Characters – Hikari, Jun (Twinleafshipping)
World – Game pls
Note(s) – Am liking this. Just some Twinleaf to help me rekindle the love I have for this pairing. And, um, this is heavily based off the storyline of the Diamond/Pearl games. I know the rival usually grabs the Pokemon that has advantage over the player's starter: but still, doesn't Chimchar suit Jun more than Turtwig? (and Piplup to Hikari) And I thank thee, Youtube, for providing me with ingame footage.
Disclaimer – I don't own Pokémon, but I do enjoy a healthy serving of Twinleafshipping.

Counting the (… our) footprints

She liked to think of Sinnoh of a place that was fixed in a perpetual autumn, only yielding to the gentle snowfall of winter on occasion. Otherwise, the familiar breeze that swept across the region was always cooling and refreshing. Sort of like the tide of memories she shared with Jun. The sad thing was that she couldn't clearly remember how many adventures and times they had had together. There were too many to actually count – and that was what made her spirit falter.

But those instances, those few situations, she allowed a smile as she realised that they would forever be etched in her mind.

She placed a gentle hand on the smooth crown of her Empoleon as she gazed out over the island and the region nearby from atop her place at the Battle Tower.

She didn't know when her breath had become so raspy and heavy, was it always like this after a trainer's first Pokémon battle? The battered Piplup stood tall and proud near her pink boots, its tiny beak poised triumphantly in the air. A few feet away, an unconscious Chimchar was slumped over on the ground in agonizing defeat; the little flame on its brown hide flickered uneasily. She fidgeted with the straps of her yellow bag before pulling them further up her arm, trying to make sense of all that had happened. Had she just won?

The indignant frown spreading across Jun's face answered the question.

"Wahh! What do you mean I lost!" he yelled right next to her. She covered her ears as her Piplup squawked with agitation.

The boy swiftly collected himself however, as well as the injured Chimchar into his arms. He stepped over to her and gave her a goofy smirk. "Beginner's luck," he said, "Well that's it, that's the last time I'll ever lose! I'm going to be the toughest trainer, and you know it!" Jun announced with charismatic deterimination.

She shook her head as a smile played across her features. Her breathing slowed and she relaxed. Typical Jun.

"The first thing to do is to take on the Oreburgh gym. Yeah, we'll definitely toughen up for that." He ran a flustered hand through his unruly blonde hair, before placing it on her head and then dashing off towards the next town without a properly polite farewell. She wasn't even given a second to react appropriately. Which was good, really, because he probably didn't see her cheeks redden at the contact. She huffed and held her arms akimbo, before sighing slightly as she watched his figure diminish into the afternoon backdrop of Mother Nature. After spraying a spare potion onto its wounds, the Piplup was more than ready to start their journey through Sinnoh. It began walking forth, and she followed, though travelling at a more humane pace than her friend.

That hand on her head – was it him trying to say 'good luck'?

… No, she was thinking too much.

Jun hopped from bookshelf to bookshelf, much to the dismay of Kouki and the irritation of professor Rowan. When the blonde finally settled down on a seat next to her in the Canalave Library, he had a displeased frown on his face. It became particularly obvious when Kouki addressed her about the strange things that had been taking place in the region as of late.

Luckily, or not, a huge explosion rocked the library, distracting everyone before Jun could grab a chance to pick on, or possibly strangle, the innocent Kouki. She gave an inward sigh at this, and hoped that she could ask Jun what he disliked about the professor's kind, intelligent assistant one day when they weren't battling and he wasn't running off without waiting.

"I already beat the gym leader here!" He had crashed unceremoniously into her again, and before she could even get onto her feet, Jun was already shoving the bronze-coated badge of Oreburgh's gym into her frazzled face.

She blinked, nodding wearily as he hoisted her onto her feet.

He frowned, as if disappointed that he had failed to impress her.

And then off he ran, hollering something about going to take on the next gym, kicking up a patch of dirt and vandalizing the caps of her favourite boots. She cried out in frustration and hastily rubbed away the filthy dust, and as she raised her head up, she nearly thought that he had been looking at her over his shoulder. She must have been imagining things, though. He never did care about the messes he made.


The force of the unwelcome collision caused her to topple back and land unglamorously on the pavement just outside the front door of Jun's house. She held a hand to her aching head and felt her scarf slide off her shoulders. No matter how many times it would happen, she never got used to it, and she never would, actually. She tried to summon up a few choice words, biting her lip and grimacing at him. And of course, Jun recovered easily and pretended like nothing had happened. He jumped up with gathered composure, grabbed onto her hand and tugged her off her posterior, before gesturing towards the lake just outside of town.

"Hey! I'm going to the lake! You come too, and be quick about it! I'm fining you one million yen if you're late!"

She brushed the dust off herself and threw her scarf neatly around her neck as the eager boy dashed off down the street. She wondered if she could afford that fee, and laughed lightly as she walked after her friend.

Along the way Lake Verity, Jun decided that it wasn't that probable that Lake Verity held a sea monster, and hence, proclaimed that the lake had the higher possibility of being the home of a mystical lake spirit. She rolled her eyes, as he pushed her in front so that she was the one leading them towards the destination the one-man show had decided upon. There was a fictitious being residing in their childhood playground – no, really? Wouldn't they have noticed its existence by now? They had spent practically every Sunday there for the last six years, after all. But whenever she turned around and attempted to give a logical input on the situation, he drowned her out with his eager shouts and an urgent smile.

"Hurry up!"

"We're going to the lake to catch the spirit, step on it!"

Ah, she could never say 'no' to that boyish grin. Damnit.

Jun was dumbstruck, as always, as he withdrew his Snorlax, signalling the end of the match. She smiled, the taste of victory fresh, but by no means alien, in her mouth as she ran up to her own Toxicroak, stroking its purple skin before returning it into a pokéball she had in hand. The small number of Pokémon trainers that had gathered to observe their battle began to disperse, some headed towards the nearby pokécenter, others strolling behind Jun, in the direction of the Battle Tower.

The blonde ran a hand through his hair and paused before saying, "It's okay, when you grow stronger, I'll grow stronger too. And we'll become better together."

And I'll beat you one day – was the hidden message she decoded.

She grinned as she walked up to him. He frowned, obviously unhappy with yet another loss to chalk up on the board of their friendly rivalry, but placed his hand on her head and rubbed it anyway. She lowered her gaze and pursed her lips and blushed all at once. She quickly stepped away from him and dashed towards the Battle Tower. She halted just before the gantry and turned to see if he was already running off to Stark Mountain to train again, but Jun just stood there, in the middle of the road leading up to the tower. He stared straight at her, and straight through her heart, unmoving. Then, his lips parted as he beamed at her, waving one hand.

Jun had changed noticeably after the incident at Lake Acuity. But that grin and hand had remained habitually the same.

And she was embarrassed to admit that she found him more attractive than usual, as of lately.

She pushed through the doors and hoped that achieving at least a twenty-win streak would clear her mind.

The shuffling of the Sneasel through the tall grass and the grunt of the Snover flocking the area surrounding the serene lake were the only two normal sounds she could hear. Outside of that, the maniacal laughter and the laboured breathing were making her spine chill. Her shivering hand tightened around the pokéball that held her Empoleon. As she stepped through the ankle deep snow and emerged through the shrubs to see the rippling surface of the lake, her heart leapt to her throat.

Jupiter, that purple-haired executive was there, dressed as flamboyantly as always in that senseless attire of hers. Only this time, there was a familiar boy crouching on the ground near the Galactic Commander's feet, shaking fist planted firmly in the snow. Her face paled as she saw the fear reflected in Jun's eyes. The pain was written out all over his face. "Y-you won't get away with this!" he muttered hesitantly.

"Your Pokemon aren't bad, but you laughbly weak," Jupiter scoffed. "You honestly thought you could save the Pokemon of the lake? And become the Champion? Dream on, kid," she continued to laugh and tease and belittle him until she was wholly satisfied, before sauntering out to the lakefront. The woman gave her a second glance and a few words that she didn't quite catch before disappearing. She didn't hear Jupiter because she was far too concerned with Jun's emotional state. He never handled a loss to her like this; he always picked himself up, fuelled by that everlasting willpower of his.

She stepped forward and approached him. She extended a hand, wanting to place it onto his trembling shoulder. But the boy quickly got onto his feet and turned to see her before she could touch him. A broken smile, something that looked like him feeling sheepish, appeared on his face. His eyes looked almost swollen.

"Yeah, that's right. I couldn't do anything against Team Galatic!" he admitted the loss like it was poison on his tongue. Jun then faced the lake, and he closed his eyes, a frown on his face. "That Pokemon called Uxie, it was suffering..." He clenched his fists tighter. Her eyes watered, and if he wasn't going to cry, she would cry on his behalf.

"I'm going to get tougher. It's not about winning or losing... that's not good enough. I have to be stronger." He turned and gave her one last look. She had to use all her strength to prevent herself from bursting into tears at that moment. She bit her lip and tried to say something, but words were useless now.

He walked past her. Walked.

And he left a trail of footprints behind, two singular footsteps in the depressing landscape of white. And she could only stare as his back. When she realised that it would have been better, less saddening, had there been four footprints, he was already gone. She felt like a horrible friend. She clutched her scarf and swallowed glumly. And then, she just hoped- no, believed that he would be alright.

The tiled floors of the sizable temple shook dangerously as she staggered up the rocky steps and leaned against a towering pillar for support. Cyrus stood behind the guarding Mars and Jupiter, who were staring at each other vehemently, holding two chains fitted with red jewels on them. As a monstrous being emerged from what seemed like a bottomless hole that had expanded out of nowhere, her stomach lurched and her heart rammed violently in her ribcage – she was scared senseless. She couldn't do this; she was just a passing trainer. The air was thin, she felt like she was too high above the clouds, and her legs ached from trekking through the bowels of Mount Coronet. The dragon-like being roared, Cyrus called it the Being of Space, claws outstretched, tail arched in the air, sending the skies burning an unimaginable shade of red, blue and green.

But everything was happening too fast for her to keep up, and suddenly, a redhead and a tall, purple-haired woman had surrounded her. "Where do you think you're going? I won't let you disturb our boss. If you're not going to listen, you'll have to go through me first. After all, you've made me look bad more times than I care to remember!" Mars scowled aggressively.

"And I'll be next! You might be tough, but this time, the gloves are coming off!" Jupiter glowered.

She gulped, no way could she take on the two Galactic commanders, she wasn't that strong, she wasn't that capable, she wasn't ready.

"Hold on one second!" rang a voice that washed her body with relief. She broke away from her uncertainties as a third party swiftly appeared at her side, gripping securely onto her elbow as he caught his breath, his mouth intimately close to her right ear. A green scarf was hanging loosely around his neck, and beads of sweat slid down his concerned face. His shining eyes darted to examine every part of her body – hey, was he eyeing her che– before turning to face Jupiter. He managed a small chuckle, "Don't start the party without me."

"Ha! If it isn't that little boy. The little crybaby from Lake Acuity. Did you toughen up a bit? Sure, let's battle two-on-two!" Jupiter grinned, genuine delight emerging from her menacing eyes.

Jun clasped a hand around her trembling palm. And at the precious, precious moment that seemed so hauntingly familiar to her, she finally calmed down and drew out a pokéball with firm belief. She squeezed his hand, signalling that she was ready to battle with him.

The intimidating professor and his accompanying assistant, who looked admittedly cute with his red beret-hat, brushed past the two of them as they walked across the lakefront. As she stared, almost transfixed with interest, at the back of the unnamed boy, Jun stood next to her like a protective father. The tiniest hint of jealously shimmered in his sun-flecked eyes. She laughed softly and he raised his hands in alarm.

"What? What?" he demanded to know. But as he shifted his gaze away from her, a brown briefcase nestled in the heart of a large clump of long grass caught his eye. He tugged her scarf, nearly choking her, before leading her over to the grass. She raised a finger with warning, intending to remind him that it was unwise to wander into the grass where Pokémon usually dwelled in.

"Relax, we'll be in and out in no time flat," Jun assured her. He stepped into the grass and she yelped with exasperation. She found her feet going after him out of worry and concern. Her eyebrows furrowed as the boy knelt in front of the professor's briefcase. Her eyes then widened with alert not long after as she heard the piercing cry of Starly. Out, did two of the aggravated Flying-types leap, from the thicket of grass, flapping their wings and jabbing their beaks wildly in the air.

She was frozen stiff as Jun shouted out and grabbed her hand, pulling her to his chest to shield her from any direct attacks. His rapid heartbeat ringing in her ears caused her to snap out of the initial shock. She found her bearings and saw the boy fumbling with the suitcase, finally cracking it open to reveal three red, white balls. Were these pokéballs? He grabbed one of them and threw it out at the Starly – he had experience with the handling of Pokémon because of his father's job. She moved away from his arms and followed suit, quickly choosing one and flinging it out at the second bird.

As an adorable blue penguin materialized in the air and proceeded to impale the Starly's wing with its beak, Jun's hand found its way to hers. He closed his fingers around her hand and wordlessly, gave her the courage to fight.

She glanced absentmindedly at her Pokétch and realised that it was Saturday once again. Her eyes crinkled with anticipation and joy, and her companion cawed with understanding. She nodded towards Empoleon as she left the captivating view of the Battle Park and began to walk down the flight of stairs leading back into the tower. Behind her, she watched the Steel-type avian crane its beak and extend its wings, loosening its tense muscles, readying itself for yet another battle with a well-trained Infernape.

The ride back home was lonely, to say the least. She pedalled her bike, the previous thrill and euphoria that accompanied Cynthia's defeat waning away as she rode down the dust paved road towards Twinleaf Town. As the sun passed through the sky and the day rolled back to welcome night, she switched the headlight of her bike on and permitted a sigh to escape her mouth. She was the Champion now, and honestly, it should have felt better than this. But outside of Cynthia's benevolent grin and the professor's sincere congratulatory, she still felt like something was missing. Something akin to a last puzzle piece to fit into her victory against the Elite Four and their former Champion. The evening wind was getting colder now, probably a sign of winter approaching. She hunched her shoulders and tried to cover her mouth with her scarf.

This definitely wasn't what a Champion would feel like. She should have opted to fly back home instead of taking the scenic route.

She glanced at the six Pokéballs latched onto the side of her hip and wondered if perhaps, her Staraptor could come out and keep her company. But as she finished climbing up a straining hill, she gazed down and saw the glowing surface of a lake situated just beyond the outskirts of a quaint town. It all seemed like a dream, for she had gotten far too used to bustling cities, eerie caves and lush forests. But seeing Twinleaf just that short distance away, her heart thumped with more vigour, and she felt her body warm just slightly at the thought of … Mother. And Jun-

No wait, he wasn't here anymore. And he wasn't there to see her get crowned as the Champion, and she would have so loved to see the look on his face. But all the same, had he been there, she would have embraced him and later on, blame it on the fact that she was drunk on joy. He had been there when she got her first Pokémon, just before her first victorious gym battle, supported her at the Spear Pillar, and readied her for the Elite Four. He hadn't missed any of the important events in her short trainer's journey – so why wasn't he there with Cynthia and the professor?

Her heart reverted back to just a dull thud in her tired chest.

From behind, she realised that someone was running towards her. She grabbed onto a pokéball to defend herself from the assailer, but it was too late as he tackled her and the two of them proceeded to stagger, plummet, then roll down the gentle hill, her screams resounding through the night air. They landed feet first right into a pond of wet mud and she steadied herself with her hands on a portion of the ground that wasn't drenched with the splattered dirt.

Her boots!

She heard his weak laugh and the mild, ticklish sensation of his chin on her left shoulderblade, and her face became livid as she turned around to see Jun pointing an amused finger at her, his pants soaked with the dirty water as well. She delivered to him a well-placed smack upside the head and worked her way out of the pool without dirtying her poor skirt any further.

And for once, she sensed suspicion surfacing her mind, had he crashed into her on purpose?

She moved over to her fallen bike and proceeded to check if anything had been damaged. Jun was still behind her, clutching his head and mumbling an 'ouch' every so often.

"Look, I know you're angry that I wasn't there, but it was because I got too caught up with training. You gotta' forgive me!" He regained the use of his mouth.

She sighed, and knew that it would be immature not to comply. It wasn't dictated that Jun had to be there for every single titular point in her life. It was just because she was so used to his presence; she wouldn't feel whole without him.

A dashing smile bloomed on his face as she gave him a forgiving nod, and he grabbed her wrists and started pulling her towards Twinleaf. She flailed and gestured towards the abandoned bike. The blonde let go of one of her hands, absently keeping his grip on her other as she walked back to the pink bicycle.

"When the hell did you become so strong anyway?" Jun suddenly pouted.

She wanted to tell him the answer, which was simply, 'because you were always there for me'. But she didn't want him to get a big head – that was the last thing he needed. So she just smiled warmly and folded her bike so that she could have an undisturbed walk, yes walk, with him back to their hometown. Jun arched an eyebrow and decided that he would pursue the answer to his question on another night as he started babbling on about his new, and improved, training routine and how he was going to trounce her one fine day soon. She walked next to him, finally able to keep up with him after so many years of being abandoned, dishearteningly, in the dust. She lived in that moment, smelled the unforgettable scent of fresh grass and sweat, as his body heat warmed her, making the night less cold. And her hand was perfect in his, as it always had been. She wondered when he would notice and let go out of embarrassment. She would have to treasure the contact till then, she supposed. She glanced over her shoulder to look at the winding path lengthening behind her when he wasn't paying attention.

Muddy, rough, dirty, and hard to discern. But they meant something so important to her. And they would do.

Two pairs of footprints.