115: Limelight

“She finally set a date?”

“Next week.” Blue feels a knot of tension release in his chest as he puts his phone away, then watches Glen’s kadabra as it attacks one target at a time. The field they’re in is dark, but without clouds the moon and stars are enough to mostly make out the pokedolls. Still, the kadabra isn’t aiming by sight: it’s following Glen’s mental prompting, and each time it hits the right one, he tosses it a bit of poffin. “I know she’s been busy with all the Silph stuff, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could sit around on my hands, here.”

“Really seemed like you were cursed to never get this badge. Maybe if you stop going for it weird shit will stop happening that overturns all of society and makes Sabrina build another backlog.”

“Hey, I was in Celadon when the Hoenn incident happened.” Blue summons Ion, who finally evolved into a luxray last night. Its new form is barely visible in the moonlit field, but Eevee bounds over to play with it, a streak of cheerful silver fuzz that gets gently batted aside each time she tries to headbutt the large black and blue feline. “I was starting to consider heading to Cinnabar while I waited, though.”

“You back to racing for badges?” Glen’s voice is only partially teasing. “Trying to get your last before you turn 13?”

“It crossed my mind.” His younger self definitely set 12 as the latest it would still be impressive to get his final badge, though his actual goal for the circuit had been within a year of setting out. Even having decided against speeding through all the gyms after Pewter, Blue still feels the want of somehow managing to pull it off anyway.

Before Silph got hit his plan was to stop by in Saffron just long enough to get the badge, maybe drop by the dojo and say hi, before taking a flight to Cinnabar. But it’s been nearly a week since he arrived in town, and July is nearly gone. If he beats Sabrina next week, he can be in Cinnabar by August, which would give him almost six weeks to get the last two badges before his birthday… plenty of time, if he doesn’t spend any more trying to reform gym cultures.

And he’s pretty sure he’s done with all that, now. It’s frustrating because, if he’s being honest with himself, reforming gym cultures and exploring alternative models has been some of the most enjoyable and meaningful parts of his journey. He wants to dig into the divide between Saffron’s gym and its “dojo,” wants to explore Cinnabar’s gym and see what Blaine’s infamous leadership style has made of it, see if he can make something better, is sure he’ll have many questions about how Giovanni runs his while being so busy doing other things…

But the world keeps changing nearly as fast as he can make new plans, and he has to keep changing with it.

“Sure, it crossed your mind.” Glen feeds his kadabra another bit of poffin, voice casual. “But that’s not the main reason, is it?”

“No,” Blue admits as he watches Eevee try leaping on Ion, who steps to the side to let her soar past him.

“And you’re not just trying to be the first to face her once she’s learned Miracle Eye?”

“That’s crossed my mind too.” He knows Satori was teaching Sabrina and the rest of her students how to use it even before the Silph attack, and had it on good authority that the Saffron Leader was prioritizing training her strongest pokemon with it first.

It would have normally taken a while before she reached her six badge teams, but Blue reached out before he arrived in town to see if he could trade the previous “favor” she owed him (he didn’t exactly need her confirmation that Koichi’s methods work anymore, though he was curious what she’d say about it) for the privilege of being the first trainer she challenged with Miracle Eye. It would make for good symmetry for his journey, and he didn’t want anyone to think he was getting an easier challenge just because he fought her before she prepared her full roster with it.

Plus, a part of him has been itching to face a psychic that had it in a real battle. He smiles as Eevee nudges his leg with a headbutt, and reaches down to ruffle her fur. “I’ve got plans for it, either way.”

He didn’t expect Sabrina to say no, since most trainers don’t ask for a harder badge challenge, but she didn’t respond at all. Then Silph was attacked, and he’s assumed she’s been busy dealing with the aftermath of that. He did try scheduling an appointment, which was declined with a message thanking him for his help in keeping her city safe while reassuring him she’d prioritize his challenge match once she resumed them.

It felt like a brush off, especially given their last meeting, but he can’t fault her priorities. So he’s spent what time he could preparing, sleeping during the day so he could train through the nights, away from any prying eyes in the city.

“Alright, so a lot of things have crossed your mind. What’s the actual reason?”

Blue takes out his laser pointer and starts flashing an erratic pattern on the ground. Ion takes off, barely visible except quick gleams of blue and yellow that do more to distract than help his eyes track it. Eevee runs around to follow the pointer too, but she can barely cover half the distance to each new spot before the luxray has already pounced and bounded off after the new one. “I want to be there for Red.”

For days on end, much of Indigo has been busy running around in panicked circles, engaged in competing hysterics over more dark people turning out to be renegades, or more psychics turning out to have the power to turn their pokemon renegade. After that first night to (Blue presumes) get their story straight, Red was paraded in front of a camera the day after the Silph attack, with Director Tsunemori, Agent Looker, President Silph, and Champion Lance standing by as he revealed his ability to project sakki at pokemon, and explain how he would be helping local police and interpol fight Team Rocket.

Having just found out about it himself the day before, Blue didn’t have much time to imagine how the public would react. But he brought the gang over to watch the broadcast with Gramps and Aunt Laura in a condo Red’s mom rented to stay the night in Saffron, and then they all sat together looking over the various discussions and reactions taking place on forums and news sites until Red was finally released. They all gave him a hug, then let him sleep for twelve hours while they stayed mostly glued to the regional (and then international) conversation until well past midnight.

Blue had never seen Red’s mother so stressed, not even when he was knocked out in Lavender. Granted, there were people calling for her son to be branded a renegade on the net, but they were usually shouted down, and Leaf said most of the discussion seemed anchored in a stable enough place by ways he and other psychics could help combat Team Rocket, and any similar organizations like the groups responsible for the Hoenn incident.

By the time Red woke up the next morning, it was still chaos, but plans were already being acted out by Indigo’s leaders, which helped focus people’s time and energy preparing for the next Rocket attack and left few people seeming seriously worried about some anti-dark or anti-psychic uprising. Red was clearly taking it hard, though, and had to report back to the police the same day to begin his “training” after reassuring Laura a hundred times that it’s what he wanted to do.

Blue was just glad he got to leave the police station at all. He wasn’t sure what he’d do in the case where Red was arrested besides burn all his political capital alongside Gramps’s trying to convince everyone that they need Red… and much as he believes it, he’s not sure that would have been enough. Not when the alternative is everyone looking over their shoulder whenever he’s around, ready to blame him if anyone gets killed by a pokemon.

And underneath all that is the worry that people will learn he had some part in the development of sakki, or look suspiciously on how he didn’t say anything about it. He can only imagine how Leaf feels, now that her project is under intense scrutiny; she’s not in charge of it anymore, hasn’t been for months, and it helps that the rangers have been so clearly okay with the program they’ve been developing. But if people decide Leaf should have said something earlier, blame her for not divulging where the program originated… They could drag Aiko’s name into the mud too, which they’re all hoping to avoid.

All things considered, the Pallet Three no longer have a sterling reputation. As far as Blue can tell, the fact that Red and Blue helped save everyone at Silph and prevented the Master Ball from getting fully stolen are the only thing that’s kept a sizeable portion of public opinion from turning entirely against them. In some sense they have more fans than ever, but they also have anti-fans now, and that feels… different.

The movie was the first sign of how. It hasn’t been canceled, but a message from the studio said they were holding off on further development “until current events have settled.” Blue complained that the opportunity to document their journeys would be even more profitable to them now, but knew even before Leaf reminded him that the tone of the film would likely be drastically altered if the controversy shifts public opinion.

Red tried apologizing to them both, and both told him to shut up. Well, Blue did, Leaf just hugged him and said he was being stupid in a watery voice that made Red look properly ashamed.

Later, when Blue was finally alone and lying down to sleep, he had the long, hard look at his own thoughts and feelings about what Red could do, and what it meant for the world if all psychics could learn to do it. He could admit, to himself at least, that if it wasn’t Red of all people, he’d be much more… wary. It’s not the best word, but it’s the closest he could grasp.

But Red gave as much of himself as anyone could at Silph, almost too much, to stop the renegades. And he’s his best friend. If even he won’t believe in him, who will?

“You think things will get bad for him after Rocket’s defeated?” Glen asks. It’s what Elaine voiced worry about on the night of the reveal, though thankfully once Laura was out of the room talking with Red. Not that he thinks she hasn’t thought of it herself. “Once people think they don’t need him anymore…”

“Yeah, that’s part of it. But I also don’t trust anyone in charge of Indigo enough to look out for his best interests.” Blue feeds his pokemon some poffins, giving Eevee a smaller piece before realizing her head is nearly level with his belt and giving her another. She should be evolving any night, now… “At least when I’m Champion I’ll have some leverage, if they try to push him too far or make a move after Rocket is taken down.”

“Right.” Glen is quiet a moment, and Blue has a painful moment to wonder if Glen regrets joining up with him—he knows that’s just his guilt talking, even seeing his friend mostly recovered hasn’t undone that—and then his friend abruptly says, “So, sixth badge challenge. Sabrina usually plays them straight, from what I’ve seen? Standard 4v4, covers Psychic’s weaknesses with her first three, then adds an alakazam as a general purpose sweeper?”

“Yeah, but she switches things up sometimes, especially against dark trainers.” Blue withdraws Ion, then sends out Maturin. His starter has been growing rapidly since evolving into a blastoise, and Blue takes out a container full of food for his pokemon to chow on even before they start their training. “Which means it’ll mostly come down to how well I can predict her picks, and whether she counterpicks right, and so on.”

If he expects her to bring a Psychic/Fighting, Psychic/Flying, and Psychic/Normal type, then Bug, Electric, and Steel types would counter them pretty handily. But if she brings a Psychic/Fire instead of Psychic/Flying, it would counter two of his would-be counters, so she’d probably do that, and he’ll do better with a Water type instead… which of course she could bring a Psychic/Grass or Psychic/Electric type to counter, if she predicts that far.

The safest thing to do would be to bank on multiple Dark types, but of course she knows that and even without Miracle Eye helping could use multiple Psychic/Bug and Psychic/Fighting pokemon to even the playing field. He’d have loved to bring Sunny and Aegis, but using the houndoom and forretress against Erika and Koga meant Sabrina would almost certainly be prepared for both. This also means she likely wouldn’t bring any Psychic/Bugs of her own, but that doesn’t work to his advantage as much given that Zephyr would have been a useful addition to his team regardless.

He considered buying a honchkrow or some other Dark/Flying type to better counter Psychic/Bug or Fighting pokemon, but he feels the scrutiny of the world more than ever on him. He’s been spending the money he’s made from recent rounds of abra and natu sales on top end training equipment and supplements, but buying a pokemon would be different. He already did it once, and Rive was pretty early on in his journey, and plenty of people saw him training with the rhyhorn for weeks before he used it in a gym challenge. Even if it’s not a dragonite or tyranitar, a second bought pokemon would set a pattern of buying his way to victory unless he gets a hatchling and raises it himself, and he doesn’t have time for that.

It’s times like this he particularly misses Kemuri, and bitterly wishes again that he could go back in time to those caves, move just a little faster, been just a little smarter…

But what’s really galled Blue is his lack of other options most trainers would have. He already proved he could train a Psychic pokemon despite being dark, and doing the same with a Ghost type would be not just similarly impressive but extra useful. But it was difficult, time consuming work with Tops, and a gastly or misdreavus would only be a little easier considering he also wouldn’t have as much help from Red.

Maturin has finished eating, and Blue strokes the pebbly skin of her snout before he takes out another container full of water for her to drink during target practice. It’s only been a couple weeks since they prepped for Koga together, but he misses Red. It’s nice to bounce ideas off of experienced trainers like Glen, but there was something about the way Red asked questions that made it clear he saw the matches the same way Blue does, even if he didn’t know what he was talking about half the time. Teaching him helped focus Blue’s own understanding of the fundamentals.

But Red’s busy training to take out renegades, and Blue, for all that he’d like to help, knows his limits. One renegade nearly took him down, and he was lucky to only lose one of his pokemon. He can’t keep that up and go for gym badges at the same time. There’s been a recruitment surge in various city police departments, and more volunteers for Hunter training. Part of Blue wanted it, but he can’t stop his journey, not even just for long enough to help take Rocket down. He’s so close to Victory Road, and the stormbringers are still out there.

But once he becomes Champion, if there’s still a fight left to be had, he can make sure Rocket is taken down first.

He hears a distant jingling over the steady sound of the wind, and turns to see a group of trainers approaching on bikes and pokemon, framed by the glow of the city behind them. The others have finally arrived, Duncan leading some dojo members while Elaine approaches with the rest of the gang.

“Maturin, stop. Break.” He gives her a poffin, then lets her drink her fill while Glen goes to hug Elaine and Lizzy and greet the new faces, while Blue shakes Duncan’s hand.

“Hey man, welcome back. I was waiting to see if you’d come to the dojo again, but I guess you’ve been busy.”

Blue snorts. “Just a little.” The mayor gave him, Red, and all the people who fought at Silph a medal yesterday, a ten minute ceremony that somehow took four hours. “Thanks for coming out here.”

“No worries, I get wanting to keep a low profile for a bit. Everyone I brought does too. You said you just plan to do some matches with anyone who has psychic types?”

“Yeah, we’re still missing—wait, there they are.”

Maria arrives a moment later, followed by Jason, Satori, and her sister Koishi. “Hail fellows, well met,” Maria says as she dismounts. “Is this the first gathering of our secret society, or did we miss one?”

“The first, but probably not the last.” Blue thinks of all the friends he’s made along his journey, and how many might be among those suspicious of Red, or even all psychics, now. Maybe everything will blow over eventually, but if not, they’re going to need to maintain their social ties, build them up as strong as they can get them. “Not while there’s still work to do.”

Blue steps out onto the floor of the Saffron Gym stadium to a roar of sound so loud it’s nearly a physical assault. He smiles through it and walks with his head held high as the applause, cheers, and stamping feet echo around the completely packed stadium, continuing long after he’s taken his place at his platform opposite Sabrina.

It’s a nice show of support, but he knows his popularity wasn’t the only thing that got everyone here today. It’s the first challenge match Sabrina has accepted in the two weeks since the Rocket attack, and the locals aren’t just happy to cheer for one of their heroes; they’re also just happy for the sign of society trying to return to normal.

Sabrina stands across from him, smiling gently as she waits for the crowd to settle down on its own. He appreciates it for the status effect, but also because it gives him another few moments to think over his options, fingers trailing idly over the cool spheres at his waist as his gaze is drawn to her own belt. They’re all ultraballs, giving no sign away as to what pokemon might be inside them.

After another week of training, discussion, and planning, he settled on his types: Water, Electric, Electric/Steel, Normal, Flying/Normal, and just one Dark. Nothing she can sweep with a single Psychic type combination, and enough redundancy that he can adapt as needed. Now he just has to see how many layers of counterpicks she decided to go with.

The applause finally begin to die down, and Sabrina’s voice elegantly covers the transition to full silence. “Saffron Gym welcomes Blue Oak, who trained with us months ago before leaving to claim the Fuchsia badge, and returned just in time to fight in defense of our city. You have demonstrated time and again the refusal to acknowledge limitations when pursuing your ambitions, and with the help of my students, not only trained your own psychic pokemon, but were the first battle trainer to use Miracle Eye. For this discovery, Saffron Gym and psychics everywhere owe you, Satori Komeiji, and Red Verres our thanks… and for the pivotal role it played in disrupting the conspiracy and assault on Silph Headquarters, the world does as well.”

She begins applauding herself, now, and the stadium renews its cheers. Blue lets it wash over him, not even having to pretend at modesty as he bows his head in appreciation for her words. He waits until she stops clapping, and the sound begins to die down, before he raises his head. “Thank you, Leader, for your guidance in these changing times.” No need to be petty, it’s an easy enough bit of reciprocal gratitude even if he didn’t receive any personally. “I haven’t spent much time with your gym compared to the others, but those you’ve taught here have shaped my journey no less than theirs. I look forward to seeing what new heights you and your gym can bring Psychic pokemon to, with the Miracle Eye added to your arsenal.”

“As do I. What is your challenge, Trainer?”

“I challenge for Mastery.”

“Saffron Gym accepts. You may use all the pokemon on your belt, against just one of mine. Cause it to faint, or force me to withdraw it, and the badge will be yours. Only one of your pokemon may be summoned at a time, but there are no time limits on swaps.”

The murmurs begin before she even finishes speaking, and Blue just stares at her as all his plans break and scatter around him.

Six against one.

Six against one, and she still expects to win? Or is this some elaborate forfeit? But why not coordinate with him ahead of t—

“Go, Alakazam!”

It appears in a flash, and Blue almost sends a pokemon out reflexively. No timer. Breathe. His battle calm hasn’t shown up yet, thoughts still circling the question of what’s happening and how he should respond.

Right. No timer, but it’s still not a good look to just stand here staring. He almost keys his mic to the private channel, but it would probably look bad if he had a private conversation right now. Instead his voice echoes from the speakers around the stadium as he casually says, “If the plan is to show off your mastery of Miracle Eye, then I’m afraid I may end up disappointing you.”

“Are you claiming you came to challenge me without a Dark type on your belt?”

“I’m saying I’d be disappointed in myself if I can’t beat you without one, now.” It’s hard to tell where she anchored everyone’s expectations on this; people tend to trust that a Leader is balancing their team properly, and even a 6 on 3 match would have those 3 be strong enough that it would still be hard for the challenger, without being impossible. To do a 6 on 1, however, is declaring this Alakazam to be either so individually strong that his entire team is needed to take it down, or to have some strategy so brilliant she has no need of a backup.

He’s never heard of a gym leader doing this. It would be too pointlessly humiliating if they intended to crush a challenge, and too obviously a dive if they want to award someone a badge. Either way, he needed to reset expectations a little so that if it does take his whole team… no, he shouldn’t be thinking of that now. He needs to understand what her actual combat strategy is.

The obvious one would be to set up Barriers to cover alakazam’s physical frailty, maybe a Reflect, then just stay mobile and heal up in the time it takes for him to swap pokemon. Left on its own, the alakazam could fully heal itself in about twelve seconds, and it’s almost certainly one with the ability to heal damage passively, so poisons, burns, even leech seeds wouldn’t help wear it down over time.

His fingers glide over each ball at his belt one at a time, and a stab of regret goes through him when he touches Bob’s ball. Blue brought him in case he needed a special counter-wall, but that thing definitely would know Psyshock, and snorlax aren’t nearly as tanky against piercing kinetics. Still, it might be an option if he just needs to wear her alakazam down… they can heal damage to wounds they take, but they still get tired eventually.

His fingers keep drifting, until they reach Ion and Pals. The main thing psychics have trouble healing is damage to their nervous system. If he can disrupt the alakazam’s movement enough with some paralysis, then hit it hard and fast, a few strikes could be enough to take it down before it has a chance to heal.

Assuming it doesn’t just Safeguard itself from effects like Thunder Wave, of course. Or just one-shot his pokemon altogether. He takes for granted that this thing will have full coverage with Psychic, Shadow Ball, and Focus Blast, probably also Energy Ball and Charge Beam, because why not?

But would she bring a pokemon that powerful to this match? She may not be able to read his mind, but she knows her own gym’s counters inside and out, and if she cuts off every possible strategy and just sweeps him… he’s not sure how he’s actually supposed to have a chance of winning.

Which puts him back to wondering whether she’s actually setting out to crush him. Would she have some reason to want to keep him in Saffron longer? Something that she couldn’t just talk to him about?

He discards that thought for later, trying to refocus on her battle strategy. It doesn’t help him now to wonder if this battle is winnable at all; he has to assume it is, and do his best to play to his outs. That’s how he’s faced every challenge so far, gym and otherwise, and it’s gotten him this far.

Blue takes a breath, feeling the calm descending as his plan takes shape, rehearsing the pokemon and attacks he’d need to send out in what order. Alakazam is powerful, and a very strong one would be hard to take down if he’s not careful… but it has weaknesses. It can’t protect against every status effect, so he can surprise her with those. It has frail physical defenses if it hasn’t set Barriers or a Reflect up, which means he has to hit it hard from the beginning so it has no time to do so. And of course, it has trouble with Dark pokemon… and that will still be true for at least a few seconds while it uses Miracle Eye.

And he may not know how that feels as a psychic, but as a trainer he knows what it takes to use it in combat.

The arena is silent enough that all he can hear are his breaths, and he takes an extra moment to savor the crystalline calm without something immediate he has to do or be vigilant against… and then unclips the first two balls from his belt.

“Go, Pals!”

The alakazam starts moving as soon as his magneton is summoned and the order for Thunder Wave sticks in Blue’s throat as the crystalline shimmer of a Safeguard appears around the alakazam. So much for paralysis. “Pals, return! Go, Maturin!”

Maturin’s debut as a blastoise sends a ripple through the crowd even as Blue yells “Ca!” through the sound of some of his fans cheering his starter’s final evolution. Blue mentioned in interviews that he nearly lost her when facing the renegade in the basement, but not that she evolved from the fight. Another benefit of avoiding training with her in public is that the dramatic reveals are just as much a surprise for his opponent as they are an audience pleaser, and now he finally gets to show off what she can do.

(Most people expect blastoise to be utilized as a way to dispense Hydro Pumps and Flash Cannons and Ice Beams and so on. And Blue certainly made sure Maturin had all the TMs he could buy for her to cover a wide range of special attacks. But at the end of the day, raising a blastoise to be a special attacker is both predictable, and missing the forest for the trees.)

She’s still small enough to be nimble, but few blastoise can match an alakazam in speed, let alone one reacting at the speed of thought. By the time she’s crossed half the arena, a ball of green energy has already formed between her opponent’s hands—

(Blastoise aren’t extraordinary special attackers, in truth. They’re too slow, and their cannons are far from weak, but not high enough pressure to do as much damage as, say, an inteleon, which is faster and more accurate. Hell, even a samurott hits harder than blastoise, and it’s in the same speed tier.)

—which splashes against the charging blastoise, causing her to stagger—

(What blastoise have that they don’t is the shell and stamina to take almost anything you throw at them, and keep slugging. And one thing Maturin made clear to him early on is that she’s got jaws…)

—then dart forward to clamp her teeth around its arm with a crack.

(…and likes to use them.)

Sabrina physically twitches and clutches her arm, but Blue doesn’t hesitate: Maturin’s body is angled such that one cannon is aimed directly at the alakazam’s face, and now he shouts the “Puh!” that sends a point-blank gallon of water out to snap its head back.

Only after does he realize he might have killed it, which aside from everything else would be pretty traumatic to Sabrina if they’re still merged. She doesn’t react further, however, and instead of collapsing, her alakazam’s eyes glow… and whatever attack it uses causes Maturin to slump to the ground.

Strong. As expected, far stronger than a 6th badge pokemon would normally be, to make up for being alone… but surely not unbeatable?

The alakazam’s arm dislocates as Maturin falls with her teeth still clamped tight, but a moment later her mouth opens enough that it manages to pull free, and is already healing itself by the time Blue has returned Maturin and sent out Ion, who crackles with electricity before bolting forward at another “Ca!”

Once again an invisible attack hits his pokemon, this time knocking him to one side as the alakazam steps to the other to dodge his bite. Ion leaps at his foe, and again Sabrina’s pokemon nudges him to the side and moves out of the way, so fast and fluid it looks choreographed.

But it’s not. Sabrina’s using her usual tricks of mindreading and kinesis to throw off his pokemon’s attacks at just the right moments. Ion finally gets a hit in, but her alakazam heals the damage just as quickly between the next two misses, and if he doesn’t land a few consecutive bites soon it’ll be fully recovered.

What’s worse, Blue can’t even tell how many of these attacks are damaging Ion and how many are merely tripping it up and making it clumsy. It’s definitely weakening, however, and Blue’s hand twitches to swap Pals back in, but hesitates. He swapped the magneton out in the first place because alakazam has such strong defenses against non-physical attacks, and while Pals can take more hits than Ion, it’s not going to bring this alakazam down. It might even give the alakazam time to put up Barriers or a Reflect…

But if he times it just… right…

“Ion, return!” Blue yells. “Go, Pals!” The crystalline shimmer around the alakazam fades just as the magneton appears. “Af!”

Sabrina is already reapplying the Safeguard, and if he’d gone for another Thunder Wave he’d have fallen even further behind.

But there are some things Safeguard doesn’t guard against.

Blue buries his eyes in his elbow just as his pokemon sends a burst of light out, then withdraws it and throws a new ball as Sabrina clutches the railing of her platform, eyes squeezed shut. It would debilitate her and her pokemon less than most Leaders, given their ability to sense minds…

“Go, Xenon!”

Most minds, that is.

His umbreon appears on the field to a collective “ooo” from the audience, neon blue rings shining against its dark fur. He’s never trained with Aiko’s eevee in public, but he did blog about training the eevee she gifted him now and then, without mentioning that it was shiny.

Sabrina can’t see what’s happening, nor can she or her pokemon sense his, but she does the obvious play and finally sets up her first Barrier as Blue shouts “Paf!” and Xenon rushes forward to trip the alakazam, biting its leg and tugging until it topples over.

Without being able to strike back, all the alakazam can do is set up more barriers and heal as Xenon tears into it as best she can through the layers of kinetic armor. As soon as the alakazam’s eyes open and seem to focus, Blue shouts “Rac!” and Xenon’s rings flare as it darts in a circle around its foe.

Confused and still partially blind, the alakazam topples to the ground again as it tries, Blue assumes, to use Miracle Eye on Xenon, who jumps in for another bite as Blue watches the shimmer start to fade again. He can see it coming, the pivot… either he goes for the faint, or tries to paralyze it again…

He almost misses it. The alakazam seemed entirely befuddled as it was harassed, bowled over, and bitten repeatedly, healing and guarding and healing… until it suddenly cups its hands together and sends Xenon tumbling past it in a limp heap.

Blue feels a stab of irritation, then discards it, already swapping. Without Miracle Eye, an alakazam’s best shot against Dark pokemon is Focus Blast, which tend to be inaccurate. Blue used the Flash and Confuse Ray in part to lower its odds of landing a hit even further, but… trust Sabrina to be so in-sync with her pokemon that they could connect one even in a situation like this. Xenon might be okay for one more hit, but it would be risking her life, so he’s down to just Pals, who can’t outdamage the alakazam’s healing, Bob, who could get maybe one hit in, and “Go, Zephyr! Bab!”

His pidgeot screeches as it loops up, around, and dives straight at the alakazam, wind blowing hats off the audience members as it zips from one side of the stadium to the other. Her pokemon is visibly weak, that wasn’t all a feint, and if this lands it’s over. Which means Blue knows Sabrina will go for another Kinesis to get Zephyr to miss, and he’s ready for it, returning the deflected bird with a snap of his wrist as his pokemon soars past him and throwing out Bob’s ball at the same time. “Sab!”

His snorlax leaps forward for a body slam, no finesse, just hundreds of pounds of fat and muscle moving on momentum through the attack that Blue can’t see through his pokemon’s wide body. The alakazam might normally be nimble enough to just stay ahead of its lumbering attacker, but it’s hurt and confused, and it goes down beneath Bob like a marionette with its strings cut.

Blue doesn’t celebrate yet: he swaps Pals in without waiting to see if his pokemon is okay, and shouts “Wat!” as the safeguard fades again.

A wave of electricity washes over the alakazam as it finishes healing half the damage it was dealt, but Blue switches Zephyr back in and calls out another “Bab!” just as Sabrina abruptly withdraws her pokemon.

“Enough. Well played, Trainer. Saffron Gym’s badge is yours.”

Zephyr screeches again, this time in victory as its foe disappears, and Blue grips the railing as the cheers erupt for a third time around him, heart pounding even through his fading battle calm.

Her alakazam had one, maybe two Barriers up. It’s possible Zephyr could have taken it out with a Brave Bird… but it’s also possible it could heal through that damage, and the recoil alone wouldn’t let Blue do more than a couple. Even paralyzed, he would call it a coin flip.

But she awarded him the match, and he feels more grateful than cheated. He takes a moment to gather himself, then says, “It was a thrilling battle, Leader. I seem to have ended up needing my Dark pokemon after all.”

“It was a beautiful specimen… what little I saw of it, at least.”

A ripple of laughter intermingles with the ongoing applause, and Blue smiles. “I look forward to whatever new strategy you devise to counter that one.”

“And I the one that follows that.” The applause are starting to fade, and as Sabrina approaches with his new badge, she switches to the private channel to say, “And I’ll meet you in my office, if you have a spare moment.”

Did you let me win? Blue thinks. “Gladly, Leader,” he says as he takes the badge, and pins it to his jacket. Whether she did or not… Two more to go.