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RUBATOSIS

Chapter Text

                You stepped off the dock onto Melemele Island proper. The trip from Kanto to Alola had been long, to say the least, but you were here now, and grateful. Sabrina herself had given you the money to buy your one-way ticket to this island, urging you to go. Looking past you and whispering something about the winds of change. And so, you went.

It was raining. Of course it would be raining. You were carrying everything you owned: the soaking short gray dress and equally soaking sweater wrapped around your waist; the heavy boots and socks you’d received from the Saffron Compound; your average, everyday Pokedex; and the lone pokeball around your neck containing your sweet Skitty, Rose. The hour was odd, meaning people were less suspicious of an equally odd, dripping girl wandering the streets of what was apparently called Hau’oli City. Through the drizzle, you crossed paths with a tired-looking man with an umbrella.

“Excuse me,” you called out, a bit smaller than you’d meant to. He raised his head, and responded with a surprisingly warm, “Alola, young lady. How can I help you?” Ah, there it was. The friendliness that the region was so famous for. You awkwardly smiled a bit before asking him for directions to the nearest Pokemon Center. He offered to walk you there, but oh, no no, that’s quite alright, you really didn’t want to bother him. After insisting that really, you just needed directions, sir, he told you the way, made sure you had the directions written down correctly in your ‘dex, and started back towards his eventual destination.

“Ah, wait a second, young lady. Where’s your umbrella? You’ll catch a cold in this weather.” You didn’t have an umbrella. You couldn’t remember the last time you owned an umbrella.

“It’s in my backpack.” You turned around to show him an overly full bag clinging to your shoulders. “The rain felt really nice, so I decided not to use it,” you said with a smile. The poor man looked utterly confused, staring at the space where the backpack should have been. There was no backpack. Sabrina had warned you about this.

There are no psychics in Alola.

“Well, make sure you take a nice, warm shower when you get to the Center. Alola!” You waved as he walked away, and soon continued your damp trudge to the Pokemon Center.

There are no psychics in Alola. None that we’ve encountered, anyway.

No one here knew what it felt like to have a telepath in their head, apparently.

The doors slid open. Somehow, you found the Center to be disappointing. What were you expecting? It’s a Pokemon Center. Just like the ones in Kanto. Just like the ones anywhere else in the world.

“Welcome to the Pokemon Center!” the nurse on duty greeted. “How may I help you?” After a useless attempt at shaking off some of the rainwater, you walked over to her station.

“She’s probably alright, but could you take care of my Skitty, please?” Removing the small ball from its chain, you handed Rose to the nurse. “And, um, I was also wondering: how many nights can trainers stay here?” The pink-haired nurse looked you up and looked you down. You knew you didn’t look like an actual trainer, but that’s because you weren’t one. She wrinkled her nose a bit before responding, “We ask that all trainers use our housing facilities for no more than five nights. I’ll have your Skitty and key card ready in just a few moments.” She turned away to do her job, and you let out a sigh. Five nights. You and Rose had shelter for five nights, at least.

“Miss? Excuse me, Miss?” The elderly gentleman behind the café counter was calling you over. You walked over, not sure what to expect but hoping that everything here was as safe as it seemed.

“Y-yes?”

“You seem mighty cold. Can I offer you a hot drink? I make the best Tapu Cocoa this side of the island,” he said with a wink.

“I-I don’t have any money,” you said, dejected. Truthfully, some hot cocoa would have been great. Waving a dismissive hand, the barista pulled a steaming cup out from under the counter-top.

“This one’s on the house.” He gently shoved the drink towards you, and returned to his work with a smile. Everyone here was so nice, exactly like your cousin’s stories. A bit overwhelmed, you felt tears start to prick your eyes and quickly wiped them away before blowing off the steam from the cup.

It was a quiet night in the Center save for the rain outside, and you couldn’t help but overhear the nurse finishing up a phone conversation.

“Yes, Hala. Thank you, sir. We’ll see you in the morning.” You could feel her staring at you, and you wished you could project whatever was going on in her head. But, no. Don’t be paranoid. You’re being paranoid. Pokemon Centers get tons of phone calls, and it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to start rooting around in these strangers’ heads, anyway. Especially since they’d possibly never seen a psychic before. It was a much better idea to drown your paranoia in the warm drink. The nurse called for you just as you finished your Tapu Cocoa. The old man took your cup and wished you a well night, handing over a small bag of colorful beans, adding that they were for your Pokemon.

“Thanks for waiting,” the nurse said, her eyes a bit more gentle on you now. She handed over Rose’s pokeball and the key card to your room, explaining the simple directions upstairs to the guest rooms. Once you were locked behind the door, you released Rose. Your little red Skitty mewed at you from the bed as you hung your damp clothes in the tiny closet.

“It’s just like Charlie used to say, Rose,” you told her. “Everyone’s just… nice. Everything’s nice.” Your cousin had lived in Alola many years ago. You’d use your telepathic abilities to bring her stories to life at family gatherings. Falling asleep in her lap, dreaming of a place that was constantly pleasant. Of course, you’d just been a kid then, and that was before your mother had shipped you off to Kanto. You were well into your 20s now, and you were pretty sure no one in your family cared if you were dead or alive. More tears began to stream down your face as you untied the bag of beans and set them down on the floor for Rose. She pawed at your leg and you scooped her up into a hug, letting the tears flow freely.

Finally calm, Rose put her tiny paw against one of your eyelids and gave a small squeak.

“I’m okay now,” you told her, setting her back down by the gift of beans. “You eat. I’m gonna take that man’s advice and take a nice, hot shower.”

After washing up and getting warm, you settled into bed, Rose curled up at your back. Through heavy eyelids, you hoped that coming here hadn’t been a mistake. That you’d truly be able to start something new here. That Sabrina’s premonition saw something kind in your future.

Chapter Text

                Well, that was probably the best sleep you’d had in weeks. Yawning into the Pokemon Center’s pillow, you decided to get ready to start the day. Your clothes were, somehow, dry and you slid the soft dress over your head as your stomach let out an angry rumble.

                “I’m workin’ on it,” you grumbled back, putting the oversized sweater on, too. Rose trilled quietly as you pulled your boots on, sitting obediently by her pokeball. There weren’t even crumbs left from those beans. “Good for you, Rose,” you told her with a pat on the head. You called her back into the ball and reattached it to the chain at your neck. Patting yourself down, you grabbed the key card and your ‘dex. “Aw, shit,” you swore quietly. You’d forgotten to turn your Pokedex off last night, and now its battery was dying. Killing the power to the little device, you started repeating your list of priorities in your head. When you felt confident you had it all sorted, you went back downstairs.

                “Oh, there she is.” The nurse from last night was standing next to an old man wearing a shirt that could only be described as The Yellowest. He had a stern face, but a kind mustache.

Or was it the other way around?

                Don’t panic. You’re panicking.

That shirt is incredibly yellow.

Don’t panic.

                “Excuse me,” the man in yellow said. He introduced himself as Hala, the Kahuna of Melemele Island.

                “Huh?”

                “Whenever there is a problem on the island, it is my duty to resolve it,” he continued. “And that includes helping kids like yourself.”

                “Huh?” you said again, doubling the question marks in your voice.

                “Come with me, if you don’t mind. We can take my old Tauros back to Iki Town.” You followed him out the door, the nurse waving her goodbyes.

Why are you following him? Was it that friendly mustache or that aggressively yellow shirt?

Hala helped you into the Tauros’ saddle, checking that everything was quite secure, before grabbing the reins and leading you and the Pokemon on foot.

                “Uhm,” you started. You had a terrible habit of starting conversations with that word. “I’m new here. Where did you say we were going, again?”

                “Ho! Don’t you worry, young lady. We’re heading to my home. I’ll have some questions for you that I hope you won’t mind answering in a more private setting.” He must have sensed you tense up because he immediately turned around to clarify that he just wanted to help, and it was difficult to help a complete and total stranger. Helping each other out was just what they did in Alola.

                “Why so anxious?” you thought to yourself. “He’s clearly just trying to help. This isn’t Kanto, and it’s certainly not Johto. You don’t exactly have anything to hide, so why are you being like this?” Hala caught you chewing on your thumbnail. Gently, he put a hand on your knee, startling you out of your gnawing frenzy.

                “You’re safe now, young lady. Everything’s going to be fine.” He pat your hand once before returning his attention to the road.

                From Hau’oli City to Iki Town, it wasn’t an especially long journey. The weather was beautiful and so was the scenery. You breathed in.

                And breathed out.

                Hala had greeted everyone encountered on the road by name. You gave a stiff nod as they politely “Alola”-ed to you. Whatever a kahuna did, Hala was clearly well liked. The old man in yellow lead the Tauros to a small collection of houses.

                “Welcome to Iki Town,” he said. You honestly weren’t sure if this place counted as a town. It was cute, sure, but there were only like, three houses. “My place is just a bit further up the hill.” You’d expected to see another house, maybe slightly larger in size given Hala’s apparent importance in the area. Instead, he helped you off the Tauros in front of a compound. Another compound. At least this one looked like a massive bungalow. The one in Saffron had heavily favored a minimalist, prison sort of feel.

While you were contemplating the differences in regional aesthetics, Hala recalled the old bull into an Ultra ball. You didn’t get a chance to ask him about the giant wooden platform out front; he’d gently ushered you into the house too quickly for that.

The inside of Iki Town’s compound was even more dissimilar to the sterile walls inside of Saffron’s. Everything was made from aged wood, and was lavishly decorated with colorful textiles. It was comfortable. It was beautiful in a way you didn’t have one solid word for.

“Ho! Come this way, come this way! My office is right around the corner.” The door before you depicted a stylized Hariyama. An engraving, or some sort of wood burning technique, maybe. He told you to go ahead and take a seat, that he just had to quickly check in. And so, in you stepped.

And immediately, you wanted to run.

Lounging in one of the chairs, feet propped up on the desk, was a man biting loudly into a berry.

“Oh no,” you thought. “He’s handsome.”

His hair was black and white (and judging by his eyebrows, black was his natural color), his hoodie and sweatpants were black and white, but he had these unbelievably round sunglasses perched on his head. Something about him seemed at odds with itself. Softness with a hard edge. You felt yourself blush as he lazily glanced over at you and said, “’Sup?”

“Uhm,” you swallowed. There was that word again. Why couldn’t you just say, “’Sup?” back? It was taking your many years of practiced self-control to not just get in this man’s head and get out of that room. You could try to find Hala, explain that you needed to prepare your heart first if he was going to introduce you to handsome strangers. But before you could settle on any coherent plan, you were saved by the sudden presence of Yellow.

“Guzma. Feet,” he instructed, closing the door behind him.

“Yeah, yeah.” Taking another loud chomp out of the berry, he set his feet on the ground. He was huge. He looked uncomfortable having to just sit in the chair like a regular person, his legs were so long. You fell on the short side of the measuring tape, so you were unreasonably impressed with this giant of a man. Hala went to sit behind his desk, clearing some paper stacks out of the way.

“Now then, my dear. I think some introductions are in order.” You fiddled with the pokeball against your chest, and nodded. “This charmer here is Guzma. Don’t pay him much mind. He’s sort of my apprentice,” he said with a deep chuckle. You slowly sat down in the chair next to Guzma, offering him your hand. He lifted an eyebrow at you, but shook your hand in return. He didn’t have to move in his seat or anything. You offered the same tried-and-true handshake to Hala, who grasped it warmly, and you shared your name with the two.

Guzma shifted in his seat to lean into the arm rest, hand supporting head, slowly tapping a foot. “Haven’t seen you around before,” he noticed.

“Ah, no, I’m not from here, no,” you said to a spot on Guzma’s forehead, just above the eye. Gray eyes. Gray eyes that were almost purple. “I actually just got in on the ferry last night.”

“Well then, where are you from?” Hala asked with a smile. You didn’t know how to answer, weren’t sure what they would think about your ties in Kanto. After a moment, Hala continued, “If you’re not comfortable answering, that’s fine, too. But the nurses in Alola all have training to recognize when kids like you are in need, though, and I’m here to help.”

“I’m just not sure where to start,” you admitted. He nodded. “But I’m actually not a kid. I’m 25.”

“No shittin’! Are you serious?!” Guzma shouted. You blinked at him. “I ain’t much older than you!”

“It’s true,” you told him with a little smile, his informality somehow very much welcome. “I’ve got my ID on my ‘dex, but I’ll have to charge it somehow.”

“You’re all still kids to me,” the old man laughed, finishing another note. “But I’d like to hear more, if that’s okay.” It would be hard to lie; you hated lies. Nobody could lie to you even if they tried, and you felt like you owed everyone the same level of honesty. But talking about Johto was difficult. Painful, even. You sighed and began, “I came here from Saffron City in the Kanto region.” Hala was jotting down more notes. Guzma shifted into a different uncomfortable position in his chair. “There’s really not much to tell.”

“Hmm,” Hala mused, leaning back in his chair. “Why did you come to Alola, then?” For some reason, you found yourself glancing at Guzma, heart rate picking up a bit.

“My teacher told me to come here,” you said slowly. It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the full truth. You felt both pairs of eyes watching you internally grapple with yourself. Ripping at the skin on your thumb, you made your decision. Hala seemed like an open, inviting person, but if he rejected you—

Like the freak you are. Your mother’s voice.

—then there were still other islands in Alola. There would be plenty more people to meet.

“I came here from the psychic training compound in Saffron. My teacher, Sabrina, had a premonition and urged me to come here. The vision was either too vague or she refused to tell me what she saw, but I had no particular goals coming here. I don’t even really know anything about Alola. Just the stories my cousin used to tell me when I was a kid. She lived here for some years, and everything she showed me really just pulled at my heartstrings, you know? Of course you guys know; you live here,” you finished with a dry laugh, slamming your head into your hands. You’d ended up rambling. Your face was on fire. You hoped it burned you to ash right there.

“Ah, so you’re a psychic. We don’t see too many of you here,” Hala responded with a smile in his voice. You snapped your head back up at him.

“You’re not— That’s not— That’s okay?” you tried.

“My dear girl, why wouldn’t it be?”

“Yo, so you’re like, a real psychic?” came Guzma’s voice from beside you. He’d changed positions again, and was now leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees. His face was a lot closer now, and you couldn’t help but notice faint purple stains on his forearms. You swallowed once before responding, “Uhm, yes.” He leaned back in the chair again, putting his arms behind his head, and said, “Man, I’ve seen some weird shit in my day, but that’s a new one on ya boy!”

Your heart broke a little. Just a little. Certainly not a lot. You couldn’t meet those gray eyes simply because you didn’t want to, not because you were about to cry.

Aue, Guzma. We’re going to have to work on your manners if she’s going to start living here,” came Hala’s voice.

You stared at Hala. Hala stared at Guzma. Guzma stared at you.

“Huh?” came two confused voices simultaneously. You tried to count the implied question marks, but there were simply too many.

Chapter Text

                “I’m sorry? Did you say that I’ll be living here?” you asked Hala. His blunt statement had shocked the eyebrows right off your face. Up, up, and away.

                “That’s right. You don’t have anywhere else to stay, do you?” he replied, making more notes in front of him.

                “I mean, there’s always the Pokemon Center, and I was going to try to find a job…” you trailed off, realizing he was right. The Pokemon Centers wouldn’t let you stay for very long and that would interfere with your ability to hold a steady job. If you couldn’t make money, finding a place to stay was going to prove quite the challenge on these islands.

                “You can work here, for room and board, if that makes you feel better. What’s ours is yours now,” he said gently.

                “Yo, ain’t she a little small to stay here?” Guzma asked. There was nothing malicious in his tone; it was an honest question.

                “We’ll find something suitable for her,” the old man chuckled back. Guzma scratched at the back of his head, eyes on the ground. “But that will all come later,” Hala continued. “Now, I want to hear more about what you can do,” he said, offering a hand in your direction. “Tell me about these psychic abilities of yours.” Even Guzma was looking your way, hand still at the back of his neck, gray eyes shining with curiosity.

                “Uhm,” you began before quickly giving up. There were about a thousand different ways to start this conversation with strangers. Explain the technicalities (as well as you understood them, anyway); give them a demonstration; provide them with a pseudo-cryptic description that made you sound super cool. You smooshed your cheeks together in thought before deciding on a satisfactory combination. “I think this’ll be easier to show you guys.”

                You reached out to Hala first, trying to keep their minds separate for the demonstration. There were heavy defenses up already, a bit surprising for someone from Alola. You pushed further, gently and quietly. You meant no harm here.

                But something was screaming in your head. Dragging you out.

A sensation like violent static electricity, shocking you over and over and over.

It was clear that you weren’t welcome in Hala’s head. Slowly, painfully, you opened your eyes. Tears were steaming down your cheeks. Covering half of your face with a hand, you choked out, “Why?”

                “Are you alright?” Hala asked, greatly concerned. “What happened?”

                “There was something… protecting you,” you whispered to him. “Something strong. Something angry.”

                “Guzma, go get the first aid kit,” Hala instructed. After the tall man hastily left the room, Hala apologized. “You must be a mind reader. I should’ve been more careful. Let me explain.”

                Through the splitting migraine and the spinning room, you gathered something about guardian deity Pokemon, about a kahuna being specially chosen by these guardians, the traditions of the island. That was probably what you’d encountered in Hala’s mind and— oh good, here’s Guzma now.

                There was a sudden handsome face in front of you, offering you small pills and a glass of fresh water. You greedily tossed the pills in your mouth and dry swallowed.

                Breathe in.

                Breathe out.

                You decided to take Guzma’s offered water, trying to not focus on the possibility that your fingers would be touching for a faint moment. You downed the whole glass, the chill of the water cooling your aching head.

                “Thank you,” you said, smiling up at Guzma.

                “Yeah, well,” he replied awkwardly, placing the empty glass down on Hala’s desk. “Here’s like, an ice pack or whatever, too.” He held out a cold, limp thing that you figured was somehow for your head. You plopped it on like some terrible hat.

                “Guzma, once she’s feeling better, why don’t we have her try reading your mind next?” Hala asked his so-called apprentice.

                “You gone senile, old man? The hell you think’s gonna happen if she tries that psychic shit on me?” he demanded.

                “I’m not exactly a mind reader,” you quietly interrupted.

                “I think it’ll be fine,” Hala sternly reinforced. “You’re not under the Tapu’s protection like I am.”

                “It’s actually more like telepathic projections,” you continued, mostly to yourself, but it seemed to grab their attention, and they quieted down to listen. “They’re kind of like mirages. Sort of? That’s one of the ways it was explained to me, anyway.” Hala nodded at you, and the room went silent for a few uncomfortable moments.

                It was Guzma who broke it first.

                “How, uh, how’s your head feeling?” Between the meds and the ice pack, any residual pain from your beat down in Hala’s mind was fast on its way out. You gave him a thumbs-up and a smile. Guzma answered with a thumb of his own and a smirk.

                “I won’t project for you, if you don’t want me to,” you reassured Guzma. He had dark circles under his eyes. All it would take was a few nights of the right projections for him to sleep well, if he’d ever slept well at all.

                “It’s whatever. Maybe some other time.” He’d lightly brushed you off, but it was better than being flat-out rejected.

                “Then some other time it will be,” came Hala’s sudden voice and you realized you’d been staring at Guzma. Whoops. The kahuna stood up, shuffling his notes on the desk. You stood up, too, though you weren’t sure why. “Let’s get you all moved in, then, shall we?” he asked, heading out the office door. You and Guzma followed after him.

                “But this is honestly all I own,” you told him. “There’s nothing to move.” Old Hala gave a knowing chuckle.

                “My dear, there will be plenty to do, things to move. We’ll have to buy you some new clothes, a charger for your Pokedex, some bedsheets…” He stopped his listing at a relatively plain, wooden door. “Ah, here we are. The dormitories.”

                Your mind flashed back to the dorms in Saffron. A large, sterile room on each floor with just enough cots to house the students. Cold and co-ed. Unintentionally dreary and utilitarian.

                “Yo, the fuck’s wrong with the door?” interrupted Guzma. You gasped a little; you’d been projecting. Quickly, you broke the connection and apologized.

                “It was an accident! I-I didn’t mean to project on anyone,” you stammered. Guzma looked a bit shaken, gray eyes staring at the corrected door. “I was just thinking about the dorms back in Kanto, and it just kind of slipped.” Slowly, he peeled his eyes away from the oddity that only they’d seen, and looked down at you.

                “Oh ho! What did you see, Guzma?” Hala’s voice was dripping with curiosity. Still staring at you, the man in black and white answered, “The door was wrong.”

                “’Wrong?’”

                “Did I stutter?” Guzma demanded, turning on Hala. “It was the wrong door. Looks like she fixed it, though, or whatever she can do,” he muttered.

                “I’m sorry,” you whispered again. A mighty clap on your shoulder made you jump, and Hala was there, laughing.

                “You sure gave this young man a scare! I just wish I could have seen it for myself!” Still laughing, Hala opened the door and motioned for you to enter.

                “Wasn’t scared,” you heard grumbled from behind you.

                The dorms on Alola were nothing like the dorms you knew. Doors lined the hall on either side. Signs and other decorations hung from the doorknobs, the walls, wherever they could fit. At the end of the hallway was what appeared to be a community bathroom. It was so lively and personal. Everyone who lived here was allowed to make some kind of mark. It made your heart flutter in that way when you see something intimate that wasn’t meant for you.

                “I hope it’s no trouble,” Hala began, “but the only open bed is in Guzma’s room. It’s been a long time since we’ve had such a full house.” You felt your cheeks instantly flush. Living with a stranger was fine; living co-ed was fine, too. But living with a tall, handsome stranger who probably didn’t like you very much right now? That one you weren’t too sure about.

                “Hey, old man,” came Guzma’s voice, dangerously low. “Don’t I get a say in this?” He tried to block Hala’s way as the old man opened his door, lacking in decorations.

                “Ho! How much of this room have you destroyed, boy, that you don’t want to share it?” Hala’s voice was pleasant, but must have carried some kind of threat to stop Guzma’s protests.

                “Me and Rose can sleep on a couch or something. Really,” you piped up, disliking the sudden tension. Both men turned to look at you with questioning glances. “Rose is my Skitty,” you nervously explained while releasing the little Pokemon from her ball. “We’ve always slept together, ever since I was a kid.” The small kitten shook her head, reacquainting herself with reality. “This is my Rose,” you introduced. “Rose, this is Hala and Guzma. We’ll be staying with them for a while.”

                True to her nickname, your shiny Skitty was the same strong color as wild roses. She rubbed her tiny body against a leg of each man while purring politely. Fast bored with the introductions, though, she came to sit at your feet, wrapping her bulbous tail around her itty-bitty self.

                “We don’t take up much space,” you finished, squatting by Rose to scratch under her chin. Guzma was staring down at the two of you, scratching roughly at his own hair.

                “Fine! Whatever!” he finally exclaimed, stomping inside of the bedroom. “You two can have top bunk,” he called from inside. With a now-familiar chuckle, Hala yelled for Guzma to get the room cleaned up and presentable. Over the sound of excessive groaning, Hala motioned for you to follow him. Rose followed behind you closely.

                “We have some spare blankets and pillows in storage. We’ll get you some bedding of your own tomorrow,” he said. You couldn’t help but look all around you, almost tripping over your poor little girl a few times.

                “I’m just so blown away by all of this,” you told Hala. “I don’t think I can ever thank you enough for your kindness.” Stopping in front of some door, down some hall in the building, Hala chuckled again, pulling down a faded yellow blanket to hand to you.

“I'm glad we got the chance to meet today,” he said, reaching for a snow-white pillowcase on a high shelf. Your pillowcase for tonight, you marveled. “Perhaps you are here in Alola because this is where you are meant to be.” The soft linens felt heavier in your arms, weighed down with hidden meaning in his words. Enchanted as you were with the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you’d finally found a home, Rose meowed up at you, tail flicking irritably in hunger.

“Sorry, Rose! I’ll get you something to eat soon, okay?” She huffed a bit before you recalled her into her ball.

“Wa ha ha!” laughed the old kahuna, handing over a plush, downy pillow. “I suppose it is about time for lunch. Let’s go see if your new roommate has cleaned up, shall we, friend?” You eagerly followed behind his leisurely pace, attempting to memorize each turn you took back to the dorms.

❀❀❀

                You’d somehow made it back to Guzma’s room without tripping over the enormous blanket you were borrowing.

                Guzma’s room. Your room, too. The thought brought a little smile to your face, and you quickly stamped down the instinct to project something happy around yourself.

                “Guzma, aue! How can this be considered clean?!” Hala was almost yelling.

                “What?! It’s a hell of a lot better than it was!” he almost yelled backed. You stepped in and counted about eight different piles of stuff stacked up in about seven different parts of the room. The beds were bunked, and the lone window was open, the Alolan breeze lofting through lazily. Ignoring the mildly endearing bickering, you climbed onto the empty top mattress to assemble your temporary nest.

                “I think this is just fine,” you beamed down at them. It was snug, warm, and soft. What more could you want in a bed? Hala begrudgingly quieted down, satisfied that you were satisfied. You caught a ball of fabric Guzma had thrown at you. It quickly dissolved into a large, white t-shirt and a pair of black sweatpants, not unlike those he was already wearing.

                “Figured you wouldn’t want to sleep in dirty clothes. You can borrow those, as PJs, until you get your own.” Without meeting your eyes, he continued kicking around his various piles.

                “Thank you, Guzma,” you said as you jumped down from the bed, wiping more stupid tears from your eyes. His giant form stepped towards you, and stopped.

                “H-hey, don’t think nothin’ of it. We’re roomies now, yeah?” He gave you one solid pat on the head. Looking up, you noticed that his cheeks were tinted pink, but he was finally, actually looking at you.

                “Call it an old kahuna’s intuition, but I have a good feeling about this,” Hala said quietly, exiting the room.

Chapter Text

                Quite untrue to its name, the Mess Hall at the Hala House was actually very clean. You’d read books about fictional summer camp adventures as a child, and this was pretty much how you’d imagined the dining areas in every single one of them. Strong-looking men swarmed the buffet line managed by a few smiling women. Some had already laid claim to tables in the room, trays with plates and bowls arranged in a pattern you had yet to learn. Others looked like they were just finishing up with their meal. You watched as Guzma silently stormed off to a far corner of the room to sit by himself.

                “Everyone, listen up!” shouted Hala over the racket. All eyes— save for Guzma’s— were on you now. In that friendly yet authoritative voice of his, Hala introduced you and explained that you’d be living here now.

                “Will she be working with us?” shouted an incredulous voice.

                “A little small, ain’t she, cuz?” replied another, followed by uproarious laughter that made your face burn. Guzma had said the same thing. What did they even do at the Hala Hut, anyway?

                “Maybe, maybe not, friends! That all remains to see what she can do.” He slipped you a wink, and you gave him a grateful smile. Your secret would be yours to reveal, eventually, maybe. “Now, then! My boys, if you would all please allow her and her Pokemon some lunch, we can continue on with our day!” There came a completely unnecessary cry of approval from the group as Hala shoved you into the lunch line. Just as you were about to pick up a tray, strange and sweaty men swarmed you on all sides with questions.

                “Did you just move to Alola?”

                “What kind of Pokemon do you have?”

                “Where are you from?”

                “Wanna watch me fight Kai?”

                “Hey!” This one you assumed was from the aforementioned Kai. Luckily, the playful banter was interrupted by a soft, sharp clap.

                “That’s enough, boys! Let this poor girl get her lunch. You can bother her later.” After some overdramatic moaning and groaning, the former order of the lunch line was fast restored. The woman who’d rescued you led you back into the kitchen.

                “Thank you,” you said, realizing in the quiet that you were trembling.

                “Think nothing of it, dear. They’re good boys; they just tend to get excited about everything,” she said as she swapped your empty tray for one full of food. You caught the warm smell of lightly toasted bread before you actually saw it. A sandwich sat on a plastic plate, accompanied by a cup full of various berries in a clear gelatin mix. And off to the side on a napkin, sat a cookie of unknown flavoring, iced in yellow frosting. Because you were overwhelmed and a bit dumbfounded, you simply thanked her again. She smiled and offered you something to drink.

                “Water would be great,” you said, taking your first bite into the sandwich. There was some sort of sweet cheese and spicy sauce on an unfamiliar meat under the crunch of bread. “This is great, too!” you tried to exclaim through your mouth full of food. After swallowing, you asked, “Did you make all of this food?”

                “Well, me and the other moms. I iced the cookies, though,” she said proudly. “We’re the mothers of Iki Town, you see. A few of the boys you just met are our sons. Most are sons from the other islands, though. They live and work here, and we try to make it feel a little more like home for them.”

                The word ‘home’ echoed in your mind as you slowly drank from your plastic cup.

                “Would it be okay if I ate out in the cafeteria with my roommate?” you asked, already standing with your tray.

                “Of course! Oh, dear,” she laughed. “I wasn’t trying to separate you two. You just looked like you needed a moment!” And with that, she shooed you and your meal out. You headed straight towards the table in the corner that Guzma was occupying and sat your tray down across from him.

                “Aren’t you going to eat?” you asked him upon noticing the table was empty. It looked like pretty much everyone else had been served already. Had he demolished the meal while you were gone?

                “Not hungry,” he said. He looked angry. You noticed the voices around you had grown quieter.

                “This food is really great, though,” you offered, trying to make conversation with him. Probably should have opened with a better topic; he most likely knew more about the menu than you did.

He steeled himself in silence, not even so much as glancing at you.

                “What in the world?” you asked yourself internally. You thought there’d been a bonding moment back in the dorm room. You savored the rest of your meal in silence, Guzma looking progressively angrier with each bite you took, tapping his finger against the tabletop.

Some of the men were full-on staring at you. Tap tap tap.

Some were whispering. Tap tap tap tap tap tap.

This was all getting weird and uncomfortable, and it was ruining your meal.

                “Hey, Guzma, could you show me where the Pokemon food is? I’m sure Rose is really hungry, too.” At the mention of your tiny friend, he seemed to calm down a bit. With a heaving sigh, he said, “Yeah. Yeah, sure. I gotta feed my gang, anyway.” His chair screeched across the floor as he stood up, slightly hunched over, hands in his pockets. You grabbed the cookie, hastily shoved in your chair, and took off after his enormous strides. As you exited the cafeteria, you felt the stares of the sons of Iki Town following behind.

                 Guzma led you through more rooms than expected to get to the compound’s Pokecafe. It must have made sense on the blueprints, but you were surprised that your dining area was so far from Rose’s. Still, the much smaller room was still spotless, and it served a wide variety of foods for your little red Skitty. The food in Saffron hadn’t been near as homey, catering instead to the resident Pokemon’s health.

                “You’d better not go too crazy, okay?” you told her as she emerged from her Pokeball. But your little Rose was an independent thing, and she cared to sample all that she could. Watching her gorge herself on beans, blocks, and berries soothed you a bit from the earlier weirdness. You took a seat on the floor and watched as Guzma— still scowling and silent— released his team for their lunch. A massive, fierce-looking insectoid Pokemon startled you as it appeared and set Rose on edge, bright red fur bristling. Acting entirely on instinct, you blocked out your images. No human or Pokemon would be able to see you or Rose with the naked eye.

                “Shit,” you swore at yourself, undoing your projection, hoping that Guzma hadn’t noticed. Luckily for you, he seemed preoccupied with his Pokemon or his thoughts; you just weren’t sure which.

He had nothing but Bug-type Pokemon on his team, most of which you recognized despite your lack of experience. But the hulking silver one that he was absentmindedly petting now was like nothing you had ever seen.

                “What Pokemon is that, Guzma?” you asked him after checking to make sure you and Rose were visible again. She was now curiously sniffing at his Ariados, who seemed like it couldn’t care less since there was food to be eaten.

                “Who? You mean my Golisopod?” he replied, turning to face you. It let out a small noise before picking up some Pokeblocks for its lunch. “I caught this guy when he was just a Wimpod,” Guzma told you, clearly beaming with pride. “I was with all of these badasses when they evolved, actually.” Talking about his team seemed to instantly improve his mood, and you sort of wanted to see him smile.

                “I’ve never seen a Golisopod before. It’s kinda scary,” you admitted.

                “That’s probably just because he’s taller than you,” Guzma teased with one eyebrown raised. “He’s fierce and loyal, but he’d never hurt anything that didn’t deserve it.” And with that, he slipped back into silence. You munched on your cookie, trying not to chew too loudly. The Pokemon were eating and everything was quiet. The sun was shining, and everything in your life was changing, seemingly for the better. One by one, the meals were finished, and the creatures returned to their balls. You stood up, unsure of your place, but at least happy to follow your new roommate around.

                Guzma offered to lead you back to the dormitories, borrow his charger and power up your Pokedex.

                “The old man told me to show you around this dump after lunch.”

                “That’d be great! I’d love to know what everyone does here at the Hala Hut!” He snorted beside you, sudden and loud. Both of you stopped in your tracks.

                “What did you just say? ‘Hala Hut?’ I ain’t never heard anyone call it that before,” he said through laughter. A bit sheepish now, you replied, “It seemed fitting.”

                “I like it, I like it,” he told you, wiping away small tears from his eyes. “Might steal it for myself.”

                You felt yourself smiling something stupid, with your lips pulled tight across your face and none of your teeth showing. It was a ridiculous face and you immediately covered it up with your hands as he started moving again. It didn’t make any sense, though. You had literally just met this guy today. Why did his praise thrill you? How could you already crave a smile you weren’t sure you’d truly seen? These were the thoughts bouncing around in your head when you heard, “Hey, new girl.”

                Standing in the doorway to the cafeteria was one of the sons from earlier. You glanced over at Guzma, far more comfortable with his towering frame and angry eyebrows than this even stranger stranger. His gray eyes were frozen steel now, his nonchalant hunch seemed predatory. Guzma didn’t like this guy, clearly; and judging from the way he looked at your roommate, the feeling was mutual.

                “Where’re you going?” The man in the doorway was addressing you specifically. His demeanor and tone of voice were casual, but you didn’t need to have psychic powers to feel the surrounding miasma.

                “We were going back to our room to get some stuff.” So far, the people of Alola had been nothing but kind and compassionate towards you. It seemed to be the norm. And yet, you’d already noticed time and time again that Guzma didn’t always receive that same island hospitality.

The bare dorm room door. Hala’s comment about destruction in the room. Guzma, alone, in the corner of the mess hall. And now this confrontation.

“I’ll walk you back there. Get out of here, Guzma.”

“Fuck you, Kai,” he spat, storming off anyway. You tried to follow, but Kai blocked your path.

“I just want to talk to you for a second.” He ushered you back inside the cafeteria, and you stiffly took a seat across from him. “I’m Kai.” You took his outstretched hand and gave him a fast nod. He started to say something a few different times and ended up simply asking, “What do you know about Guzma?” You thought about it for a second. This guy didn’t seem aggressive like he had just moments earlier. If anything, he seemed worried about you.

“He’s tall and likes bugs,” you told him, locking eyes. Kai let out a dry bark.

“Let me try again. What did Hala tell you about Guzma?” This was an interrogation. A weird interrogation that you had absolutely no context for. Thinking back on your earlier conversations, you told him that you thought Guzma was some kind of special case to Hala. Kai sat back in the squeaky plastic chair, eyes on the ceiling. “If Hala didn’t say anything, then neither will I. But I think it’s fair that you know that Guzma…” He trailed off, bouncing his leg nervously. You kept glancing back and forth at his over-active leg and the way his mouth was pinched in thought. “Guzma’s not a good person,” he finally said. “You should be careful around him, cuz.”

You wanted to repeat Guzma’s earlier sentiment: “Fuck you, Kai.”

You were here now, and you were here with Guzma. Hala had decided to put you two together. This was where Sabrina’s ominous winds had decided to drop you off. As you stood, you smoothed out your skirt, choosing to say nothing to the person sitting in front of you. You took deliberate steps to the entrance of the mess hall before turning around in what you hoped was a cool way, and declared, “I think I can handle it. Thanks, though.” And you took off for the dorms, heart pounding with adrenaline.

With shaky hands, you fumbled with the doorknob, and found Guzma lounging in the dark.

“What’d that asshole want?” he said quietly. His yellow sunglasses were pulled over his eyes, despite the fact that he hadn’t bothered to turn any lights on. Though he was laying on his bed, he was obviously uncomfortable.

Lying certainly didn’t seem like the right thing to do. It never did. If he was going to be upset, he had the right to do so. But, you were also nervous to tell him about the conversation.

“Let’s just say that I don’t think he’s a fan of yours.” You tried to keep your tone light, your movements still and meaningless.

“He’s probably right about me,” Guzma said, unflinching as you flipped the light switch.

You wanted to say, “I’m here, I’m here; you’re here. We’re here.”

What you said was, “Nah. Can I borrow your ‘Dex charger?” He sat up, pushing his glasses back to the crown of his head.

“How can you say that? You don’t know shit about me!” He’d jumped off the bed and had you cornered against the one desk in the room.

He was angry, so angry. Not at you, not at Kai.

Just, angry.

“You don’t know,” he repeated, hand now tugging on his white locks. Without thinking, you reached out and grabbed that hand, forcing him to stop pulling at his own hair. Shocked, he looked from where your hands touched, all the way down to your flushed little face.

“I don’t need to know,” you said directly to the most beautiful pair of eyes. You both lowered your still-cradled hands. “I already like you.”

You hoped you looked brave. You hoped you sounded as sincere as you felt.

Slowly, almost agonizingly, you let go of his hand, not for a second breaking eye contact. Your face felt hot. Too hot, even against the warm Alolan temperature outside.

He looked confused, surprised, confused again, but finally turned away from you as a wild blush spread across his cheeks. Pushing past you to get into the desk drawer, he pulled out a charging cable and handed it to your general direction, eyes still averting anything to do with you. Gently, you took it, though you wanted nothing more than to touch his hand again. He whirled around and took exactly two steps to stand directly in front of the door.

“Go ahead and get that chargin’. I still gotta show you around the rest of the Hala Hut, don’t I?”

❀❀❀

The awkwardness between the two of you was gradually shaken off during the guided tour, during dinner, and even as you casually chatted before bed.

You may have left one training compound for another. You may be the lone psychic—

‘Freak,’ a voice screamed in your head

—in all of Alola, but your Skitty was purring softly at your feet, Guzma was snoring loudly on the mattress underneath you, and your pajamas were far too big. If this was to be your life now, you were certainly looking forward to it.

Chapter Text

                “Yo, wake up.” Rose removed her tiny paw from its resting spot on your face. You were never sure how, but sometimes Rose would fall asleep by your feet and manage to wake up with her paws on your face. Clearly, the only reasonable response to the loud voice and sudden bit of coldness on your face was to groan and roll away.

                “I didn’t sleep well,” you told no one in particular. Maybe Rose.

                “Well, Hala told me to come get you. Maybe you can catch a nap after breakfast.” The loud voice sounded amused.

                Wait, who? What?

                Sitting straight up, you almost bashed your head directly into the ceiling. Your clothes were a mess— wait, that’s not right. Not your clothes.

                Guzma’s clothes.

                You looked down from your nest on the top bunk. The sun was creeping in through the window, your Pokedex’s light glowing in the dim with a full battery. Rose had perched herself atop Guzma’s shoulder, an easy place to reach given how tall he was. It took you a groggy moment to realize that Guzma was decked out in a martial arts outfit. Catching just the faintest sliver of his chest under the robe, you realized how awful you probably looked and hid yourself under your blanket.

                “I-if you turn the light on, I’ll get up and get ready.”

                “Cool. I’ll be waitin’ in the hall for you.” A quiet click signaled his exit. Freeing yourself from your hidey-hole, you quickly climbed down and stripped off the borrowed clothes, throwing on your three-day old ensemble in a flash. Your attempt to fold up Guzma’s clothes was hideously messy, but despite feeling rushed, you didn’t want to be rude. Guzma was leaning against the wall, scratching your Skitty’s forehead with one finger, as you stepped out into the hallway.

                “I don’t have a toothbrush or anything.” You probably smelled like sleep and drool, and the realization prompted you to pull your sweater over your mouth. He made a nod for you to follow him, adding, “There’s probably some mints in the lobby.”

                “Ugh, he probably thinks I’m super gross right now,” you thought. “Double ugh, why am I feeling so self-conscious right now?” you thought, grabbing a mint and recalling your Skitty into her ball.

                He led you out the front door, where seemingly all of the young men living at Hala’s house were practicing some sort of martial art on the platform outside. Hala watched, nodding occasionally, as one of the men shouted out strings of numbers.

                “Guzma, in line!” the leader shouted. You caught your roomie rolling his eyes as he jogged to the back line and began punching in time with the count.

                “Wonderful, isn’t?” Hala nearly sighed, coming to stand by you. It was early, and you were still tired; you weren’t sure if you were ready for his old man gusto just yet. “It’s our own Alolan spin on the art of sumo.”

                “So, is all of this just a dojo?” you timidly asked.

                “Ho! It’s more than a dojo!” Excitedly, he turned to you. “We train our bodies and spirits, yes.” He lowered his voice a bit to finish, “But we also train our minds.”

                You looked up at him with wide eyes, catching the meaning in his words. He gave you a nod to follow him, not unlike the one Guzma gave you just a few minutes prior. He was leading you up a path that was apparently called Mahalo Trail, so said a sign on the road. The surrounding foliage was stunning. Palm trees grew wildly. Mysterious statues with fierce faces sat, locked, staring forever forward. Hala spoke not a word as the two of you ascended several wooden plank staircases. Before you’d realized it, the sun had risen.

                Mahalo Trail ended where a gorge began. And spanning that gorge was the longest bridge you’d ever seen.

                “Across the way are the Ruins of Conflict, where Tapu Koko watches over our island.” For once, Hala sounded quiet, reverent. “And this is where you’ll be doing your training,” he said, again turning to you with a soft smile.

                “T-training?” you stammered. “Why all the way out here?” you asked. “I can learn Alolan sumo wrestling just like the boys do, if that’s what you want from me.” The panic couldn’t be kept out of your voice. Being set apart from the group was bad. It was bad bad bad bad—

                “My dear girl,” Hala said, gently placing a hand on your quaking shoulder. “You will be training your mind.” His words soothed you, but only a bit, and frightened tears still threatened to fall. “I’ve seen it, even if I haven’t seen it,” he said. “You don’t have full control over your gifts, do you?”

                One fat tear rolled down your cheek.

                “No, I don’t.”

                The old man gave an understanding nod, his suspicions confirmed.

                Hastily, you rubbed the damp trail on your face away, only to find that you very much wanted to look at the ground. Even the dirt in Alola seemed friendly to you. You felt the urge to give it a small, “Alola!”

                Still in thought, stroking his mustache, Hala meandered to a bench seated by the trailhead. With his free hand, he motioned for you to come join him, and because he was a hard man to resist, you joined him, still sniffling.

                “Did your family members have a hard time with control?” he began. Something inside you started to crack. You felt it.

                “He doesn’t need to know,” you told yourself.

                “I’m actually the only psychic in my family,” you slowly managed. He turned to you, shocked, and with good reason. Most psychics at least had some family history, like it was some hereditary illness. “I came here from Kanto, but, honestly, I grew up in Johto, just outside of Goldenrod City.”

                “This is too much. He doesn’t need to know,” you told yourself again.

                “Yes, you did mention living in Saffron yesterday. Did you decide to go there to train under Sabrina?”

                The thing inside you splintered further.

                Don’t think about what you did. Don’t think about them. Don’t.

                “Uhm, not exactly,” you tried, breathing a bit harder now. “I-I did train under Sabrina, and I’m incredibly grateful for everything she’s done for me, but it wasn’t my choice to go. She made me go. She—” You cut yourself off, cut off the sob in your throat. “It was better that I left.”

                Everything shattered. You felt it in your ribs.

                Your breath hitched, and you collapsed in on yourself. You curled yourself up as small as possible on that bench, crying into your knees, head supported by your own arms. You felt the projections creating themselves in the air.

                You didn’t mean it. You didn’t mean it. I didn’t do it on purpose.

                Your mother’s lips and teeth. An unfamiliar hair color. Hours of attempted phone calls to uncles.

                Hala’s meaty arm draped over your shoulder just as you heard a primal scream from across the bridge. Instantly, your projections vanished. Eyes bleary, you thought you saw a swiftness of yellow on the other side of the gorge.

                “Tapu Koko really doesn’t like it when you use your gifts around me, does it?” he chuckled, pulling you in for a side hug.

                “It p-probably has reason to,” you sniffed. Hala gave your shoulder a little squeeze.

                “I’m sorry,” he said. “I never meant to pry. Us old folk can be so nosey.” A tiny chuckle escaped you, and you gratefully settled into the grandfatherly hug. It felt nice. It felt warm. After a few moments of the morning air cleaning off your tear-stained face, Tapu Koko’s cry came once again, further away this time, and calmer, too. Hala released you, stood up, and helped you to your feet.

                “This is where I’d like you to train. Every morning, while my boys practice their forms, I’d like you to meditate here, where nature runs free. I’d like you to push your projections to Tapu Koko’s mind, if you can; show it that you are not its enemy. This way, I think, you might find yourself with more control.”

                It was as good of an idea that any of the teachers in Saffron had come up with.

                “But what should I do if it attacks me again?” The last time was just a warning. If you projected directly at it, you felt for sure that you would be in danger. Or maybe that was Hala’s point. After a long, low bow directed towards the Ruins, Hala turned his feet back toward Iki Town.

                “The Tapu and I are always connected, you see. I’ll speak with it. Everything will be well.”

                The trail seemed steeper going down.

                “How will I know when to come back to town?” you asked. He glanced at you, his mustache pulled up in a smirk.

                “I’ll send Guzma for you.”

❀❀❀

                Hala had told you to retrieve your Pokedex for your next task: a shopping trip in Hau’oli City. Your attempts to convince him to let you at least shower couldn’t break through his conviction.

                “You’ll enjoy a bath so much more when you have clean clothes to change into,” he insisted. You recognized a losing fight, and so, went to grab the literal only other thing you owned, only to find yourself barging in on Guzma.

                Guzma, who was in the process of putting a shirt on.

                “Uhm,” you said too-loudly, standing stupidly in the doorway. His hair was still damp from the shower, and you wondered how he managed to make it look so fluffy.

                Why were you so flustered? You’d seen plenty of guys your age changing clothes back in Saffron, but none of them made your heart race like this. Was it the newness of everything?

Yeah, that had to be it, right? “Love at first sight” was probably just bullshit, right?

                “Did Hala send ya for me?” he said, finishing pulling the white shirt over his head.

                “Uhm. No,” you told him. You took a step into his room— your room, your shared room— and continued, “He sent me to grab my Pokedex so we could go shopping.” Again, you remembered that you hadn’t bathed yet, and again you self-consciously pulled your sweater over your mouth.

                “Yeah, I’m going with you. To show you around the city and stuff,” he added, pulling on a short-sleeved black jacket sporting a DIYed red X on the back. He handed you your Pokedex and started for the door. “Didn’t the old man mention that?”

                “J-just the two of us?” you asked, almost letting slip how much more fun that sounded to you.

                “Yeah,” he replied as he opened the door for you. “Though I don’t think it’s such a great idea,” he muttered. Unsure of what to think of that statement, you followed his shadow back to Hala’s office in silence. Without even a single knock, he stepped in and announced that both of you were ready.

                “Ho! What perfect timing! I’ve just finished preparations for your little date.” Holding yourself as still as you possibly could, you moved only your eyes to gauge Guzma’s reaction to the old man’s remark. His face was, as far as you could tell, bright red.

                “Wha-!” he started. “Don’t say weird shit, old man!” he managed to yell. “You made her feel awkward! Look! She’s making tiny explosions around her and everything!”

                The “explosions” that Guzma was referring to were actually just “sparkles,” something you tended to let slip when you were apparently overly and sincerely happy, you had learned at a young age.

                “Dahahaha!” The old, yellow-shirted kahuna was wise, anyone could tell, but you felt like he was having too much fun pushing the limits of Guzma’s mental density. Wiping away the laughing tears at his eyes, he handed you what appeared to be a credit card, expectedly generic in design and oddly devoid of information. Still bright yellow, though.

Having no pockets anywhere, you stiffly handed it to Guzma and quietly asked him if he minded holding on to it.

Hala’s voice over-emphasizing the word “date” replayed in your mind again and again, and you found yourself fighting a smile. Guzma, however, didn’t seem to be reciprocating those fluffy feelings. He looked tense— which was normal, as far as you could guess— but there was a certain, noticeable discomfort to it now.

                “Date. Date,” echoed Hala’s voice again.

                You felt yourself physically droop. Of course he wouldn’t want to go on a “date,” even if it was just a joke. Even the other psychics in Kanto had wanted nothing to do with you socially. Why would someone with no mental defenses like Guzma want to risk being around unstable little you?

                “Did you get that file?” Hala’s voice broke through.

                “Uhm?” you offered.

                “Lemme see your ‘dex,” Guzma said, holding out his hand.

                “Uhm,” you responded, setting it on his palm. It was an older, smaller model and you watched his long, large fingers struggle a bit to pull up whatever Hala had sent over.

                “Yeah, it’s all here,” he confirmed with Hala, and handed it back to you. On the screen was a list simply titled, ‘To Buy,’ and approximate prices adjacent to everyday household items.

                “I know the budget isn’t much, but it should be plenty to buy you everything you need,” Hala said. “You two will be taking my Tauros into the city to help carry everything back, and Guzma will be your personal guide. He knows this island well, after all.”

                “I still think you should send her with Kai or literally anyone else,” Guzma said, a hard tone in his voice. You felt yourself droop further. Your sparkles from earlier felt dim. Far away. Stupid.

Hala came around his desk to put a hand on Guzma’s arm.

                “It has to be you. This will be good,” he said. Any hint of his earlier joking was gone. “This will be fine.”

                Smiles slowly began to swirl around Hala, focused on where his hand met Guzma’s hoodie sleeve. It would have been creepy if the smiles didn’t seem so… genuine. So accepting.

Guzma saw them, too, and gently shrugged his mentor’s hand away. Which was probably perfect timing because you felt Tapu Koko threatening you through Hala’s link. It sent a sharp prickling through your mind, like being poked with a needled on just the epidermis.

                Hala took you by the shoulder and Guzma by his approximate shoulder cheerfully. He personally escorted you both out of the Hala Hut, in to the sunshine, and to the impatient Tauros.

                After one more uncertain scowl from Guzma to Hala, the kahuna sent your trio off to your shopping excursion in Hau’oli City.

 

Chapter Text

                Traveling from Iki Town to Hau’oli City wasn’t a long trek, but it did involve a massive hill. At least this time, all you had to do was let gravity pull you down. The old Tauros at your side, the one who had originally carried you to the Hala Hut, seemed quite undisturbed by this hill. Hiking it was probably nothing for the grizzled Pokemon anymore, but you still felt bad that he had carried you so far without even so much as a thank you. You gave his flank a few gentle pats, hoping that conveyed some of your gratitude.

                On the other side of Tauros, Guzma walked in grumpy silence, pulling the hood of his jacket up over his head only to rip it back down moments later. Over and over again, all the way down that hill. It was only when your group took a short break at the Pokemon Center at the bottom of Route One that you dared ask your roommate about his current indecision.

                “Uhm,” you started, as you typically did. “Is everything okay, Guzma? You’ve been, uhm, messing with your hoodie a lot.” It was a statement, but it came out more like a question.

                “Don’t worry about it,” he said in a low voice. He seemed to have decided to leave his hood up this time, at least. “Let’s just get to the City, get that shit, and get back.”

                “What happened to showing me around the city?” you asked, disappointed. You’d been looking forward to getting to see the city in the daylight this time.

                “Oh shit, yeah,” he swore, mostly to himself, as he pulled his hood down again. “Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t be fair, but I still don’t think I’m the best person to show ya around.” He rubbed at his undercut, right at the place where both of his hair colors met.

                “Why? If we get lost, we can look up a map on our Pokedexes,” you offered. His response: a side-eye, and a frown. “I mean, obviously we can do that, yeah, that was dumb,” you hastily mumbled.

                “That’s… not the problem,” he said. “Look, don’t worry about it. Ya boy’ll show you around this dump of a city.” He smirked at you, but that tension was still in his eyes. You smirked back at him, hoping that none of his worry reflected off of you.

                “Keep it together,” you told yourself. “Deep breaths. Stay calm. No projecting. Don’t make this weirder than it already is.”

                A few blocks later and the three of you emerged at Hau’oli’s beachfront, where Tauros refused to move any more. He nibbled lazily at the grass around a well-worn, wooden sign that read, “Hau’oli City: A city overflowing with gentle joy.” Whatever that meant. You looked over at Guzma— who, at some point, had put his hood back up— hoping he’d know what to do about the old, stubborn Pokemon.

                “Eh, we can probably just leave him here. Everyone on this island knows the old man’s Tauros, so it’s not like anything’ll happen to him.”

                “Will you wait for us?” you asked the bull. He gave a little huff and what you interpreted as a nod of his head before returning to his snack. “Thanks, Tauros,” you said before you tugged on Guzma’s sleeve. “Can we go check out the beach?” you asked him, smiling.

                “What? You ain’t seen the ocean before?” he asked as he headed off in that direction anyway. Having grown up outside of Goldenrod City, of course you’d seen the ocean a few times. But only a few. Some of those trips had even been fun, before you ruined everything, anyway.

                “It’s been a while,” you told him, settling for a half-truth. You caught yourself chewing on your thumb again. Worrisome habit, that. Sheepish and hoping that he hadn’t noticed, you pulled your hand back into your long sweater sleeve.

                “Well, at least the view’s pretty,” he said, leading you down a set of stone stairs that dumped the two of you directly onto the light Alolan sand. Your breath caught in your throat, and you felt yourself choking slightly on possible tears. The ocean here was breathtaking, like it was a completely different color than the one you’d known. You glanced around at your fellow beachgoers: a woman tending to her injured Corsola, another woman lounging on a fold-out chair under a giant umbrella, a man playing with a Pokemon that was unfamiliar to you. It kind of looked like someone had taken a smooth rock, drawn a face on it, and then glued some Mareep wool to its ass-end. Really, it was actually super cute.

                “I-is that a Pokemon?” you asked Guzma, pointing to the weird little thing.

                “That’s a Pyukumuku. They’re all over Alola, and they’re way gross.” He added a sound like, “Geh,” to emphasize his point. You wanted to stick up for the gross little misfit, but you also didn’t want to argue with your roommate.

                “I’ve never tried to catch a Pokemon before, but I think I’d like to catch a Pyukumuku someday,” you replied quietly before turning heel to walk back to the busy street.

                “You didn’t catch that Skitty of yours?” You simply shook your head before jaywalking to the opposite side of the beachfront. Your attempt to scan the names of each of the buildings proved fruitless in the midday sunlight. Where to start, where to start. Luckily, the list that Hala gave you wasn’t terrifically long, but there didn’t seem to be a simple Department Store on this Alolan island. The Goldenrod Department Store would have been a blessing for this particular adventure.

                “What do you think you’re looking for?” came Guzma’s voice through your mess of thoughts, slightly startling you.

                “Oh, uhm, a Department Store?” you asked back.

                “We got the Shopping Mall a few blocks up.” He motioned the general direction with his thumb. It wasn’t exactly visible from where you were standing, though.

                “Yeah, let’s go there, then. I just want to be done with all of this shopping, so you can show me around the city!” you admitted, hopefully not too eagerly. And hopefully without any renegade projections. He took a few hard looks down the street and at the beachfront from under his dark hood. It sort of looked like he was looking for someone.

                “Yeah, no, everything seems cool. Let’s go,” he said, putting his arm over your shoulder as he guided you through the crowd.

                It was in-between your mild internal screaming that you noticed the dirty looks that perfect strangers were shooting at Guzma.

                “I mean, I guess he does look kind of shady with his hood up like that, but what the fuck is up with these people?” you thought to yourself.

                “Yo, this is it,” he announced stiffly. Gone was the casual mood from last night. He had all but retreated into his oversized hoodie. Who— or what— was he so desperately trying to avoid?

                Was it you?

                Was he trying to not be seen with someone like you?

                Someone like me? What, a tourist? An outsider?

                A freak. The weird kid, as your mother had once called you.

                The two of you entered through the smooth sliding doors of the Shopping Mall into it’s bright-lit and air-conditioned lobby. No need for helpful arms around shoulders anymore. Unfortunately. And unexpectedly, the place was huge, bursting with a wide variety of shops. Checking off everything on Hala’s list maybe wouldn’t take too long, after all. Front and center for all entering patrons to see was a map of the place. The layout didn’t make much sense, but it had everything you needed and then some. You turned around to ask Guzma a question, but he’d disappeared.

                This was one of those many, many moments where you wished you weren’t so short. The mall was bustling but not crowded, and you were starting to feel panicky.

                “Oh, uhm, oh,” you fretted to yourself as you tried to find the tall man with the messy hair. He was taller than most, it seemed, so even at your disadvantaged vantage point, he’d probably stick out. That was your hope, anyway. But your hope was quickly being squashed. He just wasn’t anywhere. You walked over to a wooden bench placed against the wall. Rude as it was, you’d stand on it, if need be. A hooded figure was already settled there, and you were about to excuse yourself when you realized, “Oh shit, here he is.” A sigh heaved out from you involuntarily.

                “I’ll just wait here for you,” he said, still stiff and quiet, so unlike what you’d seen of him so far. You nodded in affirmation and returned to the map, planning the most efficient route that coincided with your list. Having wound your way through all two of its levels, your final stop would be at the clothing boutique called Gracidea, back down on the first floor and right in front of Guzma’s bench. Not wanting to make him wait very long, you took off in a determined power walk for the first store.

❀❀❀

                Mildly sweaty and probably looking a bit like a maniac, you’d finally arrived to Gracidea. Hefting around your awkward haul of day-to-day things, you stepped into the boutique which was larger inside than it looked outside.

                “Welcome! Can I help you find anything today?” asked a very pretty girl with shiny dark brown hair, the tips of which were dyed a hot pink.

                “Uh, uhm,” you said while juggling a few bags. “I’m just looking for a few things, nothing too fancy.” The girl gave you a weird, patient smile.

                “We consider ourselves to be an upscale boutique. ‘Fancy’ is kind of what we do.”

                “Aw, no way.” You couldn’t help keeping the disappointment out of your voice. Now you’d have to find somewhere else to buy some clothes. And you’d just managed to get your bags under control, too. Giggling, the employee responded, “Don’t worry, though. There’s a cheaper boutique just a few blocks down.” She leaned in closely and whispered, “Honestly, that place is more my style, anyway.”

                “Thanks for the tip,” you smiled at her. Kicking some of your bags out the store’s door, you added, “Sorry to bother you.” Tucking some loose hair behind her ear, she picked up a few of your smaller bags for you.

                “Hey, we all gotta take care of each other.” You explained that you had a friend waiting for you just in the lobby and that he’d help carry your bags. She said that she’d at least get you and your stuff there. Together, you headed towards Guzma, and that was when you noticed the group of security guards standing around his bench.

                “Guzma?” slipped through your voice quietly.

                “Guzma?” the girl repeated, recognition in her voice. The two of you hurried over.

                “What’s going on, Pau?” the girl asked a skinny man in a security uniform. People had begun staring from above on the second floor.

                You willed for them to go away, go away.

                “Just some leftover Team Skull trash, probably here to steal something,” he explained. “Nothing for you to worry about, Lani. We’re kicking him out right now.”

                “Team Skull?” you asked, dropping your bags. “What’s that?” Lani looked over at you with worried eyes. Eyes, you realized, which were the same pink as her hair dye. She pushed through the other security officers, the largest of which was standing with his arms crossed in front of the black and white blob that could only have been Guzma. You followed after, ignoring the security guard named Pau.

                “Tell me: what’s the Big Bad Boss of Team Skull doing in my mall?” he asked over Guzma’s head. Without looking up— without even taking his hood down— you heard him say, “Just waitin’ for a friend. Hala sent us.”

                “Even if you work for Hala now, that doesn’t mean any of us trust you, you degenerate. Is this ‘friend’ here to steal from our stores?”

                “I’m his friend.” You’d stepped up without even thinking. You spoke without hesitation. Your knees were shaking, and you hoped they weren’t about to give out. “I bought everything here,” you gestured to your pile of purchases. “I got receipts and everything.” Gently, so gently, you projected a brave face over your own frightened one. The large officer turned toward you, slowly. In truth, you were counting the beat of Guzma bouncing his leg.

                1, 2, 3, 4.

                1, 2, 3, 4.

                “I can vouch for her,” came Lani’s voice. “And him.”

                Guzma looked up.

                “I’ve been here since open,” Lani continued. “He hasn’t moved from that spot since they got here.” She locked ferocious eyes with the officer in charge. Pau had taken some steps back. The other security guards all began to walk away. With no real problem, they returned to walking their rounds.

                “Lani, look—”

                “I’m telling you: he’s been on that bench all morning. This girl hasn’t stolen anything. Drop it.” Her voice was ice, and luckily, it seemed to chill the big guy’s anger. Without another word, he simply walked away.

                “Lani,” Guzma said tenderly. You kept your brave face on.

                “Bos—” She cut herself off. “Guzma. Sorry about all that.” He remained silent. “Don’t worry. That guy’s an asshole.”

                The whole exchange was awkward. Looking back and forth between them, silent and confused, was the only way you could be included. Finally, after a few moments, Guzma stood up and removed his hood. Even with his hunch, he was still taller than that security guard. His face, though handsome, was intimidating. He could have easily stood up for himself, so why hadn’t he?

                “Thanks, Lani. See ya around.” He easily picked up the largest of your purchases and headed towards the doors. You scooped up what remained and hurried after him, awkwardly calling back, “It was nice to meet you! Alola!”

❀❀❀

                He stopped for you at the cheaper boutique, but said not a word, communicating exclusively in head gestures. He remained silent on the trip back home, too, the guided tour all but forgotten. You stroked Tauros’ scruff nervously up the entirety of the hillside.

                What had happened in that mall? Why did Guzma seem to have so many enemies? He doesn’t seem like such a bad guy. …what was Lani to him? Okay, that last one’s not important, not at all. Nope, nu-uh, no way. It’s definitely none of my business.

                These were all thoughts you pondered in the shower. Maybe Hala would be able to explain some of it to you. At the very least, the old man had been right about clean clothes feeling better after a shower.

                Guzma didn’t come down for dinner that night. You even asked if you could bring something up for him. He shook his head, ‘No.’

                Hala had been called away on some kahuna emergency.

                You just wanted to understand. You wanted answers.

Chapter Text

                Meditation the following morning was all but impossible. Any images you conjured up became Guzma. Was Tapu Koko laughing at you, or were you just imagining that?

                Your attempt to change the color of the hibiscus blossoms on a nearby tree became Guzma smiling. Guzma scowling. Guzma with his hood covering his face, and still the flowers stayed the same.

                “I give up for today,” you said out loud while projecting a white surrender flag to the Tapu across the bridge. The flag became Guzma’s hair shifting in the breeze, much to your frustration.

                You wanted to scream. Keeping your subconscious projections in had always been a problem, sure, but you’d never struggled so hard to let them out. Instead of straining your voice, though, you settled for curling up on the wooden bench in hopes that some particularly vicious Spearow might pick, pick, pick away at your flesh.

                “You have no right to be like this,” you scolded yourself.

                “But what if this is why I came to these islands?” you responded.

                “What? To fall in lo—?” some other part started.

                “Shh! I see him coming up the hill,” the first voice said, even though they were all your voice.      

                ‘Trudging’ up the hill was probably a better way to put it, though, as he seemed to refuse to take his hands out of the pockets in his gi. Sweat was glistening off his forehead and down his jawline, his mop of white hair pushed back with a yellow headband. You swallowed hard as you sat up on the bench.

                Ahhh, don’t project, don’t project.

                It was a bit jarring seeing him decked out all in white instead of mostly black. You think the black looked better against his pale tan.

                “How was training?” you asked him as he joined you on the bench.

                “Bullshit, as usual.” His voice was a bit louder than usual, and you weren’t sure how to respond to such a negative answer. You watched him bounce his leg with some kind of furious, manic energy. It didn’t last long before it exploded.

                “This whole fucking island’s bullshit!” he stood up as he shouted. “The traditions, the people—! Everything!” He screamed as he turned his rage on the island itself. He punched the trees, ripped up the flowers, kicked at the dirt. You watched, horrified and helpless, and worried. You were so tiny, and here was this rampaging giant, blindly destroying everything in his path.

                He was going to hurt himself.

                You watched as his eyes caught sight of the bench— poor, defenseless, and wooden— and he turned to face it with deliberate steps.

                His gi was dirty and disheveled. His knuckles were bloody.

                And before you realized that you’d even thought to do it, you projected.

                You made that wooden bench look like it was made out of heavy stone. Cinder blocks, concrete. Maybe, hopefully, if he saw something he couldn’t break, he’d calm down.

                It worked. Sort of.

                Guzma heaved, staring at the bench. He knew it wasn’t stone, and his knowing was breaking up your image. Between heavy, angry breaths, he finally turned to look at you.

                And with such fury in his cold, gray eyes.

                “Get the fuck out of my head,” he said with a slow snarl, nostrils flaring, fists clenched.

                “I-I-I didn’t want you to hurt yourself, and I just thought—" you were interrupted by his face looming threateningly closer to yours.

                “You think you can stop destruction in human form?!” He looked unamused and tired.

                And suddenly, he was going to punch you. You’d never been punched before.

                “He won’t punch me,” you thought; no, you knew.

                You trusted him.

                He stopped himself, and shaking, dropped to his knees. You started towards him, whispering his name, when he suddenly grabbed your wrist.

                “Just…” he said quietly. “Just go back without me.”

                “Let me help you,” you tried to insist.

                “You’re so fucking persistent! I said just go back already!” he snapped, eyes finally meeting yours. And after everything that had just happened, somehow those words were finally what hurt you. A small sob broke free, and you ran down the path back to Hala’s.

                If you had listened very closely, the wind would have brought his whisper to your ears.

                “Guzma, what is wrong with you?”

❀❀❀

                This wasn’t even the first time you’d seen such a violent outburst. Some of the telekinetic students had pretty short fuses back in Saffron, but because it was Guzma, it made you so sad for some reason. Despite your best efforts, you couldn’t shake free from your own, taunting projections. His eyes, furious. His eyes, kinder but still tired. Around and around the room they swirled, gazes fixed on you.

                “Fuck,” you thought, chanting, “Go away, go away.” You’d hoped that a hot shower after that morning would have calmed you down some, cleared your head from the half-remembered images, but sometimes it sucked to be you. As you dried your hair with a faded yellow towel, you pretended to be roughly scrubbing away the projections. It gave you a headache, but it pretty much always worked. The last thing you wanted to do was explain to the other students why many pairs of gray eyes were following you. Now wrapping the towel around your body, you sheepishly peeked out from the shower stall. It seemed that all of the other boys and men were either eating breakfast in the mess hall, or just somewhere else entirely. You were all alone in the dorm’s bathroom. So, of course, you made a break for your bedroom. And, of course, as was your way, you almost slipped once or twice, but you made it back unspotted.

                Your room, however, wasn’t empty. Guzma had come back while you were showering. He held your gaze after noticing that you were damp and in a towel.

                “I’ll, uh,” he said without finishing anything like a coherent thought. Instead, he sat down at the little desk, and hid his head in his arms. You dried off and dressed in what was probably record time in a few regions.

                “You’re, uh, good,” you said, smoothing out your skirt. (It had pockets; you made sure those were all tucked in, too.) He noisily pushed himself out of the chair, forgetting to push the chair back in. The room was small, not uncomfortably so, but he was making it feel more and more claustrophobic with each awkward shift of his feet.

                You both started to say something at the same time.

                “Oh, sorry, what were you going to say?” you asked, letting him go first.

                “Listen, about this morning,” he started, suddenly breaking eye contact, his hand making for that comforting spot behind his head. “I shouldn’t have, well, I’ve always been like this, and, so.”

                “You don’t have to apologize, Guzma,” you told him. “I’ve noticed it, you know. That not everyone around here’s as nice to you as they are to perfect strangers. I don’t know what happened in the past, but I understand why you’re angry. I think anyone would be.” You looked at him. “I think you have the right to be angry, honestly.”

                He took his hand down and frowned.

                “You don’t understand,” he told you. “That’s why I’m here. I used to smash whatever I wanted, when I wanted, because I could. A lot of things happened,” he stumbled over that phrasing and continued, “and now I’m trying to be better. What you saw up there— that wasn’t better. That was more of the same, old, shitty me. So, I’m sorry,” he finished and cast his eyes down.

                Reaching up, you gently cupped his cheek, urging him to look at you. But when he did, you forgot what you were going to say. He stared back for a few quiet moments, his body slowly drawing nearer to yours, his head slowly leaning down to meet yours.

                With a bit of a shock, he caught himself in the feeling and took a few steps back. He said nothing, though his face was flushed. You assumed yours was, too.

                “Uhm,” you sighed, trying so hard to not feel embarrassed by what had just happened. Whatever it was.

                “I think I’ll take a shower,” he said too loudly, in a different tone from before. “There’s still a shitty city to show you around, right?” You beamed up at him.

                “Can we go after breakfast?” you asked.

                “Whenever you want, doll,” he said, slinging his black towel over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

                Hau’oli City was overflowing with sunshine, truly a picturesque island paradise. Though you’d been living in the sprawling metropolis of Saffron City for a while, the largest city in Alola had a vibe all its own. Everything here, so similar, was so fascinatingly different. Even you felt different, to yourself. You felt yourself slowly emerging from your gloomy shell, especially around Guzma. There was a cheeriness in there that his oddly endearing grumpiness seemed to attract.

                And you’d only arrived just a few days ago.

                You had to keep reminding yourself of that.

                This was all some wild, soul-finding adventure that Sabrina had sent you on; that was why everything felt like it was moving too fast and going too well. And you kept catching yourself thinking, “I’d like this to last forever.”

                “Hey, Tiny! Keep up!” Guzma’s voice broke through your fluffy reveries. Luckily for you, Guzma would forever be easy to find in a crowd. Your feet were already sweaty from the Alolan heat, but you took off in a jog anyway, huffing pretty hard by the time you caught up to your roommate. “Why’re you so slow, anyway?” he said with a smirk.

                “My boots are heavy,” you protested through uneven breaths.

                “Maybe you need some of ol’ Hala’s training, after all.” He laughed at you a bit, crossing his arms.

                “You don’t understand,” you told him sternly, launching your lower half onto a nearby bench, practiced fingers deftly undoing the complicated lacing of your left shoe. Squeezing your foot out, you handed the boot to Guzma, challenging him to take a hold of it and see what happened.

                “Holy shit, is there metal in this?!”

                “Actually, yes.” It came out sounding smugger than you intended.

                “Why?” he asked, somewhere between amazement and disbelief. You stole back your well-worn boot and began the process of reshoeing yourself while explaining it for him.

                “I lived in a training school for psychics. Some— okay, a lot of those students had telekinetic abilities. But the thing about kinetics is that they can only move so much weight. That’s mostly what they work on. But while training, everyone has times where they lose control so, Sabrina makes all of her students wear weighted shoes. It helps to literally keep us grounded.” You’d finished tying your shoe by the end of your ramble, and Guzma let out an impressed whistle but said no more. In Saffron, your shoes had been appropriate and useful, but wearing them now just made you feel out of place. And feeling like a stranger made you feel small and sad, but you stood back up anyway to follow Guzma through the city.

                You’d expected him to be pointing out and naming sites, but he just kind of ambled along. He did slow down his pace for you, though. After several blocks, the city petered out to a more suburban-looking area, indicated by an actual mansion and a Pokemon Center. Without any warning, he stopped just beyond the Center. You bumped into his back with a soft ‘Oof’ sound.

                “And that’s pretty much the whole city,” he said, turning to face you.

                “What?” you asked.

                “What?” he responded.

                “That was a terrible tour, Guzma,” you laughed. “I have no idea where anything is.” He put an awkward hand behind his head.

                “Ah, yeah,” he mumbled, most unapologetically. “Well, what do ya want to see?” he asked.

                “What’s your favorite place? I want to see that.” Your answer came out immediately, eagerly, without thought. He looked a bit taken aback before apparently giving it some real consideration.

                “Okay, I got a place. But it’s all the way back by the old man’s Tauros. Want to stop in here and grab a snack first?” He was, of course, indicating to the Pokemon Center, the one you had spent the night in.

                “Uhm, sure,” you said, realizing that you probably could use a snack and maybe a bottled water. Guzma stiffly held the door open for you, avoiding eye contact. You tried not to look too closely, but there was definitely a faint blush spreading over the bridge of his nose. With a giggle you said, “Thanks, Guzma, but that’s an automatic door.” His blush spread like wildfire.

                “Shut it. It’s like, polite or some shit.” With your heart fluttering painfully in your chest, you swallowed down all of the sparkles as you entered the Center.

                All was silent as you and your roommate stepped into the lobby. There were far more people in here than the last time, but it also wasn’t the middle of the night. Most of them were staring in your direction. Others had simply shifted away from the two of you. A few looked genuinely angry.

                “Yo, old man!” Guzma shouted, oblivious for once of the effect his presence had on a room. The old barista from your first night in Alola stood up from behind the counter with a wide smile.

                “Well, if it isn’t my worst customer!” he responded. With a smile of his own, Guzma sat himself down at the counter, legs spread wide, elbows everywhere. Sheepishly, you made your way over to the two of them and set yourself on the stool next to Guzma, reminding yourself to just stay visible, this was already weird, don’t make it weirder, don’t make it weirder.

                “Oh, you’re the young lady from the other night. How are you doing?” he gently asked.

                “Huh?” you said.

                “Oh shit, you’ve met ol’ Haku?” Guzma asked. “He makes the second best Tapu Cocoa on the island. Second only to ya boy, of course.” He was absolutely swollen with pride and confidence, and you found it soothing somehow.

                “Thank you for the other night, Mr. Haku,” you finally managed. “It… it really meant a lot.” Guzma was staring at you, watching you fight back grateful tears. The old man handed you a clean linen napkin with a smile, and you wiped your face clean before handing it back.

                “Now, then. Can I make you kids a drink?”

                “Two Tapu Cocoas,” Guzma responded almost before he’d finished asking. “And make ‘em right!” He crossed his arms as he made his demands. The elderly man, Haku, laughed from beneath his graying beard.

                “Trying to show off for your girlfriend, Guzma?” he asked coyly. You shyly glanced over at a very red-faced Guzma as you quietly spoke up.

                “Uhm, I’m actually not—”

                “Keep it down, yo!” he hissed. Weird how he wasn’t screaming. It seemed like being quiet was harder on him than being loud, honestly. “People are gonna get the wrong idea.” He sat back a little, exhaled. “She’s my roommate. Only been here for a few days. Hala took her in, and she got stuck with me.” Unsure of how to respond, you just managed to sit there, staring at Guzma.

                I don’t feel like I got ‘stuck’ with you at all, you wanted to tell him, but the words stuck in your chest. Ironic, that.

                Old Haku smiled; rather, you were pretty sure he was smiling. He had a lot of beard.

                “You know, miss,” the barista said as he began grabbing various drink mixing things, “Guzma’s the one who taught me this recipe. Came up with it on his own.”

                Now it was your turn to be impressed. “Is that true?”

                “Y-yeah. What of it?” he shot back, avoiding eye contact from under his hood. But you could still see a faint blush peeking out. At that moment, you thought, “Oh no. That’s so cute.”

                “I don’t really have a talent for anything, so I think that’s pretty awesome, is all.”

                “What are you talki—?” Guzma tried to say something but was interrupted by Haku setting down two ceramic mugs. The drink certainly smelled different. And, despite it being the same drink, it looked different. It looked sweeter, somehow. Glancing over at Guzma once more, you were shocked to see that he’d more-or-less already finished his drink.

                “How.” It wasn’t even a question.

                “It’s just so damn good! Come on! Ya gotta try it!”

                “We haven’t even payed yet,” you insisted.

                “I payed for it myself,” Haku said, still probably smiling under his beard. He was obviously very amused or pleased with this situation. You could see it in his eyes.

                “Why.” Another not-question.

                “I just want to help Guzma look cool in front of his girl friend.” He emphasized the spacing between the two words so as not to set off his other, louder customer. Guzma, however, seemed unfazed, and both sets of eyes bore into you, desperate to have you taste their warm, sweet drink.

                You blew the steam off of the mug a few times.

                You took one tentative sip.

                “Oh, it’s so sweet.” You licked some of the whipped cream from your lips. Guzma exhaled a little before letting loose the toothiest grin you’d ever seen in your life.

                “You should have him make it for you some time,” Haku told you, grabbing Guzma’s emptied mug. “He does something special to it that I still can’t figure out how to replicate.” You nodded shyly, still enraptured with Guzma’s smile.

                For sure, he had whatever the male equivalent to ‘resting bitch face’ was, as his eyebrows still looked angry. But you felt overwhelmed by what you were witnessing. You set your drink down and excused yourself, asking for the bathroom, and luckily, it was close by. You shut yourself up in one of the roomy, beige stalls. You noticed that random phone numbers and doodles of various Pokemon were scrawled on the walls, and it was these that you tried to focus on instead of the flowers blossoming violently from your arms. You strained to reign in all of the sparkles that danced around your head like a crown. But worst of all was the pounding of your heart. The way it knocked against your ribs, taking your breath away in rough gasps.

                This was new.

                Breathe in.

                Ow.

                Breathe out.

                After some deep breathing exercises, you felt more in control of your emotions and your powers. Thinking back on that smile made your chest ache, though. It ached terribly, sweetly.

                But at least you weren’t projecting anymore. No need to freak out everyone in the Center, after all. The weather was too nice for that.

                With one final exhale, you exited the bathroom. Just you. No flowers. No sparkles. Just an over-eagerness to finish your Tapu Cocoa and follow Guzma to his favorite place in the city.

Chapter Text

Hey, everyone! I just wanted to post a quick update to say:

-Happy Holidays to all!

-This fic has not been abandoned! Things have been busy lately, and unfortunately, I just haven’t had as much time or motivation to write. I’m planning on posting the next chapter some time in January 2019, and it’ll be twice as long as usual! I hope that you’ll look forward to it and many more chapters!

 

Let’s all have a wonderful 2019!

Chapter Text

                The Tapu Cocoa wasn’t much of a snack, but Guzma seemed to be feeling more energetic, and it was nice to get to see that kindly old barista again.

                Haku. Kindly old Haku.

                On the trek back through the city, you tried to interrogate Guzma about the new place he was leading you to.

                “Does it involve actual food?” you pestered.

                “I ain’t tellin’ ya, shorty. You’ll just have to see when we get there,” he responded. Clearly, he was getting a kick out of not answering your questions.

                “Fine,” you finally agreed, huffing dramatically. He smiled down at you.

                And that’s when you made it weird.

                Another passerby bumped into you on the sidewalk. “Oh, pardon me,” he said, knocking you over just a little closer to Guzma. Just close enough. Your knuckles brushed against each other, and on instinct, you grabbed his hand. Fingers entwined and everything.

                Time slowed down. That moment froze.

                Guzma looked at you, an unspoken question in his mouth, a shock of pink blooming on his tanned cheeks. You stared back at him with the wrong answer to his question ready to spill from your lips. You weren’t sure whether to squeeze tighter or pull away with an insincere apology.

                His hand was large, and cooler than you would have thought; and in that moment, you purposefully thought, “I want this to last forever.”

                He didn’t let go, though. Instead, he dragged the two of you off the busy sidewalk, around the corner of a warm brick building, and away from prying eyes.

                He didn’t say anything. Couldn’t say anything. Wouldn’t say anything? You watched his gray eyes, staring at your hands clasped together. His breathing had turned sharp.

                “I— You—” he started, looking anywhere but your face. He gave your hand a small squeeze before heaving an enormous sigh. Reluctantly pulled away as he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his hoodie. “We can figure this out when we get to the Lounge.” He cocked his head at you, indicating to that you would be traveling ‘this way.’ You carefully followed him back out to the sidewalk, taking purposeful steps behind him instead of next to him this time. You dodged distracted walkers, in case their carelessness should bump you once more into your roommate.

                The two of you walked along in miserable silence. You wanted so badly to shout, “It was an accident!” at that messily stitched red X on his back.

                And while that was the truth, it still would have been a lie. You thought back to that weird moment earlier in the day. He was going to kiss you, right? Not that romance was a common happening for you back in Kanto, but you were pretty sure that’s what almost happened. The mere thought of it sent your head spinning like never before. Like some private hurricane made up entirely of every good feeling you’d ever experienced, and you caught yourself smiling.

                He stopped suddenly in front of a smaller, older-looking building. Miss Poppy’s Lounge and Grill.

                “Is this…?” you quietly trailed off, the silence still howling between you. He turned around and answered, “My favorite place in the city? Yeah.” In one quiet step, he’d closed the distance between you, shifting the space where that awful silence had once been.

                Guzma reached out a shaky hand to you, slowly, his face screwed up in one of total concentration. You watched him, his struggle to reach out, before he violently gave up and kicked the wall of the Lounge. Grumbling to what seemed like himself, he threw open the gilded door and stepped through, once again pausing to hold it open for you.

                “Thank you,” you whispered as your feet accidentally clunked against the tiled floor. Miss Poppy’s Lounge and Grill was dimly lit and smelled of grilling meat; which made sense — you don’t know why you were expecting it to smell any different. What stuck out to you the most, however, was the glittering stage where a charming, middle-aged woman in stained denim pants was singing.

                Wait. You knew this song.

                An old folk song from Johto. A love song. A woman reaching out to the one she loves. Burning down the walls he’d built around his heart. She can’t blame him, though. He’s spent so much time alone, lonely. She sees through him.

                “Do you know this song?” Guzma whispered in your ear. With a start, you realized you’d been mouthing the words along with the singer. You looked up at him and simply nodded. How embarrassing, for some reason you couldn’t place. He led you over to the bar as the lights came back on- which really didn’t make it any brighter in the establishment- and the woman stepped off the stage.

                “Wow, Guz,” she said, approaching your barstools in particular. “You’ve got yourself a cute little girlfriend here.”

                “She’s not—!” he shouted, standing up with such force that he knocked his stool over.

                “Is Guzma here?” A middle-aged man wearing an apron stepped out from where you presumed the kitchen was, cleaning a shot class with a bleached-white rag. You couldn’t help but notice that the apron was brightly printed with Alolan flowers in yellow, pink, purple, and blue.

                “Renny, Guzma’s got a cute little girlfriend!” the woman squealed again as she let herself in behind the bar. “And she knew the words to ‘Dusty!’” she added in a reverent hush.

                “Miss Poppy, please,” Guzma groaned, picking up the seat he’d knocked over. “This is the new girl at Hala’s. We’re uh, roommates,” he said, scratching the back of his head. Why did he hesitate at ‘roommates?’ You were roommates.

                Were you reading too much into that?

                Oh, but, what if you weren’t?

                “Ah, so you’re showing her the best places around the island?” the man called ‘Renny’ asked Guzma, tossing the rag over his shoulder with a knowing smile.

                Wait a minute. These two were being really nice to Guzma.

                You glanced up at him, hiding your gaze under the dim lights. He looked uncomfortable. He looked relaxed.

                “Anyway, this is her,” Guzma said, meeting your shy eyes. The woman from the stage bolted out from behind the bar to envelop you in a hug.

                “Alola, my dear! My name’s Connemara Poppy. Just call me ‘Miss Poppy,’ if you will.” She set you down, and you stuck out your hand for a far-too-late handshake. It was the aproned man who gently grasped it.

                “Call me Ren. I own this place. Named it after my dear wife.” He smiled over at the woman in jeans, and they seemed to melt away into their own private little world. Guzma whispered in your ear, “Miss Poppy’s from the Johto region. Came here to learn about local cooking, fell in love, and she ain’t left since.”

                “Ah, where are you from in Johto, Miss Poppy?” you asked.

                “Cianwood City, honey. ‘The sea town of crashing waves!’” she sighed, heavy with nostalgia. “It’s a small town, but we were blessed by that ocean. My Ma used to make the most amazing dishes with things she found right on the beach. When she passed, I left home to study regional cuisine.” Here, she trailed off. You kind of understood where the story ended up, anyway.

                “Actually, I’m from Goldenrod City, myself,” you offered in an attempt to keep the conversation pleasant. “Well, the suburbs along Route 34, but the City was just a quick bike ride away.”

                “Yo, wait. I thought you said you were from Kanto?” Guzma spoke up, confused and maybe a little angry. You turned to face him. You wanted him to know more about you.

                “I came here from Saffron City in Kanto, but I grew up in Johto. Until I was about 17. And then my mom sent me off to Sabrina in Saffron.”

                Oops. Too much. You let all those old feelings cloud your filter. He’s going to ask about your mom next. Please don’t ask, Guzma.

                “Johto, huh?” he mused. “I’ve never left the Islands. What’s Johto like?” He settled into his barstool, clearly interested in what you had to say next.

                “Honestly, I mostly travelled between Goldenrod and Azalea. Mom liked to be close to work, and Grandma loved Ilex Forest. They didn’t really agree on much, so living apart was the best thing for them, I think. Plus, I loved listening to my grandma’s old stories – that’s actually where Rose got her name,” you said as you brushed your fingers against the little Pokeball at your throat. “Grandma’s old folk tales… She said her grandma used to tell them to her when she was just a kid. I guess they’ve been in the family for a while.” You suddenly found yourself drinking from a glass of ice-cold water that you didn’t remember ever being set down.

                “Did you hear ‘Dusty’ at your grandmother’s?” Miss Poppy asked from behind the bar. She had a dreamy look in her eyes, a wet look. She must have been picturing the Johto region, too.

                “Of course. Folk songs and folk stories were some of my grandma’s favorite things. She was, uhm, kind of mysterious when I think about it. She loved the isolation of that town, and I think in a way, she trusted that forest. At least, she trusted something there enough to let tiny little me run around in it.” You took another sip of your ice water, thinking of the old tales your grandma loved so much. The ones that your mother somehow detested. “You know, I think you’d actually like Azalea Town, Guzma,” you said. “At the very least because of the Gym there. It may be too quiet compared to Alola, though, so maybe not,” you offered with an awkward chuckle.

                “Gym?” he asked, one eyebrow cocked.

                “They don’t have Gyms on Alola, dear,” Miss Poppy spoke up from a different part of the bar before giving Guzma a brief breakdown on the basics of the standard Gym-Elite Four-Champion system. You idly wondered what they had on Alola if there weren’t any Gyms. “I thought I heard that Professor Kukui’s looking for challengers for his Pokemon League up on Mount Lanakila. Maybe you could go challenge it, Guz!” she encouraged. “Bring your cute little roommate to show off how tough you and your Bug-types are,” she added before flittering away again. He let out a grunt once she was out of ear-shot.

                “Yeah, right. Me n’ my Pokemon would be more of a joke than we already are.”

                “What? Why?” you asked, confused by the sudden shift in his tone.

                “No one takes Bug-types seriously, let’s start with that,” he huffed. You stared at him staring down at his glass of water.

                “That Gym I mentioned? Its Leader specializes in Bug-type Pokemon. And when I lived in Kanto, so many people brought their Bug-types to challenge Sabrina.” You dug around in your pocket, searching for your Pokedex. “I mean, I’m sure you know a lot more about this stuff than I do,” you started, flicking to the Net, “but Psychic-types apparently have a hard time when they battle against Bug-types.” Gently, you slid your ‘dex over to the big sulker. “Here, this is Bugsy. He’s the Gym Leader in Azalea.”

                Guzma rolled his eyes a little bit but started reading the article you’d pulled up for him.

                “I’m trying to encourage you,” you attempted to radiate without creating a full-on projection.

                “Woah, holy shit!” His sunglasses slipped off his face, he’d whipped his head around so fast. “This is the guy who discovered Fury Cutter! My Scizor absolutely wrecked with that before he evolved!” Suddenly, he was totally engrossed in the Pokepedia article. You watched his mouth silently forming words as he read, and you didn’t bother to contain your smile. Sitting there, watching him sometimes read-sometimes grin madly, you felt so full and heavy that you couldn’t help but rest your head on the bar. Your fingers found a little sticky spot that you idly messed with, focusing on keeping your feelings an unseeable as possible.

                How your heart throbbed stupidly. Stupid heart. Stupid feelings.

                “Stupid me,” you thought to yourself.

                What if he was already in a Relationship? Capitol ‘R.’ Your relationship with him was still new and fresh, after all. Little ‘r’ relationship.

                You could ask him.

                Right now?

                No, not right now. That’d be weird, totally weird.

                “Hey.” He spoke the word loudly but somehow tenderly, interrupting your inner debate. “Uhm, thanks.” Now he was the one staring intently between the two of you, cheeks flushed, gray eyes boring into yours. You had to look away first.

                “Uhm, no problem,” you said, directing the statement at the mysterious sticky spot. Luckily, your stomach decided to announce how hungry it was by growling loudly. Which was just fine, being as you still couldn’t face him and his gorgeous, intense eyes for long enough to remind him that you hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

                “Would you kids like to see a menu?” Miss Poppy seemed to rise up from behind the bar, two menus already in hand, startling you into sitting up like a real person.

                “I’ll just eat up at Hala’s,” Guzma told her. “But if she wants something,” he was looking at you again, “I’ve got it covered.”

                “Of course!” Miss Poppy agreed. “I’ll just give her a minute to look over our selection,” and off she went once more.

                “Guzma, I can’t let you pay for my dinner,” you protested. His posture was somewhere between cocky and confident, and a slow smile started on his lips.

                “Alright, fine. I’ll just order my usual to-go, then.” He checked the glittering watch on his left wrist. “We need to start heading back, anyway.” He simply asked for “the usual, to go” while smiling down at you, smug as a bug. Miss Poppy replied with, “I hope she’ll love it,” and possibly actually danced back to the kitchen. It was hard to tell with her. Not too long after that, Ren brought out a warm, well-insulated carton and handed it to Guzma with a wink.

                “Let me know what you think the next time you pop in,” he said to you.

                “I hope you’ll love it,” his wife added from next to him. Both of them were staring at you expectantly as Guzma bade them farewell. “It was so lovely to meet you, dear!” Miss Poppy said, wrapping you up in an all-encompassing hug. “Be patient with him,” she whispered in your ear as she pulled away to see Guzma off next. Sly and stealthy, and maybe a bit cryptic. But somehow you felt like you knew what she was trying to say.

                Ren and Miss Poppy followed you outside of their restaurant, as if they hadn’t already said goodbye several times.

                “Be good to each other,” Ren stated quietly with warmth in his eyes. Warmth for Guzma, you realized. Something like hope. Expecting a brighter future from this moment on. You knew that look well. It was on Sabrina’s face when she saw you off on the ferry just a few days ago.

                “Yo, let’s get going!” Guzma’s voice interrupted. “We’ve gotta get back home before this gets cold!”

Chapter Text

                Sitting atop the sturdy Tauros, clutching the warm carton of Guzma’s “usual, to-go,” you came to an uncomfortable realization. There were only three ways to go about approaching the topic of What Happened Back There to Guzma:

  1. “Guzma, I think I like you a lot more than I have any right to, and I want to hold your hand some more!” This would all be stated by in you in a rush, and it would be something you’d just suddenly blurt out.
  2. “Oh, that? Ha ha, yeah, I just kind of acted on instinct. Sorry about that!” This would mostly be a lie and would be dismissive and stiff-sounding.
  3. If he didn’t bring it up, you would never bring it up again. Ever.

                “So…” Guzma suddenly started from beside you, dragging out the ‘O’ sound in the word. The saddle only had room for one rider and he’d all but tossed you up there as you departed from the Lounge. He’d been quietly walking along your left side this whole time, hood down, staring in no direction in particular. You, of course, jumped at the sound of his voice, eager for him to start the conversation.

                Except that he never continued after that first word. His white hair shifted in the wind, and you whispered, “It’s okay.” He almost looked up at you. Instead, he said, “You shouldn’t get close to me, you know. People ‘round here are gonna get the wrong idea about you.”

                “You keep saying stuff like that, but I don’t understand why.”

                Silence.

                “I’d like to get to know you better, Guzma,” you told him. “And I hope you’d like to learn more about me, too.” You felt yourself blush, but in the moment, you couldn’t think of any better way to put it. You watched him actively avoid looking up.

            "I mean..." he started. "I just don't think it'd be safe. People on this island don't exactly like me, ya know." He shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets, and continued, "Because, I do like ya, and that's the problem. I just wanna keep ya safe, I guess."

            Slowly, you filled your lungs up with as much air as they could hold.

            "I think that's normal between friends," you said, steadily deflating your lungs. The rhythm and action of it calmed your beating heart, and at long last- or so it seemed to you- he finally, finally looked up at you.

            And he smiled.

            Oh, how he smiled. So small and sincere. A smile from just his lips, an inaudible understanding having been formed between you two. He smiled in a way that lightened the faint bruises under his eyes, changing them into something soft and lavender. You wanted to tell him, “I’m here, I’m here!” until the words were the only thing that felt real.

            “Well,” he started, dragging out the ‘L’ sound this time. “What do you think of Alola so far?” he asked while still managing to maintain eye contact. Your face went warm staring at those distracting eyes. So enticing. You could drown in them.

            “Gorgeous,” was all you said. “I’d love to see more.”

            “This isn’t even the best island,” he told you as he reached up, casually indicating for you to hand him the carton of food. Maybe it was because of that little smile of his, but you passed it over to him just as casually. “Ula’Ula is my favorite,” he said, popping something into his mouth that was supposed to be yours.

            “Hey, that’s my dinner,” you protested, feigning displeasure. “Tauros, can you please stop so I can get down and rescue my food?” Hala’s Pokemon shook a little, almost like a chuckle, before kneeling down enough for you to step out of the saddle. At this point, you’d all managed to trek up the crazy hill that made up Route 1 and were taking the first steps into Iki Town. Guzma flashed his teeth, sharp and bright white reflecting against the Alolan sun.

            “You think you can take this away from Big Bad Guzma, shorty?” He asked before he slowly lifted the carton above his head. Definitely way, way too high for you to reach. Tauros steadily continued walking back to Hala’s as you made a sad little attempt to retake what was supposed to be yours.

            “Guzma, come on! I thought you were gonna eat dinner in the cafeteria!” He popped something crispy-looking into his mouth, and you definitely heard a distinct crunching sound right as your stomach grumbled in protest. He looked like he was really enjoying himself, teasing you, laughing though his teeth as he lowered your apparently-crunchy meal-to-be. The tears he wiped away from his eyes were apology enough for you, softening you further to his charms.

            “You’re just too much fun,” he laughed, ruffling your hair with his large hand. His touch made you feel fragile and round, like a bubble dangerously close to popping. Guzma handed back your meal as your mismatched little duo approached the front door. Hala was sitting on a wooden bench just outside, legs spread wide, arms crossed gently over his gut. His eyes were squinting against the first rays of the Alolan sunset, but beneath that mustache, you were almost sure you could see the old man smiling.

            “Welcome home,” he said.

❀❀❀

            “Let’s go eat in the room,” Guzma suggested after spooning that day’s provided meal into a bowl. Curried meat in an orange, milky sauce with thick-cut chunks of pinap berries floating at the top. One of the kitchen’s mothers had spooned a generous helping of thick, sticky rice. A simple curry, but it was plentiful, and it smelled amazing. You thought that Guzma would probably be up for a trade, just in case you didn’t like whatever resided in the to-go carton. “I got more questions for ya,” he said as he opened the door to your dorm. Quite unintentionally, your grip on the carton tightened. You felt seeds sprouting somewhere in your bloodstream.

            “Y-yeah?” Trying to play it smooth. “What do you, uhm, want to know about?” He pulled out the chair from the lone desk, awkwardly arranging himself into a reasonable sitting position. You braced your back against the desk, the warmth from the carton burning slightly against the tops of your thighs, the cool tile sending shivers through the bottoms of them.

            “Well, the first thing I wanna know is: what do you think of Miss Poppy’s burger?” he asked with a grin. Popping open the lid at long last, gentle wafts of steam brushed against your cheeks. Before you sat the prettiest piece of food you’d ever encountered. The patty was fried, crispy, and was a shade of pink that dug up long-buried childhood memories. It also had a small chunk missing from it. The bun was soft, glazed with something that looked positively saccharine, and was a cartoonish shade of brown. A tropical-looking piece of lettuce drooped over the sides of the bun like some old Pokewood starlet.

            “Why’s it pink?” you asked as you picked it up, gave it a curious little sniff. It felt well-balanced — not too dry, not too moist.

            “She makes those patties by hand every morning from naturally shed Slowpoke tails and Corsola bits. Says she gets ‘em from a farm so the Pokemon aren’t hurt.” He looked proud, even though it wasn’t his work. “You’d better eat it before I do,” he warned. So, you took a bite. And you really had to hand it to Miss Poppy — the burger tasted as good as it looked.

            “And here I was thinking we might have to trade dinners,” you told Guzma before shoving in another mouthful. He watched as you chewed slowly, possibly forgetting about the curry sitting on the desk. Slowly, bite by bite, you devoured Guzma’s “usual, to-go.” He watched with a little bit of sorrow as you finished it off, and moved like a man tortured to his curry.

            “That wasn’t a burger; that was art,” you stated dramatically. Through some deafening slurping, you thought you heard an, “Mhm!” from your roommate — who, by the time you’d managed to process what you thought you’d heard, had finished his entire meal. You giggled from your spot on the floor. He bent over, arms on his knees, and asked, “What’s so funny, doll?” with a wide smirk.

            “You’re amazing, Guzma. I’ve never seen someone eat as quickly as you do.” His cheeks went pink, and he found something else to glance at just then. “Didn’t you say you had some more questions for me?” you asked, trying to move the conversation forward.

            “Y-yeah,” he said. “Yeah,” as if he’d forgotten. “I want to see that forest you were talking about.”

            “Ilex Forest?”

            “Yeah, that one!”

            “I mean, I’m sure there’s plenty of pictures of it on the Net,” you offered, a little confused. He reached out for your shoulders, both hands enveloping but not crushing the delicate blossoms that lurked there.

            “Nah,” he said, trying very hard to maintain some semblance of direct eye contact.

            Those eyes. Oh, those eyes.

            “I want to see it through your weird power thing,” he said. “Shit, I didn’t mean to say it like that.” He leaned back, rubbing at the back of his neck sheepishly, and sighed.

            “You… you trusted me. Up by the Ruins. And I almost started swinging on ya.” He dropped his head into his hands, the arch of his spine bent into a sad angle. You stood up, gently leaned against his back. More important than the gesture, though, was the fact that you didn’t stop yourself from doing it. The fabric of his hoodie was overly soft – soft in the way that only time and continued wear can weave. You found yourself rubbing the tips of your fingers against it, letting your nails catch on the fibers here and there.

            Suddenly, Guzma grabbed your hand, slowly lacing his rough fingers through yours, and you caught a gasp at the top of your throat.

            “You trusted me,” he repeated, sitting up. Even seated, he was still so tall; you only had to bend your head slightly to meet his cool gaze. “I trust you, too.” Your heart shoved hard against your bones. “So, I want to see this forest of yours, even if it means havin’ ya in my head.” You couldn’t help but notice the flush in his cheeks, the slight shaking of his fingers. This was something brave for him, letting someone in like this, both literally and metaphorically, you figured.

            You tugged on his hand, just a bit.

            “Okay,” you said. “Okay,” you said, smiling now.

Chapter Text

                “Do I just close my eyes and it, ya know, works?” Guzma asked. You smiled at him, shaking your head.

                “The first thing we need to do is get you comfortable. I’d recommend laying down, but sitting would be fine, too.” It came out a bit like a question as you looked around the room.

                “Well, this chair sucks.” He gave it a little kick as he untangled himself from its hard, wooden clutches. A bit self-consciously, you glanced over at the bottom bunk, its gnarled mess of sheets and a solitary pillow that seemed uncomfortably flat. You knew from your past training that that would be the optimal location for a deep-dive session like this. Familiar and comfortable.

                You knew, you knew, you knew.

                You just didn’t want to somehow make it weird between you two. Weirder than things already were, anyway. This was his first time really having a telepath in his head, after all. Everything had to go perfectly smoothly. Better than perfect, even.

                He seemed to catch on to what you were thinking, though, or had at least followed your stare. Hands on his hips, Guzma cleared his throat before crossing the small distance and throwing himself up on to his bed.

                “Now what?” He rolled his head towards you and some of his white bangs slipped around his sunglasses. His eyelashes were dark and short, accentuating the odd shade of gray of his eyes. You felt some sparkles rolling down your arms like whispers – quiet and too close – much to your embarrassment. Guzma had such an overwhelming effect on you. He made you feel comfortable and small, but at the same time, almost as tall as he was. Almost.

                You gave an involuntary shiver.

                “Everything okay, shorty? You’re uh, shimmering again?” He propped himself up on one elbow, shifting his weight slightly to accommodate for his long legs. Shaking off a second wave of those glittery shivers, you shifted your position to awkwardly stand next to him.

                “Yeah, I’m just excited, I guess,” you told him, rubbing your bare arms. Then, with a slight grimace on your lips, you continued, “I’m still really sorry about, uhm, before. The first time – that thing with the door – was an accident. Not that that makes it okay. And uhm, up at the bridge, too. But that wasn’t an accident. I thought you were going to get hurt and I just- just did it and I shouldn’t have, and I’m so sorry.” What was supposed to be a small apology had somehow turned into an entire ramble, and you weren’t sure why you were crying about it.

                “Yo, yo,” he said softly, swinging his feet down to the floor. You couldn’t bear to look at him, staring instead at his white shoes. ‘Kicks’ seemed a more fitting description. You felt his hand on your back, resting a bit heavily and unmoving as a stone. He shuffled a bit, back and forth uncomfortably, in his white, white kicks.

                “I don’t know why I’m crying,” you whispered to the white X-design on his pant legs. “I am so sorry,” you managed to actually say to his face.

                He enveloped you then. Arms wrapped around you, pulling you closer to skin and fabric that smelled oversaturated with sunshine. You felt your tear-dampened cheeks being dried by his hoodie.

                “I ain’t mad,” he said as gently as he probably could.

                Was it alright to hold him, too?

                With shaky hands, you gently touched his back. He jumped a bit and you froze. Maybe it wasn’t alright—

                But of course, right as you were beginning that thought, he squeezed harder, crushing you against his chest. It felt like begging. It felt like he was starved. And you gave him what he wanted, fed him with your small arms as much as you could; because, and you weren’t sure why, you felt the hunger, too. For once, you let those flowers bloom freely. They popped up soundlessly from under your skin, the tendrils wrapping themselves lovingly around Guzma’s arms, torso, legs. If the flowers had been real, they might have suffocated you both and the room would have been both of your coffins.

                After what seemed like the shortest forever, he stepped back, releasing you from his hold. The flowers withered back into psychic oblivion. He was breathless, chest noticeably rising and falling. For a few moments more, the two of you just stared at each other.

                Had hugs always felt that intimate? That all-encompassing?

                You opened your mouth to apologize for some uncertain slight that you surely just committed but swallowed your words when you saw the shine in Guzma’s eyes. You stepped away from him, to give him some space.

                “I think I need a minute. Just… gotta get some fresh air first.” He held his hand up protectively in front of his face, but you still caught a glimpse of a blush through his fingers. Your face felt hot, too, you realized as you slowly reached up both hands to touch your cheeks.

                “S-sure.” You nodded, uncertain. He nodded back with equal uncertainty before making a quick exit from the small, warm room.

❀❀❀

                You blew it. You blew it.

                He’d probably never trust you again, not after whatever had just happened.

                There came a slight tremble from the Pokeball around your neck before tiny Rose emerged in a bright flash. Immediately she crawled into your lap, though you couldn’t remember sitting down beneath the sole window in the room. She gave her head a little shake, trying to settle fur that wasn’t out of place – a nervous tic of hers.

                “I fucked up again, huh?” you asked her. There was a lump in your throat, choking your words, strangling them as they left your mouth. Rose pressed her little paw against your cheek and let out an even smaller squeak. It was her own special way of comforting you, and in return, you rubbed at the little fluffy-tuffs on top of her ears.

❀❀❀

                How long had Guzma been gone? Your ‘dex was out of reach, and Rose was resting comfortably in your lap. Even after all of these years, you’d never been able to bring yourself to wake her. After a while of focusing intently on nothing in particular, a soft knock came at the door. As loudly as you could manage with a sleepy Skitty using your leg as a pillow, you called out that the door was open. The handled turned quickly and Guzma stepped in at last.

                “Oh shit,” slipped out of his mouth as he managed to catch the door before it could slam shut. You couldn’t help but giggle, and this slight disturbance halted Rose’s snoring.

                “Why’d you knock, Guzma? This is your room,” you reminded him in a gentle tone, petting your Skitty’s little forehead.

                “Heh.” But he hesitated in front of the wooden door for too many heartbeats before he tiptoed over to your sitting spot and plopped himself down gracelessly next to you.

                Your eyes ached to cry tears of relief.

                He’d come back, after all.

                “Did you still want to…?” You trailed off, not really sure how best to move forward with Guzma now. Your projections had done nothing but freak him the fuck out so far.

                “Yeah! Yes.” He’d lowered his voice with his second confirmation. “I-I’m ready now.” He took your free hand in his, scooted closer to you.

                “Okay, then.” You beamed up at him, your cheeks hot from something between excitement and nerves. You gave his slightly sweaty hand a squeeze. “Let’s try to get you comfortable again.” Rose returned to her Pokeball with an overly large yawn, and you pushed yourself off the floor. Guzma followed, rolling himself back to his earlier spot on the bed.

                Truthfully, if a telepath had some sort of skin-to-skin contact with their first-time client, the process was easier on both parties. All of the most talented psychics in the regions had been studying this phenomenon for years, and every single one kept coming up with different answers. Ultimately, though, you were hoping for this new experience for this new person to go as smoothly as possible. No weirdness. No stray projections. No damn flowers. So, with a deep inhale that strained your lungs, you decided it was time to get started, even if you still weren’t sure about touching him again.

                “Uhm, so, basically, you’re probably going to feel a slight pressure in your head. Like a regular, everyday headache. Then, it’ll start to feel more like a dream. Have you ever had a lucid dream before? One where you control the dream? Because it’ll feel a lot like that.”

                “I don’t really dream when I sleep, doll,” he said as he adjusted his pillow. Something about the way he said it made you deeply sad and the only thing you found you could say in return was, “Oh.”

                “W-well, go ahead and close your eyes,” you continued. “Try to relax. I’m going to pull up a chair.”

                “We only have one chair in here.” His reminder came out a bit harshly, like he was trying to mask his nerves. You took the chair-dragging opportunity to look over at your roommate. This distant Guzma. This man you very much wanted to get closer to. The sparkles were practically dripping off of you when you finally sat down.

                Now for the awkward part. No need to explain it. Just do it.

                You rested your hand on his forearm, just over the faded purple spot.

                This was standard. This was routine, even.

                “Is-is this okay?” you asked, double-checking one last time. He gave a grunt of affirmation, eyes squeezed shut. You’d never dealt with a more nervous or inexperienced client before.

                He is a client. The more you reminded yourself, the more confident you felt. You worked your way in slowly, as you’d done so many times before with other clients, distracted only slightly by the reflection of your glowing eyes in Guzma’s overwhelmingly round sunglasses.

                Guzma was definitely not someone who was very good at hiding what he was feeling, probably emotionally and physically. In this case, both. When the psy-ache kicked in, he scrunched pretty much his whole face up and his eyeballs rolled every possible way beneath his eyelids.

                “You’re doing great,” you whispered, rubbing his arm reassuringly. He managed a quick, crooked smirk for you before relaxing again. Or, relax as much as he could, anyway. His mind was a vicious torrent in its most neutral state. Almost everyone had something that left their headspace frenzied, of course; but this? Whatever this was sat much, much deeper in Guzma’s psyche. But you’d been trained by the best psychics from different regions, and this was not what the client wanted to focus on. Soon after adjusting your levels of concentration, Guzma’s mind and body were prepared for your “tour” through Ilex Forest.

                “Open your eyes.” It came out much wispier than you’d meant as you’d been holding your breath for the entire dive into his mind. Whoops.

                Guzma opened his left eye first, clearly expecting the worst, but both eyes widened when he saw how the room had been completely transformed.

                “What the fuck.” He looked over at you, mouth slightly agape and his hands on his head. You knew that entering a projection this deep was a weird, disorienting sensation at first, but he seemed to be handling it well enough, especially considering his lack of exposure to psychics.

                “Go ahead. Walk around,” you encouraged. He took one shaky step, then another. It was always kind of fun to watch people have to remember how walking worked.

                “Aue, what the fuck.” His cursing continued as he moved forward, each small step marked by another swear. That was the first time you’d heard him use any regional lingo. He probably hadn’t even realized he said it.

                You sat yourself down on a nearby stump, the ground littered with wilted leaves and overripe berries. It was all only part of the illusion, though. It’s not like either of you would be able to actually pick them up, but you could sure make someone think they were. While Guzma was getting the hang of what you called “dream-walking,” you let yourself slip deeper into your memories of the forest in order to sharpen the projection. And you had to admit that even your near-perfect psychic images didn’t come close to the beauty of the real thing.

                The chalky, dark bark of the trees was only further enshrouded by the dense canopy above. A slight fog rolled gently across the lone footpath, obscuring just enough of what lay ahead to remain out of sight. And even though you were the one making these images, they filled you with an intense nostalgic ache anyway. You remembered the high-pitched cries of the Pidgies in the mornings. The odd sunset reflections in a Noctowl’s eyes just before dusk. And that ever-present, calming feeling of something else guarding you and the forest.

                Guzma came running over, his projected-self wiping sweat away from his cheeks. And his gray eyes were positively lit up. He was smiling widely, wide enough that you could see where his sharp teeth met his pink gumline.

                “Yo, I’m all kinds of riled up! It’s not every day I get to see other regions!” You stood up smiling, pushing slightly past those memories, remembering that now was now.

                “Honestly? Ilex doesn’t get a ton of sunlight because of how overgrown the trees are, so I’ve probably only seen a handful of all the Pokemon that live there,” you admitted. “But I’ll try to remember as many Bug-types as I can for you.”

                “Are there Venomoths here?” He stepped closer to you, too close for your heart. He was so excited that he was shimmering. “I always wanted to train one up, but they ain’t native to the Islands. There’s apparently a nest of Beedrill somewhere on Akala but I’ve never been able to find it.” You distinctly remembered being chased by a Beedrill or two before. You could remember tons of Metapods and Kakunas clinging to the dark trees – rows and rows of them. But no Venomoths.

                “Sorry, I don’t think so.”

                “Wack.” He pouted at you, shoving his hands in his pants pockets.

                “I’d rather show you what I can remember. That way, it’s a more, uhm, authentic experience,” you offered. He seemed doubly disappointed at the reminder that this was all only one of your psychic projections. Underneath the images, you could feel a nosebleed coming on from the amount of details and mental effort you were pouring into this. You couldn’t remember ever doing a deep-dive projection of this caliber. The overwhelming realism of the atmosphere, the recreation of all of the natural elements working together organically. And as Guzma slowly crouched by a tiny Caterpie inching its way on to the trail, you had a realization that made you stop.

                You wanted to see this man smile.

                You wanted to be the reason he smiled.

                At this thought, a few more Caterpies approached him, a lone Butterfree flew overhead, and there was definitely a Pineco watching him from underneath the bushes.

                Suddenly, your chest hurt.

                You didn’t think. Just called his name, grabbed his hand, and the both of you took off running.

                You’d done this more than a few times after your father moved away. Plunging as deep into Ilex as you dared, hoping you’d get so lost that you’d never have to go back home; and somewhere in your mental link with Guzma, you sensed that he’d done something similar, too, long ago.

                The two of you barreled through bushes, swerved around rogue tree branches, and after what felt like hours, your feet slowed to a softer pace. Somehow, maybe consciously, your seemingly erratic path had brought the two of you to the enigmatic Ilex Shrine.

                Standing next to each other on the outskirts of the clearing, you listened to Guzma’s image pant. Everything was oddly still, just like you remembered. Just like you wanted it to be.

                “What’s this place?” he finally asked. Neither one of you moved. Both of your hands were still clasped together.

                “Some legends say it’s where the guardian of the forest sleeps,” you whispered. Guzma cocked a thick eyebrow at you. “There’s, uhm, a lot of stories about this little shrine. Some say it’s a symbol of good luck. Others say it wards off evil spirits. But there’s a common link to all of those stories – the mythical Pokemon, Celebi.” Even as a child, this clearing felt sacred but inviting. The adults used to say that no one should go there without proper reason, but the forest felt like it disagreed. Even in your projection now, you couldn’t change that.

                “Huh,” was all Guzma said. “I mean, that sounds interesting n’ all, but I’d rather go back and see some more of those Bugs.” This time he led the way, gently guiding you back in the direction you’d come from. “We can swap legends later. Promise.” You weren’t sure why you wanted the serenity of the Shrine just then, but you were glad to have seen it. This way, with a calmer mind, you were able to project glimpses of the local Pokemon as you moved through the forest. This way, you could give him the authentic experience you’d promised.

                And it went on like that for a while. The two of you even stumbled into a grove with thriving nests of Weedles and Kakunas. You tried not to think of the Beedrill that would have been nearby as guardians. Tried very, very hard.

                And so it went. Your heartbeat matching the rhythm of his heavy footsteps.

                And so it went. Guzma was so knowledgeable about Bug-type Pokemon. Incredibly knowledgeable. Noticeably passionate. You were sincerely impressed. More than once, you caught your forest trail looping, distracted as you were from listening to him brag and boast on the awesomeness of Bug Pokemon.

                And so, it had to end. You knew you had to call it when you tasted the blood that had rolled its way down from your nose.

                “It’ll feel a lot like waking up,” you explained. “Just don’t open your eyes ‘til I say so.”

                Pulling a client out of such a deep projection was always easier than getting them in. With Guzma, it was especially easy since he had no idea how to mentally resist.

                Okay, then.

                Client reorientation? Check.

                All projections cleared from room? Check.

                Blood on face? Whoops. Shit.

                You scrambled to grab one of your blankets from the top bunk and hastily wiped your face clean. Building and rebuilding a living forest was more strenuous on your gifts than just making something appear differently, and you were definitely feeling the fatigue. Content that your face was clean, you gave the word and Guzma opened his eyes.

                Oh, how pretty, those eyes. You couldn’t help but smile at him shyly.

                He sat up slowly and leaned against the wall with a zoned-out look on his face. You knew from previous experience that he’d need a few minutes and probably a glass of water. As you stood to go get one, he stopped you.

                “Hey.” The word was soft and hard, and you weren’t sure what came next. “That place wasn’t all happy memories for ya, huh?” A melding of the minds was called so for a reason, but you always made sure to leave the headspace exactly as you found it or better. You were either out of practice or had gotten lazy, because you didn’t want to think that you’d purposefully left such a personal impression on your roommate’s mind.

                “No. It wasn’t.” You stared at the door handle as you answered. Honest, but still sad.

                “I get that,” he said after a moment’s pause. You heard the squeaks of Guzma readjusting his position on the bed, the settling of his bulk against the mattress. Still unwilling to turn around, you let him know that you’d be back shortly with a glass of water for him. He probably hadn’t heard a single word, though. You could hear him snoring before you’d even finished that sentence, and with a tired kind of smile you stepped outside.

❀❀❀

                Guzma’s projection session had taken longer than you realized. It was just after light’s out o’clock as you softly padded your way to the kitchen for that promised glass of water. Water that would more than likely be room temperature by the time he drank it, if those deep snores were to be believed.

                In the darkness, your thoughts drifted back to everything that had happened in the forest. How could he have picked up on something like that? Nothing tangible had slipped through, and you hadn’t actually said anything about your past. At worst, you’d let the impression of painful memories seep into the atmosphere. But he shouldn’t have been able to remember something like that — that was mostly what the psychic reorientation was for.

                But, he’d known. You caught yourself chewing on your thumb, uncertain of what this could possibly mean. There’d been lessons in Saffron about psyches and unusual connections, but you always figured they didn’t exactly apply to your particular type of telepathy. How could they? You could only show things, not reach into a being’s thoughts like the other telepaths could. Maybe Sabrina would know? Or-or at least have some idea? Ah, but you saw how high the moon sat in the Alolan night sky and with a frown, resigned yourself to getting answers later as you reentered your room. With a drawn-out sigh, you set the currently-chilly glass of water on top of the desk and decided to double-check on your passed-out roommate.

                Guzma looked peaceful – an expression that almost looked unnatural on him. His snoring had quieted into a steadier breathing pattern. Occasionally one of his feet would twitch, but the rise and fall of his chest was calm and consistent. As quietly as possible, you slid his sunglasses off the crown of his head, for fear that he might somehow roll over them in the night. Placing them next to the glass, you also left a note reading, “Guzma, drink this,” and scribbled your name down. Satisfied and very sleepy at this point, you climbed up to your bunk, not even bothering to change out of your street clothes. You somehow found yourself wrapped up comfortably enough to finally fall asleep.