Hey look, I wrote something family-friendly for once. It's only really rated PG because Winona says "crap" once. That's it. Also, possible spoilers from the RS and Emerald arcs of PokeSpe.
Just a Friend...?
As it seemed like it did every day, the sun rose brightly over Fortree, Hoenn as if Arceus were turning on a giant lamp in the sky. Needless to say, it fit right in with the highly green city. While traditional buildings did exist, most with postmodern designs heavy on glass, it was the abundance of foliage that really made the city stand out. Plenty of residents resided in homes built into, around, and atop the multitude of tree species native to the area. Nearly all of the homes were solar-powered. Even the city’s landmark, the headquarters of the Hoenn Pokemon Association, was an almost comedically humongous giant redwood re-purposed into a skyscraper.
However, said headquarters wasn’t generally the reason people visited Fortree. No, one of the main attractions was the Fortree Gym. Having been constructed eight decades ago across from the city’s historic Treetop City Ballpark and affectionately known as “The Birdhouse” by locals, the Gym was seeped in history, having played host to some of the most memorable battles outside of tournaments. Due to being in the same city as the HPA’s headquarters, most of its gym leaders had the honor of being appointed leader of all the rest in Hoenn.
This was no different for Winona, the current leader. As much of a hometown hero as one could imagine and then some, her guidance towards the rest of the Hoenn leaders was considered a primary reason the Magma-Aqua Crisis was successfully dealt with a year prior. With her Altaria and Skarmory in tow, she was feared in battle, but more well-known for her absolute grace and poise when doing so. She loved Pokemon and nature, and they loved her back.
However, they weren’t her only love... at least, they used to not be. Wallace, the current Hoennian Champion and former leader of the Sootopolis Gym, once held that honor. Similarly elegant, if a bit flamboyant, the artist had engaged in a relatively long relationship with Winona, even having temporarily moved in together upon their respective graduations from school.
Unfortunately, after a while, their love became rather strained. Wallace had defeated one Steven Stone to become Champion, but chose to relinquish his newly-won title in order to take over the Sootopolis Gym from Juan, his longtime mentor. While it was a popular rumor tossed around over the net and such, at the time, very few legitimately knew the true motivation for this choice; to remain closer to Winona. Technically having the Champion as her boyfriend made the flying ace feel smothered, as she felt his skills greatly overshadowed hers even as the newly-appointed head of gym leaders. Left with no other option, she broke off the relationship while fortunately remaining friends with Wallace.
That’s not to say she didn’t still ponder their time together as well as her decision... such as today, exactly nine months to the day the Magma-Aqua Crisis was deemed to be over. Winona was known for waking up early, meaning that by the time the sun rose, she was already having a breakfast consisting of Kalosian toast sticks, corn flakes, and an orange. She didn’t consider herself to be a full-on vegetarian, but she did try to stray away from eating meat whenever possible - and she’d never have eggs. Never.
Despite normally sporting complex flight suits into battles and such, her morning attire was relatively modest; a baby-blue tanktop that exposed a normally obstructed cloud tattoo taking up the entire length of her left arm accompanied by plaid grey pajama pants. Her lavender hair was the same as always, draping down to the middle of her back like a natural cape with a wing-like tuft on either side of her head.
While her delectable meal remained in front of her, it remained almost untouched. Instead, Winona couldn’t help but glance out her window towards the downtown skyline of her beautiful city, buried in her own thoughts. “...Why do I still think about this?” she asked herself aloud, seeming genuinely curious. “I mean... Sapphire and I did discuss it at the wedding a couple weeks ago...” Of course, Winona was referring to the wedding of Wanda and Riley aboard the S.S. Tidal. During the proceedings, she had found herself in a conversation with Sapphire about love, with each girl bringing up the other’s most notable love interest.
Sapphire - her student - had mentioned the prospect of Winona wanting to “start anew” with Wallace... something that had been implanted deep in her mind in recent days. While she couldn’t deny that a chunk of her did want to, another part of her could only remember the overbearing stress from the first time. It left the flying ace with a war inside her head - would things work out a second time? Did she even want to try?
A small chirping caused her head to perk up a bit as she searched for its owner. It took a few seconds for Winona to process the weight slightly pressing down on her head. Reaching her hands up and grasping the culprit with a quiet chuckle, she brought the object - or rather, Pokemon - into her line of sight. “Good morning, Swablu... how are you?” Again, Swablu let loose a joyful chirp as Winona scratched the top of the cotton bird's head.
“Swablu... if I could ask you a question... why do I dwell on the past so much?” Swablu was placed down onto the glass table. Winona quickly took a spoonful of cereal down her throat before continuing. “I haven’t been with Wallace for... two years now, is it? I don’t understand why I continue to think about it... why did it fall apart? Is the stress of being with the Champion really it, or...”
The flying ace’s gaze tilted downwards, accompanied by a light sigh. “...or maybe I’m just insecure.” Appearing to feel somewhat sorry for her trainer, Swablu hopped over and lightly pecked the top of her head twice to signify affection.
This managed to get a smile out of Winona, but her thoughts refused to float away. “...I don’t know, Swablu. I just don’t. I really can’t see myself with anybody else, and considering Wallace and I are through...” Most people would’ve tried dating again after a while had passed - plenty of fish in the sea and all that. This wasn’t true for Winona in the slightest; things were over between her and Wallace, but she didn’t look for anyone else even months after the fact. It just felt... wrong to her.
Knock-knock-knock. The sound of something (presumably knuckles) rapping against wood (presumably her front door) caused Winona to jump a bit in surprise, Swablu chirping curiously. “Who could that be?” the flying ace questioned with a hint of begrudging; visitors at seven in the morning was almost never something she looked forward to. “Probably Aarune wanting to give me more furniture coupons. Dear Rayquaza, that man needs to learn the definition of ‘no thanks’.”
Regardless, she rose up from the chair and exited the kitchen, heading towards the door with low expectations. Let me think... wasn’t Flannery in town for an exhibition battle over at the ballpark? Perhaps she accidentally torched her hotel room and needs to stay with me... I wouldn’t put it past her. After all, Flannery had a tendency to be a bit too open with letting her Fire-type Pokemon wander about.
Upon reaching the door and opening it, however, Winona was shocked to find out who the person bugging her so early in the morning was - Flannery’s opponent in said exhibition. Wallace.
“Wallace?” Trying her best to hold back her disbelief at the coincidental arrival of the artist, Winona stepped aside and gestured into her living room. “...Please come in.”
With his signature collected smirk, Wallace happily took the offer. “Thanks for having me, Winona,” he responded, lowering himself onto a sky-blue armchair. As Winona joined him by sitting on the couch, he decided it would be best to lead off by explaining his presence. “I was actually heading out to the ballpark to get some training done before the battle today. The trip brought me onto your street, so I thought... hey, you wake up early, don’t you? Might as well pay a visit.”
Winona cracked another smirk, but this one was different. Nervous. Ignoring it, she managed to share her appreciation. “That’s, ah... very nice of you, Wallace.” She really meant it, too, in spite of the notable hesitation in her voice.
“So what have you been up to the past few days?” Clearly eager to progress the conversation, Wallace twisted open a bottle of lemon-lime soda he had been carrying with him. “Surely you have something good to say about the challenges you’ve taken. Wasn’t one of them against a man from Oblivia?”
As things went on, Winona found herself slowly but surely decompressing. Wallace hadn’t come to confront her about their feelings for each other or anything of the sort; he just wanted to hang out for a while. He was still one of her best friends.
Lying on her side and stretching out her limber form, the flying ace nodded in confirmation. “Indeed he was... and don’t call me Shirley.” The much-worn joke nonetheless got some laughter from Wallace. “Anyway, it was an intense battle for sure. He used a Sandslash, Dusclops, and Xatu... I have to say, I underestimated him. The Sandslash knew how to overcome his type disadvantage masterfully.”
“Oh? And how would that be?” Wallace took another swig from his bottle, tilting his head far back enough to shift his fisherman cap.
“Simple. He used Rock Slide and Stone Edge one after the other. Rather inventively, in fact.”
Almost instantly, Wallace burst into laughter. “Wow, really? How many Pokemon did you lose to it?”
Swablu fluttered into the room, most likely feeling lonely. She took one look at Wallace and happily sprinted towards him, grasping his hat in her tiny talons to the best of her abilities and flying up a few feet. Once the cotton bird found herself just below the ceiling, she released the hat from her grip... right onto Wallace’s face, as he was looking up. “...That still doesn’t answer my question,” he added dryly.
Winona giggled as Swablu returned to her, perching on her head in imitation of a hat; every single time she saw Wallace, the bird felt compelled to pick up his hat and drop it back on him. And it was still adorably hilarious, every single time. “It was a four-on-three battle, but I lost two,” the flying ace finally answered. “Skarmory and Tropius, specifically... I almost pulled off a comeback with Altaria, but he defeated him with Xatu.”
“I see... sounds like it was an intense battle!” Realizing his voice was being muffled by the hat covering his face, Wallace casually tossed it onto the coffee table in front of him. “It’s nice to hear you’re doing well.”
“Yeah, thanks... so...” Winona paused, looking up towards the ceiling and concentrating on a rapidly-rotating fan as she thought of something else to say. Maybe I should... no. No! That’d be stupid! She dropped her head, grasping it with her hands as Swablu fluttered off alarmed.
Wallace raised an eyebrow in concern. “Winona, are... you alright?” he questioned, worry obviously breaking into his tone. It was incredibly uncommon to see Winona appear so... distressed. She almost looked as if a Darkrai was implanting nightmares into her mind.
It took a few minutes for the flying ace to reply as she regained her composure. With a long deep breath, Winona eventually let her arms fall to her sides as she slumped back onto the couch. “...I’m fine, Wallace. Completely fine.”
What a bold-faced lie that was. As expected, Wallace could see right through it. “No, you aren’t. Winona... talk to me, okay? We’re friends, it’s cool.” The artist flashed her a caring grin, managing to lift her spirits a bit.
“Well... alright, if you insist.” Once again, Winona picked up Swablu, placing the cotton bird in her lap and scratching her head without a second thought. “I’ve been thinking about... well... us. I have for a while now, actually... I never really stopped, but ever since the crisis ended, it’s really picked up... the wedding only made it worse.” Looking towards Wallace, she could see that he appeared to be genuinely curious as to what she had to say, his chin resting on interlocked fingers with a look of investment. “I’ve mainly been considering that I might have... I might have overreacted in breaking off our relationship.”
The artist’s eyes widened, though not from surprise; it was actually more from Winona admitting the possibility of her being wrong. This was something she very rarely did, and despite being a very good person otherwise, it stuck around as her main weakness like an inoperable tumor... okay, maybe not that bad. Still, to hear her wave the metaphorical white flag was impressive.
Wallace stood up and made his way to the couch, sitting beside Winona and wrapping an arm around her shoulders in a... debatably platonic gesture. “You said it was because you felt I was overshadowing you, wasn’t it?” he asked.
While her cheeks gained a slight tint of red upon feeling Wallace make contact with her, Winona nevertheless remained completely focused while responding. “Yes. You being the Champion and all, while my position is far more bureaucratic and far less interesting... all the attention goes to you, and it just made me feel... I don’t know... unimportant. Like nothing I did behind the scenes mattered much.”
As the flying ace’s expression went south again, it almost looked like the wings in her hair drooped as well. Wallace, of course, found himself unable to see her so upset as he pulled her in a bit closer. “Winona, you’re just as important as any of us,” he gently reassured, soon finding himself stroking her lavender locks slowly. “I mean... you’re probably even more important than I am. For one thing, you’ve kept Roxanne and Brawly from murdering each other.”
“Heheh... that is true...” While Roxanne and Brawly had managed to settle into a relatively stable relationship, sometimes it seemed like they spent all of their waking hours in an argument. “Regardless... y’know what the kicker was? Remember... remember... when I was held... h-hostage by... them?” Winona had made it a point to not refer to Archie and Maxie by name.
Wallace nodded without a single word. “Well... it was when you came to save me. I was a-about to be suffocated, but... you ran in... didn’t do anything r-reckless to get me killed, you even took that horrific beating...” Eventually, Winona’s hand rested on Wallace’s thigh. “...y-you... you really still care for me, don’t you?”
“Well... of course, you’re my friend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I care for-”
Winona held her palm up like a red light. “Cut the crap, Wallace... before we split up to fight the legends, when you held out your hand to me... there’s zero chance that was purely platonic. Don’t even try to hide it.”
The hesitation on Wallace’s end only confirmed what Winona knew from the beginning. “Alright, you’ve got me,” he finally confessed, throwing his hands up at the same time. “You’ve got me. I’ve still got feelings for you... but... you do, too? I thought you’ve moved on.” So had Winona.
“I guess I haven’t... but what do we do about it? Obviously we can’t have tabloids jumping all over us from the get-go... that, and I’m still not a hundred percent on this yet.” The flying ace glanced down towards Swablu and made a shooing motion with her left hand, signaling the cotton bird’s presence wasn’t needed anymore. With as much of a shrug that she could possibly muster, she complied and fluttered back off into the kitchen.
Wallace’s answer came easily. “We’ll start slow, alright? Maybe... maybe we could get dinner together after the battle today. And speaking of that... I have to get to the ballpark.” He rose from the couch, straightening out the designer button-down shirt he sported, before turning back to Winona... and holding his hand out. Just like he did during the crisis. “I’ll see you then, alright?” Another smile crossed his face.
Unlike the last time, however, Winona grasped his hand warmly almost instantaneously. “Of course... best of luck to you, Wallace.” They held their hands together for a good ten seconds before letting go, and with a shared singular nod, the Champion turned back towards the door and left, leaving Winona alone for the time being.
The flying ace stretched out her limbs once more before rising to her feet herself. “Well... might as well finish breakfast, if Swablu hasn’t eaten what’s left.” As she headed back towards the kitchen, optimistic thoughts crossed her mind, causing her to smile blissfully. It’s going to work this time. I can feel it.