Con Brio: A FireRed Randomized Nuzlocke

Chapter 5

Clover steeled herself with a grounding hand pressed on the fold-up chair; a clammy death grip on it being her only connection to the reality around her.

A lot of people were there, so many she could almost feel herself being drowned in a sea of bodies if she closed her eyes.

The only people that mattered to her here, however, were the living Oaks and her mother. Daisy was surrounded by friends, and the elder Oak was quietly far off with a small lady who was equal to his age and almost familiar, for some reason.

Gary was in an ocean of his friends from school. Plenty of dirty looks were sent that way at the kids laughing loudly, and generally ignoring the lull hum of quiet noise required of a funeral. Some reporters milled about, trying to uncover the truth of the deaths of the ever popular Oak couple.

Clover's mother was perhaps sobbing the loudest- and also yelled the fiercest at the reporters, working with the security guards to throw them out. When not biting the heads off of the merciless goofers, she was crying her heart out on her daughter's shoulder.

The normal southern Kanto weather was merrily beating down, a bright sunshine accompanied by clear azure skies of an almost painful intensity. A soft wind made it feel just bearable, and the picturesque day seemed to be there to spite the death and the tears. It was an unsettling conflict.

In the movies, it was always gloomy and rainy and didn't seem to last very long. As a parallel, Clover didn't think it would ever end, and it was the type of day she and Gary would ride their bikes on, or go swimming at the small bay that led to sea. Or at the least, it would've used to, but she didn't think things would remain as it had between them. The future ahead seemed incapable of remaining similar to how it had been.

Gary sent over guilty looks every so often, and was laughing along with the other kids, but all she could think was how horrible of an actor he was.

The funeral lasted for ages upon ages, and it wasn't soon enough that she was sent home and watched her mom walk off to the celebration of life party in the city. That was what they called it, but to her, it sounded like a cheap excuse to go drinking the pain away. Clover was just a kid, and she was sure it helped her mother cope, but she couldn't stop the worry eating at her. It wasn't healthy and she never felt at ease around alcohol or those intoxicated by it- least of all, her mom.

But at least her mother was crying and expressing it. It was a lot more than she could say for the youngest Oak.

Night time came and the hours of stillness in the house stretched on. The house felt like it was consuming her first, and her thoughts were tearing her atoms apart second, like she was first eaten then digested.

The Oaks had been a happy big family, and now they were so small, in a rather terrifying way. She would think to her own tiny family of two; it could so easily be torn apart. In a twisted manner, she was grateful. That it had not been her own mother that died.

If not for her mother, she had nobody. Gary was rapidly slipping through her fingers and she didn't have any real flesh and blood elsewhere. No father to speak of, no aunt nor uncle nor grandpa or anything even akin. The Oaks were there, but they were broken now. Divided in half, almost.

Without her mother, how would Clover even have a family? It was unthinkable. Her mother was her mother, her father, her siblings and her uncles and aunts and grandparents. Her mother was her entire family enough for her.

If Clover ever lost someone with half as much importance in her life, she'd probably lose it. So, she couldn't believe Gary had dealt with it or was even coping with it. Her mother was the proof of coping with it, even if it was unhealthy. It was like he was ignoring it had taken place at all.

Clover wiped away her tears from all the heavy thoughts that had collected, and hopped up to answer the door- it was probably her mother, back from drinking herself silly.

"Er… Hey, Clover." The person she had least expected to be at her door was in front of her, shy. She had a small bit of mind to close the door in his face, but she knew his actions previous had been a result from the stress and grief. Or so she told herself.

She tried her best to put on a friendly smile. "Hey, Gary. Wanna come in?"

A little later, they were sitting in the living room, the television bringing a harsh lighting to their faces. Hot tea was set in front of both. Clover had heard tea was a good relaxer; it was pretty likely the young Oak would be needing some of that.

"I'm… yesterday… er, y'know, Clover. For, uh... er… y'know..."

Absentmindedly, her hand rose to her swollen cheek. The concealer had probably rubbed off by now. "Decking me?" She offered with a slight, unimpressed smile. Clover hoped and prayed he couldn't see any of the upset feelings she felt. It wasn't like he wanted to or set out to hurt her, but it hurt nonetheless.

"Yeah. I just… I can't stand being here, Clove. It's suffocating like you wouldn't believe. I can't breathe, I swear to legends I can't breathe. And I don't think I'll last long staying in that house or Gramp's, either. They want to rebuild it- can you believe that? But…" He sighed, a minute of silence passing before he chugged the tea. It was difficult to see, but in the dim lighting, she could swear that there were little tears at the corners of his eyes. "It's not going to bring my mom and dad back. It's not going to make Daisy stop screaming in her night terrors and it's not going to stop that awful look from going on Gramps' face. I'm… I can handle it for now, but…"

He was only thirteen but his face looked much older, as though his youth had gone to centuries in a blink. He looked ready to cry, to snap at a moment's notice. She knew if he cried in front of her openly, he'd only become difficult and hard to manage, so she tried her best to think of a solution.

She wished to the stars and back that they had a dummies guide to helping friends through their grief. She was only 11 and going off of what her drunk mother and television offered her. Namely, the Dr. Bill show. "Can I… Do you mind if I hug you for a bit?"

A little noise escaped him and he nodded, and she went to hold her broken friend, imagining it as if it could help hold his broken pieces together, wondering if it was comforting enough, or at all, for him. His dam of tears seemed to break and he cried and sobbed into the space where her neck and shoulder met.

Clover was exceedingly relieved he was crying.

He cried and mumbled protests, occasionally murmuring self-loathing things, but every time he did she tried her best to crush them with soft kindness, like she imagined her mother would.

She was glad that the hug approach went much better than the previous day's- she tried for concerned persistence when he seemed to be acting way too normal and she got a nice slug across the face and harsh words that couldn't be retracted.

After what felt like years of calm silence in their position, Gary pulled away and Clover went to put on another pot of hot water- and to secretly wipe the snot off her shoulder. If she had done it in front of him, he probably would've felt bad about it and try to leave.

Gary was scribbling away furiously on a loose sheet of paper when she returned with hot cocoa. It was probably 80 degrees outside, but she was sure one of his favorite drinks would be appreciated.

"Hot cocoa…?" He asked cautiously, accepting his cup from her hand.

She nodded. "Don't you get that nice warm feeling inside when you drink it?"

"It's the middle of the summer, Clove. You're crazy." He snorted quietly, setting it down as he passed her the paper he had previously attacked.

"You're gonna drink it anyway, right?" She commented as she read over the many ideas plotted on it, noting his nice handwriting.

It was all run away ideas. Or, any ideas in general to escape the small town. It ranged everything from living out in a boxcar to somehow swimming to Cinnabar- which was miles away. Some of the more plausible ones were to get a job as soon as possible and move, or student exchange programs.

She noticed that none of them included anyone's help, or had a plethora of methods of getting around complicating others. Clover tried to ignore the mountain of hurt slowly getting bigger, rock by rock, pebble by pebble. But she shut it down quickly, instead putting her effort into thinking of other possibilities.

Then it hit her. It was obvious. "Why don't we become pokemon trainers?" The words were out of her mouth before she could edit them- but the happy look and the relieved gratitude in his expression said a lot.

He had probably been trying to shoulder it all on his own, she thought.

"It'll take a while but… We could do it. But Clover- you'd still have to wait two years-"

Maybe she had been a little too into the spy movies and that Doctor Hoot series, but she gave him a big grin. "I can fudge the age, probably."

"Y-your mom-"

Clover didn't know if she could leave her mother. At least, it wouldn't be easy. But with the dampness of Gary's tears still lingering on her shoulder, she knew where her feet would end up taking her. Maybe the Oaks weren't the same family they had been a week ago, but they were family nonetheless. "I pretty sure we can come up with a disguise in the next couple years, Gary."

Gary seriously followed the idea of becoming a pokemon trainer- it was the only course of action that would legally allow him to leave at 16 instead of 18. And Clover seriously followed their promise made then- even with their meetings drastically decreasing and her feelings damaged again and again, by the new cocky persona of Gary Oak.

Clover and Gary walked home with light conversation dancing around the issues present- it had been six days since the tragic deaths of the Oak couple. Gary Oak had been an entire mess the first few days- it took the professor, her mother, and Clover herself just to make him take care of himself. Daisy had taken to her new room above the lab, door locked almost for the entire day. She'd only leave to go to the bathroom or drink tea. She barely ate- but she was somewhat taking care of herself. Better than her younger brother was, at least.

Professor Oak was functioning like normal- but his head was entirely in space. He would do as asked, or reply, but only after asking him something eight or nine times.

So when Gary suddenly started acting normal and even came to school that day, Clover was more than mildly alarmed. She didn't ask during school, but on their way home, she worked up the courage to question him.

"Gary, are you sure you're okay?"

They had been sitting at a bench for a while, enjoying the weather.

He gave her a suspicious look, scooting away. "Yes, I'm okay. So you should stop asking."

Clover curled her toes and crossed her fingers. She had a bad feeling of how things were going to play, but she hoped for the best. "Have you thought about that therapist the professor wanted you to go to?"

"I'm okay!" He growled, snarling frustration playing on his complexion.

"Anyone wouldn't be after that! Gary, please, go see them. I'm worried." She pressed, both now standing. Clover was only 11, and she was no genius. But she knew that he needed help- help that Daisy and the professor and her mother and herself couldn't provide. The professor had stressed the importance of convincing Gary and Daisy to see a therapist- and it made a lot of sense. So she was going to be persistent about it.

He snorted. "Don't be. Because I'm absolutely fine and it doesn't concern you."

It was hard not to argue- she had been there too, but overall, it didn't really count. He lost his parents and she didn't. "Gary, as your friend, I'm asking-"

"Then, we aren't friends anymore. I don't need you- and I don't need a stupid therapist, either! I don't need anyone!" He shouted, stomping away.

Clover forced herself to not mind the comments- this was important. "Please- Gary, your grandpa even said so!"

His laugh was cruel and unusual- broken. "Gramps doesn't know anything, Clover. And you don't either so just shut up." He was walking away. She watched his back for a moment, before chasing after him and grabbing his shoulder. She couldn't give up just yet.

"This isn't something small! You can't do this all on your own, Ga-"


Clover found herself sprawled on the ground, holding her painfully burning cheek as she looked at her best friend. She wasn't strong- she was only a little girl after all. She felt useless and weaker than she ever had, as the tears started to leak down her face.

"Y-yeah! That's what you get for putting your nose in s-someone else's business! Like I-I'd be your friend!" If she looked up, she probably would've seen him running, but she only curled up to the smallest her body could manage, and shook and cried in the dirt there. She couldn't manage anything past that.

Aidan never imagined he would be at another funeral. At least, not so soon.

And not one that was happening because of him- that was all his fault. Maybe not intentionally, but he was a murderer in essence nonetheless.

The weather was heavily overcast with a humid heatwave choking up the air. Bug life was active between the thick of trees that made the Viridian Forest, the sound of humming wings and cries of voices a orchestra of living noise.

The area certainly felt alive, but Aidan and co did not, as they all stood around the dull pokeball, greyed by deactivation. Pickles was wailing out his feelings, nuzzling the cold orb while Elliot stayed by his trainer's feet, hesitant and quiet.

"I'm… I'm going to let Fae out now, guys. Do you want to go back into your balls for a while?" They were the first words Aidan had said to the team all day.

Pickles picked himself off the ball and wildly leapt at Aidan's pant leg, large fat sloppy tears dropping like a spurting faucet. "Pickles wants Skittles!" He yelled, expression messy and rawed with fussing.

Aidan reached down to pick up the wooper, holding him as Pickles threw himself into his trainer's torso, face slick with liquids. It seemed like few minutes before the noises quieted and the small amphibian separated himself from the now damp shirt. "Pickles…" Said pokemon yawned, little eyes half lidded. "Pickles want nap."

"Yeah." The trainer murmured with a twinge of a smile, getting the correct orb from his belt. "Okay, buddy." Perhaps it was the long last few days and intense emotions running rampant, but 'buddy' was now acceptable. The little guy still flew off the handle with 'wooper' and everything else, but it was a small step somewhere. And when they were lost and had no idea where they were going, a small step somewhere was something amazing.

The air lost its tension when Pickles returned to his ball, but the sorrow still drenched the atmosphere, the silence between the clam and the human weighing on their shoulders.

"Skittles was really a hero, wasn't she?" The shellder asked in a way that wasn't much of a question.

Aidan's nails bit sharply into his palms as he remembered. Remembered the fear she hid and the strength in her steps as she marched to the field. Remembered as she dodged like a slick eel with a steadfast mask of determination that held no cracks. Remembered her crumpled painful little form in his arms, quickly losing life.

She wasn't supposed to be anyone's hero- she was supposed to be only a funny little cat. Honest and good, smart and amazing. She was a genuine creature and now, a tragedy he wrote in his actions at her expense. "We'd call her a heroine, Elliot. I…" Aidan stopped before he went into a rant of how- any way he possibly could've done things better. Elliot was probably tired of hearing it by now, he was sure. "You, uh, want to go to your ball before we release the crackin?"

The shellder smiled a little- or what Aidan supposed was a smile, its was tricky at best to tell, but he was getting better at it. "Good luck with that, Aidan."

The trainer was pretty sure the pokemon only went back to this ball to escape the upcoming tempest, giving him a sympathetic look as he was enveloped in red light.

Aidan took a look at Skittles' pokeball- they had bought a small decorative box with plush on the inside for the occasion. They sold them at the mart in a hidden corner and he had spent almost two hours choosing an appropriate one.

It was fairly simple, a black felt cube with lining on the inside. A protective outer wiring of gold metalwork wove together to make a design of the sun, moon and stars. It was pretty and somehow didn't cost a alarming amount.

He held Fae's ball for a moment, glad he decided to bring a portable medical kit. He was probably going to need it.

"Hi, Fae." Aidan managed, throat dry and rusty as cracked earth in the summer.

The cleffa immediately leapt at the trainer, incoherently babbling far too fast for his ears to discern, and was mildly aware of increasing wetness on his chest, now drenched. "A-are you okay? Calm down, Fae- it's okay now, I promise, I got you, I got you in my arms now, okay?"

Her small form was flailing in his grasp, as if trying any way to get closer to her trainer's body, squirming and wiggling. "I'm so happy you're okay M-Master Aidan, I was with the creepy old hag and she wouldn't explain anything and she looked so sad, and naturally I thought y-you w-were… w-were-" The pink pudge grew inconsolable, bawling loudly.

Aidan couldn't help but twitch his lips upward as he sat to be more accommodating for his starter. She was ridiculous, rude and a little crazy, but no one had ever cried on his behalf like this. A tender, fluttery warmth filled his core as he held her, and he felt grateful that he could be on this journey- he wanted to be here. Honest.

With a shuddering breath of his own, Aidan gathered the courage to tell Fae. "Skittles… She died in the gym battle against Brock. She allowed us time to heal Pickles- I-I'm so sorry… I should've forfeit or something, or made us train longer, or…"

The sniffing cleffa headbutted her trainer's chin, little eyes red and puffy. "Y-you can't do anything about it now! You were always asking us if we wanted to train more and telling her that she was more fit for other stuff and she stayed by her own accord! You can't blame yourself for everything, you stupid s-stupid Master."

Her words made sense, but he didn't want to accept them at all. "Look, Fae, I'm the trainer- I'm the head of the team so it's my fault. A-and you didn't see her walk to the field!" Tears were starting to prick at his eyes. If he wasn't supposed to blame Brock, and he couldn't only blame himself, then who was he supposed to blame? How could he blame anyone else, when he didn't stop her, didn't stop the match?

"What was it like?" Fae asked after a long beat of silence between them.

Aidan stared at the gray pokeball in its decorative box, sighing. "She… I was too scared to decide anything. Elliot couldn't take another hit, and Pickles was exhausted and tired and I needed to heal him while the onix was on it's last leg. And then, she barked at me and marched on. She was scared y'know? Terrified. But she was only confident and calm like always- and she even almost made it."

He had to stop, feeling the phantom ghosts brush his arm, remembering how she felt in his arms, like a ragdoll full of broken china with fleeting warmth.

"I remember the old hag saying something about you throwing up. She didn't say anything about the gym after that which is why I was so worried." The pink pudge murmured, now resting quietly in his hug.

"Really?" Aidan said, continuing to stare at the ball. "It was all just a blur after that- Pickles beat the onix which was all I was thinking about, and then his siblings… they threw down some poison spikes. I was so angry, but I had to get Pickles out of there before…"

Another long stretch of quiet returned between them, as they watched the sun's light dance between the tree branches and enjoyed the sticky warmth of the afternoon.

Aidan was lost in thought about thank-you baskets as they left Pewter City, finally leaving it behind them. Fae and Pickles were strolling leisurely beside him, and he held Elliot in his arms.

Thank-you baskets are still a thing, right? He wondered, a variety of assortments passing his thoughts. If he sent a beauty package, he was sure Verde would use it, but also come at him ranting and huffing. She'd probably say 'Who do you think you are, getting off with this? I'm already fucking beautiful, I don't need this crap, do you fucking hear me Aidan Smith?!' or something similar to that.

He couldn't purchase anything with wine or alcohol, so that was out of the picture. He knew that she'd just give her nidoqueen any flowers he sent as a snack- he'd seen her do it before. In front of the very guy who gave them to her, asking her out on a date. It had been kinda funny, but he still felt bad for the guy.

"Aidan, wait up!"

He froze at the voice, a curdling and broiling feeling beginning to clutch his stomach. He took one look at the speaker's face and bolted after scooping up all of his pokemon in his arms.

"Master Aidan, who is that?!" The cleffa yelped, peeking over his shoulder.

Pickles was quaking in his arms. "Bad man, bad man!"

Elliot was haphazardly trying to lick the wooper in the midst, attempting to calm him down. "It's okay Pickles, he didn't want to hurt Skittles, he doesn't want to hurt us- Aidan, you can't run from him forever!"

"Says," Aidan gasped with tired challenge in his voice, "who?"

Before long, the rock snake had cut off their escape route. The trainer was tempted to send Pickles, who was itching for it, to brawl again with the onix, but then he saw the many bandages and salves over its body.

The cleffa was puzzled still but jumped out protectively in front of her trainer, and Elliot was keeping the wooper from blasting the rock snake with water.

His heart squirmed uncomfortably- he didn't want to be anywhere near Brock. Not one lick or one bit. But, he knew a gym leader was also serious business. It wouldn't reflect well on him, and it would make him stand out some if the news caught wind of a trainer resisting a leader. The normally quiet media of Pewter would have a hay day with it.

He swallowed, aware of his parched throat as he returned Pickles- Elliot couldn't restrain him for too long, and Pickles would be hysteric. It was probably for the best to give him alone time. "Brock." He rasped, curtly.

Said gym leader was panting as well, but standing strong. "Aidan. I want to apologize to you and your team."

Aidan didn't want to hear it. Everything in him was willing him to dash off, away. Not because he was physically scared, or emotionally, even.

"I'm so sorry for my-"

If he heard Brock apologize for the death of Skittles, he was going to lose the monster.

Aidan gave a weak, shaky laugh. "D-don't worry about it, okay?"

He was going to lose the image of a monster taking Skittles away, and have it replaced with a remorseful human.

Brock shook his head violently. "I have to worry about it- it's my fault you lost your skitty."

How was Aidan supposed to hate him then? How was he supposed to hate someone who was only doing their job?

"I'm truly sorry for the pain I have caused and your friend you have lost because of my weak judgement as a gym leader." The man genuinely seemed apologetic, gaze cast to the ground, as if unable to look the younger trainer in the eye.

How was Aidan supposed to hate the person who was only there to challenge him- a challenge that Aidan screwed up for himself and his team?

His voice was cracked and emotional, speaking slowly as he shook his head. "I-it wasn't your fault, Brock. I-it's mine, I think..."

The trainers Aidan had previously scoped out were strong in number and similar in strength- and just never ending. For each trainer that Fae and Elliot fought off, two more would replace their spot. The money they handed over after was pitiful and they all had numerous pokemon. Aidan didn't want to spend more than a week at the spot, so he had to use the money Brock had given him earlier, along with a badge and a technical machine that the young trainer had not received at the gym.

Thankfully, the extra money for supplies made it much quicker- they didn't have to go back to the pokecenter after every few battles, which would take the rest of the day.

Fae and Elliot both agreed (imagine that) with their trainer to involve Pickles as little as possible with the battles, and to work as a group to cheer up the dreary little cry baby. It was also good experience for the team in general- they had never faced so many trainers in such a short amount of time. The only other trainers they had fought had really been in the Viridian Forest, and they only faced a few in those three weeks.

Aidan became more stable and confident, his commands much louder and sure, no longer akin to the timid words he used to send out during battle that sounded more like questions. Elliot too, grew a little calmer, taking blows with less panic and on occasion, even taking two or three pokemon all on his own. He was still no match for the energetic, crazy pink pudge, however.

After two days of endless battles and exhausted nights, the team found a grassy area. Aidan felt bad he had never actually caught any of his pokemon with means that weren't food, so he decided. They were going to try for another team member.

With Pickles being entertained by Elliot some distance away, Fae and Aidan snuck into the grass.

Did he want to replace Skittles? He honestly didn't think it was possible. But, the more team members they had, the better. That he was certain, after the gym battle went. One more on their team could change the entire playing field- not to mention their weakness to grass types that was rather hard to ignore in the future. There was a whole gym devoted to it, and they were plentiful in the wilds.

Soon enough, the duo found a rare find- a kirlia! Aidan had only ever seen them on television, in books, in anime. They were exceedingly popular, but rare to actually own, and rarer to find wild.

He had heard the horror stories about psychic types- but if they came against a fighting or a grass type, they'd have something, at least. And, kirlia were strong.

Even if he didn't want a new face so soon after Skittles, if he could stop what happened with something like the kirlia, then so be it, he'd even wrestle a fighting type by himself.

"Sing, Fae!" Aidan said, watching the emotion pokemon turn around slowly, as if it already knew they were there.

A melodic sound that was neither quite song nor words drifted out of the cleffa's mouth, and the lithe kirlia slowly sunk to the ground. It didn't look especially alarmed. While most anyone would probably at least put up some resistance, he had to remind himself it was a psychic type. He'd have to make this quick- if it knew they were there before hand, then it likely had a plan.

"Okay Fae, use your pound attack! Not too harshly, though!"

A few attacks were easily laid on the defenseless psychic type, and Fae was going on as if nothing were amiss, so Aidan decided to trust his pokemon's sixth sense. He threw a pokeball- and it flew right back into Fae's enraged face, and then his own, a thin layer of psychic energy barely visible around the ball.

As he suspected, when he sat back up, he could see the last traces of teleport, a giggle dissipating as their failed capture left.

"Damn." Aidan grumbled holding his face in his hands. "We got played, Fae."

An air of fury surrounded the small, cute pink pudge. "Ohhhh… Next time I see that guy, I am going to PUMMEL him! No one makes a fool of me and gets away with it. Fufufu…"

The young trainer was a little cheered up by his starter's usual antics, unable to stop himself from smiling.

"Why ya' laughin'! Something funny, Master?" Normally, her use of the word Master held a happy lilt, but it was now filled with threat, as if just daring him to say what he was thinking.

He honestly hadn't realized he was chuckling- and the phantom aches in his body told him what was to come. Despite this, he went and said it anyway. "Y'know, Fae, you're really cute when you try to be scar- Ow! Shi- crap! Motherfuck, don't BITE ME! You always bite too hard!"

As they moved for a night in the pokecenter, beside the entrance to Mount Moon, Aidan somehow felt himself becoming more of a masochist, not regretting the new batch of slightly bloody cuts and bruises.

Aidan never really liked darkness. When he was younger, his overactive imagination would always flash back to the horror movies he could never seem to stop himself from watching- perhaps he really was a glutton for punishment.

Thankfully, the cave was plentiful with light, which was most likely from when the mine was a fossil hot spot, which gave rise to the museum. Chany dragged him with her to see it after work one day- he never had much interest, but he went to be polite. He felt rude just being there, seeing an old man emotional over the bones of two complete dragon fossils.

Aidan and Elliot tried their luck with a zubat- who was screeching so loudly, and his words were just so horrible that the only way to get the damn thing to shut up was to get it unconscious.

He had only two pokemon out at a time, max. He made sure to read up about the place before they went venturing into it. Suspicious activity was going on there, supposedly.

Elliot and Fae were easy enough, they were always bickering when they were both out, so they stayed close together, and to him, because he usually was the one in between. Pickles, however, seemed in a hurry to get stronger, now. Or rather, that was what the little pokemon said, but Aidan was getting a very distinct feeling that wasn't the case. It was more like the wooper was throwing itself into battles with wild abandon.

That and with the first long, weary week they spent in the cave, Aidan's bad premonition seemed to get heavier and more likely to come true. About once or twice a day, he would run into a trainer, or a miner, and almost always, they seemed to have words that were making his premonition likelier and likelier.

It was the 10th day in that blasted cave that they ran into someone who most definitely fit into the criminal description, all black with a large R on their chest.

Elliot had been in his arms, and the two had been mildly discussing colors- legends above, they were so much more than bored, that boredom had barely covered a nth of it. There was only so much you could talk about, wandering in a large mountain, before the good topics ran dry.

"What's a brat like you doing in our cave? Go back, this isn't anything for you to snoop around in, runt."

There lacked a bite in the snarl that the suspicious man growled, leaning against a boulder, looking similarly bored out of his mind, and shifty.

"A-aidan, this guy doesn't smell good." The shell in his arms whined, squirming closer to him.

Elliot complained as much as anyone would- but unless it actually bothered him, he wouldn't be moving around in his arms like he was.

Aidan couldn't smell anything, but he knew the guy was bad news from a look. "Well, do you want to book it? He only has one ball on his belt. He doesn't carry himself very trainerly, either." The trainer was no expert yet, but he knew that any trainer on speaking terms with their pokemon would be talking with them- the cave got worse by yourself. He had to be by himself, sometimes, to let the team rest, but it wasn't a fun experience.

It was a quiet that ate someone, not whole, but slowly. Slowly in a way that the thoughts would spiral, that the looming darkness in the huge area became so much more scarier, in a way that boasted paranoia despite better judgement. Noises were everywhere in the cave, and pokemon cries could sound like human screams, when one had nothing better to imagine. It was unpleasant, and for the first time, he could really understand the idea of humans being social creatures that bunched together.

The shellder took a moment to think, his strange body makeup somehow suggesting introverted thinking. A shell could suggest a lot for not actually changing position very much. The tongue, surprisingly, did little to help read a shellder's mood. The trainer was slowly getting better at understanding his pokemon but it was also just that; slow. He expected the pokemon to shrink back and easily blow off the challenge, but he agreed, surprisingly enough. "... Let's do it, Aidan. I want to."

There was no stuttering, no hint of hesitation. Aidan looked at his pokemon once more. He knew that there was something going on in Elliot's head that the pokemon wasn't saying out loud, but he saved it for later.

Elliot would never take on a trainer that cocky or confident, which was why Aidan was startled by it, but he was more than happy to oblige his pokemon.

"Didn't you hear me, punk? Or are you mute, huh? 'bout to wet your little pants, boy?"

The shellder popped out of his arms, unflinching as he hobbled to a good battling distance from the suspicious guy. "What are you up to?" Aidan questioned under his breath with a frown, walking behind his pokemon. Now he knew something was definitely up with the mild little guy. It's not like he was that much of a coward, because Elliot could take on plenty of trainers or pokemon without being too uneased, unless they looked threatening or scary. He had never seen the clam ever so determined for a battle, however.

The pokemon would battle, sure. Just fine, but he never wanted to. It was always just something he had to do. Aidan had even asked him about it before. He only battled because he wanted to get strong enough to avenge his father, and to stay with the team.

"We'll just see how you like a taste of Team Rocket's might, brat!"

The trainer was pretty glad that the guy only sent out a rattata- he had been expect an onix, or a fierce dark type. Or a grass type, or electric, then he would've had to switch out, and he didn't want to switch out Elliot when the pokemon wanted to do this- he seemed to have some pretty solid reasons.

"Tackle it up, Elliot!" Aidan said, confident the shellder could take it. He could even take hyper fangs now without too much damage taken- if it were Fae or Pickles, he would switch them out on the spot after that, being so fragile, comparatively speaking. The different build of pokemon could be amazing, sometimes. And difference in training, too.

Like for instance, the 'Rocket' guy's rattata. It had bruises even before the battle started and wounds that looked mighty similar to lash lines that a whip would make, he noticed. Then he saw the whip on the man's hip.

The battle shortly closed without much mishap, but Aidan wondered if the rattata had been heavily injured or dead, even, if that would've been kinder than to let it go back to its trainer.

"Release the rattata!" Aidan demanded, taking fast, short steps to the criminal.

The guy sneered. "As if. Get lost runt, or I'll slam you with my fists- and only because I feel generous. I don't like hurting kids, but I can make an exception, if you don't make yourself scarce soon."

Aidan had never been in a real fight, but he was just about to initiate one, before Elliot called his name. "Aidan, let's go! Please!"

"Tch. You're lucky, asshole- I hope your pokemon gets you back, and soon."

Aidan was seething.

When they made camp for the night, and after his team calmed him down through gentle water guns and Fae's famous headbutt to stop his angry ranting, Elliot explained his reasons to his trainer, after the other two went to bed.

"Aidan, I know you're angry, but they're bad people. Bad bad people. Team Rocket- they're a criminal organization. They… They're the people who…" The shellder was shivering right next to Aidan. The trainer didn't think this was caused by chills, however. Aidan placed what was hopefully a reassuring hand on the pokemon. "They killed my dad, and almost took my mother, too, Aidan. Please, d-don't fight them one on one, Aidan. Th-they'll kill you too and I don't want you to go away too! P-please promise me, Aidan."

Aidan wanted to be a little angry- why on earth did the shellder want to fight against them one on one himself, then?!- but he understood. Pokemon couldn't be evil, not in the same way as humans.

It was hard to say yes, because Aidan wanted to stop them- he was so enraged that someone would hurt their pokemon like that, just killing pokemon without regret. If it was when he was still sheltered, oblivious to anything outside of Pallet Town, safe and at home, he probably wouldn't have cared beyond thinking that it was horrible, like the general people.

And he wasn't all that different from that girl, lazily spending her days. But, he thought of Skittles', dying in his arms. Someone was a monster, truly, to want to do that, to actually kill a innocent pokemon. To hurt his own pokemon, who still fought at his side.

Aidan could see Pickles or Fae, finding a trainer like that. Fae was trained for obedience, and Pickles was so young, naive. His blood curdled in him, boiling as his imagination came up with countless images. And Elliot could've had a happy life with his parents, instead of that hysterical mother he had.

Humans? They were wicked and evil, good and kind. But pokemon had a simplistic natural goodness to them, as they had no politics, and didn't mind coexisting with humans.

"... Fine." The trainer sighed, running a hand through his hair. "But as long as the conditions seem safe, can we still battle them? As a team?" He didn't want to give up. The rattata's haunted eyes entered his thoughts.

The shellder took in a shuddering breath into relaxation, his body deflating a little. "Let's ask Fae and Pickles tomorrow. I'm going to get some sleep for now."

"Okay buddy. Sweet dreams."

Aidan exhaled, letting the heavy thoughts slide off his shoulders for now. He had at least another couple weeks in the mountain, and he could think about them all he wanted to then- he really would go crazy thinking about it if he didn't pace himself. Instead, he waited for Elliot to fall asleep and brought out his flashlight too, since no moon light made its way into the dreary cavernous place at night. He was going to take watch, but that didn't mean he couldn't do other things.

With his pokedex out, he resumed the notes he had been taking since Viridian Forest. He had Verde buy it in the city- he wasn't going to be able to catch a lot of pokemon for the professor, most likely, but in depth notes could prove useful, just maybe. He didn't want to lose to Gary in usefulness. Not to mention it was better than falling asleep on watch- last time he did, Fae almost gave him a black eye.

He held Skittles' page in his finger for a while, breathing evenly, in and out. He did that for ages and ages, before a cramp started to spring in his hand, and he closed the journal. Maybe not tonight, he thought. But soon. Instead, he flipped it to the other side, and vastly failed at sketching the uniform he saw on the grunt.

He then started to write everything he had heard about the mysterious criminal group that he knew affectionately knew as Team Rocket. A guy in the pokecenter had been talking a bit about them- he had been talking namely about a type of rock only found in the mountain. A 'moon stone.'

There was a myth about Mount Moon, and probably where the name was coined. A meteor fell to earth, along with clefairies. The clefairies settled around their precious stone and protected the original stone deep in the bowels of the mountain, too far for humans to get. Clefairies only inhabited the particular Mount Moon, and were not found commonly anywhere else in the wild. They were rare, and as far as Aidan knew it, a wild one was as rare as a shooting star. The only reason so many trainers had them- and there really weren't many to his knowledge, was because of breeding.

He looked at Fae, practically rolling over the poor wooper, snoring somewhat quietly. The professor wasn't kidding when he said the pokemon in the lab that day were rare. Charmander, a cleffa. Maybe the zubat was shiny or something- they most certainly were anywhere that was even moderately dark.

Was Team Rocket looking for clefairy to sell? They'd have a high price, no doubt. Or moon stones. They were so uncommon, they didn't even have a price, or so he heard. If they found the original stone, they'd surely be rich.

He wondered- there was a another myth, that the pokemon clefable evolved from clefairy with a moon stone. His eyes flickered back to Fae. They were so rare, that researchers (Oak) wasn't even sure it was an evolution- that it was either a mutation, or a very rare pokemon of singular lineage otherwise. Fae would probably have fun, being bigger.

He then balked- third evolutions were generally pretty big, at least human size. Her punches would hurt so much worse.

Perhaps it would be best to keep her away from it, he mulled over, rubbing the mostly healed bite wounds from their first week in the cave.

In her slumber, she looked a whole lot more peaceful, he noted. No scowl or snarl or sneer in her face- it was almost like she was a different mon', really. She was so small- so fragile. His heart twisted uncomfortably, the phantom touch of the lithe form in his arms as he put a hand on his belt, gently searching.

She was probably going to give him hell for it, for putting her in a ball while the others slept freely. But he did it anyways, flinching at the light and sound the ball made. Fortunately, Pickles didn't stir very much and Elliot was facing the other way, so he didn't see it. The little shell was so tired, he only snored louder as a result.

He had a possibly suicidal wooper, a determined shellder, and a cleffa he wasn't going to dare use unless he had to. He needed a plan- and a lie. He was considering telling Fae the truth about the situation.

But it wasn't likely.

Just the thought of her tiny form threatening the grunt with the whip- or, the next time, it could be a gun- made him cringe.

His team wasn't steady. He was pretty damn weak, too. They were at a severe disadvantage, and he was going to need a hell of a plan if he saw another Rocket.

Gary and his charmander, Clare, had bounced back to Pewter City. His sister had flown in with a friend and desperately wanted to see her little brother. He had almost left for Mount Moon, when he decided to try and video chat his family before leaving for the cave. He had been raring to go, but he wanted to try and connect with his family as much as possible on his journey, knowing they were worrying themselves senseless.

So Gary was hardly bothered, talking the trek back to town that would probably take most of his day. He was pretty excited to see Daisy after so long- and, not out loud would he ever admit to himself, but he was hopeful to see his slowpoke rival as well. She- er, he, now, took forever to do anything. He was somewhat surprised he hadn't seen her yet, either. Pewter was small and he had spent a while there, collecting data for the pokedex. The gym battle had been a breeze with Clare's fabulous metal claw, although the gym leader's siblings threw some water at the Oak and his pokemon.

Thankfully, his charmander was wonderfully smart- of course she was, just look at who raised her- and her ember had combated most of the water, with only a few drops sizzling on her hot skin. Before the kids had any more ideas, his rattata, Finny, had some fun chasing them for a bit.

Brock had been impressed with his skill- of course- and even gave him a technical machine, praising him.

Gary was so happy to be free of Pallet Town- and he was genuinely having fun he hadn't had in ages. Maybe he'd send Aidan an anonymous gift basket after it was all over… It wasn't enough, probably, but Gary was too busy enjoying the moment to think too far in the future, or to let the past bother him.

Hell, he even had a fan club and he only had one badge.

He looked for street signs as his stomach sang to him, looking for the cafe his sister told him to wait at.

It wasn't very surprising when he ended up at a maid cafe. He should've know, really. His sister had an almost- well, no almost about it- terrifying love for cute things. When they were younger, Daisy would dress Clover and him up in frilly costumes- when he was about seven or so, he and Clover went and revolted. They made a mud wall and pelted Daisy with mud balls until she surrendered. He was pretty sure Clover was a little too young to remember.

In their victory, all three dirty children dug with their little grubby hands to lay the troublesome frills to rest- thankfully, his sister shortly grew of them. She still occasionally made them try some stuff on, but it was nowhere as tyrannical as it had been.

He ordered some coffee drink, not really caring whatever he ended up with. A snappy woman with a vaporeon maid outfit was the tending barista, snarling at everyone who came in.

"Why don't you try that again with a better attitude, dickwad?" the maid growled, glaring daggers at him.

The offended Oak scoffed, returning the look. "How about you try it first? This is some shitty ass service, pesky hag."

"The fuck did YOU JUST CALL ME!?" The agitated maid lunged at him, over the counter only to be held back by a much nicer, pinker maid.

"Verde, I know you're worried about the kid, but you can't let it interfere with work!"

The 'Verde' person still struggled some, but more so with the person holding her now, rather than himself. "How can't I? The little shit is a fucking idiot, and I have to be worried because who else will?!"

The maid that looked based off a chancey looked apologetically speechless after the rant, gently placing the angry coworker down behind her, stepping up to the counter. "I'm sorry, sir. What would you like? Anything you want, it's on the house."

"Chany, you'll make us broke!"

"And whose fault would that be?" A new maid threw over her shoulder, before walking straight back into her work.

Soon enough, the matter was resolved, and before too long, Daisy was there, tears in her eyes as she tackled her brother in a hug, blubbering and all that for a while. Her friend- the chancey maid from earlier, Chany- brought her tea.

Daisy was delighted to meet Clare again, and demanded the details of his journey so far.

Truthfully, it wasn't exactly easy, but it wasn't very hard either. A few girls already tried to hit on him once they learned he was an Oak, which was somehow gross and flattering at the same time. But, he wouldn't stop trying to become a known person until people referred to him as not just Oak, but Gary Oak. His team was solid- any of his pokemon could easily take any other trainer's pokemon with relative ease now. Clare was soon to be a charmander- her claws were growing and her body too, with her flame a little bigger than it had been when they first met.

He honestly couldn't say his journey was anything but fun. He was free as a bird.

Then Daisy rambled some on about the elder Oak, who seemed a little listless but doing well. She had started being an aide full time now. Then, she formally introduced her friend, Chany. A medical student at a small shop in town, and worked at the cafe for rent and tuition.

"Sorry about Verde back there." The girl said once on her break, sitting in the booth across from him with his sister.

He shrugged. "It's not like I'll probably ever meet her again after this. What's her problem, anyway?" He questioned, a hint of crossness still left over.

Chany sighed. "A younger friend of hers- well, borderline her hobby, just left town. A really sweet kid- kinda shy, though. She got pretty attached to them, and he left town in rough shape. I'm worried too, but I swear Verde's worried enough for everyone else." The girl sighed again, shaking her head. "Anyway, what pokemon do you have?"

It was pretty late when he left, but he caught quite the sight before leave. While waiting for the receipt, he looked at the picture filled wall, and saw a familiar face.

He couldn't help it- he was going to cry from laughing so hard, the kind of laugh that hurt your stomach and made you slowly descend to the floor if it went on too long.

Clover, in a maid costume with eevee ears, looking offended and embarrassed at the same time, the cleffa- Fae?- in her arms, for some reason smug. Her hair was short but styled with skill- the short hair hidden under a cap last time, now artfully arranged.

Maybe he had been up too long, or exhaustion was getting to his head, but she looked alright, and a weight had lifted from his shoulders- that she was okay. It seemed to be taken not too long ago- so there was no way that the kid that the angry maid had been restless about was her.

Not that he particularly cared, or anything. She just looked ridiculous, he told himself. That was all.

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