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After his pathetic defeat at the Indigo Plateau, Green slinks away to lick his wounds as soon as he's out of sight, while Lance's and Gramps's attention is still on Red. He sees Red glance back at him only once before he's whisked away, but he's not sure if he sees something like remorse cross Red's face or if it's just his imagination.

He walks all the way back to Pallet Town, not particularly in a hurry to actually get there and face the pity and disappointment of his family and friends.

He refuses to even contemplate the possibility that Red might be there, too, only a few houses away, like an eternal reminder of every single way in which Green has failed.

 

Just as he predicted, Daisy tiptoes around him carefully, face schooled into a perfect mask of kindness, and she makes sure to let Green know how much his failure has not affected her view of him in any way. Green's not entirely sure, but he thinks it might be actually worse than Gramps's clear dismissal. Of course, Green doesn't really know how he feels nowadays, nor is he interested examining it, no matter how persistently Daisy nudges him to do so.

"It will do you good to make sense of things, Green," she says gently one morning after Green sneaks downstairs to get some food. "I know things are hard for you right now, but — "

"I'm fine," Green replies, his voice level, pointedly not looking at Daisy, and stomps back up the stairs into his room.

"You can't hide in there forever!" Daisy calls after him.

Green slams his door and thinks, Just watch me. After all, he's always liked a challenge.

 

Red, of course, is back in Pallet Town, too. Daisy, being the only source of news and gossip Green has, brings him up every now and then. "I talked to Red's Mom," she says, carefully watching Green while Green carefully stares away. "She says Red might be leaving soon." After a beat of silence, she adds, "She says he's been asking about you."

"Great," Green mutters under his breath.

"It might be good for you to talk to him."

Green actually barks out a laugh at that. "Yeah, no. I don't think so." He gets up from behind the table and goes to put away his and Daisy's plates in the sink.

"Green." Daisy sighs.

And Green finally, finally snaps. "I said no!" He whirls around to face his sister. "I don't want to talk to Red. I don't want to even see Red ever again if I can help it. Do you understand?" Daisy actually looks taken aback by Green's outburst, eyes wide and mouth hanging open in shock, but Green's not one to give up — how ironic — so he stares her down for perhaps a moment too long. "Daisy, do you understand?" he asks again.

To his horror, Daisy looks like she might cry, eyes wet and shiny. "Green," she says and her voice shakes.

Green grits his teeth and hisses in frustration, gripping the edge of the sink so hard his knuckles hurt. "Fuck," he says quietly. After a few deep, calming breaths, he adds, "Sorry."

Daisy shakes her head. "You used to be such good friends with him," she whispers, her voice so soft it's only audible because their house is so quiet these days. "What happened to you?"

Green's not sure he could explain it. He's not sure he knows.

 

Daisy ends up inviting Red over anyway, because that's how his sister is; it's how everyone in Pallet Town is, actually — disturbingly smitten with the silent, detached Red. It's always been this way, too, even before he followed Green's footsteps and snatched his dream right out of the cradle of Green's palms.

Red knocks on his door shortly and Green goes to open them in annoyance, assuming it's his sister being overly polite after their fight a few days prior. Instead, Green comes face to face when the person he wants to see the least in probably the whole wide world.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he snaps sharply after a minute of stunned silence. His voice echoes through the hall and he knows that mostly anyone would have flinched, but Red just stares back at him, unaffected.

"Green," he says. "Can I come in?"

Green gapes for a moment, and then he laughs bitterly, because how dare Red show up on his doorstep and demand entry into Green's only sanctuary, into the only place where Green's loss is only partly real. "Absolutely not," he says. "What do you want?"

Red glances past Green into his room and then back into Green's eyes, and if Green didn't know him better, he would think Red hesitates to speak. But of course, that's just the way Red is — slow to speak and slow to act, but once he does, he always makes sure to deliver a killing blow. It's no different this time.

"I'm not going to apologize," he says. "I beat you fairly."

Green grits his teeth so hard it hurts. "Yeah, I wouldn't have noticed if you haven't told me," he grinds out bitterly. "Do you get off on rubbing it in or something?"

"No," Red replies simply. "I'm not sorry I beat you," he repeats then, slowly, like it's important that Green knows — and oh, he knows all too well — and Green actually thinks he might punch Red right in the face, but then Red says, "but I am sorry it had to be this way."

The fight goes right out of Green.

Somehow, that makes it worse.

"Fuck you," he hisses out, and the words taste like poison in his mouth. "I don't want your apologies, or your pity, do you understand? I don't want anything from you, Red. Get the hell out of my life."

Red nods, touching the peak of his hat, and then he turns around and leaves, jogging down the stairs and leaving the house with only a curt farewell to Daisy.

Green slams the door behind him with far too much force, enough to make his windows rattle and the Pokeballs, untouched since his arrival in Pallet Town, to clatter around on his desk. He stands there with his hand on the handle for a long while, breathing hard like he's just finished a particularly intense battle.

It's the last time he sees Red for a very long time.

 

Daisy does whatever she can to get out of Green's way for the weeks to come. She doesn't bring up Red — even though Green knows he left Pallet Town only days after their confrontation, having overheard her conversation with Gramps — or Green's sulking anymore, and that's just fine with him. It's all he wants to do, anyway.

He calls Eevee out of her Pokeball after he hears that Red is gone, staring at the confused Pokemon for a moment with his hands folded in his lap. Eevee mewls at him and sits down in the middle of Green's room, her eyes trained on him. Waiting for his command.

Green is not sure to which extent Pokemon actually understand human speech; even his grandfather, who's dedicated a bigger part of his life, doesn't know for sure. But if he's learned anything on his journey, it's not to underestimate them and their intelligence.

"Did I treat you badly?" he asks her quietly. He can hear Daisy clattering about downstairs, but he still lowers his voice even more, making sure she doesn't hear. "Did I care for you wrong?"

Eevee twitches her ears and cocks her head to the side, only the faintest sound coming out of her throat, and then she's up and slinking between Green's legs, pushing her head into his palm.

"Then where did I go wrong?" he whispers and scratches her behind her ears absentmindedly while he stares off into space. "Did I lose because — because I was weak?"

Eevee licks his palm and whimpers softly against his hand, and when Green looks at her, her eyes are sad. It hits him in that moment that maybe he's been looking at it the wrong way the whole time, and it's like the ground drops below him. "Did we lose because we — "

Because we were weak? We made a bad team? We were not a team at all? He doesn't know how to finish the sentence himself, but Eevee nuzzles his hand and Green knows in that moment, that whatever blame he shoulders, he doesn't shoulder the entirety of it alone. The victories aren't only the trainer's, but neither are the losses.

Green wonders if Red understands this, if that knowledge is what he had that Green didn't.

"I'll do better by you," he promises softly to Eevee, and his eyes burn when he glances at the rest of his Pokeballs.

He stands up and wipes at his face, waits for the moment to pass, and grabs the rest of his Pokemon, the weight of the Balls that house them familiar and comforting.

Green leaves the house for the first time in weeks.

 

Daisy pokes her head into Green's room on a lazy Saturday afternoon. "Green, you have a phone call."

Green is lying on his bed with Eevee curled up by his side, staring at the ceiling and thinking about nothing in particular. "Tell them to go screw themselves, whoever it is."

Truth be told, Green is feeling better, if only by a little. His defeat sits hot and heavy in his stomach and Green doesn't know if it will ever go away, but after having a similar heart-to-heart that he had with Eevee with the rest of his fighting party, he feels somewhat lighter and more reconciled with his short-lived reign as the Kanto Champion.

That doesn't mean he wants to talk to people yet.

Daisy chews on her lower lip before she adds hesitantly, "It's Lance."

At that, Green turns to her, and even Eevee looks up to stare at Daisy curiously. "Great," Green says after a moment. "Tell him to go screw himself twice. Close the door behind you, please."

 

Green is fifteen years old and still has a lot to learn, but even he knows that people can't leave things well enough alone. That's why he's not particularly surprised when Lance, attire complete with the ridiculous cape and hairdo, bursts into his room only a few days after his aborted phone call. "Green," he says as a way of greeting, voice far too loud for Green after he's spent so much time in self-imposed exile.

"Do you have to yell?" he asks and glares at Lance as hard as he can, hoping he would take the hint and go away as quickly as he appeared.

"You've just been quiet for way too long." Lance waves him off. "We need to talk."

"Whatever you want, the answer is no."

Lance's expression turns serious, and he continues as if he hadn't heard Green at all. "Green, I'm here on behalf of the Indigo League to offer you the title of the Kanto Champion."

Green stares for a long while. "What?" he asks once the silence becomes too unbearable, but his voice comes out as a croak, his heart beating too fast. Green thinks he might actually be sick. "But — I don't understand. Isn't Red — Red is — " Then the worst thought comes to him, and he sits up abruptly, nearly shoving an already agitated Eevee off the bed. "Did something happen to Red?"

Lance looks genuinely surprised. "You don't know? He abdicated a few weeks ago."

"He what?"

Lance sighs and flops down onto Green's chair with a frown, crossing his arms. "Red came to the Plateau only to announce that he quits, and couldn't be persuaded otherwise. Then he left, and that's the last time anyone's seen him. He's been missing for weeks now. It's been all over the news, Green, how did you not know?" He scowls at Green like he's personally affronted by him not keeping up with whatever gossip people fancy these days.

Green's palms are sweating. "Red abdicated? Red's missing? What do you mean, he abdicated?" Why the hell would anyone give up being a Champion? After all those months of training and travelling, sweating blood and bullets — Green growls low in his throat. Red is a fucking child.

"Well, that's what he did. Don't ask me, I don't get it either. It's never happened before, and you can't imagine the amount of paragraphs I had to go through just to figure if he can actually do that." Lance lets out a long-suffering sigh. "Of course, by the time we were done with the paperwork, Red was already nowhere to be found, so it was pretty pointless, but… Long story short, the League is without a Champion, which is pretty awkward for us. But since Red left his position, the title is rightfully yours, if you want it."

Green is going to pass out. There he is, being offered everything he's ever wanted on a silver platter, like a gift from the heavens. With just one word, it could be his, everything could be his — he could be on top again after crawling through the mud. It's at the tip of his tongue. Yes. He opens his mouth to say it, but then —

Eevee yips loudly, and the moment is broken; Green breaks out of his trance and stares at his Pokemon only to see her staring back at him, fur bristled as if in warning.

It wouldn't mean shit if he accepted the title like this. Everyone knows he's been beaten by Red, everyone knows who is actually Kanto's best trainer — and it's not him. The word sours in Green's mouth, and he grimaces, eyebrows drawing together, and he turns to stare at the ceiling, away from Lance's and Eevee's curious looks. Even though he knows he's doing the right thing, it's still one of the most difficult decisions he's ever had to make.

"No," he says, and it rings in his ears. He closes his eyes and swallows, and repeats it, voice surer this time. "No. I don't want it. It wouldn't mean anything like this."

Even though he's not looking at him, he can hear Lance breath out like he's been holding his breath. "I knew you would say that."

Green lowers his eyes to glare at him. "Then why would you ask me that?"

"Can't blame a guy for trying," Lance says with a shrug, and he grins at Green like he's about to let him in on the most amazing secret known to man. "Anyway, I have another proposal for you, and I think you might actually like this one."

 

Daisy nearly cries on the day Green leaves for Viridian City. "I'm so proud of you," she says and hugs Green so tightly she nearly squeezes the life out of him. "You've come so far, Green. You're gonna be a wonderful Gym Leader."

Green pats her back awkwardly. "I know," he says, and he means it as a joke, but being held by the only person who's ever truly believed in him, he actually thinks it might be true. "But you gotta let me go first."

Daisy does, because she always does as Green asks, because she always knows exactly what he needs. Eevee rubs her neck on Daisy's leg until she sniffs and drops to a squat to pet her. "Yeah, yeah, I'm gonna miss you, too," she coos with her head hung.

I'm sorry, Green wants to say, because he didn't realize how worried his sister has been about him until now. Thank you, he wants to say, because he only realizes how much Daisy's done for him at the most awkward of moments.

When Daisy stands up, her eyes are dry and full of resolve. "You should go, or you're going to be late," she says.

Green nods and swallows around the painful lump in his throat. It feels so different from the first time he left, all those years ago, with only one Pokemon and Red in tow, always a few steps behind. It feels definite this time. "Daisy," he says, trailing off.

She waves her hand with a smile. "I know, I know. Smell ya later, right?"

Green likes to think he's outgrown this stupid phrase, but he appreciates the sentiment, nonetheless. "Yeah," he says shortly. "Smell ya later." He heaves his duffel onto his back and just goes.

 

He's stopped by Red's mother, of all people, before he even leaves the town. "Green," she says, and her face is gloom and wrinkled and much older looking than the last time Green's seen her. "I know I'm asking a lot, but — if you see Red, please…" She trails off, wriggling her hands nervously like a schoolgirl instead of a woman who's faced her fair share of worry and heartbreak.

"I doubt I will," Green tells her truthfully. "I won't be travelling for a while, so unless he's hiding somewhere between Pallet Town and Viridian City…" He shrugs. "And if he is, I promise that I'll kick his ass on your behalf."

That gets him a smile and Green is glad for that, because for all the suffering Red's caused him, his mother has always been nothing but kind to Green. She's no less Red's victim than Green himself. "Don't underestimate yourself," she tells him. "If anyone can find him, it will be you."

I don't want to find him, Green thinks, but he nods anyway. "If I see him, I'll make sure he comes home," he says, and he means that at least.

 

Red is not hiding in the forest between Pallet and Viridian, and he doesn't seek Green out either, like Red's mother seemed to believe. Green's not in a hurry to go searching for him, and so he's stuck with an empty promise to uphold for the next two years.

He's happy. Sometimes he wonders how things would have been if Red gave up on his dream of being a Champion a few weeks earlier than he did, if the title had been Green's all along, but those thoughts are few and far between these days.

Being a Gym Leader is much more boring than Green anticipated — less battling and more paperwork — but it's rewarding in its own way, too. Green is happy. He is battling. He is getting stronger. There's no Red to come around and destroy everything anymore.

Green has watched how Red changed from a missing person to a myth in the span of only a few years; people used to talk animatedly about his possible whereabouts, but they only shrug now whenever someone mentions the only trainer who's ever given up his Championship, as if he's a ghost now. As if Red's never existed at all — a stuff of legends, a fairy tale to tell children who get too greedy.

But lately, things began to change. It started with a Trainer appearing in the Viridian Pokemon Center, dirty and crazy-eyed, spouting nonsense about Mt. Silver and the phantom that lives at the very peak — an unbeatable trainer. Green reads about it at the back of his morning paper and immediately knows, with such painful clarity that it makes his head spin.

He staggers up from the table, knocking it aside with the top of his thighs, and nearly spills his morning coffee as he walks to the window on shaky legs. He lives atop the Gym, and the apartment may be tiny and cramped and the heating may only work in the summers, but his job is only down the stairs and the view from the windows is — well, impressive. Mt. Silver, gleaming like a shiny garnet over Viridian.

"Red," Green breathes out, his hands shaky. Could it be, really? All this time, and Red's been...

Eevee mewls softly and bumps into Green's calf. Green startles at the touch, looks down quickly and then back up at the mountain that looked nonthreatening and dull only minutes ago, and now looks like an impending doom to everything Green has come to know. He swallows, then swallows again. "I'm fine," he croaks out and sinks to the ground next to his most loyal Pokemon. "I'm fine. Everything's fine."

It could be someone else. Hell, it could be a hoax, god knows they have enough of those in this region. But somehow, Green just knows. He sits, scratches Eevee behind the ears and Mt. Silver towers over him behind his back.

 

Green wakes up in the mornings with Mt. Silver on his mind, and he has to know.

 

He considers going alone, but — Eevee seems determined to prove to him that yes, even Pokemon have facial expressions, as she frowns at him with all the power of a thunderstorm, the angry growls vibrating her whole body. "You have no business looking this frightening," Green tells her as he packs his bags — thermal underwear, winter jacket… What could he possibly need on top of a mountain? A tent? — and she hisses like a wraith.

She scuttles around Green's ankles, lies on top of his folded clothes, stands in front of the door, does anything and everything in her power to stop him from leaving.

"God damn it," Green says in the end and rolls his eyes. "Fine! Fine, what the hell, you can come, too."

Her ears perk up, and her face lights up with the closest thing to a smile a non-humanoid creature can manage.

"But," Green says, and bites back a grin — one of the few genuine ones, too — when Eevee's face falls. "Get in the Pokeball. And," holding up a finger, "it's not up for a debate."

 

They go. Green leaves the rest of his fighting party at home, Eevee's Pokeball the only one weighting down his belt — and Green's glad for it, too, because the trip is exhausting and rough. Green grew up in Pallet town and lives in Viridian — both towns relatively close to the mountain and used to their share of cold winds that blow their way. Green thought he was used to cold, very good at dealing with it, but...

He was wrong. He laments exactly how wrong he was as he shivers and trembles his way up the mountain.

"If you're not up there," Green grits through his clattering teeth, "I'm going to kill you." He's probably going to kill Red either way, though — he thinks, actually dares to imagine meeting Red at the peak of it, and realizes that he doesn't know what he would do.

He grinds his teeth together and treks on.

 

On the top of it, the very top of the mountain, the air is clear and clean and thin, and Green breathes shallowly and squints at the glistening snow and ice. His breath is visible in front of him, the only thing Green can hear, and he doubts — how could anyone survive here? What kind of drugs was that dude on when he came to the Center spouting about a trainer living up here?

Green looks around, shoulders slumped, and sighs deeply, closing his eyes. "Oh, man," he says quietly, thinking of going back down again, all that way, and considers just sitting down on the ground and freezing to death instead. "Oh, man," he says again, and the wind blows, lifts the fine mountain snow and whirls it around; the iced layer glistens like diamonds for a moment and Green opens his eyes, covers them with his hand. He squints against the harsh sun and —

Like a fata morgana, Red stands in front of Green, further away down the road.

Green stares. Red stares back at him, unmoving.

"You," Green breathes out, too quiet for Red to hear, and he takes a step forward. He expects Red to disappear, like a mirage, but Red is solid and real only handful of steps away. "You," Green says again, a little louder. Another step, and another. Slowly, fitfully, Green moves closer and closer to Red; he can see Red's stricken expression now, eyes wide under his cap, lips parted slightly. Green can see Red's breath leave in little warm puffs and — he feels relieved that he's alive.

Relieved and angry.

Furious.

"You," he says and takes the final step towards Red and swings his arm out with all the force of his rage, and punches him right in the face. "You — you fuck," he snaps at Red as he stumbles backwards, only barely not falling over into the snow. "You dumb son of a bitch," Green chokes out; his voice is so loud here, echoing across the mountain. Green himself flinches at the volume, but he can't stop. "You've been here the whole time?"

Red holds his cheek where Green's fist connected, and looks right at him, and his face is — stunned. "Green," he croaks out after a moment too long of silence, and Green's name sounds strange from Red's mouth; Red always talked like it was a chore, but his voice is hoarse now, like Red isn't quite sure how to use it anymore.

"You — you stupid asshole," Green snaps and moves towards Red, grabs him by the lapels of his jacket and they both stumble. Red lets out a surprised sound and his hands fly out to grab at Green's, and the snow rises like mist under their feet. They fall over, Red onto his back and Green on top of him. "The whole time — what the hell is wrong with you? Do you know how worried we've been?" Green screams right into Red's face.

Red holds Green by the wrists. His cheeks are red, irritated from the cold, all the redder where Green hit him. He looks — different. Green breathes hard, practically sitting on Red's lap, and thinks, Of course he looks different. Green probably looks different to Red, too; taller, for one, face longer and less rounded with baby fat.

Red's hands are calloused, hair longer and falling into his eyes from under the worn cap. Green stares at him, eyes frantic on Red's face, worried that if he looks away for even a second, if he even blinks, Red will disappear. And where Green looks healthy and grown up, Red looks... Red looks horrible. Red looks horrible and Green swallows as he realizes this, looking at the dark smudges of shadow under his eyes, at the way his cheeks are sunken.

"Do you know how worried we've been?" Green repeats, voice wobbling around the words. He didn't realize how worried he's been himself, not until now, never has allowed himself to linger on it; he slumps forward, buries his face in the crook of Red's neck, turns their position to a desperate hug somehow. His breathing grows ragged; he gulps in air like a drowning man, fights hard to keep his panting from turning into sobs. "You asshole," he says shakily into the warm skin of Red's throat. "You fucker, how dare you — "

"Green," Red says, and his palm slides to Green's side, up and up until it rests between his shoulder blades, warm and heavy.

 

Red lives in a cave. A small opening leads to a fairly big space; big enough for Red's Pokemon to rest comfortably around the walls, most of them huddled against Charizard and his big, warm belly. Red slinks in through the mouth and Green follows, careful not to crack his head open on the low ceiling.

It's utilitarian, that's what it is. Green remembers Red as a child, before they even began their journeys, and the way he hated camping; Green would suggest a sleepover in their garden, offered to pitch a tent and everything, and Red would look pained and freaked out the whole night.

"Look at you," Green murmurs, and he smiles but doesn't feel it.

Red's Pokemon greet their Trainer softly, mindful of the everlasting silence that seems to envelope him like a cloak nowadays, but they leap to their feet at the sounds of Green's voice and — roar. Pikachu is the first one to run to him; his voice chirps all the way as he runs and jumps straight into Green's arm.

"Wow," Green says and catches him, lets the Pokemon nuzzle close to him. "Slow down there, buddy, before you knock us over."

The rest of Red's Pokemon crowd in around them; Green inches towards Charizard and his warmth almost unconsciously, Pikachu nestled in his arms, and he greets the rest of them with words and smiles and gentle hands. He's been worried when he's seen Red; if the Trainer looks this bad, how bad off must his Pokemon be? But Red — Red must take good care of them, because Pikachu's fur is shiny and silky, Charizard's flame is big and strong, Venusaur's blossom is rich pink hues, as it should be.

"You guys look healthy," Green says.

The Pokemon chirp and roar and growl happily. Green grins and his eyes flicker over to Red who stands aside, watching this reunion like a hawk, but when their eyes meet, Red's mouth slowly, slowly, carefully turns up in a smile.

 

They sit side by side in front of a small fire at the mouth of the cave that evening. Red's hugging his knees, chin rested on top of them, looking into the distance. Green's covered in two blankets and shivering in the cold.

"Come back," Green says.

Red shakes his head.

"Red," Green sighs. "What — why not?"

Red doesn't say anything for a long moment, but then he sighs deeply and turns to Green. "Battle me," he says slowly; his voice is lower than it used to be, and Green wonders if it's natural or if it's the cold, if it's the fact that Red seems to not speak at all.

"Battle you?" Green repeats, and Red nods, staring Green down with conviction. "We both know how that's going to end," Green says slowly, because — he couldn't beat Red back then, and something tells him that he won't be able to beat Red now. Especially now, after this... Green looks around the hostile terrain. After this training.

Red shrugs. He opens his mouth to say something, but stops; he works his jaw for a second and then closes it again, face tight. Green feels almost sorry for him, the sentiment battling with a sense of gratification; if this mountain is what Red wants, let him have it. With all the perks that entails. Cold. Hunger. Loneliness.

But still. "If I win, will you come down?" Green asks, looking at Red from the corner of his eye.

Another nod. Red clears his throat. "Yes," he manages to grit out.

Green sighs deeply, closes his eyes and leans back onto his hands. "Why can't you ever do anything the easy way?" he asks and it's a good thing he's not expecting an answer now, because he gets none. "Alright, then," Green says quietly, mostly to himself. "Alright," he repeats, louder this time for Red, too. "Let's do it, then."

 

Of course, Green only brought Eevee with him; the Pokemon sits huddled together with Red's team in the cave, pressed against Charizard, chirping happily to Pikachu; Green and Red watch them for a moment. How ironic is it that only minutes from now, the two will be locked in a battle and each trying to render the other unconscious.

"Eevee," Green says and crosses his arms, widens his stance into something she must recognize as a fighting position, gives her a meaningful look. She looks up, sniffs the air curiously. "Are you up for a battle, girl?" he asks her.

She growls low in her throat and gets up, the fur on her back standing on end. Good, Green thinks. Get pumped.

Pikachu is at Red's side in a matter of seconds; Green blinks in surprise because he didn't see Red give any command at all, and he definitely didn't hear him speak; he stares at the pair as Pikachu climbs onto Red's shoulder, and turns to face Green with resolve.

 

Watching Red battle now is — well. Sort of a religious experience, sort of like a dance number, but most of all, it's frustrating, because Red doesn't command his Pokemon at all. Green grits his teeth and calls out to Eevee for a Quick Attack, and Pikachu dodges and counters with his own without Red even moving.

"What the — " Green mutters and watches Eevee struggle to match Pikachu in his speed. She's not his usual choice for a battle now; she's more of a companion to him nowadays, a friend, but they have wiped the floor with gym challengers before. Green knows she's more than capable of a fight, but...

She can't keep up with Red's Pokemon at all. Pikachu moves like it's no problem, like the floor isn't cold and rocky and unforgiving, like the cold doesn't bother him at all.

The battle is over much too soon; Eevee lies on the cold floor panting, the breath coming out of her in little wheezes, and Pikachu stands a while away, his red cheeks sparking softly.

Not too long ago, Green would have pushed her further, but now... Red isn't the only one who's been learning the hard way. "Enough," Green says and steps forward, walks over to Eevee and picks her up, cuddles her to his chest. "That's enough. You win, Red."

Pikachu stands down immediately, the electricity dying off in the air abruptly, and he hops over to Red quickly, shooting a worried look towards Green and his exhausted Pokemon.

"You did good," Green murmurs to Eevee softly, presses his cheek to her soft fur. "You did great."

When Green looks up, he finds Red watching him with something like — disappointment.

 

Five months after Green climbed Mt. Silver, he meets Gold.

The boy, no older than fourteen, walks into Green's gym with an air of arrogance and boredom, and stares up at Green over the battleground, unimpressed. "You're the former champion," he says; it's not even a question.

Green raises his eyebrows. "I see you've done your homework," he says, crossing his arms over his chest. "Do you know as much about battling, though?"

Gold shrugs and says, "I'm the champion now," and proceeds to pummel Green into the ground.

The thing about battling as a gym leader is that Green can rarely go all-out. Trainers of all levels and skills come to him, seeking his judgement, and it's not his job to nuke them with the most powerful fighters he has. It would be easy to call for Blastoise and beat any thirteen-year-old into a pulp, but that's not his job. It's not his job to win nowadays.

Sometimes, though. Sometimes, a trainer comes in and challenges Green. And there's something almost Red-like in Gold, some sort of calm that comes from knowing that you're the best, and knowing you will be able to prove it.

Gold proves it. Green pulls out the big guns, and still loses.

When the battle is done and the dust is still settling around them, Green closes his eyes. He breathes in. He breathes out. For a moment he's back at the Indigo Plateau, all eyes on him, disapproving, only to judge him for a hot second before they move on to something better, stronger, shinier.

There's no one to look down upon Green now. He opens his eyes and watches as Gold pets his Pokemon, grinning, composed, and happy. He's not Red; there's nothing quite as haunted in Gold's expression as there was in Red's towards the end, but...

Maybe, just maybe, that might be a good thing.

"So," Green says and forces a smile, waiting for Gold's attention. "You want to know if you're really worthy of the title of the Champion?"

 

He sends Gold off with a few vague directions and a pat on the back, and — waits. In a desperate attempt to distract himself, he mops the floors in the gym. He catches up on all of his backlogged paperwork, writes his monthly scheduled report for Lance, he shops for groceries. He even cleans his apartment — not that it makes much of a difference.

He also calls home. Daisy picks up on the fourth ring, just as Green was about to hang up. "Oak household, Daisy speaking. How can I help you?" she says, rushed and frantic and oddly out of breath.

Green lets out a relieved exhale at the sound of her voice, closing his eyes and tipping his head back. "Hi, Daisy," he says. "It's Green. Is it a bad time?"

"Green!" Daisy says it like she's surprised, and Green scoffs. He's been making a point to call her regularly. "No, of course not. I was in the garden. How are you?"

Green swallows, eyes squeezed shut so tightly it's almost painful. There's so much happening, so much he wants to say to Daisy, but the words just won't leave his throat.

I found Red. He's moping around on top of Mt. Silver and refuses to come down until someone beats him in a battle. Ha! Classic Red.

How could he bring that up? She spends her days cooking and growing flowers; it seems almost cruel to bring his Red-related drama into her home. Instead, he says, "All this paperwork is driving me crazy. I gotta fill out two forms for every challenge, and most of them are useless." His voice trembles only a little.

"Don't be mean," Daisy replies. "Besides, I know you enjoy the job."

Green laughs, a little desperate. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess I do." He pauses a bit before asking, "How are you?"

Daisy is quiet for a moment, and Green worries for a moment she's gonna question his obviously strange, jumpy behavior. "I'm fine," she says instead, though she sounds hesitant. "Things are quiet around here now that you're out of town. No one here to cause trouble."

"Excuse you," Green says instantly, like a knee jerk reaction, though it comes out sounding blank and fake. "I would never."

More silence on Daisy's end. "I've been helping out at Grandpa's lab," she says softly. "He's been asking about you."

"That's cute," Green replies. "Fuck him."

"You don't mean that. You know he's sorry."

"Whatever," Green says, voice low and rough like a growl.

He doesn't spend much thought on his grandfather nowadays; he's never been good enough for him as a child, or even as a young, upcoming trainer. He's not going to give him attention now that he's a Gym leader. It's the only reason why Gramps would want it, and Green spitefully and deliberately refuses to indulge him.

"How's Red's mom?" he asks instead, the question out of him before he can stop himself. Now, she's someone who he has been thinking about, ever since he came back from the mountain; her ashen, fallen face and his promise to bring back her wayward son that he couldn't keep.

"Oh," Daisy says, taken aback. "Um. She's — you know. I think she's getting better, I really do. She's very quiet these days. Why do you ask?"

"No reason," Green says, and prays to every deity he can think of that the Gold kid can kick Red's ass and bring him home.

 

A week later, someone knocks on Green's front door. Green is — well, not really asleep; he's staring at the ceiling, petting his dozing Eevee behind the ears. She jumps up at the unexpected disturbance, ears perked and immediately on high alert. She growls.

So does Green. "What the fuck?" He shuffles for the lightswitch. The knocks come again, a little more insistent this time, and Green wrenches the door open. "Oh," he says.

Red stands in front of him, blinking owlishly at the light. "I lost," he tells Green. He's — wet, soaked through, dripping on Green's doormat with what Green can also assume is layers and layer of Mt. Silver snow and ice. The last time Green saw him he looked tired, sure, and rough around the edges, but… here, on Green's doorstep, back in civilization, he looks absolutely appalling. Clothes tattered and dirty, badly cut hair haphazardly stuffed under a worn cap, thin as a skeleton.

"What the fuck," Green says again. "What — " For a second all he can do is stare at Red with his mouth hanging open and eyes boggling, but after a moment reality kicks back in. He grabs Red by the wrist and drags him inside, slamming the front door behind them so loud it's bound to wake the entire neighborhood. "What are you doing here?" he snaps.

Red's face visibly falls.

Green rolls his eyes, and drags Red towards the sofa. He pushes Red down into it, but changes his mind a second before Red's grimy ass touches the cushions. He jerks him back up. "Wait," he says. "You're not getting Mt. Silver filth all over my couch."

Red blinks at him. "Okay," he says.

They stay like that for a moment, in eerie silence — Green clinging to Red's wrist like he would disappear if he let go; Red watching Green like he's never seen a human being before. The lightbulb in Green's old chandelier flickers.

In the end, Green breaks the silence first. He lets go of Red's wrist, holding his breath, and takes a step back. "Where are your Pokemon," he asks.

"The Pokemon center," Red tells him.

"Well, at least you've done something right," Green snaps, and regrets it instantly, because Red flinches as if he hit him. He pinches the bridge of his nose. He won't apologize. Red has always done whatever he wanted with no regard for anyone else's feelings or well-being, and it's his turn to reap what he sowed. In this instance, what he sowed was Green's ire.

"Green," Red says, quiet and rough, like it hurts him, "I'm sorry."

"Funny how everyone keeps saying that to me," Green grits through his teeth, and walks over to his closet. He wrenches the door open with a loud, pained squeak and starts rummaging through his things. He pulls out a clean shirt and some sleeping pants and turns to throw them at Red, who nearly fails to catch them, looking stunned. "Go take a shower. You smell," he says and points at the bathroom door.

Red just nods and goes, closing the door behind him quietly like he's afraid that any wrong move might set Green off. Understandably.

Green stands in the middle of the room until he hears the water turn on, and then shuffles to the couch like a zombie, suddenly drained of all his energy. He flops down, leans forward and puts his head in his hands. His fingers are numb and cold. Next to him, the cushion dips and Eevee's cold, small nose nudges at Green's elbow gently.

"Hey there," Green says softly and glances at her from between his fingers. "At least someone's not tip-toeing around me."

Eevee yawns and curls down next to Green's thigh, though he can tell she's not sleeping, watching the bathroom door instead, waiting.

What the hell is Green supposed to do? What is he supposed to feel? He wanted Red to come back, didn't he? Not necessarily to his own goddamn doorstep in the middle of the night, but — still. He thought he was over the feeling of hurt and betrayal when it came to Red; ever since he saw him on Mt. Silver, any anger he might have felt for him was replaced by worry and anxiety. But now Red was back, and all the pain Green associated with him was rearing its ugly head again.

Green sighs, and buries his head in his hands again. He thought he was past this. It has been years, and he made peace with his life as it was now. His apartment was shitty, and his job was less exciting than people thought, but he was doing well. All of his fury just felt pointless and exhausting, like trying to hold onto hot coal. Before, Green didn't know how to let go; he didn't even know he could. He was stuck juggling burning coal in his palms, lashing out at everyone else for a pain he was causing himself.

Maybe it's time to let go.

The water in the shower turns off, and Green stands up again, slowly, flexing his fingers. Red emerges from the bathroom a few minutes later, Green's clothes hanging off him like bags. He still looks like he's a mess, but at least he seems to be clean.

Green purses his lips. "You have a bad tan," he says.

Red looks down at him, tugging at his collar. His tan line is somewhere below his chin. "It's the mountain sun," he says as a way of explanation.

Green nods, and swallows, and shuffles on his feet. He's still fucking pissed, so much so that his jaw hurts from how he clenches it, but — hot coals. "I'm really glad you're back," he says, and he means it. "I mean, I don't get why you're here of all places, but…" Green trails off.

Red looks around Green's apartment; there's blankets and old newspapers scattered around the sofa and coffee table, empty coffee mugs and dirty plates, and some half-finished paperwork Green brought from downstairs in some ridiculous hopes he might finish it. "You're a gym leader," he says.

Green shrugs, but he can't help the swell of pride. He grins, rocking back and forth on his heels. "Obviously," he says.

Red watches him for a moment before he gives Green one of his rare, honest smiles. "It suits you," he says.

 

Shortly after, Green pushes Red onto the sofa and throws a blanket over his head. "Go to sleep. You're gonna call your mother tomorrow, and then you're going home even if I have to drag you all the way to Pallet Town myself."

"How is she?" Red asks.

"How do you think?" Green snaps, glaring at Red over his shoulder as he pours him a glass of water. "She's gonna be much better once she knows you're not fucking dead, you idiot."

After all, Green would know. He sets the glass down on the coffee table. "I'm gonna sleep downstairs. You better fucking be here in the morning," he says, almost like a threat, and points at Eevee. "She'll be watching you."

"Where else would I be?" Red says. He falls asleep within minutes.

 

Green dials Daisy's phone number from his office at the Gym, and even though it's the middle of the night, she picks up almost immediately.

"Who is it?" she mumbles into the receiver, voice thick with sleep.

Green rubs his eyes. "It's me," he says.

Daisy sucks in a sharp breath. "Green? What — did something happen?" she asks.

"Yeah. Something — something happened." Green leans back in his chair, grinning up at the ceiling. "I think something really good happened."