He was there, and then he was gone.

I was amazed at how quickly a Dragonite could fly; it was as fast as a supersonic jet, but not quite as fast as how Lance's anger boiled up. On the exterior, he seemed complacent, level-headed and able to take care of any situation that had him in seemingly inexplicable chains. But once my frustration to him at reached a maximum and I began swearing under my breath at him and his stupid orders, his hotheadedness would flare like the color his hair (being nearly identical to mine, it didn't surprise me that yet another redhead was quick to rage, like me). Before I could react, we were shouting at each other, the vein on Lance's forehead that popped out whenever he was strained beating like a blue hose against his temple. We screamed and thundered, blaming each other for the lamest things, like how poorly our training was going that day or the fact that I "understood nothing" because I was a decade younger than Lance. Then, just when I was on a roll with picking his bone, he leaped up upon his Dragonite and soared through the open canopy above the Indigo Plateau battlefield.

I tried not to watch him go. I need to cool off, he'd snapped before he'd miraculously disappeared at the speed of sound. Frankly, I never liked it when he was angry, because then we would both storm off and not speak to each other for a few hours. I used to relish being alone; loneliness was never lonely to me. It was comforting, like an old friend I was used to seeing every so often.

But ever since I'd begun training with Lance, I'd come to resent being alone. And that was strange indeed. I had my Pokemon, but I always felt afraid and solitary, even when they were around. I never felt alone with Lance.


Still, he was gone right now, and I tried to convince myself that he would be back soon. Lance's recharging of his composure usually took anywhere between fifteen minutes and an hour, although this was the first time he'd been directly mad at me—most often, it was something Karen or Clair had said to him or losing badly in a Pokemon battle, but the latter hardly ever happened, so it was almost always Clair or Karen. He never took look to get over
them, since they insulted him every time they crossed paths.

But he'd never exploded toward me before. Therefore, I couldn't gauge how long he'd be away from me.

I shook my head, frowning bitterly as Freligatr and Gengar studied my anguish form the center of the battlefield, where they were sitting meekly and had been idle when Lance had absolutely blown up. They and Lance's other Dragonite and Charizard had become reticent and ceased battling when Lance and I had begun fighting, even though the four were working on a crucial, valuable move that Lance was trying to painstakingly teach mine—Gengar, using a self-eliminating move like Selfdestruct, and Freligatr Protecting itself would allow him to ride the shockwave of Gengar's attack and land additional damage to the enemy's Pokemon. Lance himself couldn't employ in the combination, but he knew my Pokemon could, so he had made it part of his duty as my instructor to show my team by using his own as decoys. Unfortunately, the training was very time-consuming and exhaustive—Gengar couldn't last through more than a few Selfdestructs without injuring itself badly, and Lance's Pokemon gradually grew weary from the constant damage.

And maybe it was because of those factors that Lance had used Explosion himself and lucked out in it being a critical hit. My ego was seriously bruised at the way we'd fought. Already, I was worried about him. What if he doesn't want to come back? What if he dismisses me as his protégé?

Why do I even care?

"All right," I finally said to no one in particular—maybe the four Pokemon at the center of the field, who had all glanced at me as I vocalized for the first time since the argument. They had probably been watching the entire scene prior and gawping like a bunch of women viewing a soap opera. "Lance wants me to learn this move, right? So let's keep practicing. We should get it right so he doesn't get pissed off again."

At this, I noticed Dragonite and Charizard exchange uneasy looks. I knew exactly what those snots were thinking: Um, Silver, we aren't allowed to train without Lance here. My Pokemon were free to do whatever they wished while I trained solo because they were mine, but Lance had a strict rule: Don't use his Pokemon unless he's around. Why? Because they're his, of course. And like a child who didn't want his priceless toys tarnished, he flatly refused for me to release them without permission in order to level up my own team. The restriction was understandable, of course.

But I'm so mad at him. I really don't give a shit anymore.

"I don't care what Lance'll think!" I shouted at Dragonite and Charizard, who jolted in surprise at my coarse tone. "He just totally chewed me out on no justifiable grounds. He can kiss my ass. C'mon, you want to be stronger for him, don't you? Then let's get stronger! Quit being pussies and battle!"

Dragonite and Charizard glanced at Freligatr and Gengar. Then at me. Then back to my Pokemon. Then at each other. Then at the ground. Expressing simultaneous heavy sighs (which were indeed heavy and I'm glad weren't directed at me—Charizard and Dragonite expelling breath at the same time could make a forest shake), they lifted their heads and shrugged. To me, this translated to: Fine, whatever. We're game. But if Lance finds out, we aren't vouching for you.

"Good. Nice to have you two join us." I made sharp eye contact with Freligatr and Gengar, nodding briskly. "Okay, you guys. One more run-through, and then we'll call it a day. Freligatr." Freligatr froze and dipped its head, locking its jaw with a thrill. Closing its eyes, it allowed a thin green veil to drop before it, signaling the Protect move's commencement. It then proceeded to open its eyes and sneak a clandestine nod toward Gengar, whose excitement glanced off the purple sheen of its transparent body like an aesthetic ricochet.

"Gengar, use Selfdestruct!" I cried. Eagerly, Gengar sprung up in the air and charged its power, glowing glee with the delight of an Electrode, who did this kind of attack for practically a living. With a slight but almost sensual luminescence, Gengar suddenly exploded, the impact spreading like melted butter across the field, leaving no corner untouched. Bracing itself for the jar of the earthquake, Freligatr tensed as it felt the vibration ring out behind it. Dragonite and Chariard howled and recoiled, the violence of the attack leaving them reeling. Instantaneously after, Freligatr began to be lifted from its feet from the invisible wave, its shield safeguarding any aftershock from Selfdestruct.

A skilled surfer, Freligatr rode the swell to where Dragonite and Charizard stood, dazed and unable to fly away from my approaching Pokemon. Poised for just the right moment, as Freligatr arrived mere feet from their forms, I bellowed, "Hydro Pump, now!"

And Freligatr did just as I asked—shooting a cannon of stinging sea water from its mouth, the move connected perfectly with Dragonite and Charizard. Charizard, highly vulnerable to the Water type, fainted almost instantly, but Dragonite toughed it out for a few more seconds before finally wavering in nearly withstood defeat, falling to the ground with a resonating THUMP. An enormous cloud of dust swathed its swooning silhouette, the final threads of Selfdestruct quickly brushing that billowing mass away. A job well done, Freligatr stood lightly on the ground, its health not drained one iota, thanks to its well-constructed protection. Gengar was the only casualty on my side—it lay immobile in the very heart of the battleground, its vigor utterly drained from its attack. Explosion and Selfdestruct were tiring moves for the user and often made them unable to battle.

Amazement and relief washed away any apprehension I might have had before the rapid-fire scene, flashing before my eyes so swiftly that I barely knew what was going on. Giddiness replaced that, soon accompanied by triumph as I fell to the platform beneath my feet upon my knees, laughing hysterically. "I… we did it!" I cried to Freligatr, who was the only one coherent enough to listen. "Freligatr, we did it! That was perfect! Arceus, that was great!" Even as I regained myself enough to return Gengar and Freligatr to their Pokeballs, I still continued to laugh, tears trickling down my face at the victorious turn. This was the first time—the first time ever—that I had made Lance's Pokemon faint from this strategy. Freligatr and Gengar were unable to get it right until now—in fact, Lance had sworn at one point that using this technique for them was useless, for they would never learn.

But they did. They did it! Ha! Ha ha ha! I just proved that asshole wrong! My Pokemon are powerful! And I am strong, too! I am not weak, I am strong!

"Silver." The voice suddenly materializing behind me was frigid like the floor of the Ice Path. The chill reached by bones, turning them into literal icicles as I heard the lukewarm fury bubble in his voice. "What did I tell you about using my Pokemon to train when I'm not around?"

I whipped my head around, and sure enough, through the smear of tears blurring my vision, stood Lance. Even when I was kneeling, I was considerably smaller than him—he was well over a head or two taller when I didn't slouch, as well as being a decade my senior. His furry red eyebrows were turned down in a furrow of anger, the same expression from our fight unchanged. And that hair—his spiked shock of flaming titan hair—was glistening with sweat, as he'd clearly been doing some sort of onerous physical activity while he'd been gone.
And his cape. That stupid cape, attached to that stupid blue outfit. That's so stupid. He's so stupid.

"Um," I croaked. "… I'm sorry?"

"Be sorry later," Lance growled, pointing an accusing finger at me. "When I make rules, they are to be followed. They aren't legs. You aren't supposed to break them, kid. I thought I'd made myself clear!"

I grimaced. I hated it when he called me "kid." I had a name. "You yelled at me for no good reason and then skulked off like a child!" I snapped, springing to my feet like a wind-up toy in defense. "I'm pissed, Lance! I'm pissed, and when I'm pissed, I'm damn good at battling!"

"Damn good? Damn good?" I'd hit a sore spot somewhere in there, because Lance's head vein was prominent again. He jabbed the same finger from me to his fainted Dragonite and Charizard on the field. "You nearly killed them! And you call that good?" He frowned deeply and genuinely. "I thought I was working the Team Rocket out of your blood."

"Team Rocket is not my namesake," I rumbled. "Just because my dad runs the organization doesn't mean I support them. I hate them. Their Pokemon are all weak."

Lance sighed and returned Dragonite and Charizard to their Pokeballs, having heard this quip of mine a thousand times. "Pokemon aren't weak, Silver," he said. "If a Pokemon is weak, it means his trainer is, too. People can be strong if they make themselves that way, just like how Pokemon level up. It's a choice. Strength is not determined at birth." He turned to me.

"You know that very well. Your former opinion was the antithesis, but now you know better. My Pokemon are not weak—and neither are yours." He pinched me on the shoulder, and I yelped.

"That means both of us as trainers have incredible skill. Team Rocket has to possess some form of brawn in order to get as far as they have been, am I correct?"

"Yeah, but-"

"I'm not supporting them, Silver," Lance said firmly. "I'm only making a point. If Pokemon are mistreated, they are often tricked into thinking they are strong. This is how Team Rocket moved through the ranks. It is trainers like you and I that have real strength—because we respect our team, and they respect us as their masters." He stared me in the eyes with his dark, unmovable brown gaze. "Am I right?"

I scowled. "You just like hearing yourself talk," I said.

That made Lance smile—but only briefly. "Maybe," he said with a small trace of mirth. There was a pause as he considered what to say next, because I certainly wasn't going to make small talk with this bastard that I'd become accustomed to over a course of about six months. "I saw that, by the way," he told me. "I've been here the entire time. You, Gengar and Freligatr handled that technique extremely well. I knew that if I perhaps let myself vent and allowed you to be by yourself that you might make miracles. And you did. Well done."

My jaw dropped. "So…" I processed this. "… You were basically faking the rage the whole time?"

"I was, until you about disintegrated my Pokemon," Lance said. "Now I'm actually mad."

"I can't believe you."

"Maybe not, but it worked, did it not?" Lance was correct on that, at least. Maybe not the Team Rocket theory, but yes, his tactic had come through. Damn him. Why is he so good?

"I suppose," I mumbled.

"You need a reward," Lance suggested.

I gave him a quizzical look. "Does that happen to be food? I'm starving. I haven't had anything since lunch, and it's almost six."

Lance smiled. "Maybe later," he said vaguely. Reaching out a little lazily toward me, he said, "Give me a hug, my star pupil." Hesitantly, I stepped into his arms, welcoming his embrace by wrapping my arms around his waist as his draped across my shoulders. I trusted Lance enough to be touched by him now—he was a friend, an ally. Just like Gold, whom I always anticipated contact from. Gold was a very touchy person, and he seemed to be proud of this fact. Constant hugs, pats on the head, handshakes, and heads resting on shoulders. I was okay with physical contact with Lance, but with Gold, I kind of looked forward to it now whenever I saw him.

Because Gold feels like… happiness.

But my warm, euphoric feeling as I hugged Lance congenially nearly diminished when I felt one hand from my mentor stray from my shoulders and travel slowly southward. It came to rest at the small of my back, a place where I was extremely sensitive. An involuntary shiver passed under my skin, causing goosebumps to rise on my clothed arms and legs. I found myself swallowing—not out of nervousness, but discomfort. "Lance?" I squeaked, the pitch of voice having risen significantly.

Lance moved back a little bit so he could look at me, his other hand inching to grab and rub my neck soothingly. The hairs on my arms stood up on end, this unwarranted touch bothering me. When I locked gazes with Lance, I was surprised not to see the usually fatherly or scolding expression he usually had, like a teacher would see a student. That was our relationship, after all.

Not according to Lance. His eyes were now almost black, staring upon me with the intensity of a hungry predator to his prey. The emotion in his eyes was unmistakable. I'd never seen it directed toward me, but I'd definitely noticed a touch of it in my father's eyes whenever he spoke of my mother.

Oh, Arceus. It's lust.

"You're very cute when you blush," Lance whispered, his voice emanating from deep within his throat now, a seductive rumble. Unknowingly, my face had turned beet red at this, my body beginning to quake, somewhat out of fear and somewhat out of unsettlement. No one had even looked at me like this before. What was I supposed to do?

"Ah, um, er." I tried to sputter out words, but Lance placed his index finger on my lips, effectively shutting me up.

Innately, the internal me saw this as a pacifier and treated it literally as such—almost instinctively, like a baby at its mother's breast, I drew Lance's finger into my mouth. Sucking frantically to prevent myself from talking and to give myself something to do, I almost didn't notice Lance moaning.


He was staring down at me intensely, his mouth open just slightly and his eyes growing heavily, half-lidded with what I was praying wasn't pleasure. His moan sounded like the content purr of a dragon, a sound that infused itself in my bones and caused me to shake violently. The instant I realized what I was doing to him, I quit sucking and stood there like a moron, hoping that he would remove his finger from my mouth.

Lance gave me a very dirty smile (as I noticed with completely horror) as he drew his index finger from between my lips, a thin string of my saliva connected to the digit. "Well, well," he said with a smirk. "You naughty little cocktease."

Cock-?I tried not to barf at that.

Lance proceeded to pull me so close to him that our whole bodies chafed against one another. For a reason that repulsed me, I physically reacted to that—and not in a negative manner, either. Lance's muscles were bound tight with mine, and that made an electrifying pulse of desire surge through me. I tried with immense difficulty to banish the amazing way his touch felt all of a sudden. He called you a cocktease, I repeated over and over to myself, like a mantra. A cocktease. Silver, if that isn't the most degrading—

My attempt to sate my quarreling conscience was interrupted by Lance's mouth on my neck, nipping and sucking with reckless, hungry abandon. It was at that moment that I realized the second-most sensitive part of my body was that very appendage—and I tensed and shuddered at the rhythm of Lance's kisses. My knees felt jellylike and I resisted the urge to pass out then, my breathing turning torrid as he ran his tongue from the base of my collarbone all the way up to the cleft of my chin.

"L-Lance, please st—"

"Stop?" Lance paused to collect himself. He seemed just as breathless from this exercise as I was. "I don't think your body wants me to, Silver." I had been clinging to his cape, hanging on for dear life as he ravished me gently. My breath was ragged, either from fear or longing, or maybe a combination of the two. I tried to push him away, but Lance was persistent—gathering me up once again, he began to nip roughly at my earlobe. Without intention, I released a tiny whimper.

"You like that?" Lance murmured in my ear, his wafting air hot against my skin. He began to do it again, and I mewled like a kitten at the mercy of a tomcat.

Lance, no—

His lips went to my eyelids, kissing them both gently.

No, I don't—

The hand that had been formerly on the small of my back slid to my backside, squeezing playfully.

I don't know if I—

After lingering there, the lofty hand snuck its way under my shirt.

If I want this yet, because—

His roving hand pinched me.

Because I think I'm in love—

He pressed his lips urgently against mine, slipping his tongue inside.

In love with—

My body went rigid with alarm. It was as if I hadn't at all perceived anything that had happened between myself and Lance just seconds previously. The revelation shook my soul to its very antechamber, rattling the ribcage that contained the wild beast that was my heart.

My best friend. My only friend. My mentor was seducing me, and all I could think of was him.
I was surrounded my fright. Darkness loomed, and the pleasure Lance had been so generously giving me ebbed away rapidly. What replaced it was utter numbness. I became numb to Lance, to his hands, to his lips. He didn't even notice as a lone tear trickled down my cheek.

… I'm in love with Gold.