"Quit being an ass, Brendan," Blue muttered with chide, sneering at his fellow champion.
"It's six in the goddamn morning, twenty degrees below minus ten with wind freaking fucking my face and you expect me to be NICE!?" Brendan burst out while ferociously slapping his steed, "Let's see action! Fire! Blood!"
The Suicune beneath him yawned and blinked a few times, looking more than ready to curl up in a warm bed somewhere.
"Problem is, this Lucario totally understands everything you're saying," Blue said and turned towards Lucario, greeting him with a big smile, "Hey, spikeless Lucario! You want to know about that shiny Lucario, right? Pick me!"
Lucario stood still with a blank expression, not really sure what was going on. Red noticed his confusion, the old master crossing his arms.
"It seems all three of us have unfinished business with you," Red explained as Raikou gave off a short huff, his newly forged mask fogging up from the heated exhale, "Worry not. All jokes aside, we only wish to talk and have no intention of hurting or capturing you."
"Of course not!" Blue exclaimed while raising a hand, "A loss is a loss, no need for rematches!"
Red slowly turned his head and stared at Blue in disbelief, the same rival who had fought him at least a thousand times in the past five decades demanding revenge for anything and everything. Lucario was busy keeping his eyes fixed at Brendan's malignant grin, not too surprised a death threat would qualify as a joke to that wildcard.
"And so, we felt it would only be fair for you to decide which one of us to go with first," Red said before bowing his head in a display of respect, "We hand ourselves over to your judgment."
The words resonated through Lucario's ears, though he could not let himself break eye contact with Brendan, not wanting to take any risks in case he decided to sic Suicune on him. Brendan noticed this and snickered, rummaging through the pockets inside his jacket.
"You know who's in here, don't you?" Brendan asked with a singsong voice while holding up a purple Pokéball, "What can I say? She's been DYING to see you."
Lucario flinched, recognizing the unusual coloration of the Pokéball. Back then he had not realized there was anything strange about it, but the deep single color clearly distinguished it from the other Pokéballs he had the misfortune of encountering.
He remembered the small penguin, the thought of whom had filled him with guilt on more than one occasion. He had met her right after Ivy's betrayal, a period of time when he had been convinced that Pokémon were nothing but bad news, which was not long before Zerobi saved his life and proved to him differently. Dreadfully used to being attacked by random wild Pokémon, he had seen no problem with leaving the tiny penguin to whatever fate held in store for her, even if it meant being captured by the unjustly powerful trainer tracking him. While making amends by saving her had not exactly been a priority in his mind, in some ways he could not shake the feeling that it was his responsibility to alleviate her of the maniacal Brendan's control.
Bored by his pondering, Blue tapped his Skarmory on the head and caused the steely bird to fly a bit closer to Lucario.
"Couldn't bring the shiny with me, she's still too hurt to leave the Pokécenter…" Blue explained, trying to play on his sympathies, "… But if you don't mind the trip, I'm sure she would appreciate the company. She's all alone, you know. Waiting for someone to come visit her."
The elderly Blue could not hide his expression of excitement, but was still met with seriousness from Lucario. He knew all too well the reason why Rukario was in the hospital, and that it was high time to finish his business with her. It was not going to be easy – She had sacrificed herself to save his life, putting her in a very good bargaining position and making it a whole lot harder to justifiably smack her around like before. She had been right about him being Cyon, but considering how clingy she had been before, even alluding to that fact might bring about unwanted consequences. Lucario still had no idea how to handle the complicated scenario, but knew he had to deal with her sooner or later.
Red sat still on Raikou, shrugging lightly.
"No agenda. I simply wish to talk," he spoke short and concise while fixing his eyes into Lucario's, "Man to man."
"That's it? That's it! Time to choose, you get to decide which one of us to go with first!" Blue said loudly before directing the Skarmory to move back to the others, "Just walk up to the one you pick. Who will it be?"
Blue was smiling, Red looked tranquil and Brendan had a mischievous expression. Lucario was still recovering from the idea that he was not about to be murdered, and began to wonder what to do. Reuniting with the frail penguin he had abandoned, who had haunted him with guilt for the past two years. Checking up to see if Rukario was doing fine, thanking her for saving him and telling her about Cyon's fate. Or simply having a peaceful chat with Red, the god of Pokémon trainers who despite what he said probably had some agenda in mind. The more he thought about it, the obvious path became clearer. It was not as complicated as it had first seemed, and he swiftly made his decision.
Spitting on the ground in disgust, Lucario turned around and chose to head back inside the cave to get a drink. Blue's mouth fell open, Red sighing out loud as Brendan started laughing.
"Eyahahaha! First Ethan, now this! That's the second time we've been stood up!" Brendan cackled as Blue scratched the top of his head.
"Fine. It seems we must decide amongst ourselves!" Blue exclaimed while pounding his chest, "Obviously, I want to go first. Do I sense an approaching conflict?"
"I can wait for my turn," Red mentioned, apparently indifferent to this turn of events. Brendan's words had set his mind wandering, leading him back to the day over ten years ago when he was crowned eternal champion, a scene so similar to this one. It had been cold back then too, though there had been no snow. He had just gone up on stage with a much younger Blue and Brendan, both of them soaking up as much love from the audience as possible. Red personally had trouble greeting the thousands of unfamiliar faces admiring his status and achievements. Child prodigy, reigning undefeated champion until retirement, it was a success story that inspired a whole new generation and created an icon for people to look up to.
It felt a bit sad to let it all go. Even though they were mostly strangers, he knew they must have been disappointment in him when they realized that he was no longer the champ. The announcer once more reminded them of the results of the final battle at Pokémon Stadium, how Ethan had defeated the legendary Red in fair combat. It did not bother him as much as they probably thought, as he felt this was the perfect end to his legend. Finally being surpassed by the second generation, proving that the best trainers are not aging men but inspired youngsters. Hopefully Ethan would go through the same ritual, eventually defeated to continue the cycle Red had set into motion and thereby let his legacy remain.
And so, the crowning ceremony began. The crowd fell silent, holding their breaths while awaiting the arrival of the eternal champion Ethan. And they waited. And waited.
Murmurs could be heard as Red realized something was wrong. He had not seen Ethan since the aftermath of their battle, and tried his best to keep a straight face as the stage workers behind him erupted in chaos. He looked to his side, noticing Blue appeared just as confused as he was. Brendan, on the other hand, was smiling. A broad smile that only seemed to widen as time passed. The vicious champion noticed his stare and gave one right back.
"Hehehe…" Brendan snickered, "Don't you get it?"
Both my rival and I faced Brendan, the crowd too busy talking amongst themselves about this fiasco to hear him speak.
"Not even you, Blue?" Brendan continued as he lifted an eyebrow, "Hah! It's so obvious, so bleedin' obvious why he's not here!"
Straightening his trademark jacket, Brendan pointed out over the oblivious audience, letting his arms sweep the area.
"This extravagant ceremony… That precious title of 'eternal champion'… It doesn't mean shit to him!" Brendan burst out, grinning so hard it almost looked painful, "The fight was all he cared about! And because he won, this nonsense… It's all beneath him! To him, we're nothing!"
Brendan's smile remained unchanged as he let his arms stretch out wider. His head fell back to meet the skies with a fervent gaze. Immediately, he erupted into laughter.
"… Hah! Hahaha! Eyahahahahaha!" Brendan cackled as his voice echoed around the area, "He really became the very best!"
While Red was deep in the world of days bygone, Lucario found himself getting bored watching Brendan and Blue bicker back and forth as to who was going to manhandle him first. But every second was another second closer to Celebi returning to bail him out, unless they had already captured her. He could not sense her aura, and the idea of them handing her a snack and letting her off on her merry way seemed unlikely.
"Such meaningless arguments! We shall solve this through battle!" Brendan yelled while pulling out a Pokéball from his jacket, the red and white proving it was different from the one he had displayed before.
"That takes too long… I say we settle this with the foundation of all Pokémon battles!" Blue replied before holding up an open palm, "Rock-Paper-Scissors!"
Far too jaded to allow this to go on, Lucario decided that this was his best chance to escape and get drunk again. He had barely started walking towards the cave before a triumphant shout filled the air.
"I win!" Brendan's overly happy voice sounded, halting Lucario in his steps. He turned around and saw the big Suicune approaching him with graceful steps.
"So, Lucario! Here, climb up and…" Brendan said as he patted an empty spot on Suicune's back, before stopping himself and shrugging, "… Nah, that's just boring! Suicune, Ice Beam!"
Suicune had no intention of leaving his somber state to use such a strenuous attack and instead opened his mouth, spitting a large gob of saliva at Lucario. Turning around and stepping back in disgust, Lucario's lower body was drenched by saliva and he suddenly felt a chilling cold take grip of his legs. He lost his balance and fell over, his feet covered by a thin yet sturdy film of ice.
"Ahh! Hey!" Lucario yelped as he tried to get up, everything below his waist literally frozen in place, "I thought you were going to let me choose!"
"Come on, it'll be fun!" Brendan chimed as he dismounted and bent down next to Lucario, "It's like a playdate! Let's play pretend, you know, pretending this is a playdate and not a kidnapping!"
He picked up Lucario and hoisted him up on Suicune's back, showing a bit of difficulty due to the Pokémon's weight.
"No! Wait!" Lucario shouted in desperation, flailing about as much as possible in an attempt to escape what was clearly the worst case scenario, "I choose Blue! Red, save me!"
He mustered up his most harmless and innocent face as he stared over at Red, whose mind was still on Ethan. However, he met Lucario's gaze for a moment and it seemed to snap him out of his thoughts.
"Brendan, if that Lucario is not in pristine shape by the time my turn arrives…" Red said with a dangerous tone to his voice as Brendan energetically leaped back up on Suicune.
"Relax, I couldn't break a physical specimen like this even if I wanted to!" he joked before looking back at Lucario and scratching his chin, "Actually, I think I could. Hmm… I should at least try before making erroneous conclusions!"
"This is bullshit!" Lucario yelled one last time, suddenly realizing what a fool he was for thinking he had a choice in the first place. Brendan kicked Suicune's sides, and the somewhat sleepy dog set off into the morning's sunrise.
They traveled for a few minutes, the alcoholic content of Lucario's stomach shaking nauseously against Suicune's galloping. Lucario sensed the aura of those in Nomad's Land trail off together with Raikou's and Skarmory's, but considering the situation he was now he, he paid little mind to their current well-being. Brendan continued muttering to himself and did not seem to understand anything Lucario said, and Suicune himself was as quiet as a razed mausoleum. The ice around his legs eventually melted and he could have used a burst of aura at any moment for one last spiteful blow, but knew that pissing off Suicune and Brendan at this point was probably akin to signing his own death warrant, which sounded a whole lot worse now than it did two years prior. His sadness over Mew's passing seemed so far away, aware that his own life was at stake again.
"Perfect!" Brendan suddenly said, the word going unnoticed by Lucario until he received a sharp kick to his gut, threatening to unload it as he tumbled off Suicune's rear and fell into the snow. Standing up and wondering what hellish destination he had been brought to, all he could see was an endless expanse of snowfields.
"There's nothing here, so we need to make something happen!" Brendan continued with glee, "Get it?"
Lucario clutched his stomach and stifled a sour burp, filling his mouth with the taste of stale beer and bile. The horrible flavor reminded him of his first kiss, an association he knew would haunt him for the rest of his life. Reminded of his recent decadent lifestyle, he was definitively not in the mood for a battle. Beseeching Brendan's better judgment, he quietly nodded in response. The champion looked disappointed by his compliance for a moment before reaching into his jacket.
"Well, let's get the dull part over with first," Brendan muttered as he suddenly pulled out a purple Pokéball. Immediately the portable containment facility clicked open and a red light shot out, crashing down in front of Lucario and taking on the familiar shape of a certain penguin he had not seen in what seemed like a hundred chapters.