My Friend, The Sky
At first, he did not register this voice in his pensiveness—his mind was consumed with nostalgia, the emotions and memories he had accumulated over seventy years spent atop Mt. Silver, exchanging blows with Pokémon Trainers of all ages and types and experience. Oh, experience. The experiences they had to share with him was incalculable: even as he spent the remainder of his life in seclusion at the summit, he learned more about the world than he could have hoped to travelling it from its Trainers. Of course, little to nobody had word of his old rival.
He missed the man very much, ever since their last bout in the Pokémon League. The two had been inseparable since childhood. Of course, their camaraderie had shifted to an ardent desire to show-up one another upon the introduction of Professor Oak and his starter Pokémon. His friend, he wanted nothing more than to complete the League before he even had an opportunity to earn his first badge, and with the addition of Mega Stones in the world, it almost became a possibility.
Almost was the operative word, the word that the young Pokémon Champion Blue hated more than anything in the world—well, failure as well, but to him the two words were tantamount. He took the defeat with a man’s honor, praising Red as he entered his Pokémon in the Hall of Fame, nevertheless then formed a stone of resentment in the former Champion’s heart, one that could not be lightened on his own. He cut all ties with Red after that, using a lame excuse along the lines of “We chose different paths the day we chose our Pokémon. Let’s stick to them now—alone,” to escape from Red’s now bourgeoning life, the life he obviously coveted.
Looking back, a lot of incidents from childhood could be seen as Blue trying to be Red, such as the time he was reluctant but still joined Red in throwing paint balloons at Oak’s house, or the other time Blue claimed to be allergic to grass but still followed Red as he went on a search for wild Spearow. He so badly wanted to be like his friend—why couldn’t he see it? Was it the curse of childhood obliviousness? Was it the smoke from the fire of their “rivalry” dusting his eyes to where he couldn’t see?
“That is the pot calling the kettle black, old friend,” Red’s worn voice replied with a slight note of fatigue, rising from the worn boulder he had taken to sitting on during slow days. His bones creaked and ached, sending streaking pain of arthritis through his limbs as he stood completely upright, a feat he had not managed in five years. “Have you not looked in a mirror lately? Or did they all break at the sight of your mug?” he joked, eyeing the grey streaks adorning his friend’s brown hair, along with the fresh mapping of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and mouth. He could not help but poke puerile humor at his companion.
“I was never your friend, Red,” Blue scowled in response. “You might’ve deluded yourself with that idea, but I never was.” He pushed his hands in the pockets of his torn, dusty jeans, making Red think once more. The journey up Mt. Silver was not easy, even for him in his prime. For Blue to accomplish it with little signs of wear at his age? It was unthinkable. Of course, he always had a tendency to underestimate what Blue could accomplish. He never considered Blue to make Champion and he did—he also never considered his friend the type to get a girl of his own volition, get married, become a Gym Leader… Maybe Red’s choices were the ones that needed reevaluating after all.
“Alright, then.” He adjusted his hat idly. “I’m assuming you didn’t complete the rough climb for a simple chat.”
Blue scowled severely, an expression so reminiscent of the teenager he once knew he wanted to laugh out loud. “Of course not, you senile bastard. I want to reclaim what has been stolen from me seventy years ago.” As he said this, he grasped the Pokéball belt sagging on his hips. Red cocked an eyebrow—it was obvious what he expected.
“And what is it that I have stolen from you?”
He narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth. “Life,” he spat like poison. “My life. This—this title, the Pokémon Master, should’ve been mine decades ago! You were always a bratty child—bratty but adventurous, and I’m not afraid to admit I was jealous of that trait. You never seemed afraid of the future or whatever it could hold. You only enjoyed the taste of a good journey as it happened. Because of that, you have done more than I had, helped more than I had… Been a better person than I had.” He paused, meeting the Master’s eyes. “Tell me, Red; do you wish to taste a battle with the Pokémon Champion once more?”
He extracted a miniature Pokéball from his pants’ pocket, pressing the button to enlarge it. It was almost vibrating with his Pokémon’s anticipation. “I do not want to battle the Pokémon Champion.”
“Is that so?” He tried and failed to hide his annoyance at that. Red smiled, his face itching slightly at the unfamiliar expression. He had not smiled in a very long time, but the sight of his friend evoked feelings long forgotten in his reclusion.
“It is. I want to fight my friend, Pallet Town’s own Blue.”
Blue’s scowl turned into an expression of anger as he snatched a ball from its clasp and threw it in a high arc, calling with renewed vigor “Arcanine, use Wild Charge!” The ball split, beaming a flash of red light earthward that molded itself into the form of a racing canine. Red pulled back his arm, momentarily savoring the feeling of painless bliss the adrenaline of battle brought before, in turn, releasing his Pokémon.
“Snorlax, use Earthquake!” he shouted as the ball released the heavy Pokémon. He hit the ground with jaw-breaking force, shaking Mt. Silver almost to its core. Red trembled but held his ground, having a set equilibrium from years of training. Blue, however, fell on his butt almost instantaneously as Arcanine jerked backwards from the sudden action, falling and skidding on his side with a small whimper.
“Arcanine!” Blue yelled. He recovered and rose to his feet, growling. “Run up to him and use Close Combat!” Arcanine barked before lunging forward, his speed impossible to counter for the languorous Snorlax.
“Snorlax, Body Slam!” Snorlax grunted as he lazily rose to his feet. Blue and his Arcanine realized what was transpiring a moment too late: as Arcanine was some feet away, Snorlax gave an impressive leap into the air, slamming his full, unbearable weight on top of the smaller Pokémon. It gave a muffled cry before falling completely silent. Snorlax, content with his win, rolled onto his back with a low moan, revealing Arcanine’s motionless figure on the rocky mountaintop.
“Arcanine, return!” Blue pressed the button on his Pokéball; as Arcanine disappeared into it once more, his expression shifted, though the change was so minute that a newbie Trainer would not have caught it at all. This was something Red had always known, though was never able to put a name to it in childhood: Pokémon battles had the ability to change anything, be it anger and loathing to ecstasy and glee, or austerity to lightheartedness, or even rivalries to the strongest of friendships. He had forged his fair share of bonds on the battlefield amidst flying bolts of lightning and fire, witnessing the unadulterated glory of your cultivated love and comradeship fighting another’s, and by looking at Blue’s face, he could tell he longed for that feeling as well.
The battle continued with an equal offense and defense on both sides, Jolteon and Exeggutor and Lapras and Rhydon and Dodrio and Blastoise doing their very best and then some to satisfy their Trainers. The Trainers, however, were becoming less and less interested in the battle, more involved in their conversation.
“What have you been up to the past seventy years, Blue?” Red asked, moving to the left as a stray Ice Beam zapped past him.
“I’ve been training, Red.” Blue smirked with self-satisfaction. “Training to give you the battle that I should have twenty-five years ago. You see, I reached a plateau at some point, the state where I was near invincible, effortlessly streaming through Trainer battles like butter. Pride blinded me from seeing how small my skills really were, I’m not afraid to admit now: I had become so confident in my skill that I sat, satisfied, in the Champion’s seat, believing I was even better than my old friend Red.”
“Then you lost,” he supplied as his Jolteon skidded to his battered sneakers. He took the unconscious Pokémon in his arms, congratulating him for a job well done before returning him to his Pokéball. “And you made that great speech too. Arceus, I’m such an old fart I can’t remember it anymore.” He grinned, hoping to elicit one from his old friend as well.
“Yes, then I lost. Your humor is as boring as always, Red. But as I was saying: I realized something: the universe has always intended different things of us.” He examined Blastoise’s Pokéball in his hand. “It intended for me to become Champion, only to be beaten by you, the old friend I’ve constantly looked down on and underestimated.”
“I’ve never had the same views as you, Blue.”
“And that’s the problem! You never wanted power or glory: all you ever wanted was the thrill of having a Pokémon and going on a journey with it. That does not make a Champion: hard work and determination make a Champion, and I have worked my damn hardest to get to where I am, but somehow, you—!” He clenched the Ball so hard his knuckles became bloodless. When he looked at Red, his eyes were so fervent it was as if they were children roughhousing once more, throwing down in the TCG and comparing stats and bragging about which Starter each would chose once they were of age. “Somehow, you’ve managed to overshadow it all and beat me as if I was an inexperienced brat!”
“Determination is necessary to a Trainer’s growth, yes,” Red said as he took his last Pokéball from his pocket, the one marred by more nicks and mud spots than any other. “But there’s always been one thing you lacked, Blue, and it was the most important thing.”
Blastoise readied himself as Blue said, his voice level, “What is it then, genius?”
Red enlarged the Pokéball and pressed the button. “My friend, that would be heart.” He watched the usual flash of red illuminate the sky before his old friend crashed down to earth, releasing a roar that caused even the mountain’s foundation to tremble in fear. He brought his head down and, meeting the eyes of his Pokémon rival Blastoise, growled menacingly from the back of his throat. “You alright there, Charizard? Still young enough to put up a good fight?” he asked, though it was unnecessary: Pokémon did not experience aging as severely as humans, and though Red was more impaired than he had been in his youth, Charizard was still in prime fighting condition.
“Char,” Charizard roared in the affirmative.
“Blast,” Blastoise rumbled, still battle-ready.
“Blastoise, use Hydro Pump,” Blue roared, as on-edge as either of the two Pokémon on the battlefield. “How the hell can you be so calm, Red?”
“I simply am. Charizard, dodge!” Charizard spread his wings and launched himself in the air as Blastoise’s stream of water rushed through the spot he was just in, plowing into Red’s boulder and weathering it to pebbles. “It seems you have improved, my friend,” he said. “Charizard, use Flamethrower.”
“You didn’t answer the question,” Blue hissed as Charizard’s flames spun to the ground. Without any command from Blue Blastoise doubled over, shooting dual jets of water from his cannons at the ground. The force threw him back just as the Flamethrower tore through the dusty rocks littering the summit, burning them until they were simmering in a miniature pit of lava.
“Well, I am calm, Blue, because I do not see this battle as a mean of gauging one’s strength or deeming one superior: I only see it as the reuniting of two friends.”
“Blastoise, use Skull Bash!” Blastoise braced himself before leaping into the air with spryness contrasting his bulky frame as he smashed his head into Charizard’s stomach. Charizard gasped as his wings locked up, causing both of them to begin falling like meteors to the ground. Red took a step forward, the exhilaration of battle running through his veins like the fire of adrenaline, the concoction made even more potent with his old rival as an opponent. He felt his gut ache as if he had received the blow himself.
“Charizard, he’s close enough!” he called. Charizard snapped into action. “Use Seismic Toss!” He wrapped his arms around Blue’s Blastoise—he could not make the entire circumference of the tortoise, but he did manage to restrain his arms and point his water cannons away from his face. He began a slow spin that increased in intensity as they grew closer and closer to the ground. The final collision was powerful enough to knock Blue and Red to the ground as dust lowered visibility severely. He rolled to his feet as he heard Charizard’s powerful cry, followed by the quick beating of his wings as he blew the dust away. Blastoise was at the other end of the battlefield, a thick fissure in the stone leading to his still-spinning shell.
“Blastoise,” Blue said, then again as his comrade failed to respond. “Blastoise come on! We can’t let him win like this!”
“Blue, it’s over,” Red sighed. As soon as the last word left his mouth Blastoise’s shell spun rapidly, water blasting in high-pressure jets from his cannons to increase his speed. Blue smiled—in relief?—as he gained enough velocity to blast off, his tornado-like shell heading straight for Charizard. He extended his arms and caught the shell as it plowed into his middle, grunting in effort as he dug his large feet into the staunch stone beneath, fighting to keep still and hold the Blastoise back. “Charizard, you can do this!”
“Blastoise, come on!” Red looked up in surprise at Blue’s self-effacing tone. “I may not have Red’s heart or Red’s spirit, but I believe in you! I’ve believed in you since that first day, Blastoise! Even when we couldn’t win against Charizard decades ago! Even when Mewtwo kicked our asses back to Gramps’s! I believe in you now, so don’t lose!”
Suddenly the battlefield came to a halt in Red’s psyche. There, he was twelve all over again, sweat plastering his thick hair to his forehead and so he adjusted the brim of his old cap, swinging his shoulders to loosen the tensed muscles. Every ache, pain, and stiff joint was gone, replaced by the temporary blazed sensation and fatigue of a good battle. He was Charizard; Charizard was him. He felt his back ache as if wings of his own were exhausted, having held his bulk for a bit too long; he felt a steady pulsing of a second heart in his bruised stomach; he felt the soles of his feet, damaged from the coarse stone, throb within his Running Shoes. Blue was in no better state, but one thing was the same between them: the bright-eyed, red-cheeked, grinning-mouthed expression of a Pokémon battle.
Blastoise released a mighty roar as he came out of his shell, feet hitting the stone heavily as he aimed his cannons from point-blank range. Charizard, already fatigued from holding him off, had no chance of dodging as he launched his most powerful Hydro Pump ever. The water enveloped the Fire-type so truly Red could not see him for several moments and panicked, fearing he would die. The powerful consistent stream blasted forward with the hiss of a thousand snakes before slamming into a large jutting finger of grey rock, Charizard’s cry resonating through the air as the attack continued inexorably.
“Blastoise, that’s enough,” Blue said plaintively, just as Red was about to plead with him to cease the attack. Blastoise reluctantly stopped the flow of water, allowing Charizard to slide down the now-battered rock and crash against the ground. He made a few weak attempts to rise once more before conceding, looking at Red piteously.
“It’s alright, my friend,” Red said, touching his head reassuringly. Charizard closed his eyes, pressing his head further into his Trainer’s hand. He returned him to his Pokéball and turned to face Blue.
“Finally,” he said, an almost sincere smile set on his face as he returned Blastoise. “I beat you. I beat you, Red.”
Red smiled. “You did, my friend.”
“This proves that you’re inferior to me, Red,” he sneered, ostentatious as ever. Red nodded as he crossed the ravaged battlefield to be face-to-face with his old friend.
“Being on Mt. Silver for the last twenty-odd years, I’ve battled almost every Trainer in Kanto and Johto, and though I treasure every battle I have experienced, none had as much value as the final battle between me, Red, and my childhood rival, Blue. The emotions, having been cultivated by years of friendship, were as palpable as the flames of my Charizard. Like that, an indissoluble bond of friendship should have been formed, but you were still set on defeating me, am I right?” He had practiced the words for longer than he could remember—that was the only reason they could come out to eloquently, in any event. Otherwise, it would’ve been a big blur of exhausted pants and halfhearted complaints.
“You are right, and I have today.”
Red sighed and, with a sad smile on his face, retrieved all of his Pokéballs from his pocket and pressed them into Blue’s palm. He stared at him, bemused. “What are these for?” he asked.
“I believe I’ve become too old to be playing the game of Pokémon,” he replied, “and my Pokémon deserve the opportunity to continue their journey.”
“So you’re just going to stay here?”
“I can’t make the trek down the mountain like this,” Red said with a small, aching shrug. “And since a Trainer caught Moltres, there has been a decrease in climbers and therefore challengers. I have not had a battle in a year, Blue, and my friends do love to battle. I know that you can show them more in the world than I can on this mountain.”
Blue stared at the Pokéballs for several moments before meeting Red’s poignant but resolute eyes. “Alright,” he finally said monotonously. “They’d be better off at the Pokémon Lab, though.”
“How is Oak doing?”
“I don’t know. I’d have to dig up the casket to find out.”
“I’m sorry,” Red murmured, wondering how Oak passed without his knowing.
“So, who’s taken his place?”
He smiled with renewed arrogance. “The one and only Blue Oak, that’s who.”
“Congratulations my friend.” Red extended a hand. Blue ignored it.
“Is that all the great Pokémon Master Red’s life adds up to? A secluded death on a mountaintop?”
“It appears so, Blue. Though, I do feel bad for you: you’ll have to find a new rival now.” With that, Red turned his back to his friend, standing at the very edge of Mt. Silver. Below was the border of Kanto and Johto, and beyond that, the product of humanity and Pokémon’s touch on the Earth. “You were speaking about the universe’s intentions earlier. I believe that I have fulfilled everything it had in store for me. You, however, have not, I’m sure of that. You still have purpose in this world.”
“How can you be so sure of that?”
Red sighed and shrugged. “I can’t be.”
Blue was so silent that at first Red thought he had left. He almost resigned himself to solitude once more before he heard a soft click behind him. He turned, just barely catching Blue’s disappearing back as he trudged through the cave entrance into the inner part of Mt. Silver.
He dropped his eyes to the ground and took a sharp intake of breath: it was a large portion of a Pokéball, the red half and a good amount of the white half. It was the same Pokéball they had fished up as children and, with an ensuing fight, snapped in half. Red’s hands had a slight tremble in them as he took off his cap and turned it over. The remaining part of the Pokéball clattered to the ground, rolling to the side of its other.
“Blue,” Red murmured. His rival had kept the cause of their shattered friendship on him? He might even have had it since their fight. Was it because he still wished for the whole empty Pokéball? Or was he, like Red, frustrated that such a small thing ended their long-lived friendship? He looked at the cave’s entrance Blue disappeared into. “My friend… What was it that drove you here, that, after twenty-five years, compelled you to fight me once more?”
He thought very hard about this but could not come to a plausible conclusion. He retrieved both halves and slowly pressed them together. After all those years of wear and tear they still fit perfectly, just like him and Blue. For the Pokéball, it shattered from its already shaky foundation with Red and Blue’s argument. Sometimes, he wondered what would have happened if they had never found the Pokéball. Could they have been friends, or would the universe have found another way to make them rivals?
Rivalry. It was a primitive yet effective way of strengthening one’s resolve—the yearning to outdo another could make even Snorlax leap into action. Maybe, to get them to where they were, the universe had to make them rivals, to increase their strength and create the final battle it had intended from the very beginning.
Or, maybe, he was truly slipping into senility and imagining things. Maybe it was all contingent. He turned back to the view of the two regions and let out a breath. If all of it wasn’t in his head, then the other answer would be true, the one he had subconsciously known but never voiced. In the end, Arceus could have been responsible for everything, from their meeting to the destruction of their friendship to this final battle. But for what purpose could it have intended for the two of them? He couldn’t, for his remaining life, guess what that was. But he did have the remainder of his life to think about it.
He found another slab of rock that was horizontal enough for him to rest on. He sat down with his head back so he could stare at the sky. The Sun was high and hot on his skin. It was a little after midday, meaning his battle with Blue lasted around an hour. It didn’t feel like so long, but nothing truly did when spending time with a friend.
“Mindful of the heat on your old bones?”
Red looked down in surprise as Blue plopped opposite from him, as lax and carefree and snide as if they were children at the lakeside once more. “Blue—,” he started, but his friend cut him off with a snort.
“Why would I leave my rival to die here without a chance to show me up?” he sneered, thrusting Red’s Pokéballs at his chest. “It’s not a competition if we give up, is it?”
Red was still dumbfounded. “I saw you leave—,”
“I visited the Pokémon Center,” he interrupted. “With Rhydon’s help, it did not take too long to get off and back on this mountain.”
“Blue,” he finally sighed submissively. Then, “Why is it, after all these years, you finally decided to battle me, your rival? I’m sure that you were prepared to fight years ago so why wait?”
“I was…afraid,” he admitted cautiously.
“Of what? Of losing?”
“I’m not afraid of losing a Pokémon battle, Red.” He cast his eyes at the cracked Pokéball in Red’s hand. “I’m afraid of losing a friend.”
Red raised an eyebrow, unable to suppress the smile that bubbled onto his face. “Does the great Blue Oak think of humble Red as a—?”
“A rival, of course!” Blue interrupted petulantly, huffing and turning away as Red chuckled.
“Alright, alright, I believe you, Blue,” he said. “What do we do now?”
Blue was silent in thought for a moment before deciding, “Tell me about yourself, the events that transpired in the last years.”
“All of them?”
“Not all of them, you old fool. Just the important ones.”
Red laughed again as he began, speaking of his journey to capture Mewtwo, which was the last time he met with Blue and Oak, before heading off to find the three birds Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres, followed by the three dogs in Johto. Blue listened, not exactly eagerly but intently, as he regaled him with interesting tales of Arceus, the creator of Pokémon, and Mew, the ancestor of Pokémon, along with numerous others, legendary and pseudo-legendary, normal and rare, while something else took place between the two.
He was very sure, as he spoke to Blue, that Arceus did intend for the two to become rivals. There was a sort of bond that formed between enemies, not exactly a friendship but just as precious, that was as priceless as the Trainers themselves. He believed that had he and Blue never divided, they would have never strengthened as much as they had then, and they would have never become as close as they had then, sitting together atop Mt. Silver with the beginning of their rivalry in Red’s palm—though, Red thought, it was no longer a symbol of their rivalry, but a piece of their newfound camaraderie.
The next twenty years, he thought with a smile, should be quite interesting, I believe.
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