Chapter 19: Great Expectations

Hey all! Super rough draft out for super late chapter! Life’s been crazylately. Good, but crazy. I’ll do a major edit wave tomorrow. Enjoy, and allfeedback welcome, as usual. Just remember that I can’t respond unless you’resigned in!

Also, apparently FF doesn’t allow less than or greater than symbols in text,so just pretend there’s a less than symbol in front of the “333” when you seethem. You’ll get it.


Red wakes from vague dreams to find himself lying on a comfortable bed. Heopens his eyes, and it takes a moment to register his surroundings. Cleanwhite walls, bright lights, a particularly distinct combination of smells,and…

“Mom?”

She sat with her eyes closed in the chair beside the bed, and they suddenlysnap open at his voice. “Red!” She moves as though to hug him, then hesitatesand rests a hand against his hair instead. “How are you feeling?”

He frowns and tentatively sits up, feeling out his arm. It doesn’t hurt much,but it’s in a cast that heavily restricts movement. “Pretty well, I think. AmI on any medication, or is it healed?”

She smiles, brow still creased with worry. “You’re clean. They said it’ll takeabout a week to make sure it’s fully healed. You’ve only been asleep for aday.”

Only? I was out a whole day? Is the fire under control? Are Blue and Leafstill 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 theynow?”

“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 werebefore she went. I quite like her.”

Red looks out the window. He’s on a fairly high floor of the hospital, and cansee the sun is setting over the mountains. He can’t believe he was out for solong. “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 newson, 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. “Sorryfor 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 ishanging from the wall beside him, his backpack on the dresser under the windowwith his hat placed on top of it. He can’t see his clothes anywhere, but thestuff he had in his pockets are in a clear bag on the nightstand beside thebed. A bit of tension he didn’t realize was there eases from his chest when hesees his pokedex in it.

Unfortunately it’s on the side with his broken arm, so he has to sit up andshift around to reach for his phone. While moving, his arm begins to ache, andhe stops immediately until it fades, then moves more carefully. He neverstudied any medicine and has little idea of how his arm was healed, but thememory of his bone pressing against his skin makes his stomach churn. He’llhave 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 andchecks his messages, then finds Blue in his contacts.

Hey, I’m up.

No response for a few seconds, and then:

o shit

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 theylose anyone?

theyre ok

still waiting on some

Red lets his breath out. Well glad you guys are safe. I’ll let you knowwhen I can head out.

same here man

ttyl

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 atouch 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 soundfamiliar, 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 justbecause they’re people he met, even if it was just once. Each death is atragedy, 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, spurnew research, or just share a companionable night around a campfire with, ableto 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 asick 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, nearlygetting himself killed right at the start…

_No. _He cuts off that line of thought, forces himself to think of how he usedthe onix roar to save himself and Leaf, and how his foresight ensured they hadthe 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 thosethat lost their lives, but he needs to think more constructively. Heroicresponsibility doesn’t mean he should ignore the things he did right, or elsehe wouldn’t be able to expand on them.

Assess, evaluate, optimize…

Red picks his phone back up. First things first: be prepared for similarsituations in the future.

He starts researching other pokemon in the surrounding area, first checkinghow sensitive their hearing is, then finding their most audibly distinctpredators. The major issue is where there’s no local apex hunter: if he uses abeedrill 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 abit older than his mom, though that might just be the carefully controlledexhaustion on her face. Red realizes she’s probably been up all night and daywith others from the forest continually coming in. When she gets closer, hereads Dr. Willow on her nametag.

“Good evening, Mr. Verres.”

_Mr. Verres. _Feels strange being called that. “Hello. Are you the one thatpatched up my arm?”

“One of them, yes. How’s it feeling?”

He experimentally lifts it again and stops when it aches. “Starts hurtinghere, 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 theworst. 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 togo?”

“Let’s find out.” She unstraps the cast around his arm and his skin tingles asit comes in contact with the air again. Red winces as he sees how mottled withbruises his arm is, but when the doctor carefully prods at his skin he doesn’tfeel any pain. She doesn’t seem satisfied though. “Not for another day to besafe. 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 researchingspinarak, and maybe doing some experimenting with his.

His mom returns with a tray of food in both hands, and the doctor leaves themto it. The smell of mashed potatoes and pidgey nuggets stokes Red’s hunger toa fever pitch, and he begins shoveling them into his mouth as fast as he canmove the spoon.

“Chew, Red. It’s not going anywhere.” Once she’s satisfied that he’s sloweddown, his mom begins eating too, and for a time there’s silence but for thescrape 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 silencebegins to make him apprehensive. Part of him is glad his mom is here, but therest 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 anygood?”

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 onthe way up.”

Oh. Right. “I… it was just-”

“I’m glad.”

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 havehoped for, but it feels dishonest. This seems too big a thing to be brushedoff as a white lie, and too deliberate to be a lie of omission. “I miss dad. Alot.” The constant ache at the back of his thoughts sharpens for a moment, andhe 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 beso 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 tolive 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 failto save someone, or be too afraid to try. I mean I might decide againsttrying, as a conscious choice. Do you see? I might deliberately choose againstwhat dad would have.”

His mom is silent for a time, and Red grows more and more worried. This is thefrankest discussion they’ve had about his dad for years, and it’s the closestRed’s come to criticizing him. He should have waited, thought more about howhe’d word it…

“I married your father because he was the best man I’d ever met,” she says atlast. “I miss him every day. And sometimes I think that if he’d been just abit 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 youalways said. Is there more to the story?”

She shakes her head. “No. It was his duty to go, and for all we know he didexactly as much as he needed to, as much as was smart to. He wasn’t the onlyone lost, and the others… his friends, they said he saved a lot of lives. Thathe just got unlucky.”

She takes his hand again, and this time he lets her hold it, her eyes asintense as he’s ever seen them. “However many lives he saved that day, hemight have saved more if he lived past it. Maybe that’s just arationalization. Maybe others would call that a cowardly excuse, but you’renot their child, you’re mine. Whatever the situation, whatever you choose todo, 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 herstatement against, but it doesn’t feel appropriate just now. Unsure of whatelse 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 heareverything.”


Blue’s foot taps on the tile of the pokemon center, gaze fixed on the overheadscreen above the lobby’s reception desk. He’s been watching the numbers tickslowly upward, both those currently being treated and the average wait times.

It’s been almost twelve hours since he arrived, exhausted and footsore. Grampspicked him and Leaf up from the forest once they were close enough to the cityfor their cells to start working again. They went to the hospital to getlooked at, and while Blue’s wound took just a few minutes to inspect andfinish healing, Leaf had to stay for longer. Afterward gramps brought him herebefore heading back to the forest on Glory, the pidgeot moving quick as a dartthrough the early morning sky with only one rider.

After Blue handed his pokemon over and was given his frustratingly long waittime, he went to the lobby. It was packed with dozens of other trainers freshfrom the forest, and Blue picked himself a comfortable couch to rest on. Heintended to at least stay up until he heard from Leaf or Mrs. Verres on howshe and Red were doing, but he was out the moment his head touched the top ofthe squishy backrest.

He woke around noon, groggy and in serious need of a bathroom, to find amessage on his phone from Leaf. She and Red were alright, and she was on herway to the pokemon center closest to her and wanted confirmation that it wasthe same one he’s at. He checked the name and told her it was, then hit thehead and washed his face.

By the time she arrives he feels like himself again, but his pokemon are stillfar from the front of the queue. He stops his leg from jittering and gets upas she approaches. She’s looking much better than the night before, anddressed in fresh clothing. “Hey. Feeling alright?”

She smiles. “A hundred percent. The healing went quick, I mostly stayed to getsome rest and so they could check for any lingering effects.”

“And?”

She stretches her arms up and to the sides, then twists at the waist andtouches her feet one at a time. “No permanent damage. The shock didn’t goanywhere important, thankfully. How are your pokemon?”

He grunts, mood souring again. “No clue.” He points to the screen.

“Oh. And what number are you?”

“103.”

“Oh dear. I’d better go get mine then.”

They head over to the front desk, whose staff has changed a couple times sinceBlue arrived. New arrivals have thankfully slowed, and there’s just one nursemanning it now.

“How much longer on 103?” Blue asks the guy while Leaf hands her pokemon overin exchange for her own number.

The young man glances pointedly at the overhead monitor, which shows thenumbers that just finished being treated as 82, 89, 92, 94, and 95, while theaverage wait time is twenty minutes. “Perhaps another few hours, sir.”

Blue grunts his thanks, and they head back toward the couches. “What numberare you?”

Leaf shows him her 148. “It’s going to be a long night,” she says. “We shouldgo 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 shewas helping out elsewhere in the forest, and he shoots her a quick text to seewhat’s up. “Let’s get some food first, the diners at pokemon centers areusually better than the stuff at hospitals.”

They go and do so, the tables around the food corner just as crowded as therest of the center. As they eat their sandwich and salad, Blue gets a text. Heexpects 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 textasking how his pokemon are doing. He still doesn’t know how Zephyr or theshiftry are, but he doesn’t want to tell Red that he lost his caterpie orbeedrill either. Maybe it would be better over the phone, get it out of theway, but he wants to be able to tell the whole story at once, give somecontext. He finishes the convo and puts his phone away. “At least his arm’sokay.”

“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 therethemselves. Their pokemon aren’t going anywhere, even if the line wasn’t solong.”

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 anhour or a week.”

Leaf opens her mouth, then closes it and spears a tomato slice, chewing with adistant look on her face. Blue takes a bite of his sandwich and gets anothermessage, 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?

my mistake

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 anysiblings.”

“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 heremembers the conversation they were having. “Oh! Man, were you thinking of aresponse that whole time?”

“It was thirty seconds at most. Well?”

“Well what?”

“How is it different?”

Blue frowns. “Red wasn’t trapped in a pokeball in complete stasis. He mighthave woken up while I was there. Also I could have looked at him, seen how hewas doing. It would have been reassuring.”

Leaf shakes her head impatiently and tucks some hair that gets loose behindher ear. “So let’s say you know he won’t wake up for another few days, and youpopped your head in for a quick look. Is that enough? Would sitting beside himfor a few hours be a waste?”

“Uh. Sort of, yeah. Red’s a smart guy, he wouldn’t mind if he found out I didmore 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 befine without her waiting beside him?”

Blue shifts in his seat. “That’s different. She’s his mom.”

“So?”

“So it’s not about what makes sense, it’s emotional. That’s just the kind ofbond parents have with their kids.” A pang of loneliness and pain, chased awaywith long practice. He knows gramps would stay at his bed if somethinghappened 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 oftime.

“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, grampstaught me about admitting when I’m wrong long before Red turned into a pain inthe ass about it.”

“Sorry.”

“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 knowwhether 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.” Hestands 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 astwilight cloaks the city. Pewter is very different from Viridian: far moreopen, with all the tall buildings spread out. Cars are rare here, with theforest to the south and the the mountains to every other side, so the streetsare much more narrow, and the walkways wider.

Soon they pass through a residential area, where the houses are almost allmade of stone. A few young kids are playing on the lawns, some with eachother, others with pokemon. A marill swims around two giggling children in aportable pool, and farther along a toddler rides the back of a growlithe underthe watchful eye of their parents.

Despite the circumstances, Blue suddenly feels naked without his own pokemonresting at his waist. It feels strange to be uncomfortable around tamedpokemon when he spent his whole life around them. Especially since he’s onlyhad 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 leaningout a window to splash some milk in the shadow of her house. Leaf stifles hergrin behind her hand until they pass, then says, “I can’t believe that’sreally a thing. I half thought you guys were joking.”

“Nope. Me and my friend Batu used to wear black and hide in the shadows toleap 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 hergiggles. He stops walking, and she turns to him with a questioning look.

“It’s the pokecenter,” he says, heart suddenly pounding. “They’re telling meto 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 acertain room as soon as possible. Blue swallows the dryness in his throat andmeets 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 backthe 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. Hequickly follows the directional signs toward D9, and soon finds himself in anintensive care unit.

Blue’s stomach is clenched up like a fist by the time he reaches the door andknocks. A moment later a doctor opens it, almost as old as gramps, with herlong greying hair tied in a braid. After confirming who he is she invites himinside the room. It looks less like a medical room and more like a computerlab, each console surrounded by periphery equipment and sporting numerousscreens, and he realizes he’s in an assessment room rather than one devoted totreatment.

His pokeballs rest on a machine with spherical indents, each slot including alens aligned with the ball’s to stream data from it to the nearby terminal. Henotices that his shiftry’s ball isn’t among them.

“Hello Mr. Oak, thank you for coming so quickly. Some concerns surfaced whiletreating your pokemon.”

“Yeah, I figured.” Blue wipes his palms on his jeans. “So what’s up? Are theyokay?”

“For the most part. I want to know about one in particular.” The doctor meetshis gaze, and Blue suddenly notices how cold her gaze is. “Your shiftry. Whathappened to it?”

Blue stands a bit straighter, suddenly wary. “I told the guy at reception, ithad 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 toheal it or not?”

“Your shiftry’s healing has already begun, and is going as best as can beexpected. It should make a full recovery by tomorrow.” The nurse’s eyes arehard on his. “The question is whether it will be returned to you or not.”

Blue’s feels his concern fading, anger taking its place. “What are you talkingabout?”

“I’ve seen thousands of pokemon injuries. Often from wild battles, some fromtrainer brawls. The wounds to your shiftry’s arms and legs are different fromthe rest. We have abuse laws in this region, Mr. Oak.”

Searing heat flares through Blue’s chest, each beat of his heart pumping magmathrough his veins. _Calm. Steady. _ “Are you accusing me of something?”

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 toreport it to the licensing association. You can tell me or you can tell aninvestigative review board, but until you do either, you’re not getting yourpokemon back.”

He unclenches his fists and takes a deep breath. After gramps dropped him off,Blue waited until he flew away, then walked to a small pokemart nearby. Herestocked on some supplies, including a few greatballs. Once outside, Bluereleased his shiftry and quickly recaptured it in a greatball before returningto the pokemon center.

Now he’s wishing he’d kept it in the original ball and just handed them thegreatball to put it in when it was healed. “Look, I didn’t have a greatball onme when my group was attacked by the shiftry near the forest fire. I tried touse a pokeball, but it was too big. After we fought them off, this one wasstill alive, so I used one of the other shiftry’s arms that were severed andmade him small enough to fit. He was badly wounded, and I didn’t have anyother way to capture him. It was either this, heal him and risk someone elsegetting attacked, or letting him die. All things considered I thought this wasthe 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 internallykicking himself for not having asked the others. He didn’t even consider it atthe time. “Also we were busy last night, you know, trying to stay alive andkeep the forest from burning down. If anyone had any before they probably usedthem 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 werepromptly cared for. Just to be sure, please give me the names of the othertrainers, so I can corroborate your story.”

“Oh come on! Why would I cut up my own pokemon and then bring him here to behealed?”

“Sir, please lower your voice.”

Blue fumes silently for a moment as he calms himself down. Just as he’s aboutto give her the names, footsteps approaching from the hallway make them bothturn.

“Ah, there you are Blue. I thought I heard your voice.”

Professor Oak stands in the doorway, looking tired but smiling as heapproaches, stripping gloves off his hands and tossing them in the trashbefore he examines Blue’s pokemon’s info on the monitor. “Good, good, yourpidgey seems to have 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 otherquestions that had popped up.

“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, I’m that Oak.”

Her cheeks flush, and she turns to the cheerful smile on the Professor’s facewith 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 tohave 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. Your help has beeninvaluable, and I’ve never seen my people work so diligently!”

Gramps beams at her and returns her bow, then heads for the door. Blue glancesat the doctor as she gives him an apologetic look, pushes his bruised prideaside to mutter some thanks, and follows him.

As they walk through the corridor, his grandpa’s cheerful demeanor doesn’tdisappear, 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 likehe did, even though he was doing totally fine. He’d done nothing wrong. So whydoes it feel like he was let off the hook just because he’s the ProfessorOak’s grandson?

To be fair, the Professor hadn’t said anything that could remotely be takenthat way. Nor had the doctor implied it. It just seemed taken for granted thatthe grandson of Professor Oak would of course have the best intentionsregarding pokemon wellbeing, and wouldn’t have acted in any way improperly.

Not that he’s complaining. Expectations like that will surely come in handysomeday.

Regardless, despite being proud of and planning to make good use of the Oakname, Blue feels disgruntled. Probably because he was fully capable ofhandling this situation on his own.

Blue lengthens his strides to catch up to his grandpa. “So what are you doinghere?” 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 thesurrounding cities, and since you all are here I decided to come to Pewterinstead 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 wouldhave taken to give her the trainer’s names.”

The professor’s pale blue eyes flick toward him, and then they’re at theelevators. 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 faron 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 in a tough situation.”

“I believe that, and you believe that, and the two trainers that were with youprobably believe that. But when the story gets out, as it certainly will onceyour fame starts to rise, you’re going to have to be ready to counter theunflattering 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. His gramps is speaking fromexperience, and he’d be an idiot to ignore him. “So, what, like do somevolunteer work while I’m here?”

“Is that the best you can come up with?” His grandpa waves at someone as theywalk through the rooftop’s lobby, with its glass ceiling revealing that nighthas finally fallen on the city. Once they’re outside on the landing andlaunching area, he takes out Glory’s ball and summons the pidgeot in a flashof light.

Blue strokes the huge bird’s wing, and when it kneels he climbs onto thesecond seat on its back. _I can’t wait until Zephyr’s this big. _ “I couldhelp out here with you? Assist with pokemon injured in the forest?”

His grandpa smiles and mounts up before turning Glory toward the edge of thebuilding, the pokemon’s wings spreading as it crouches for takeoff. “That’lldo, for a start…”


“Heyyy, look who’s conscious!”

Leaf turns to see Blue and Professor Oak enter Red’s room, the latter carryinga small bag. Mrs. Verres (“Please, call me Laura”) rises and hugs each ofthem, then excuses herself to get more chairs. The boys bump fists, and Blueleans 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, andI wanted to hear your stories personally.” The professor lifts the bag. “Ialso brought you each something. Ah, thank you Laura.” He takes the seat fromher and lowers himself into it.

“You brought us gifts?” Leaf asks, excitement bubbling up in her. “You’vealready given us so much!”

“He’s just protecting his investment,” Blue says as he takes another chair tothe other side of Red’s bed. He flips it around so he can prop his arms up onits back while he faces them. “Would have been embarrassing if we kicked theoxygen habit less than a week out.”

“Blue,” Mrs. Verres says, voice calm but firm. “I know you’re joking, but keepin mind that many people didn’t make it out of the forest. You’re all lucky tobe 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 yellowball that Red takes reverently. His finger traces the small gold lightningbolt etched into its cover.

“Think of it as a safety precaution. Training a pikachu can be dangerous, andat the very least you need to make sure the ball you hold it in can handle astray bolt.”

“Thanks Professor,” Red says. “I was going to buy one, but now I can use themoney on other things.”

“May I suggest some cheri berries? Besides their medicinal uses, they can befed 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 wasadmirable, but exceedingly dangerous. Rather than attempt to convince you notto try such a thing again in the future, I’d rather equip you so that you cando 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. Acup of the stuff can sell for as much as a hundred dollars, and this lookslike a whole pint at least.

“It is, of a particularly strong potency. A small dab should be enough toattract 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’salready imagining all the ways she can use it, not just to catch pokemon, butalso to train Bulbasaur. On top of that, plant pokemon are very adaptive atincorporating 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 hisgrandson… 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. “Anysignificance 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 hisgrandfather. “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 Ican 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…”

“Certainly.”

“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 aboutyour region’s myths and history.” The older the better, and it doesn’t getmuch older than fossilized pokemon remains. She’s seen how historical evidencecould 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 andleans back in his chair, eyes sparkling with excitement. “It’s time for mypayment 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 askingher to call when she can. “Excuse me, I have to take this,” she says as shegets to her feet. “I’ll let Red cover my part.”

She leaves the room and finds a quiet corner of the hospital. She was puttingoff this conversation, but part of her is glad it’s finally upon her. Afterthe numerous near death experiences in the forest, she doesn’t want to letsome misaligned expectations get in the way of her and her mother’srelationship.

Leaf presses the call button, heart hammering as she tries to think of what tosay. Should she sound calm and casual, as if nothing’s wrong? Cheerful? Theusual cool and controlled?

She’s still trying to decide when the ringing stops, and her mother’s voice isin her ear. “Leaf!”

“Hi mom.”

“Oh honey, it’s good to hear your voice. I checked the Kanto news today and itshowed 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 shecloses them. “I’m fine,” she says with a smile as she leans back against thewall. “And… Mom, I wanted to say sorry…”


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