Friendship Evolution

~A Heat Tag fanfiction

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Another day, another contest. She was on a roll, that was for sure. It just wasn't the kind of roll Dawn wanted be on; a losing streak. There had been nothing she could see that was wrong in her performances, so why she had nothing to show for her effort was quite the question. Today's contest was being held in Celadon City in Kanto; a region she had been traveling in the past few months. Actually, almost a year now, if she stopped to count.

And still, Ribbon #5 eluded her completely, and with the situation of there being a dwindling number of remaining contests before the Kanto Grand Festival, she felt the pressure to win, big-time. Anyone that told her to relax was wasting their time; the poor girl couldn't be shook out of her malaise, not even by a Bubblebeam courtesy of her starter.

It was time for the appeals in round one. She was determined to make it to round two this time, surely!

"And our next coordinator is Dawn, from Twinleaf Town in Sinnoh!" The MC turned to face the entrance to the stage just in time for her to run out to make her first impression.

She deferred first to the crowd, bowing demurely in their direction. Then she drew out the single Pokeball covered in a ball capsule, and tossed it into the air without a word.

A large creature resembling a bat emerged in a burst of golden stars, spreading its blue-and-purple wings and emitting a screech-like cry. It soared immediately into action, circling above its Trainer's head in slow repetition, tracing a new flight pattern every time. It was clear to the audience that this Golbat was well-trained, as it showed off even while awaiting the first command.

Dawn paused for only a split second before making her move. "Golbat, use Haze!"

The bat-like Pokemon sprung into action, flying straight up and spreading open its inhumanly large jaws. From its open mouth, a smoky mist poured forth, covering the battle field entirely. In the bleachers, they could see nothing, not Golbat, nor its trainer, who had remained calm throughout the spectacle. A tense silence hung in the air while the Haze loomed over everyone, an intimidating front. There was something about losing full use of one your five senses that unnerved people. And with a Pokemon like Golbat, that was the appeal that showcased its qualities best. Flowers and sunshine wouldn't have seemed appropriate.

Once she was satisfied that she'd had the effect she was aiming for, Dawn called the next command, all while trying to spot Golbat through the haze. She trusted her to pull this off, but like any normal person, she had a desire to watch her partner carry out the appeal. "Now, use your Mean Look, Golbat, and you're doing great!"

Dawn remembered when she'd caught Golbat. It had been an unlikely choice, given it was a bit more dangerous-looking than the rest of her team. But looks had never been important for a Pokemon in her eyes, and she'd fallen for Golbat's unique charm when they'd met in Rock Tunnel coming down from Cerulean City. If anything, it'd been a fun challenge getting to know a new type of Pokemon, and finding out how to show it off best in the contests. She only wished they had won once. Golbat seemed to be feeling as down as she was about their losing streak, and it had to be hard for her to have never helped in a winning contest.

Maybe today would be their lucky day.

A shadowy image projected forward towards the stand. Glowing, red eyes, and a mouth shaped like it was bearing fangs lurched towards the spectators like in a 3-D movie. A few people tipped back in their seats, irrationally afraid that the Mean Look could reach out and touch them. The effect of it coming out of the haze made things all the more eerie, given the build-up before hand with not being able to see the surroundings of the contest hall.

Serenely unaffected, the young coordinator merely gauged a proper transition, and ordered a Rain Dance.

Golbat slid effortlessly through the toxic haze, its wings moving slow and purposefully. Somewhere up in the storm, clouds appeared, gray and pregnant with water vapor. The anticipation in the hall was at a fever-pitch. All persons, judges and spectators alike, found themselves drawn to look straight up at the ceiling where the changes were taking place. Their ears were invaded with the solitary, unnerving beat of wings cutting through air. The smell was misty and indicative of the rain about to fall. Here was where her whole strategy came into fruition. Dawn was nearly staggered with the pressure of it all, and her desire to win this time. Golbat too, even though being the performer gave it a sense of detachment.

The first precipitation fell, sliding down the space and meeting with the poisonous feeling Haze. The combination of it was unexpected. Weight and form being given to the particles created a multitude of small sludge bombs raining down over the center stage. The audience could only watch, dry-mouthed as it played out.

It was kill strike time.

"Use Endure!"

Like the Mean Look previously, the effect was a harsh red glow. Only this time, the sheen took over Golbat's own body, shielding it from the pelting hail of sludge. Each one bounced off the bubble as if it were solid, harmlessly dropping to the stage floor, where they sizzled for a moment, and then disappeared. Legions and legions of them soon followed, until finally, the rain halted, and whatever remaining haze there was faded away. Golbat was left in the midst of it all, glow slowly dissapating like the surrounding conditions. Both it and Dawn waited anxiously for the response from everyone else.

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A healthy cheer roared forth from those seated, some of the ones in the lower stands clamoring against the barrier to show her their thoughts on the whole. She smiled eagerly, waving one hand, the other keeping a firm grasp on Golbat's Pokeball. A part of her still felt guarded, not wanting to hope for too much. She would be very glad for this all to be over, and to get out of here, definitively knowing her fate in the event.

But, one foot in front of the other, and take things as they come. She knew that was her reality. The judging was next.

"Wow, a startling performance. Let's see what our judges have to say!"

The MC turned, microphone in hand, to face the table.

"The atmosphere these two were able to create was unique, and some of the moves were surprising. A well-rounded effort!"

"Remarkable!" But that was pretty much a given, coming from Sukizo, Dawn thought to herself idly.

And finally, from the city's resident Nurse Joy, "I love the way she brought out Golbat's true nature, and its hardy spirit through the performance; it was truly a delight to see!"

Aha, mostly good ratings!

They delighted her more than her performance had done for them, for it meant she had a chance. And a chance was all she and Golbat needed. If they could just make it through to the battle portion, she had no doubt about their ability to take the whole thing. Golbats were naturally good fighters, it was just their unusual brand of elegance that made them unusual to be put in contests.

So yes, she was going to need that chance. Now, to wait it out in the room behind the scenes.

She had always abhored the waiting. She was sure all coordinators did, but it was worse when you hadn't been doing too well.

She saw no one, heard no one, and spoke to no one. She was unnaturally introverted for the next twenty minutes, bracing herself for what the powers-that-be had decided.

And then it happened. Just...happened.

... Her picture wasn't up there.

And unfortunately, that was that for this contest.

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Many people are too proud to ask questions when they don't know the answer already. Dawn had never been that sort of person, however. She knew that the only way to make progress was to get help when she needed it, instead of being a bump on a log just because she didn't want to admit she had no clue. And this situation definitely called for it. She was trying hard not to psych herself out too much – that would only lead to disaster – but, four in a row was appropriately devastating. It wasn't just about winning, this was her dream, to be Top Coordinator, and she felt it slipping from her grasp with every small loss.

It was time to ask for help. She had been thinking a lot lately about trying to evolve Golbat into a Crobat, thinking it might improve on the performance. She had had a lot of ideas, but this one was at the forefront of her brainstorming. She was pretty sure Golbats evolved via friendship, but she wasn't sure what that entailed, if she could do anything to help the process along, what she should be doing, etcetera. Luckily for her, she happened to have a certain friend who, in general, could answer any question she could dream up. Even luckier, they were in the same city this time, and so they could cross paths easily. It wasn't always so simple, given their journeys were very different. She was dedicated to her first love, contests, and he tried a bit of everything, but mostly gym battles.

It was as if this was meant to happen.

She was currently waiting on him to arrive, sitting at a table near the back of the Pokemon Center, metaphorically twiddling her thumbs while staring dreamily out the window. Even if everything went not according to plan and he didn't have any information for her, it was still a really nice evening to be out with a friend. She was looking forward to seeing him again, which if she thought about it, probably would have confused her younger self.

They weren't always friends; that was a recent development, about a year or so.

It had been in Hoenn when they'd ended up running into each other in one of the major towns, and as things happen, they ended up getting to talking. He had been the only familiar face in that town, and once they'd had their polite catch-up, Dawn had decided that maybe he wasn't so strange after all. Quirky, that was undeniable, but not quite as in-her-business as he had been before. It made him more approachable as a person.

After that stop along the road, they'd even briefly traveled to the next city together, which had been a favorable experience, and had cemented the first bonds of friendships for good. Every now and then, he'd end up in the audience at one of her contests and they'd hang out afterwards, and she could honestly say she'd grown fond of him. Of her acquaintances from her first journey in Sinnoh, she probably saw the most of Conway. So that was probably only natural she'd feel that way.

Dawn never really gave much thought to it though, she preferred for life to make its twists and turns without her fussing or over-thinking it too much. What happened was bound to happen; she put a lot of stock in the theory of kismet.

Was she doing the right thing by wanting to evolve Golbat? She had asked the Pokemon its thoughts before, and the bat had seemed to agree to whatever she thought was best, but Dawn still wondered.

Ah, but that could always be another question. And there he was now!

"Hi!" she exclaimed, standing up to greet him. Now that he was actually here, she was feeling better about her future prospects. Just having someone to talk things over with was a major plus in any big decision.

"Hello yourself, Dawn."

As always, there was more he wanted to say, but that would have to come later. If he ever worked up the nerve to say it, that is.

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"Hmm, so you want to evolve your Golbat."

"Well... yeah, I think so. I'm not a hundred-percent yet, but it might help, so I'm considering it. Fourth straight loss today..." she trailed off, looking especially forlorn. This concerned him, as given how he felt about her, any time she seemed down was a blow to his mood as well.

"I'm sorry about that. I thought you were due for a win this time! You've been working so hard lately."

"Thanks... I guess the other people were just better. You can't win them all."

"Next time." He nodded firmly to back it up, and she didn't argue with the sentiment as it suited her. She certainly hoped next time would be as fruitful for her as he was making it out to be. More than just a morale booster, a win was slowly becoming necessary if she wanted to advance on to the Grand Festival this year. There just weren't many opportunities left to secure her final ribbon.

"You know it evolves via friendship, I gather?"

"Oh, yes..." she paused, looking sheepish. "The Pokedex said so, anyway."

Conway chose not to say anything, preferring to let her have her moment before continuing with this spiel. She did look rather cute when she admitted that, and he had fond memories of her predilection to reference her Pokedex for every small question. For some inexplicable reason it amused him, and it was one of her unique quirks, one of the many things that drew him to her in the first place.

"The only way to do that is to bond. And I don't mean spend time with it, walk it through Amity Square, or any of that nonsense. I mean something a bit more tangible than that. All the trainers I've known in the past to accomplish this evolution have shared blood with their Golbats, and in the transfer, their companion imbues a trace amount of venom into the bloodstream. Nothing dangerous, but that's how it's done."

The look on her face plainly expressed how concerned she was by the insight. With her mouth gaping open, she was replete with shock, and her only word was, "Venom...?"

He shrugged, probably used to that brand of reaction, and continued his explanation.

"It goes away after a day or so. The body has ways of negating toxins that are plenty efficient. After all if it didn't, we'd probably have a younger shelf life, us humans."

She leaned back in her seat, and rested both hands on the table. Her eyes were closed as she tried to absorb the words as they came, all while forming an opinion on the madness. It was clear she still wasn't sold on it. He knew it was a hard sell, and the strange thing was, he actually wasn't trying to convince her of anything. It was up to her if she wanted to go through with it, he just wanted her to be fully informed, as she had chosen to ask him more about it.

In the back of his mind, he hoped he hadn't scared her off the Pokemon entirely. All Pokemon were good, they deserved to be treated like their fellows. Some had bizarre quirks about them, but that shouldn't be cause for shunning them. In his educated opinion.

"Look, they call it a friendship evolution, and in a fashion it is. You're proving your connection with your Pokemon by this exchange. Your utter trust. Any old scoundrel wouldn't have the gall to do it, I don't think. You'd have to be close to them to follow through."

"Surely this isn't real." Her expression had settled on incredulous. "I mean, the Pokedex certainly never told me to do that if I wanted to evolve my Golbat. Uh...Togepi... the Chansey line... and other Pokemon evolve via friendship, and there is no 'ritual' involved. You're just good friends, and one day, at the right time, they change into the new form."

"You're not wrong about that, Dawn."

She sighed. Knowing already that even though he conceded that much to her, there would be still more explanation to come. He was nothing if not thorough. It was amazing how much he knew about Pokemon, she had to admit, but her attention span was not the best, and the subject wasn't particularly light-hearted, making it not the type of conversation she generally preferred to enter into. Yet, she had asked him in the first place. She thought she might as well hear the rest, whatever that ended up being.

"The ones you listed...that is how the course goes with them. But the most important thing to remember is that though it goes against the feel-good saying of 'don't judge a book by its cover', you can tell so much about a Pokemon by their appearance." He gave her a sympathetic sort of look before continuing, "What type they are, what sort of nature they might have... it can all be ascertained by a glance. Golbats are not demure, happiness-bringing Normal-types. They're cave dwellers; nocturnal. They possess fangs that secrete venom. They're a bit intimidating or even downright frightening to some people. What goes for a Togepi does not go for a Golbat. They're too different for the process to operate the same."

"I think I understand your point, but it's just so dark to consider. I'm not sure if I have the stomach for it."

"Then don't try. You have to be absolutely willing for it to work, anyway. Pokemon, animals... they have instincts better than ours. They can sense fear, among other things. Evolution amongst fear is not a good evolution. Changing forms is disorienting enough for the Pokemon without negative feelings all around, or the pressure to evolve because that's what the Trainer wants."

"Yet it happens every day. Do you ever think we shouldn't evolve them, Conway?"

"Dawn, it's not us evolving them. They do it on their own free will, essentially, but most of them grow so close to us that they, like our friends, aim to please us or to protect us if that's the case. We have nothing physically to do with the process. So, don't worry about it." He smiled.

Dawn laughed softly to fill the silence. It was true, but she was still disconcerted about the whole thing. Disillusioned, maybe. This whole thing with Golbat was the first mention of the darker side of Pokemon that she'd ever personally come into contact with. She couldn't help how it affected her.

He put one hand over hers on the table now, and made eye contact.

"Are you all right?"

"Uh, fine. I think I won't be trying that, but I'm fine. Golbat...she's a really great Pokemon on her own. She doesn't need to evolve. We'll just work hard to learn new moves on our own."

"That sounds great, Dawn, it does."

"Something's got to give by now. And if I don't win, I guess there's always next year. That's the positives. And... in a way, if I think about it, this has been a learning experience for me. I think if I'm honest with myself, the first one I lost this year, I can't say it was unlucky. I just didn't give that contest the same effort I usually do. Not on purpose, but I think I was getting too overconfident that maybe I tripped myself up without knowing it."

He paused for a moment to consider this. It was true that he hadn't been there to see that specific performance, but another once where she'd lost, and it wasn't for lack of talent. No, Dawn was very talented, and he didn't just believe that because he liked her. It was plain for anyone to see who watched her on stage with her Pokemon. It was certainly possible overconfidence had been the linchpin to her recent losing streak. It happened to the best of trainers, so it couldn't be ruled out.

"Well, you know yourself better than I do. Do you think that's really what it was?" he settled for saying. He happened to glance down at their hands still placed together on top of the table, and mentally sweat-dropped. It was impressive that she hadn't given up the contact, but it put him ill at ease wondering about her motivations for such behavior, or was she just as distracted as he had been and not noticed?

"I think it probably is... but hey, you know me pretty well, Conway. Kinda looking for your thoughts here, if ya don't mind," she paused and laughed merrily, despite the subject matter they'd been discussing. "I have enough time alone to know what my own opinion is."

Another thing he liked about Dawn was her authenticity. Too many people asked for others' opinions with no intention taking your words to heart, or more than half the time, they had no desire to hear your view at all but asked anyway. When she posed a question, she really considered what the answerer had to say, and was more prone to follow their advice than her own instincts. Which did lead her into trouble at times, but she was unabashedly who she was; not afraid of bumps in the road. It was a rare and admirable trait, and it made her special to him.

"I think... that whatever it was, it's behind you. You have a good head on your shoulders, and I fully believe you're going to win next time. Just the fact that you seem to have identified the problem has more than solved it. People who are overconfident hardly notice when they're being that way, so now that you're aware, you can't possibly do it when the next performance rolls along, so it'll turn out much better. You already have the skill, and now your attitude's right again. I'd say that's a recipe for success!"

She beamed from ear-to-ear at that comment, and made no attempt to conceal how delighted it made her. Which in turn, made him feel good as well.

"I don't even know what to say! But that was really sweet. It was."

"It was also honest."

"Oh please," she grinned sassily now. "You're clearly just telling me what I want to hear. Friends are notoriously the most dishonest people you can ask questions to."

"Well then, Dawn, be my guest to not ask for my supposedly dishonest opinion in future."

"Nope! No way I'm giving it up. I like it too much, even if it is all sweet talk. Ha, you should know by now that us girls are into that stuff."

"I'll make a mental note of it," he monotoned pretend-gravely. "If at first you don't succeed, flatter, flatter again."

"Right!" She smiled, and then completely changed tack.

"Hey, do you wanna go for a walk in the Celadon Gardens?"

"I don't see why not," he answered, matching her expression. "The night's still young."

As if he'd ever say no to spending extra time with her, he thought to himself bemusedly. But of course, she wouldn't know the reasoning behind that, not likely. Maybe in the past she would have caught on to his affection for her, but he believed he'd been more covert the last year or so. It had been hard, but he'd had to be honest with himself that the way he initially went about wooing his darling had been too...bold. Taking a step back and enjoying the companionship along a more natural time line had proven the better way of going about it.

And when the right opportunity presented itself, he just hoped he'd know what to say.

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"I'm so glad we're friends, you know?"

They had been walking around the beautiful maze of the Celadon Gardens for approximately ten minutes when she put this to him, and even the Pidgey roosting in the sturdy elm trees along the path seemed to share his displeasure upon hearing that phrase. He could have even sworn that one of the Pidgey opened its eye and then turned away, as if to say 'You're on your own, buddy.'

But apart from unsympathetic Flying-types, there was his reaction.

No, I don't, but please don't elaborate. There literally was no other word that was a downer quite like the f-word. And no, not the profanity rhyming with 'stuck', but the f-riend word. It was a frigid sort of word that meant the end of all hope for romance in the future.

"I feel like I can ask you anything, and that is so awesome. You don't even know how great it really is."

You seem to have confused what I know with what I don't again, dear.

The thing was, friendship evolutions are not held to the same standard with humans as with Pokemon. The latter is straightforward, the former being anything but. It was often very unclear how to make that evolution when you were a man and a woman as opposed to a Togepi. It was slightly off-subject, he knew, but Conway felt like if at any time, he could have used the cheering up a Togepi brought right now.

"Are you okay? You're awfully quiet, Conway. It isn't like you." She had stopped mid-walk, and turned to give him the once-over. Concern colored her expression into a half-worried, half-hopeful mixture that said to him, 'Is it my fault?'

And that was the kicker. It was partially her fault that he was so without words tonight, but secondly, he never wanted to admit his princess did anything wrong, and lastly, it wasn't like she knew that she was doing it. On her side - and he could look at both - she probably thought she was being kind. A good friend by saying how much she loved their companionship. And it meant a lot to him, it really did, but he selfishly couldn't help but want more.

"Okay, don't tell me."

Trouble ahead for him? He did wonder at this new, abrupt change of subject.

"Actually, you'll have to tell me once I ask you, but not before I finish the question, 'kay?" She waited, and got her acknowledgment in the form of a nod. "And be honest!" She wagged a finger in his face all while smiling cutely.

"Am I making you nervous? Is that why you're being so...off?" She said it so promptly that he wouldn't even had time to make a fool of himself or interrupt her.

"Dawn, that's two questions."

She rolled her eyes. "And you're avoiding them both! At least pick one and give an answer if you're going to be stingy with your responses now, mister."

For some reason, he had never found her to be more beautiful than when she was bantering back with him. He knew she wasn't really mad at him, just like she (probably) knew that he was being difficult on purpose. And he intended that the bantering would be the only difficulty between her and him. For now that he had an inkling that word wasn't to be the demise of romance like he feared it had, he felt quite restored to his usual cheeky self.

"Yes."

"To which question?"

"Ah, but my dear, I actually answered both with one yes. Yes to the second query you put forth in fact validates the first question with an affirmative as well."

With the next face she pulled, he could tell she was trying really hard to hold herself from blurting out "Huh?"

It was eminently adorable, and so very typical of her that he had to smile before making his confession.

"What it all boils down to is... I like you, Dawn. I would be most honored to be your friend, and I hope that whatever happens, we'll always be friends, but I'd also like it if you would do me the honor of being my... girlfriend. I could be getting this all wrong, and I admit my evidence is tenuous, but I think you like-"

He never finished that well-structured sentence. In a whir of activity, her arms flew around him in an enthusiastic sort of hug, and inexplicably (because even he couldn't think of how to explain his luck) she was standing on her toes, and making the blessed first move.

"Mmm."

Her lips were suddenly so very close to his own, and he was half-thrilled that he might actually be getting his first kiss from the girl he adored, and half distracted by the woe at feeling like he really should have been the one to go in to kiss her.

"You're over-thinking it," she whispered, and cute was not the word to describe her tone.

He laughed shakily.

"You know me..." was his lame attempt at a punch line. Having Dawn so close in his personal space for once - instead of the other way around - was both a liberating and an unnerving experience. His very well-developed brain was having a hard time getting anything brilliant out under these conditions.

"Know you, like you..." Her vivid blue eyes met his own darker ones. And he figured out some things. He hadn't missed the first move opportunity after all. She was waiting on him. And he realized that he'd forgotten that underneath this new side of Dawn that actually bantered with him, she was still the same girl, and she was in all respects, girly. Their expectations as to who kisses who were oddly coinciding.

So, how in Arceus' name could he deny his own wishes and hers too?

Taking the plunge, he leaned in that last inch and kissed her but good. Her arms tightened in their hold of him when he did, and that felt exceptional.

Things had clearly just advanced to the next stage.

Friendship evolutions could be a tricky business, but they weren't completely hopeless after all.

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Author's note: The hardest thing about writing this was reeling myself in from making an Absol-utely cringe-worthy, corny joke about him gaining 'experience' points as their friendship evolution took him to the next level. But I guess that's pointless since I just told you now. Oy, my brain sometimes, let me tell ya...

Anyway, I do hope you enjoyed this story, and if you'd be so kind as to leave me a review, grazie mille! But if not, then thanks for just reading.

Finally, for those of you who are old enough and interested, I have also written a M-rated fic about this couple called "Tonight". If you click on my profile and go down the page, you'll find all the stories I've ever written for this account, and it'll be near the top if you want to read it. Happy searching, readers.