Until I Defeat You
He'd wanted to see it for himself. Oh, certainly he'd seen pictures of it in the paper and video on the news back when it had happened. The eruption of the Cinnabar Volcano had created such a stir that even a chronic news-avoider like Blue couldn't have missed it. He knew then that he'd have to go back eventually to… oh, say, compare notes. To see the shiny, blackened landscape, cooked by the volcano's blast—the wasteland where a bustling city had once been.
The last time he'd been there it had seemed so crowded. There were so many people to elbow past and fight to get to his goal—the gym. Now… well, between him, a few other looky-loos and the staff of the Pokemon Center, you could count the island's total population on one hand.
The rush of water, louder than the steady tides lapping against the island, drew Blue to turn around. In the distance a massive red sea serpent was making a bee-line for the island, but it wasn't alone. Blue squinted in the sunlight to see the tiny figure of a human on the beast's back.
The creature and the person on its back clarified as it go closer, until finally Blue could see them both in full. It struck him as an interesting find. He'd never seen a red Gyarados before.
The Gyarados drew close to shore. It slowed in the sludgy shallows and its trainer carefully slid down its coils until he splashed into the water. At least, he certainly must've been its trainer. Nobody goes joy-riding on a Gyarados that's not his own without at least breaking a few important bones. And nobody but a Pokemon trainer would wear a backwards baseball cap these days and think it was something besides dorky.
"Phew! That's a long haul! You'd think they'd have speed-boat rentals or something around here, but no," the trainer breathed out. He reached out to pat the shiny red scales of the mustachioed giant beside him. "You did a great job, Gyarados," he said.
"If you were hoping to actually hit civilization, you're about a year too late," Blue commented, drawing his attention. "There's a center down that way if you want to rest your Pokemon," Blue said, pointing, "But that's about it."
The trainer nodded, only just glancing at him over his shoulder. "Yeah, so I've heard," he said. He pulled out a Poke Ball from his belt and held it up toward the serpent. "I'll get you healed up before we ship out again, so don't worry about it," he said, before drawing the Pokemon back into its container.
After he slotted the ball back onto his belt, he turned around and looked Blue in the face for the first time. "Hey, you're…" he began, recognition dawning.
"Blue," Blue said, "the gym leader of Viridian City." He groaned inwardly, wondering if this was going to be yet another would-be Pokemon Master bugging him for a match while he wasn't even at his gym. "If you want a match, then you'll have to get in line."
"Well, sure, I know that," the trainer said, wading through the shallow water and onto the sandy shore. "But I remember back when you were League Champion."
Blue grimaced. "You must have a pretty good memory to remember something that short-lived." He looked the younger trainer up and down. "Especially since you were probably still teething at the time."
The trainer laughed and rolled his eyes. "Do I look four to you?" he asked. "And hey, I know you weren't champ for very long but… well, that was part of what made it so exciting for me back when I was a kid. Nobody'd defeated the Elite Four in so long and then, bam, you show up, overpower everyone and become champ. And then, just when everyone's still getting comfortable with you as the new champion, you get defeated."
He adjusted his hat to block out the glaring sunlight, a grin on his face. "It was just like… for me back then it all became clear that a person really could do it. Nobody was untouchable anymore and maybe even someone like me could grow up to be a champion." He gave a little laugh. "That line of thinking's worked out pretty well for me."
"I'm glad you found my embarrassing defeat so inspiring," Blue answered sourly.
"Aw, come on," the trainer said. "Maybe I'm not saying it right, but you're one of my heroes. You and Red, you know," he finished.
"What an honor," Blue said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
It all seemed a little… too much. Here he was on an island that had once been a thriving community and was now nothing more than a ruined rest stop, and now this kid had to come along and remind him that he too had been in his prime and lost it all.
"So…" the trainer said, peering at him hesitantly, "don't you know who I am?"
"Should I?" Blue asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Maybe," the trainer said. "You don't watch the news much, do you?"
"I don't really get a chance when I'm on the road," Blue replied. "I take it you're some hot-shot trainer that I should be quaking in my boots in terror of?"
"I don't know if I'd put it like that," the boy said with a shrug. "Why don't I just say I'm Ethan and leave it at that?" he finished, extending his hand.
Blue looked at the proffered hand for a moment before shaking it. "So, Ethan," he said, dropping in the name, "you're really just going to leave it at that? You're not going to brag about whatever news story you think makes you hot shit?" He wondered vaguely what it was. Probably he was the winner of some kind of rinky-dink local tournament and thought that made him famous. Blue had met too many trainers like that. Or maybe the news was in some way related to that unusual Gyarados?
"Nah," Ethan said. "Bragging won't change the outcome of a battle. It's usually the guys that bark the loudest that end up losing."
Blue winced. Was this kid just around to remind him of his past failings?
"And who said I was going to battle you, anyway?" Blue asked.
"No one," Ethan said brightly. "But I was hoping you might just the same."
Blue hesitated. He'd been dodging trainers left and right for most of his journey, but there was something about this kid. Maybe it was the vague claim that the kid was newsworthy or his rare Pokemon that gave Blue the feeling he might be dealing with a trainer of at least decent strength. Maybe it was the dumb baseball cap or the cheerful exuberance to face a challenge. Maybe it was because poking at Blue's ego generally yielded at least some kind of result.
But he didn't want the kid to think he was too eager to accept the challenge. Who could say if the little squirt was even worth it?
"How many badges have you won?" he asked.
Ethan opened the draw string of his backpack and took out two small cases. "Johto or Kanto?" he asked.
Blue smirked. Yeah, that's real fucking cute, he thought.
"Kanto," he answered. "I don't care how many bottle caps you have from those weaklings in Johto."
For a moment Ethan looked like he might have something to say about the supposed "weaklings in Johto," but instead he put one of the cases away. He took the remaining case and flicked it open to reveal its contents. There, nestled in the velvety innards of the case, sparkled seven badges.
"Have I proven myself worthy yet, Oh Great One?" Ethan asked, not sardonically, but certainly playfully.
"Maybe," Blue said, noncommittally, though the quantity of badges left him with very little to argue.
He pretended to think about it for a moment. "How about this?" he said. "I'm a busy guy. If you're really serious about battling me and think you can put up a halfway decent fight, then come to Viridian City."
Ethan closed his badge case thoughtfully. "I could do that," he said.
"Fine," Blue said. "Then I guess I'll meet you there whenever I get around to it."
"Right. I'll see you 'whenever you get around to it,'" Ethan repeated, barely resisting using finger quotes.
Blue turned his back on the kid, looking off into the distance where he'd docked his boat. He'd intended on sticking around the island for awhile—maybe even staying the night at the Pokemon Center. But a challenge had been made, and a dramatic exit seemed necessary to him.
"Smell ya later, kid," he said, putting his hands and his pockets and walking off toward the dock.
Huh. Haven't said that in awhile. That brings back memories, he thought. I wonder… have I outgrown that?
He mulled this over for a minute as the sand sucked at his shoes. He didn't look back, but he hoped the younger trainer was still watching him.
Nah, he eventually decided.
He'd made Blue wait. Blue hadn't expected that. In fact, Blue had purposefully forced himself to take his time on the way home. His instinct was to rush, to get to that promising challenge as quickly as possible. The instinct heightened even further when he'd found out exactly who Ethan was. The new champion? And the kid had resisted bragging? He certainly had more restraint than Blue had had when he'd won the title …which Blue found vaguely irritating.
The chance to take on a champion… now that was rare—rare and valuable. But he hadn't wanted to meet Ethan arriving at the gym or, even worse, get there before Ethan. As far as Blue was concerned, people should wait to fight him, not the other way around. So he'd deliberately killed time on the way back, certain that, even if Ethan ran into delays on his way back, the champion would've already been waiting on him.
But Ethan wasn't there. The only challengers waiting for him were the same weak, entitled type he'd been doing his best to avoid. What a waste of time.
Where exactly did that kid get off, Blue wondered, making him wait? What? Did he think he had something more important to do than face a trainer of Blue's caliber?
He sent the challengers that had the audacity not to be Ethan away and told them to come back when they were less pathetic. He parked himself behind the moving panels that dotted the gym floor, ignoring the well-wishes and polite small talk from his co-workers who trained in the gym. He waited. And waited. And waited some more.
And then, after spending much more time in his own gym than Blue liked, the kid with the stupid hat eventually appeared. He stepped off a moving panel awkwardly, trying to catch his balance.
"Yo," Blue said by way of greeting, deliberately tamping any excitement in his voice down. "Finally got here, huh?"
"Yeah, sorry," Ethan said, cracking his neck slightly to the side as he approached Blue. "I went spelunking and lost track of time."
Blue raised an eyebrow. "Time or space?"
Ethan snickered. "Okay, more like space. But I'm here now. Didn't mean to keep you waiting."
"I wasn't waiting for you," Blue retorted, crossing his arms. "It is my job as a gym leader to be here to take challengers." …Not that it was a part of his job that he usually took seriously, mind you.
"Well then, are you ready to take me up as a challenger?" Ethan asked, too full of energy for someone who didn't drink caffeine.
"I think I can manage to squeeze in a few minutes for the current champion," Blue said magnanimously.
"Ooh, so you got a look at the newspaper," Ethan said, noting the purposefully specific "current."
"Yeah, and I couldn't believe it," Blue responded. "Lance must be really losing his touch if he'd let a pipsqueak like you past him. Standards must be really low in the League these days."
"What are you going to say next? That it's all going to hell in a hand basket?" Ethan asked, grinning.
"Maybe," Blue said with a frown. One thing you could say for the kid was that he wasn't easy to taunt. "I guess I'll see for sure how far the League has fallen after a battle with you."
"That's what I came here for!" Ethan said cheerily, hand tensing up by the belt that held his Poke Balls, like a cowboy reaching for his gun. "So what do you say? You want this to be a full battle?"
"Pass," Blue said. A full battle would've interested him, but he didn't think it prudent to actually show that interest. "Let's go three on three. I don't have all day to babysit you."
"Fine by me," Ethan agreed. "Did you want me to get back on those moving tiles before we start? Only I didn't peg you for the kinda trainer who needs to make his opponent dizzy to win."
"Oh, so you can trash-talk?" Blue noted. "That makes this more fun." He took out a Poke Ball, tossed it lightly in the air and then caught it. "I prefer to dizzy opponents with the strength of my moves."
With that, he tossed the ball onto his side of the stadium. It opened to reveal a massive canine, striped like a tiger. It shook its mane, sending embers arcing across the stage.
"Hey, that's a nice looking Arcanine," Ethan said, nodding appreciatively. "I'll have to step up my game." He took a Poke Ball from his belt and tossed it onto the stage. "Go—Beedrill!"
"Beedrill?" Blue scoffed, as the oversized wasp materialized. "I'd expect that kind of move from a newbie bug catcher just stumbling out of the forest, not a champion. Didn't anyone ever teach you anything about typing?"
"You'll just have to wait and see," Ethan answered.
"Whatever," Blue said with a shrug. "Go on and take the first move if you want."
"I will," Ethan accepted. "Beedrill—use Pursuit!"
"Arcanine—Extreme Speed!" Blue called out in answer.
The two Pokemon whizzed toward each other on a crash course, poised to decide which one of them was unstoppable and which was only seemingly unstoppable. At the last minute, Arcanine pulled out to the side, let Beedrill swerve into the position it had once been standing in, doubled-back and hit Beedrill from behind.
"Look like you're fast, but not fast enough," Blue taunted.
"Beedrill, fly beyond its reach," Ethan advised, as his Pokemon shook off the near-splattering impact of the larger creature.
"Nothing's beyond my Arcanine's reach," Blue corrected. "Let's teach our little champion a thing or two about type disadvantage, Arcanine, with Flamethrower!"
Arcanine let out a roar and shot a plume of flame skyward. Ethan covered his face as the heat of the blaze reached him, even from the sidelines.
"Beeeee!" Beedrill squeaked as fire engulfed it, licking its lacy wings with flame. Thick plumes of smoke were fanned from its shuddering appendages as the flying insect tried to stay airborne, but the flames did their work. Beedrill sank earthward, trailing clouds of smoke as it fell. There was an uncomfortable pluck followed by a slam as Beedrill's stingers hit the ground before the rest of its body did.
"You can still do this, Beedrill," Ethan cheered. "Get up!"
"Are you kidding me?" Blue asked, shaking his head. "Your bug is on its last legs. Whether it gets up or not, there's only one way this ends."
Ethan looked carefully at the rising Beedrill, just getting to its feet. Then he looked at Blue, and for one moment, Blue saw a look on Ethan's face that he'd hadn't expected. Something darker, slyer than the grinning unflappable façade he'd been trying to taunt into breaking.
"Endeavor," Ethan nearly whispered.
"You… you son of bitch!" Blue blurted out.
Ethan's Beedrill perked up at the order, and before Blue could give a counter-order, leapt toward Arcanine powered by its legs instead of its wings, and stabbed its stingers into the creature's hide with the last of its strength. Arcanine let out a scream as its health was ripped away.
"Last legs, right?" Ethan repeated, as Beedrill and Arcanine broke apart. "Now they're both on them."
Blue's hands were clenched so tightly that his nails cut into his palm. "That's a cheap move!" he complained.
"The cheapest," Ethan agreed. "And I wouldn't have gotten to use it if you'd finished me off instead of bragging like you'd already won."
Blue opened his mouth, but no retort came out because he didn't have one. "…Extreme Speed!" he ordered Arcanine, determined not to lose on the ragged edge between victory and defeat.
"Right into the Poison Jab, Beedrill!" Ethan returned.
The two Pokemon collided, Arcanine's strength pushing Beedrill all the way into the wall with a sickening crunch. Arcanine slowly backed away, its tongue lolling out in exhaustion. Beedrill's stingers were out, still slick and sickly colored from the poison that coated them. It dropped its barbs and slumped to the ground. Arcanine tried to make it back to the center of the stage, but its legs crossed each other awkwardly as it moved dizzily forward. It blinked as though the light in the room was suddenly too bright for it. And then it fell.
There was a beat of silence.
"Well, shit," Blue summed up. Apparently a double knock-out hadn't been the inevitable outcome he'd predicted.
Ethan pulled out his Poke Ball out and recalled his fainted Beedrill. "You put up a great fight Beedrill," he said, as he pulled it back. "Thank you."
Blue took out his Poke Ball and called his Pokemon back too, suddenly feeling sort of awkward. "You did good too," he managed to say. These days, he was trying to do that "thanks for your effort" routine with his Pokemon. It just never felt as natural for him as it seemed to for other trainers.
"I guess we're still and zero-zero," Ethan said, flashing a grin at Blue. "I'll pick first this time," he added, picking up a Poke Ball and tossing it out. "Gyarados, go!"
Blue hesitated for a moment at the sight of the oddly colored beast that took up most of the space in the high-ceilinged gym. There were a couple options but… maybe it was Ethan's edgy choice in the last battle that helped him to make his final decision.
"Rhydon, you're next!" he called, throwing the ball out onto the field.
Rhydon was no shrimp, but it was hard to see it in any other way next to the gargantuan sea beast. Rhydon didn't seem particular deterred by its opponent's size or the way it was lashing out ferociously. It just planted its feet and let the stadium lights glint off of its formidable horn.
Blue crossed his arms and looked speculatively at Ethan. "Are you going to ask why I'd choose Rhydon when it has a clear type disadvantage?"
"Nope," Ethan answered briskly. "I assumed you had a plan for it."
Blue scowled. He didn't like his retorts being rendered useless by an opponent that refused to go for low-hanging fruit.
"…But, that said, I don't think I'm going to give you a chance to put it into action," Ethan finished. "Gyarados—Rain Dance!"
Gyarados rocked its coils back and forth and gave an ear-piercing cry that seemed to martial the moisture in the closed-off room into clouds. Gyarados slapped its tail against the ground and the clouds broke, seeding rain onto the stadium floor.
"If you weren't going to give me a chance, then you shouldn't have wasted your time switching the weather up," Blue quipped. "Stone Edge, Rhyhorn!"
Rhyhorn pumped its arms out by its side, a strange blue aura appearing around it. A circle of stones rose from the blue aura and circled the Pokemon for a moment. "Horn!" Rhyhorn yelled, and sent the sharp stones rocketing toward Gyarados.
Gyarados screamed as the stones jabbed against its toughened scales and swiped angrily back at Rhyhorn, knocking its opponent back.
"Use your Ice Fang before it can get its balance!" Ethan ordered.
"Get out of the way, Rhyhorn!" Blue called in reply.
Rhyhorn struggled to get back on his feet after the blow from the serpent's tail. It tried to flee, but Gyarados's fangs met it as it rose.
"R-r-r-r-r-r!" Rhyhorn shuddered as Gyarados's teeth froze its rocky skin.
Rhyhorn finally tore itself away from Gyarados's bite, clutching its still partially frozen body as it did. Gyarados slunk up and down, his mouth open wide—all fangs and pink gums and horrible red tongue. It looked as though the only reason it wasn't attempting to swallow the rocky Pokemon whole was that it was waiting on its trainer's command.
"Let's not draw this out any longer," Ethan decided, taking off his rain-soaked hat. "Finish it with Hydro Pump!"
Gyarados lifted its head, drawing up water from deep within its body and preparing to unleash the flood. Rhyhorn tensed, unsure of what to do. It turned around and looked at its trainer.
"Rhyhorn," Blue said, as tense as his Pokemon, "You can't dodge that big an attack, but you can answer it. Hit it with the Thunder Fang!"
Rhyhorn nodded at its trainer, and turned to face the writhing serpent in front of it. Just as Gyarados let out an overwhelming surge of water, Rhyhorn dived for it. It hit the stream dead on, but instead of being blown back, it sliced through it, arms pointed forward so it could propel itself against the current. It rode the midair river until it reached the source—the gaping mouth of the red Gyarados.
Lightning rocketed around the stadium, jumping from raindrop to raindrop until it all converged on Rhyhorn. It channeled in through its horn, its eyes glowing with overloaded electricity. It plunged its charged fangs into the serpent's scales and clamped tight—not to be detached by the shrieking creature's pained thrashing.
Suddenly, the manic movement ceased. Gyarados fell to the ground with such force that the dust and mortar fell from the rafters, and it seemed as though the ceiling might give way. Rhyhorn fell with it, its teeth still stubbornly lodged in its opponent. One was soaked all the way through its rocky pores; the other was zap-dried and still crackled with static electricity. Both were very definitely fainted.
"A double knock-out again?" Blue demanded.
"Yeah… that doesn't usually happen," Ethan said, scratching at his hat-hair and looking mildly sheepish. "But you can't say that one's my fault. You're the one that decided to take me down with you that time."
Blue didn't dignify that with a response, instead he drew his Pokemon back into its ball. "You did a great job going straight through that Hydro Pump," he said to the thin strand of red light that was sucked into the ball.
"You were awesome too, Gyarados," Ethan said, pulling his Pokemon back. "I'm proud of you."
"So… it comes down to this," Blue said, buying some time to try to figure out his next move. "I guess maybe Johto isn't as weak as I thought."
"What can I say? We're born fighters," Ethan answered. "But what are we going to do if we hit another double knock-out?"
"We won't," Blue said, having made his decision. He picked up his third Poke Ball and threw it into the ring. "…Because I'm going to win this one."
When the light from the Poke Ball dimmed, a familiar figure appeared in the arena. In fact, the only real difference was that while the previous member of its kind had crimson scales, this specimen had turquoise scales.
"Awesome! You have a Gyarados too?" Ethan exclaimed. "You totally should've sent it out before. That way we could've fought Gyarados vs. Gyarados!"
Blue put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes. "You seriously wanted us to fight with the same Pokemon? I thought you were better at strategy than that."
"Well, sure, but if it's the same two Pokemon against each other then it really just comes down to strength and smarts," Ethan responded. "And that's where the real test is."
"Also," he added as an afterthought. "It's perfect because we have different colored Gyarados. Yours is blue, and your name is Blue."
"Don't be stupid," Blue scoffed. "Anyway, your Gyarados is red, so it would only work if your name was—"
He cut himself off, suddenly shaken. He… yes, he didn't know what it was. The kid had even taken off his stupid hat, but yet Blue still couldn't help thinking of…
"Whatever," Blue said, refusing to finish that thought. "Just call out your Pokemon so we can finish this."
"Sure, sure," Ethan said, apparently not noticing Blue's loss of mental balance. "I think it's time I introduced you to my starter."
"'Introduced?'" Blue repeated mockingly. "What, are you going to take me to meet your folks next? I didn't know we were going steady."
Ethan just grinned. "One step at a time, man." He threw out the ball. "Typhlosion! Go!"
The fire-spined creature appeared in the ring, flexing its flame like a muscle. Blue bit back a comment about type disadvantage. It had already come back to haunt him and he didn't want that to happen again. But yet he couldn't shake the feeling that Ethan was in some ways purposefully handicapping himself. But why? He certainly wasn't taking it easy on Blue, that much was clear. Perhaps it was just because a real challenge was more… fun? …Or maybe he simply wanted to prove to Blue that he could stand up to the odds.
While Blue was still trying to figure out Ethan's angle, Ethan called out, "Typhlosion, use Smoke Screen and don't let it get too close to you!"
"What?" Blue responded, coming back to the moment too late to react.
"Phloooooo!" Typhlosion cried, taking a deep breath and spitting noxious black gas into the air until the entire arena was caked in thick, black fog.
"Oh no—you're not going to hide that easily," Blue retorted. "Gyarados, use Waterfall on it!"
Gyarados's eyes sparkled for a moment as it summoned a magic torrent of water. It rode on the arc of the water straight toward the place it had last seen Typhlosion. All it seemed to do when it hit its mark was slam itself into the ground, though.
"Keep using Waterfall, Gyarados!" Blue ordered. "You'll hit it eventually."
"You keep ducking and weaving, Typhlosion," Ethan advised. "And when you're clear of it, use Defense Curl!"
"That's not going to stop me from wiping out your HP when my Gyarados finds you," Blue replied, a fierce edge in his voice.
Gyarados kept propelling itself across the blackened stadium—only becoming fully visible when it rode the water over the smog. But yet there was no cry of impact from Typhlosion. In fact, it only made the barest of sounds as a signal to its trainer that it had found time to complete its task. By the time Gyarados had summoned its water to the source of the noise, Typhlosion was gone again.
"Now—Rollout! And run as soon as you land a hit," Ethan commanded.
"As soon as you feel it, grab it with your coils," Blue ordered his blinded Gyarados.
There was a smack as Typhlosion, curled up into a ball, rammed against Gyarados. Its body was tensed, and fortified by the Defense Curl, making the impact against the serpent even harder. The smack was followed by a flail as Gyarados attempted to grab hold of the spinning pain in its lack-of-ass, but missed and fell to the ground.
"More! Keep going!" Ethan shouted, excitement rising in his voice.
"Get out of the way, Gyarados!" Blue tried, knowing the attack would be even stronger if he let it hit again. But it was no use. Even in the haze, Gyarados was just too big to slink out of Typhlosion's cross-hairs.
BAM! Typhlosion hit again. You could hear it rolling away now, its speed ramping up with every impact. SMACK! It hit again. The rolling sound was still there, but it was drowned out by Gyarados's impassioned roars.
"Gyarados—try Waterfall again!" Blue ordered, knowing that his only real chance was to decommission Typhlosion before it could hit with an even more powerful Rollout attack. The smoke was so thick, though, and Typhlosion was moving so fast that he knew landing a strike would come down to pure luck.
BOOM! Gyarados shrieked and flopped to the ground, its violet eyes closing as it sank into the smoke.
Neither Blue nor Ethan moved for a moment. It was clear from the giant thump that Gyarados had gone down. But they could tell, with the blackened condition of the air, if Gyarados had managed to hit his target before he went down. Minute by minute, the smoke began to thin.
"Ty!" Typhlosion cheered, uncurling and running over to its trainer.
"You did it, Typhlosion! We won!" Ethan called out, hugging the Pokemon.
"Tch." Blue lifted his Poke Ball, lining it up with the fainted dead-away Gyarados. "At least you tried," was all the vague praise he could muster.
Ethan and his Typhlosion bounded across the stadium toward Blue. "That was a great match, Blue," Ethan enthused. "I really wasn't sure how it was going to go there at the end."
"Yeah, well, I hope you know a lot of what happened out there was just luck," Blue answered, but there wasn't a lot of fight left in his voice.
He reached into his pocket. "…But a lot of it wasn't. I gotta admit, you're the real deal. Here," he said, pulling an Earth Badge out of his pocket and holding it out to Ethan. "…To complete your little collection," he added.
Ethan took it gingerly from Blue's hand. "Thanks, Blue," he said. "That means a lot coming from the real deal himself."
Blue snickered. "Don't think complimenting me will keep me from beating you next time," he said.
"Right back at ya," Ethan replied, folding his hand around the badge. "…But first thing's first," he said, as though a thought suddenly struck him. "I have to head over to the Pokemon Center. You messed up my Beedrill and Gyarados pretty bad."
"Oh, like you didn't do the same to my Pokemon," Blue retorted.
"Well, that's true," Ethan admitted. "…In that case, wanna go to the Center together?"
Blue took an unconscious step back and then instantly hated himself for it. "I… can't," he finally said. "I have to stay at the gym. You know, battling challengers and stuff."
"Right," Ethan said understandingly. "Well… I guess I better go then and let you get to it. But I'll see you later, right?"
"R—maybe," Blue replied after a bit of mental reshuffling. "That is, if I have time."
"Sure," Ethan said, turning away as his Typhlosion followed him. "See you then!"
Blue stared after Ethan until the moving panels took him all the way to the doorway of the gym. The door shut. He stared down at Gyarados's Poke Ball in his hand. He couldn't beat Ethan with this team. And to think, he'd been building it to re-challenge…
"That was an inspiring match, sir," said one of the trainers in his gym—Selma or Salma or something, Blue couldn't remember—as she approached the field.
"Yeah," Blue said quietly—to his Poke Ball, not the trainer—"I guess it was."
"Do you want one of us to take your injured Pokemon down to the Center or do you want to face the rest of your challengers with your other Pokemon?" she asked.
Blue snapped out of his reverie. "Rest of my challengers?" he repeated.
"Yep," whatsherface said. "They're all outside, waiting for you."
Blue put the miniaturized Poke Ball in his Pokemon and looked off toward the back door of the gym. "I'm taking a break," he said.
"Of course," she said, understandingly. "When should I tell the challengers you'll be back?"
Blue shrugged, having reached the door. "January, maybe?" he guessed.
"Oh sir! You're not leaving again, are you?" she asked.
"Yep," he said, opening the door.
"But a lot of these trainers have been waiting a long time to battle you," she protested. "They're not going to be happy when they hear you've left again."
"Look at all the fucks I give," was Blue's only reply as the door closed behind him.
Blue adjusted the strap on his backpack as he emerged from the forest. Just as the guide had claimed, there was a meadow and lake beyond the glade. It was remote, the guide had said, with only a few local fisherman who even knew the place existed. It was quiet and cut off from society—a great place to set up camp and get to some serious training.
Blue turned his head sharply to see a Pikachu peering curiously at him from behind a tree at the forest's edge.
"Pikachu aren't… native to this forest," Blue said slowly to himself as the creature twitched its ears at him. "Wait a second… are you—?" Blue demanded, suddenly lunging at the creature.
"Cha!" the Pikachu squealed, scampering away from him at breakneck speed.
As Blue turned the corner to follow the Pikachu, he saw a silhouette in the distance that nearly made his heart stop. There he was. Too far to make out any real details. But he could see the outline of that hat… and he was wearing… red.
"Hey! What are you doing to my Pikachu?" the figured squawked in protest. A stranger's voice.
Blue stopped in his tracks and labored to catch his breath. Yes… now he could see more clearly. The figure was holding a fishing rod, the hat was decked out with lures, and the face… he'd never seen it before.
"Nothing," Blue managed. "I just… I thought it might belong to someone I used to know."
"So you chased it?" the fisherman repeated, no less offended.
"Look, it was just a misunderstanding," Blue insisted, but before he or the fisherman could say anything more, there was an audible vibration from Blue's pocket.
Blue took out his Pokegear, ignoring the scowl the fisherman was throwing his way. He flipped it open. "Yeah, this is Blue," he said into it in place of "hello."
"Hey, Blue! Long time, no see," a familiar voice brimming with cheerfulness buzzed out of the tiny speaker. "Thought I'd call up and see how you were doing."
"Ethan?" Blue repeated, caught off-guard. He got a hold of himself and retorted: "I'm just peachy over here, thanks for asking. Now, mind telling me how the hell you got this number?"
"Your big sister gave it to me," Ethan answered. "She seemed to think you might be lonely."
"I'm not lonely!" Blue shouted into the receiver. He looked up to see the fisherman and his Pikachu giving an odd look, so abruptly turned around and began walking the other way.
"So what would you do if I was lonely, Mr. Champion?" Blue asked mockingly. "Planning on taking me out for sundaes? Maybe a movie and some hand-holding? Huh?"
"…Sounds like you've already given this some thought," Ethan said, undeterred by the levels of sarcasm filtering through the airways. "But actually I was just thinking we could meet up for a rematch. At the Fighting Dojo in Saffron, maybe?"
"And what makes you think I have the time to waste battling you again?" Blue asked, tromping toward the forest's edge.
"Well, you did say something about beating me 'next time,' right? So I assumed there would actually be a next time," Ethan reasoned. "And your sister said you had nothing to do on Sunday nights anyway."
Blue pulled the receiver away from his face and cursed. Daisy's well-intentioned but flawed attempts to set him up were the last thing he needed right now.
"…Does a muffled 'shit!' mean you accept my challenge?" Ethan asked.
"I'll think about it," Blue growled into the receiver before hanging up.
"…And you should've just minded your own business," Blue finished, glaring at his sister from across the living room of the house they'd grown up in.
"I don't see what the problem is," Daisy replied, leaning over his Machamp, who was face down on the table awaiting a massage. "He seemed like a nice guy—and such well-groomed Pokemon. You should've given him your number yourself."
Blue ran a hand through his hair. "Grooming is not the only thing you should use to judge character, Daisy. And you should've let me decide if I wanted to give him my number myself. I can arrange for my own battles, y'know."
"But you don't," Daisy said simply, working her elbow into the tense spot on Machamp's back. "So I have to set up play-dates for you. Not that I mind or anything," she added as an afterthought. "After all, what are big sisters for?"
Blue ground his teeth together. "Whatever," he said. "I'm way too busy to battle this guy again anyway, so your little 'play-date' failed."
Daisy raised an eyebrow. "Busy? Doing what?"
Blue struggled for an answer for a moment. "Training, of course," he finally blustered. "And, you know, just traveling. There's a lot to see out there. I can't stop in my tracks to battle someone every time they want me to."
Daisy reached over for some massage oil and rubbed her hands together. "It seems to me that battling a Champion would be great training," she reasoned. "And anyway, you've got to quit looking for Red. I miss him too, but it's clear that he doesn't want to be found."
"I'm not looking for Red!" Blue shot back. "I told you, I'm just traveling. It has nothing to do with him."
"Oh, we don't believe that for a minute, do we Machamp?" Daisy asked the recumbent Pokemon.
"Champ!" Machamp said, shaking its head with a huge smile plastered on its face.
"Traitor," Blue muttered, glaring at his Pokemon.
He paused for a moment, unsure how to broach the subject. "Umm… speaking of Red," Blue murmured. "…Do you think he kinda, you know, looks like him?"
Daisy gave him a mystified look. "You mean Ethan?"
"Yeah," Blue said, shuffling his feet. "Not a lot, but just a little bit."
Daisy gave it some thought. "I… don't really see it, to be honest," she said.
Blue was silent.
"Do you think maybe," Daisy began, "that you just want him to be Red?"
"I don't know what you mean by that," Blue answered, though he had a nasty feeling that he did. "Anyway, it was just a… passing thought. He's really not like Red at all."
"Besides the fact that they're both very strong and talented trainers who are kind to their Pokemon," Daisy put in.
"He's too chatty to be anything like Red," Blue pointed out sourly.
Daisy smiled, putting a manicured fingernail up to her chin. "A trainer as strong as Red, but with actual social skills? Sounds perfect for you."
Blue did his best to scoff.
"So… are you going to meet up with him for a battle?" Daisy asked.
Blue didn't answer.
"Hey," Daisy said, leaving Machamp's side to walk over to him. "C'mon, you don't want to let this opportunity get away from you, do you? Don't let this one disappear on you too; don't be a sore loser or a sore winner; don't pretend you're too cool for friends. Just open up for once in your life."
She reached out and swept his long bangs out of his eyes. "You're my little brother, Blue. I don't want you to wind up alone just because you can't seem to open your mouth without being rude to people."
Blue opened his mouth. It took effort, as though his teeth had been glued to one another.
"…I didn't say I wasn't going to go," he finally answered.
He'd shown up and he'd shown up with a plan. Oh yes, there was a plan for the battle, but more importantly there was a plan to make sure that he arrived to the battle second. He got there early, camped out in the Poke Mart across the street from the Dojo and watched until Ethan arrived. Then he timed his Pokegear for fifteen minutes, and only when that time was up did he allow himself to stroll into the Dojo as though he'd only just arrived in town.
And there had been a battle—a full one this time. Blue didn't let it slip that he'd been retooling his team for the last few months based on their last battle. It was close with, yes, even more double knock-outs. But a few solid victories were scored on either side. It just came down to that last Pokemon for each of them. No more tricks, no more traps—just power against power.
…And when it came to power against power… Blue failed.
"We should definitely do this again some time," Ethan's voice drifted over to Blue, who found himself once again staring at the Poke Ball of a defeated Pokemon.
"What, did you want to beat me again?" Blue muttered.
"Hey, it was really close," Ethan countered. "For a moment there, it could've gone either way."
"But it didn't," Blue said, voice leaden.
"Aww, come on," Ethan said. "Battling you is really challenging. I had to prepare a lot for this fight."
Blue perked up slightly. "Well…"
"The hardest fight I've had since… well, our last one," Ethan went on. "So… what do you say? Same time next week?"
Blue allowed his ego to be slightly roused after the brutal onslaught it has faced in their battle. Humility just didn't suit him. "Maybe," he said, "if I—"
"If you have time, yeah, I know," Ethan said with a grin.
"So…" Ethan trailed off. "I was going to go ahead and ask you if you wanted to go to the Center with me, but you're probably going to say no. So, I guess I'll just see you next week."
He turned and took a few steps toward the door before Blue said, "Hey, wait a minute, Ethan."
Ethan turned. "What?" he asked.
"What are you…" Blue began, unsure exactly how to ask this. "Where are you going?"
Ethan raised his eyebrows. "To the Pokemon Center. I just said that."
"No," Blue said, shaking his head. "I mean, after that."
Ethan shrugged. "Exploring, I guess. Mountains, forests, islands… there's a lot to see."
"But, like, what's your goal now?" Blue continued. "You beat Johto's gym leaders, you beat Kanto's gym leaders, and you beat the Elite Four. …What are you looking for now?"
Ethan's forehead crinkled as he gave the matter some thought. "I suppose… I'm looking for someone who's stronger than me."
Blue took a deep breath. Yes… yes of course it would be that. "…And what will you do when you find him?" he asked.
Ethan set his jaw forward definitively. "Never let him out of my sight until I defeat him," he answered.
Blue nodded. "Good answer," he said. He just wished he'd followed that advice himself back before…
"But Ethan, I think you should know," Blue went on, smacking a hand over his chest, "that I'm that someone."
Ethan tilted his head to the side in disbelief. "Were you blacked out for me just beating you?" he asked.
Blue groaned. "Okay, so I'm not stronger than you now—but I will be! Someday! So," he trailed off and looked down, having lost some of his momentum, "so you'd be an idiot to let me out of your sight."
Ethan watched him carefully, gauging how to respond. Finally he gave a small smile. "Then I guess it's only right for me to invite you to come along on my journey with me."
Blue looked up and bit back a smile. "I… I can't accept that," he said, turning on the smug. "I'm going on my own journey. …But you're welcome to come along."
Ethan laughed, shaking his head. "How about we just say that we're both on our own journeys, but we just happen to be going the same place and traveling there together?"
"Sounds like a plan," Blue agreed.
"But wait…" Ethan remembered. "Don't you have a bunch of challengers still waiting to battle you at the gym? What about them?"
"Fuck 'em," Blue answered. "Until I defeat you, no one else matters."