Prologue: The Successor
Jasmine didn't immediately recognize the young trainer. He'd arrived early for his scheduled challenge, the first morning slot. Not typical for the fall, but not unheard of either. The Olivine gym slowed down this time of year—most new trainers came at the end of spring, after graduation, and the middling trainers always tried to cram their challenges in before the winter conference.
This kid was definitely fresh out of Trainer Ed—his clothes were still too new, the single pokeball on his belt too shiny. She knew without having to ask that he only had one badge, if he had any yet. If it had been the busy season, she might've encouraged him to start in Violet or Azalea instead—straightforward gyms and wilderness between here and there, which offered the opportunity to train and build his team. But it was fall. No one was in a rush.
She preferred a battle that made her think, but she could still give him a fair challenge.
It'll have to be Gimbal, she decided. From the tray set into the wall, she selected the ball that held the small, peevish magnemite she'd caught the other week.
The young trainer stood stiffly, like he was afraid to scuff the floors. He tipped back his head to gaze up at the domed ceiling until she called to him, "Welcome to Olivine Gym. Um. Thanks for being so punctual."
An odd look flickered across his face, so quickly she almost missed it.
She smiled through it. "I'm Jasmine, the gym leader. What's your name, challenger?"
He swallowed and stood a little straighter. "I'm Chris. Nakano."
Jasmine tried to keep the surprise from her face. After all, she'd known to expect this when she took the job. Hiro Nakano had three kids, she remembered. Odds were high at least one of them would try pokemon training. This must be his eldest, finally eighteen. She should've noticed the resemblance sooner—if he grew a beard, and if not for the blue eyes, he'd look exactly like the former gym leader.
She remembered being startled to see Hiro's face looking back at her from a Pewter City newsstand. The peculiarity made her pause, and homesickness made her buy a copy. On her lunch break, Jasmine settled under the beech tree behind the gym and finally saw the photos of the Olivine gym. Roof half-collapsed. Chunks of rubble the size of a human head and larger. She and Muno stayed after the gym closed to spar—rock smashing against rock until she couldn't tell if she felt sturdier with such creatures at her side … or only terribly human and soft. Walking home, she still felt echoes of the vibrations coursing through her legs.
What was she supposed to say now? Three years was too late to say sorry for your loss, even though she was. Hiro had been the Olivine gym leader when she was growing up too.
When she had come home to fill the gym vacancy, she'd brought the Nakano family a fruit basket. Didn't want to come empty-handed, didn't know what else to bring. And now she had welcomed him to the gym where he had probably grown up playing. Maybe better not to say anything else.
Chris wore the same expression as any other gym challenger: a little fierce, a little nervous. If he bore her any special resentment, it didn't show. She wouldn't blame him if he did—grief wasn't linear or rational.
"Well," said Jasmine. "I see you have one pokeball, so we'll make this one-on-one."
He nodded, then squinted. "I don't expect any special treatment."
She managed a smile. "Of course not."
They shook and moved to opposite sides of the room, footsteps echoing. Jasmine raised her arm to throw her pokeball and then stopped short. "I'm sorry—one second," she said and then turned back for Radican's ball. A gym leader's kid would've trained some already, officially or not. He could handle a magneton.
If there had been any doubt who he was, it vanished when he called out his pokemon. "Hero, let's go!"
A cyndaquil. Family tradition, clearly. And, oh no, the name—
Jasmine sent out Radican and let the young trainer have a moment to size them up. Then the League referee blew her whistle and Jasmine ordered, "Thunder wave."
The first few blasts missed—the cyndaquil was quick on its feet. And then it wasn't. In minutes, the cyndaquil was down.
Jasmine watched Chris crouch to check on his pokemon. He spoke to it in low tones, but she didn't catch the words from where she stood.
"Most trainers, um, don't manage it on the first try," she offered. And she'd overshot it.
The magneton circled her head, gleeful at their victory.
Chris nodded. "I know." Gathering the cyndaquil into his arms, the young trainer started to turn away. He paused and looked back at her. "Thank you," he said, and then he left.
Jasmine watched him go, picking at her hangnails. Nothing she could do for him, not without giving special treatment. She decided to go for a walk before the next challenger arrived.
Jasmine had expected Chris to return to the gym, but she hadn't expected to see him again after only two days.
He had a sandshrew with him this time—a good idea. The second battle lasted longer than the first. But Radican left the sandshrew dizzy and clutching its head, and the result was much the same as their first battle.
Chris sucked in his cheek, then recalled his pokemon. "Thank you for your time," he said again.
"I guess I'll see you around," she said, flashing an uncertain smile.
"I guess so."
The third time Chris Nakano challenged the Olivine gym his mother came too, a little after the battle started. Jasmine saw her creep in and take a seat in the empty bleachers, still wearing her hospital scrubs.
Over the years, Jasmine had hosted Indigo League Elites in her gym. Celebrity researchers. Foreign dignitaries. Even once, unknowingly, a mob boss. Being watched by Hiro's widow made her more nervous than any of them.
Jasmine stammered her commands to Radican. She won anyway.
Before Chris Nakano's fourth challenge, Jasmine hesitated, passing Radican's pokeball back and forth between her hands. "Chris," she finally said, "you know the gym will be here, right? There's nothing wrong with, um, coming back later." After a moment, she added, "Um. There will always be a spot in the schedule for you."
His face was grim. "I need this badge. I have—I want to start things right."
She nodded. "Well. Then. Go ahead and choose your pokemon."
At the end of Chris Nakano's fifth challenge, Radican hit the tiles with a resounding clang, and their buzzing finally fell quiet. Chris let out a sigh of relief before he grinned and ran to hug his sandshrew.
Jasmine sighed and smiled too.
In the bleachers, his mother jumped up with her hands clasped over her heart. But she stood back to let her son have his moment.
When Chris recalled his pokemon and stood up, Jasmine walked to meet him, holding out a badge. "Fair and square."
"Only took me five tries." He flashed a smile, a dimple in his left cheek but not the right.
"It pays for trainers to be a little stubborn."
But then his smile faded. He took the badge and turned away to pin it carefully to the first slot in his worn leather case.
That was all right. Her job was to test trainers and give out badges, not to be their friend. She had almost ten years on him—she didn't need him to accept her.
All the same, she said, "You'll have to give me a rematch when you come back, um, after you've gotten all your badges." Jasmine chewed over the next part for a long moment, but Chris waited patiently. "You've done a lot in a few weeks. You could go far if you keep working this hard."
He narrowed his eyes—ah there it was, that anger or hurt she'd expected—but then he relaxed. "Yeah. I think I'd like that. I … I'm sorry. Thanks for taking good care of …." Chris waved a hand to indicate the gym, or maybe even Olivine more broadly. Then he shrugged, smiled, and pocketed the badge case.
She took a deep breath and made her final peace offering. "I've got big shoes to fill."
For a long, quiet moment they simply stood and shared the space.
"Yeah. Me too."