Red wakes from vague dreams to find himself lying on a comfortable bed. He opens his eyes, and it takes a moment to register his surroundings. Clean white walls, bright lights, a particularly distinct combination of smells, and…
She sat with her eyes closed in the chair beside the bed, and they suddenly snap open at his voice. “Red!” She moves as though to hug him, then hesitates and rests a hand against his hair instead. “How are you feeling?”
He frowns and tentatively sits up, attention shifting to his arm. It doesn’t hurt much, but it’s in a cast that heavily restricts movement. “Pretty well, I think. Am I on any medication, or is it healed?”
She smiles, brow still creased with worry. “You’re clean. They said it’ll take about a week to fully heal, so be careful with it. You’ve only been asleep for a day.”
“Only?!” He nearly sits up, but her hand suddenly exerts force to keep him down. “I was out a whole day?! Is the fire under control? Are Blue and Leaf still in the forest? Do you know if they’re alright?”
“Yes, no, and yes, they’re fine. Calm down, Red, everyone’s safe.”
Not everyone. But he feels himself relaxing, bit by bit. “Where are they now?”
“At the pokemon center I think. Leaf was getting her injuries treated here, and left just an hour ago. She was tenacious in finding out how you were before she went. I quite like her.”
Red looks out the window. He’s on a fairly high floor of the hospital, and can see the sun is setting over the mountains. He can’t believe he was out for so long. “When did you get here? You didn’t go through the forest, did you?”
“No, Sam brought me. He came over this morning before I even turned the news on, and we flew straight here. He dropped me off and went to get the others.”
Red recognizes the strain behind his mother’s calm expression and tone. “Sorry for worrying you. I’m glad you’re here.”
She runs her fingers through his hair briefly, seeming about to say something, then bends forward and kisses his head. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
“I could eat, yeah.”
She smiles and stands up. “I’ll be right back.”
After she’s gone, Red looks around the room a bit more. His pokebelt is hanging from the wall beside him, his backpack on the dresser under the window with his hat placed on top of it. He can’t see his clothes anywhere, but the stuff he had in his pockets are in a clear bag on the nightstand beside the bed. A bit of tension he didn’t realize was there eases from his chest when he sees his pokedex in it.
Unfortunately it’s on the side with his broken arm, so he has to sit up and shift around to reach for his phone. While moving, his arm begins to ache, and he stops immediately until it fades, then moves more carefully. He never studied any medicine and has little idea of how his arm was healed, but the memory of his bone pressing against his skin makes his stomach churn. He’ll have to remember to thank the doctors that helped him when he gets the chance, and the woman that brought him here.
He finally manages to open the bag and extract his phone. He lies back and checks his messages, then finds Blue in his contacts.
Hey, I’m up.
No response for a few seconds, and then:
good to hear man
how u doin?
I’m alright. Is Leaf with you?
ya just got here
she says hi
u able to leave?
Don’t know, haven’t seen a Dr. yet. Will get back to you. Your pokemon okay?
There’s a pause, and a brush of anxiety makes his pulse speed up. Did they lose anyone?
still waiting on some
Red lets his breath out. Well glad you guys are safe. I’ll let you know when I can head out.
same here man
Red opens the local news sites and scans the headlines. Twenty seven dead, over fifty wounded, and six still missing. He looks over the names, feeling a touch of surrealism at spotting his own. And then, under deceased…
… Fara Melissa, Kuroda Ayame, Kuroda Kiku, Marcone Walter…
Red is suddenly cold beneath his hospital gown. Ayame and Kiku… they sound familiar, but they might not be the twins they met, he’s so bad with names…
But should it even matter? He shouldn’t be more sorry for those deaths just because they’re people he met, even if it was just once. Each death is a tragedy, even if he doesn’t know them: they’re still someone’s sister, brother, son, daughter, friend. One less person who might create new art, spur new research, or just share a companionable night around a campfire with, able to sleep sound with the knowledge that you’ll keep each other safe.
Red puts his phone down and leans back against his pillow, staring up as a sick burning sensation spreads through his stomach. Twenty seven or more lost, and Red could have easily been one of them. He was worse than useless, nearly getting himself killed right at the start…
No. He cuts off that line of thought, forces himself to think of how he used the onix roar to save himself and Leaf, and how his foresight ensured they had the lightning rods. It was a team effort, and he hadn’t been useless.
Soon he manages to completely banish the self-pity. He’s still sad about those that lost their lives, but he needs to think more constructively. Heroic responsibility doesn’t mean he should ignore the things he did right, or else he wouldn’t be able to expand on them.
Assess, evaluate, optimize…
Red picks his phone back up. First things first: be prepared for similar situations in the future.
He starts researching other pokemon in the surrounding area, first checking how sensitive their hearing is, then finding their most audibly distinct predators. The major issue is where there’s no local apex hunter: if he uses a beedrill buzz to scare off some breloom, he might attract some hungry fearow. Maybe I should make a list of apex predators first…
He’s still working ten minutes later when a doctor arrives. She looks just a bit older than his mom, though that might just be the carefully controlled exhaustion on her face. Red realizes she’s probably been up all night and day with others from the forest continually coming in. When she gets closer, he reads Dr. Willow on her nametag.
“Good evening, Mr. Verres.”
Mr. Verres. Feels strange being called that. “Hello. Are you the one that patched up my arm?”
“One of them, yes. How’s it feeling?”
He experimentally lifts it again and stops when it aches. “Starts hurting here, but just a bit. Thank you for all you’ve done.”
She dips her head. “Not the cleanest break we saw last night, but far from the worst. You got off fairly lucky.”
“Lucky to have such good friends, mostly.” He immediately regrets saying it. The others who died no doubt had good friends with them too. “So, am I free to go?”
“Let’s find out.” She unstraps the cast around his arm and his skin tingles as it comes in contact with the air again. Red winces as he sees how mottled with bruises his arm is, but when the doctor carefully prods at his skin he doesn’t feel any pain. She doesn’t seem satisfied though. “Not for another day to be safe. Think you can keep from moving your arm that long?”
“Do I have to stay in bed?”
“Not if you’re careful.”
“I’ll manage then.” There’s work he can do in the meantime, like researching spinarak, and maybe doing some experimenting with his.
His mom returns with a tray of food in both hands, and the doctor leaves them to it. The smell of mashed potatoes and pidgey nuggets stokes Red’s hunger to a fever pitch, and he begins shoveling them into his mouth as fast as he can move the spoon.
“Chew, Red. It’s not going anywhere.” Once she’s satisfied that he’s slowed down, his mom begins eating too, and for a time there’s silence but for the scrape of plastic cutlery and the distant sound of the hospital’s intercom.
Once his hunger is tamed and he has attention for other things, the silence begins to make him apprehensive. Part of him is glad his mom is here, but the rest is worried about her reaction to his injury.
“Well?” he says after a minute. “Are you going to try and convince me to stop? Keep working in the lab until I’m older?”
His mom raises a brow without looking up from her food. “Would it do any good?”
He smiles. “Do you have any new arguments to add?”
“No. But recent events might have changed their impact.”
Red just shakes his head.
She sets her fork down. “I heard that the three of you helped some Rangers on the way up.”
Oh. Right. “I… it was just-”
He looks up to see her smiling at him.
“Glad that you’re out there, helping others. Your father would be proud.”
Red stares at his tray, heart pounding. It’s the best reaction he could have hoped for, but it feels dishonest. This seems too big a thing to be brushed off as a white lie, and too deliberate to be a lie of omission. “I miss dad. A lot.” The constant ache at the back of his thoughts sharpens for a moment, and he takes a deep breath to push it back into the vault he’d constructed for it. “But I’m not doing this for him.”
She takes his hand and squeezes it. “I know that, Red. That’s why he would be so proud.”
He shakes his head and pulls his hand away. “That’s not it.”
She tilts her head, brow furrowed.
“I don’t want you to have the wrong expectations. One day I’m not going to live up to them, and it’s better to know that now than be… disappointed.” She’s about to speak, and he hurries on. “And I don’t just mean that I’ll fail to save someone, or be too afraid to try. I mean I might decide against trying, as a conscious choice. Do you see? I might deliberately choose against what dad would have.”
His mom is silent for a time, and Red grows more and more worried. This is the frankest discussion they’ve had about his dad for years, and it’s the closest Red’s come to criticizing him. He should have waited, thought more about how he’d word it…
“I married your father because he was the best man I’d ever met,” she says at last. “I miss him every day. And sometimes I think that if he’d been just a bit less good, he’d still be here with us, and still be helping others.”
“We don’t know what happened that day,” Red says quietly. “That’s what you always said. Is there more to the story?”
She shakes her head. “No. It was his duty to go, and for all we know he did exactly as much as he needed to, as much as was smart to. He wasn’t the only one lost, and the others… his friends, they said he saved a lot of lives. That he just got unlucky.”
She takes his hand again, and this time he lets her hold it, her eyes as intense as he’s ever seen them. “However many lives he saved that day, he might have saved more if he lived past it. Maybe that’s just a rationalization. Maybe others would call that a cowardly excuse, but you’re not their child, you’re mine. Whatever the situation, whatever you choose to do, at the end of the day, all I care about is that you’re safe. Understand?”
A number of thoughts and situations come up that he wants to test her statement against, but it doesn’t feel appropriate just now. Unsure of what else to say, Red simply nods.
His mom smiles and lets his hand go. “Good.” She picks up her fork again. “So, tell me what happened after we got off the phone last night. I want to hear everything.”
Blue’s foot taps on the tile of the pokemon center, gaze fixed on the overhead screen above the lobby’s reception desk. He’s been watching the numbers tick slowly upward, both those currently being treated and the average wait times.
It’s been almost twelve hours since he arrived, exhausted and footsore. Gramps picked him and Leaf up from the forest once they were close enough to the city for their cells to start working again. They went to the hospital to get looked at, and while Blue’s wound took just a few minutes to inspect and finish healing, Leaf had to stay for longer. Afterward Gramps brought him here before heading back to the forest on Glory, the pidgeot moving quick as a dart through the early morning sky with only one rider.
After Blue handed his pokemon over and was given his frustratingly long wait time, he went to the lobby. It was packed with dozens of other trainers fresh from the forest, and Blue picked himself a comfortable couch to rest on. He intended to at least stay up until he heard from Leaf or Mrs. Verres on how she and Red were doing, but he was out the moment his head touched the top of the squishy backrest.
He woke around noon, groggy and in serious need of a bathroom, to find a message on his phone from Leaf. She and Red were alright, and she was on her way to the pokemon center closest to her and wanted confirmation that it was the same one he’s at. He checked the name and told her it was, then went to relieve himself and wash his face.
By the time she arrives he feels like himself again, but his pokemon are still far from the front of the queue. He stops his leg from jittering and gets up as she approaches. She’s looking much better than the night before, and dressed in fresh clothing. “Hey. Feeling alright?”
She smiles. “A hundred percent. The healing went quick, I mostly stayed to get some rest and so they could check for any lingering effects.”
She stretches her arms up and to the sides, then twists at the waist and touches her feet one at a time. “No permanent damage. The shock didn’t go anywhere important, thankfully. How are your pokemon?”
He grunts, mood souring again. “No clue.” He points to the screen.
“Oh. And what number are you?”
“Oh dear. I’d better go get mine then.”
They head over to the front desk, whose staff has changed a couple times since Blue arrived. New arrivals have thankfully slowed, and there’s just one nurse manning it now.
“How much longer on 103?” Blue asks the guy while Leaf hands her pokemon over in exchange for her own number.
The young man glances pointedly at the overhead monitor, which shows the numbers that just finished being treated as 82, 89, 92, 94, and 95, while the average wait time is twenty minutes. “Perhaps another few hours, sir.”
Blue grunts his thanks, and they head back toward the couches. “What number are you?”
Leaf shows him her 148. “It’s going to be a long night,” she says. “We should go see Red.”
“Did you get a chance to?”
“Just for a minute or so. He was still sleeping, but his mom was super nice.”
“Yeah, Aunt Laura’s cool.” Blue wonders what Daisy’s up to. Gramps said she was helping out elsewhere in the forest, and he shoots her a quick text to see what’s up. “Let’s get some food first, the diners at pokemon centers are usually better than the stuff at hospitals.”
They go and do so, the tables around the food corner just as crowded as the rest of the center. As they eat their sandwich and salad, Blue gets a text. He expects it to be from Daisy, but it’s Red’s picture that appears.
“Hey, he’s up!”
“Awesome, tell him I said hi!”
Blue nods, fingers already moving, and a moment later he’s staring at the text asking how his pokemon are doing. He still doesn’t know how Zephyr or the shiftry are, but he doesn’t want to tell Red that he lost his caterpie or beedrill either. Maybe it would be better over the phone, get it out of the way, but he wants to be able to tell the whole story at once, give some context. He finishes the convo and puts his phone away. “At least his arm’s okay.”
“Yeah. It’s good that he got to the hospital when he did.”
Blue frowns at the crowd around them. “Some of these people should be there themselves. Their pokemon aren’t going anywhere, even if the line wasn’t so long.”
Leaf shrugs. “Maybe they’re too concerned for them to have any peace of mind. They’ve got to make sure they’re okay first.”
“But they’re in their pokeballs. It doesn’t matter to them if they wait an hour or a week.”
Leaf opens her mouth, then closes it and spears a tomato slice, chewing with a distant look on her face. Blue takes a bite of his sandwich and gets another message, opening it with his other hand to see it’s from his sis this time.
All’s good. Got home a couple hours ago.
And here he was, worrying like a chump. thx 4 checkin in w/ me
Grampa said you’re OK. Whine more 333
Blue snorts. well he didnt tell me u were home
Aww were you concerned about me?
That’s sweet bro but I was runnin through Viridian when you were just out of diapers. Anything a newbie like you could get through is nbd
Appreciated though ^_o
Blue shakes his head and puts his phone away. “Be glad you don’t have any siblings.”
“Were you interested in seeing Red in the hospital, even if he wasn’t awake?” Leaf asks.
He blinks. “Uh. Yeah?”
“So how is that different than what they’re doing?”
Blue stares blankly at the trainers she gestured toward, and after a moment he remembers the conversation they were having. “Oh! Man, were you thinking of a response that whole time?”
“It was thirty seconds at most. Well?”
“How is it different?”
Blue frowns. “Red wasn’t trapped in a pokeball in complete stasis. He might have woken up while I was there. Also I could have looked at him, seen how he was doing. It would have been reassuring.”
Leaf shakes her head impatiently and tucks some hair that gets loose behind her ear. “So let’s say you know he won’t wake up for another few days, and you popped your head in for a quick look. Is that enough? Would sitting beside him for a few hours be a waste?”
“Uh. Sort of, yeah. Red’s a smart guy, he wouldn’t mind if he found out I did more productive stuff. Hell, he’d probably agree with me.”
“What about Mrs. Verres? Would you have told her to leave him be, that he’d be fine without her waiting beside him?”
Blue shifts in his seat. “That’s different. She’s his mom.”
“So it’s not about what makes sense, it’s emotional. That’s just the kind of bond parents have with their kids.” A pang of loneliness and pain, chased away with long practice. He knows Gramps would stay at his bed if something happened to him. So would Aunt Laura, come to that.
Hm. That thought was kind of comforting. Is that important to Leaf’s point? He has to admit it might be, even if he still thinks it’s kind of a waste of time.
“Well that’s the kind of-”
Blue puts a hand up. “Wait. I get it.”
Leaf’s brow rises. “Get what?”
“I get what you’re saying. It hit me.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, just like that.”
Leaf looks skeptical, and he rolls his eyes. “No need for that look, Gramps taught me about admitting when I’m wrong long before Red turned into a pain in the ass about it.”
“Besides, I wouldn’t say I was wrong unless I really believed it.”
She grins. “True.”
“Anyway, I still think it’s different. Pokemon aren’t humans. They won’t know whether these trainers waited here or not.”
“Maybe not. But it’s not for the pokemon. It’s for the humans.”
Blue considers this, then nods. “The way funerals are for the living.” He stands up. “So, I’ve got a few hours and you’ve got longer. Let’s go see Red, now that he’s awake.”
They leave the pokemon center and begin to walk toward the hospital as twilight cloaks the city. Pewter is very different from Viridian: far more open, with all the tall buildings spread out. Cars are rare here, with the forest to the south and the mountains to every other side, so the streets are much more narrow, and the walkways wider.
Soon they pass through a residential area, where the houses are almost all made of stone. A few young kids are playing on the lawns, some with each other, others with pokemon. A marill swims around two giggling children in a portable pool, and farther along a toddler rides the back of a growlithe under the watchful eye of their parents.
Despite the circumstances, Blue suddenly feels naked without his own pokemon resting at his waist. It feels strange to be uncomfortable around tamed pokemon when he spent his whole life around them. Especially since he’s only had his own for less than a week. Is this what exposure to wild pokemon does? Makes you wary of them all?
“Oh! Look!” Leaf whispers, and Blue follows her gaze to see a woman leaning out a window to splash some milk in the shadow of her house. Leaf stifles her grin behind her hand until they pass, then says, “I can’t believe that’s really a thing. I half thought you guys were joking.”
“Nope. Me and my friend Batu used to wear black and hide in the shadows to leap out at people when we were younger. We’d get splashed with a lot of milk, but it was always worth a laugh. One time-”
Blue’s phone chimes, and he pulls it out while Leaf tries to get a hold of her giggles. He stops walking, and she turns to him with a questioning look.
“It’s the pokecenter,” he says, heart suddenly pounding. “They’re telling me to come in.”
“What, now? They can’t have finished with your pokemon so quickly.”
“Yeah.” The message doesn’t say they’re done being healed, just to report to a certain room as soon as possible. Blue swallows the dryness in his throat and meets Leaf’s concerned gaze. “I guess I’ll catch you later.”
“Do you want me to-”
“No, it’s fine. Go tell Red I’ll be there soon.”
“Alright.” She returns his wave halfheartedly, and then he turns and jogs back the way he came.
Zephyr or the shiftry? Which one did I lose? Or was it both?
Blue makes it back in less than half the time, sweating and out of breath. He quickly follows the directional signs toward D9, and soon finds himself in an intensive care unit.
Blue’s stomach is clenched up like a fist by the time he reaches the door and knocks. A moment later a doctor opens it, almost as old as Gramps, with her long greying hair tied in a braid. After confirming who he is she invites him inside the room. It looks less like a medical room and more like a computer lab, each console surrounded by periphery equipment and sporting numerous screens, and he realizes he’s in an assessment room rather than one devoted to treatment.
His pokeballs rest on a machine with spherical indents, each slot including a lens aligned with the ball’s to stream data from it to the nearby terminal. He notices that his shiftry’s ball isn’t among them.
“Hello Mr. Oak, thank you for coming so quickly. Some concerns surfaced while treating your pokemon.”
“Yeah, I figured.” Blue wipes his palms on his jeans. “So what’s up? Are they okay?”
“For the most part. I want to know about one in particular.” The doctor meets his gaze, and Blue suddenly notices how cold hers is. “Your shiftry. What happened to it?”
Blue stands a bit straighter, suddenly wary. “I told the guy at reception, it had some acid burns, puncture wounds, poisoning, and its limbs were cut off.”
“We can see that. I want to know how the amputations occurred.”
“Another shiftry’s leaves cut them off. What’s the problem? Are you able to heal it or not?”
“Your shiftry’s healing has already begun, and is going as best as can be expected. It should make a full recovery within a few days.” The nurse’s eyes are hard on his. “The question is whether it will be returned to you or not.”
Blue’s concern fades, anger taking its place. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve seen thousands of pokemon injuries. Often from wild battles, some from trainer brawls. The wounds to your shiftry’s arms and legs are different from the rest. We have abuse laws in this region, Mr. Oak.”
Searing heat flares through Blue’s chest, each beat of his heart pumping magma through his veins. Calm. Steady. “Are you accusing me of something?” he says, jaw tight.
She doesn’t flinch at his tone. “Those wounds were specific, deliberate. Another shiftry didn’t do that. I want to know what did.”
“I don’t see how it’s any of your business.”
“As a matter of fact it is. If we suspect trainer abuse we’re required to report it to the licensing association. You can tell me or you can tell an investigative review board, but until you do either, you’re not getting your pokemon back.”
He unclenches his fists and takes a deep breath. After Gramps dropped him off, Blue waited until he flew away, then jogged to a small pokemart nearby. He restocked on some supplies, including a few greatballs. Once outside, Blue released his shiftry and quickly recaptured it in a greatball before returning to the pokemon center.
Now he’s wishing he’d kept it in the original ball and just handed them the greatball to put it in when it was healed. “Look, I didn’t have a greatball on me when my group was attacked by the shiftry near the forest fire. I tried to use a pokeball, but it was too big. After we fought them off, this one was still alive, so I used one of the other shiftry’s arms that were severed and made him small enough to fit. He was badly wounded, and I didn’t have any other way to capture him. It was either this, heal him and risk someone else getting attacked, or letting him die. All things considered I thought this was the best option, since grass types can heal almost any wound.”
The doctor’s posture is still rigid, but her expression is a bit less severe. “You were with a group of trainers, and none of you had any greatballs?”
“No, there were only three of us,” he says immediately, while internally kicking himself for not having asked the others. He didn’t even consider it at the time. “Also we were busy last night, you know, trying to stay alive and keep the forest from burning down. If anyone had any before they probably used them by then.”
Her gaze lingers on his for a moment, then she nods. “Given the circumstances, then, I think you did the best you could. It helps that its wounds were promptly cared for. Just to be sure, please give me the names of the other trainers, so I can corroborate your story.”
“Oh come on! Why would I cut up my own pokemon and then bring him here to be healed?”
“Sir, please lower your voice.”
Blue fumes silently for a moment as he calms himself down. Just as he’s about to give her the names, footsteps approaching from the hallway make them both turn.
“Ah, there you are Blue. I thought I heard your voice.”
Professor Oak stands in the doorway, looking tired but smiling. He approaches the monitors, stripping gloves off his hands and tossing them in the trash before he examines Blue’s pokemon info. “Good, good, your pidgey healed just fine.”
Blue’s brain seems to have locked up at his gramp’s unexpected appearance. “His wing’s okay?” he asks after a moment, unable to pick beyond all the other questions.
“Yes, he’ll regain full use of it. The cut was deep, but it missed the bone.”
The doctor is staring at Professor Oak in shock, then turns to Blue. “You’re…?”
“Yeah, that Oak.”
Her cheeks flush, and she turns to the cheerful smile on the Professor’s face with a stammering apology that he waves away before it can take form.
“It’s quite alright, you were only exercising due diligence. I was hoping to have a talk with my grandson before we visit his friend in the hospital, however. Please excuse us, and message me if you need anything.”
“Of course, Professor. Thank you for everything.” She smiles and bows. “Your help has been invaluable, and I’ve never seen my people maintain such good morale in a situation this bad.”
Gramps beams at her and returns her bow, then heads for the door. Blue glances at the doctor as she gives him an apologetic look, pushes his bruised pride aside to mutter some thanks, and follows him.
As they walk through the corridor, his grandpa’s cheerful demeanor doesn’t disappear, but it does gradually fade to its normal, less weaponized form. Blue’s not sure what to say at first: did he just get rescued? It feels like he did, even though he was doing totally fine. He did nothing wrong. So why does it feel like he was let off the hook just because he’s the Professor Oak’s grandson?
To be fair, the Professor hadn’t said anything that could remotely be taken that way. Nor had the doctor implied it. It just seemed taken for granted that the grandson of Professor Oak would of course have the best intentions regarding pokemon wellbeing, and wouldn’t have acted in any way improperly.
Not that he’s complaining. Expectations like that will surely come in handy someday.
Still, even planning to make good use of the Oak name, Blue feels disgruntled. He was fully capable of handling this situation on his own.
Blue lengthens his strides to catch up to his grandpa. “So what are you doing here?” he asks, unable to keep quite all the hostility from his voice.
“Helping with the pokemon, of course. It’s all hands on deck from the surrounding cities, and since you all are here I decided to come to Pewter instead of help in Viridian. I arrived while you were sleeping in the lobby.”
“Ah. Well, thanks for the help back there. Saved me the whole minute it would have taken to give her the trainer’s names.”
The professor’s pale blue eyes flick toward him, and then they’re at the elevators. His grandpa waits until they’re inside and headed for the roof, then turns to him, face serious.
“You’re going to have to be more careful, Blue.”
“With what, exactly?”
“Your choice of victory conditions. There are many paths to becoming Champion, but the one you’ve chosen to walk is narrow as a razor’s edge. Stray too far on either side and you’ll get the title, but accomplish nothing with it.”
Blue scowls, leaning back against the wall and watching the numbers tick up. “You don’t think I know that? I did the best I could with what I had.”
“I believe that, and you believe that, and the two trainers that were with you probably believe that. But when the story gets out, as it certainly will once your fame starts to rise, you’re going to have to be ready to counter the unflattering colors some will paint you in.” The door of the elevator opens. “Start considering what you can do to give them something else to talk about.”
Blue follows him out, thinking it over. Gramps is speaking from experience, and Blue would have to be an idiot to ignore him. “So, what, like spread the story myself?”
“Is that the best you can come up with?” His grandpa waves at someone as they walk through the rooftop’s lobby, with its glass ceiling revealing that night has finally fallen on the city. Once they’re outside on the landing and launching area, he takes out Glory’s ball and summons the pidgeot in a flash of light.
Blue strokes the huge bird’s wing, and when it kneels he climbs onto the second seat on its back. I can’t wait until Zephyr’s this big. “I could help out here with you. Assist with pokemon injured in the forest.”
His grandpa smiles and mounts up before turning Glory toward the edge of the building, the pokemon’s wings spreading as it crouches for takeoff. “That’ll do, for a start…”
“Heyyy, look who’s conscious!”
Leaf turns to see Blue and Professor Oak enter Red’s room, the latter carrying a small bag. Mrs. Verres (“Please, call me Laura”) rises and hugs each of them, then excuses herself to get more chairs. The boys bump fists, and Blue leans on the edge of the bed to get a look at Red’s cast.
“Does it hurt if I do this?” Blue asks, extending a finger toward it.
Red bats his hand away before it can touch. “Thanks for coming, Professor.”
“Of course. From what I gather, you all did remarkably well in the forest, and I wanted to hear your stories personally.” The professor lifts the bag. “I also brought you each something. Ah, thank you Laura.” He takes the seat from her and lowers himself into it.
“You brought us gifts?” Leaf asks, excitement bubbling up in her. “You’ve already given us so much!”
“He’s just protecting his investment,” Blue says as he takes another chair to the other side of Red’s bed. He flips it around so he can prop his arms up on its back while he faces them. “Would have been embarrassing if we kicked the oxygen habit less than a week out.”
“Blue,” Mrs. Verres says, voice calm but firm. “I know you’re joking, but keep in mind that many people didn’t make it out of the forest. You’re all lucky to be alive, despite your achievements.”
To Leaf’s surprise, Blue looks genuinely embarrassed. “You’re right, Aunty. Sorry. So what’d you get us, Gramps?”
“First, for Red, an ultraball.” He takes it out and hands it to him.
“Oh Sam, you shouldn’t have!” Laura says, admiring the sleek black and yellow ball that Red takes reverently. His finger traces the small gold lightning bolt etched into its cover.
“Think of it as a safety precaution. Training a pikachu can be dangerous, and at the very least you need to make sure the ball you hold it in can handle a stray bolt.”
“Thanks Professor,” Red says. “I was going to buy one, but now I can use the money on other things.”
“May I suggest some cheri berries? Besides their medicinal uses, they can be fed to your pichu to temporarily weaken its electricity.”
“Really? How does that wo-”
“Later, Red,” Blue says. “Next gift!”
Professor Oak smiles and turns deliberately away from him and toward Leaf. “Miss Juniper. Your decision to catch the pichu at great personal risk was admirable, but exceedingly dangerous. Rather than attempt to convince you not to try such a thing again in the future, I’d rather equip you so that you can do so a bit safer.”
He hands her a clear plastic jar of some thick amber liquid, tightly sealed. “Is this combee honey?” she asks, voice hushed, and Red gives a low whistle. A cup of the stuff can sell for as much as a hundred dollars, and this looks like a whole pint at least.
“It is, of a particularly strong potency. A small dab should be enough to attract any pokemon with a sense of smell. Use with extreme caution.”
Leaf grins and carefully tucks it in her bag. “I will! Thank you!” She’s already imagining all the ways she can use it, not just to catch pokemon, but also to train Bulbasaur. On top of that, plant pokemon are very adaptive at incorporating the effects of new substances in the plants and seeds they grow. He might even be able to develop his own attractive liquid or pollen…
“You’re quite welcome. As for you, Blue, I give you this.” He hands his grandson… a book.
Blue takes it with a frown that looks more like concentration than pique. “Nobunaga’s Ambition,” he reads from the cover, and flips through it. “Any significance here?”
“That’s for you to figure out as you read it. I have every confidence in you.”
Blue sighs as if he’d expected this, but nods and puts the book to the side. Leaf realizes he’s probably used to similarly cryptic directions from his grandfather. “Thanks, Gramps,” he says, and only sounds half grudging.
“So, what are you all planning now?” Mrs. Verres asks.
“I’m going to hit the gym when my pokemon are better,” Blue says. “Hopefully I can grab the Pewter Badge in a few days.”
“I have some research I need to do with my spinarak. If you have time, Professor, I could use some help organizing my thoughts on it…”
“And you, Leaf?”
She smiles. “The museum here has the largest fossil collection in the region, right?”
“Cinnabar might rival it,” Professor Oak says. “But it would be close.”
She nods. “I’m going to check it out. I’m really curious to know more about your region’s myths and history.” The older the better, and it doesn’t get much older than fossilized pokemon remains. She’s seen how historical evidence could alter or clash with local myths and beliefs back in Unova.
“It’s a fascinating place,” Professor Oak says. “You should all go.”
“Pass,” Blue says. “Seen it. Pretty boring.”
“I’m down,” Red says.
She smiles at him. “Cool.”
“Well, now that’s settled.” Professor Oak checks the time, then smiles and leans back in his chair, eyes sparkling with excitement. “It’s time for my payment for the gifts. I want to hear everything that happened last night. Who’s going to start?”
Leaf’s phone chimes, and her heart sinks as she sees it’s her mother asking her to call when she can. “Excuse me, I have to take this,” she says as she gets to her feet. “I’ll let Red cover my part.”
She leaves the room and finds a quiet corner of the hospital. She was putting off this conversation, but part of her is glad it’s finally upon her. After the numerous near death experiences in the forest, she doesn’t want to let some misaligned expectations get in the way of her and her mother’s relationship.
Leaf presses the call button, heart hammering as she tries to think of what to say. Should she sound calm and casual, as if nothing’s wrong? Cheerful? The usual cool and controlled?
She’s still trying to decide when the ringing stops, and her mother’s voice is in her ear. “Leaf!”
“Oh honey, it’s good to hear your voice. I checked the Kanto news today and it showed a forest fire near where you said you were! Are you alright?”
Tears prickle at Leaf’s eyes at the naked concern in her mom’s tone, and she closes them. “I’m fine,” she says with a smile as she leans back against the wall. “And… Mom, I wanted to say sorry…”