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Quartet Part Three: Hibiscus

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Moon's wrists were cold.

She was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a hoodie, both of which covered her arms; and shorts. Even in October, Alola was still warm and humid, and this was why it was so odd that her wrists were cold.

Well, it wasn't that odd. Moon knew exactly why her wrists were cold. She just couldn't really do anything about it.

“You okay?”

“Nope.”

Hau turned his head from where he was lounged on a nice leather couch, squinting at her; then he nodded once, turning away. “Got it. Need to talk yet?”

“Nope.”

“Anything I can do?”

“Nope.”

Moon tried her best to keep her voice cheerful, even a bit flippant— but she felt heavy. Everything about today was terrible.

She hadn't slept much, to begin with. The nausea and vomiting of the previous day had passed, but the cramps they left in her stomach did not. She had a fever for much of the night, as well— turning restlessly in the sweaty sheets. Macbeth had politely used Frost Breath on her pillow, but even the cool fabric had only been soothing for a few minutes at a time. Her whole body ached— her head doubly so.

And her wrists were cold, because a Poison-type alien Pokémon had wrapped its tentacles around her wrists, pumping in a venom that heightened her strengths, but lowered her inhibitions. Her mind had rolled around like a marble on a plate— tilting, whirling, ready to fall off the edge without boundaries. She heard violent whispers, echoes from the chambers of the gods. The voice of Arceus, the cry of the birds and the low of the beasts, the terrible shrieks of Ho-oh and Lugia—

Veno...”

Moon jumped violently, jerking awake from the side of the chair where she'd dozed off. Hau looked at her, disappointment flitting across his features.

“That was much too short of a nap, go back to sleep.”

“I'll give it my best shot.”

Almost against her will, she tucked her hands into the opposite sleeves, clasping her own wrists— trying to get some of the warmth to leech on. It didn't work; her wrists were ice-cold and, Moon knew from when she'd woken up that morning, bruised in an unpleasant array of purples and burgundies.

“I've got some ibuprofen in my bag,” offered Hau cautiously. “And I bet Lillie will have some of the really good stuff— the migraine medicines. She's always got stuff like that.”

“I took some ibuprofen about two hours ago. It should still be working.”

“We're approaching Malie City,” called the Aether employee driving the boat.

Moon, resigned to the fact that she would probably not be falling asleep before they arrived at their destination, got to her feet and went to the window. They were rounding the northern side of Ula'ula Island— she'd probably missed the sighting of land during her brief nap. Hau joined her. His presence was warm and comforting, but not overbearing. A factory building sat on a small coastside cliff, a thin white plume of smoke rising from the chimney stacks; but Moon could see the city beyond.

“Okay, so they really weren't kidding about the Kantonian and Johtonian influence,” she remarked, studying the architecture of the buildings. “It reminds me of some pictures I've seen of Ecruteak City. But there's a Lavender Town vibe, too.”

“It's beautiful, but it's got the highest crime rates in Alola— minus Po Town, of course, but nobody really knows what happens in Po Town these days.” Hau shrugged. “So hang on to your wallet, and always know where your Pokémon are.”

It was another twenty minutes before they reached the docks and the ferry terminal. There was little fuss about disembarking the boat— the Aether employee simply waved them off the boat and left immediately, headed southwest around the other side of the island. Moon and Hau waved back, standing on the docks; and it occurred to Moon that in the most basic terms, her island challenge was halfway finished.

“Right,” said Hau, after a few moments of silence. “So, the Pokémon Center is pretty close to the docks— can't miss it.” He was studying the Pokémaps app on his Dex. “And it looks like Malie Garden is just beyond that. It's only a little past noon, and we don't have to meet Lillie and the Professor until two. We've got some free time...”

“Let's settle in first, maybe get something to eat,” said Moon, already turning away to look for the Pokémon Center.

“How would you feel about a Pokémon battle?”

Moon paused, turning back to look at Hau. He was smiling, but his eyes were serious.

“We said we wouldn't do that.”

“We said we wouldn't do that until I was more confident in my skills,” Hau corrected her. “I've got five teammates that I've been working hard with, and you've got four that have been doing the same. And Olivia was right— it's not about competing with you, it's about competing with me. And the only way to compete with myself is to keep on battling.”

It was a good point, and Moon relaxed slightly. “I thought you might have been offering to try and cheer me up,” she muttered.

“I'm not going to complain if it has that effect, too.” Hau smirked. “Is that a yes or a no?”

“It's a yes, obviously. I'm never going to turn down a chance to battle.”

They walked up onto the streets, finding a little spot at the edge of the docks where nobody was standing in the way.

Moon considered her teammates, and decided that Macbeth would be the one to send out first. First Impression, as far as she could tell, was very powerful and she wanted to test out her Golisopod's strengths in a more formal battle. Macbeth had smacked at the Nihilego a lot yesterday, but it hadn't been a real battle because Moon had been so out of it from the venom.

“Ready?” said Hau.

“Ready.”

She tossed Macbeth out, admiring the bulky— but oddly graceful— shape of her evolved form. Wimpod had been kind of gross, and Golisopod was a bit creepy too— especially around the mandibles and the jaw area. But Macbeth turned to look at her, and adoration shone in her eyes as it always did.

Hau had started with Uila, his Alolan Raichu. This was not really a surprise to Moon; she suspected that Hau had a soft spot for Uila that might even surpass the one he had for Poppy, his starter.

“Macbeth, use First Impression!”

“Uila, hit her with an Electro Ball!”

Moon winced— the move was super-effective against Macbeth's Water-typing, and Uila was fast as hell; but the Quick Claw she'd given her bug that morning flashed bright from the leather cord where it dangled around Macbeth's neck. Uila's eyes widened sligthly as Macbeth darted forward, a giant grey blur, and delivered a sound attack that resulted in a one-hit knockout.

“Thank you, Quick Claw,” Moon muttered under her breath.

Hau recalled Uila, nodding once and pursing his lips. Then he sent out Sonar, his Noibat.

They traded blows for a few turns— Macbeth had Frost Breath, which was super-effective against the Noibat; but she was relatively slow, even with the Quick Claw, and the little bat was fast. Sonar also had Wing Attack, which was super-effective against Macbeth. In the end Macbeth's ability, Emergency Exit, triggered when Sonar landed one too many hits. She retreated into the safety of her Pokéball without waiting for Moon's decision.

That was fine. Moon chewed her lip, trying to decide who to send out— but really, there wasn't a choice. Her Jolteon, Benedick, appeared, sparking and snarling as usual. He had a soft spot for Macbeth, as did Moon's entire team.

“Sonar, use Bite!”

“Ben, hit him with Thunder Shock!”

Though Sonar's Dragon-typing resisted the Electric attacks, he'd been worn down by Macbeth and fainted after only one hit from Ben.

Hau sent out his Brionne next— which surprised Moon, because Poppy was a Water-type and extremely vulnerable to Ben. She was even more surprised when Poppy, standing on her back flippers, delivered an intensely powerful Disarming Voice attack that knocked Ben out instantly.

“Wow!” she said, recalling Ben and sending out her Decidueye, Puck— the obvious move, since Hau had out his own starter. “That was amazing, Hau. You've been working with her on that, huh?”

Hau nodded, grinning. “We're getting really close to evolution,” he said, looking proudly at Poppy. “She's really excited about it, and Disarming Voice gets stronger and stronger every time we train with it. The Fairy-typing is going to be super useful.”

Puck and Poppy were fairly evenly matched— Puck had the type advantage, but Poppy had picked up Icy Wind at some point. In the end, however, Puck defeated Poppy, and Hau recalled her with another nod, sending out Ollie, his Flareon.

That was dangerous. Moon wanted to try out a new move that Puck had learned on his own evolution, Spirit Shackle; but Ollie looked like he was ready to set Puck on fire so she decided to send out her Toucannon, Ariel, in his place. Once again, they traded blows for a few turns, but Ariel's Smack Down won out in the end, knocking Ollie out entirely.

Hau only had Rumble left— his very young, still largely untrained Tauros. Ariel had Brick Break, so it was a simple knockout that left Moon the winner of the battle.

She was worried for a few seconds— but then Hau smiled, and unlike the last time she'd fought him in Paniola Town, it reached his eyes. “That was fun,” he declared. “And I definitely did better this time. I didn't knock any of your Pokémon out last time, but this time I knocked out Ben, and I got Macbeth to run away.”

Something warm filled Moon's heart— warm enough even to spread to her freezing wrists. She recalled Ariel and ran forward, wrapping her arms around Hau.

He patted her on the back, laughing softly. “You're funny, Moon.”

“I'm really proud of you,” said Moon. The warmth was rising, spilling from her heart to her throat. “You're older than me and clearly wiser— but I'm just really, really proud of you, Hau Akiona.”

“I'm proud of you too, Moon Hawkins,” Hau informed her. “You're feeling ill and out of it and you still beat me. You're a damn good Trainer.”

They walked to the Pokémon Center, just a little ways down the street. Moon and Hau both headed to the counter first, intending to heal their Pokémon; but a familiar voice from the café area drew both their attention.

“Hau! Moon!”

Lillie stood, waving at them. She wore her usual floppy white hat, but instead of her usual pastels she had opted to wear a long-sleeved blouse in a deep rose color, as well as dark jeans and boots. The color of her blouse was darker than the pink streak in her white-blonde hair— a streak that would never fade, because it had been given to her by Tapu Lele.

“Hey, Lillie!” Moon smiled at her friend, trying to hide her exhaustion and general distress. “You look really cute today.”

Lillie flushed. “Oh, thank you. I did some shopping this morning— I thought I would try something new today.”

“You look cute everyday,” said Hau shamelessly.

Lillie went beetroot red, at that. Moon rolled her eyes, but refrained from commenting.

“Moon, you don't look at all well,” said Lillie, turning to study her instead. “Are you all right?”

“I'm feeling slightly off due to some things that happened at the Aether Paradise, and which I'm gonna tell you and the Professor about when we all meet up.”

Lillie's eyebrows creased into a frown. “That doesn't sound good. Can I get you anything? You can share a room with me— I made sure to request a double. You could take a nap, if you wanted to.”

“I should probably eat something first.”

“Then you should go check in,” said Lillie firmly, “and I'll get you a cup of cocoa and a sandwich. You can eat and then go up to put away your things.”

Lillie had never struck Moon particularly as a “take-charge” sort of person; but right now she was grateful that someone else was making the decisions. She followed Hau to the main reception desk, where they both had their teams healed and Moon got a key to Lillie's room— Hau getting his own room and key. And just as Lillie said, when Moon turned to walk back to the cafe, there were three meals waiting, one for each of them; as well as two packets of freeze-dried Bugs for Puck and Ariel, and dishes of Pokébeans for all of the other Pokémon. This included not only Moon's four teammates and Hau's five, but Lillie's three Pokémon and Nebby.

The interesting thing was that between Lillie's Vulpix, Snowfall, and her Lopunny, Lapin, sat a Zoroark— which could only be Umber.

“Oh, you evolved!” said Moon, holding out her hand to the black-and-red fox. Umber high-fived her, a toothy grin stretching across his pointed face. “Congrats, Lillie.”

“Thank you.” Lillie smiled. “I was really surprised, actually— I don't pay all that much attention to levels, even though I know I should. He's right on schedule. It was this morning; I did a little training in Malie Garden with the Professor.”

“Where's he at?”

“He's still in the garden, I think. He said he's crashing with a friend who lives on Mount Hokulani— which wouldn't be a problem for him, because he's got a Ride Pager.”

“Right.”

“I wish he would stay here,” grumbled Hau, picking up his sandwich. “You two can share a room because you're both girls, but I'm always stuck with complete randos. Thanks for the food, Lills.”

Lillie went pink again. “Oh— um, you're welcome. It wasn't any trouble.”

“Pew pew pew,” murmured Nebby, under the table. She'd been fairly quiet so far.

“Hi to you, too.” Moon reached down to pat Nebby. Her space-dust aura was cold to the touch, though it looked warm— there was a lot of pink and gold, as well as a deep turquoise color that seemed to be the default. “Did you behave for Lillie?”

“Pew,” said Nebby innocently.

“She only got out of the bag twice,” said Lillie. Her tone was unamused, but her eyes held a crinkly smile at the corners.

“That's an improvement,” snickered Hau.

“An improvement would be if she stopped trying to escape the bag unless I choose to let her out, but I can't expect her to be a model of perfect behavior all the time. Unrealistic standards stress out people and Pokémon.”

When they had finished eating, Moon felt a little better— she hadn't realized how hungry she was. She and Hau took their heavy hiking backpacks up to their rooms, settling in; but Moon didn't feel like taking a nap anymore. She gathered her training essentials and drank some water, then followed Lillie back downstairs to meet Hau and head over to Malie Garden.

Moon had been very focused on Macbeth at Aether Paradise and in the battle she had with Hau, so she had a fairly good idea of what Macbeth was capable of, as a Golisopod. But she'd been neglecting Puck, who had also recently evolved. She let her starter out so they could walk side by side on the street; Hau, training Rumble, had one hand on the calf's neck to prevent him from running away. Nebby was staying in the bag, for once; but Umber strode next to Lillie, only a few inches shorter than she was.

“Are you training him?” Moon asked Lillie, nodding at Umber.

“Not at the moment, but he's very nice for intimidating people.” Lillie's eyes sparkled with mischief. “And he likes it too— don't you, Umber?”

Umber grinned again, sharp teeth showing stark white against his dark fur.

“Some people say that Zorua and Zoroark are bad luck, but if Umber helps to keep you safe then I would say they're really lucky,” said Hau, offering a closed fist to Umber. The fox reciprocated the fist-bump.

Malie Garden was very lush and green. Moon could see a traditional Kantonian teahouse at the far end. “Did he want to meet over there?” she asked Lillie, pointing.

“I would think so— there are benches so we can sit, and the teahouse is open until the garden closes so we could get tea and malasadas any time we wanted.”

“What if 'any time we wanted' was actually 'right now'?” suggested Hau.

“You literally just ate lunch.”

“But, malasadas.”

“Oddly enough, I can't fault your logic. I'm just not hungry anymore.” Moon was pleased when Hau laughed— and a little of the warmth returned to her wrists.

They split up to get some space from each other while they trained. Moon and Puck shortly found a Poliwhirl, creeping around the edges of the brook that ran through the entire garden.

“Let's try out Spirit Shackle,” suggested Moon. “We haven't had the opportunity yet, and I want to see why it's your signature move.”

Puck blinked once at her, then nodded. He turned to regard the Poliwhirl with a beady eye, then raised one wing.

A vine snapped down from the tip of his wing, curling tightly around one of his talons against the ground. Puck drew the string back, and his feathers glowed green— he shot, and an arrow zipped forward to strike the Poliwhirl.

“The effects of Spirit Shackle prevent the enemy Pokémon from running away.” Moon's Rotom-Dex, which had been oddly quiet since battling with the Nihilego, chose this moment to speak up. “It also has same-type-attack-bonus, thanks to Decidueye's change to Ghost-type on evolution; and it's a powerful move to begin with.”

“Cool,” said Moon, fascinated. “It's like you actually made a bow. Are the arrows really arrows?”

Puck blinked at her several times.

“Never mind, just do it again. I'll watch more closely.”

Puck nodded, then aimed the vine-bow again and shot the Poliwhirl— knocking it out, this time. Moon kept her eyes fixed on the arrow, and was able to determine that it was not really an arrow— just a combination of Puck's feathers and the magic of his Grass- and Ghost-typings.

“Decidueye,” she said out loud. “I should have realized— deciduous, for forests, and eye because you're an expert marksman, aren't you?”

Puck seemed rather unimpressed by Moon's conclusion, but he nodded all the same.

They trained for about forty minutes before Moon heard a loud, familiar, and cheerful voice. She turned to spot a Charizard flying away from the entrance to the garden before Professor Kukui strode through the gates. He looked around, spotting her immediately as well as Hau and Lillie, who had opted to train closer to the teahouse than Moon.

“Alola!” he called happily, approaching. “Your Decidueye is looking fantastic, yeah! How did you like the Aether Paradise?”

“We gotta talk about that,” said Moon, allowing some of her own cheerful facade to slip.

Professor Kukui frowned slightly. “Sure thing, Moon. Let's just walk over to the teahouse, yeah— we can talk about Aether Paradise, and I'll tell you a bit about Ula'ula Island.”

Moon recalled Puck, and they walked over to the teahouse. Hau and Lillie caught up with them, and all three of them sat down at a circular table with an umbrella on it.

“What's up, Moon?” said Professor Kukui, studying her. “Now that you've got me curious, I notice you're looking a little bit tired, yeah?”

“It's worse than that.”

Somehow, she was managing to keep tears at bay. Moon hated crying, on principle— it made her face itch and her eyes swell and her heart tired. But as she reached for her sleeves, rolling them up to show the rings of bruises around her wrist and lower arm, the tears came despite her best efforts.

“Moon!” cried Lillie, reaching out. “Moon, what happened to you?”

Moon yanked her wrists back— they were still sensitive. “Sorry,” she murmured, when Lillie's eyes widened with surprise and hurt. “I'm— kind of jumpy. Sorry.”

“Want me to tell it?” Hau asked her quietly.

“Only if I really start to break down, but I think it will help me to get it out.”

“Got it.”

Moon took a deep breath. “So. We got to Aether Paradise, and we spent an afternoon seeing the giant mall and the library and the observatory and all kinds of cool stuff. That was great. Then we went to an apartment and stayed the night there, and our tour guide— super cool lady, her name's Wicke. She took us to the conservatory the next morning. It was really neat, all the endangered Pokémon were happy and safe and everyone was nice to us. Then Wicke got a phone call from the president of the Aether Foundation, and she was out of Pokébeans or something so I offered the rest of my yellow sack, because that's polite. We met the president. She was kind of intense, but she seemed nice too. But then... something weird happened.”

She glanced at Professor Kukui, then at Lillie. Lillie's face was perfectly controlled— almost emotionless, as she concentrated on listening to the story. The professor was still frowning at Moon's wrists.

“I guess some scientists were screwing around in the basements or whatever,” she said finally. “Because an Ultra Wormhole opened up about ten feet away from us, and an Ultra Beast came out.”

Lillie gasped. “What kind?” she demanded. “Did anyone tell you what sort of Ultra Beast it was?”

“Yeah. The Aether people were calling it Symbiont, but Phyco and Soliera were there later and they called it N-Nihilego.”

She stuttered over the name, silently cursing how heavy and weird it felt in her mouth.

“Looked like a jellyfish,” offered Hau. “It was kind of translucent, but it had flowery patterns on the skin. But it also didn't look like a Pokémon at all, really. And it kept— um, it kept changing shape, I guess.”

“Interesting,” said Professor Kukui, still staring at her wrists. “When you say jellyfish, I'm guessing it had tentacles, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Moon held up her wrists. “It really did not like me.”

“It hurt you!” Lillie's voice rose, and she reached for Moon again automatically; this time Moon did her best to stay still as her friend clasped one of her hands in her own, carefully examining the bruising. “It grabbed you tight enough to bruise?”

“Yeah. Um, it was Rock- and Poison-type, so it was also kind of, um, poisoning me.”

“Not like deadly poison, I don't think,” said Hau quickly, as Lillie's face went white. “It mostly just made Moon act like she was drunk.”

“It made me feel drunk and smart,” corrected Moon. “Nihilego venom kind of increases your strengths, but removes your inhibitions. It was... weird.”

“It was more than just weird, Moon.” Hau's voice was soft. “You're really not yourself today at all. But— you don't have to talk about it if you don't want to.”

Moon let out a shaky breath. “Thanks,” she murmured. “But anyway, the Nihilego was hostile. I did my best to fight it off, but I was really out of it. Macbeth evolved in the fight, which was cool.”

“Oh, she did?”

“Yeah, she's humongous now.” Moon turned, selecting Macbeth's ball from her belt, and released the Golisopod behind them. Macbeth appeared in a flash of light, blinking mildly at them in all of her six feet and seven inches of shell, blades, and muscle. “And she's a total badass. She smacked the hell out of the Nihilego for me.”

“Liso,” said Macbeth, in her rumbling alto. She leaned down, resting the bottom of her head carefully on top of Moon's. Moon winced at the feeling of the mandibles brushing her scalp; but she didn't pull away, not wanting to hurt Macbeth's feelings.

“Nice job, Golisopod,” said Professor Kukui warmly. “You did a great job defending your Trainer, yeah.”

“She really did. Um— anyway, the Nihilego changed shape a few times. It kind of looked like Lillie a bit at first, because Hau was looking at it. Then it kind of looked like an older guy, when the president of the Aether Foundation was looking at it. Then it kind of looked like, um—”

“Like Gladion,” said Hau placidly, as Moon's voice trailed off. “And then it looked like Moon, because Macbeth was looking at it. Wicke sent us a data packet about Nihilego, from Interpol. I guess it responds to strong emotions by reflecting what we want to see.”

Professor Kukui turned to look at Lillie, then. Lillie appeared to have frozen in place, staring at Moon's wrists as though the answers of the universe lay there, written in broken blood vessels.

“So anyway, Moon fought it and sent it back in the Ultra Wormhole,” continued Hau. “Bug Dude— 'scuse me, Faba, he said that some visiting scientist had left a machine down in the laboratories that re-opened the closest recent wormhole, and that happened to be right on top of us in the conservatory.”

“Phyco said that the wormhole didn't go where it had gone last time, though. And Soliera gave me some topical medication and a couple of shots, which made me puke a lot. All the poison is out of my system, but my wrists feel kind of cold and my head hurts and I just feel really shitty today, basically.”

Moon concluded the story with a shrug.

Lillie stood. She was still clutching Moon's hand; but now she let it go, launching forward to wrap her arms around Moon.

“I'm so glad you're safe.” Her voice trembled as she spoke. “I'm so, so glad you're okay, Moon. You must have been so scared.”

Her wrists warmed even more. Hau had once said that Lillie smelled like cupcakes and sunshine and happiness, or something incredibly sappy; but to Moon she kind of smelled like home— like family, like someone who cared.

“I— I was,” she choked out. “I'm smart, Lillie— I'm really smart. But that's all I have. The Nihilego made me even smarter. I was making connections and thoughts I'd never had before. It was like my mind was on fire. But my inhibitions were down and my body was clumsy, because it was still poison. I couldn't get the words out to say the things I wanted to say. I was trapped in my own brain. I couldn't— I couldn't control myself. I wasn't in control.”

“Shh, it's okay,” Lillie soothed her. “You're in control now, Moon. You're fine now. It's going to be okay.”

She broke— a waterfall bursting through the dam she'd so carefully tried to build up. Hau and Professor Kukui remained silent, though Moon felt another hand on her shoulder and she knew it was Hau, offering his own comfort where he could. Moon sobbed and sobbed, not even trying to speak— because she had managed to find the words this time. They were not rattling around in her mind, trying and failing to escape like they had been yesterday. She had drawn them out carefully enough that the train of thought remained intact.

“Moon,” said Professor Kukui softly, when she was reduced to quiet gasps and hiccups.

Moon wiped her eyes and looked up at his kind face. He was smiling at her.

“I can't tell you how proud I am of you.” His voice was warm. “You protected the Aether Paradise from an Ultra Beast— and I don't know much about them, but I hear UB Symbiont is a pretty scary one, yeah. And you fought a good battle and evolved a Pokémon, even though you were out of it? That's something to celebrate.”

“We are gonna celebrate.” Hau nodded firmly. “Moon, your birthday's in a couple of days. We'll spend the whole day just having fun in Malie City.”

“Sounds like a plan, yeah! Now, I want you three to be sure and let me know when you want to come up to the observatory on Mount Hokulani. I'm staying up there, actually— it's a quick flight on Charizard, but you know you have to travel places by foot in Alola before you can register the locations with Charizard. Mount Hokulani is where your next trial is located, and I want to talk to Moon and Hau, specifically, about something while we're up on the mountain— though Lillie is welcome too, of course! It's not a secret or anything, but it will be easier to explain with a view like that.” Professor Kukui grinned at Moon. “Be sure you've got plenty of space on your camera, yeah. It's spectacular.”

It was a goal— something to work toward. “Mount Hokulani,” she repeated. “Got it. We'll let you know.”

Professor Kukui left, shortly after that; and Moon, Hau, and Lillie made their way back to the Pokémon Center.

“There's another thing,” said Hau suddenly, as they settled down in Moon and Lillie's room.

“What's that?” said Moon, confused.

“Gladion's an asshole,” said Hau simply.

Moon had more or less forgotten about Gladion, but now the memory came rushing back— embarrassment and heartache. She flopped onto her bed and groaned loudly into her pillow.

“Gladion?” said Lillie, sounding puzzled. “What happened?”

Moon rolled over. “So, you remember how I found out he's in Team Skull, and we argued about it and we were pissed at each other but I felt bad and I was going to apologize?”

“Yes...”

“Well, I ran into him on Hano Beach.” Moon closed her eyes— she was done crying, she was pretty sure, but she would make an effort not to cry just in case she was wrong. “And I tried to apologize, but he said he didn't want my apology and that it wouldn't have worked out with us anyway, and he said he didn't want to see me again and to have a nice life.”

There was a long pause.

“I've never been really inclined toward physical violence,” said Lillie. “But right now, I'm beginning to see the value in giving someone a good, hard slap across the face.”

Moon, astonished, turned to look and saw that Lillie was furious— her fists were clenched, and she appeared to be trying to breathe steadily. Hau was staring at her, wide-eyed— and some of that had to be shallow aesthetic appreciation, because angry Lillie was flushed and sparkle-eyed and a beautiful creature indeed; but most of it was the same shock that Moon knew was reflected in her own eyes. She didn't think she'd ever seen Lillie so mad in her life.

“How dare he,” her friend seethed, picking up the pillow from her bed. She slammed it down onto the bed, punching it with her clenched fists. “How dare he? He's the one who lied to you about something important! Yes, you might have over-reacted; but you realized you did something wrong and you apologized. He ought to accept your apology! People who apologize are rare, so you should always try to hang onto them! And saying it wouldn't have worked out— how would he know if he didn't try? That's just cowardice! He must be afraid of you, Moon. That's the only logical explanation I can think of, for such despicable behavior.”

Moon blinked several times. “That... doesn't really make me feel better.”

“Obviously, there's nothing wrong with you. He's clearly got issues, if he can't see that you would be well worth any pain or fear he might have to endure to be with you.” Lillie hit the pillow again. “You should text him right now, and tell him so.”

“He blocked my number after we fought.”

“Definitely a coward then.” Lillie punched the pillow one more time, then threw it onto the floor and sat down on the bed.

Moon's heart swelled with affection. “I don't half deserve you. Really, I don't.”

“That's nonsense,” said Lillie primly. The anger subsided, and she folded her hands in her lap. “You've helped take care of me often since we met, Moon. You've been angry on my behalf before. Allow me the courtesy— no, the privilege, of doing the same for you.”

“Damn straight,” agreed Hau. “You'll be just fine without him. It might take you some time to get there, but you're a fighter and we'll be with you, every step of the way.”

It took every fiber of Moon's being not to begin crying again, but she settled for watching a cheesy action film on Lillie's bed, cuddled up with both Hau and Lillie. And if she let a few tears slip in between ridiculous car chases and outlandish special effects, neither of them appeared to notice.