Everyone seemed frozen in place.
Elm coughed. "And what are you doing here?"
"She's my research assistant. The one I might write the paper on." Oak fixed Elm with an intense stare, as if daring him to insult someone he regarded so highly. Elm's eyes flitted back and forth between them, clearly shocked. He opened his mouth and stumbled over his words until Emma interrupted him.
"Professor Oak is well aware of who I am and who my parents are, as are Gary and Tracey."
He recoiled as if hit, looking once more at Oak, fear and pain in his eyes. "Sam, you don't really -"
"And they know the circumstances of it."
Elm directed his fear at Emma, this time mixed with anger. "Circumstances? You mean more of those stories that bitch tried to spread? Because I'm done with -"
"No!" Emma's roar made everyone jump. She drew in a shaky breath and choked, descending into a coughing fit. Gary left Elm's side and drew her into a gentle, protective hug.
"It's okay, Emma," he whispered. "Hey Gramps, we'll be in your office."
"Thank you, Gary."
They turned and walked away, Gary's arm around her shoulders.
Oak's office only had wiry armchairs, and his cushioned desk chair, so Gary and Emma sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. He held her left hand with both of his, turning it over and lacing his fingers with hers, then holding her hand between his palms, and everything in between.
"Still sure you want this?"
He paused, then wrapped his arms around her. "Still sure."
"Even with the mess that is my family?"
He chuckled, and it sounded rich and warm with her ear against his chest. "Emma, you can hardly call either of them family. They haven't earned it. They're just people who happen to be related to you." He nuzzled her head. "Besides, mine isn't much better."
"What?" Emma squirmed, trying to look up at his face. "How?"
"Never knew my mom." Gary sighed. "From what I can gather, my dad was a womanizer. I was dropped off at his house, and he dropped me off here. Never spent much time with him, either. Gramps raised me on his own."
Laughs shook his rib cage, and he hugged Emma tighter. "I met her a few times. She and Gramps never married. I think he was a lot like my dad when he was young. Except he stuck around to raise his kid. And his grandkid."
"That's hard to imagine."
"I know, right? He's settled down a lot in his old age. But we make do. I think he saw me as his chance to do right and raise a kid who wasn't an asshole."
They sat like that for a while, Emma leaning on his chest, Gary wrapping his arms around her. Eventually the doorknob twisted, and Oak poked his head inside.
"Oh good, you're here." He strode to his chair and began rifling through his files.
Gary removed his arms from Emma, rising to his feet, then helping her to hers. Her left foot had fallen asleep, so walking to a chair was a truly bizarre experience.
She released Foo and he hopped up onto the desk like she had taught him. Gary stood next to Oak as Oak demonstrated the various points of examination, making notes in his own book while writing a reference sheet for Gary.
Emma had never seen this serious, scholarly side of Gary, and she studied him almost as intently as he studied her Pokemon. He would bite his lower lip ever so slightly when closely observing something. His voice was level and neutral, devoid of his usual playfulness or irony.
As much as he might have missed training, it was nothing to his research. He was in his element here.
She swapped to Jonah, then to Pidgeot, answering the usual questions. This was normal. This was routine. This was comforting, and any lingering shakiness from encountering Elm earlier eventually faded.
Gary looked up from his paper and smiled at Emma. She smiled back, but her mind found a new source of anxiety.
How must that have looked to Elm? Her mother, blond-haired and brown-eyed, pursued the promising young Pokemon Professor. The first time he'd seen Emma in years, she stood before him, blond-haired and brown-eyed, in the arms of a promising young Pokemon Professor.
She cringed. She had last quashed those fears over a year ago. Every time she looked in the mirror and would see her mother's face with its off-centered grin and dull eyes and -
No. She was not her mother. She would never be her mother.
She looked up to see only Gary and a sleeping Pidgeot. Gary leaned, almost sat, on the desk and gently asked what was on her mind. When she miserably recounted the similarities between her mother and Elm, and herself and Gary, he almost laughed.
"Emma, there is one very important distinction. She pursued him. I pursued you."
"What?" Emma's head snapped up and she regarded Gary with wide eyes.
"Did you completely miss the signs? I took time off from the dig to be here with you. Gave you my number. Invited you to see me." He grinned at her surprised face and leaned forward, pulling her into a hug. "You're adorable."
And of course her Pokegear would ring.
It was Justin. She hadn't talked to him in over a month - no, over two months. She was okay with that. But she felt obligated to answer.
"Hi Justin." His hair had grown out quite a bit, and he'd gained a little weight.
"Emma! Hey! How's it going? I saw your battle on TV. It took a while to figure out it was you."
Gary relaxed in Oak's comfy, padded desk chair, hands behind his head.
Emma and Justin caught up briefly. He got an apprenticeship at a restaurant, making their dinner rolls and desserts. Mandy was accepted to cosmetology school and already proving to be one of the best in her class.
"What about you, Emma? What other Pokemon do you have?"
"Just the ones you saw in battle. The Pidgeotto evolved, though." She turned her Pokegear to catch Pidgeot in the camera's view.
"Seriously?" He began scolding her, shushing every attempt she made to defend her Pokemon, telling her that such a limited team was a true embarrassment. She clenched her fists and considered throwing the Pokegear at the wall, bit her lip and considered screaming at Justin to go jump off a bridge.
"Oh will you shut up!" Gary yelled. Justin obliged, surprised into silence. "Any baker worth his salt doesn't ask a Pokemon trainer how to make cupcakes, and any trainer who knows anything doesn't ask a baker how to raise a team!"
Emma struggled to suppress a smile.
"Well, what the hell do you know?"
"A hell of a lot more than you!"
"Emma, who does that asshole think he is?"
She fixed him with a glare. "The asshole is you. What's wrong with you? You've always been a nice guy, but every time it comes to me as a trainer, you turn into a dick. But to answer your question, that 'asshole' is Gary Oak."
His eyes widened. He clearly knew the Oak name. Everyone knew the Oak name. He stuttered, apologizing, explaining that he only wanted to see her do well.
"She is doing well. She's one of the most promising trainers my grandfather has every seen." Gary smiled at Emma and nodded. He meant what he said.
"Justin, I really don't want to talk to you right now. Maybe some other time?"
"Uh, sure, okay. See you later."
Emma hung up and stashed her Pokegear in her bag. Pidgeot cooed in the corner, oblivious to all the noise. Gary moved to Emma's side and brushed her jaw with his fingertips.
"It's true, you know. You're amazing."
"Gary, what is there to do around here? I want to get out of the lab for a while."
They ended up at Delia's, since Pallet Town as a whole tended to close after 8PM, save for a few restaurants. Mimey greeted them at the door.
Emma had never been inside. It was a modest split-level home, perfect for a mother and son, but a little large for just the mother and her Pokemon.
"Oh, you're going to Sinnoh? That's where Ash is right now. I should introduce you." Delia wiped off a few just-washed bowls and stacked them in a cabinet. "Dawn is sweet, but she's just so young. You and Ash would be very cute together."
Gary cleared his throat. "I would object to that."
"Oh?" An embarrassed smile spread over Delia's face as she realized what Gary implied. "You know, I feel like baking cookies. Did you and your mom ever bake cookies, Emma?"
"No, she's diabetic." The lie sprang easily from her lips. Emma was quite experienced in pretending she had a normal home life.
"Oh, that's too bad."
Delia grabbed several small plastic bins full of baking ingredients and let Gary pick a recipe from a pile of cards. He refused to tell her, insisting it be a surprise. So she sifted together the dry ingredients, only sure that the recipe was quite large. Delia handled the rest of the mixing, and it wasn't until Emma saw her pour in chocolate chips that she knew.
Gary grabbed a cookie off the pan as soon as it left the oven, bouncing it between his palms to avoid a burn.
"Gary!" Emma laughed.
"What? Chocolate chip cookies are the best kind of cookies ever." He bit into it, inhaling deeply to dissipate the heat.
"Late-night baking is the best baking." Gary slung his arm over Emma's shoulder. The cookie recipe was indeed massive, and Delia sent them home with enough cookies to dine on nothing else for a week.
The night air was brisk and fresh, and they took their time walking home. When the tall light over the lab's gravel parking area came into view, Emma stopped and leaned on Gary.
"Gary, what's it like, being famous?"
He rubbed her shoulder. "It's hard to say. I'm so used to it now. Um, most of the time it's no different than being a normal person. The only people who really recognize me are people who follow Pokemon training in some way."
"So, it's not much of a difference?"
"No, it's a huge difference. Come on, let's go inside." He squeezed her shoulder and led her to the lab's side door.
When she had first arrived here, he had poked his head out that door, sized her up, and written her off as just another beginner. Now, after nearly four months of getting to know each other, he viewed her as… well, she wasn't quite sure, but it was caring and supportive and positive. It would take some getting used to, but she was more than willing to take the time.
They tiptoed to the kitchen to put some of the cookies on the counter for Oak and Tracey. The rest would go in Gary's back and travel to Sinnoh.
The kitchen light was on, and Emma could hear muffled voices from the hallway. She entered, froze, then continued to the counter, focusing entirely on the cookies.
Her father sat at the table across from Oak, both with cups of tea. Using the tea set her mom had tried to smash.
"She's still here?" Elm hissed to Oak.
"Still here," Emma replied. "Delia made cookies and sent some back for you and Tracey, Professor." She sat the bag on the counter and smiled. She could keep her composure. She approached Gary in the doorway and gave him a hug. That went surprisingly well. She turned to bid Oak goodnight and was shocked by the intense sneer on Elm's face.
"Like mother, like daughter."
Emma roared and sprinted at him, punching him hard enough to bloody his nose and knock him out of his chair.
"Don't you ever compare me to her! You have no right!"
"I have no right?" He slid back on the floor and lifted himself to his feet. "Sam, do something about her!"
Oak froze with his hand stretched over the counter, reaching for a cookie from the equally frozen Gary.
"You two need to sort this out for yourselves. I won't make Emma leave. Just, Emma, please don't break anything. That includes him."
Emma wrapped her arms tightly around her chest, hugging her elbows. Her violent reaction scared her. But she still glared at Elm. "You have no right to talk about her to me."
He grabbed a napkin from the counter and wiped the blood from his upper lip. "You would defend her? Do you know what she did to me?"
"At the party, while you were engaged."
"Sixteen years!" He began pacing, keeping the table between himself and Emma. "Held you over me like a weapon. Used you to bleed me for hush money. Threatened to destroy my career if I didn't give her enough attention."
"Oh, you poor thing!" Emma barked out a dry laugh that made her throat sore. "What horrible times you have endured! Parting with small sums of your comfy salary, or perhaps talking to her once in a while."
"And you make it sound like you had it so much worse!"
"You knew!" Emma screamed. "You knew everything and you ignored it so you could keep living in your fantasy world where no one ever suffers but you! You changed the facts in your head so you could leave me with that monster!"
"What should I have done, huh? Destroy my reputation and career to take you in?"
"Is that more important than the life of a child? Of your child?"
"You're not my child! I have a family. I never wanted you!" Elm paused in his pacing and steadied himself on the table.
"So you would rather kill me!" Emma drew a ragged breath and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the heel of her hand. Elm flinched and stared at the wall. "Every time she would attack me and try to kill me, I would write to you, begging you to get me away from her. And you did nothing!"
"Every time I look at you, I see her! And it's like it just happened yesterday. Is that something I should have to live with every day?" Tears also streamed down his face. "Take in the kid I never wanted, just so I could relive that constantly?"
"Would you kill me if you thought it would take away your pain?" He paled. Emma swallowed hard and looked him straight in the eye. "No, you'd just let her do it. I was dying and all you could think about was how much it would ruffle your feathers to do something about it."
He said nothing, sniffling and wiping his nose with the bloody napkin.
Emma looked to Gary and he moved to her side, escorting her out of the kitchen.
"Still sure, Emma," he whispered. She burst into tears once more and hugged him as tightly as she could. "Come on, I think your stuff is still in the office. You have a new room, by the way."
"A permanent one. My dad's old one. It was just used as storage, but Gramps and Tracey decided to clean it out and set it up for you."
"But why?" She stood in the office doorway as he grabbed her bags. "Wasn't that a lot of work?"
"It needed to be done anyway."
Gary led her through the same hallways Tracey had earlier. He turned a corner and placed his hand on a door.
"This is Tracey's room." He moved a few feet down and pointed. "That's Gramps." They walked around another corner and saw two doors across the hall from each other. "This one's mine, and this one is yours."
Emma twisted the door handle at slowly pushed the door open, poking her head inside. Light from the hallway illuminated the furniture, but her eyes hadn't adjusted enough for her to make her way around. Gary fumbled for the light switch on the wall.
Emma hugged him tight and he paused, resting his chin on her shoulder. "I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."
"What time are we leaving?"
"We'll need to get out of here by 9." He reached a little farther and finally found the switch. Nothing happened. "I guess the light burned out. Here, you can hang out in my room while I find a -"
His hand slipped a little more and knocked a second switch. A tall floor lamp in the corner flickered on. The bulb in the ceiling light had a black scorch mark on it.
"All these couches are for your Pokemon."
Emma stepped into the room - her room! - and Gary followed, dropping her bags on one of the couches. The bed here wasn't as large as in the guest room, but was still quite larger than any she was used to. And there were a lot of couches. One was some kind of corner couch and very worn out. Another looked nearly identical to the ones in the Pokemon center. She let her team out and they glanced around, then began to investigate this new place.
"I think I'll be fine without a new ceiling light tonight." Emma smiled at Gary and hugged him goodnight.
"Alright, I'll come wake you up around 7."
Closing the door softly behind Gary, Emma sighed, then shook her head. Of course her dad would just happen to be here. At least she had a new room, away from the guest wing where he would be staying.
Jonah trilled and rubbed Emma's legs.
"You guys like the new room?"
Foo yipped and jumped from one end of the corner couch to the other. Jonah darted over there, tail twitching, and pounced on Foo. Emma laughed as they began to scrap, scooting Pidgeot to the side to grab her toothbrush and toothpaste.
There was no bathroom attached to this room. Or was there? A door in the far corner intrigued her, and she cracked it open, revealing an empty closet. As if she would ever use it.
Instead she walked across the hall to Gary's room to ask him. His door was halfway open, and she could see him in just his pajama pants. The last time she'd seen him like this, her Pokegear had not done his shirtless torso anything close to justice.
He folded a shirt and tucked it in his suitcase, catching a glimpse of Emma in the doorway. "Enjoying the view?"
"Mm, maybe." Emma giggled. "Where's the bathroom?"
"Oh, right. It's around the corner to the left. Your left." Gary stretched his arm in the general direction.
Emma brushed her teeth quickly, changed into her sleeping tank top and shorts, and tiptoed to Gary's door again. He sat on his bed, reading a scientific journal.
"Just couldn't resist me." He grinned, not taking his eyes off the page, and patted the space next to him. Emma padded across the rug to his bed, snuggling up next to him. His skin was so smooth and warm, with fine brown hairs down his arms and across his chest. The soft touch of her fingertips drew him from his article, and he wrapped his arms around her.
"So how is fame different?" She wanted to shove her foot in her mouth for asking such a mood-killing question.
Gary didn't seem to mind, pulling her close anyways and affectionately nuzzling her neck. "Everything you do is under scrutiny. You lose a lot of privacy. You kind of have to make a public persona and stick with it if you want to remain sane." He pressed his lips to her jaw, sending her pulse racing. "There are a lot of things you can't do in public."
Emma ran her hands over his back. "Like this?"
"Definitely this. We have to keep our relationship as under-the-radar as possible, or we'll be completely hounded by the press." He squirmed as Emma's hands brushed his sides. "Ticklish."
"Oh, really?" Emma's fingers danced over his ribcage, dragging reluctant laughs from his chest.
"Hey! Hey, come on! Stop it!"
Somehow she ended up underneath Gary, who pinned her hands above her head, then slowly, torturously, leaned down and kissed her.
Well, if she had to restrict this in public, she might as well get as much as she could in private.
They exchanged soft kisses for at least half an hour before Emma yawned too frequently to continue. Gary's smirk lit up his face.
"Yeah." She yawned again. "See you tomorrow."
Gary walked her to her room, hugging her goodnight. "Get your rest.
Yeah, it's been a while.