The Right Thing to Say

I always figured that if Red was born with the ability to speak like everyone else, he wouldn't. Silence is a perfect fit for Red, like it's his shoe size, an article he wears upon his sleeve that suited him to a T. If he could actually say words, I doubt that he would rarely ever use them idly—to him, they would be a weapon, in the exact way his silence was to him. Red had never uttered a sound to any of his Pokemon, and yet here he was, the famed mute trainer, standing at the top of the Kanto league. He had beaten his opponents bloody with nothing but a frosty, resolute stare and a few moves from his astonishingly powerful team. Other trainers fear him, as his warlike quiet corroded their spirit and demolished their determination the minute he looked into their eyes with his sanguinary scarlet gaze. He strikes dread and respect into the hearts of even the most competent—even Lance admitted that he was disarmed and brought shaking to his knees when Red defeated his legendary team of Dragonite.

Honestly, I don't know what the hype is even about, because I know that Red is kind of a dull guy. He isn't boring—he's just as dense as fifty pounds of lead to the world around him and its going-ons, no matter or obnoxious or obtrusive. He's always been that way, even when we were kids. Even if I gave him an hour's warning in the classroom that I was going to kick sand in his face on the playground, Red would still be surprised when I did, his fists clenched at his sides, his tiny visage pinched and red with anger. I knew every time that he was silently swearing revenge—and when he took my shortly-lived title at the Indigo Plateau as Champion when we were fifteen, I realized I'd gotten my just desserts for all the bullying I'd subject him to in childhood. Most were surprised when they heard of his victory—to them, mute meant dumb, and they didn't think Red had been intelligent enough to train so vigorously. But I wasn't particularly shocked—Red's shrewd; he's just not street-smart. Or world-smart, for that matter.

That was another thing about Red, besides his innate naivety: He's painfully demonstrative to the point where it's kind of a miracle he doesn't talk, or else he'd been annoying as hell to listen to. Over the years, I've never needed a sentence of guidance from an adult when playing with Red, because I could read his emotions perfectly. I recognized when his eyes clouded with sadness when his favorite toy broke, or when he beamed with joyful cheer as his mother came to pick him up from school. The sand-in-the-face thing triggered visible anger, and smirking acceptance overcame him when I announced that he'd be my rival in Pokemon training. Everything I've ever needed to learn about how Red felt was easily found on his expression.

What was weird, though, is that despite his sensitivity, Red never cries now and he never did before. Ever. Not when he broke his leg when we were eight, falling out of a tree as we played Primapes in the Jungle. Not when his hugged his mother goodbye as he left for his Pokemon journey at fourteen. Not when he rightfully won the championship title a year later. I've never seen him shed a single tear. I've never been sure if it's out of false mega macho-ness or simply because he thinks he's cool or whatever—all I know is that he has never cried around me.

And now, for some hell of a reason, he is.

Red went off to train on Mount Silver five months ago, and then, all of a sudden, he showed his stupid face back in Pallet Town again and went back home to live with his mommy, citing exhaustion and a break from his training (or so he wrote to me in a letter about a week before he came back; what, is there a post office on the mountain or something?). This, unfortunately, was two years before I was called to Viridian City to take over the Gym Leader position there, so I was still stuck here in Hickville, my lovely hometown, with my snarky sister and grandpa Oak. When Red decided to get his pompous ass off the oxygen-deprived summit of some damn random mountain and come home to chill for a while, I should've been happy. After all, we were kind of friends—I just, according to him, became a bully before we ended up going our separate ways on our respective Pokemon journeys.

But no, I was seriously pissed. He up and disappeared without warning, and he expected me to welcome him back with open arms? His audacity was appalling. Even though he insisted we hang out in the first few days that he was home, I still couldn't bring myself to do much more than glance at him and say a few blank filler sentences to occupy the silence that followed Red everywhere. No matter what Red did, I was angry at him. The very least he could have done was stopped by to say (say, gesture, same difference) goodbye before he vanished five months ago. I was not going to let him get under my skin and scratch at my weakness for him.

Except when he started crying.

I wasn't really expecting that.

It was four days after Red had arrived back to Pallet Town, a Monday. That morning, Red knocked on my door and convinced me to skip instruction with my tutor to sneak around in his basement and doodle stuff on crayons and construction paper that was left over from our childhood. We did, crawling into the storage closet under the stairs where we used to have our "headquarters" when we played Spies as kids. Ten years later, at sixteen, we were much larger and could barely squeeze our growing bodies inside. I was in awe at how quickly time had passed—the single lightbulb illuminating the closet was still dim, the boxes were still dusty, but it was like the place had shrunk. To be frank, it made me a little sad.

We sat cross-legged on the floor, facing each other, our paper and colored pencils in hand. Clearing my throat, I looked at Red. He stared back at me with doleful crimson eyes, striking a chord deep within me. He shared my thoughts about this closet—how big we had gotten, but how little this place had changed.

"Remember when we played Spies in here?" I asked. "With Blue? And how we beat each other up with empty toilet paper rolls and pretended they were swords?"

Red smiled. He remembered.

"We were tiny back then." I shifted—my long legs were barely accommodated in this cramped area and my limbs were starting to fall asleep. "All three of us could cram in here. Now I don't even have leg room."

Red's smile widened.

Swallowing—whether out of discomfort or necessity, I was unsure—I reached for a black piece of construction paper and a white crayon. "Man, I don't know what the point of black paper is," I said. "You can only use white to color on it. This was the bane of my existence years ago. I wonder if it's a conspiracy. Some asshole in Crayola probably laughed hysterically when he discovered a way to irritate children."

I perceived a soft sigh from Red's space. Flickering my eyes up as I touched the tip of the crayon to the ebony paper, I noticed that Red hadn't moved to grab any of our craft materials. He still sat stoically, his hands folded modestly in his lap. I refused to blink, waiting out of the corner of my eye for Red to do something.

And he did—a small tear rose from his right eye and trickled down his cheek.

I shot up to attention immediately. Fear stabbed me in the gut violently, my stomach doing somersaults. Crying? Red was crying? He never cried. Ever. If aloof, deadpan Red was crying, something was seriously wrong. And not simply amiss—apocalyptic wrong.

"Red," I said quickly, "Why are you crying? Did something happen? Is your mom okay? For Arceus's sake, is the world ending?"

Shaking his head, Red grinned very precariously, his lips trembling as he did so. A tremor of emotion shuddered him, his body jolting as if hit with an electrical shock. Another tear surfaced, this time from his left eye, and made a wet, trailing river down his face.

I let my paper and crayon fall and grabbed Red by the shoulders. I was surprised at how bony they were—he must have lost a few pounds on the mountain. The knobs of his collarbone prodded my palms as I shook him gently. "What's the matter? You never cry. I'm freaking out here. Talk to me, dude."

Red released a sigh of mirth. That phrase was an inside joke between us. Lifting his hands, Red loosely gestured to the room in its entirety, down to the spiderweb in the corner and the dust bunnies beneath our thighs. Then he made a motion to me before pointing to his mouth.

When we were younger, a therapist had appeared at Red's mother's door to offer to teach Red sign language to get around the mute barrier, since Red got crabby when he had to write out his responses. She'd thought it was a wonderful idea so her son wouldn't have to travel the world with a pen and a pad of paper and write awkwardly to strangers—and thus, Red learned sign language. But there were only two instances in which he never used the vernacular—when he battled his Pokemon and when he was with me. Red and I had devised our own language long ago, a private tongue just between us. Blue caught onto our dialect later on, but she never became quite as fluent in Reddish (as I dubbed his wild signals) as I did.

"You brought me here to tell me something," I guessed.

Red nodded.

"Well, spit it out, man," I said. "It must not be very nice if it makes you cry like an infant. Did Lance molest you or something?"

Giving me a weird look, Red's mouth twitched in amusement.

"Yeah, okay, sorry," I said. "It's a valid speculation, though. He's so creepy."

Red shrugged. Reaching up, he tenderly removed my hands from his shoulders and placed them on his knees. Odd place for them to go, I thought, but that notion lasted for only a second and Red pointed to me with a staid expression. Turning his hand back, he indicated himself with the same finger. Then he brought up his left hand and made a heart with both index fingers and thumbs before bringing it up to one eye and positioning the frame around his vision, like a monocle.

"What?" I asked. "Dude, what the hell is that supposed to mean? The lack of air on Mount Silver must've killed a few of your brain cells, because that is ultra gay."

Red frowned and dropped his hands, staring at me with frustration.

"Actions speak louder than words, fool," I said. "Help me out here. This is honestly the first time in years that I have no idea what point you're trying to make."

Taking a deep breath to reassure himself, Red's chest puffed out with mock confidence. Leaning in, he closed his eyes and opened his mouth a little.

Oh, man. Really?

I laughed. "Sorry, Red. I'm not kissing you."

Opening one eye but a crack, Red glared at me. iDo it anyway,/i I sensed him saying. iHumor me./i

I couldn't help myself—I had to smile at the sheer ridiculousness of Red's request. "I'm straight," I said. "You know that. I had a girlfriend last year who dumped me because she thought she could get into Lieutenant Surge's pants if she tried."

Red leaned back in disappointment.

"Of course, that was before Surge decided to get gay." I snorted. "Serves her right. Dumb whore."

Red coughed.

I narrowed my eyes. "Are you calling me a whore?"

There was no answer; not even a spasm of Red's arms, his articles of speech. Red only beamed daintily at me, sarcasm behind his teeth.

Raising my right hand from Red's knee, I slid my fingers around Red's ear to cup his face. His skin was incredibly soft, and I found myself stroking Red's cheek with my thumb. I tilted his head up to meet mine as I bent forward, rubbing my nose affectionately with his. "I'll show you whore," I growled.

Sucking in a breath, Red went rigid and his eyes became huge.

Oh, it's on.

I wrapped my other hand around Red's hips and pulled him into me, surprised at how easily I was able to move my friend's firm, unyielding body. I allowed my hand to slip beneath his jacket, lifting the fabric just slightly so I could caress the skin of the small of his back. I massaged there with my knuckle, causing Red to shiver against me, as if I were made of ice. I pressed my mouth against his jaw, my tongue snaking to push upon his sweet bone. Tracing a line with its tip, I moved to Red's neck, licking him once before descending upon him with my entire mouth. I sucked and kissed, nipping at the nape so hard I felt Red's chest heave against me as he gripped the back of my shirt. His breathing hitched and grew jagged, irregular as I dragged further down. Reaching the deep pool that made up the base of his collarbone, I unbuttoned the first snap on Red's top.

"Hhhhhh." Red's breath was torrid on my ear. He curled his legs around my waist so he was straddling my lap, arching his neck back to permit me more of him to ravish. Slowly, I undid each button, listening to his murmuring whimpers become faster with every one. His chest sat exposed to me, a marvelous plain of white flesh, and I buried my face into it without thinking. I kissed him, touched him, played with his skin, wishing he had a voice enough to moan.

When his torso was bright with flushed hickeys and sleek with saliva, I reached up to feel Red's face again and gazed into his eyes. They were glazed over with desire, shining and beseeching me to continue. Tipping his chin down, I touched my upper lip against his and went still, waiting for him to initiate the kiss we'd not yet shared. But he didn't—he was tense, anticipating for me to make the first move, though his tongue darted out and lapped at my chapped mouth. The contact was electrifying, but I did not let that control me.

I smiled. "I didn't get to finish drawing my picture. Let's not get ahead of ourselves." Hoisting him up, I disengaged him from my lap and placed him with care down at my side. Cheerfully, I fished around in the mess of crayons and paper that we'd made in our little session for my original white pencil and black paper.

Red was staring at me with disbelief. There was an obvious mix of bitterness and demand as well—I'd left him cold, and no one appreciates being hung out to dry. His teeth clenched, he grappled for my hand, trying to swat it away from my task.

I turned my attention to him. "What?" I inquired. "I said I wouldn't kiss you."

Red paused, blinking at me, before sniffing haughtily and accepting my dismissal. His shirt still undone and face the color of his namesake, he picked up a green colored pencil and a sheet of white paper. Drawing furiously for several seconds, he looked up at me once or twice and, when I leaned over to examine his work, he brushed me off and turned away. Once he was finished, he slapped the masterpiece on my face with a huff.

I took the picture from him and held it at arm's length, inspecting its contents, only to discover that it wasn't a doodle at all, but words—something Red hated to put down on paper. He'd written three words in his flawless script, and they weren't very inspirational words.

I hate you.

But they were words nonetheless.

I wadded the paper up and tossed it at his forehead. The makeshift projectile bounced off Red's forehead as he regarded me with his steely, challenging eyes. "I love you too," I mused. "Don't cry again, okay? And don't run off to a mountain, either, you hear? I'm so sick of you leaving me."

Red arched an eyebrow and licked his lips.

"Yes, I'll kiss you if it comes to that."

I might have been hallucinating, but I could've sworn I saw a gleam of victory in Red's smile.