Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon or any related characters.

When Irwin began his journey, it wasn't anything special. In fact, he didn't even go to Pallet Town to get a starter Pokemon like everyone at school had. He wasn't interested in a Pokedex or getting a rare Pokemon from Professor Oak- actually, he was positive he hadn't even been interested in taking the Gym Challenge. No, he'd simply wanted to go on an adventure. One like he and Ryan had always talked about, where there would be lots of danger, but they would always make it through together, relying on the strength of their Pokemon; an adventure where they would fight Team Rocket alongside Gym Leaders and become famous.

Irwin had lived in Celadon under the care of his grandfather along with his older brother, Eusine. Eusine never seemed to care about going on a journey, himself. He had been more interested in researching Pokemon, or perfecting his magic tricks, or reading new myths and legends. Irwin always teased him that the only trick he would never be able to pull off was making a suicune appear in his party. Eusine would promptly tell Irwin that he would never be able to juggle more than two bean bags, and that he needed to shut up because the Legend-obsessed trainer was on the phone with Morty. Eusine spent quite a lot of time with his friend from Johto, truth be told, and so Irwin had to regularly find entertainment elsewhere.

He had met Ryan one fateful day when he'd been out juggling at the mall to see if he could earn any money from the people there (he didn't). Everything about the other boy had been calm and casual- his stride, his clothes, his smile... He'd come up to Irwin's table with a milkshake in his hand and politely asked if he could sit. Irwin had shrugged non-commitedly. He had just been kicked out of Wiseman's Gifts for "disturbing the customers" and "jeopardizing merchandise" with his mad juggling skills, and was pouting over a nice, steaming bowl of stir-fry.

"Why the long face?" Ryan had asked. Irwin told him, and the brown-haired youth had only laughed. "Man, that's no good," he'd said. "That shopkeep is so uptight, the last time I went in he kicked me out because I had headphones he didn't carry. I'm Ryan, by the way."

"Nice t'meetcha, Ryan," Irwin had replied. "I'm Irwin." And so had blossomed the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Ryan was from Lavender Town, living with his mother, who was divorced, and his grandfather, Mr. Fuji, who ran a Pokemon shelter that Ryan spent most of his free time helping with. Apparently, Ryan didn't have many friends- he claimed shyness, and that the other kids at Lavender High were too intimidating; he just wasn't tough enough to hold up against so many paranoid children. He was also quiet and bookish. Every time Irwin saw him, he was carrying some new, large book, or reading something- oftentimes Ryan would read the labels on food cans or boxes just for the sake of being able to read something while they talked. Irwin had never been quite sure how he managed to keep track of a plot and a conversation at the same time.

Ryan seemed surprised to find that Irwin lacked friends, himself. Irwin was often overshadowed by his older, more popular, more accomplished brother, but that wasn't even the half of it. His peers thought he was the weirdest thing in existence- weirder than a Garbodur, or a Ditto, or even a Magnemite. When other children talked about wanting to become the Pokemon Master or the Head Coordinator, Irwin spoke longingly of breaking the records for the longest distance traveled on an Electrode without falling off, or the most Voltorb juggled by a single person. Hell, he wanted to be the best damn Voltorb juggler in the world, and he didn't care if he was famous or not for it. Let Eusine be famous for an amazing discovery, let his classmates be famous for being good Pokemon trainers. Irwin had just wanted to juggle.

And Ryan was only one who ever seemed to encourage him.

"What, no new trick today?" he'd ask the moment Irwin would step off the train from Celadon.

"Well what about you?" Irwin would reply, poking him soundly in the head. "You were reading the same book the last time I came to visit! The Count of Newmoon Island can't be that long, can it?"

As the passage of time took its course, Irwin and Ryan spent more and more of it together. It gave each of them the excuse to finally go out and get a Pokegear; Eusine had gotten really pissy at Irwin the twelfth or so time he went to borrow his. The first time Irwin had called Ryan was actually fairly amusing in its awkward sort of way. The two had remained silent for all of ten minutes after greeting each other, not quite sure how to talk over the phone (Ryan had expressed his confusion and blamed it on the fact that he'd only ever used a phone to call his mother when she was away; Irwin honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd used a Pokegear for anything besides a radio), when Irwin had finally asked, out of the blue, "so... how's your mom?" And he had instantly regretted it, because instead of breaking the metaphorical ice as he had intended, the feeling of immense awkward had only thickened when Ryan replied a hesitant, confused "...fine?" They became silent for a few seconds longer before all of a sudden they began giggling, and their giggles turned to laughter not long after that. From that point on Irwin began all of his phone calls the same way.

Their weekends, however, never ran into this little awkwardness problem- Saturdays usually found Irwin taking the train to Lavender, where he and Ryan would help Mr. Fuji with his Pokemon Shelter, and Irwin would spend the night. On Sunday, the two found themselves at the Celadon department store tormenting the shop keepers or playing the slots at the game corner. It was often Sunday that they would talk about their plans, their futures.

"I think I'd like to be a doctor," Ryan would say as he pulled the lever at the slot machine. "A Pokemon doctor, you know? Work at a center, scold the trainers for pushing their Pokemon too hard... Or for dropping them too many times." He would nudge Irwin in the ribs when he said that, and Irwin would simply roll his eyes good-naturedly.

"Yeah, I'll make sure to seek you out when I accidentally give my Pokemon a concussion," he'd reply. "But since I'll have to travel for my shows, you'll have to come with me."

"For the sake of those poor Voltorb," Ryan always agreed somberly. And they would laugh and carry on and act like morons. They would always stop by the Prize Corner before they left, so Ryan could gaze longingly at the Vulpix, and lament his bad luck at the slots and his meager allowance. He really, really wanted one. And so that year, for Christmas, Irwin presented his valued friend with a Vulpix of his very own. It took a huge chunk of Irwin's cash- he blew it all on the slots, playing for hours on end after school, skipping his homework, getting to the point where both Eusine and the school counselor staged multiple interventions claiming that he "had a problem". And in some ways Irwin had agreed with them. He knew that what he done hadn't been healthy, and that he had not only been playing to win something for his friend, but that he had slowly gotten himself addicted (for he didn't stop going to the game corner even after he'd won the damn Vulpix), but the way Ryan's eyes had lit up at the sight of the orange kitsune, the way the grin had stretched impossibly wide over his face- it made it all worth it. It was also the trigger for a very important moment in his life.

"Irwin," Eusine had sighed when he had come back from visiting Morty in Johto only to find his little brother skipping school to play the slots again, "do we need to have another chat with Mrs. Tani?"

"I don't have a problem," Irwin immediately denied, his concentrated scowl never leaving the reels. Eusine didn't grace that with a comment.

"I think it's time you set out," he announced after a moment in which Irwin hit three Meowth in a row. "So, happy early birthday." And he'd held out a Pokeball; it had contained a Voltorb- Irwin's first Voltorb. Irwin abandoned his game long enough to blink down at the Voltorb through the transparent cover of the ball.

"Who's gonna take care of Grampa?" Irwin had asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Leave that to me," Eusine replied. "I've already talked to Ms. Fuji. Ryan will be going with you. You leave Monday."

"Awesome!" Irwin smirked. "That gives me four days to clean up, here." Eusine's eyebrows raised in mild amusement.

"You'll be staying with them until then, actually," he corrected. "Here's some money for the train; Lugia knows you probably don't have any." And he'd sent Irwin on his merry way. Irwin had been disgruntled on one hand that Eusine had pretty much forced him away from his game- which he'd been quite obviously winning (like a boss)- but that had been greatly overshadowed by excitement. He named his Voltorb on the train- Livewire. And he dreamed of the excitement he and Ryan had always wished for. But his journey wasn't the only odd thing announced that day.

"I've changed my mind about what I want to be," Ryan had said after dinner, when the two boys were setting up the extra futon in Ryan's room.

"Oh?" Irwin prompted. "What's that, then?"

"I want to be in the Elite Four," the brown-haired youth said in determination. Irwin frowned.

"You hate Pokemon battles." Fact. Ryan thought they were unethical as hell, and that the laws concerning battles were too lax. Death matches were only illegal in official League battles, and that was primarily to keep the Gyms (and schools) clean. Out in the field, it was free game. Sure, many people looked down upon them, but you couldn't go to prison or get fined because of it. That was why the Team Rocket member who killed the poor Marowak wasn't arrested. He never broke any laws- and Ryan despised that.

"Yeah," Ryan agreed. "I'll hate making Smoke do that. But the E-4 lays the laws, y'know?" He shook his head. "I want to make everything safer for the Pokemon. And the best way to do it is to wriggle my way in."

"Well, I'll be right behind you, every step of the way." Irwin had grinned at him. "Between the two of us, we can definitely make our way to the top." They laughed and things became less serious, and they joked around and chatted until Ryan's mother hollered for them to go to bed. The next day was when things took another turn- this time for the worse. Ryan had woken Irwin early, quite by accident, as he rushed around the room, looking for his pencils and watch. "What the hell are you doing at six in the morning?" Irwin had groaned after getting a good look at the alarm clock on Ryan's desk.

"I'm testing for my Trainer's License today," Ryan replied distractedly. "I have to do it today to get the card in time so I can be eligible for this season." Irwin groaned.

"You put it off this long?" he complained. "That's like something I would do!" Ryan had simply laughed and smiled his calm smile before darting out the door. It was 7:37 when Ms. Fuji received the call informing her of Ryan's collapse in the middle of the test. Irwin vaguely remembered his panic as he pulled on some sweats and sandals and hopped into Ms. Fuji's car, where they went to wait at the hospital. Ryan was okay, they had been told upon arrival. He was to be able to go home that afternoon- but he wouldn't be able to get his license in time for the new League season.

"This sucks," Ryan had sighed when they finally made it home. The doctor had ordered bed rest- he hadn't eaten much recently and was dangerously low on energy when he'd gone into the test, and on top of that was running a fever. "Looks like I won't be able to go with you this year."

"Hey, c'mon," Irwin replied. "It's okay. I'll wait for you, and we'll start together." Ryan shook his head and smiled sadly.

"No. You should go on Monday." He snickered. "If only to get over your gambling problem." When Irwin had looked unconvinced, he went on. "Oh, c'mon. I'll study up here and I'll be able to catch up to you next year. It'll be fine. And we can still use the Pokegear to talk." And that push was all Irwin needed. That Monday, when Eusine came to see them off, they told him of what happened- and that Irwin was going to set out, anyways.

"I'm glad you're still going through with this," the Suicune-chaser had said, smiling. "We'll make sure Ryan's back up on his feet in no time."

"I really appreciate this, everyone." Irwin shook Eusine's hand, gave Ms. Fuji a one-armed hug, and turned to Ryan. The other boy grinned at him and gave him a thumbs-up.

"Make me proud, Irwin," he said, winking. Irwin smirked.

"Yeah, I'll try not to drop Livewire too much. And you get better soon, yeah?" he replied. Ryan nodded and pet Smoke's soft fur absent-mindedly. Irwin couldn't help but chuckle, and he leaned over to give Ryan the largest hug he could muster. "See you around."

"See ya." With one last smile over his shoulder, Irwin made his way down the stairs and out of the house, taking the first steps of his new adventure.

That was pretty much how he found himself here, out in the wilderness around Viridian City, nearly a year later. He called Ryan every day, right after he made camp or rented a room at a center. He had seven badges- he was scheduled for his battle against the Viridian Gym Leader the very next day, and although he was confident in his team, he was weary. Ground-types were never part of his preferred opponents list. He was right outside Viridian, actually- he could have rented a center if he wanted to, but this was cheaper. He wanted to save his money for Hyper Potions and Paralyze Heals and Freeze Heals at the E4, because he knew Ryan would give him a hard time if he didn't. He was dialing Ryan's number at that moment, in fact.

"Hello?" Irwin grinned.

"Ryan, hey!" he greeted. "How's your mom?" He could just picture Ryan rolling his eyes at that.

"She's fine. Just like yesterday. Where are you?"

"I'm on Route 2, just outside of Viridian. I'm gonna fight the Gym Leader tomorrow."

"Wow...," Ryan breathed. "Irwin, you're almost there! This is amazing! Man, I wish I could come see it..." Irwin frowned.

"You're not able to?" he asked. "I thought your mom was cool with it. It's not like you'd be going out for a hike or anything." The pair had long since accepted that Ryan would never be able to journey as a Trainer; it hadn't been more than a few days into Irwin's own journey when they found out.

"I'm hypoglycemic," Ryan had said, shrugging. "They've got me on insulin and everything. No journeys for me." Irwin had been crest-fallen.

"I'll come back," he had declared. "I'm not gonna keep going if you can't." But Ryan had only given him a look, a pleading look, similar to the one he had worn every time they had stopped at the game corder to look at the Vulpix.

"No, Irwin," he said, shaking his head. "Please, you need to keep going. Please, get the death matches outlawed. I can't do anything about it anymore and... well, Irwin, look, please, I'm begging you, here." And Irwin knew he couldn't say no. And so he gathered badges and trained hard, and here he was, hailed by Kanto as possibly one of the most powerful trainers alive as he simply blew through the Gyms, and with only Electric-types, too.

"I've gotten sick again," Ryan said sheepishly, breaking Irwin from his thoughts. "I'm not supposed to go out." Irwin sighed.

"Man... I thought you'd be here for this one..." He paused, and there was an awkward silence. He mentally beat himself with a stick. He didn't need to make Ryan feel worse than he probably already did. "Well, that's fine. You'll be with me in spirit!" He smiled when Ryan whole-heartedly agreed, and their discussion turned away from the league battles to Ryan's studies. Ryan was always getting sick off-and-on like this. Irwin, truth be told, hadn't actually been so surprised to hear Ryan wouldn't be able to make it. But something was bothering him. Ryan didn't sound the same. Sure, it was still his voice, that hadn't changed much- but his tone was odd. Depressing. Resigned. But he was trying so hard to act as happily as he normally did that Irwin just couldn't bring himself to ask about it. And then he heard Ms. Fuji telling Ryan to get some rest, and the other boy sighed.

"Yes, Mom. Hey, Irwin, do good tomorrow, yeah? You'll have to give me all the details when you come back," he said. Irwin laughed.

"Hey, you don't have to worry about that. Livewire and I have loads to tell you that just wouldn't go right over the phone," he replied. They said their goodnights and hung up. The next day went as smoothly as could be anticipated- Giovanni was one tough trainer, and his Ground-types gave Irwin's pokemon a real hard time. Livewire, now an Electrode, carried the battle and saved the day with his Sonic Boom, however, and Irwin was able to make short work of the Ground Master. He stopped for a brief moment outside the Gym to call Ryan- it was his mother who answered.

"Oh, hi, Ms. Fuji," Irwin greeted politely. "I guess Ryan's asleep, huh?"

"I'd offer to wake him, but he really needs his rest," Ms. Fuji replied apologetically. "I'll make sure to tell him you called, though, it always brightens up his day."

"Thanks, Ms. Fuji." Irwin grinned. "Can you tell him I made it? I'm heading to Victory Road right now, and I'll call again once I make it to the Plateau."

"Of course I can, dear."

"Thanks again! Gotta run, so, bye!" He hung up and turned to his Electrode. "Well, Livewire, let's hit the road!" He never paused to consider just how challenging Victory Road would be.

It took almost a whole month to make his way through the maze-like cavern, and to make matters worse he couldn't even get a single freaking signal on his Pokegear, and so not only could he listen to the radio as he traveled, he couldn't call Ryan- and that grated on his sanity most of all. He wanted so badly to simply turn around and run right back out, to take the train home so he could be with Ryan again. But as he thought of his irreplaceable friend, he would remember the promise he made, and how much he was being relied on, and the quiet resignation in Ryan's voice that grew more apparent each time they spoke, and he would force himself to keep trudging forward. He had to make it to the Elite Four- he had to win and become Champion. For Ryan's sake. And something deep in his gut was telling him he was running out of time, and fast.

It was empty at the Plateau. There was no line at the Pokemon Center, as Irwin had expected, and the waiting room was void of all life. A single videophone stood lonely in the corner as the TV mounted on the wall broadcasted PNN. Irwin took a stop to rest his Pokemon and stock up on supplies before he headed to the reception desk.

"Excuse me," he said to the bored-looking secretary who was playing Sudoku, "but I need to challenge the Elite Four. Is there any way to get in today?" The woman glanced boredly up at him and then set her pen to the side before scanning a schedule before her.

"Won't you look at that," she deadpanned. "There's nothing scheduled for the day. At all." Irwin scowled.

"So? Can I go in or what?" he asked angrily. The receptionist rolled her eyes and jerked her thumb in the direction of the large double doors.

"Through there and up the stairs," she said. "I'll let them know you're coming."

"Thank you." Irwin cast Livewire a glance, and the two made their way to the first room.

The Elite Four was like nothing he'd ever encountered before. His battle with Lorelei took a full hour; Bruno, an hour and twenty minutes. Irwin couldn't explain it, either- it was the strangest thing. He couldn't get the time on his Pokegear because he still couldn't get a signal; there were no clocks in the corridors or the battle rooms. But he knew exactly how long each battle lasted, down to the second, and for some reason he began to feel rushed, anxious, for no reason whatsoever. He had never cared about battling; it was never something he worried about. And the atmosphere in the Indigo Plateau was anything but impressive to the juggler. However, every five minutes, on the dot it seemed, the dread in his stomach grew steadily worse. It made him panic and rush; he made stupid mistakes left and right. His Pokemon fainted one after the other, and he was using his Max Revives like crazy. And yet, despite it all, he made it to the Champion. The Champion smiled, his brown, curly hair shining under the bright lights of the arena.

"Howdy!" the Champion greeted. "So yer the one challenging me for the title, huh? You look pretty darn strong, boy." Irwin's eyes hardened.

"I don't have time for games, Bill," he said. "Enough with the Champion speech. I'm taking you down! Livewire!" The Electrode rolled out onto the field. Bill chuckled.

"Ah, I shoulda known ya wouldn't let me do the whole act. Eusine never liked it much, either." The Pokemaniac released a Jolteon. "Let's see if you're really as strong as the rumors say you are!"

The battle was long. Easily three hours. It was intense, filled with misses and dodges, cheap tricks and dirty fighting. Irwin's Pokemon, though all were injured badly, pulled through, and, in the end, it was the juggler who stood victorious. And yet, despite it, he was blinded by an unreasonable panic that had grown not only in his gut, but his chest, as well.

"Hoo-whee!" Bill exclaimed once he had time to finish processing the end of the battle. "That was intense! Eusine was right, you really are dedicated, boy!"

"Yeah, yeah, that's great," Irwin replied. Bill frowned.

"Hey, now," he said, "you should be celebratin' a little bit more. Yer the new Champion, after all."

"I don't care about being the Champion!" Irwin growled. "Look, I only came to get the death matches outlawed, okay? Screw being the champion!"

"Whoa, hold on, no need to get angry!" Bill sweat-dropped. "Alright, how 'bout this, I'll talk the Elites into it if I can keep the title, if you really don't care about it." Irwin immediately deflated.

"Yes. Thank you," he said. "Is there a phone I can use anywhere? The one in the lobby was out of order." Bill dug in his pocket and pulled out a Pokegear, tossing it to Irwin.

"Here, use mine." The Champion smiled again. "I modified it to work here. The Elites all have one." Irwin ignored him and dialed Ryan's Pokegear- all he got, however, was an automated message telling him that the number he was trying to call was temporarily out of service. His heart began to pound faster. Something was wrong. Something was most definitely wrong. He dialed the home phone and held his breath; after seven long rings, the other line picked up, and he sighed in relief.

"Moshi moshi, Fuji household. This is a family friend speaking; may I inquire as to who's calling?" came the unmistakable voice of Irwin's brother. Irwin smiled slightly.

"Hey, Eusine!" he greeted, feeling himself begin to calm. "It's great to hear you not being mocking and sarcastic for once!"

"...Irwin..." Irwin ignored him and plunged on.

"I just finished battling the Champion! Can you believe it- I won, too!"

"Irwin, listen to me..."

"Of course, being Champion sounds like a lot of responsibility, so Bill said he'd bring up outlawing the death matches if he could keep the title, so, you know, why not?"

"Please, Irwin, seriously..."

"Anyways, how's Ryan doing? He didn't sound so good the last time we talked, and I know I said I'd call him once I got through Victory Road, but my Pokegear doesn't get bars all the way out here, and the phone in the lobby was out of order, so I-"

"IRWIN!" Irwin stopped mid-sentence as Eusine became angry, and the feeling of dread seeped right back into him. Eusine sighed; Irwin could just imagine him pinching the bridge of his nose, as he always did when he became frustrated. "Irwin... please, just let me speak." He'd never heard his brother take that tone before. It was depressed, utterly devoid of any bit of joy, any inkling of energy.

"Is... is Ryan... okay...?" Irwin heard himself ask in a small voice. Eusine was silent for a moment as though he didn't know quite what to say.

"Irwin, Ryan... Ryan's dead." Irwin nearly dropped the phone.

"W-wait... what... do you...? Wh-when? How?" Eusine sighed aagin.

"It was about seven hours ago," he replied. "He... he asked for you as it happened. Over and over... he kept asking us to call you, he said he needed to tell you something or he'd regret it." At Irwin's silence, he continued. "We found out a few months ago he had mesothelioma. It explained a lot, his hypoglycemia, his constant coughing and fevers... But by the time they realized what it was, it was too late. He asked us not to tell you. He didn't want you to worry." So that's what it had been. Irwin attempted to blink his tears away, but found more only came to take their place.

"Oh, Lugia..." He covered his eyes with his free hand, as though it would keep the tears from falling. "Oh, Lugia..."

"I'm so sorry, Irwin..." His pokemon all looked heart-broken around him; even his Electivire and Ampharos, neither of whom had ever actually met Ryan. Livewire rolled to settle comfortingly against Irwin's leg; the juggler reached down to run his hand across the electric-type's smooth surface as he gathered himself.

"When's the funeral?" he asked once he was sure he wouldn't break down. Eusine hesistated.

"Irwin, I don't think it's a good idea for you to come back," he said.

"Why the fuck not?" Irwin snarled. Bill looked concerned at that.

"Ms. Fuji," Eusine replied. "She's not exactly her right self. She... well, she's a little angry with you."

"Put her on," Irwin demanded.

"Ir, look, I really think-"

"I DON'T GIVE A DAMN WHAT YOU THINK, EUSINE!" Irwin exploded. "GET HER ON THE DAMN PHONE!" Eusine was silent for a moment, and then Irwin heard jostling, movement, a muffled, short conversation, and the more jostling.

"Hello?"

"Ms. Fuji..." Irwin swallowed hard. "When is Ryan's funeral?"

"What makes you think you're still welcome in this house?" came Ms. Fuji's cold reply. Irwin scowled.

"I was Ryan's best friend." She only laughed a short, cruel laugh at that.

"Oh, yes, and a wonderful friend you turned out to be!" she snarled. "My son was lying in the hospital, dying and moaning your name and all you could care about was fighting the Champion!"

"No one ever told me he had cancer!" Irwin snapped in reply. "How the hell was I supposed to know he wasn't going to get better?"

"How could you have not?" Ms. Fuji demanded. "You talked to him every day- you knew something was wrong and yet you never even bothered to ask him! You chattered on about how great you were at battling, how fast you were defeating the Gym Leaders! You never cared about my son, you sociopathic LIAR!"

"I didn't want to depress him!"

"Oh? Do you think he was happy dying knowing his only friend could care less?"

"But I... I did care about him!" Irwin defended. Slowly, he was losing his steam.

"Then why didn't you call?" That one biting remark was enough to freeze him entirely. "You said you were going to call him when you made it out. It's been months." Ms. Fuji's voice broke. "Why didn't you call him?" Irwin wasn't able to reply. He felt as though a humongous hole had been torn into his chest by a pack of wild dog-Pokemon. His mind went blank; he couldn't think of anything to say to Ms. Fuji as she broke down, sobbing. He remained that way for a good minute or so before she was able to speak. "Stay away. You stay away from my son's funeral. If you come anywhere near him I will kill you." It seemed it was about that moment that Eusine decided to pry the phone from Ms. Fuji's hands.

"Ir?" he asked quietly. "Irwin, are you alright?" Irwin remained in silence for a little while longer.

"Yeah," he said finally. "Y-yeah, I'm... I'm okay. I'm... perfectly fine..." He took a shuddering breath. "I'm going to visit Morty."

"Alright," Eusine said gently. "I'll call to let him know you're coming. I'll be staying with Ms. Fuji until the funeral is done with. Want me to bring you anything from home?" Irwin shook his head. "Ir?"

"No. I don't need anything."

"Okay. I'm going to go, now, alright? I'll call before bedtime." Irwin brought the Pokegear down from his ear and stared at it once Eusine hung up. Wordlessly, he tossed it back to Bill, who looked horribly confused.

"What just happened?" the Pokemaniac asked, blinking. Irwin shook his head again and leaned against the wall, sliding down to sit on the floor. His Pokemon rushed to snuggled comfortingly against him, but he barely noticed. His best friend had been suffering from a horrible disease, and he hadn't noticed. His best friend had been trying to tell him, and he had never given him a chance to talk. His best friend had died in complete and total agony... and it was all his fault. Irwin let his head drop into his hands as his shoulder shook violently, and he did something he could never remember, for the life of him, doing once.

He cried.


It had been three years since Ryan died. Irwin hadn't been back to Kanto since the day he arrived in Goldenrod on the train, with Livewire faithfully by his side. The rest of his Pokemon- his Jolteon, his Ampharos, his Electivire, his Raichu and his Lanturn- he sent to Prof. Oak's ranch. He was done with Pokemon battles. Since Ryan's death, he wasn't able to bring himself to care much anymore.

He now kept mostly to himself, hanging out around the National Park for the most part. He lived with Morty; he had no stable income, and with how close Morty and Eusine were, the Gym Leader was like family. Irwin never spoke to either of them much, any more. He didn't speak to much of anyone besides Livewire and the three or so Voltorb he used for juggling. He didn't often leave his haunt- he'd been able to make a bit of money as a street performer, and the traffic coming from Goldenrod was wonderful. But occasionally he found himself following a certain boy across the region. He knew it was somewhat creepy, but he didn't think he would be able to travel with the kid without suffering major heartbreak.

After all, he looked, more or less, just like Ryan.

He had the same easy-going attitude, the same calm smile. Heck, he wore the same jacket Ryan always liked to wear. He even had the same voice, the same tone. But there was a single, major difference between this boy and Ryan that always reminded Irwin that his friend was truly dead, and that he had been one of a kind. This boy liked Pokemon Battles. His Quilava and Aipom had easily torn through Irwin's small, weak voltorb (not that Irwin was entirely surprised). But the boy didn't just enjoy them, he seeked them out. In fact, he had ignored Irwin's bland refusals to battle and wouldn't stop pestering him until, out of sheer annoyance, Irwin snapped a sarcastic remark and flung a Voltorb into battle.

And yet during that battle, something changed. He could barely think of orders to give his Pokemon. All he saw across from him, cheering on his Fire-type, was Ryan. He felt like crying. He felt like raging. He felt like there was definitely something to this kid. So, on a whim, once the battle was over, he registered the kid's number in his Pokegear.

"Maybe you can call for a rematch when you're less distracted," the kid laughed. "I'm Gold, by the way."

"I'm Irwin." Irwin had felt himself smile. "I'm not much into battling. But, hey, I'll still call- just to chat! It'll be great- we'll have loads to talk about!" Gold laughed and nodded, and soon had been on his merry way. And Irwin had stalked him. He watched through the window as defeated Morty, and watched from a distance as he helped the sick Miltank down at Moomoo Ranch. He watched amazed as he triumphed again and again over Team Rocket without a care in the world. And every day he called, chatted at length with Gold, and began to severely creep the kid out by letting slip that he followed him from time to time. But maybe, one day, he'd tell him. Let him know why he was so obnoxious about being his personal fanclub, why he had to call every day. Because they'd become friends over that single battle, and Irwin wanted to make sure that, this time, he didn't miss anything. This time, if anything bad happened, he would be there to protect him, to listen to anything Gold had to say. This time no one would die in agony because of him. But for now, he had a phonecall to make.

"...Gold? Hey! How's your mom?"

A/N: Irwin doesn't get enough love. :C For all of you who deleted him from your Pokegear because he was being "too creepy" and "stalking" you, I hope you're happy! You crushed his poor little heart! In other news, depending on the feedback this gets, I may or may not expand this from a one-shot into a series of one-shots involving the under-appreciated minor characters. I already have an interesting idea for Joey and his Rattata! So, for now, review! C: