “That's just my personal opinion, though. If he isn't in either of these places, I'll have to start from scratch again. I'll tell you when I find him.”

“You know what? Don't even bother telling me. Just bring him back. It's been more than half a year, and it's starting to get scary.”

“Why don't you look for him?”

“I do,” Leaf says. “I just have other priorities, as well. While, well, the least you can do if you ever hope to be friends with him again is make sure he doesn't die first.”

Green slowly nods, chewing on a piece of chocolate. “Alright. I'll climb that damn mountain, then.”

 

 

He still isn't quite sure he even deserves to find Red, although he's been on Mt. Silver for two days and is already more than halfway up, and the snow is beginning to melt through his clothes. All of his pokémon have stayed in the safety of the Virirdian Gym backyard, except for Alakazam and Eevee, which he's brought along in case of an emergency and because they might want to see Red as well, respectively. His backpack is filled with food in glass jars, full restores, ice heals and sitrus berry jam, as well as some clothes and safety blankets. He plans on just leaving everything with Red – even though he probably can't convince him to come down, nothing will stop him from restocking the other trainer's supplies.

Provided he actually is here, which, as Green progresses further up, becomes less and less likely.

On the other hand, if Red really has retreated to this merciless place, he would definitely be at the very peak. And since the only way from the top is down, there's still hope he'll end up going back to Pallet Town or some other mildly populated place eventually.

Green clings onto that thought until he reaches a cave; puddles of molten snow have formed around the entrance. A glance at the altimeter he's snuck out of his grandpa's lab tells him that this is almost as high as the mountain gets. This is it, then; if Red's not in here, he might as well just start climbing down again.

He takes a hesitant step into the cave, then another one. The temperature is ostensibly rising the further in he walks; the work of a fire type, probably. Green can't really remember Red having one of those, but after all, what does he know?

The mystery is quickly solved, though, as he rounds a corner and finds himself face to face not with the trainer he came here to find, but with a very familiar Charizard.

“Hey, old friend,” Green murmurs, and Charizard nudges his face with its snout. “What brings you here? Found a place that suits your needs?”

Predictably, he doesn't get his answer. Instead, Eevee jumps off his shoulder and skips ahead further into the cave, and when Green follows along with Charizard and Alakazam, he freezes in place after just a few steps.

Red's there, of course.

He doesn't look dead either, huddled around a small campfire with his pokémon team. Sure, the mountain weather has taken its toll on them, and they could be in better shape overall, but it also seems to have made them sturdier, like unpolished diamonds. Green sets the backpack down and drops to the floor. He needs to sit down for this.

“I brought you some stuff,” he begins. The words come slow, but he knows what he wants, what he needs to say. “I know you didn't ask for any of it, but I figured, better have one ice heal too much in your pocket. I'm not trying to... You don't owe me anything, is what I'm saying. Just keep it and don't die.”

That was the easy part. Red looks at him like he always does, except that there's a little bit less intensity in his eyes and a little bit more kindness, or so Green hopes. Either way, it's enough to keep him going.

“Red, I'm sorry. I know that doesn't change anything, but I just want you to know that I am. I realise I've been a coward, and I'm doing my best to fix that. I should've – I wasn't strong enough, not like you, or Leaf. She worries about you, by the way.” He bites his lip. “No, that's unfair. Forget about that. What I'm trying to say...” It's not going very well, he feels it, but he can hardly stop now. “I don't expect you to forgive me for how little I valued your – for how I treated you. You really have no reason to believe me I've changed, right? But, if you ever – if you feel like giving me a second chance, I'd – I swear I won't mess up this time.” He takes a deep breath. “That's all, I guess. I'm not gonna bother you any longer.”

He stands up again and pats Charizard on the neck. “Oh, and before I forget it. If you ever do get off this mountain and need a place to stay or something – well, I live in Viridian now. I'm actually gym leader there, which is the weirdest thing, but – yeah, my doors are open.”

 

 

Eevee evolves into an Umbreon on their way down, and Green figures that he's probably never felt better in his life.

 

 

It's a tad bit surprising when a mere two months later, he's sitting in his gym being mildly bored at the lack of new challengers, when one of his ace trainers, Salma, bursts through the door and jogs up to him.

“Gym leader Green,” she huffs, slightly out of breath. “There's a trainer waiting for you outside.”

Green raises his eyebrows. “Well, let them in then.”

“I would, but... there's a crowd around him already. I'm afraid I can't stop all of them from entering the gym, as well, there's just too many people. They seem to believe it's this Kanto champion that – Green?”

“On it,” Green calls, already halfway out of the door. “I'll meet him outside. Just keep the gym closed, okay?”

He doesn't quite believe his eyes when it's indeed Red standing there, surrounded by what looks like half of Viridian City's population.

“Red!” he calls. “You made it down the – wait.” He stops himself and takes a closer look. That stance, the determination on his face... It dawns on him. “You're here to battle, aren't you?”

Red nods, very slowly, as if he weren't sure himself whether it's the right thing to do.

It's not really what Green wants, but that hardly matters. “Alright. Let's go then.”

He leads with his Pidgeot as usual, while Red sends out his Pikachu, and immediately Green knows what's wrong. Red's pokémon are still in the same state as they were when he saw them on top of Mt. Silver – surviving, but covered in badly healed cuts and bruises with entire patches of fur missing and traces of untreated frostbite.

Well, there's only one way to handle that.

“I forfeit the match!” Green declares without hesitation. A disappointed muttering goes through the crowd.

“Then he wins by default,” says ace trainer Arabella who usually acts as referee for his battles.

“Yeah, that's fine by me. As long as you,” he turns to Red, “get your team to the centre and let them rest for a few days. Please, Red,” he adds, softer now. “You know they're in no condition to fight.”

Red looks at him for far too long, but eventually he nods once again and picks Pikachu back up into his arms. The crowd seems irritated about the thrown match; Green doesn't really care. He waits for Red to leave.

He doesn't.

Luckily though, reading his face is getting easier already. Green swallows. “Yeah, of course. I'll come with you. Close the gym for today, Arabella.”

 

 

Having Red in his apartment isn't as strange as Green had imagined it to be. Somehow, he fits right in with the randomly assembled pieces of furniture and the general cosiness of too many small lamps and pillows in too little space. Umbreon comes to greet them both at the door; Red actually kneels down to scratch its ears.

“It evolved right when I came back down from Mt. Silver,” Green explains. “It's really rare to see that kind of evolution in Kanto, people generally tend to go for one of the stones early on. Mr. Fuji has the theory that it depends on happiness, and, I mean, I've kind of been spoiling it. I have no clue why I'm telling you this, by the way. Stop me if I get weird.”

Red shakes his head dismissively and ruffles one last time through the jet black fur.

“You can put your stuff in my room,” Green calls while making his way into the kitchen and starting to pick up the things he needs for making dinner. “Take the bed. I'll sleep on the couch for now.”

Red joins him shortly after and helps him dice the vegetables, but his movements are slow and not very coordinated. He's not wearing his cap anymore, and Green gets a look at his face.

“Jesus, Red,” he says before he can help himself. “You look like you haven't slept in days. I don't think you should be cutting anything in this state.”

Red sighs and puts the knife back on the kitchen counter. He crosses his arms and looks at Green expectantly.

“You know what?” Green says, sighing as well. “We can still eat tomorrow. I'm not that hungry anyway. Go to sleep. And don't wait for me to tell you what you're allowed to do in here, okay? Just pretend it's your home.”

Red looks like he wants to say something. After a few moments of apparent internal debating, he walks over to Green's kitchen table and takes a pen and a piece of paper out of the miscellaneous-stuff-bowl on top of it.

Thanks, he writes. Good night.

Green laughs feebly when he reads it. “Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

Once Red has disappeared in his room, Green slumps down in one of the kitchen chairs and runs a hand through his hair.

He is so far beyond help.

 

 

The next day, Green is, of course, the first one to be awake. He tries to be as silent as possible while having breakfast and leaves half of his scrambled eggs and toast for Red on a plate next to the microwave. Before opening the gym for the day, he makes a detour to the pokémon centre and goes to collect Red's party so they can spend time together with his team in the gym's backyard. The pokémon seem already a lot healthier than they did yesterday; Green estimates it'll take them about two weeks to fully recover, and maybe a little more than a month to put back on all of the weight they lost on the mountaintop.

Like most days, there aren't really any challengers, so Green's left with catching up on his paperwork and thinking about ways to restructure the gym puzzle and annoy his ace trainers some more. It's not that he doesn't like them, but they insist on being way too formal with him. He hopes that if he starts getting on their nerves a little bit, they can drop the act and he'll get to coax them out of their shells.

When he comes home in the evening, Red is still sleeping, but the plate with his breakfast is empty.

 

 

They live around each other like that for some days. In vain, Green tries to convince Red to go visit Pallet Town or at least let him call Leaf to ask her over, but he doesn't want to. Not yet, is the clarification on a piece of paper. Green makes sure to scatter pens and sticky notes all over the flat now.

Since Red's supply of clothes doesn't last forever, he helps himself to Green's closet as well. One day, he comes into the kitchen with a questioning glance and a sweater slung over his arm. It's exactly the same as the one Green always used to wear at Red's house way back when they were younger, except it's a good amount of sizes bigger, of course. Red raises an eyebrow.

“What?” Green says. “It's comfortable. I like it.”

He's not sure if he's forgiven yet, but he does spot the small amused smile gracing Red's face at his answer. It's the first time in years he's seen him smile at him, he realises.

Red also makes it a habit of hanging around in the backyard of the gym with his pokémon, or taking some of them on long strolls though Viridian Forest. Occasionally, Umbreon or Alakazam accompany him, while Venusaur prefers to stay in the garden and snatch the gym leader's lunch with its long vines. There's days where he doesn't come back in the evening, but Green refuses to worry, and he's usually there the next morning anyway.

Red's pokémon are recovering quickly, so it isn't long until he steps into the gym and challenges Green once again. This time, Green accepts.

It's quickly becoming clear that while the harsh conditions on Mt. Sliver have made Red's pokémon a lot stronger and more resilient, Green's team has undeniably progressed further in terms of strategy. The trick room tactic he's been experimenting with for some time catches Red off guard, as well of the amount of prediction and careful switches on his side. Finally, Green kind of knows what he's doing. And – most incredibly – he's enjoying himself.

He still loses by a hair's breadth, but that doesn't matter.

“Wow,” he laughs after calling back his Machamp and patting Red's heavily breathing Venusaur on the head. “Congratulations, Red. That was really amazing. Consider taking over the gym?”

The other trainer is smiling as well, and Green walks over to shake his hand, but Red isn't having any of it and pulls him into a tight hug instead.

Unfortunately for Green, Red hasn't got worse at hugging over the years and is only marginally shorter than him now, so he really has no choice other than melting into Red's arms and hugging back as hard as he can. He hasn't felt this hopeful in a long time.

“Can we call Leaf and go to Pallet Town, now?” he murmurs. Red nods into his shoulder.

 

 

Red's mother is overjoyed when Green shows up at her doorstep the next day with her son and a “Look who I happened to run into!”. Apparently, Red had told her that he was leaving, but never mentioned where or for how long. She invites Professor Oak over for dinner, as well as Leaf who took a train back from Johto as soon as she could. It's a little bit strange since they haven't eaten together in this constellation in a long time, and Red doesn't actually say anything about his absence, just eats his food and nods or smiles from time to time. However, Green's determined to keep the conversation going, so he asks as many questions as possible and gets Leaf to talk about her travels in Johto, his grandfather about his latest project, and Red's mother about the berry shop she's opened a year ago because their garden was just a little bit too productive.

After dinner, Leaf suggests they have a sleepover like in good old times, and since Red doesn't object, Green really can't say no, either. It takes some time to get Red's unused room back into shape, and if he's honest, Green isn't completely comfortable – being in there after so much time feels familiar, but also suffocating, like being hugged a bit too close by a relative one doesn't see very often. They roll out two spare mattresses and rearrange the cushions, easily falling into a dynamic that isn't quite like the one they had before. Leaf seems closer to Red now, and Green's starting to understand that there's an aspect about their friendship he'll always be excluded from, but both of them still try to reach out to him.

A bit farther into the night, Red falls asleep against Green's shoulder.

 

 

Leaf leaves the next day for Johto again; apparently she has some unfinished business with the Goldenrod City gym leader. From what she tells them, Green shouldn't be too keen on meeting Whitney at the approaching interregional gym trainer get-together.

He himself decides to head back to Viridian as well, if only because the city doesn't feel as stuffy as Pallet Town. He expects Red to stay at home for a while and then move on to somewhere else; he's once again proven wrong.

“You're coming back to Viridian City?” he asks while they're perched atop the wooden fence of Oak's garden. Pikachu is gently snoring in Green's lap.

Red nods, then adds a little tilt of the head.

“No, it's fine, I'm good with that. As long as you don't mind sleeping on the couch and, well, not having very much space in general.”

Red shakes his head and takes out the pen and piece of paper he's begun carrying around. I'm mostly outside anyways, he writes. I won't bother you.

“Yeah, no, I'm not worried about that.” Green sighs and runs a hand over his face. He's entirely too unprepared for this, but it's now or never. “Red, there's something I've been meaning to tell you.”

Red sits up straighter and gives him an encouraging nod.

“I think – I'm pretty sure I've developed feelings. For you, that is,” he rushes to clarify. “It doesn't have to change anything about our situation, I'm more than happy that you want to try being friends again, but – I figured that's the kind of thing you should know before you, like, move in with me for good.”

Red looks surprised, but not in a terrible way. He glances to the side, then back at him, and Green would give anything to know what was going on in his head right now, but he knows he's going to get better at guessing that again over time, so he waits.

Eventually, Red nods. It's as vague a reply as it could possibly be, but when he packs his bags later that day and does follow Green back to his flat, Green guesses it can't mean anything too bad.

 

 

Nothing really changes much after that in their daily rhythm – Red mostly roams through the forest, Green mostly stays in the gym and feeds sandwiches to Venusaur – until one of the rare evenings where they both happen to be home at the same time and decide to have dinner together. Green alternates between eating and talking, but he notices halfway through his plate that Red isn't very responsive at all and still hasn't touched his food.

Green sets down his spoon and leans back. “Hey, are you alright? You seem out of it.”

Red seems to honestly consider it. He picks up his pen, taps it on the table, looks at Green, writes something down and passes him the paper.

Can I kiss you?

“Uh.” He's trying to remember the right words. Red's looking at him expectantly, which makes it considerably more difficult. “Sure, I mean. Yes.” He smiles for good measure because there is no way this is really happening. “Please.”

 

 

Once he's over the fact that it is, indeed, really happening, Green finds that dating Red is actually quite fun. Confusion spreads wherever they go simply because Green's seemingly always monologuing, reading Red's silent replies with growing ease, and whoever tries to have a conversation with them is usually completely lost after two minutes. It also has the advantage of Green getting random messages on his phone while he's in the gym (which provide for a welcome distraction), or just straight-up impromptu visits. Sometimes Red doesn't leave at all and stays in there with him, where they think of even more convoluted ways to organise the gym puzzle and kiss over the desk.

Eventually Green buys a bigger bed that they assemble in the bedroom on a free Sunday afternoon with a little help from Alakazam's still very versatile psychic powers. He doesn't really think too much about going any further than kissing yet, but just sleeping on the same bed is far nicer when neither of them are about to fall off. When they're both sitting on the mattress with a cup of tea and a blanket or two in the evening, Red is usually in his most talkative mood, and he starts telling Green things about Mt. Silver, all scribbled in tight lines on sticky notes. Green doesn't usually keep what Red writes – would be weird since Red doesn't record what he says either – but these ones he makes sure not to throw away.

Are you happy? Red writes one of those evenings, after a particularly long discussion that went from the amount of snow in north-western Kanto to the question whether it's life in complete isolation or in tightly-knitted community that is better for getting to a person's core.

Green takes a moment to think about it. He's seventeen years and eight months old now; he doesn't keep track of days anymore.

“I feel like myself,” he says.

 

 

- The End -