Red wakes the morning after arriving at Aiko’s house to the sound of rain. He lifts his head in his sleeping bag and opens bleary eyes to see the grey sky through the glass, then turns over and drifts back to sleep, lulled by the steady drum on the roof and windowpane.
What next wakes him is the sound of conversation, and he sits up to see Leaf, Aiko, and Blue sitting in the living room and talking quietly as they eat from a common platter of bread, various soft cheeses, fruit, and vegetables.
“Morning,” Leaf says with a smile. “Hungry?”
“Mm, maybe in a bit.” He rubs his eyes. “What’s going on?” He checks his phone and sees it’s already almost noon.
“We were just talking about waiting out the rain, but the forecast says it’ll probably stay like this all day.”
Red smiles. “Well, that’s perfect. More time to…” He pauses and looks around.
“My dad’s downstairs,” Aiko says with a resigned look.
“More time to convince him to let you come.”
Leaf grins as Aiko sighs. “What?” Red asks.
“Welcome to the argument we’ve been having,” Leaf says. “She doesn’t want us to stay.”
“Not because you’re imposing,” Aiko insists. “I doubt Dad will say anything, since that would require him actually acting normal,” she says, voice bitter. “But you guys don’t have to stay just for me. He’s not going to change his mind.”
“We’re staying because we don’t want to get soaked,” Blue says. “But if by staying a little longer we happen to get you out of here too, that’s an added bonus. I still want my training partner.”
Aiko’s smile is brief, but she seems more relaxed. “Well if you’re going to spend the time anyway, I take back what I said yesterday. Feel free to say whatever you’d like to him.”
“I tried last night,” Leaf says, and fills them in on her conversation with Aiko’s dad. “Maybe one of you will have better luck. I’m going to give it another shot later too.”
“Let’s talk strategy, then,” Red says. Something about her mention of opening the ranch up as a petting zoo makes his mind reach toward an idea, but it’s too vague and shapeless for him to grasp it. “It seems like there are two separate issues here. One, Mr. Sakai has a lot of pokemon to take care of, and without Aiko here he might have trouble doing so. Two, Mr. Sakai is worried about her safety, and may not want her to leave at any point because of that. Is there anything you can tell us that might help, Aiko?”
Aiko looks at the three of them with some hesitation, but thinks it over as Red finally reaches out to grab some bread and spread cream cheese over it. “He’s really into pokemon welfare, obviously, but not just the ones we have here,” she says after a couple minutes. “Maybe if I can convince him that it’ll be better for other pokemon, that might help?”
“Right, and help you defend the ranch if needed.” Leaf says. “Maybe if we also sell it to him as you going out to find more pokemon that need a home?”
“Hang on, that just makes the first problem worse.” Blue practices spinning a pokeball across his knuckles as he leans back against the bottom of the couch. “What if we also try to do some crowdfunding, or see if any sanctuaries will take pokemon from here?”
“I think the second needs to be our main concern,” Red says as he places a tomato slice on the toast and bites into it, enjoying the mix of flavors. “And I might have a partial solution. Blue and Leaf, you’ve got some extra abra. If you’re okay with letting Aiko borrow one each, she can register one here and one wherever we are, then teleport back every morning and night to help with the chores. Could be a bit of a hassle, but better than nothing, right?”
“Sounds good to me,” Leaf says, and Blue nods. “But if safety is the true concern, she’d still be missing most of the day.”
“Oh, I’m gone most of the day anyway,” Aiko says. “That’s how I train my pokemon and catch new ones. But I don’t know if I want to lie to him, and I’d feel bad making you all wait for me if I suddenly had to teleport back here on short notice.”
Red shrugs and reaches for a new slice of bread. “We can adjust as needed. When we reach cities our pattern so far tends to be each of us doing our separate things for most of the time anyway, and travel between cities should be quicker now that we all have bikes.”
“It would mean being careful about how you schedule battles,” Blue points out. “Would suck to register for a Challenge match and then have your dad call and ask you to come home for the afternoon.”
“That goes back to the lying question.” Leaf lifts her legs up and hugs them to her chest. “How much does that bother you, Aiko?”
She bites her lip, staring out at the rain. “I’d like to avoid it,” she says at last. “It would make things so much easier to be able to just tell him the truth. Maybe the abra will be enough, and the other ideas will help too. Let’s try them and see.”
Everyone agrees, and Aiko smiles at them, one by one. “I just want to say again… thank you. Even if it doesn’t work out, it means a lot to me.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re a trainer, same as us,” Blue says. “We’re in this together.”
“Speaking of which, what can we do in the meantime?” Leaf asks. “What are your chores on a rainy day?”
“Cleaning the house, upstairs and down. Oh, and medical checkups for each of the pokemon, one at a time,” Aiko says. “That would probably go faster if one of you came with me. But also, feel free to just relax here, since you’re all guests.”
The trio ignores her, looking at each other instead. “You guys go,” Red suggests. “You have more experience taking care of pokemon.”
“Then you should go, you have more to learn.”
“Fire-Water-Grass?” Blue suggests.
Red and Leaf immediately hold a fist out, and Red has just a second to predict what the other two will do. Leaf might go Grass, but Blue isn’t going to go Water… he might think I’ll go Fire though… Unless he thinks Leaf is going Grass too? “Best two out of three?”
“Nah, let’s just give it one go, elimination style,” Blue says. “Ready? Set?”
Red considers reaching out to Leaf’s mind, but doesn’t have time as the other two begin to bounce their fists. “Fire, Water, Grass, GO!” everyone yells, and Red tosses out Water, hoping to at least beat Blue.
Leaf’s fingers come up with their points together in a water droplet shape too, while Blue’s fingers splay upwards in Fire. “Dammit.”
Leaf turns to Red with a smile, and his heart beats faster as he meets her gaze. Ok, so if she just went Water she probably won’t go it again, right? No, most people stick with what works for them, expecting others to think they’ll shift…
“Fire, Water, Grass, GO!”
Red opens his hand palm up and fingers curled, then grins and captures Leaf’s water drop with it. “Mm, tasty.”
She grins and stands up. “Cleaning it is, then. Come on Blue, let’s go strategize. See you guys later.”
“Later.” Aiko leads Red to the medical room, which looks like the biggest on the second floor. Red’s impressed by how well stocked it is, and feels like he stepped into a miniature pokemon center. “Wow. You know how to use all this stuff?”
“Yeah, my mom taught me.” Aiko begins turning various pieces of equipment on, explaining what each one does as she goes. Red follows along as best he can, distracted. He wonders if it bothers her, sharing the room that was her and her mother’s with someone else.
Most of the medicines are familiar to him from his first-aid training of their field application forms, the common “potion” bottles that come in various formulations to heal not just generic open wounds, but also tissue damage from burns, hypothermia, electric shocks, and poisoning or toxicity. What’s new is learning about the proper dosages of the newer substances meant to be injected rather than applied topically, and the operation of the recovery tanks that can be filled with various fluids to immerse the pokemon completely if needed.
“Does your dad know a lot about this stuff too?” he asks as she goes over to the stacked ball trays where the ranch pokemon due for inspection are waiting.
“Yeah, at least as much as I do,” Aiko says as she takes a ball off its tray and releases the rattata from it. “He’d be fine on his own for taking care of them, other than the time investment… but a lot of that is because of how committed he is to letting them out of their balls as often as possible.” She gives the pokemon a moment to adjust to its surroundings, then scratches its back and carries it over to the table.
“I have to admit, I don’t really get that,” Red says. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just let them out in smaller amounts?”
“Believe me, I’ve tried talking to him about it. He just repeats that they want to be free, to live their lives. I sort of understand where he’s coming from, it feels wrong in a way to put their lives on hold just for our convenience. But working himself to death won’t help them.” She gets a second ball from the tray and brings it to him. “There’s another rattata in here, they’re brothers. For rattata you gotta check their teeth first, make sure they’re not loose or chipped from biting something too strong for them. Then their paws…”
Red takes the second rattata out and checks it over too, following her lead. His is very mellow, seemingly fine with its sterile surroundings and happy to nuzzle his fingers as he checks it over. Red smiles and feels an acute stab from the loss of his own rattata.
“…lesions and scabs from too much scratching is a problem, so just run your fingers through their fur and make sure. That’s pretty much it for them.”
Red dutifully mimics her, then has a thought. “Hey, would it be okay if I test my powers out a bit? It could help in diagnosing.”
Aiko’s eyes widen. “You can do that? That’s so cool!” She blinks. “Uh, it’s not harmful to them, is it?”
“Nope, unless they’re psychic they won’t even notice.”
She grins. “Go for it!”
Red smiles at her clear excitement, chest puffing out a bit as he focuses his mind. He feels an urge to extend his hand at the rattata, do something visual to let her know when he’s starting…
It takes him just a few moments to sense the rattata’s mind, then merge with it. The fresh wave of grief is distracting, but not enough to keep him from marveling over the way the rattata body-sense fills his awareness. Red feels the same doubling he did on the roof with his abra, of hearing everything in the room twice, both from his own ears and the rattata’s much stronger hearing. And the smells…
Red pulls his mind back with a gasp, hand clutching his nose even as the sensation fades, was never really in his nose at all. It’s in his mind now, an impossible blend of nuanced, layered scents that he can’t even begin to interpret or understand. Even as he tries to remember it, the memory of its complexity fades. He wishes he could talk to his dad about this, they’d discussed what it would be like to be a pokemon many times when Red was young…
“Are you okay, Red?” Aiko asks, voice hushed.
He wipes at his cheeks. “Yeah, sorry. Side effect of my power.”
“It makes me remember my dad. How it felt when he died.” It’s getting a little tiring having to constantly explain that to others, but also less embarrassing than it used to be, which he supposes is a good sign.
Aiko is quiet for a while as she plays with the rattata. “That must be painful. I still cry about my mom, sometimes.”
Red nods. “Your dad, did he… is this how he always was, or did it happen afterward?”
“After, but not right away. I think. It was hard to notice right afterward, because… well, I wasn’t really noticing much. I think he held it together a little for my sake, and my aunt came to stay with us and helped too, but once I started to get better, he just began to retreat more and more into himself and the pokemon.”
“I’m sorry,” Red says as he watches the two rattata begin to playfully bat at each other. He hesitates, then says, “Feel free to let me know if I’m overstepping my bounds or saying something clueless or too obvious…”
Aiko smiles. “Alright.”
“It sounds like something he could use help with. Did he ever see a therapist about it?”
“Ah. Yeah, I thought of that, but not until it was really obvious that something was wrong. I brought it up maybe two times, but it’s hard to have a serious conversation with him. He just let it slide off and ignored it, like everything else.”
“Figured. Just thought I’d ask.” The nebulous idea from before solidifies a little bit, but he still can’t quite make its shape out. Something about the idea of a petting zoo being good for her dad…
“It’s appreciated. Are you seeing one?”
“Yeah, same one from when I was younger. We talk online, since she’s back in Pallet.”
“And is using your powers to relive the feeling part of your treatment?”
Red scratches beneath his hat. “Uhh, not exactly?”
Aiko frowns at him. “Well, you don’t have to put yourself through that, then. Our normal diagnostic tools should be fine.”
“I’m trying to keep practicing my powers so I can advance my abilities enough to master free teleportation. That means not getting overwhelmed by the feeling of the pokemon’s body so I can concentrate more on its mind.”
Aiko’s eyes shine with renewed fascination, but quickly turn skeptical again. “That seems like a bit of a risk, doesn’t it?”
“A calculated risk.” Red shrugs, then smiles lopsidedly. “If I wanted to play it safe, I wouldn’t be on my journey at all.”
She smiles back. “No argument on that here. So, you can feel what they feel? What’s that like? Did you sense anything wrong?”
“Oh, no, he didn’t seem to be in any pain.” He goes on to explain the feeling of inhabiting two bodies at once as they finish up with the rattata, then move on to checking over an oddish and a meowth as Aiko goes over the standard care checks for them too. Red continues to use his powers as best he can to see how the pokemon feel, bracing himself for the unusual sensations and fringe senses that he can handle, as well as the compounded grief that follows.
At first he has his doubts about how long he can exert himself before it gets too overwhelming. It’s Aiko that keeps him going: she seems to have taken his earlier pronouncement about risks to heart, trusting him to know what he’s doing. Even when things get obviously bad and he starts to sniffle or occasionally sob, she continues to work and act like nothing’s wrong. It grounds him somehow, helps let the feelings go each time.
Little by little, Red feels himself get better at discerning whatever sensory input he gets from the various pokemon they check over. He doesn’t expect to get much from a bellsprout, with its unique physiology, and is shocked when he’s able to receive not just the flood of flavors that fill its gaping mouth and act like a mix of taste and smell, but also the tension in the whip-thin vines of its limbs. The tension slowly fades as it wraps them around Aiko’s hand, and the pokemon feels… relaxed. Her hand is like a firm anchor for what feels to him like a frighteningly frail body: to Red the bellsprout almost feels like it’s standing up instead of climbing, in terms of how comfortable it is, which is so counterintuitive at first pass that he laughs out loud when he realizes how well it fits, a brief shine of sunlight in the dark clouds filling him. Aiko listens in fascination as he explains, but doesn’t seem as surprised.
Still, the amazement from such sensations and discoveries can only distract him for so long before the dense pit in his stomach starts to weigh too heavily, the aching emptiness in his chest open too wide. His speech becomes more monotone and brief, and he starts spending periods of time simply staring into the distance or shutting his eyes against the tears, overwhelmed. When it gets so bad that Red can’t bring himself to connect with a new pokemon and refresh the grief, he asks if he can take a break instead.
“Of course, yeah,” Aiko says as she finishes checking over a female nidoran. “I should take a break too, actually, we’ve been here for a couple hours now.”
She’s probably just being polite. “Time flies,” Red mutters, and Aiko gives him a concerned look. He forces a smile that probably doesn’t look convincing, then goes to his pokeball belt. He finds Pichu’s ball and releases him, smiling more naturally as the electric mouse looks around, then climbs his arm to perch on his head.
Red goes to the living room couch and brings Pichu down to sit in his lap. He’s getting bigger. Red remembers when the pokemon fit in both of his palms cupped together, and feels a bit wistful. His pokemon won’t stay a pichu forever. Red should really get around to naming him… his failure to really nickname any of his pokemon is feeling more and more like a failing as a trainer the longer he takes.
Red hears the sound of another pokeball opening back in the medical room, and after a moment Aiko comes out to join him in the living room. With her is…
Red blinks, then blinks again as she gets closer. She’s carrying an eevee, which is surprising enough considering how rare they are, but its coloration is very light. In fact… “Is that…?”
Aiko smiles as she sits beside him, the fluffy fox settling in her lap too. It’s over twice as big as Pichu, though the thick fur around its neck and tail make up a lot of that. What has Red staring is the way the fur shines silver in the light. “You have a shiny eevee?” he asks in awe.
Red has seen “shiny” pokemon before, of course… through online videos and in movies, mostly, though also a couple at Pallet Labs, as their unconventional coloring makes the pokemon, estimated conservatively at one-in-a-thousand rarity, subject to intense scientific curiosity.
As far as anyone has been able to tell, their uniqueness is purely aesthetic. While legends and stories often mark pokemon of importance with unique coloring, no one has been able to establish any clear advantage in their abilities, and despite breeders’ best efforts, the trait doesn’t appear obviously hereditary.
As a result, they’re mostly in demand by collectors and as pets rather than by battle trainers, who often trade them for stronger or rarer pokemon. Even unusually colored rattata are collected by people who consider shinies lucky. For a species as rare as eevee in the first place, however…
“It must be worth thousands,” Red murmurs. Aiko’s smile slips, and he winces. “Sorry, I mean it’s beautiful, and I’m just really surprised, and—”
Aiko chuckles. “It’s okay, Red.”
“What’s its name? And is it a boy or girl?”
“Girl, and I haven’t named her yet. It feels weird doing so before she evolves, considering how different she might turn out in each form.”
Red reaches a hand out, looking at Aiko for permission. She nods, and he strokes the soft fur between its ears. “Where did you get her?”
“We had a client a couple years back who wanted us to breed their eevee for a few months. They got some babies out of it, but got charged for selling on the black market just before this one was born. Happens once in a while when people use small ranchers like us.”
“Woah. So you got to keep them?”
“Not all. The previous births and the mating pair legally passed on to their family, but our contracts work on a first-buy-option guaranteed to the client for each birth, and it’s voided if the buyer is charged with any crimes related to pokemon mistreatment.”
Red smiles. “Good clause to have in there.”
Aiko strokes the eevee’s fur, gaze adoring. “It was a surreal couple of weeks, first seeing such a gorgeous and rare shiny born, then finding out that the client might have been mistreating the others, then realizing we’d get to keep this one. I’ve been raising and training her ever since.”
“Training? You didn’t list her among your pokemon.”
“Yeah, I don’t take her outside the ranch.”
“Makes sense, that would be a pretty huge risk.”
Aiko rolls her eyes, and Red blinks. “What?”
“You just did it again.”
“Thinking of her in monetary terms.”
“I didn’t… okay yeah I guess I did. But it is a risk, isn’t it?”
Aiko reaches up and flicks his nose.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Think about it. You’re a smart guy.”
Red stares at her in bewilderment as she scratches the eevee’s long ears, smiling down into its face as it squirms in pleasure. He wants to point out that he’s in a shitty mood and just ask her to just tell him what he did wrong, but…
You’re a smart guy.
Red frowns down at Pichu, rubbing his fur. There’s a tone of flippant challenge in her words that he hasn’t heard in a while. Blue would just tell him why he’s wrong, and Leaf would explore it with him, teasing the answer out. He tamps down on his annoyance and tries to pattern match. Aiko’s views on pokemon remind him of Leaf’s, but she’s a battle trainer, like Blue. He doesn’t know if Blue would hold sentimental value for any of his pokemon, but the motivation feels off: it was the pokemon’s monetary worth Red referenced, not the connection with Aiko.
Pichu nuzzles his palm, and Red takes a cheri berry out to dampen the pokemon’s electricity generation again. Red doesn’t plan on using him for combat anytime soon because he’s too young and weak, but when he evolves, would he? What would it say about his other pokemon if Red decides not to?
“I think I get it,” Red says. “Not using Eevee in combat would mean admitting that you value her more than your other pokemon, who you are willing to put in harm’s way.”
Aiko winks. “Attaboy.”
“But if that’s the case, why not take her outside the ranch when you travel?”
“She seems really weak, for an eevee. Gets tired quickly, can’t run fast. I try to make sure all my pokemon can at least defend themselves, but she’s still not ready for actual fights.”
Red frowns, dredging up what he knows of eevee. “That’s not right, she looks like she’s well past adolescence.” He takes his pokedex out and checks for maturity signs and expected growth rates, then reaches out a hand to stroke the eevee’s mane, testing its thickness. “Yeah, this eevee should be ready for fights by now.”
Aiko’s expression is blank. “Well, I guess I’ll try training her harder, then,” she says. “Thanks for the feedback.”
He looks up at her, blinking. “Oh, no, I wasn’t criticizing you! I’m just saying something might be wrong with her.”
Now she looks wary. “What do you mean? We had her checked out when she was born, nothing came up.”
“Hmm. Maybe it’s not something obvious. Hang on.” Red checks internally to see how he feels, then closes his eyes and extends his mind to the eevee’s. He feels warmth first, its thick fur surrounding it in cozy heat as it cuddles Aiko’s legs. Warmth, safety, affection and—
Red gasps in pain as the eevee takes a breath, and the connection breaks. His hand probes his chest.
“Red? You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He looks at the eevee’s cute face as it looks up at Aiko with loving, bright eyes, giving no hint of the pain it’s in. He shoves his despair down as best he can to speak clearly. “It’s her lungs. They’re really weak, every breath is a painful struggle.”
Aiko stares at him in horror, then quickly removes the eevee from her lap and puts it on the couch, voice hushed. “Oh gods, I didn’t know!” She takes out its ball. “I’m so sorry, Eevee, I’m so sorry, return!”
Pichu flinches at the sound of the ball activating and returning the eevee, and Red comforts him with a backrub. “Hey, it’s okay Aiko— ”
“It’s not okay! I didn’t realize she was in so much pain, I never would have made her stay outside her ball all the time and trained her if I knew!” Aiko walks back and forth, short dark hair clutched in her hands.
Red places Pichu aside and stands, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Hey, hey! Relax! Everything’s fine. You have a trainer’s license now, right? Just take her to a pokemon center when we reach Vermilion.”
“What if they can’t cure her?” she asks, eyes flicking back and forth between his. “What if I made it worse?”
“Then that wasn’t your fault either,” Red insists. “You didn’t know. And for all we know she would have died without getting enough physical activity. If you insist on blaming yourself, at least wait until you know for sure.”
Aiko takes a deep breath. “Alright, you’re right, okay.” Red lets her go, and Aiko sits back on the couch. “It’s okay, Eevee,” she murmurs, stroking the pokeball on her belt. “You’ll be healed up soon.”
Red sits back down, feeling a bit awkward. Pichu crawls onto his lap, sniffing inquiringly, and he smiles before lifting his pokemon up and depositing him on Aiko’s shoulder. She twitches and giggles as the mouse begins sniffing at her ear, slowly relaxing.
Eventually she offers Pichu back, and stands. “Thanks Red. I’m going to get back to work. You should rest up, you’ve done enough.”
For a moment it sounds appealing to just sit with Pichu and stew in his lingering sadness, but having actually used his powers to help someone is invigorating in a unique way. What would Future Red want me to do?
“No way, I’m coming too.” Red deposits Pichu onto his cap and gets up, feeling the mouse’s claws clutch the hat as he’s suddenly lifted. “I’m feeling a little better, and I don’t need my powers to learn.”
If there’s one thing no one can accuse Blue of, he reflects, it’s lacking persistence. Sure, there are some less flattering words for it: “stubborn,” according to Daisy, or “obstinate” as Red put it a time or two. But the bottom line is, when he wants something, no matter how difficult it is, Blue Oak doesn’t give up.
Blue is starting to wish he were the kind of person who gives up.
He and Leaf joined Aiko’s dad downstairs almost two hours ago, and offered to help him clean out the various pokemon dens. Mr. Sakai expressed quiet gratitude, gave out the occasional instruction or advice, and for all else said basically nothing of any substance, no matter how much Blue and Leaf talked about their journey, Aiko, safety precautions they take, and any combination of them that felt natural… and eventually some that didn’t.
Through it all, even when trying to engage Mr. Sakai directly, the answers remained persistently passive:
“It’s been years since I took the underground. Very quick and clean.”
“Very smart, isn’t she? Aiko’s always been a fast learner.”
“Oh, yes, the Rangers do great work. Always so professional.”
By lunchtime Blue’s eye is twitching, and Leaf looks torn between exasperation and amusement as she watches him get more and more direct, with as little effect as ever.
“Yeah, I think we’ll be in Vermillion in no time,” he says loudly as he stares at Mr. Sakai, hands moving automatically to scoop and bag the dirty straw in his pen. “Between the subway and the Ranger Outpost after it, I bet we won’t even spend a single night in the wild.”
“Vermilion is a very interesting city, you know,” Mr. Sakai says from the other side of the room, eyes on his own work. “Lots of history there. I loved to watch the boats, when I was younger.”
“Sure would be nice if Aiko came with us,” Blue goes on, unaware that the bag he’s holding is full as he tries to shovel more straw into it. He frowns as Leaf grabs the bag from him and hands him a new one, then looks down at the mess and sighs. “Why, she’d be able to teleport back every night for dinner, thanks to all the abra we’ve caught.”
“Oh, Aiko can’t possibly go just yet. She just got back.”
“Seems like most fathers might be grateful their kid was journeying with others that could enable her to still be home so often.”
“Soon. She’ll be ready soon.”
Blue’s mouth opens to respond just as his phone chimes. He fumes silently for a moment, considers ignoring it, then checks the ID. “It’s gramps,” he says with some surprise.
“Go on,” Leaf says, shooing him away. “Tell him I said hi.”
Blue heads to the stairs and sits on the bottom one. He hears Leaf start some other line of conversation as he checks his grandfather’s message.
Hello Blue! Where are you all located currently?
at aikos house. stuck in rain. everyone says hi.
I wondered why you were all still in one place. I just wanted to tell you all to be sure to check the site for a big announcement in about an hour!
whats the announcement?
That would ruin the surprise! Send my regards to everyone!
Blue sighs. He’s about to put his phone away, then has a thought.
we have a situation here actually. aikos dad doesnt want her to go on journey. they take care of a lot of pokemon and he’s kind of
Blue pauses, wondering what the best way to put it is.
overprotective of her and the pokemon. and hard to talk to. advice?
I hope you’ve tried showing him that she would be among competent and supportive friends through your actions there?
ya its not working though. he also seems dependant on her mentally. but gotta be something we can do. maybe u can come by and talk to him?
There’s no response for a minute, and Blue is about to return to cleaning when his phone buzzes again.
I’m sorry, Blue. That sounds like a complex problem, and a personal one. It might be best to let Aiko and her father work it out among themselves.
Blue frowns. No, he won’t accept that. Aiko is going to be a great trainer, and the sooner she starts her journey the better she’ll become. Leaving it to her dad is not an option.
new idea. got any refurbishes left lying around?
Yes, a couple.
lemme buy one
Another long pause, then, You have a good heart, Blue. This one’s on me: should be there by the end of the day, depending on weather.
Blue feels a blossom of warmth and pride in Gramps. thanks. He thinks of writing something else, struggling to find the right words, then just puts his phone away and returns to Leaf. They spend another half hour cleaning, during which he alternates between thinking of new ways to approach the topic with Aiko’s dad and analyzing her command code from their battle. It can’t be some simple derivative of a high level code, Red doesn’t pay attention to that stuff and he figured it out right away… What do “Sand Attack” and “Poison Powder” have in common that both can be called “Ero?”
They’re not the same type, they don’t have the same effect, they do have the same range, roughly… But coding attacks by their range would be a terrible idea. Or would it? His thoughts meander down that path for a while to examine the potential tactical benefits.
Eventually Mr. Sakai goes to prepare lunch. Blue and Leaf head upstairs to see Aiko and Red, who are finishing up their examinations of the ranch’s pokemon. Red’s pichu is playing with some toy made of yarn on the floor, and Leaf immediately sits on the floor to play with it while Blue drops onto the room’s one chair.
“Got a message from Gramps,” he says. “Something about a package he’s having delivered here and a new thing on his site.” He takes his phone out and opens the Pallet Labs website, refreshing the front page every so often to see whatever his grandfather was talking about. “Not sure what he’s sending, probably our birthday gifts.”
“When is it, six days away, right?” Leaf asks.
“Five, for me,” Red says.
“You guys were born a day apart?” Aiko asks.
“Yeah, our moms were in the maternity wing together,” Blue says. “That’s how we got our names.”
“What were you going to be called otherwise?” Leaf asks. “Before they saw your eye color, I mean.”
“Satoshi, apparently,” Red says, then looks at Blue curiously.
“Shigeru, my sister said.” He remembers so little about his parents, but Daisy was old enough when they died to remember everything. She used to hold him at night when he had trouble sleeping, tell him about them, answer any questions he had.
The memory makes his chest ache. It’s been a long time since he thought of that.
“What?” Red asks, and it takes Blue a moment to realize he’s talking to Leaf.
Her nose is wrinkled, but she’s grinning. “They’re not bad names or anything, it’s just weird thinking of you as anything else. There’s such a wide range of names in this region.”
“Hey, here it is,” Blue says as the page refreshes and a new article shows up. “Something about Flying Type research…” He turns the volume up so they can all listen to the interview.
There’s a fascinated silence throughout it, and Blue smiles as it becomes clear that there is evidence to back up the idea of a Flying Type. He looks at Red, expecting a frown or look of confusion, but his friend is grinning wide, eyes distant in that way he gets when he’s thinking about something too much. Sure enough he leaps for his bag and takes his notebook out, not even pausing in his scribbling as he’s mentioned by name.
The mention of gyarados being Flying type makes Blue forget all about Red, however, and reach for the type chart in his own bag, mind racing as he considers the implications. How often do people use electric or rock attacks against gyarados, so they could observe its effect? Sending a Rock type out against a Water pokemon that strong would often be considered suicidal, and Electric attacks seem to be weak against Dragons… but if gyarados isn’t a dragon… no, that’s ridiculous…
“Alright then, we hope to have you back on soon with more to share!” the interviewer says before the video ends, and everyone starts speaking at once.
“This is so cool I can’t believe I wasn’t there for that—”
“Flying wingsuits, that’s going to be so much fun—”
“This is going to change so much about how Flying attacks are used—”
“I wonder how the particles interact with electricity—”
“So much for your ‘Flying isn’t a Type’ theory, right?” Blue asks with a smirk.
Aiko raises a brow, but Red just keeps smiling. “That’s why this is so exciting! The Flying Type makes so much more sense, now!”
“Except for flygon not being Flying Type,” Aiko says. “What’s up with that?”
“Or gyarados?” Leaf asks.
“Yeah, I’m not buying it,” Blue says. “Lance is the strongest Dragon trainer in the Indigo League, you’d think he’d notice if gyarados aren’t actually Dragons.”
“They can use so many Dragon attacks,” Aiko says. “But non-Psychic pokemon can sometimes use Psychic attacks, so…”
“Is there any pokemon that is considered a Type but doesn’t learn any attacks from that Type?” Leaf asks.
“What, like a Fire pokemon that can’t use any Fire moves? Not off the top of my head,” Aiko says. “Maybe shedinja?”
“Shedinja are just weird altogether,” Blue says. “But I don’t think they fit.”
“Wait, I got one,” Aiko says. “Togedemaru doesn’t naturally learn any Steel attacks.”
“What, really? Gyro Ball?”
“Needs a TM.”
“Huh.” Blue frowns. “It should be able to learn it. It would barely hurt anyone with how small it is, though, so maybe no one’s tried hard enough.”
“The same can be said of gyarados,” Red says. “Maybe it can learn some Flying attacks, now that we know this and people actually try teaching it Flying attacks. Not sure it counts, but with how big it is, just launching into the air and landing on an enemy would probably be pretty strong. Knowing there’s precedent makes it easier to accept that it might be Flying in general. But!” Red holds a finger up. “There’s a much more obvious solution.”
“What’s that?” Aiko asks. Blue has his suspicions, and sure enough:
“Just stop thinking of pokemon as only having two Types.”
Blue sighs. “For the millionth time, if a pokemon could have three types why haven’t any obvious ones shown up? Like, there’s no Fire and Water and Flying type. Or an Electric and Rock and Bug type. Or a Grass and Ghost and Ice type.”
“Or Dragon and Flying and Fire type?” Red asks with a brow raised, tapping Charmander’s pokeball. “There could be a hundred reasons those particular combinations don’t exist, this is just semantics mixed with confirmation bias.”
The argument gets more animated from there, until at some point Aiko’s dad actually comes out to check on them, looking mildly surprised at the commotion. They stop and turn to him.
“Lunch is ready,” he says after a moment.
“Oh, alright, thanks Dad.” He’s about to leave when Aiko smiles. “Hey, guess what? There’s a new discovery at Pallet Labs that explains how Flying pokemon work.”
Mr. Sakai turns back, eyebrows rising further. “How do they work?”
She explains, and he leans against the door frame, eyes distant. “Fascinating. It explains doduo.”
Blue blinks, then laughs. “You think they’re a Flying type?”
“Makes sense,” Red says. “Now that we know about these particles, it explains where all that wind comes from when they jump so high.”
Mr. Sakai nods. “Precisely. Their biology is in all respects avian but for their lack of wings.”
Blue looks back and forth between them with growing horror. “But… but they can’t fly! They can’t be a Flying Type if they can’t fly!”
“It’s just a label,” Aiko says. “But, yeah, I mean, maybe we should call it something else. Otherwise this kind of makes it clear there’s a problem with the Type system.”
“Ha-HAAaa!” Red points at Blue, who facepalms. “Suck it, Blue! I didn’t even talk to her about it!”
Blue’s response is interrupted by noticing Leaf’s startled look, and Red claps his hand over his mouth a second later and looks at Aiko’s father, face mortified.
Mr. Sakai doesn’t appear to have heard him though, or maybe he’s just retreated back to whatever cloud his brain seems to constantly float on. “Fascinating,” he murmurs again, and wanders off toward the kitchen.
They all look at each other a moment, then get up to follow him as Aiko asks Red what he didn’t talk to her about. As Red begins to explain, he fails to notice Pichu dashing around his feet until Leaf picks the pokemon up and deposits him on Red’s hat, causing it to tip down into Red’s eyes as the pokemon crawls onto the bill. Blue grabs his shoulder to stop him from walking into the wall, grinning as his friend curses and lifts his hat off to give his pokemon a baleful look.
They arrive at the table and start to eat. Blue feels some disappointment as he looks over the available food. At first the lack of meat didn’t bother him much: he’s eaten trail rations that didn’t have any, after all, and these dishes actually tasted pretty good. But no matter how well made or how much noodle, cheese, fruit, and vegetables he eats, there’s an oddly unsatisfied pang in his stomach. He wonders if he should grab a strip of beef jerky from his bag, then decides to wait until after the meal. And people say I don’t have tact…
Speaking of which, it’s time to reopen negotiations. “This is really good, Mr. Sakai,” he says as he adds some more sauce. “Have you given any thought to making trail rations? They’d probably be a lot more appealing than the non-pokemon ones we have.”
“Oh, thank you, but I wouldn’t have time to care for the pokemon then.”
“But if you spend just a little time setting things up to start making money, you could use it to hire a worker to help out here. Aiko could be free to leave then, and even act as a traveling advertisement for the brand.”
“Aiko, leave? No, no, the pokemon need her.”
“Actually, we have a solution to that too,” Blue says, suppressing a sigh as he repeats yet again, “We have enough abra to let her port back and forth from here. She can still help out with the pokemon every night and morning.”
Mr. Sakai doesn’t respond, merely lifting his forkful of food to his mouth and chewing slowly. Blue feels a lick of heat in his chest. “Did you hear me? Mr. Sakai?”
“Abra. Aiko can use them to leave with us and still help with the pokemon.”
“Soon,” Aiko’s dad murmurs, fork twirling in the noodles. “She’ll be ready to leave soon.”
“Have you given any thought to my idea?” Leaf cuts in before Blue can respond. “Turning this place into a petting zoo would bring in extra help for the pokemon, and more funds to expand.”
Mr. Sakai continues twirling his noodles slowly, eyes down. “It is an interesting idea… perhaps…”
They all wait in hopeful silence, but when it becomes clear that her father won’t continue, Aiko clears her throat. “You would also be less lonely,” she says, voice quiet. “When I go on my journey.”
The twirling stops, then resumes. “Many years yet on that.”
“It might also help now,” Aiko continues, sounding a bit more desperate. “There are a lot of kids out there who would enjoy spending time with pokemon—”
They all look at Red as he leaps up, eyes shining with excitement. “What’s it?” Blue asks.
“Uh. Sorry. But, be right back!” Red is already dashing from the room. “I have to make a call!”
Blue frowns at his retreating back, but decides not to let the ball drop. “Aiko and Leaf are right, you could get a lot of people to help out here if you try. Then you won’t need her to stay.”
The conversation continues fruitlessly until Red returns, eyes bright as he sits down. “Mr. Sakai, I have a business proposition for you,” he says, cutting the conversation off.
Aiko’s dad turns to him. “Oh?”
“I was talking with my therapist just now because I had an idea for a new kind of service. See, I lost my dad a few years ago, and it still hurts a lot to think about it,” Red says, tone and face becoming more subdued. “My therapist told me to spend more time with my cuddliest pokemon, and it’s been helping. I was wondering if spending time with the pokemon here helps you when you feel sad about your wife?”
In unison, Blue, Aiko, and Leaf turn to Mr. Sakai, who is staring at his mostly empty plate. A long, silent pause goes by… and then a nod.
“So I was thinking,” Red continues as everyone turns back to him, “Why doesn’t there exist a place where kids or adults who have lost someone they love can spend time with safe, tame pokemon, and take care of them, and maybe feel better? My therapist said she never heard of a place like that, because most pokemon daycares and ranches are focused on efficiency and training and breeding, but since you’re already running a ranch that lets the pokemon stay out and just enjoy their time outside their balls, you could be the first ever pokemon therapy ranch, and my therapist said she knows of at least two colleagues in Cerulean and Saffron who would love to work with you and help anyone who comes engage in play therapy.”
Red finishes all in one breath, then takes a deep one, watching Mr. Sakai with a gaze that almost seems to bore into him. Blue wonders if his friend is using his powers to get a sense of the man’s mood, and he briefly wonders if he’s using some kind of mental manipulation. The thought suddenly alarms him: Blue wants Mr. Sakai to say yes, but not through mind control… even if real mind control is a myth, projecting emotions onto someone against their will feels similarly bad. Red wouldn’t do that, Blue thinks, even as he wonders whether his friend would tell them if he’d learned how.
Mr. Sakai is sitting still, chest rising and falling with his breaths. After an endless silence, he slowly turns his head. “Do you think this would be good, Aiko?”
“I do,” his daughter says, voice firm. “For both the pokemon and people that come. Being with the pokemon helped me a lot too, after…”
“And it can bring more money in,” Leaf says. “So you can hire more help, or expand the farm.”
Again, a long silence. Blue resists the urge to jump in too and say something about Aiko, worried it would return her dad to his rote responses.
Finally, a nod. “Yes. It seems good. I think… yes. We will try it. Thank you, Red.”
Red grins. “No problem! I’ll tell her so her colleagues can call you to talk logistics, and-”
“Aiko, you will be a great help organizing this.”
Everyone freezes and looks at Aiko, whose hopeful smile seems frozen on her face, a touch away from shattering. “Dad… I think you can handle it. I can help, but I was thinking of leaving with them for my journey, remember?”
“Yes, this will be good,” her father muses as he gets up from the table and carries his empty plate to the kitchen. “Together we can do it quickly, perhaps start by Fall…”
Aiko’s smile comes apart as she stares after him, and Blue feels the anger stirring and prowling in his chest again as he watches her hope fade. Leaf puts a hand on her shoulder, and Red looks stricken. “I’m sorry, Aiko, I thought—”
“No,” she says, voice harsh. “It’s okay, Red. It was a good idea.” She stands, plate in hand. “He made it clear that he needs me here. That’s just all there is to it.”
She leaves before they can say anything, and the table is silent in her absence as Blue meets Red and Leaf’s gaze, reading the frustration and despair in them and knowing they can see his own too.
The rest of the afternoon is more subdued. Blue tries to cheer Aiko up or talk to her dad again, but nothing seems to work. The steady rain continues, both mirroring the household’s mood and giving them hope: they won’t leave until it stops, and so there’s still time for a miracle.
As the miracle continues to elude them, however, Blue starts to spend less time trying to convince Aiko’s dad to let her go and more time getting her to just make the decision on her own. This meets with similarly little success, as Aiko asserts that she wouldn’t be able to live with herself for leaving without his permission or blessing.
A few hours before nightfall, the rain finally lightens to a drizzle. They agree to stay for dinner and spend the night anyway, though Aiko insists that they shouldn’t do it just for her.
“You guys did your best,” she says as they finish cleaning the bottom floor. “I’ll be okay. It was great meeting all of you, and maybe we’ll group up again in a couple years?”
“Of course!” Leaf hugs her. “Hopefully the therapy ranch idea works out and you can join us sooner.”
“Hey, there’s still time.” Blue wonders if the package will arrive soon now that the weather is better, or if he should just tell her it’s coming… but it doesn’t sound like it would matter to her, at this point.
“I appreciate the optimism, but I’ve already started unpacking my bag,” Aiko says with a sigh. “I think at this point if it’s this hard to get him to say yes… maybe I should stay after all.”
Blue feels anger at Aiko, for once, though he manages to hold it in. “I don’t understand her,” he complains to Leaf later, as the two of them set the table for dinner. “It’s sad that her dad is like this, but it’s not like he’s going to die if she leaves.”
“We don’t actually know that,” Leaf says, voice quiet. “He might be hanging on by a thread. The situation is different from mine with my mom. It sucks, but it’s no one’s fault.”
Blue is still trying to find an answer to that when there’s a long, cheerful warble from outside. Blue grins and heads for the stairs, followed by a curious Leaf. Red is taking a shower, but Aiko comes out of her room at the sound.
“Was that a delivery song? I don’t think we’re expecting a package.”
“Well you got one anyway,” Blue says as he starts down. The other two follow him to the front door, and he steps aside to let Aiko through, wondering if Gramps addressed it to him or her.
The courier is perched on her swanna, dressed in the colorful uniform of her shipping company. “Aiko Sakai?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
The courier unstraps herself and slides off, then steps onto the porch and unclips a container ball. She releases its box and digs inside for a package, then hands it to Aiko, along with a sign pad.
“Thanks,” Aiko says, still looking confused as she signs it and examines the package. Her eyes go wide as she sees the return address, while the courier heads back to their pokemon and takes off into the grey sky, rain exploding outward and wetting the three of them as its wings flap to lift it.
“It’s from Professor Oak,” Aiko says after retreating to the dry porch. “I think it’s for you?”
Blue snorts, still wiping rain off his face. “If it were for me it would be addressed to me. Go on, open it!”
They watch in silence as Aiko unwraps the package. Her hands begin to shake when a familiar box is revealed beneath, the sleek, bold logo of Pallet Labs on top.
Blue grins as Aiko finally stares unbelieving down at the pokedex in her hands. It’s not the latest model that Red and he are field testing, but it’s the most recent one available on the market.
“I guess it’s official,” Blue says. “You’re one of us.”
“Congratulations, Aiko,” Leaf says, and gives the girl a sideways hug.
Her face is shocked as it turns up to them, then begins to twitch and crumple. Blue stares at her in alarm, but before he can speak she falls to her knees, box clutched to her chest as choked sobs shake her form.
Leaf is back in Aiko’s room, watching her new friend move with purpose back and forth as she packs her travel bag. Occasionally she’s asked to hand something to her, and Leaf does so without comment, watching the girl with some concern.
After her crying stopped, Aiko stood back up and wiped her face, then strode inside with a determined set to her facial features, dropping her pokedex off in her room and returning to the dinner table without expression. She insisted she was fine, and when Red arrived with his hair still wet, asked them not to bring up her leaving anymore to her dad.
Dinner was quiet and tense: Mr. Sakai ate with his usual dreamy distance, Aiko with mechanical precision, and the others with sparse, empty remarks as they looked at Aiko and each other with concern. As soon as she finished eating, she excused herself from the table and went to her room. Leaf finished up as soon as she could afterward and went to join her.
Now she feels awkward about breaking the silence as she parses what seems to have happened: Aiko decided to go with them. She does not appear to be happy about the decision.
When Aiko opens her new pokedex and reverently takes it out of its box, Leaf goes to sit beside her.
“Want to talk about it?”
Aiko glances at her, then shakes her head and begins to follow the instructions to transfer her user ID from her mom’s old pokedex. “I’m afraid if I do I’ll change my mind.”
“Okay. Is there anything I can do to help, then?”
“You guys have helped enough. More than enough. The rest is on me. In the morning I’m going to try and get all the pokemon out and cared for early, then let my dad know after breakfast so we can leave then.” She lines up the lens of both pokedexes and sits back, head against the wall. They sit in silence for a few minutes. It feels awkward at first, then companionable. Leaf relaxes and lets her mind wander until Aiko whispers, “I don’t know how he’s going to react.”
“You mean you’re afraid he won’t react at all.”
Aiko closes her eyes, and nods.
“I think it takes a lot of courage, what you’re doing,” Leaf says slowly. “Not the kind that puts you in danger, maybe, but the kind that means risking things important to you to pursue what you want. I know it feels selfish. It is a little, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Making a stand like this, for what you believe in, it’s how we grow. Or how I did, anyway. I’m patting myself on the back a little here, but it’s what I believe.”
“And if things do go wrong?”
Leaf doesn’t respond right away, thinking it through. Anything optimistic is going to sound fake and meaningless. And she knows Aiko isn’t looking for that: in the end what really matters is that she feels supported.
“Whatever happens, we’ll be with you,” she says at last. “We’re a team now. We look after each other.”
“I can look after myself,” Aiko murmurs, eyes still closed. “Been doing it for years… It’s my dad I’m worried about.”
“Friends care about what their friends worry about too.”
At that, Aiko smiles. “Yeah, I’m starting to get that. It’s been nice, having friends.”
They stay that way until the pokedex data finishes transferring, then Leaf says goodnight. She goes to tell the boys about Aiko’s decision as they prepare for bed. Blue grumbles about people being dramatic, but he seems as worried as she is.
“Should we plan ahead?” Red asks. “Be ready to jump in if something goes wrong?”
“No,” Leaf says. “I think the best we can do is respect her decisions and support them. Let’s just get some sleep and be ready for the road.”
Which is easier said than done, as it takes her an hour of tossing and turning to get to sleep. She finally drifts off without realizing it, and snaps awake with soft morning sunlight pouring through the window.
A quick shower and breakfast later, Leaf joins Blue and Red outside in the dew-covered grass to help Aiko release various pokemon who are on their “morning feed” cycle. Leaf expects her to protest the help, but she seems too tense to do anything but nod greeting and give instructions.
By the time her dad is awake, breakfast is ready and all the chores are done. He seems vaguely surprised when told, but sits down for another tense, quiet meal as Leaf and the others make small talk.
Aiko sits quietly the whole time, eyes on her plate even after it’s empty. Soon only her father is eating, and as soon as he finishes she begins to clear the table with the others’ help. Mr. Sakai is about to get up when Aiko puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Could you stay here a minute, dad? I want to tell you something.”
He blinks at her, but sits back down and watches in bemusement as the trio finishes clearing the table while Aiko goes to her room. Soon everyone is standing around, tense and nervous. Despite his general detachment, Leaf can see some of it in Aiko’s father too. He keeps looking at them, then Aiko’s door.
When she finally emerges from her room, she’s dressed in full travel gear, backpack strapped on and belt on her waist. Her dad’s reaction is immediate, and heartbreaking:
“No, Aiko. Please.”
The words are soft, but Aiko reacts to them like thrown stones. She walks over to the table and kneels down so she’s eye level with him. “I’m going, Dad.”
He shakes his head, eyes wide, but she doesn’t blink. “I’ll be back every night with the abra, so you know I’m okay. I can help take care of the pokemon and even bring groceries, same as usual. But I’m going.”
“Soon,” he says, gaze going distant. “Not yet, Aiko, not yet, the pokemon need you…”
“I told you, I’ll be back to help them. To help you. How many trainers and their parents are so lucky? If they move on without me, we won’t even have that.”
Aiko’s dad seems lost in thought, and Leaf despairs that he’ll ever be able to hear this conversation, accept it. “Just another few years… soon, you’ll be ready soon…” He moves as if to stand, but Aiko doesn’t budge, and he stops rather than collide with her. “I need to feed the pokemon.”
“We fed them,” she says, gaze steady. “How many years is ‘soon,’ Dad? Tell me a number and I’ll stay. You’ve never outright lied to me, as far as I know.”
“Tell me when I’ll have your blessing to go, and I’ll wait. If you don’t, if you go without giving me an answer, I’m leaving with them. So choose.” Aiko backs off a little, giving him room to stand.
Mr. Sakai seems carved from marble. Leaf expects another vague refrain, or for him to just say something extreme like 10 years, but after a minute passes with them all waiting in silence, she feels her pulse kick up a little. Leaf glances at Aiko, who appears worried at the way he seems to have shut down, but under the worry, there’s some hope.
Eventually Aiko nods. “That’s why I have to go now. At this rate, you’ll never be ready for me to leave. And I’ve stayed because traveling alone is too dangerous, but I won’t be alone anymore. Leaf and Blue and Red want me to come. They want me to come so badly,” Aiko says, voice catching briefly. “They believe in me. Professor Oak believes in me. If you don’t, if I let your fear hold me back now, I’ll regret it the rest of my life.”
Mr. Sakai almost appears to shrink into himself as she speaks. His lips move, something too low for Leaf to make out. Aiko’s eyes close, then she kneels in front of her father again and wraps her arms around him.
“I love you, Dad. I’ll see you tonight, and every night after.”
Leaving the ranch is a solemn affair, Red and the others watching Aiko use Blue’s abra to register a teleport location there, then turn her back on her home, moving resolutely forward. The ground around them is still moist from yesterday’s rain, but once they reach the main road their bikes move faster, and they arrive at the underground path within an hour. They can just make out Saffron City in the distance, and there’s an increase in traffic as they turn off the main road and enter the funnel of roads leading to the entrance. Red feels excitement as it comes into sight: he’s never taken a subway before.
A number of stores, a ranger outpost, and a pokemon center are on either side of the road leading up to it, and after ensuring they’re all ready to keep going, they descend. The stairs level off every few minutes for a quick rest and some vendor stalls, and while the tiles and floor are obviously old, it’s all surprisingly clean and well lit, to the point that if Red didn’t know better he’d think he was just in some big mall.
The shuttles themselves depart every few minutes, and soon they’re on their way to the central hub under Saffron. Red watches as Aiko’s subdued mood slowly fades, and when he feels safe doing so leans over to ask how she likes her new pokedex. Soon she’s happily exploring its features as he answers any questions she has, while Blue and Leaf discuss the differences between the underground rails in Kanto and Unova. Blue mentions that they’re still a relatively new thing here, and points out a few notices among the advertisements along the walls indicating plans to extend the tunnel farther north and south to connect it to Cerulean and Vermillion.
The central hub is a mini-mall itself, and Aiko spots a stall selling bike accessories and heads over to check the prices of the things they bought in Cerulean out of “morbid curiosity.” Things seem mostly the same price if not a little more expensive, and Leaf buys a basket to hang on the front for Bulbasaur. Red and Aiko decide to buy one too, but Blue doesn’t seem interested until Red points out the added reaction time if they’re attacked while riding.
They stop for lunch and take another tram south until the end of the line, then disembark and take the stairs to emerge into the bright noon sun. The road stretches ahead with fields and forests to either side. They’ve passed Saffron City and its suburbs completely, and as they mount up and continue biking south, they soon feel the downward slope of the land as Vermilion City becomes visible in the distance, with the ocean beyond it.
It feels strange to see another city so quickly. The bikes and subway more than made up for the increased distance they had to travel between Cerulean and Vermillion compared to their other trips, but what really made Cerulean feel fresh in his mind was the lack of anything really intense happening along the way. Other than keeping an eye on Pichu for signs he isn’t okay with his new travel arrangements, Red is able to relax and reflect on how nice it is to travel between cities without risking his life for once.
They’re a few hours out of the tunnel when Red gets an email to notify him that the abra deal has been finalized. That night they celebrate their new fortunes together with leftover cake. Aiko participates heartily, still aglow over her new pokedex and sense of freedom, then uses Blue’s abra to teleport back home after saying goodnight to everyone.
She returns the next morning a few hours after they’ve had breakfast, subdued again. The others don’t pry, and her mood seems to lift faster as they start traveling again, bikes swallowing the distance between them and the city. They take another quick break when they reach Vermilion’s northern suburbs, and Leaf notifies the various news outlets to update them about their estimated arrival time. Once they start moving again, Red leads the way into the city proper. He’s getting more and more nervous as he imagines what’s waiting for him, and tunes out the conversation of the others as he rehearses what he’s going to say again and again.
Soon the Trainer House appears, and Red checks the time. They’re a little early, but the three different news station crews are already gathered outside it, along with a handful of trainers and passerby who are waiting curiously to see who the crews are waiting for.
Leaf must have noticed his quiet nerves, because she smiles at him as they slow to a stop and return the bikes to their containers. “You’ll be fine,” she says. “Treat it like a teaching session. You’re just telling people something they don’t know.”
“And if you start to get nervous, remember that you can just stick to the basics,” Blue says. “A quick statement, two or three questions, and it’ll be done in no time.”
“You guys should prepare to take over if he gets flustered,” Aiko says. “Not that I’m saying you will, but—”
“Premortem mentality, right.” Red smiles. “Care to do the honors, Leaf?”
“Sure! Just cross your fingers behind your back or something.”
One of the cameramen has been watching them as they get closer, and begins preparing his equipment. The others react to his sudden excitement and look around until they spot the four, so that by the time Red reaches the front door of the Trainer House, everyone is holding their mics out and shouting questions.
“Mr. Oak, a sale of 99 abra was made this morning, how did you—”
“—at such a low price, when such—”
“Who helped you acquire so many—”
Before Red can do more than raise his hands in a half-hearted attempt to slow them down, Leaf steps forward. “Quiet please, everyone! Red Verres has prepared a statement, and we’ll take questions afterward.”
They immediately go silent, expectantly staring at him with six eyes and three camera lenses, not to mention all the onlookers nearby. Red swallows and settles his mind into a pattern of calm, simple data reporting.
“Hello. My name is Red Verres, and these are my traveling companions, Leaf Juniper, Blue Oak, and our new friend, Aiko Sakai. While we were in Cerulean City, I made a plan to capture large quantities of abra to use for my research on measuring physical attributes that enable psychic phenomena…”
Red goes over the strategy he formulated, how they executed it, and how they decided, as a group, to provide them at an immense discount to various institutions in Kanto. Red avoids mentioning Bill, as the inventor didn’t want the notoriety, and he highlights both how invaluable Leaf’s well trained wigglytuff was and how Blue managed to catch, and therefore donate, the most.
“After keeping a few for ourselves the rest have been sold to pokemon centers, gyms, and ranger outposts around the region,” Red says. He realizes he’s speaking too fast, and as a drop of sweat slides down his neck he takes a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart as he loses the clear pattern of what to say next. “Even though we’ve only been on our journey for th-for a few months, we’ve seen the invaluable help these institutions have been to everyone, to ourselves and others. As Blue said, ‘When Kanto’s institutions are stronger, Kanto’s people are safer.’ We hope that this will allow rangers, gym members, and pokemon center staff to he-to be able to more swiftly respond to incidents around the region, so they can continue to help those in need.”
Red lets out the rest of his breath. He feels like he was nearly incoherent, though no one looks particularly upset with him, which is probably a good sign. Still, it’s a struggle to keep his gaze up and keep it moving between the different reporters and cameras. “That’s it,” he says after a moment of silence. “Thank you.”
The reporters immediately begin asking questions, and Leaf once again steps forward and tells them to calm down. Red steps back, and startles as Blue’s hand falls on his shoulder. “Good job,” he mutters. “And thanks for the quote, you made it sound good.” Red flashes him a grateful smile.
“Mr. Oak! How much help were you in forming or executing this plan?”
Blue turns as he’s addressed, hand still on Red’s shoulder. “I didn’t do anything, really. It was all Red’s idea, and Leaf’s coordination with her wigglytuff. I just ran around and caught as many abra as I could, which turned out to be a lot.” He grins, and the audience chuckles. Red wonders why Blue doesn’t like talking to reporters: his voice is casual and confident at the same time, his charm on full display.
Leaf points to another reporter, who smiles at her. “Miss Juniper, was this wigglytuff the same one you used to help apprehend the Renegade on Mt. Moon?”
“Yes, her name is Joy. She’s a fantastic partner, and gave us her all so we could catch as many abra as possible.”
More questions are thrown at them regarding planning, such as safety precautions taken, and captures, which allows Leaf to talk about her method of keeping abra from teleporting away. At one point Aiko is asked whether she participated, but once she tells them she didn’t join the trio until after they left Cerulean, the reporters ignore her. At one point Red is asked what he’s working on now, which allows him to talk about his research.
“Thanks to the volume of samples I was able to scan and test, I believe my recent research is weak evidence of some physical component of psychic power,” Red says, going over his carefully rehearsed lines. “I’m currently seeking publication of my research as I consider new research avenues to explore.”
“Is this related to your involvement in the ‘Flying particle’ that was recently discovered?” a reporter asks.
“I wasn’t really involved in that,” Red says, taken by surprise. “I just expressed some confusion about the way Types are determined, and I guess that kicked off some research, which I’m happy about. But the same scanning technology that Pallet Labs developed is being used, so they might be related in that sense.”
“What advice would you give to other young trainers who plan on becoming researchers?”
Red’s brain locks up. “Uh.” Shit. What can he say to others? Get lucky with who you apprentice under? Not helpful. Question everything? Cliché. Everyone’s staring at him, expecting some pearl of wisdom, but he has no idea what to say—
“Now you’ve done it,” Blue says, and everyone’s attention shifts to him. “Red’s always full of advice about everything, he’s probably sorting what order he wants to say the first ten things in and we’ll be here all day.”
Red laughs along with everyone else, relaxing as he reminds himself to thank Blue later. If there’s one thing Red shouldn’t have trouble with, it’s talking about whatever he finds interesting and helpful, solicited or otherwise.
“I’ll try to stick to one,” Red says. “Notice your confusion, let it guide your search for answers. If something doesn’t make sense to you, it’s because either your model of the world is wrong, or the thing that confuses you is wrong, in some way. That’s what led to my questions at Pallet Labs, and a lot of what I’ve learned since I started my journey. I hope it helps others too.”
The questions start to branch out into the choice to disclose the methodology and commit to a wholesale, which Red is happy to let the others handle, until:
“Mr. Verres, what influenced your decision to offer the abra to the Rangers?”
Red looks up, taken by surprise at the question. “It seemed to be the right thing to do. Abra are a great resource for any organization—”
“But surely you could have sold them at market price, and furthered your research?” The reporter insists.
“I… yes, that’s true. But even at a third the price we’ve made a good sum.” Red feels uncomfortable with how that came out, and rushes to add, “I wanted to ensure that others benefited from my discovery.”
Leaf steps forward and points to another reporter, and Red relaxes until they look right back at him. “Mr. Verres, your father was a ranger, correct? Ranger Tomio Verres?”
An unexpected lash of pain goes through Red, who stares at the reporter for a moment, realizing too late that this is what the other reporter was hoping he would bring up himself. “Yes. He was.”
“How much did that influence your decision to sell to them?”
Everyone’s watching him as he feels the pain and emptiness grow, far stronger and faster than it usually does these days without him using his powers. Alarm bells start ringing as he remembers Psychic Narud’s warning that weakening his partition could make him more susceptible to the emotions locked behind it overall; Red thought that just meant the general depression that he fell under over the past few weeks. Instead it’s starting to feel like he’s going to have a full meltdown on camera.
Red notices Leaf glancing down at his hands, and his fingers twitch, about to signal her to take over… but what would she even say?
He breathes deep and holds it, about to use shining-mirror-in-a-dim-house to cut off all emotions, then stops himself at the last moment. He can do this.
“A lot,” he says, voice quiet. The microphones are extended further, and he swallows and clears his throat. “A lot. My father was the bravest man… I ever knew, growing up. But I’ve had the privilege of meeting… a number of other Rangers since then, and they showed me that it’s,” he pauses to take another breath, “an organization full of brave men and women, and I hope that I can—”
His voice catches. Pressure is forming behind his eyes, the sun is too hot and everyone’s staring at him as he falls apart, as he—
Blue puts his hand back on Red’s shoulder. Red breathes deep again, and doesn’t brush the tear away as it trails down his cheek. “I hope… to do his memory proud. By helping other rangers… support each other… and get home safe.”
There’s a moment of silence, the reporters all staring, the audience quiet. The only sound is the occasional car along the road. Red feels himself regain control, little by little, but he still feels shaky, and when Leaf takes the opportunity to step forward and thank them for their questions, Red doesn’t resist as Blue guides him inside the Trainer House by the shoulder. He hears scattered applause start up by those watching as he passes by them. When it catches on and fills the air, he wipes at his face and lifts his head a bit higher, letting the sound in, letting it fill another small portion of the hole inside him, at least for now.