What does “Secure Attachment” feel like?

[Copied over from a Facebook post of mine]

“Huh. I’ve read about this being a thing Secure-Attached people do, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it, and wasn’t sure I really believed it until now.” ~my partner

A lot of people have asked me what I think of Attachment Theory, and my basic answer is “seems useful as a frame, and also seems mostly to track true things.” But a lot of people have also boggled at the concept of what having “secure attachment” in relationships might be like, so let’s talk a bit about what it’s like to be Secure-Attached from the inside.

1) Feelings for others are almost entirely legible and entangled with specific events. That doesn’t mean they’re always explicit, but I can’t actually remember the last time I couldn’t verbalize and point to something like 90% of why I feel the way I do about someone.

2) Feelings for others are consistent and calibrated. That doesn’t mean they’re predictive, but it does mean my feelings for people don’t change unless something specific happens that I then verify the meaning of. My regard for others isn’t affected by lack of interaction.

(Unless that lack of interaction is purposeful, hence calibrated; if someone doesn’t return my call, I don’t get upset or like them less, I assume they were busy. If they do something I don’t understand that feels hurtful, I don’t update on them until I verify if it was intended.)

3) I don’t experience “need” for anyone. I want people in my life because they bring me joy, sometimes so much that their absence is painful, but I always know deep down that I’ll be OK. Maybe not “maximally flourishing,” but still OK. Strong desire is felt, but without anything like desperation.

4) I always feel happy to share how I feel; if I don’t offer my feelings, it’s because I don’t feel a need to, or I think I have signs to justifiably worry how they will impact others. I have so little shame for what I feel / think that I don’t remember what having any is like.

(This doesn’t mean I’m always right about not needing to share my feelings or having justified signs that I shouldn’t. I can still misread others, misjudge what they want, or update too much on past experiences. But if I don’t share a feeling, it’s never because it’s internally blocked in some way.)

5) I feel only positive regard for all of my exes. This keeps surprising people, and I don’t know if it’s across the board for all Secure-Attached or exclusive to them, I might also be lucky. Still, I haven’t had any bad relationships and I’m still friends with them all.

6) For me at least, security doesn’t come from family. My brother was physically abusive, my mom tried hard but was largely absent, and my dad was both physically and emotionally absent. Relationships in general are not obligatory; what I look for are those of voluntary, mutual happiness.

I might add more later but that’s what comes to mind right now. I hope it’s useful to others to know that yes, this is really a way that some people exist, and to have a bit more detail what this feels like; it can cause a bit of culture-shock, so to speak, in both directions.

Chapter 128: Double Duty

Hey everyone! For those who haven’t heard, I’ll be at LessOnline in Berkeley at the end of the month, if people want to attend or come say hi. Looking forward to some fun activities I’ll be putting on with Alexander Wales, TK17, and maybe others. Hope to see some of you there!

Chapter 128: Double Duty

“I think… I should go too,” Red said, pushing past his indecision with a little nudge from his unpartitioned self. “Now that Looker is here, I’m kind of superfluous. And… I’m worried they might try something somewhere.”

He didn’t have to specify who they were. Looker just nodded. “It’s been on my mind. It’s what I would do; commit a series of attacks, draw everyone’s attention elsewhere.”

“I should get some rest,” Red adds. “Let Jensen and the others rest too, then continue my training. Make sure we’re all ready.” He turned to Leaf, heart heavy. “Sorry—”

She shook her head, chin high. “No, you’re right. You got them to come, got Looker here. It’s enough.” She suddenly stepped forward and hugged him. “Thank you.”

He hugged her back, squeezing tight as warmth filled him, even as the weight over his heart grew. “I’ll be back in a thought, if something happens.”

She gave him a smile, her small, playful one that showed her appreciation for the wordplay, and some of the weight lifted. He glanced at Looker and Blaine once more, then left the ruined mansion with Blue…

“Mr. Verres. Good to see you again… I have to say, I expected more emails than I ended up getting from you.”

Red shakes Brock’s hand and smiles. “Hello, Leader. I definitely intended to send some, but… well, the whole thing on Mount Moon kind of distracted me, and then I shifted my focus to—”

“The abra research, of course.” Brock hands him a pouch full of small stones. “And you’ve stayed focused on psychics ever since.”

“For the most part.” He doesn’t feel guilty, exactly, or like he should apologize for not being more interested in rock pokemon, but… “I really appreciate you taking the time to help now.”

“It’s nothing.” Brock’s face becomes serious. “Whether Pewter is ever in need of you or not, we’ve seen how hard you work to protect the region. I only wish I could help more.”

Red nods, feeling touched, and pockets the pouch for a moment so he can unclip a pokeball, a greatball, then an ultraball, summoning the rockruff out of each onto the rooftop of the Pewter Gym.

All three are fairly mature, heads rising to some point on Red’s stomach. He takes a moment to stroke the rough fur between the ears of the first two, and the snout of the third, enjoying the clear pleasure they get through his surface mergers with each. “Meet Jasper, Flint, and Roxy.” Red smiles. “The names came with them.”

Brock snorts, then crouches to let the dogs sniff his hands before he opens his own pouch of stones and starts to feed and stroke their ears or necks or backs. “Not from the same litter, though, looks like?”

“No. I guess the theme is hard for people to resist, though.”

“It is.” Brock finds a spot under Roxy’s chin that makes her wag her tail, and Red notes the way the Leader’s gaze is moving across her fur, fingers tracing the stony nubs at her neck, then moving down to feel the underside of her paws, deftly avoiding each claw. “Your email said you wanted to better understand their temperament, so you know what form of lycanroc to evolve them into?”

“Sort of. I think I want a day or dusk lycanroc, since… well, I’m sure the night form has its uses, but—”

“You’ve got enough choices for tough and strong Rock types, you want one with speed potential.”

“Exactly. The ‘dex says mixed things about whether the rockruff’s attitude matters before it evolves—”

“It does.” Brock snaps his fingers above the three pokemon’s heads, and drops a fleck of some gem or the other down for them to snap out of the air. “In the wild I expect the calmer rockruff to evolve during the day, the more vicious ones to evolve at night, and those in between to evolve during dawn or dusk. But it’s hard to say for sure if that’s how it works, since all our experience is with tamed ones, and pokeball training smooths out a lot of the edges. Trainers don’t often experience a variety of the same pokemon, and these days people will usually just look up strengths and weaknesses of each form, then just train with them at the right times to get that result.”

He picks up a faint sense of judgment from Brock’s mind, if not his tone. “Like eevee?”

Brock shrugs. “I couldn’t tell you if their personality matters as much. But trained lycanroc are less likely to play to their form’s stereotype than wilds, even the day forms.”

“That’s what I thought.” Red tosses a scattering of stone and gem chips and watches them race for their favorites, observing the way Roxy uses her body to block Flint, who nips at her legs, while Jasper dodges around both to get at a piece of glittering quartz. “It’s why I asked for rockruff, instead of just getting one already evolved. I could try to balance a night or dusk form’s mood out… or I could double up on it.”


Red feels out their moods as they playfully fight over the mineral snacks, the sound of rocks crunching in three mouths filling the air. “Day,” he says, pointing to Jasper.

“Easily,” Brock agrees.

Red points to Flint next, who feels happy to tussle with the others. “Night?” Then Roxy, who’s more visually aggressive, but doesn’t seem to feel as excited to be. “…maybe dusk? Or maybe they’re both dusk, or both night. I know dusk is much rarer in the wild, so on priors they’d both be night, but these were the three I went with after merging with ten.”

“Your gift would be of more use here if they were wild, but it’s important not to confuse their temperament with their behavior.” Brock tosses some more bits of stone to the side, then points to Roxy as she watches Flint and Jasper run ahead. “See how she’s the one watching, now?”

Red senses it before she acts, the identification of Jasper as the easier target. Soon she’s muscling him out to get at the better bits, while he darts away, then back for some stones along the edges. “More adaptive.”

“That’s one way to put it. As I said, any of them could be made to evolve into any form of lycanroc. It’s just up to you to decide what kind of lycanroc you want, in more ways than one.”

Red looks at the three rockruff, mentally feeling out their different personalities. “I think I want dusk,” he says, feeling the words out, his certainty solidifying. “Not quite as fast, but it’ll still outspeed a scyther or darmanitan, while also hitting hard enough to maybe take a weavile down in one hit.”

“Sound reasoning. And the rockruff?”


Brock nods and stands, dusting his palm off on his corduroy pants. “Enjoy your time with her before she evolves. They’re just starting to lose their playfulness, and once they evolve…”

“Yeah.” Red knows he probably won’t have much time for that, especially since he’ll be packing all her training into the twilight hours… “Thanks again, for this.”

“Like I said, happy to help.” Brock studies him for a moment. “Not gifted, but seems like there’s something else on your mind?”

“I… yeah, a bit.”

The Leader doesn’t speak, gaze back on the rockruffs as he patiently feels through the bag for more stone chips, then tosses some more. Red does the same as he musters his courage, letting out a slow breath. He told Dr. Seward and Leaf he’d talk to Giovanni about this, but there’s no harm in bringing it up with others too…

“Not long ago, I was struggling with feeling… stuck, between how much responsibility I felt I had, and how much power I had…”

The wind and sun warred to cool and warm him as they stepped back onto the rest of the plateau, where the interpol workers were milling around the mansion. Some were collecting picnic blankets and cleaning, others were clustered in small groups, talking. No doubt waiting to hear if they’d need to pack up or should go back to work.

Red held a fist out to his friend, who bumped it. “See you soon, maybe?”

Yeah. Lots to talk about.” Blue walked over to where Ira and Wendy were standing, and Red turned to Jensen, who had a hand held to his earpiece as he approached, no doubt telling the other guards that they were on their way back. As Red watched, going over a quick internal checklist to make sure there was nothing he needed to get before he teleported, he also saw Looker leave the building, coat flapping in the wind.

“I know that feeling,” Misty says, voice wry.

“You do?”

“Sure.” She sends her starmie through another of the suspended hoops around the bleachers, and he does his best to guide his after it; the pokemon’s mind is among the weirdest he’s ever felt, to say nothing of its body, and he keeps being distracted by the way it flexes its arms as if it’s underwater, instead of floating through the sunny sky above it. What’s somehow just as distracting is the way it’s very aware of the “taste” of salt in the humid air; it makes Red simultaneously feel like he’s covered in sweat, and also like his mouth is open, tongue hanging out. “Every Leader does, I think. We take responsibility for a whole city, some outlying towns, sometimes a whole island, in Blaine’s case. But none of us can really defend that much territory, not personally and not through our gym members. Every death, every destroyed home, it’s like the universe reminding us that no matter how strong we get, it’s not enough.”

Red nods, struggling to maintain the merge with his starmie as his own past failures flash through his mind. He’s just barely able to sense the hostile intent from Misty’s starmie before it spins midair, and nudges his own pokemon to throw up a hasty Light Screen before the Water Gun hits.

The power is diminished enough that it feels like being hit by a strong breeze, which is such an interesting way to interpret the feeling of water that Red loses his concentration completely.

“Tag,” Misty says, and raps her knuckles against the bill of Red’s cap. “Back to the start you go. Drink break first.”

Red uncaps an energy drink and swallows a salty-sweet mouthful, grateful for the cooler keeping it icy cold. “I guess the Stormbringers make that even worse?” he asks as he sends an impulse to his starmie to dive back underwater, where the first ring in the obstacle course is set up.

His boss’s long strides closed the gap quickly, but Looker didn’t say anything as he approached. Just summoned his teleporter, and after Jensen did the same, they returned to the interpol base.

The rest of the bodyguards appeared around them in the time it took for Red to unstrap his abra from its backpack, feed it, and return it to its ball. Looker finished typing something on his phone, then said, “Good work out there, everyone. Get some rest… except for you.” Looker gestured for Red to follow, and the guards hung back so the two of them could enter the elevator alone. As soon as the doors closed, Looker said, “It’s time.”


The sky is dark with thunderclouds, though enough daylight shines through that, as Red looks out over Vermilion City, he doesn’t flash back to the night of Zapdos’s attack more than a couple times. “Sometimes it feels like it happened just a few days ago,” Red says, voice soft. “Other times… years ago. Like the start of my journey was more recent, somehow… I know that doesn’t make any sense.”

“It does, actually.” Surge sighs, slow and heavy. “The you that was here, he’s closer to some parts of who you are today… but in other ways, he’s also further. Sometimes further than the you that set out from Pallet Town.”

Somehow Red didn’t expect that level of insight from the Vermilion Leader, and he mentally kicks himself for forgetting that this was a man who had not just been through multiple Legendary incidents, but also a war. “How do you deal with it? The feeling of… knowing that if you don’t do more, then no one else will, while at the same time… you can’t think of anything else that’ll make a difference? And you can’t convince yourself that you’ve done all you can, because that’s the same as accepting that things will go badly, and—”

“And you can’t make yourself care less.”

It’s Red’s turn to sigh. “Yeah.” Or in his case, he could, sort of, but he doesn’t want to… which is probably the same, effectively, for most people.

“You’re asking the tough questions, Verres.” Surge gestures out at the city. “There’s half a million souls here, depending on where you draw the lines, and most of them are trying hard to make it through to the next day, come hell or high water. But at the end of those days, they know there’s someone above them who’s looking out.”

“You,” Red says, smiling slightly at the literalness of it, in this moment.

“Or Arceus, or Lance, or whomever.” He makes another gesture, like throwing something away. “Point is, it helps them sleep at night. There are watchers on the wall. There are Serious People gathered around a table, looking over charts and maps, making sure the next Big Thing is prepared for, and somewhere else there’s people looking over spreadsheets to make sure that no matter what happens, there’ll be enough food grown and harvested to keep them from having to think about where their next meal is coming from, so long as they keep going to work.”

Red feels a tickle along his cheeks, and brushes them a moment before he realizes it’s not his cheeks that feel them. “Hey, I think—”


They focus on their pokemon, standing on the rooftop across from them, on a plate of metal that’s wired to a grounding cable. Red’s pikachu has shifted onto his hind legs, ears twitching as he looks around, and Red shifts his mental merge away from Surge’s raichu to confirm that his own pokemon feels the same thing in his cheeks, though less acutely. He shifts again to merge with his magnezone, feeling the start of a headache as his pokemon’s weird, trinocular vision paints the world in vivid hues of electromagnetic fields…

…one of which is gathering intensity…

“The potential energy is almost always there, though it’s harder to pull out in most conditions.”

“I feel it,” Red murmurs, merging with Surge’s raichu again and rubbing his cheeks as the tingling grows.

“Ear plugs in, then, and close your eyes.” The last thing Red sees from the corner of his vision is the Leader taking a deep breath and sticking two fingers in his mouth, and then Red hears a whistle, sharp and loud, and feels through the Raichu, the grasp and fling and twist—

Only the minimal nature of the merger keeps Red on his feet; even as the world lights up it feels like he’s temporarily dunked under a waterfall, or what he imagines a waterfall would feel like, except instead of water, it’s energy, bursting over him and outward—

—only to get caught, sucked away…

“Gaahhh,” he breathes out, barely able to hear himself through the ringing in his plugged ears. He’d felt the thunderbolt, in more ways than one, and though he withdrew his merger, he still feels like his body is charged with electricity. He realizes he’s sagging against the railing, and a strong hand is holding his chest to keep him from slumping the rest of the way down.

Red braces his feet and lifts himself back up, then shakes his head and unplugs his ears. The first thing he registers is Leader Surge’s chuckles.

“Gotta say, of all the reasons to wish I was psychic, being able to feel that’s gotta be near the top, for me. Did you get it?”

“I gh—” Red clears his throat. “I got it.”

“Show’s yours, then. Remember what I said…”

Red nods, then puts his earplugs back in and merges with Pikachu. The deep familiarity makes the feeling of his whole body being charged return with a vengeance, and he has to stop himself from scratching at his fur… his skin… before he reaches out with his electric senses, feels another pathway for the energy to go down, connects it the way he remembers the raichu did it…

Another blast of light and sound, another feeling like his whole body has broken down into vibrating atoms before reconstructing…

When he’s recovered, Surge’s hand is clapping on his shoulder again. “Picking up skills that quick is definitely still higher. Nicely done. Next, the magnezone.”

“Yeah,” Red pants, then takes a deep breath as he tries to slow his racing heart. “One sec…”

“Right, right. No rush. What was I saying, before?”

“Huh? Oh.” Red rubs at his cheeks, then his neck. “People trusting in those above them?”

“Yeah. We all do it. Even me, even Lance. It’s an illusion, sort of, but it’s also not. There’s no one above, making sure all the little bits line up perfectly, but we’re all doing our bits. Some bigger than others, sure. But none of us, not one of us, could do it all alone. Right? I trust Lance to watch for distant threats, bring the hammer down where it’s needed. Lance trusts us Leaders to manage our turf, let him know if there’s something bigger we can’t handle. Civvies trust us and the rangers to keep them safe, we all trust the civvy side to keep the food and medicine and balls coming. Someone in my city wants to make a difference for Vermilion? I say, great. They’re one in half a million. Can they do one in half a million’s worth of the work it takes to keep things going? Make the stuff we need, fight in some incidents, be of service to others? Everyone’s got something they can do, and it takes half a million people to do it all.”

Red just listens, catching his breath, regaining his balance, both inside and out. Across the gap, Pikachu is running around in circles, burning off spare energy.

“Not half a million, really, a bit less. There’re babies, elderly, and sure, some have more education, more resources. So say one in 400,000’s worth. Can they do that? Great. They’re doing their part. They want to do more? How much more? Ten people’s worth? A hundred? A thousand?” Surge shakes his head. “I can do some things no one else can do. Sometimes, that’s worth a lot. Maybe in the long run, it’ll be worth everything for this city. Maybe even for this region. But most days, I’m only one man. I do one in 400,000’s worth. Pokemon attack happens, I do more. On a good day, I can do what another five veteran trainers can. If there’s some other issue, like a food shortage? I do less than one in 400,000’s worth. Maybe I’d try my hand at fishing, shock a lake and pick up all the dead ‘karp. But someone else could think of that. We all have our strengths.”

Red turns to Surge and finds the Leader is looking at him. “You, you can do something no one else can do. Most days, you’re just one man. You do what one man can do. But the other days, when we need you, you’re worth twenty, thirty, maybe fifty veteran hunters. Maybe you also solve some big science question once a year. You’re one person in billions, and if you do just those things, you’re doing far more than your part.”

Red swallows past the lump in his throat. “And if it’s not enough?”

Surge shrugs, turns back toward the city. “Then we weren’t enough. Us, the region, or the world. Maybe you didn’t give it your all, and let us down in some way. But we’re the ones asking you to do more than one person’s work. The ones who need you to. And that means we let you down first. So buck up, kid. Don’t give up on looking for new ways forward, better ways to help, but give yourself time to rest, body and mind. I don’t blame you if you don’t trust us to pick up the slack; the world needs saving from a dozen different directions, and most of us aren’t standing where we need to hold the line at any of them. But you want to do more than one man’s worth, full time? You’d better get good at convincing others to stand with you, because that’s the only way I know for people to consistently make a bigger difference.”

Time for… what?”

Time for us to stop ignoring your true potential. The only thing keeping you from being the greatest spy on the planet is everyone knows what you look like. That and you’re a terrible liar.”

“People like you will always struggle to convince others to stand with you.”

Red blinks at Erika, who said it like she’s commenting on the weather. “Why?”

“Because you care about different things than they do.”

Red tries to take this seriously, frowning as he sips his tea. He’s aware of a defensive response in him, a desire to dismiss or point out the ways his desires are altruistic… he wouldn’t be in this mess, in many ways, if they weren’t… but…

“I get that most people don’t care about science research,” he slowly says. “Or like, not really, not beyond being vaguely glad someone is doing it somewhere, or interested when it specifically is relevant to their life, or makes something useful for them. And I know my major scientific interests aren’t the kind that would affect most people’s lives… and the things I’ve actually accomplished have a mixed record, for how happy people are with me.” It’s hard to admit that, but not as painful as it once was.

“Good.” Erika sets her tea cup down, then rises, and he follows suit. “Keep going,” she says as she leads him away from her personal pavilion and toward one of the grooming sites.

Red adjusts his pace to match her more leisurely one, walking silently beside her as she pauses to chat with the occasional trainer or gym member, smell some flowers, or just pull a small pair of scissors from some pocket in her sleeve and trim one of the various plants they pass, holding onto the bits and occasionally smelling them before dropping them into garden plots with young plants growing in them. Her kimono is bright white today, with a pattern of pink vines and leaves embroidered on it, and he wonders if it would be rude to ask, as someone not part of her gym’s culture, what it signifies.

“I think when it comes to Rocket, I’m on the same page as almost everyone else,” he says as they reach the grooming tools. She picks a few off the rack and table, and he takes one of each. “Unless you mean something like, the way I fight, what I am, what I represent for psychics in the region, or the world…”

“All those things, and more.” Erika lays her tools out on one of the table-edges of a wide, dirt-filled pot, then summons a young ivysaur. She rubs its head, then hefts it into the pot before taking the cushioned seat beside it. “But to put things in more concrete terms, the sets of problems you care about may overlap in some way with the sets of problems most civilians do, but my guess, without knowing you particularly well, is still that they do not prioritize in anywhere near the same order.”

Red summons Ivysaur, mentally greeting his pokemon with a merger and head rub that also checks for any biological needs, then sends him an impulse to jump onto the chair, then the wide table-pot. Red’s height growth has also coincided with growing some lean muscles that could let him lift Ivysaur up, but his pokemon has gotten big enough that it wouldn’t be comfortable for either of them. “I think I don’t know how to take that. I care about them not dying to renegades, or wild pokemon, or at all if possible…”

“That, right there, is the sort of thing I mean.” She picks up a spray bottle with some green tinted water, and mists her ivysaur’s skin. “Most people don’t spend most of their time thinking of the ways they might die. They spend most of their time thinking of the ways they want to live, and struggle to. They prioritize the set of problems directly in front of them, not the ones that may or may not affect them at all in a year or two or ten.”

Red frowns as he mimics her motions. “I get that, I think. I mean it makes sense that they do that, but if someone comes along and says ‘Hey, there’s this important thing that will likely affect all of us, let’s work together on it’…”

“You believe it should work because you do not emotionally grasp their lived experience, where many people say similar things to them constantly, and none of those things feel as relevant as the ones that do, no matter how trustworthy the person saying it is. Politicians who hope to be at all successful quickly learn that their job is to represent the interests of their constituents, which means they must prioritize the things their voters care about if they want to stay in office… or pretend to well enough.” She shrugs a shoulder as she puts the spray down, then opens a pouch full of strange berries Red has never seen before, carefully counting out a few. “The line a far-sighted, altruistic politician must try to walk involves balancing these things with the ones their constituents are not aware of, or do not care about.”

“I’m not trying to be a politician.” Red counts out the same berries, then pauses. “Should I be feeding him more than yours?”

Erika smiles. “Yes, good. Half again as many, I’d judge. He could take more, but it’s his first time, and this will make him mildly sick for a while.”

Red blinks and examines the berries again. “Poison, to strengthen his?”

“Not quite. They will make his plants hardier against extreme heat or cold.” She patiently holds them out to let her ivysaur sniff them before it starts to eat. “I won’t argue with questions of identity. Whatever you consider yourself, politics is the art of group coordination. If you want to convince others, particularly those with different information or values, to change their actions or beliefs in some way, you are engaging in politics whether you know it or not… particularly if your efforts run up against other interests.”

“But…” He tries not to say it is in their interests, mulling over what she said about priorities again, and not just matters of trust, which is easier to acknowledge and doesn’t make much sense to expect. He considers mentally nudging Ivysaur to start eating, but instead lets him take his time. “Okay, I guess it’s… not actually other people’s priority that I feel responsible for their wellbeing, and even if more cooperation could help with that, they could just say ‘no thanks.'”

“Especially if it’s not just cooperation, but power you seek. Which you may not.” He feels her brief assessment, both from the flick of her eyes and the mental pings that come through her constant attempts to shield her deeper thoughts. “But—”

“They don’t know that.”

He can feel that it irks her to be interrupted, but she doesn’t let any of that show, and before he can apologize she’s already speaking again. “Yes, but also, again, their priorities are not your priorities, which means your gaining power will be fundamentally suspicious to many. Some deride minorities who prefer one of their own to politically represent them. After all, do we not live in a post-ethnic society? Could anyone not understand the same issues and challenges, and work equally hard for them? But the reality is that for most people, sharing experiences does shape common understanding and care, and any group that is not represented by others is going to have unique struggles. And since time and resources are limited, a society by default will only address the concerns that most members in it have.”

“Which means putting off the concerns of those with other problems… maybe continually, if new problems keep coming up.”

“As they do. Reasonable? Yes. Efficient? Certainly. But the lived experience of those whose issues are not prioritized is that they are not cared for, their concerns dismissed.”

Red thinks of the way dark people have faced discrimination in Kanto and Johto, and wonders what might be in store for psychics as soon as Rocket is gone. Ivysaur finally starts to lap at the berries, eating two or three at a time from his palm, and Red’s other hand strokes his leathery head, feeling vaguely guilty that his pokemon will feel sick as a result of this, even if it’s for his own good.

Is it? Leaf asks in his mind. He wouldn’t need to face extreme cold or heat if I don’t put him into battles…

“So maybe I should… adjust my feelings of responsibility, to only those people who agree with me the most, and share my values?” He frowns. “But that feels… I don’t know. Callous, in some ways, or too pessimistic. Too tribal.”

Red’s stomach sank as he hurried to keep up with Looker’s long strides. “Director Tsunemori—”

I already messaged her, she’s on her way. I expect she’ll have her piece to say, but the game has changed again, and if she doesn’t see that she’s a fool or compromised, at best.”

“It is good to expand our perspective beyond the tribes we are born into,” Koga says, voice slow and thoughtful. “But if your solution to the lack of power is to gather other, like-minded people who are dedicated to this idea of responsibility to all, even those who do not wish for their help… a ‘tribeless tribe,’ if you will… I’m curious what you believe would happen to them?”

Red tries to imagine a group of people all working together to help everyone… “I guess it depends on how people view them? If they do well, and get support… I’d hope it would get them more resources and support, maybe get more people to join them. Kind of like CoRRNet, or Interpol.”

“Good comparisons.” They watch as Red’s glimmora rotates just above the ground, sending toxic bits of its hard shell out in bursts as its body opens and closes to propel it through the air. It’s pretty, shell glimmering purple and teal in the evening gym lights. “The first, however, has its members focus on a particular location, much like gym members. Those higher up are responsible for broader areas, and at the very top is someone who no doubt feels responsible for events in every developed region… but they are still, ultimately, a secondary power in each, negotiating and cooperating with local Leagues.”

Red slowly nods as he examines the arena through his pokemon’s strange gravity sense, then sends it an impulse to spin through the spikes it just made, reabsorbing them into its petals. “They can’t take responsibility for more because others claim responsibility for it already. And… Interpol agents are wide in geographic responsibility, but have a very narrow mission focus.”

“Just so.”

“It does help when I feel like I can just focus on a particular kind of emergency, and others aren’t mine to solve. And it helped to get more control over what I was doing with my time, more of a sense that I could say something and be listened to. But…”

“Your friends are still focusing on those other problems, and you want to help them.”

Red looks at Koga in surprise. “Uh, yeah. That’s true, and definitely part of it, but… not what I was thinking of.”

“Ah. My apologies for interrupting.”

It’s hard to read the Fuchsia Leader, even on top of him being dark. “It’s okay. The thing I was going to say is, there are still other things I want to do, other things I care about, and I don’t know how to help with them. And I don’t have time to figure it out, because all my energy is going to these other things that also matter, and no one else can do… and sometimes it feels like the better I do at one part of it, the worse it makes some of the other problems.”

Koga snaps a finger, and his garbodor sends out more poisonous debris. The stink is bad enough that Red wishes he’d put his air mask on, but it fades quickly once he sends Glimmora spinning around the sandy arena again, pulling everything into itself. “And so you feel you need the support of others, to accomplish all your goals at once. To cover each of the things you feel responsible for.”

“It’s just an idea. If the responsibility I’m taking on requires more than one person can do…”

“Sounds like a suggestion Surge would make,” Koga says, and lets out a humorous huff. “Not that this is a critique. But to ask someone to help others is to ask them, to some degree, to expose themselves.” He gestured to himself. “Leaders are not warlords, and part of that means we can cooperate for the betterment of our region. Regions are better off through cooperation as well, and sometimes may merge, as Johto and Kanto did. But whatever they may be willing to help other regions with, they must still limit their sense of responsibility, and focus the majority of their energy and resources on their own people… or else those people will suffer for it. Do you understand?”

“I think so. You mean they’ll be outcompeted?”


Not a no, but also… “Also… it’s not just the suffering, which is bad for its own sake. You’re saying it’s unsustainable. It would lead to unrest, and replacement by someone who promises that they will focus on the problems of the people.”

Koga nods, gesturing at their pokemon. “A pokemon can be strong, an organization robust, a motivation passionate… but all of these things count for little, if they are not sustainable. The unique value of Poison pokemon is the ability to play for the long game. The reverse of this virtue is to ensure your own plans cannot be defeated by simply being outlasted.”

Red tried to think of what triggered this. The leak? Or something they found that Looker pretended was innocuous? “If I try to spy on Blaine—”

I left Blaine in charge of a whole dig site full of agents, not to mention your wildcard friend Juniper, and made it look like a concession.”

Red mentally tripped over the idea of Leaf being described as a “wildcard,” and wondered what Looker was referring to. “Then who—”

Everyone else in the League.” Looker’s words came out as hard and sharp as his heels striking the ground. “Whether Blaine is complicit or not, his arrival has to be taken as enemy action. We’re up against the clock now, and wherever the rot in the League is, we need to find it, before they can throw something else at us.”

“Stop,” Giovanni says, and Red lets out a gust of breath before vaulting his platform guard rails and rushing over to heal his claydol where it lies on the packed-dirt arena floor. “Better than your nidoqueen, and xatu, but not by enough. What did you learn?”

Red sprays his pokemon’s earthy body, watching as its weird biology starts the repair process of the clay shell protecting its soft innards. The first response that comes to mind feels irreverent, and he almost suppresses it, but he’s frustrated enough that he lets it out: “That overwhelming power matters more than strategy?”

He can see Giovanni’s small smile, even from the distance of the arena. “True.” The Viridian Leader doesn’t even bother healing his rhyperior. “But don’t shirk responsibility. Any trainer using Ground pokemon who doesn’t teach some a move like Smack Down doesn’t deserve their belt. Any trainer facing trainers with Ground pokemon should expect it, rather than hoping a Flying or levitating pokemon will save them the worst of what their opponent has.”

Red finishes healing his pokemon and reconnects with its mind. The owlish statue-like pokemon spins and trills as it psychically lifts itself back into the air… for all the good that would do it, when Giovanni’s pokemon knocks it to the ground with another well aimed rock. Unlike glimmora or magnezone, whose “unstable” levitation would get disrupted by any sort of Ground attack, Claydol is constantly, psychically lifting itself up and away from the ground by default, which should have made it a great choice against Giovanni… “I still should have been able to outspeed you. That rhyperior is absurdly quick.”

“It is what it needs to be to deal with what is likely to be sent against it. While on journeys, most trainers do not have the luxury to train their pokemon precisely. Unless they spend lots of time or money focusing their growth, their belt gets filled with generalists.”

And generalists will almost always lose to specially trained pokemon, used by a trainer who understands their strengths and weaknesses. “I’ll keep that in mind, now that I have so much spare time and money.”

“See that you do.” Giovanni’s tone lightens. “There’s a broader lesson.”

Red rubs the back of his neck, replaying the way Giovanni gave commands like they were rote, not reacting to anything that happened in the short match. Like nothing Red did required him to… react, at all. “I was too predictable?”

“You picked a levitating Ground pokemon, rather than a Flying Type, because you knew to fear Rock attacks. You brought a pokemon whose attacks would be both Super Effective to some of the commonly paired types, and could get around Ground pokemon’s tough hide. All good decisions, but yes, all predictable to someone who models you as well as I did.”

Red stares at Giovanni, unsure how much to stretch his credulity. “You’re saying you trained that rhyperior specifically to outspeed any Levitating Ground types?”

“No.” Another small smile. “You’re correct to doubt that, as it’s not possible, not against a serious opponent. I would never have had a chance to outspeed a flygon. But Psychic and Dragon have about equal coverage against most strong Ground secondary types, and…”

“And I’m a psychic,” Red sighs. “So of the relatively strong Ground pokemon who can properly levitate, you expected I’d focus on a Psychic dualtype rather than the Dragon one.”


“And… even if I brought a flygon, I bet your Rhyperior has Frost Fang.”

Giovanni spreads his hands, then clasps them behind him. “Again?”

Red nods and heads back to his podium, then realizes Giovanni still hasn’t moved. “You won’t heal your rhyperior?”

“She can take a few more of those.”

Meaning Giovanni is confident that Red won’t win by just trying the same thing again. He grits his teeth, wondering what else he can do…

He’s been training with most of the Leaders every few days, but Giovanni was the quickest to jump from mentoring him on using Ground types well to just straight battles. He knows he’s incredibly lucky to have this much focused training with the ex-Champion, not to mention the other Leaders, but… it does make it harder to talk about what’s been on his mind…

“Something wrong?”

“I had a thought, about ‘heroic responsibility.'”

Giovanni nods. “Can you talk and battle at once?”

“I…” He wants to say yes, to not disappoint, but maintaining a mental merger for a battle is disorienting even if it’s a pokemon that’s similar enough to a human, which claydol is very much not. “No, not for a conversation like this.”

“Food, then.” The Leader says, and withdraws his pokemon before taking the stairs down to the arena floor. Red returns his claydol and joins him, following as they make their way back toward the elevators. “Your question?”

“Basically, it’s… how do you balance doing as much as you can with doing it sustainably?”

“Partly trial and error. Learning what drains you and if it’s possible to outsource it, learning what recharges you and making more time for it, these are important gains of experimenting with different methods.”

Red nods, and fiddle with his cap as they step into the elevator, wondering if they’ll eat in the Leader’s office or go out somewhere. Weird as it is spending time so casually with so many important figures, Giovanni raises it to a whole different level, but thankfully is also the most assertive in keeping their time spent efficient and productive. “Have you ever given up on something, once you decided it was going to be a thing you helped, or a group of people you’d save?”

Giovanni is silent a moment, then shakes his head. “No. Not really.”

Red stares at him. The leader’s short hair seems freshly shaven, barely more than a dark pattern against his scalp, and he looks like he’s been sleeping well. Still burning with purpose, so that even a few moments in the elevator together makes him radiate something like reserved impatience, but less tightly wound. “I was really expecting you to say ‘yes, of course,’ and then give some speech about how people learn to accept their limits over time, or something.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Again that brief, small smile. The elevator opens, and Red sees they’re on the ground floor. Looks like they are eating out. It seems so… inefficient, given his model of the Viridian Leader. “I’ve made mistakes, perhaps even catastrophic ones. It remains to be seen if, on balance, all my work will have been a net positive. No amount of failure has made me feel less responsible.”

“Oh.” Red can’t even begin to imagine what sort of measuring stick Giovanni is using to judge his work, if that’s how he feels about it. How must he view others, by comparison? Do people outside of Bill or Professor Oak (if even him) all seem like struggling toddlers, to him?

“I’ve been told there’s a good Kalosian restaurant not far from here, if you’d like to try it.”

“Uh, yeah, that sounds great.” Red follows Giovanni through the lobby, then out into the street. Jenson is waiting at the door, and gives Red a look, to which he returns a shrug. “So do you just… not feel bad, if you fail to save something you care about?”

“I can’t tell you how everyone balances the things they care about,” Giovanni says as Red’s head bodyguard starts to follow them. “Minds operate differently from one another, sometimes vastly so, and I would not want you to hear my answer as an insistence of how you should or must feel too. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” He wonders as they walk down the sidewalk if the Leader goes out to lunch at local places often, and tries to focus. “I know my mind definitely doesn’t work like others’.”

“Fair. Then, to put it simply, I do feel bad when I fail, as I believe we’ve discussed before, in a different context. But all the things I care to protect, they’re part of a whole. They’re not distinct things, which individually can make or break my sense of whether I’m succeeding or not. I don’t try to balance a tray of delicate pottery, then mourn the vase that falls. Not because nothing can be broken beyond repair—true loss is real, and worth grieving. But because the thing I care for, in truth, the full extent of what I take responsibility for, is the world. The future of humanity itself. Not lone responsibility, I know I am not that capable. But it’s all the same, in some sense that is hard to describe, but feels nevertheless true.”

Red does his best to wrap his head around this, and briefly wishes he could do a mental merger with Giovanni to feel it from the inside. He almost suggests it…

…but no, that would be terribly presumptuous, and invasive…

…he feels an urge to ask about more specifics instead. “How does that play out, practically? I know you do a lot more than run the gym, but… aren’t there some things you wish you could focus your time and attention on, but can’t because of duties no one else can do?”

“Often. But you could imagine it, I suppose, like weaving a tapestry. A long, detailed tapestry that will take many years to finish, being spun automatically even if I do nothing. If I don’t get enough of it right along the way, perhaps the whole thing will feel ruined. But for the most part, a few blemishes here and there, some mistakes in the weave, they’re inevitable. My eye is still on the end, the point where it all is either worth the effort I put into everything that felt important, or might be, or… not.”

“I think I get it, but it’s a little weird imagining what that’s like,” Red says, smiling slightly. “Like I could say it sounds like you’ve taken responsibility for the forest, so individual trees stop mattering—”

“A fair analogy, I believe.”

“—but it also sounds like you’ve just taken so much responsibility for so many things that you’ve, like, transcended into some new evolution of what Heroic Responsibility could look like.”

Giovanni’s smile is wry, but warmer than most of his expressions. “As I said, different minds are different. But I hope this was helpful in some way, to you.”

Looker is waiting for Red when he returns from his meeting with Giovanni. Or rather, Looker is by Red’s cubicle, looking over the digital calender stuck to one wall. “You need to clear your weekend.”

“Hello to you too,” Red says as he slides past and sits down, then slides a finger across the calender to sync it and make some edits. Ooo, Blue’s finally got a Challenge match coming up with Blaine… “Also, what weekend?”

“Yeah, yeah. You can take an extra day after, but Agatha got back to us and said she’s up for a meeting.”

Red perks up at that, despite his tiredness. “I expected I’d go through some of the Leaders a second or third time before having a session with an Elite. But we have met already, a couple times…”

“Well, I’ve got less expectation that you can get into her head than Sabrina’s, but good training is good training.”

Red stares at him, wondering what he’s talking about…

…then feels his partition drop…

…and the other partitions, the ones holding his memories of his observations, assessments, and even mergers with the Leaders as he met with them all.

It takes a few seconds for the streams of memory to flow and merge, and he takes a deep breath as he returns to his full unpartitioned self again, then lets it out.

There’s a small sense of shame over what he’s doing, from the vestiges of his partitioned self. Or rather, the model of what his partitioned self would feel, if he knew.

But he’s getting valuable information, and it’s something he can control, something he can do that might really make a difference.

Looker is watching him, sipping a cup of coffee as he waits for Red to recollect himself. “Anything?” he finally asks.

“Maybe,” Red says, reviewing some of his memories. Odd looks, from Erika and Koga. Subtle mental reactions, from Erika and Surge. And something that might be personality changes, in Koga and Giovanni… “Maybe not. Next few meetings might give me something more concrete to follow up on. But as usual, I got some interesting advice and training.”

Looker grunts. “I’ll take it. Keep up the good work.” He claps Red on the shoulder, then heads off.

Leaving Red looking after him in surprise, then turning back toward his desk, setting his guilt temporarily to the side. Notebook out, attention on his body, he begins to re-examine his memories, and how they made him feel, one by one.