Notes: Set shortly after Chapter 15 and The Big Reveal. AKA, Grovyle Finds Out. Naturally, that means there's some pretty big spoilers, so tread carefully.

Perhaps he should have made the connection sooner. Grovyle hadn't survived this long by being unobservant, and his new companions were unaccustomed to the ways of the new world. Not to say they weren't careful, precisely; just... not in all the ways they should have been.

Laramie, in particular, perfectly embodied that incautious caution. He stuck close to his partner's side, always in her shadow... and calling her name.

When she charged ahead -- "Ichigo!"

When she took a stunning blow -- "Ichigo!"

When she turned back to check on him, injured but triumphant -- "Ichigo..."

The irony was not lost on him. Yet he assumed that was all it was: mere irony. Fate, or Dusknoir's, sick idea of a joke.

For Dusknoir had clearly seen the parallels as well: a Grass-type working with a girl named Ichigo. A coincidence highlighted by how their personalities were reversed -- she took the lead while he followed. She was willing to take the whole world on to protect her partner, while he hung back, intimidated. Terrified, yet no less willing to risk it all for what he believed in, despite his fears.

And this must have been why Dusknoir had dragged them along, he decided. To mock him with two more innocents, two more victims whose only crime was sharing a name with someone else. Someone who he still hoped had slipped through the ghost's fingers, leaving him to content himself with a simple substitute.

Which would have made more sense, had it only been the name that stood out. Other things caught his eye, however briefly.

The bandanna, for one. Bright as the fire on her tail-tip and just as glaring, a signal to all in this darkened domain that here lay a new light to be snuffed out.

"Take it off," he had ordered her, shortly after they joined forces.

"No!" and her hands instinctively clamped round the edges, pulling it down against her head, before she bothered to ask "Why?" More anger than suspicion colored her tone, and he'd quickly gathered that she would not acquiesce even if he spelled out why wearing a bright red beacon was such a bad idea.

Still, if he'd persisted, she might have explained why. Likely there'd be some petty emotional reason behind it, like it being a reminder of her family, or some old friend, or the Guild.

He hadn't bothered. Hadn't cared to hear it. More important issues lay at hand than why a stubborn little fire lizard bothered with a bandanna.

His Ichigo, on the other hand, kept her head covered for all the right reasons. Her hair was a bramblebush, but a dark piece of old cloth kept it somewhat tamed and out of the way. Out of her eyes, out of the reach of clinging branches, twigs and dry leaves, and out of the sight of sableyes.

He doubted this Ichigo had such sensible reasons for her headgear. So he hadn't asked for them.

If anything, her mannerisms reminded Grovyle more of himself than of his old companion. Her temper, and how she directed the heat of her rage out towards her enemies rather than turn it on her rather fragile friend. Her tenacity, standing her ground against immeasurable odds, standing against forces she couldn't even begin to comprehend.

And the way she smiled for Laramie... the way she comforted and encouraged him, masking her fears with a confidence that was almost comically exaggerated... reminded him of Celebi, in its own way.

But his partner -- his Ichigo was a gangly, awkward thing, a human whose very body made hiding difficult. She offered no protection, only hope -- he was the guardian of that hope, the one tasked with fulfilling the tasks set before them. They were both well aware of that; how often had she apologized for her weaknesses? How often had she gazed at him from whatever cover she could find and whispered regrets, that her wondrous powers were useless in all other matters?

How often had he corrected her with a stern shake of his head and a smile, reminding her of how important she truly was? How often had he comforted her with boasts -- no, not boasts, but promises that he would protect her?

And how well had that worked out, in the end?

He'd tried to take comfort in not knowing what had happened to her. Hope was all he had left of her, so he held onto it. Nurtured it while searching for the Time Gears, half-expecting to see her again -- in the treeshrouded forest, or on the steam-choked summit, beneath the quicksand or within the crystalline caverns. Separated or not, their goals remained the same, so perhaps their paths would cross...

But the Ichigo he found wasn't his Ichigo. Rather than a timid, cautious human, he found a brash, courageous charmander; a leader, rather than a follower. A warrior in place of a seer.

Even now, looking at what she had become, knowing what she had been... Grovyle knew she was no longer his partner. That slip of a girl remained lost... only now, for the first time since their separation, he honestly thought they would never meet again.