It was a blasphemous thought, but when Vinnie shed his human body for the first time in months, the smell of home stirred something inside him - a peace that permeated through the length of his stem, and across to every petal and frond and nerve. The only way he could describe it was a sense of belonging so unquestionable that it became physical. Not for nothing was the Garden so protected by their kind. The energy there was simply different: purer, fragile and beautiful. Any Grass Type could recognize it as a place of sanctuary, but you had to be a Saur to understand how the forest could become a family member.
As much as he hated being in Venusaur form with his leaves still mutilated, he was adamant in keeping the presence of humanity - even if it was his own - away from this place. The younger ones were too innocent to understand the transformation, and elders still couldn't trust a human form for all the harm they had done. When a man returned home, it had to be in his true form, as his true self. And the Garden welcomed him, in spite of his shame. This unconditional acceptance comforted him. It was like the familiar warmth of a mother.
Vinnie's biological parentage never troubled him - he had always accepted the Garden as the only mom he needed. She had always been first in his heart, the first to hold claim over the little Bulbasaur's loyalty. No matter how he tried to ignore the fact, he could never belong to Red alone. His team may have been family now, but that foundation was built on top the roots and ruins of his former ties. On a history of bad decisions, and broken obligations.
When he had to choose between standing his ground to fight, and staying with his father, he didn't choose his father. When he had to choose between the chance to grow stronger, and living peacefully with his mother, he didn't choose his mother.
He had resolved never to betray his trainer. But it was possible he already had.
There was no meaning in getting stronger unless it was to protect others. But unless he had strength, he had no means, and no meaning at all.
Every so often, he'd wonder what his father would think of him now. It was impossible for him to ever live up to the role model his memories provided him, even if he was so often at odds with his old man at the time. It was all he could do to try. As far as Venusaurs went, Vinnie had pretty comfortably settled into knowledge that he was screwed up. The devotion of their kind was as integral to them as their petals. The structure and safety of their families depended on it - and that was a test he'd failed, on multiple occasions.
Now, he was on the verge of failing Red, as well. The decision to take Max's job offer was one that he had to rationalize to himself, but he couldn't hide the fact that it made him uncomfortable on some level. Vinnie would go through any trial to get as strong as he needed to be - but if it ever came time to choose, he couldn't say where his stretched loyalties would finally take him.
Maybe one day, he'd finally crumble and give into instinct. The urging was stronger here, cut off from civilization. It was telling him to throw away that facade of domestication and come home for good. To stay and guard and start a family, like Venusaurs were supposed to. To leave humankind for his Pokemon duties.
Maybe. Maybe if he ever felt like he could fill his father's shadow. But all the What-Ifs in the world wouldn't change his Todays.
It was his birthday. Vinnie owed it to the Garden and all the memories it stood for to come home and thank the day he was hatched. With the scent of death still lingering at the edge of his mind, it was even more clear to him than before how much he still had to be grateful for.