Part 1: Return
Mt. Silver was known worldwide for one thing and one thing only.
It's sheer, uncompromising, unflinching lethality.
The statistics were as sobering as they were well-documented. Ninety percent of all trainers, explorers, researchers and poachers that attempted to scale its cliffs either returned in an unmarked bag...or, more often, not at all.
The reason for the incredible fatality rates was a simple one.
Every facet of Mt. Silver, from it's landscape to it's denizens, was out to kill outsiders as efficiently as possible.
From the glacial edges of narrow pathways that led to jagged pits, to pitch-black mazes ridden with pitfalls.
Caves of voracious Golbat and Crobat that could strip the flesh from a Human in seconds, interspersed with hidden dens of hardened and swift Onix and Steelix.
A peak so massive that merely breathing was a laborious task, the biting winds carrying frozen moisture fast enough to cut skin.
Only the bravest, toughest and most foolhardy would attempt to conquer the challenge of Mt. Silver...and of those few, even fewer could be said to have succeeded.
In fact, two of those very same people now stood face-to-face at the peak of the indomitable mountain, two Pokemon trainers of unprecedented skill, bravery, talent, luck and perseverance.
Even the paths that had led them here, to this very moment, bore startling similarities.
Journeys begun with only a humble starter, conquering challenges one after the other with no pause or respite...dragged into conflicts beyond their initial goal of becoming a master trainer, encountering the underbelly and less pleasant realities of the world they lived in...and winning anyway, when logic and common sense dictated that they shouldn't have.
Both becoming heroes in their own right.
Naturally, one had begun to seek out the other.
The trainer more popularly known as Gold had eagerly followed every scrap of information he could find, every whispered conversation he overheard...all in the pursuit of the ghost known as Red.
Gold was merely a nickname, a fun-yet defining-alias that the young trainer went by. His real name was readily accessible and widely known, even if only a few close friends used it.
Red, though...if he had a real name no one knew it or was willing to part with it. If he had family no amount of investigative journalism could reveal it. The young man had seemingly come out of nowhere, blazing through gym after gym with nothing but an ornery Pikachu and a slowly growing roster of Pokemon as unique and terrifying as he was.
Not only that, but he had also been tangentially linked to the strange events surrounding Team Rocket activity in both Celadon and Saffron city.
Some of the more sensationalist tabloids suggested that it was because of Red that these events were even noticed to begin with.
Regardless of potential links to criminal activity, the last time anyone had seen Red was when, after almost a year of seemingly falling off the face of the planet, he appeared out of nowhere and challenged the Elite Four of Indigo Plateau, followed shortly thereafter by the Champion, his longtime rival, Gary Oak. Or Blue, depending on who you asked. Much like Gold himself, Blue had acquired the nickname as a sort of publicity stunt.
Unlike Gold, however, Blue never pretended that his moniker was anything other than a statement of eternal opposition to his 'best buddy pal' Red.
Interview after interview had been directed at the Elite Four and Gary Oak, interview after interview meeting with the same results.
The Four would simply brush off any questions in regard to Red and the outcome of his matches with them, Blue merely laughing and saying that if Red had wanted those results to be known, he would have said so.
And then he would steer the conversation around to his own plans and schemes, as the force of character and charisma that was Gary Oak was wont to do.
The only real conclusion anyone had ever reached was that Red came to the Indigo Plateau, challenged every one of its members...and then left without a word.
And now, almost a year later, Gold had found him.
The landscape around the duo was cracked, melted and shattered in equal distributions, evidence of a fierce and hard fought battle.
All that remained of the trainer's teams was their starters, their partners that had stuck with them through thick and thin, victory and defeat.
Ambipom vs. Pikachu, two titans that most would write off as inconsequential or weak Pokemon, allies that were excellent for beginning trainers and nothing else.
Much like their masters, there was more to the two common Pokemon than most would assume.
The Pikachu was large for his species, with snarled hair that acted more like armor than it did insulation. Perhaps most unusual was his disposition. Unlike most rodent-type Pokemon, who were skittish or at the very least cautious in battle...this one was confidant. Feral. Battle and stress were no different to this Pikachu than a morning walk on the beach.
The Ambipom wasn't particularly massive or sporting any outwardly obvious traits of differentiation...but a closer look would reveal an unsettling amount of maliciousness in it's eyes. Monkey-type Pokemon were all pranksters and curious by nature, certainly...but the glee this particular member of the species seemed to display was nothing short of unsettling.
Both unique variants of their kind stared the other down-
-and with a dull thump the Ambipom hit the ground, the toll of battle finally catching up with the creature.
Releasing an explosive sigh Gold held out a pokeball, the recall laser gathering up his fallen friend and placing him in stasis.
Neither of the two so much as moved, meeting the stare of the other-
-and with a tired groan Gold fell flat onto his back, annoyedly shouting, "Well what the Hell! Everyone said you were good, sure, but not that good!"
A slight smile played at the edge of Red's lips, the older trainer slowly taking a seat of his own, the Pikachu stiffly curling up in his lap.
Both jumped as Gold swiftly sat up, frown replaced with a gigantic grin.
"So how did you do it, man?! That's some scary partners you've got on you, I thought for sure I had you at the end there!"
Gold gave the young man across from him a closer look, crafty eye taking in details and formulating opinions at a rapid pace.
He was garbed in a tattered vest, black shirt and torn jeans that might have been rugged and durable one time, but were now approaching threadbare. Probably the only articles of his clothing that were in somewhat decent shape were his red and white cap alongside sneakers of the same color.
He had been wearing more appropriate winter clothing when Gold had first found him but had switched into that outfit once the challenge had been thrown.
His appearance matched the clothing he wore. Pale skin with ragged black hair-clearly cut with some kind of razor-that was adorned with scars and callouses...but perhaps most unsettling were the crimson, knowing eyes the youth sported.
Gold couldn't help but boyishly grin at the intimidating visage, the sight piquing his competitive nature no less than a minute after their battle had concluded.
...The silence stretched, Red either unwilling or unable to answer Gold's question.
"Ahh, the strong silent type, eh? It's cool, I get it. Everyone's got their secrets and blah blah. Hey, so why are you up on this mountain in the first place? I mean, I came up here looking for you, so I've got a reason, but what's your excuse? Who were you looking for?"
The response, when it came, was quiet and slightly raspy, as if Red hadn't used his voice in a very long time.
"...Not looking for someone. For something."
"Ahh, so did you find it?"
Red briefly looked uncomfortable, gazing out over the endless view offered by the peak of Mt. Silver before eventually replying, "I don't know..."
"Well that's a shitter of an answer! You don't know? Jeez, dude. If you're going to spend months on this lousy deathtrap of a rock you might as well do so for more of a reason than, 'maybe I'll find whatever it is I don't even know I'm looking for'. Sheesh! And people call me impulsive!"
Red's mouth twitched in what might have been a smile.
"You sound like someone I know."
"I bet they're pretty smart, huh?"
Gold rolled his eyes before rising to his feet, stretching out his limbs with grunts of discomfort.
"Well, I wish you luck in whatever this search of yours is searching for, but I'll be headed home to a warm bed and loving family, it's been way too long..."
That admission drew Red's curious gaze.
"You have a home?"
Gold blinked once in abject disbelief.
"Uhh...yeah? I mean, everyone has a home! Sure, sometimes it's not a great-or even particularity nice-place to think about or visit, but all people have a place where they come from. And I'm not talking about the place where babies shoot out of."
Red once more gazed out over Mt. Silver's vista, quietly murmuring to himself, "Yeah...I guess they do."
The next words out of Gold's mouth caught him by surprise.
"Hey! Why don't you travel with me on my way back! C'mon, dude, we've probably got loads we can talk about! I mean, sure, you don't seem like much of a talker, but being a great listener is just as important! Unless you'd rather hang out on the desolate, shitty mountaintop where even the rocks try to kill you? Frickin' Gravellers…
Red just continued to stare at Gold in surprise before a small smile crossed his lips, the Pikachu in his lap staring upwards at his master in confusion.
"No, that's alright."
Gold gave an irritated huff at Red's response-
"But I do think it's time I return home."
-before giving a triumphant grin, stating, "Hah! See, I knew I was smart like that one person you said you know!"
"So this is where we part ways, huh?"
Red gave a small nod to the morose tone of Gold as they stood at the base of Mt. Silver, having made the trek down it's perilous depths carefully and slowly.
Both had sheepishly realized they're exhausted and battered Pokemon wouldn't make for the best of guardians only after the fact.
"Well, at least let me trade contact info with you! I've gotta track you down for a rematch, after all! Can't let you go on with the victory forever, now can I?"
Red merely smiled at the other man's words, pulling out his own pokedex to trade info-
-and belatedly realized it had been some time since the device had run out of battery, making exchange of information rather difficult.
"Holy heck, how long were you up there, dude?!"
Gold pityingly shook his head and connected his pokedex to Reds, allowing a steady stream of power to transfer from one device to the other.
Red winced once he saw the alerts and messages that had piled up on his device over the months begin to dominate the thing's home screen, one long list of missed correspondence that, now that he was no longer convinced Mt. Silver held the answers he was looking for, prompted a fair bit of remorse on his part.
He may not have many friends...but those he counted among that distinction didn't deserve silence and a lack of answers, which is precisely what he had given them.
"Yikes...twenty-two system updates, two version updates, 249 missed text and voice messages...I'd say you've got a lot of catching up to do once you reach the nearest center."
Red nodded in silent agreement.
A few quiet minutes passed as Red's pokedex gained enough charge to be usable in an emergency, the two trainers standing at a crossroads immediately afterwards.
"Well, my journey takes me this way. You headed in the opposite direction, I take it?"
Gold merely grinned and pumped Red's hand with unstoppable enthusiasm, proclaiming, "Guess we'll have to postpone that rematch until the future, huh? No worries, I get the feeling you and I will cross paths again one day! Catch you later, Red!"
The younger man merely winked and tipped the older of the two a jaunty salute, sedately walking his own path while cheerfully whistling to himself, Red content to watch him go.
Red hadn't been entirely truthful with Gold.
He had said it was time to return home, that was true enough...but Red honestly wasn't sure if home still existed. He wasn't sure it had existed even before he departed on his journey, not since his mother had died.
The crimson-eyed youth shook those thoughts off before they could impede his journey as they had done in the past, slowing and confusing him with indecision. It was time to look and move forward once more.
Taking a deep, calming breath Red began the long journey 'home', Pikachu quietly padding alongside him, inwardly thrilled that his master was once again back to his old self.
Pewter city certainly hadn't changed over the years.
Sure, there were a few new buildings, a couple renovations...but it was still that same old mining town it always had been and likely always would be until time immemorial.
Taking a moment to sit on a park bench and drink in the sights Red briefly toyed with the idea of contacting Brock and seeing if he was available. For a challenge or for a bite to eat, he hadn't decided.
That idea was quickly discarded as the distant sounds of cheering and roars of a particularly large Onix could be heard in the direction of the Pewter gym, a nostalgic grin tugging at Red's lips at the noise.
He'd been on the receiving end of that particular monster's roars during his initial challenge all those years ago...he couldn't decide if it felt like yesterday or an entire lifetime.
Regardless, the competition taking place in the gym meant that Brock would be busy so the crimson-eyed youth merely took a rare moment to relax, enjoying the soothing melody of battle, loss and victory.
It had been almost a month since he had departed Mt. Silver, slowly making his way back to the Kanto region while sending messages to friends and acquaintances alike, letting them know that he was indeed still alive and would meet with them as soon as time allowed.
He could have just flown on Charizard's back once he was in better health but Red had felt a compulsion to retrace his steps, to experience much of his journey in reverse.
He couldn't say why he had felt the need to do so...only that it had felt right.
"Mind if an old man takes this seat, youngster?"
Red's eyes slowly opened and focused on a wizened geezer, the ancient man's toothy grin and sunny disposition like a splash of cold water to Red's previously found peace, a sentiment Pikachu agreed with as the rodent's ears twitched irritably as he rested by his trainer's feet.
Still, there was no reason to be rude and Red merely shrugged, the older male letting out a dramatic groan as he collapsed into the seat.
"Ahh, I remember those days, of battling it out in the gyms and feeling like it was just me and my team against the world. We were pretty good, my old partners and I. Traveled between Kanto and Johto a couple of times, entered a couple of competitions...actually wound up facing down the Elite Four at some point, still not sure how we ended up doing that, if I'm being quite honest...memory isn't quite as good as it used to be..."
Red merely nodded politely, having heard more than his fair share of elderly spitballing over the course of his travels and had learned to take everything claimed with a grain of salt.
"Heh, but I do remember when I got this little doohickey! Hard to forget, really, considering how I wound up with it..."
The old man pulled something out of his jacket, Red politely turning his head to see what it was-
-and audibly gasped as something forcibly grabbed his attention and refused to let go. Held in the old man's hand was a large, silvery object that was halfway between a scale and a feather, it's surface scarred and pitted...but still shining with a dazzling luster, reflecting the sunlight with blinding power.
"Oh hoh~! Judging by your reaction, you have the gift too, young man!"
Red snapped out of his trance, meeting the grinning geezer's eyes before hesitantly asking, "...The gift?"
"Eh, call it whatever you want...but I can tell you've got it within you, boy. That sense, that oh so rare gift that affords you clairvoyance and communication beyond your average joe! I would know how to spot it, I'm the same way!"
Red could only stare, not expecting this random and initially troublesome meeting to turn compelling so...unexpectedly.
Because now he knew the old man wasn't senile or just making things up. All his life Red had been...a little bit different.
Communicating with Pokemon had been easy, in some cases almost easier than it was communicating with Humans. Maybe it had something to do with how he had always imitated his families Mr. Mime since he was a baby, or maybe it was just some random throw of the cosmic dice...but such extrasensory abilities had always been a part of his repertoire.
Blue used to say it was because he smelt just like a Pokemon.
...Come to think of it, that might have been why he was always spouting that idiotic quip 'smell you later'. He'd always wondered about that…
But that...that scale, or whatever it was. The more he stared at it the more he could hear a distant...song, really. A chorus of bethnic creatures and howling dragons, like a pack of Gyrados crossed with a troupe of Jigglypuff.
"You can hear it, can't you? The song."
Red's eyes snapped to the grinning man's.
"Here. Take it, boy."
"Bah! I've had my time, I've seen my journey through! But you on the other hand, youngster...you've still got a bit of fight in you. And if you can hear the song...well, no doubt you'll meet her at some point."
Surprisingly strong fingers placed the scale in his palm, sealing his own digits over the object.
Another chuckle from the senior was Red's only reply, alongside a cryptic warning of, "She's a hard one to forget, I'll tell you that! Now, if you don't mind me asking..."
The man's eyes flicked down to where Pikachu was dozing.
"You're Red, aintcha?"
"...How could you tell?"
A bark of laughter escaped the other man.
"Why, no other trainer has a Pikachu that big or mean looking! Gods, boy...how'd you ever get ahold of a beastie like that? I saw that bootleg recording of it taking down Lt. Surge's Raichu at its own game. Can't say that about most pre-evolved critters going up against their post-evolution forms. Well? Tell me about it! Just cause I've been out of the circuit for a few decades doesn't mean I've rusted any!"
Red glanced down at his oldest partner, the electric rat lazily glancing upwards before going right back to sleep.
A competitive smile crossed the younger man's lips, even as he carefully rolled the scale between his fingers.
"But only if you tell me about one of your matches for every one of mine."
The older trainer heartily laughed, any pretense at faulty memory long forgotten.
The road to Pallet was as quiet as Red remembered it being.
The occasional bird-type flying overhead with either a trainer or package secured to it, a Tauros or Ponyta-drawn carriage, or maybe even an electric truck.
It was the usual suspects and it was a nostalgic comfort for the young man, as if he'd never left.
Even Pikachu had relaxed, the usually wary and aggressive rodent curled up on his backpack and resting against his neck.
The extra weight was a little strenuous but considering his good mood and the peaceful setting Red was content to allow his partner his well-deserved rest.
"GET OUT OF THE ROAD, FAGGOT!"
A screeching of bike tires and spray of dirt and gravel onto his jeans caused Red to sigh, Pikachu's growling and hissing instantly cluing him into who his assailant was...assuming that familiar voice wasn't hint enough.
Only one trainer in the world could get Pikachu that mad and confrontational but still not launch an attack.
Just like the road he was walking, Blue hadn't changed to any great degree over the years.
Still wearing that cocky smile, black button-up shirt and dark blue jeans with hardy boots, lazily leaning back on the bike seat with his arms behind his head, maintaining balance despite his lack of forward momentum.
Becoming League champion and usurping Lance clearly hadn't disrupted his daily routine or proclivities.
"Shouldn't you be at Indigo right now?"
A look of mock hurt crossed the other man's face.
"Oh, Red! Why doth thou hurt myself with such barbarous and cruel words~! Have you not missed your eternal rival over the years of thine exile?"
"I did. Then you showed up and now I don't. Three seconds was enough."
Both young men stared the other down for a few moments-
-before smirking and clasping their hands together in an old greeting.
"Fucking A, dude, you would not believe the amount of crap I was asked after you showed up, kicked butt and then left on some spirit sabbatical or journey of self-discovery or quest of queerness. Oh, great and powerful champion, where is Red? Oh, wise and sexy Blue, where is the scruffy boy you were always better than? Oh, Blue, no one understands me like you do, please make sweet love to me! That last one was strictly because I'm such a stud, not anything to do with you."
Red merely nodded, used to tuning out 90% of what Blue said as a matter of course.
"I saw those interviews. Most of them just ended up with you promoting yourself. You're welcome."
"Hah! Like I needed the extra paparazzi spin. This handsome mug sells itself, let me tell you! Hoo wee, girls love a champ, Red buddy pal! I probably slayed more puss in the past year than a surly Arcanine in a den of Meowth."
"...Shouldn't you be at Indigo right now?"
Blue rolled his eyes at the repeat question, his Umbreon finally deigning to uncurl itself from the bike's basket before it and Pikachu began to glare at one another.
There was no love lost between those two, a competition born from the moment both their respective partners began their journey.
"Nah, I decided to give myself a vacation, leave everything in the hands of the desk jockeys and armchair generals. That way I'll figure out who's competent and who sucks and whenever I get back I'll just fix everything that was sucked up and then have a real government going strong. Aren't I awesome and smart like that?"
Coming from anyone else, that statement would have sounded both irresponsible and arrogant. Coming from Blue, it was merely a statement of fact.
Red was used to it.
He once more began walking in the direction of Pallet, Blue lazily keeping pace on his bike with languid arcs of his legs, hands still laced behind his head.
"So what brought you back to civilization, eh? I mean, I was busy taking over the world, kicking challenger's asses at Viridian before proceeding to beat the crap out of the Elite Four. Again. After a certain someone fucked up my initial schedule. Jerk."
Red shrugged, curiosity getting the better of him as he asked, "Who's in charge of Viridian now?"
A chilly pause.
Red fixed Blue with a hard look.
"Yeah yeah, I know, I know...believe you me, Red, I've got that snake trailed by no less than a full team of Kanto's black ops people, plus a bunch of guys Gramps recommended. I don't trust that dude any further than I can throw him, creep has a poker face better than a Mr. Mime's...so far he really has seemed to turn over a new leaf but I'm not buying that until the nightmares from Saffron and Celadon stop."
Red heaved out a tired breath, simply nodding in agreement.
Both of the young men didn't have any particular desire to relive those memories.
"...Have you tried talking to him yet? I mean, I get that he's not exactly the kind of role model anybody wants to look up to but-"
"Blue? Drop it. Just because you have daddy issues doesn't mean we all do."
Once upon a time, that statement would have sparked a violent brawl between the two. Now Blue just huffed a breath and rolled his eyes. They'd both been through a lot over the years.
"Yeah, well, take it from-and I quote thy sassy ass-'the guy with daddy issues'. Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away."
Red merely grunted, Blue only allowing the ensuring silence to last for perhaps five seconds before asking, "So, got a girlfriend yet? I mean you're pretty much the closest thing to asexual I can think of without being a eunuch so-"
"Not seeing anyone."
"Damn, really? Hey, you wouldn't happen to be a pokefucker, would you? I mean, I'm more of a traditional kind of guy myself so I don't get the appeal, but different strokes for different folks, amirite?"
...Red had forgotten just how much Blue could talk.
A quick glance at his Pokedex showed four hours of walking to go...and no shortcuts available.
"Hey. Red. Reeeed. RED! I know you're listening dude and I really think I need to set you up with someone. How about Erica? She's all traditional and shit, real quiet and polite and probably the only person off the top of my head who can put up with your mute act. Herbal spores can go a long way in making the day go by fast, you know what I'm saying? Eh, eh?"
...Red missed Mt. Silver.
"Ahh, nice to come back to the ol' stomping grounds, now ain't it?"
If Pewter had barely altered itself over the passage of years Pallet was positively identical. He could spot maybe four new homes from this distance...and he could see a great deal from said distance. It really spoke to the original purpose of Pallet's founding that the Professor's ranch and laboratory took up almost four times as much space-twelve, if you counted the free roaming lands that were barely so much as fenced-and employed roughly a sixth of the town in its more mundane operations, from repair, feeding, farming and housing.
And yet Red and Blue's hometown was still as sleepy as ever, despite the nexus of a great deal of innovation happening-literally-next door.
"I knew you agreed with me. So what's your plan, eh?"
Red shrugged, Blue of course correctly translating the gesture in its entirety.
"You do know the people in there are complete strangers, right?"
Red gave his rival a dry look, the other young man replying with a shrug just as eloquent as his own.
"Suit yourself. Drop by my place or Gramps' whenever you're done making yourself miserable. Knowing you I bet you don't even have a place to sleep."
Blue's grin turned knowing.
"And my sister is going to be home, so you can ogle her and fantasize all you want~! I retain my rights as her brother to beat your ass for it though."
The red-eyed male gave his opposite a narrowed glare.
"Hey don't try to give me that. I know you had a crush on Daisy way back when, even caught you jackin' it once to a picture of her when you were thirteen. I still have to go see the psychics about that one now and again."
The crimson eyed youth abruptly tugged his hat low over his eyes and walked faster, Blue laughing at his embarrassment.
Red's fingers tightened on the newly constructed and painted fence of the property that used to be his home, staring without so much as a single blink at the cozy suburban house with a dozing Pidgey staring cautiously at him from a perch on the porch, the sounds of a radio or tv commentating on a Coordinator competition drifting through an open window.
...It was far removed from the humble-borderline rundown-home his mother, Mr. Mime and himself had shared for most of his youth. Patched roof, clean windows, fresh paint, cared for lawn...almost the opposite of the conditions he had grown alongside with.
It was irrational and petulant, but he couldn't help but hold some level of resentment to the new denizens of what had once been home, of how they had just moved in and removed what had once been, with no reverence for the past.
Which was where the irrationality and petulance lay, obviously. Professor Oak had helped him sell the old plot of dirt and grass for a good price once his mother had passed, just a few short weeks before he was to embark on his journey alongside Green and Blue.
The older man had told him that, despite the shaky financial standing they had been in most of their lives, there was a small bit of money set aside that could cover the property payments for a year or two, long enough if Red had ever desired to return.
He had declined. To have a place to return to would have weakened him, distracted from the drive he felt to take on every challenge the world could throw at him, to prove that he could surmount any mountain no matter the height.
Thus, he had no business holding contempt for those who had rightfully bought what was for sale, a sale initiated by his own hand.
Red had never pretended to be perfect as he scowled one last time at the house, the Pidgey now rousing itself to coo threateningly at him with ruffled feathers, Pikachu finally perking up at the potential opportunity to kill something.
Red walked away without a backward glance, the electric mouse chattering in disappointment as the Pidgey returned to its perch with a satisfied puff of its chest.
It was blissfully unaware of how close to a serious maiming or outright death it had come.
"It's been far too long, my boy. You're looking healthy, despite your self-imposed exile where-I imagine-you're most nutritious meal was hardy mosses or fungi. Then again, knowing you, you most likely hunted and killed your own food."
Red smiled at Samuel Oak's knowing tone, easily replying, "Golbat doesn't taste good without ketchup."
A snort left the older man, the two of them looking down on the small herd of Tauros that roamed the Professor's ranch from a raised road, leaning on the doors of the buggy they had appropriated.
The herd was starting to grow restless once again, the other ranch hands notifying the Professor that pacification might be needed while Red tagged along.
Just like old times, except the young man was visiting rather than working.
"As much as I'd like to hear about all of your adventures, no doubt Daisy will also inquire about them and I don't believe you have any desire to tell the story twice. We can talk about them during dinner. Rather, my boy, I find myself wondering...what do you plan to do next?"
The young man's silence spoke volumes.
"You don't know, do you?"
A slow shake of his head, downturned hat hiding his expression.
Oak sighed, nostalgically gazing out at the snorting herd and roiling hills.
"Well, my boy, you've done what very few people during the course of my lifetime have managed. To present a problem I really don't have an answer for."
Red glanced at the Professor, his expression devoid of disappointment and blame, merely holding curiosity.
Oak smiled apologetically nonetheless, stating, "You've accomplished practically every single feat I can think of for any singular trainer. You completed the Kanto circuit, beat the Elite Four, became Grand Champion and even then conquered one of the singularly most dangerous environments we know of. You could attempt to travel to all of the regions and claim their gym badges, certainly. Attempt to earn the title of Grand Champion among their number...but I don't think that holds much appeal for you anymore, now does it?"
Red slowly shook his head.
"And we thus once more arrive at the crux of your dilemma. What is there for you to challenge next?"
A wry grin pulled at the Professor's lips.
"I suppose you could attempt to tame the Legendaries...but even with your uncanny skills I think those monsters are far beyond your scope, my boy."
An equally skewed smirk from Red matched the Professor's. He had borne witness to one of the famed Gods of their world, once.
Zapdos, the Demonio del Trueno. The Titan of Lightning.
Once had been enough, of standing no more than a kilometer away from a being that hurled lightning with enough force, precision and endurance to turn even a Steelix into a molten, charred mess, the assault leaving Red near blind and deaf for hours afterwards.
"Ah, and there they go..."
Releasing a sigh of his own Oak lazily retrieved a Pokeball from his belt, the frantic and aggressive lowing of the Tauros reaching a fevered pitch as two of the males began to stamp hooves as they faced each other, tossing their heads with arcs of spittle flying from their lips.
One was grizzled and old, scars marring his flank with patches of matted fur decorating his form. The other was young and spry, largely unmarked aside from odd scarring and ragged patches of hair along his rump, not typical markings of a Tauros dominance display.
"Hopefully this time they'll learn their lesson. Ahh, that's probably too much to hope for, isn't it?"
Idly pointing the ball's release lens in the general vicinity of the battling bulls Oak released his chosen enforcer-
-and in a flash of red light an enormous Dragonite appeared, lightly shaking itself before facing the now far more subdued Tauros, bovine eyes wide and staring at the scaled and scarred Drake.
Then it roared, a physical blast of noise that shook the ground and would have given the two Humans aching heads had they not covered their ears beforehand.
The Tauros quickly scattered, baying and pissing as they went...all except for the young male who, against every conceivable notion of self-preservation took one step forward and gave a challenging snort.
At least until Oak's Dragonite arched its antenna slightly, a nearby power line suddenly bursting sparks as a line of electricity impacted on the Tauros' rear, the Pokemon now sprinting to join its fellows with a flaming and smoking ass, panicked screams echoing across the ranch.
Red couldn't help but smile slightly, Oak shaking his head.
"Fourth time's the charm, perhaps?"
Red was about to offer his own observation when the Dragonite suddenly turned around, gazing at him with narrowed eyes as the young man quickly averted his own.
While Dragonite were usually non-aggressive unless threatened or in danger of having their territory encroached upon it was never a good idea to meet the gaze of a Dragon directly unless you had its utmost respect. Red had that respect when he worked on the ranch...but three years could very well be enough for the Dragonite to have decided he was no longer worthy of it.
Which was why he was more than a little surprised when the great beast laid its head down alongside the buggy, one slitted eye rolling in a socket to stare expectantly at him.
Oak chuckled, remarking, "It seems Shiryu remembers you, my boy. Here."
The professor handed him a brush and gloves, stiff bristles hardy enough to scrape flesh from bone adorning one end.
Cleaning the Dragonite's head with motions burned into muscle memory-sparks flying from the beasts hardened scales and growls of contentment shaking his bones-Oak continued with, "You know, my boy...there's always a spot on the ranch or my research team available for you. I know you're not one to sit in a single place for very long but perhaps a year or two of calm after your adventures will offer perspective, shed light on a new path to take."
A more greedy expression graced the professor's features.
"And I'm always in need of good, trustworthy help."
Red didn't immediately respond, instead thinking the offer over and ignoring Pikachu's jealous glare at Shiryu as he continued to brush the enormous dragon.
While the offer was by no means unattractive-the thought of doing something he was both good at and enjoyed was never a negative-he didn't feel quite ready to stop, to settle down in any capacity. He was only lacking in a goal, not the drive.
But the professor had a point. What was he to do? He had become Grand Champion, triumphed over every obstacle barring him from that goal and scaled Mt. Silver. Every other challenge felt too...similar.
"Take some time to think on it, my boy. And have dinner with us tonight, we have a surprise guest arriving and I think you'll enjoy yourself."
He leaned in conspiratorially with a dry lilt to his tone.
"And quite frankly I don't want to have to deal with both my grandchildren at the same time."
He shook his head, grouchily stating, "Honestly, the boy becomes Grand Champion and he still rides that damn bike around the lab like some Route 17 hoodlum. And tries to seduce my newest employee, the juvenile brat..."
Red just smiled at the familiar exasperation of the professor, curious about who this mysterious guest was supposed to be.
"Long time no see, Red!"
A bone-crushing hug greeted the stoic trainer, causing him to widen his eyes before a rare expression of open joy strained mouth muscles usually set in a frown.
"It's good to see you too, Green."
With dark brown hair falling loosely to her exposed shoulders, tank top and dusty jeans adorning tanned skin alongside a winning smile Blue and Red's oldest friend was indeed a welcome surprise.
"Geez! You have any idea how worried we were when you disappeared off the face of the map with no warning whatsoever? And while he'd sooner chug a Grimer than admit it I know Blue was all panicked as well."
"Hah! Was not. Trust me, I've spent the better part of my journey trying to take the prodigal son himself down a peg. It didn't work. A few rocks, a bit of snow and lack of oxygen wasn't about take him out."
Green rolled her eyes, archly remarking, "And that's why you had ACE start looking for a certain missing Champion, right?"
Ignoring the girl's statement Blue instead pulled Red into a fearsome noogy, crowing, "Holy shit I forgot about that! Hey, Red, guess what this crazy bitch was up to while we were off conquering the world and being just plain awesome? She joined fucking ACE! Can you believe it?"
Red blinked a few times in surprise, Green negligently waving a hand as if to say it was no big deal. Which was the opposite, really. Armed Champion Extension answered to the head of the Indigo League, the Champion, as their personal enforcers and undercover agents to ferret out treason or discontent among the populace, or their enemies located in other regions.
While they didn't recruit 'only the best to serve the best' as their motto implied they did have stringent entry requirements...and the organization was notoriously patriarchal, a result of the current highest ranking officers being the 'traditional' sorts.
That Green had made it in at all was already telling, never mind that she was apparently in the know enough to have heard about Blue's orders.
She confirmed his suspicions a moment later as she smirked, explaining, "Not only joined but ascended the ranks pretty damn quick, if I do say so myself. Keeping me in the loop about Team Rocket's activities was a big steal. Just you two wait, I'll be reorganizing that damn group of fossils before you can even ask a Xatu if I'm full of it or not."
Green proceeded to grab Blue in a noogy of her own, leaving Red even more at their mercy as she smugly stated, "And don't think just because I'll be subordinate to you means you get to pull stupid shit, ACE isn't your little altar boy under the table, Gary."
"Yeah yeah, point taken or whatever. Spilling ACE secrets is against the law, by the way. Now we have to kill Red."
Finally releasing the crimson-eyed youth who shot them an acidic glare as he massaged his head, the duo were promptly smacked over the head by a tall woman, fetching voice ordering, "Stop fooling around in the kitchen, you three. Hell, not more than two minutes back together and you're already causing a ruckus. And stop bothering poor Red, ACE secrets are no secrets in this household."
Daisy Oak was very much a female version of Gary, light brown hair efficiently tied into a bun while her lithe frame was concealed beneath a modest blouse and skirt, plates of steaming food perfectly balanced in each hand that she set down on the now cramped dining table.
Playfully grinning she gathered Red into a hug from behind, remarking, "And you, mister, cannot go wandering off without so much as a 'see you later'! Do you have any idea how worried everybody was?"
While he'd long gotten over his juvenile crush on Blue's sister-never mind that she was too driven with her work to consider something like romantic attraction-he nonetheless was left more than a little embarrassed by her overly affectionate actions, Gary rolling his eyes at the display.
"Easy does it, sis. Cuddle the loser over there any harder and he's not going to be able to sit down without a one-willy salute to the Kanto flag."
He and Green shared a quick high-five while Daisy jokingly chided them with, "No crass humor at the table, young man. And Red just spent several no doubt celibate months on Mt. Silver, of course he'll have urges. It's actually rather flattering~!"
Red pulled his hat lower over his face, mumbling, "Let's just eat..." as the Oaks and Green shared a laugh at his expense, the professor carrying the last dish as they began to ravenously dig into the food with less grace than a starving Raticate.
If there was one thing the legends from Pallet Town shared in common it was that they had terrible table manners.
Red fought down an amused smirk at the sight of the three Pokemon their trainers were closest to interact in their own unique ways.
Green's Wigglytuff and Blue's Umbreon were as friendly to each other as always, even if such friendship consisted of the rotund Pokemon singing choruses of varying complexity and difficulty only for the Umbreon to turn up its nose at the tunes, only deigning to pay attention when the melody suited its tastes. Except the Wigglytuff would occasionally take offense at the constant disinterest and slap the Umbreon full across the face, prompting a minute of rapt attention from the Dark-type before once again lapsing into boredom.
And through it all Pikachu would be ignoring the two of them as best he could, only getting dragged into shared interactions through a liberal does of jeering trills from the Umbreon and incessant scoldings from the Wigglytuff.
...They mirrored their Human partners eerily well.
"Grandpa says you're at a bit of a loss."
Plopping down in the swinging loveseat Red had occupied Daisy gave their three quarreling starters an amused look, the male keeping his silence.
"It was incredible, you know. To hear about you and my little brother's journey through news reports, broadcasts and radio specials. Gerald always knew exactly what everyone was talking about, of course-he's a natural born politician that has the brain of a general, the little schemer-and knew how to use that media attention to his benefit...but you were always the underdog, the dark horse that everybody but Gerald didn't think would even come close. And yet here you are, having achieved the pinnacle of what every purebred trainer dreams of, of climbing the highest peak and withstanding its terrible might."
A sad smile graced the older woman's features.
"And all it seems to have brought you is indecision and a feeling of unfulfillment. Red, what's really bothering you? Grandpa is only half-right when he said you lack a goal, I've watched you grow up alongside Green and Gerald, I know it's more than just not having a challenge to hold your focus."
The dark-haired male awkwardly picked at a scab on his knuckles, unsure of how to articulate his worries and feeling a trace defensive due to the young woman's unnervingly accurate analysis.
She wasn't one of the greatest researchers in the world merely due to nepotism.
"I...feel aimless. Like there's a chasm I finally can't cross. Even at the start of everything, where the title of Grand Champion had been nothing more than a distant star in the sky...there was a path. A path I could follow and one day topple that invincible mountain. And I did so. Then I scaled that mountain and...now? What's left? I feel...restless."
Red offered a rare expression of frustration, feeling like he wasn't properly conveying his state of mind.
"I gave up my home because my journey was what mattered. The only thing that mattered. I thought I'd done what I hoped to achieve, accomplished what few or none before have...and it's not enough. There's still more out there, I know there is. But...what?"
Daisy just calmly listened to Red's stumbling attempts at explanation, knowing this was probably the most he had spoken at one time in months, perhaps even years.
"The Legendaries? Maybe, but...there's no road to them. I've seen the extent of their power and I can't match that. But they're the pinnacle of this world, with no other equal. I want to prove that I can do it, but..."
Red fell silent, having exhausted the depth of his vocabulary.
To her credit Daisy didn't immediately reply, taking her time to think of a proper and well-considered response...eventually sighing in resignation.
"Grandpa was right, you do have quite the conundrum on your hands. I don't have an answer to your problem, Red...but I do have advice, if you want it."
The trainer nodded gratefully.
"Blue is traveling to the Johto region tomorrow to attend a ceremony performed by the Dragon Clan in Ecruteak City, attended by the Kimono Sisters. His defeat of Lance-as well as your own-has damaged the Clan's reputation and image of invincibility. No doubt he's hoping to smooth things over with them and keep them from trying to perform some kind of petty grievance in retribution."
Red nodded in understanding.
It was merely sensible for anyone with an ear for politics and self-preservation to not tweak the noses of trainers who had long mastered the art of taming Dragons when there was no need to...and for all his bluster and confidence even Blue knew where to toe the line, where to smile and wave for the sake of expediency.
"It's been a long time since you two have worked or traveled together, years I believe. Not since Team Rocket and Silph Co., perhaps this will be a good chance to spend time as friends, not rivals."
Red's dry expression caused Daisy to giggle in amusement, mockingly stating, "Now now, I know you two insist you're not friends...but even if you're not you're also the only people on this planet-aside from family and Green-who understand each other. That counts for a lot, wouldn't you agree?"
Unable to refute the point Red stared off into the distance, considering the woman's words.
Is that what he needed? A break, time to regain a measure of perspective? To travel the world with his oldest acquaintance and see things through his eyes, to find that final goal he knew was calling for him?
...He had never been one to idle, to wander aimlessly in hopes of fortune smiling upon him. Luck was far more favorable to those who sought it out, rather than the opposite.
He honestly was unsure of how to proceed-
-until a distant melody began to play, that strange, haunting call he had first heard in Pewter.
Instinctively pulling out the glittering scale from its simple but durable covering of Spinarak weave Red let the distant chorus speak to him, trusting his gut to lead him on the right path.
"...It looks like I'll be keeping Blue company on his next publicity stunt."
Daisy offered both a radiant smile and curious look at the scale but elected not to ask, instead saying, "I'm sure he'll be excited about that, although will probably never admit it."
The trainer nodded.
The day Blue openly thanked anyone was the day Marowak gave up its mask.
Speaking of which, his Umbreon had mounted the Wigglytuff and was playfully biting the back of its neck, the rotund Pokemon trilling in alarm and mock indignation...coincidentally matching the passionate moans drifting out from Blue's open window, he and Green both having had a few drinks and subsequently arguing themselves into bed with the other.
Pikachu's reaction was the same as his master's, a sigh of aggravation and turning of attention so as to tune out the noises that resembled an Arcanine raping an irate Primeape. In his opinion.
Professor Oak walked out the front door, cups of tea held on a platter as he wryly remarked, "I don't think we're going to sleep anytime soon. Have you decided on what you're going to do, my boy?"
Red nodded before staring at the scale one last time, reflective surface catching and holding the light in a hypnotic manner...and with one last echoing song that seemed to lead over the edge of the world he gently tucked it away, once more prepared to chase the glory that laid just beyond the horizon.
While I've never really had any desire to do a longform Pokemon story one-shots or shorter tales have always been fun little diversion and this is one of those shorter bits.
I've got it mostly written and it just needs some editing before being set to end up fully published, so releases shouldn't be too far behind this one.
Now for some of the more savvy Pokemon readers you all might recognize quite a few terms, names and concepts from the late story A Game of Champions.
It's removal from the site was a damn bloody shame as it was an incredible piece of work and this is my way of paying homage to it, hopefully one day it'll come back but in the meantime I'll content myself with the downloaded version :D