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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.

 

Chapter Text

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!”

Moon sat bolt upright in bed, clutching her hand to her heart as Hau and Lillie, scream-singing at the top of their lungs, walked into the room with a birthday cake— candles fully lit. Moon's Pokémon stirred sleepily. It was mostly Hau doing the screaming and Lillie doing the singing— both of their voices frequently cracking with laughter. Their various Pokémon joined in, with a chorus of mirthful barking and yelping and general cacophony.

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR MOO-OON, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!”

Hau held the cake out, close to Moon's face. She grinned and blew out the candles.

“Thanks, guys,” she said, laughing as she checked the clock— it was seven-thirty in the morning. “Are we going to get noise-complainted by the rest of the Pokémon Center?”

“We notified the staff, who said they'd let everyone else know to wear headphones or something. What did you wish for?”

Moon smirked. “If I tell you, it's obviously not going to come true.”

She'd wished to get over Gladion. She wasn't sure how effective of a wish it would be, but she'd wished it all the same.

“What did you guys have planned?” she asked them, as Hau set the cake down on the desk. Lillie had a grocery-bag with paper plates, plastic forks, napkins, and a small knife to cut with; she began pulling candles out while Hau cut a generous slice, handing it to Moon.

“Just a day of fun— exploring Malie and so on.” Hau shrugged.

“There's shopping and some cultural sites,” said Lillie placidly, opening another grocery bag to reveal two boxes of malasadas. She began sharing them out among the thirteen Pokémon in the room as Moon ate her cake. It was Nomel-berry cake, with similarly flavored frosting; the bright yellow of both cake and frosting cheered her heart. A taste of summery sunshine, in the fall. “But there's also a few things that we thought you would be interested in. There's something that advertises itself as a 'Kantonian-style Gym challenge,' which we thought you would enjoy.”

“That does sound like fun.”

“Malie City also has the biggest library in Alola,” said Hau nonchalantly.

“Oh, hell yes.”

“Plus you got me that gift card to Sushi High Roller for my birthday, and the actual restaurant is here in Malie— so I'm treating you both to lunch.”

“Ooh, I haven't had sushi in forever.”

They also surprised her with presents. Lillie had already given Moon a hoodie like the one she had given Hau on his birthday— with Puck's Rowlet footprints screen-printed onto the deep purple fabric; but she handed Moon a wrapped gift all the same. It was a book— a beautifully printed and illustrated edition of Twelfth Natu, which Moon knew to be Lillie's favorite Shakespeare play. She didn't have a nice copy of that one yet; it was a thoughtful gift and she would have to send it home as soon as possible, so it wasn't damaged by traveling and camping life. Hau, on the other hand, had made a care package of sorts— a variety of Nomel-berry-flavored candies and treats, a couple of gift cards for Swirly-whirl Malasadas and a fancy chocolate shop in the mall in Hau'oli City; a gag T-shirt that read I finished my island challenge and all I got was this stupid T-shirt; and Moon's favorite gift— a bracelet, made of faux-leather cord, hemp, and four dyed glass beads in different colors.

Hau shifted uncomfortably as she held up the bracelet, admiring the beads. “Um— so I actually got that before you fell out with Gladion,” he muttered. “I was sort of thinking that it was like a friendship bracelet, like a bead for each of us? I dunno, it was stupid.”

“It's not stupid,” said Moon. “It's only eight in the morning and I'm trying not to cry, in a good way. It's not stupid, it's beautiful and meaningful and I love it.” One bead was a bright golden-orange color; one was a soft, rosy pink; one was deep wine-red; and the last was a vibrant shade of purple. She could even guess which bead was symbolic of which friend.

She took a breath, sliding the bracelet onto her left wrist and tightening it. “I don't regret meeting Gladion,” she told Hau and Lillie, not meeting either of their eyes. “Yeah, I'm really hurt by what he's done and I wish we could have made things work. But I don't regret it. You have to suffer to learn, right?”

“That's the wisest thing I think I've ever heard you say,” said Hau earnestly.

“Excuse you!” Moon threw a pillow at him, making all of them— including the Pokémon— break out into giggles.

They all got dressed and ready for the day, and went to eat a breakfast that wasn't just cake at the Pokémon Center. The café workers comped her egg-and-vegan-sausage sandwich when Hau loudly announced that it was her birthday, and Moon swatted at him in embarrassment when everyone within earshot turned to smile at their group.

As they were eating, a worker from the main Pokémon Center desk came up to their table, holding a cardboard box. “Moon Hawkins?” she inquired.

“That's me?”

“The PC Mail system in the Alolan network detected a package for you, sent electronically. We like to materialize the packages and deliver them in person— some Trainers don't check their Mail often.”

“Oh, thanks.” She accepted the box. It was quite light, and didn't rattle when she shook it. There was no return address, or even the name of a sender; it just had Moon's information on a printed label.

“That's very strange,” said Lillie, studying the box. “A birthday present, maybe?”

“My parents and the Professors would have put a return address.”

She opened the box with Puck's help, letting him slice a razor-sharp arrow-feather along the tape-covered seam of cardboard. There was a lot wadded-up newspaper, surrounding a smaller object that was also wrapped in newspaper. Moon pulled the wrapped object out, peeling away the newspaper to reveal a smaller, navy blue box.

“Hey, wait, that's the logo for Olivia's stone shop.” Hau pointed at the silvery O in one corner of the lid.

“It looks like a jewelry box,” ventured Lillie.

Her guess was correct. Moon opened the navy blue box to show a necklace— quite a long one, too. The cord was faux-leather, like her bracelet; but a small, silver charm dangled from the center.

“That's... ironic,” she said finally. The charm was shaped like a sun.

Hau snickered. “Is there a note or anything?”

Moon dug through the boxes and the newspapers, but there was no note. “Nah. But it's cute, I'll wear it. I like that it's a sun and I'm Moon.”

She put the necklace on, tucking the sun under her jacket and shirt; and with that they set out to explore Malie City.

Hau sensibly pointed out that if they allowed Moon into the library first, they wouldn't see her for the rest of the day; Lillie promptly agreed, and Moon had to admit that they were right. They decided to look for the “Kantonian-style Gym challenge,” but it was a quick search: the building was loud, with a bright yellow roof and signs advertising the “KANTONIAN-STYLE GYM CHALLENGE.”

One sign caught Moon's eye, and she pulled Rotom out to snap a picture.

“That's awful,” she cackled, cropping the picture so that only the words of the sign could be seen: Do you Blue-lieve you're Red-y to face the Kantonian-style gym challenge? Test your skill right here in Malie City! “Arceus, just the puns... I have to send this to them.”

“You should film it,” suggested Hau, grinning. “That would be funny.”

“You're absolutely right. Rotom, do we have enough memory?”

“I can allocate more if we need it, bzzt,” Rotom assured her. “Shall I open the camera and begin filming?”

“Yeah.”

Rotom was quiet for a few moments, hovering in mid-air in front of Moon's face. “Filming, bzzt.”

“Great.” Moon waved at the camera, where she could see her own face reflected back at her. “Hello, people who are watching this video— so, you know, Red, Blue, Mom, Dad, so on. Today is my birthday, I'm eighteen years old. My friends Hau and Lillie are with me, and my Rotom-Dex is filming for us. Everybody say hi!”

“Alola!” said Hau, waving his hands in the traditional rainbow shape.

“Hello,” said Lillie, with a smile.

“Greetings, bzzt.”

“That's everybody, then! So the reason I'm filming is because Hau and Lillie saw this advertisement for a 'Kantonian-style Gym challenge.' In Alola we don't have Gyms, so they were intrigued and we're checking it out because it's my birthday. I took a picture of this sign with absolutely terrible puns, see?”

Rotom floated over, hovering in front of the signs.

“Yeah,” said Moon, after a few moments. “Puns, am I right?”

“Excuse you, puns are the highest form of humor.”

“No way, Hau. Puns are either really good, or really bad. There's no in-between.”

“Even a bad pun can be funny if you deliver it well,” pointed out Lillie.

“I guess that's true,” conceded Moon. “These are... not... delivered well.” Hau and Lillie both began laughing. “Well, anyway, we're going to check it out. Let's go inside.”

They went inside. Moon peered past the small reception desk at the beginning and did a double-take.

“Trash cans,” she said, pointing. Rotom zoomed in, smoothly focusing on the rows of trash cans. “Holy Arceus, this is Vermilion City's gym.”

“That's right!”

Moon, Rotom, Hau, and Lillie all turned to look at a woman who rushed toward them, beaming.

“This is a painstakingly detailed recreation of the Vermilion City gym in Kanto,” continued the woman. “The Vermilion City gym features Electric-type specialists and is run by Lt. Surge, a Unovan native who retired to Kanto after finishing his military career. Lt. Surge is known for his powerful Electric-type Pokémon.”

“Are you like, a tour guide or something?” asked Hau.

“Actually, I'm a Gym guide,” corrected the woman. “Please come to the desk so you can register to challenge the Gym. All challengers receive a complimentary bottle of soda pop!”

“Free food— why not?” Hau shrugged, following the woman.

“Are you going to challenge the Gym, Lillie?”

“I think I will, yes.” Lillie smiled. “It will be fun— and it's not like it would matter if I lost, would it?”

“Not at all,” Moon assured her.

Hau went first, by virtue of reaching the desk first. Moon had Rotom stop filming— she was just going to film herself going through the challenge. She quickly realized that the only real resemblance that this “Kantonian-style Gym challenge” had to the Vermilion City gym was the layout and colors— everything was bright yellow, and trash cans lined the floor. But the trash cans weren't a puzzle that they had to figure out to pass. Hau fought the assorted Trainers, easily defeating all of them, and continued to the back room where a “Kantonian Gym Leader” awaited.

Hau came out laughing, holding something shiny in one hand. “Is this what you get for beating Gym challenges in Kanto?” he asked, holding up what looked like a Gym badge.

“Yeah.” Moon grinned at the badge. “It even looks like the Vermilion City badge, nice.”

“What do you do with them, though? Do they help your Pokémon?”

“Uh— no. If you have so many badges, you can use certain TMs outside of battle, which function like the Ride Pager. So if you want to fly somewhere, you don't page a Charizard— you teach one of your teammates Fly.”

“That sounds really tedious. It means you have to keep their moves open for the transportation TMs.” Hau rolled his eyes.

“It's also the qualifier for entering the Pokémon League. If you don't have eight gym badges, they won't let you pass untl you get all of them.”

Lillie went next. Moon watched her fight and was shocked, cheering with Hau as her friend fought fiercely and strategically. The Trainers weren't using Electric-type Pokémon— it was a toss-up of types, though Moon spotted quite a few Machop, Mankey, and Crabrawler— the general theme seemed to be strong fighters. Despite the fact that Lillie's team sported a fairly serious Fighting-type weakness, she had covered for it by teaching Aerial Ace to Umber and Dazzling Gleam to Snowfall. She had even visited a move tutor who taught Bounce to Lapin. Lillie was well-prepared, and kept a cool head even when her opponent did something unexpected; as a result, she sailed straight through the Kantonian-style Gym challenge and returned with a badge that was identical to Hau's.

Moon went last, setting Rotom up to record again. The challenge itself was laughably easy, but the thing that she found the most hilarious was the trash cans. Moon hadn't done a challenge in Kanto, but she recalled Red and Blue reminiscing about their own challenges, and how they had both agreed that the Vermilion City gym was the most tedious of all Kanto's gyms. The trash cans in Vermilion City each contained a button. If a Trainer could press two correct buttons in a row, an electronic gate would open. The problem was that if the any of the wrong buttons were pressed, the buttons would automatically reset. A Trainer could spend hours in the gym, pushing buttons and getting increasingly frustrated; but here in Malie City, the trash cans served no function except for aesthetic.

“I bet you guys wish you had it this easy,” she said, addressing Red and Blue through Rotom's view-finder as she walked back to the “Gym Leader,” a man dressed in camoflauge and sunglasses— clearly meant to imitate the Lt. Surge's Unovan military uniform. “But now we'll all have at least one badge in common. Red, I know you're rolling your eyes.”

Rotom filmed her battle, and when Moon won she showed the gym badge to the camera. “Does it look like yours?” she asked, laughing and lowering her voice. “It's light, like plastic. Are your guys' badges plastic or metal?”

The three of them walked back to the Pokémon Center to heal up their Pokémon, then headed right back out to Sushi High Roller for lunch. It was very good— and it turned out that Lillie had never had sushi before.

“My...” She cleared her throat. “My mother would have said that raw fish is unhygenic.”

“Sushi doesn't always mean raw fish,” said Moon, rolling her eyes. “If people would do their research, they wouldn't say that kind of nonsense. Try this one— it's just veggies, rice, and seaweed.” She tapped at a neat roll with one of her chopsticks.

“But the raw fish is still really good, too,” added Hau. He picked up a piece with a pink sliver on it and brushed soy sauce on top before popping it into his mouth. “Seriously tasty.”

Lillie handled the chopsticks awkwardly, but she tried the vegetable one that Moon had suggested— sliced cucumber and carrot. Her green eyes widened as she chewed.

“Okay,” she said, swallowing. “Okay, that's really good.”

Moon and Hau exchanged pleased glances. It might have been Moon's birthday, but giving Lillie new experiences was a pleasure that had not yet lost its novelty.

They ate until they practically had to roll out of the restaurant, but the gift card that Moon had bought for Hau covered the bill nicely. Moon decided to forgo shopping in favor of the library— which did not seem to surprise either Hau or Lillie. The Malie City library was located at the northern end of the city— one of the taller buildings, though it only appeared to be two stories high. That boded well for the amount of books in the building, she thought, rubbing her hands together in glee.

“Moon Hawkins, is that you?”

Moon turned, surprised, to see Hapu riding toward them on Epicentre— gracefully controlling the enormous Mudsdale.

“Hi, Hapu!” she said, with a grin. “Long time, no see.”

Hapu reined Epicentre to a halt. “It's been about five weeks, has it not? Perhaps more like six. I see you have made it to Ula'ula Island— so logically, I must assume that you have completed the Grand Trial of Akala Island. I offer you my congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Moon turned, indicating Hau. “This is Hau Akiona. He's my second cousin, one of my best friends, and a brilliant Trainer.”

“And Kahuna Hala's grandson,” said Hapu, with a nod. “I remember as much from Hala's letters. And Lillie and I have met before, as well.”

Hau turned, surprised, to look at Lillie. “I didn't know that.”

Lillie flushed. “It was when my brother took me to the hospital on Poni Island for rabies shots,” she explained. “It was very brief.”

“Indeed, but I had some prior knowledge of you from Kahuna Hala.” Hapu's gaze was direct, but kind. “Moon may have told you that I am essentially training to become the kahuna of Poni Island. I would have learned about you and some of your secrets regardless of whether or not we had met.”

“So you've seen her brother?”

“No,” laughed Lillie. “Stop it, Moon. Not even for your birthday will I let you pursue that line of questioning.”

“I could not have answered your question, regardless,” said Hapu, with a dry smile. “He wore a hood and a Kantonian-style face mask. All I can tell you is that he has good bone structure, and a pleasant speaking voice.”

Moon let out a dramatic sigh. “I guess that's something, even if I already vaguely knew about the bone structure.”

“And you say it is your birthday? You have turned eighteen, or nineteen?”

“Eighteen.”

“I turn seventeen in February.” Hapu's mouth quirked into a smile. “Part of me wishes to relax and enjoy my childhood, but I mostly wish that I were an adult. I know that adult life can be burdensome, but it would be easier to be taken seriously as a Trainer and as a future kahuna.”

Lillie cleared her throat. “Since you are a future kahuna, perhaps— perhaps you could help me with something?” she said timidly.

Hapu's eyebrows rose, but she offered Lillie a smile. “I would be happy to help you, if it is in my power to do so. What do you need help with?”

“Um— how much do you know about, um—” Lillie's hand went to the zipper of her bag, which wiggled as Nebby peered out of the opening, smiling at Hapu.

“Cosmog?” Hapu's voice naturally lowered to little more than a murmur. “You may depend upon my discretion, if that is what you are asking.”

“I know. I mean, thank you.” Lillie cleared her throat again; she was clearly flustered. “Um, so Ne— Cosmog, I mean, wants to visit the Tapu's Dens. She's visited the Ruins of Conflict on her own, and Kahuna Olivia was kind enough to escort me to the Ruins of Life herself. And I will have to ask you to guide me to the Ruins of Hope when I visit Poni Island, but as of yet I have not been able to make contact with the kahuna of Ula'ula Island.”

Hapu nodded tranquilly. “Officer Nanu is both entirely too busy, and not busy enough. I understand your dilemma.”

“I've read that the Ruins of Abundance are located at the far end of a hostile desert— and my Pokémon team isn't well equipped for me to travel through it on my own. I would be allowed to pass through, but only Trainers who have conquered both of the regular trials on Ula'ula Island are permitted to enter the Haina. Waiting for Moon and Hau is something that I don't believe Neb— er, Cosmog quite comprehends. She will want to go as soon as she senses it, regardless of whether she travels safely in the process. I wish to ask you if you would be willing to escort me as far as the Ruins of Abundance; I believe I will be able to take it from there. I may not even go into the Ruins, either— Nebby seems to know what she needs, more than I do. I understand it's a big favor to ask, but I am a little worried about losing her in the desert.”

“It's a very reasonable request,” said Hapu mildly. “I would be happy to help you. I would advise you to write to Officer Nanu and ask permission first— and I will do the same. I will also ask Kahuna Hala and Kahuna Olivia to pressure him about it. He may want to escort you himself, but he would more than likely be willing to leave the task to me.”

Lillie let out a heavy, relieved sigh. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

“It is no trouble. The Haina Desert is a dangerous place— in some ways, far more dangerous than the wildernesses of Poni Island. However, with Epicentre's help, you and I will be able to pass through easily.” Hapu patted the massive Mudsdale, who snorted in response. “If we exchange contact information, you'll be able to contact me when you need my assistance.”

“Oh! Yes, of course.”

Hapu left them after that— evidently she had also heard of the Kantonian-style Gym challenge, and wanted to see it for herself. Moon was glad that she'd seen Hapu, especially on her birthday— she really liked the younger Trainer, and she was impressed that Tapu Fini had asked her to become a kahuna. It was a great burden for such a young girl, but from what Moon knew of Hapu, she was wise enough— strong enough, kind enough— to make it work.

The library was gorgeous. It was only two stories, technically speaking— but each story was a good thirty feet tall. Moon had to stop in the main foyer and stare up at the high, arched ceiling and the packed shelves, slightly overwhelmed by the options. The largest section appeared to be nonfiction, followed by general fiction. A children's section, artfully crafted to look like a forest with several treehouses, was separated from everything else by heavy velvet curtains, which muffled giggles and other noises so they wouldn't disturb the other patrons. The children's section had beanbags and cushions, but all the other parts of the library were home to squashy armchairs, fat sofas, and the obligatory wooden tables and chairs in case one needed a place to spread out their reading material. A few people wandered through a section of what had to be books on tape or CD, with heavy-duty headphones over their ears. A glass-walled section showed some rare older documents and artifacts, tended to by librarians in gloves, goggles, and scrubs. Another glass-walled room revealed a bank of computers, for patrons to use freely. And to top it all off, a beautiful crystal chandelier hung from the highest center point of the library, throwing a lovely glitter over hundreds of thousands of books.

There weren't very many people in the library—logically so, because it was a weekday and most people had work. Moon spotted high school students in uniform, which made sense— Malie City High School was only a block away from the library, so they probably had an agreement to let students use the library instead of maintaining one of their own. A few adults could be seen as well— some were probably college students, doing correspondence studies through either Celadon University or Goldenrod College, the two closest colleges to Alola. Moon's eyes idly wandered from person to person— until they landed upon a tall, slim young man with white-blond hair, perusing a book on the second floor.

Her breath caught.

Hau and Lillie had taken a few steps ahead, but they stopped and turned around, realizing she wasn't with them. Hau followed her gaze upward, his face twisting into a scowl as he too caught sight of Gladion.

“Oh, I've been looking forward to this conversation,” he muttered.

“Leave it,” said Moon sharply. “I don't want to get kicked out of the most beautiful place I've seen in Alola.”

Lillie had pulled out her phone to check something, but now she tucked it back into her pocket, expression prim. “I could go up and say something. I haven't met him yet, so he wouldn't run off until he knew who I was.”

“I appreciate it, but don't bother.” Moon sighed, turning away. “I want to enjoy today, and not go back to my room and cry later.”

“I think he's leaving, actually,” said Hau.

Moon resisted the urge to turn around and look. “Good for him.”

“He's looking at us.”

She managed to hold off for a few more seconds; but then she looked up and met piercing green eyes, fixed on her.

Moon whirled around, walking toward a section labeled Alolan History and Culture.

“He can't just look at you like that,” said Hau under his breath, following her. “Like he didn't break your heart.”

“Can we change the subject? It's my birthday.”

Hau and Lillie let out identical sighs, but neither of them brought up Gladion.

The Alolan History and Culture section bordered one of the glass-walled sections, with the older documents and artifacts tended by a lab-coated librarian. Moon peered through the glass, trying to read the closest item— a heavy-looking, leather-bound tome with hand-inked pages. The print was fairly large; she could nearly make it out.

“Maybe I do need glasses,” she muttered, wiping her eyes— definitely just sleep residue, not unshed tears— and squinting at the open book. “Can either of you read that? It looks cool.”

“Oh, that's an original copy of Those Who Conquered the Night.”

They all turned to see a girl walking toward them. Moon would have guessed that she was about twelve— perhaps thirteen, but she was tiny, definitely less than five feet tall.

“It was Papa's book,” she added, coming right up to the glass and pressing her hands and nose against it— leaving spots. “I had it brought here for the display a few years ago— Eva liked to get into the pages, and it's a bit fragile.”

“Eva?”

“My Banette. Though she was a Shuppet, then.” The girl turned to smile up at Moon. There was something soft in her eyes— pale, pearly gray, like the sky on a frosty morning. “It's a bit hard to see through the glass, isn't it? I can show you where to find a printed version— though it's not a first-edition.”

“Wait, did you say it's a first-edition of Those Who Conquered the Night?” said Lillie suddenly.

“That's right!”

“That was published well over three hundred years ago.”

“More than that, I think. As you can see, it's hand-drawn— it was made before the printing press existed.” The girl smiled at Lillie— fey and mischievous; but Moon felt she could trust this girl, all the same. “Do you know the book, princess?”

Princess?” sputtered Lillie.

“Like Rapunzel, with the long blonde hair— though the pink stripe is a bit punk rock for a princess, don't you think?”

Hau went abruptly red— for what he would probably insist was absolutely no reason at all, if he were questioned. Moon hid her smirk. “What's it about?” she asked the girl.

“It's a collection of epic poems, composed about some of the most important historical events in Alola.”

“It's on a list of texts that Professor Burnet wants me to check in my free time,” added Lillie, though she was still frowning at the random nickname. “There are references to Alola's legendary Pokémon, as well as the Tapus— so there might be something factually useful hidden in the poetry.”

“That's correct, princess.” The girl grinned at Lillie's unamused expression. “Follow me— I'll show you where to find it.”

She skipped back into Alolan History and Culture.

Princess, really?” mumbled Lillie, but they all followed the girl into the shelves.

There were probably ten or twelve copies of Those Who Conquered the Night— some of them were identical, but it had clearly been reprinted many times. Acerola selected one of the most recent editions, passing it to Lillie.

“Give it a read,” she chirped.

“What, the whole thing?”

“No, silly.” The girl laughed. “If you're looking for references to the sun radiant and the moon incarnate, as well as the Tapus— then you want The Light of Alola.” She paused. “Page seventy-three in this edition, if I remember correctly.”

Lillie flipped through to page seventy-three, revealing a beautiful painting. Four human figures, painted indistinctly, stood on the ground; four more figures, recognizable through shape and color as the Tapus, surrounded them. And in the sky, marked with much more detail, were a lion and a bat— though looking at them, Moon instantly knew that they were Solgaleo and Lunala.

“Pretty,” said Hau, resting his chin on Lillie's shoulder to look at the picture.

Lillie flipped the page over, revealing a title: The Light of Alola. “Shall I read it out loud?”

“Yeah— actually, hang on a second.” Moon pulled Rotom out of her pocket and opened a voice-recording app. “Okay, go for it.”

The Light of Alola,” read Lillie. “A traditional epic, recited at the ancient festivals and passed down as oral tradition through generations of Alolans— recorded here, with other Alolan poems, so that all may remember it well.”

She cleared her throat.

 

The empty sky broke asunder, a hole appearing where there had been none.

A single beast appeared from within it: it was named the beast that calls moon and sun.

 

The kings of Alola bowed before it: the beast that stole all heaven's light.

The island guardians fought against it, but in the end they lost the fight.

 

Then did the beast that brings the dark cast its pall on the line of kings.

So would the beast that had won mark the path for all such finished things.

 

Beast of sun and beast of moon; through their union they brought new life.

A fragile heir in Alola born that island guardians would keep from strife.

 

The ancient kings sang their thanks for beasts of light with song of flute.

Two tones rang out across the altar— a perfect pair, ever after mute.

 

The fragile heir with rainbowed strength gathered in its happy youth,

Blazed with light, when first it heard that beautiful, fateful song of truth.

 

The circle rises— the circle falls. The stars burn out and the planets fade.

The lights shine, and the shadow plays. In harmony they cast glorious shades.

 

The truest ZENITH, the light of Alola comes fourfold: sun, shadow, moon, and star—

Remember her hunger, remember her want. She is watching, and she knows where you are.

 

Moon shivered and stopped the recording, as Lillie read the last line in a soft voice.

“Well, I'm officially creeped out,” remarked Hau, rubbing his arms. “I even got chicken skin from it.”

“The thing that confuses me is that last bit,” said Moon, frowning at the book. “You know— 'the light of Alola comes fourfold.' Like, I think I understood most of it. Solgaleo and Lunala are the sun and the moon, and I'm guessing that the light-stealing one is Necrozma. But it says sun, shadow, moon, and star. If Solgaleo is the sun, Necrozma is the shadow, and Lunala is the moon— then what's the star?”

The girl laughed softly, drawing their attention. “It's a poem,” she said lightly. “So you can interpret it any way you like.”

“Yes, but this is a poem based on a historical event,” argued Moon. “There's probably some kind of symbolism to suggest what the star is supposed to be, right?”

“Probably,” agreed the girl. “People have been disagreeing about this one for ages. Papa always held that the star refers to Solgaleo twice, because it's a brighter light than Lunala and because suns are, scientifically speaking, stars. But that's not a very romantic interpretation, is it?”

“That makes more sense to me than anything else I can think of. Who are the kings of Alola?”

“Well, Alola used to be a monarchy, but the government reformed into a partial democracy a few hundred years ago,” explained Hau, a grin growing on his face. “So, you know, I could be wrong; but I would guess that the kings of Alola, here, refer to some of the rulers during the time of the monarchy—”

Moon smacked his arm. “Come on, you know what I actually mean. Who were the rulers? Why were they important?”

“I'm actually descended from them,” piped up the girl. “My Papa is a great-great-great-grandson of the last queen of Alola.”

“Where is your papa, anyway?” Moon wondered. The girl wasn't in a school uniform, after all— she wore a gray-and-blue dress, clearly patched many times over.

“Oh, he's in the little graveyard off Ula'ula Meadow.”

Her tone was so bright and cheerful that it took Moon a second to fully parse the meaning of what she said. “Wait, you mean he's dead?”

She nodded. “Mm-hmm! Anyway, the rulers depicted in the painting on the page before aren't painted as distinct historical figures, but it's commonly accepted that the poem references the High King Peni, who held the main Alolan throne on Akala Island in the time that the poem was composed. The other three figures are said to be Peni's younger siblings: Nikora, queen of Melemele Island; Kahurangi, king of Poni Island; and Waimarie, queen of Ula'ula Island.”

“Back up a second. Why are you talking about your father in present tense if he's—”

“Moon, that's rude,” said Hau patiently.

“I don't mind!” said the girl promptly. “I'm a Ghost-type specialist, so I can talk to Papa whenever I like. He's not really gone, in that sense. Anyway, the reason that those kings and queens are said to be referenced in The Light of Alola has to do with the line about 'the truest ZENITH.' “

“Right, obviously,” said Hau, with a frown, “but a lot of the kings and queens used Z-Power, that's not really that specific—”

“Wait, the Z in Z-Power actually stands for something?”

Hau, Lillie, and the girl all blinked at Moon in surprise. “Oh, yes,” said Lillie finally. “I suppose you wouldn't have learned that in history lessons, since you were raised in Kanto and they don't really use Z-Rings over there.”

“I just thought it sounded cool. So it's not Z-Power, it's Zenith Power but everyone abbreviates it?”

“Correct,” said the girl with a nod. “The poem references High King Peni and his siblings because he was the first ruler who was known to use Z-Power— as in, he actually recorded a ritual that describes the process of using the Zenith, as well as a dance that appears to be the precursor to Shattered Psyche— the Zenith Dance for Psychic-type moves. But the result didn't look or behave the way Shattered Psyche does, because Tapu Lele was holding a different Z-Crystal.”

“Aha!” said Hau triumphantly. “I've asked Gramps if the Tapus have special Z-Moves so many times, but he would never tell me— and now I know they do.”

“My brain is breaking,” sighed Moon.

“Is that a good thing? You look happy.”

“It's a very, very good thing.” Not only was she learning all kinds of new things, but it was a welcome distraction from both the visions of Nihilego that slipped in and out of her dreams at night, and the whole mess with Gladion. “What's your name?”

“I'm Acerola.” The girl beamed and offered her hand for Moon to shake, then repeated the action with Hau and Lillie. “I actually have to leave now, but you'll all be seeing me again down the road.”

And with that, she vanished.

Hau let out a very masculine shriek of terror, tripping backwards and falling heavily on his bottom.

An annoyed librarian rushed over to them. “Excuse me, this is a library!”

“Sorry, sorry!” said Moon hastily. “We were surprised by something. It won't happen again, we promise.”

The librarian sniffed haughtily at them before turning around and walking away. Lillie, fighting to hide a smile, offered one hand to Hau; Moon held out hers. He took them both and they helped him back to his feet.

“She just vanished,” he said breathlessly, staring at the spot where Acerola had been. “She was here, and she literally just disappeared. What the hell.”

“She did say she was a Ghost-type specialist, so perhaps she used Shadow Sneak with a teammate,” suggested Lillie.

“This is truly an amazing day,” said Moon, addressing nobody in particular. Good food, good company, a brilliant library, and disappearing library elves. Plus my cousin tripped on nothing and that's always good for a laugh.”

 

Chapter Text

It was a cool, damp morning. Lillie wanted to stay inside and do more research on The Light of Alola and the other poems found in Those Who Conquered The Night. Hau offered to help— and maybe he had the ulterior motive of spending time with Lillie on his own, but Moon knew that Hau wasn't going to take advantage of her.

She couldn't stay inside with them— her wrists were cool and itchy still, and she was restless. Rotom had indicated that there was a cape north of Malie City which held a recycling plant and some wild grasslands— it would be a good place to train, even in the misty drizzle that blanketed the city. Moon put on a jacket and made her way to the Outer Cape with her team.

Puck walked at her side, easily keeping up; his evolution had left him far more laid-back than Moon was used to. Ariel soared above them, occasionally calling out when she found something interesting. Macbeth lumbered after Moon and Puck, carrying Ben because he was spoiled rotten— which Moon made sure to remind him of. Ben's only response was to roll his eyes.

“You're all cute,” she decided, as the recycling plant grew on the horizon. There was plenty of long grass to train in, and it seemed that other Trainers had gotten the same idea. “Rotom, what are we training against around here?”

Rotom hummed softly as it scanned the Outer Cape. Macbeth crowded in to peer at the screen, despite the fact that she had no way of knowing what it said.

“It looks like mostly Poison-types, bzzt,” announced the Dex, after a few moments. “I'm picking up Trubbish and Grimer... also Minccino, and a couple of Ekans.”

“Ooh, Minccino are cute.”

Ben hissed threateningly.

“That wasn't a statement of intent, kid.” Moon reached out and ruffled Ben's fur before quickly withdrawing her hand; his teeth missed her by milliseconds. “No biting. It's your turn to train right now, come here and cooperate.”

She let the rest of them stay out of their balls, sitting politely at the edge of the tall grass. Puck and Ariel went to hunt Bugs at some point, but Macbeth simply watched Moon as she worked with Ben.

“We come in peace.”

Moon paused, turning around to see Plumeria, Molly, and Rogelio. Despite the feelings she was having about Gladion being part of Team Skull, she couldn't quite help the smile that reached her face. She liked Molly, and Rogelio was a sweetheart.

“Well, they come in peace,” amended Plumeria, indicating Molly and Rogelio. “I've got a bone to pick with you, Moon Hawkins.”

Moon raised one eyebrow. “I haven't seen Trinh, if that's what you're asking.”

“Nah.” Plumeria folded her arms. “This is about Gladion.”

Moon's stomach dropped to her feet. “Um,” she began, but it abruptly trailed off into nothing once she realized that she didn't really know what to say.

“What about him?” said Molly, frowning at Plumeria.

“She's the girlfriend,” said Plumeria succinctly.

“Arceus fuck, no way!” Molly's frown turned to Moon. “Wow. I expected better from you.”

Rogelio had quietly brought out one of his Pokémon— a Cubone, sniffing eagerly at the tall grass. Ariel ventured cautiously over to make friends.

Moon cleared her throat. “I'm not the girlfriend if both parties weren't explicitly clear about what the status of the relationship was.”

Plumeria sighed. “For all intents and purposes, you were the girlfriend.”

“You were definitely the girlfriend,” agreed Molly. “You should have seen that dumbass smiling at his phone. It was gross as fuck.”

“I thought it was nice,” murmured Rogelio.

“Yeah, because you're a sap.” Molly patted his head, but her voice was affectionate, not condescending.

“He hasn't talked much,” said Plumeria. She was still looking at Moon. “He just mentioned that you're no longer on speaking terms and not to bother him about it. What happened?”

Moon swallowed. “I don't see how that's any of your business.”

Plumeria's eyes were a warm yellow-gold color, but they went abruptly cold. She took two steps toward Moon, eyebrows drawing down into a frown.

“It's my business if he's being an asshole about it,” she said shortly. “He's been moodier than usual. He's always been an angsty little shit, but he was able to play nice with the other kids. Now he's not even trying.”

“I was mildly concerned about his alcohol consumption before I cut him off,” added Rogelio.

Moon hunched over, shoving her hands in her pockets. Irritation rose in her throat, but she did her best to keep it out of her voice. “I don't know what he's so mad about,” she muttered, “seeing how he's the one who broke things off.”

“So you fought, I'm guessing.” Plumeria tilted her head to one side, studying Moon. “What did you fight about?”

“Does it really matter?”

“If it's stupid shit, you need to go back and talk things out.”

“It's not stupid!” Moon was appalled to hear her voice crack. “He lied to me. And I get that it wasn't any of my business that he was working for Team Skull or that he's got a troubled past, but he let me think that he was just some drifting but perfectly respectable Trainer.”

“We work for Team Skull,” pointed out Plumeria, her voice perfectly mild.

“You're honest about it, and I've never seen any of you do anything morally questionable. Emmett, Trinh, and Kohaku are another story.”

“So it's not that he's Skull, it's that he didn't tell you.”

“Yeah.” Moon shifted, uncomfortable. “I mean— I know it's not my business, and he's entitled to his secrets and everything if they make him more comfortable. But it seems like the kind of thing you should mention to someone who's interested in you. You make sure they know what they're getting into by being with you.”

“I'm not saying that communication's unimportant, but if you like someone enough, should things like that matter?”

“Of course it doesn't matter!” said Moon, exasperated. “Once I had a chance to get over the shock, I literally do not give a damn that he's Team Skull. I care that he lied to me about it. I don't like being lied to, nobody does.”

Plumeria studied her for a few long moments, before abruptly nodding. “Fair,” she said finally. “And he's being an asshole about it, but you're at least making an effort to be mature.”

“That's not surprising,” added Molly, “when the fuck will men ever put in the same amount of emotional labor as women—”

“True, but not important right now.” Plumeria cut Molly off. “You haven't talked to him at all?”

“He blocked my number,” said Moon, shrugging. “I saw him in person the other day but there was a mutual and unspoken agreement to avoid confrontation. I was trying to prevent my friends from telling him off. They're mad on my behalf.”

“As good friends are.” Plumeria plucked a Pokéball from her belt. “What do you say to a battle, kid?”

Moon recalled something that Gladion had mentioned— something she'd forgotten immediately in the ensuing argument. “Do I get a Z-Crystal if I win?”

“I'll think about it.”

It wasn't a no, but Moon wouldn't have turned her down even if it had been. She recalled her teammates to their balls. Molly and Rogelio sat in the grass, ignoring the dampness, to watch.

She began with Macbeth, because it was always smart to begin with Macbeth. Plumeria smiled— a real smile, with teeth and eye-crinkles.

“Oh, cute. I know a guy who trains a Golisopod.”

“Yeah,” cackled Molly, “she knows him real good.”

“Okay, sure. I fuck a guy who trains a Golisopod.” Plumeria rolled her eyes, but she laughed along with Molly. Even Rogelio smiled softly.

Macbeth was able to defeat Plumeria's Muk— the Alolan version looking something like a radioactive oil slick, instead of the usual purple mess— but fainted when put up against her Golbat. In retaliation Moon sent out Ben, who took out the Crobat as well as a sulky-faced Mareanie. Plumeria's next fighter was a Haunter— a very fast, very strong Haunter that defeated Ben in a single hit. Moon elected to send in Ariel, but the Haunter beat her as well with Dazzling Gleam, of all things. That left her with with Puck, who managed to defeat the Gengar; but then Plumeria sent out a Salazzle and Moon knew she was in trouble.

Plumeria didn't seem to have a Z-Ring, which Moon found odd; why was she safeguarding a Z-Crystal if she didn't use Z-Power? The Salazzle used Flamethrower, which made Puck yelp in pain. Moon retaliated with Spirit Shackle.

It was a very close fight— but Moon won with a well-timed dodge, and a flick of Steel Wing from Puck knocked out the Salazzle.

“Nice,” said Plumeria with a nod, recalling her fainted teammate.

“Good battle,” agreed Moon.

“Yep.”

“So... do I get the Z-Crystal?”

“Nope.”

Moon deflated slightly. “I had a feeling you were going to say that.”

“What can I say? I'm a petty bitch.” Plumeria shrugged nonchalantly, but there was a gleam of laughter in her eyes. “I'm sure you'll run into me again. You only beat me by a tiny bit— I expect you to have a clear victory, not a lucky break.”

That was fair. Moon nodded. “I'll work for it.”

“You fucking better.”

Plumeria moved off to train by herself, but Molly and Rogelio lingered, working with their own Pokémon as Moon healed up her team and resumed her training with Ben.

“To be fair,” said Molly, her tone totally amicable, “Gladion didn't tell any of us about you, either.”

Moon sighed. “Do we really have to talk about him?”

“It'll do you good or it'll fuck you up, and life's a coin toss out to rip you a new one anyway.”

It was, unsurprisingly, a logical point. Moon had already realized that Molly was a very practical person. “If you insist.”

“Oh, we do.”

“When did you meet?” asked Rogelio placidly.

“A few months ago. I ran into him on Route Five, and he'd beaten my friend in a battle. I beat him, and then Emmett and Uilani came along and I got pissed at Uilani.”

“Because of your other friend in Hau'oli,” said Molly with a nod.

“It wasn't like a meet-cute or anything. I slapped him, actually.”

Molly let out a howl of laughter. “Oh, I'd fucking pay to see the look on his face. He's a sweet guy but I've never seen him take shit from anyone.”

“Gladion's a gentleman,” pointed Rogelio. “He wouldn't have done anything.”

“Yeah, he didn't do anything.” They were barely into the conversation, but Moon was already regretting every word of it. “Um— later on we fought at the Royal Battle arena, along with my friend who he beat and Prof— um, the Masked Royal.”

Molly and Rogelio nodded knowingly, rolling their eyes at the Professor's stage name. “Who won?”

“The Masked Royal, of course.”

“But August Green came in second, right?”

“Right.”

“He's brutal at Battle Royals,” said Molly, shaking her head in admiration. “Absolutely fucking brutal. Sometimes we have them out at the house, and if he enters we know he's going to win.”

“Well, he used to enter,” murmured Rogelio. “But then Emmett started backing out if he was going to be up against Gladion, and half the other kids started doing the same thing. So he hasn't done one with us at home in ages.”

Molly's smile fell. “Oh, yeah, you're right.”

“He's... unpopular?” ventured Moon, her curiosity struck.

“Skull takes everyone.” Rogelio held his hand out to his Cubone, offering it a handful of Pokébeans. “So you get your share of regular kids looking for a rebellious time—”

“Uilani,” supplied Molly. “And I guess Emmett, though he's not exactly normal since he's too dumb to function.”

Rogelio nodded. “Then you get troubled kids, like Kohaku and Trinh. And you get kids who have shitty backgrounds, like me.”

“And Gladion.”

Molly raised an eyebrow at Moon. “Oh?”

“He mentioned it.”

“That's more than he ever mentioned to us,” said the other girl pointedly.

“So there's all types, is my point,” continued Rogelio, ignoring both of them. “And if Skull is a microcosm of the world, then there's going to be a small portion of bullies in Skull, same as the rest of the world. But that's before you factor in all the screwed-up people. When you do the math, most of Skull are bullies. Not the really nasty kind— just people who are used to making others feel bad in order to feel good about themselves.”

“We don't have to do that as much, once we're in.” Molly absently petted her Yungoos, which purred softly under her hand. “A few kids grow out of it. I did. But there are still bullies in Team Skull, and Gladion's never been afraid of them. So the bullies changed their tactic— instead of intimidation and violence, they went for isolation and gossip. Emmett's a dumbass, but he's managed to get at least two-thirds of the Skull kids to rag on Gladion.”

“It doesn't help that they're scared of his dog thing, either.”

“And he keeps to himself— never really tries to make friends.”

“He showed up at first with really nice clothes, and he's got a bit of a posh accent and he speaks well. So we knew he was rich, and a lot of the kids resented that because like Rogelio said, shitty backgrounds.”

“And he's one of Plumeria's favorites, which made a lot of the guys jealous.”

It was a lot of information. Moon blinked, looking away from Molly and Rogelio; she could feel them watching her, gauging her reaction.

“So he doesn't talk to us,” concluded Molly. “Well, he talks to me and Rogelio, sometimes. And Plumeria. And the boss man. But that's it.”

“He plays chess with Cass,” said Rogelio.

“Yeah, but she still won't fight him in Battle Royals. She does the chess thing because they're pretty evenly matched but she's beaten everyone else who can play.” Molly turned to look directly at Moon; her eyes were dark and serious, framed by spectacles. “He was really happy when he was talking to you. He didn't talk to any of us about it, but Rogelio and I could tell. He walked differently.”

Moon couldn't meet her eyes. “I know I screwed up with him,” she said quietly.

“Yeah, you did.”

“Molly,” protested Rogelio.

“Nah, let me just say my piece. I never got to give you the shovel talk, but you're pretty cool and I'm guessing that nobody gave him the shovel talk for you, either. So we'll just say you're mutually idiots and be done with it.”

Moon stuck her hands in her pockets. “Do you think there's any way he'd be willing to talk to me again?” she said hesitantly. “This was really my fault, and I'd like to try to make things right, if he'll let me.”

They were both silent for a little while. “Maybe,” said Rogelio finally, “but if he broke things off, then you should let him come to you.”

“Yeah, you're too good to go chasing after him,” agreed Molly, unexpectedly. “But give me your Dex number, and if you manage to snag a date with someone else then I'll gloat at him for you so he knows what he's missing.”

Moon snorted. “I'm definitely not going to be dating anyone for the rest of my island challenge.” But she exchanged numbers with Molly all the same— and with Rogelio.

“And now, if you don't mind,” said Molly, “we're going to add you to the group chat.”

“What group chat?”

Rotom buzzed helpfully, and Moon looked down at her screen.

 

Chat: edgelord complaint box

 

shakespeare jr has been added by the girl with the curls.

 

the girl with the curls: YEET

herbalist: nobody says yeet anymore, Molly

Cranky Grandpa: I'm muting this chat.

the girl with the curls: AW COME ON GRAMPS

salamander: would you all fuck off, I am twenty feet away and I'm trying to train

 

“I'm guessing that's Plumeria, then?” said Moon dryly.

“Yep,” said Molly cheerfully. She pointed at Rogelio. “He's herbalist, and Cranky Grandpa is some guy who lives over by Po Town. He's literally a cranky grandpa and he usually has the chat muted anyway.”

 

beatdown: who the fuck is shakespeare

 

“And that's the boss man,” added Rogelio. “He usually also has the chat muted— oh, don't take him too seriously, Moon—”

 

shakespeare jr: Only the best person to ever have existed thank you very much

beatdown: also who the fuck are u

salamander: Gladion's ex

shakespeare jr: wtf

beatdown: wtf

the girl with the curls: HAHAHAHA YOU TWINNED

shakespeare jr: I am very confused as to the purpose of this chat

salamander: this is where we talk or, normally, complain about Gladion

salamander: now do us a favor and continue the discussion verbally, over where you numbskulls are sitting

salamander: it's repeated information for the boyf and me

the girl with the curls: BUT MOOOOOOM

herbalist: shhh listen to your mother

 

“Is she going to murder you?” Moon asked Molly and Rogelio, who were both snickering at Plumeria.

Plumeria raised one hand without turning around, but it was very clear what her response was.

“Nah, that's as much of a reprimand as we'll ever get from her,” snickered Molly. “Anyway, as she said— this is where we talk about Gladion. All of the people in this chat care about him at least a little bit, so it's a team effort to make sure he doesn't like, completely self-destruct.”

 

beatdown: do we really want his ex in the chat tho

 

“I was actually going to ask the same thing, weird,” muttered Moon.

 

salamander: yes we do, I'll talk to you about it later

beatdown: w/e i guess

the girl with the curls: I love my pants-wearing mom

salamander: knock it the fuck off, kid

beatdown: if you love her so much, you can have her dish rotation next week

salamander: ^

 

“That was not an intelligent thing to say,” said Rogelio, laughing.

Molly shrugged. “A few extra dishes never hurt anybody. And I can always pawn 'em off on Emmett. Arceus knows he's always got fucking scut work lined up for running his mouth.”

“Is that how discipline works in Team Skull?” said Moon, bewildered. “Extra chores?”

Molly blinked at her. “Well, yeah. What did you think we did?”

“Boss man yells sometimes, and one time he got so mad he punched someone in the face.” Rogelio shrugged. “But then Plumeria yelled at him and he apologized.”

“Was it Emmett?” guessed Moon.

“Nah, it was Jack. Jack is like... the taller, more laid-back version of Emmett, basically.”

“Just as stupid, but twice as lazy,” clarified Molly. Rogelio frowned at her. “And Jack had set a nest of baby Spinarak on fire.”

“He what now?”

“It was an honest mistake, he was using a torch to clear out extra webs and he's scared of Bugs so he dropped the torch and they went up like fireworks. But the boss man was pissed.”

“Yikes.”

They regaled her with stories of life in Team Skull as they trained— and Moon found herself understanding some of the other Skull kids better, even the ones she wasn't overly fond of. Emmett was, apparently, the village idiot of Team Skull— but surprisingly popular, especially with the younger boys. Molly and Rogelio's opinions of Kohaku were much the same as Gladion's, Moon noticed— “He's fucked in the head, stay far away from him,” said Molly flatly. “Keep your cute blonde friend away from him, too. He likes messing with cute things.” They described Trinh as “a well-intentioned disaster of a person,” and Uilani as “icy on the outside, gooey in the middle.”

“She's got a soft spot for Rogelio,” said Molly slyly.

Rogelio flushed, but he looked oddly miserable. “I know,” he sighed. “And I've been trying to tell her I'm not interested, but she's either oblivious or ignoring me.”

“Why aren't you interested? I mean, I don't like her, but there's no denying she's hot.”

One corner of Rogelio's mouth rose. “True, but she's... really not my type.”

“ 'Cause he's got a fat boner for Jack,” said Molly in a loud whisper.

Rogelio coughed.

“Sorry, a fat heart boner.”

“I was coughing at you because it's tacky to out people, but your amendment is appreciated all the same.” Rogelio's eyes flicked to Moon. “That's not a problem, right?”

“Why would it be?”

“Because my aunt and uncle thought that me being gay meant I was possessed by demons.”

“I support you,” Moon assured him, grinning. “I like boys, too.”

Wow.” Molly rolled her eyes and lightly punched Moon in the shoulder, but she grinned back and Rogelio smiled, clearly relieved. “I'll make a group chat for the three of us where we can talk about boys without bothering Plumeria or the boss man.”

“Sounds good.”

She waved good-bye to all three of them around lunchtime, walking back to the Pokémon Center to join Lillie and Hau and tell them about her morning. Plumeria, Molly, and Rogelio had given her a lot to think about, but there was no reason that she should do it alone.

“So we're friends with Team Skull now?” said Hau, a touch skeptically.

“We're friends with three specific people on Team Skull— Plumeria, Molly, and Rogelio.”

“And they have a group chat for people who are friends with Gladion?” Lillie frowned. “Can I see?”

“Sure. I think it's the three of them, and some guy they kept calling 'boss man' who I'm pretty sure is the leader of Team Skull, and then another guy who said he was muting the chat. Molly said he lived near Po Town.” Moon passed Rotom over to Lillie, who studied the conversation.

“Interesting,” she said finally. “It doesn't seem to be very much about him.”

“Well it probably was before I joined, and it will probably go back to being about him later.” Moon shrugged.

“It kind of feels like they want you to get back together with him.”

Moon coughed and avoided Hau's gaze. “Yeah, seems like it. Anyway, I should head out, I was going to check out the Malie Community Center—"

“Wait, you want to get back together with him?”

“I don't know. I'm probably not ready for like, an actual relationship. But I'd like a chance to apologize properly and restart the friendship, at the very least. And we can go from there.”

“That's very mature of you, though I must say I think it's more than he deserves,” said Lillie primly, returning Rotom to Moon. “I think you should give it some time, though. It's probably too raw for both of you right now.”

“You're right, and I'm absolutely going to do that.”

Her resolve was slightly tested, however, when the three of them went out to a restaurant for dinner and Moon, on walking inside, spotted Gladion at the bar.

“Nope,” she said, turning around and trying to push past Hau and Lillie.

“We're noping your nope,” said Hau, and he and Lillie caught her by the arms and turned her around. “We'll request a table that doesn't have a direct line of sight to the bar.”

“Isn't he too young to be drinking legally?” said Lillie with a frown.

“That doesn't mean he doesn't drink. Rogelio makes alcohol, and he said he'd cut Gladion off.” Moon reluctantly peered at Gladion, who was in fact nursing a glass full of amber liquid. “I'm guessing he's got a fake ID.”

“We could rat him out,” suggested Hau. “He did break your heart.”

“Piss off, I'm not heartbroken. Just, you know, slightly bruised. And I've got a better idea anyway.”

She pulled Rotom from her pocket and quietly snapped a picture of Gladion, then sent it to the group chat.

 

chat: edgelord complaint box

 

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [awildGladionappeared.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: Rogelio when you said you cut him off did you mean like you didn't think he should be drinking at all or just that you weren't going to supply him anymore

herbalist: advised the first, could only reinforce the second

the girl with the curls: OH SHIT, I HOPE GRAMPS STILL HAS THE CHAT MUTED

Cranky Grandpa: ...

Cranky Grandpa: He's lucky I've already taken off my pants today.

salamander: can you send the address or share your location? I'll send someone to pick him up

shakespeare jr: Yeah I'll share my location, just a second.

shakespeare jr: Just don't tell him it was me who ratted him out

shakespeare jr: Though it might be worth it if he unblocks my number

the girl with the curls: girl no, you're better than that

shakespeare jr: You right, you right

salamander: thanks for letting us know

 

Moon pocketed Rotom, just as the hostess approached them with a smile and three menus. Hau politely requested a table far away from the bar— the result being that they were sat at the table closest to the bathrooms.

“All right?” Hau asked her, sliding in across the booth. Lillie sat after Moon, effectively blocking her into the table.

“Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bit concerned for his liver.”

“The fact that he's breaking the law doesn't bother you?”

“Not really. I'm sure he's done worse.”

“That shouldn't be reassuring,” said Lillie, with a frown. “And yet, I feel rather reassured.”

You've probably technically done more illegal things than underage drinking,” pointed out Moon.

Lillie flushed. “Well— yes, I suppose you're right. But I would do every one of them again.”

“Attagirl,” said Hau, amused.

Their server approached and took their drink orders, and Moon pulled up a card game on her Rotom-Dex in order to resist the urge to turn around and check on Gladion. She felt guilty... but it wasn't her business anymore; she'd done what she could.

By the time their food arrived, she'd mostly managed to forget that he was even in the same building; but when the server paused in the act of shredding cheese onto Moon's salad and turned back to look over toward the bar, she could hear shouting.

“Why the fuck is it any of your business what I'm doing on my free time?”

Gladion sounded angry, but his words were slurred in a way that told Moon he was fairly drunk.

“His ID is fake,” drawled Plumeria, raising her voice to be heard over Gladion. “Probably should have checked that a little more thoroughly before you served him, huh? Lucky for you, I don't actually give a fuck whether you're in trouble with the law or not, so I'm not going to report you or anything. I'll take him from here.”

“We'll have to ask him not to come back,” said an apologetic voice.

“That's fine. Thanks for not making too big a stink over it.”

“Come on,” said a softer voice.

“Arms over our shoulders— that's it.”

“I'm— oh, no.”

“Gonna puke?” said Plumeria. There wasn't even an ounce of sympathy in her voice. “Should have thought of that before you decided to get wasted on light fucking beer at a family restaurant. What, none of the bars believed the fake ID?”

“They all thought I was in high school,” said Gladion petulantly. “I'm gonna be sick, I'm gonna be really fuckin' sick—”

“Can we use your bathroom? We'll take him away right after, promise.”

“As long as he doesn't cause any trouble...”

“Nope. No, sir. Thank you very much.”

Moon could hear the insincerity in Plumeria's voice, and fought to hide a smile; then it occurred to her that they would be coming this way. She squeaked and ducked under the table.

“Arceus, Moon, really?”

“Say my name a little louder, why don't you,” hissed Moon, jabbing Hau in the shin with the fork she was still clutching.

“Ow!”

“Er, miss?” said their server uncertainly. “What are you doing?”

“I dropped something, just a minute.”

She waited until five pairs of legs had gone shuffling past, into the bathroom; then she popped back up.

“Sorry— er, that's enough cheese, thanks.”

“All righty, enjoy your meal.”

When the server walked away, Moon was slightly mortified to find Plumeria and Molly, leaning on the wall just outside the bathroom and smirking at her. Neither of them were in their usual black and white clothes— Molly was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, as well as a pair of round, wire-framed glasses; Plumeria had stuck with a crop top and sweats, but they were purple and magenta and gray. Neither of them were wearing makeup— and Moon could immediately tell because she had never seen either of them without it. Plumeria looked younger, her face rounder and pinker; and Molly had a few spots of acne, with which Moon could sympathize.

“Hi,” said Hau, turning to look at them. “You're the group chat people, right?”

“That's us,” said Molly brightly. “I'm pretty sure I've met you both before.”

“I met him, but I haven't met you,” said Plumeria, looking at Lillie.

“This is Lillie,” said Moon, because it was polite to introduce people. “She's Professor Kukui's assistant.”

Plumeria nodded once. “Nice,” she said simply.

“Who's in there with him?”

Molly snickered. “Rogelio and Jack.”

Moon could hear the sound of retching from the bathroom, and suddenly felt guiltier than ever. If he was really that torn up, then maybe she ought to reach out and apologize—

“It's not about you this time.”

Plumeria's voice was soft— almost kind. Moon looked up at her, wondering how the older woman had managed to read her mind.

“He had a letter from someone. Tucked it in his pocket once he saw us. He'd been crying, but it wasn't about you.”

“He gets letters sometimes.” Molly nodded firmly, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Picks them up on Akala— I think he's got a postal box or something. It might be family— you said he had a shitty background or something?”

“He didn't say much, but yeah.” Moon frowned, trying to remember. “I think his dad left when he was like twelve? He didn't say much else.”

Plumeria and Molly exchanged glances. “Hmm,” said Plumeria finally. “Well, I'll talk to him back at the house.”

Molly frowned. “You're not going to take him back to the trailer?”

Plumeria shook her head. “I don't really trust him alone right now. He's self-destructing.” Moon was surprised to see a pained expression cross her face. “I'd do the same for any of the kids— but I have the feeling that he really needs us right now.”

The bathroom door opened, and Rogelio poked his head out, glancing at Moon. “Incoming,” he said softly.

Moon promptly ducked under the table again.

“All right— Arceus, you're really smashed.” This was a new voice; she supposed it was Jack. She couldn't resist peeking up over the edge of the table. Jack was tall and broad-shouldered, with cherry-red hair. He was dragging Gladion along, but only a few steps from the bathroom door he stopped and scooped the drunken boy up, carrying him bridal style.

Molly held up her phone. “Can I please take a picture of this?”

“No, because he's not happy-drunk,” said Plumeria firmly. “Let's just get him to the house. Come on.”

Moon's gaze was drawn to Gladion, rather like a Mothim to flame. His cheeks and nose were flushed, and his eyes hazy; they fluttered closed as he leaned against Jack's shoulder.

“Bless him, he's sweet when he's asleep,” said Rogelio, a hint of laughter in his voice.

“Who's she?” said Jack, raising one eyebrow at Moon.

“None of your damn business,” said Plumeria, before any of them could respond. “Come on, let's go.”

They shuffled off rather quickly, and Moon's phone buzzed.

 

Chat: edgelord complaint box

 

the girl with the curls: sorry moon but jack is NOT one of us & he would have been mean to you. he's friends with emmett & kohaku. we just needed him for muscle b/c rogelio has the strength of a lo mein noodle

the girl with the curls: speaking of which, ur dinner looked really good, i'm hungry now

herbalist: it's a shame that he's such a dick to and about gladion b/c in all other aspects he's perfect. 9/10 would cuddle

beatdown: wtf I'm asleep for twenty minutes and the chat gets fucking disgusting

shakespeare jr: What about that is disgusting????

beatdown: fucking CUDDLING, gross

salamander: like you don't cuddle with me all the damn time

the girl with the curls: they rlly do it's the cutest thing ever

salamander: ANYWAY molly, rog, please form your own group chat with moon so that this one can stay on topic. thanks

Cranky Grandpa: Thank Arceus, finally.

 

“I don't think I've ever been more amused, yet confused, in my entire life,” said Moon, once she'd accepted her phone back from Hau and Lillie and wiped her tears of laughter away. “Hilarious, slightly intimidating, and...”

“Weird?” suggested Hau.

“Oddly comforting.”

“How so?”

“It's... I don't know, it's... knowing that he has people to catch him when he falls.” Moon took a deep breath. “It means I can work harder on getting over him. On forgetting about him, and letting go of my guilt. Because I have people to catch me, too.”

Lillie's eyes went glassy, in a way that suggested that she was on the verge of tears. “Of course you do.” She rested her hand on Moon's for a few moments. “We'll catch you, Moon.”

“We've got you.” Hau smiled warmly across the table.

 

Chapter Text

“This seems like a good spot to camp.”

“You think?” Moon looked around at the wilderness of Route Ten, studying the bamboo shoots and tall trees that lined the path. “If we can find somewhere with two hammock-able trees, that would be best.”

“I think there's two over there, and we can set the tents up on either side.” Hau pointed at two tall, stout trees. Ariel, flying lazily above them with Sonar, cawed and flapped as she came to a landing on one of the thick branches that overhung the chosen campsite.

This proved to be a mistake— a wild Skarmory hopped out onto the branch, screeching loudly.

“Brick Break, Ari.”

Ariel's attack was powerful, and though the Skarmory fought back it wasn't really any match for her Toucannon. Moon grinned as the metal bird hopped back over to its nest, sulking.

“Do you mind if we hang out right here for the night?” she asked it.

Ariel followed her question with a rumbling query of her own. The Skarmory looked at her warily, but its feathers ruffled in a motion that Moon recognized as a bird-shrug.

“We'll feed you,” offered Lillie. “Do you like Pokébeans?”

The Skarmory snorted, turning away.

“It was just a question, no need to be rude.” All the same, as they set up camp and fed their Pokémon, Moon left a handful of beans at the base of the tree; it was free food and if the Skarmory didn't want it, there would be some wild Pokémon who would enjoy it.

“Moon? Hau? I'm confirming our plans with Professor Kukui,” said Lillie, holding up her phone. “We're camping on Route Ten tonight, and we'll travel to the bus stop tomorrow?”

Hau flashed a thumbs-up, and Moon nodded. “Yeah, we should get there around two or three.”

“And then we'll get on the bus at four, which runs overnight to Mount Hokulani— we should arrive around seven in the morning, then. Thank you both, I'll let the Professor know.”

“Does he want to meet up and take the bus with us?”

“I think that was his general plan.”

“You have a new message from chat: edgelord complaint box,” said Rotom quietly from Moon's pocket.

 

chat: edgelord complaint box

 

salamander: hey moon, you wanted to "run into" trinh again, right

shakespeare jr: yes

beatdown: ???

salamander: i'll explain later

salamander: anyway, i've sent her out tagging toward route 10 and mount hokulani, as you mentioned you were headed up that way

shakespeare jr: thank you so much, i owe you big

salamander: i'll be capitalizing on that sooner or later, you know

Cranky Grandpa: Graffiti is illegal, and I am an officer of the law. Yet the people in this damn chat discuss illegal things right in front of my nose.

salamander: i sent kohaku with her because he wanted to take a delivery job

Cranky Grandpa: Graffiti is great. I love graffiti. Thank you for not giving me the headache of dealing with drug smuggling.

salamander: yw

 

“We're going to run into Trinh and Kohaku tomorrow,” Moon informed Hau and Lillie, putting Rotom back in her pocket. “Plumeria is giving me the chance to apologize to Trinh.”

“But Kohaku,” said Hau, wrinkling his nose.

“Yeah, but none of us are going to be alone with him. It's probably fine.”

 

chat: obnoxious

 

the girl with the curls: oooooooh moon you are actually in for a Treat

herbalist: ^ 100%

shakespeare jr: ????

the girl with the curls: trinh is the best tagger on Team Skull

the girl with the curls: like it's deffo illegal and everything but she makes fucking ART

herbalist: and then kohaku will probably just paint dicks on everything

the girl with the curls: ^ 100%

shakespeare jr: why are boys like this

the girl with the curls: ikr, it's like puppies peeing to mark their territory

the girl with the curls: Let Me Remind You How Masculine I Am By Drawing Penises On Everything

herbalist: it's gayer than me, and I am full 100% gay

the girl with the curls: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

 

Moon, Hau, and Lillie spent a couple of hours training— it was a full moon, and between that and Lillie's high-powered lantern, there was plenty of light to see by.

“Lunala flies high tonight,” remarked Hau, as they healed everyone up and sat down around a little campfire, courtesy of Ollie.

“That's kind of poetic.”

“It's what Gramps always says during full moons and solar eclipses. And on the really sunny days and lunar eclipses, he says 'Solgaleo burns bright today.' ”

Moon absently reached up to touch the mystery necklace she'd gotten on her birthday, with the little sun charm on it. “In that book from the library, there was the illustration, with the four kings and queens and the Tapus and Solgaleo and Lunala,” she commented. “Obviously, I'm more familiar with the Kantonian and Johtonian legendaries— the birds, the beasts, and Ho-oh and Lugia. Tell me about Solgaleo and Lunala.”

“Well, Solgaleo is a lion and Lunala is a bat, but you probably guessed that from the picture.” Hau grinned at Moon's unimpressed expression. “Before science was able to discern that legendaries are not actually forces of nature, but the representatives of those forces, Alolans believed that Solgaleo was the sun and Lunala was the moon. The only legendary Pokémon that is actually a force of nature itself is Arceus, obviously.”

“Though there's only one Solgaleo and one Lunala at any given time on our planet, there are many in the universe,” added Lillie. “We're not entirely sure how they come into being. The scientific equipment we use to study them has only been advanced enough in the last ten or twenty years to make those calculations.”

“That makes sense.” Moon nodded. “Suns are stars, right? And lots of planets and stars have moons around them.”

“Exactly. So every habitable planet has at least one Solgaleo, and possibly multiple Lunala— as some planets have more than one moon.”

“Jupiter has seventy-nine of them.” Hau laughed at Moon's raised eyebrow. “It's not a habitable planet, of course— but imagine if it were. First of all, there would probably be alien Pokémon which is hella cool, but there would also be seventy-nine of the same legendary Pokémon.”

“So Solgaleo is much rarer than Lunala?”

Lillie shook her head. “You would think so, but they're actually about even in numbers. The telescope and spectrometer readings we get from Hokulani Observatory suggest that there is a Solgaleo for every star, but there isn't necessarily a Lunala for every moon. There are certain standards that a rock in space must fit to be classified as a moon— but it would seem that the scientific definition of a moon is less stringent than Lunala's definition of a moon.”

Hau cocked his head, intrigued. “So there's billions and trillions of moon-like rocks floating around in space, but only a few of them are Lunala?”

“Correct.”

“Wow, I never knew that.”

Moon frowned. “How long are their lifespans? They're not immortal, right?”

“No, they're not. I believe Solgaleo and Lunala are said to live about as long as humans do— which is quite long, for a Pokémon. Wild ones have shorter lifespans, but even trained Pokémon don't usually live as long as their Trainers.”

“Right.” It was a depressing thought, but Moon shoved it away— all of her Pokémon were young and healthy. “So how old are our Solgaleo and Lunala?”

“Well, none of the scans done in the last ten years or so show any change in energy that would indicate a legendary's death or birth. So they're at least ten years old, if not older. I suspect they are older, actually— there have been nearly double the number of recorded eclipses in Alola in the last three years than there have been in the last fifty. It's hard to find many records, but solar and lunar eclipses are a phenomenon recorded by many cultures— ancient and modern alike. And there are some accounts in Those Who Conquered the Night about eclipses, which suggest that a wave of eclipses heralds the dying of a Solgaleo or a Lunala.”

“So we're getting close to the death of one or the other?”

“Of both, I think. The readings we believe come from our Solgaleo and Lunala have almost exactly the same half-life.”

“Yikes.”

Lillie nodded. “This will be the first time in scientific history that we have the equipment to record data on the transference of power from an old legendary deity to a young one. It simply remains to be seen where the young one will come from.”

“Pew, pew!” chimed in Nebby, from where she and all the other Pokémon were eating beans and Bugs.

After their dinner of MREs and cup ramen, Moon shook out her blankets and pillows and tucked everything into the hammock before climbing in and cocooning everything around her. There was a rustling and a shuffling as Puck climbed in, not burrowing under the blankets but merely laying down above her. He was taller than Moon, but much lighter owing to the hollowness of his bones. Ariel was on the closest branch above them, staying well away from the Skarmory; and Macbeth sat right next to the hammock with Ben in her arms like usual, slender claws brushing along his spiky fur. Occasionally a spark popped, and Macbeth flinched back— as a partial Water-type, she was not overly fond of electricity.

“I wonder when you'll learn Water-type moves.” Moon yawned and extricated her arm from the blankets to reach out and pet Macbeth; the Golisopod lowered her head delicately to accept the affection. “I'm not complaining or anything— your current moveset is pretty dope. But I like having dual STAB moves— it's why I've kept Echoed Voice on Ariel for so long.”

“Liso go,” murmured Macbeth, a touch of apology in her tone.

“Seriously, not complaining. I'm excited to see how you'll grow, okay?” Moon grinned at her teammates. “And that goes for all of you.”

 

Moon woke in utter darkness to a piercing shriek. She was so badly startled that she began flailing around in the hammock, sitting up entirely too fast and tipping sideways, falling on her side on the damp earth.

“Seriously?” said Hau, sounding tired and annoyed. “Sonar, it's fine. There's nothing wrong with Poppy.”

The little bat let out another yelp, which was echoed by a bark from Poppy.

“You mentioned she's pretty close to evolving, right?” said Moon sleepily, picking up her pillows and blankets. Puck, who had also been up-ended, burrowed grumpily back into the hammock.

“Yeah, but I don't know what Sonar's making such a fuss about. He's not anywhere close to evolving, and he's the least fussy of all my teammates.”

“Maybe he's sensing Poppy's evolution,” offered Lillie, sticking her head out of her tent. Her hair was loose and tangled. Moon watched, amused, as Hau's gaze flicked over Lillie and quickly away.

“I ask because her voice sounds deeper, which is something that's happened to both Puck and Ariel. And even Macbeth, but I don't actually remember that very well.”

“It happened to Umber as well,” agreed Lillie.

“So you think today if we're training, maybe?”

“Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“Thank Arceus,” said Hau, with a sigh. “All right, kids, party's over. Go back to sleep. Sonar, if you don't keep it down I'm going to ball you.”

“Noi, noi,” sang Sonar, giggling.

“It's not funny, it's two in the morning. I love you, but shush.”

Moon shifted Puck to one side so she could climb back into her hammock; Lillie disappeared into her own tent. Macbeth purred softly in her sleep, and Ben had slept through the whole thing, snoring with a slight whistle— she should have him checked at the Pokémon Center as soon as they got to Mount Hokulani. It sounded a bit like he was catching a cold.

She'd jinxed herself by saying that she didn't remember much of Macbeth's evolution, because the next thing Moon knew she was in the conservatory level of Aether Paradise, facing down the Nihilego.

It shifted, taking the shape of a tall, thin young man that glided toward her, hands reaching for her wrists; then the clear, pale-blue sheen of the Nihilego darkened until it was actually Gladion, holding her wrists. His eyes were gentle, with a sweet smile in them that didn't show in the set of his mouth. She'd never seen him truly smile.

But what lent the lie to his soft face were his hands, which gripped her wrists hard— a hot, searing pain flashed through them, just as she remembered it. This time she was flooded not with insane, crazy ideas or leaps of intuition, but with reckless desire and a hollowness that went from heart to throat to stomach.

“You miss me,” whispered Nihilego, in the shape of Gladion— using his quiet and slightly raspy voice. “If I came back to you right now, you would take me, wouldn't you? You'd be happy I was back. Even though I did wrong by you, even though I won't apologize. You'd take me back anyway, because you believe it was your fault.”

He leaned in close, warm breath ghosting over her cheek.

“And I'd never let you go again. That's why.”

The hollowness was replaced with panic, as the colors of Gladion faded back to the ice-blue of the Nihilego— the tentacles that coiled around her wrists pulled her in closer, more of them rising to grasp her ankles and wrap around her waist, dragging her to the pulsing void, the gaping hole that would lead to worlds unknown—

Icy coldness slapped her hard, and Moon gasped for air, coughing.

“Shit, Moon, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry—”

“You weren't waking up,” said Lillie tearfully, reaching out to press a warm hand to Moon's face. Moon shuddered, closing her eyes.

“I'm so sorry,” repeated Hau. “It's just water. You were screaming, you woke all of us up, and we couldn't wake you up.”

“Hoo,” said Puck softly, reaching out with his wings. Moon let him fold her inside and simply breathed.

“Sorry,” she managed, after a few moments. Her voice was hoarse, from the screaming. “Nightmare. Really bad nightmare.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“Nope. Let's do it anyway, because I'll feel better after I get it out. What time is it?”

“Five-thirty.”

Moon grimaced. “Should we just get up for the day, then?”

“Yeah, let's do that.”

She dug a clean change of clothes out of her backpack and changed in the privacy of Lillie's tent. Hau was already boiling water with Moon's kettle when she came back out, and Lillie was pulling a ceramic frying pan and a loaf of bread out from her own backpack.

“I think I brought cheese— Umber and Snowfall both like it,” she explained. “It's nothing on the Pokémon Center's breakfast sandwiches, but I think I can manage a few grilled cheeses.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Moon.

They all had grilled cheese and oatmeal, and Lillie dunked a sachet of Roserade Tea into a cup while Hau and Moon both had cocoa. The sugar helped, sending warmth and stillness into her cold, trembling limbs. Most of the Pokémon were eating, but Puck was still draped over Moon, his wings acting as a sort of blanket.

“You can go hunt,” she told him. “I'll be okay, I've got my friends.”

Puck sniffed dubiously, but nodded and turned into the woods to go hunting. Ariel followed, though not without a long look at Moon. Macbeth and Ben sat on either side of Moon, eating Beans and pressing in close— their touch was comfort, was their way of telling Moon without words that they were with her.

“Nihilego,” she said, because Hau and Lillie were waiting on her explanation. “Except so much worse.”

“How?”

“It turned into Gladion.”

Lillie pressed her hand over her mouth.

“I know it wasn't really Gladion, it's just my neurotic brain and insecurities using his voice and image because he's something I'm neurotic and insecure about, because a lot of what happened was my fault.”

“You sound really well-adjusted,” snorted Hau.

Moon swallowed. “If I make myself be practical about it, then it can't hurt me,” she muttered, looking away from him.

“Or it will hurt worse.”

It was a fair point. Moon drew her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms around her legs. “I think maybe I'm trying to walk the line between being angry and justified in it, and giving him the benefit of the doubt as he's been through some shit. Maybe that's not possible.”

“I think it is possible,” said Lillie gently, “but it might not be possible right now. Remember, it's only been a week or so. And it's been even less time since the Nihilego, hasn't it?”

“Yeah.”

“So perhaps the healthiest thing to do right now is to forget about him.”

“Lillie—”

“I know that I tend to choose avoidance as my coping mechanism, which is something I've been looking at with my therapist.” Lillie's face was turning slightly pink. “But sometimes, avoidance can be a good temporary solution to a problem until you have the means to solve it in a better way.”

“We have a trial to prepare for,” said Hau encouragingly. “Up at the observatory. And we're meeting Professor Kukui today, and Poppy's probably going to evolve. And Lillie and I went out and bought our own copy of Those Who Conquered the Night the other day when you were training on Malie Cape, so you can read that if you want.”

Moon stared at him, then at Lillie.

“How is it,” she said slowly, “that the two of you always know what to say to make me feel better?”

That put smiles on both of their faces— a proud one for Hau, a bashful one for Lillie.

“Because you're our best friend, and it's our job to know that sort of thing.”

“And because making you feel better makes us happy.”

They cleaned up camp slowly, since it was still early and there was plenty of time for them to traverse Route Ten. As they walked they trained— Hau working primarily with Poppy, clearly hoping for the impending evolution. Moon worked with all of her teammates, trying to give them equal opportunities to train. Lillie, surprisingly, was training Snowfall. The Vulpix only responded to Lillie, but Moon was surprised at exactly how obedient Snowfall was in battle.

“I thought for sure she'd give you a hard time,” she commented, watching as Snowfall easily dispatched an aggressive little Pancham.

“She did at first, but then I had her watch while I worked with Lapin and Umber. Then she was very eager to work— I think she must be rather competitive.”

“I'll say.”

They all agreed to push through the usual lunch hours and eat later at the bus stop— the early awakening meant they would be an hour or two early to meet with the Professor. But as they approached the building at the end of Route Ten, Moon spotted familiar heads of hot-pink and lavender.

“Come on, detail it,” snickered Kohaku, pointing at— unsurprisingly— a spray-painted phallus.

“You're such a child,” retorted Trinh. She was working with detail on a skeleton in white, gray, and cream. Moon had no idea how the other girl managed to get spray paint so precise, but her hands and fingers were covered in paint. “Most people don't give a shit about the tagging, but how many angry calls do you think the old guy is gonna get if we go for a realistic-looking dick? We'll get arrested for public vulgarity or something. Kids go up and down the mountain all the time. Let me do my thing.”

“Spoilsport.”

“Um, it looks cool,” tried Moon hesitantly.

Kohaku and Trinh both spun around.

“Oh,” said Trinh shortly. “It's you.”

“I wanted to apologize.”

Kohaku rolled his eyes. “Sure, because Plumeria came after you and yanked on the puppet strings you call a conscience.”

“I yank my own strings, thanks.” Moon turned back to Trinh. “I wanted to say sorry the second I said it. I know that doesn't really mean much after the fact, and I'm not asking you to be friends or anything. But I wanted to apologize, because I was speaking in anger. Everybody is worth something.”

Trinh studied her for a few moments. She tapped her fingernails against the metal of the spray paint— click, click, click.

Then her gaze slid over to Lillie.

“You're cute.”

Lillie went tomato-red. “Um— what?”

“You're cute,” repeated Trinh. “I was jealous because you're cute as fuck and you were getting cute clothes, and I'm poor.”

She turned back around, and the hiss of the spray paint told Moon that she was returning to her masterfully painted skeleton. There were quite a few of them painted over the concrete wall of the bus station building— one with a heavy gold chain around its neck, and another with a familiar pair of ponytails in neon pink and yellow.

“Thank you for telling me,” said Lillie softly. “And— it wasn't as big of a deal as Moon has made it out to be. She's very protective of her friends.”

Moon stared indignantly at Lillie, who offered her a soft smile in response.

Kohaku was still watching them, eyes narrowed. “Okay, you can all fuck off now.”

“We're waiting for a bus,” said Hau, folding his arms. “So we're not going anywhere.”

“We should eat lunch, I'm starving,” said Moon. She turned around, pulling on Hau's arm and Lillie's hand. “Let's go.”

They walked a little ways away from Trinh and Kohaku, toward a rather dilapidated picnic bench. Hau plonked his backpack down on it rather loudly, glaring back at Kohaku.

“Hot food or sandwiches?” said Moon, looking through her own pack for food. She released her own Pokémon; Puck and Ariel hopped over to the closest patch of tall grass to hunt.

“I could go for something hot,” said Lillie wistfully. “It's been a little chilly, these last few days.”

“I advise you never to go to Kanto if you think fifty Fahrenheit is cold,” snickered Moon.

“If I go to Kanto, I'll go in the spring.”

“Everybody goes to Kanto in the spring; they want to catch the cherry blossom front. I think the best time to go is late summer. You're starting to get the fall colors but it isn't cold yet.”

“Oh, that is fucking it,” growled Hau, standing up.

Moon looked at him, surprised; his gaze was fixed on Kohaku.

“What's going on?” she said warily.

“He's making really obscene gestures at us and I'm not going to let that shit stand.” He recalled all of his Pokémon, even though they weren't finished eating. “Come on, guys— you can eat lunch once we wipe the floor with that fucker.”

Hau's voice was carrying, and at this Trinh paused in her work to look at them.

“Really, Ko?” she said wearily.

“I wasn't doing anything.”

“Like I'm going to believe you anymore after you managed to convince me to cut off a Slowpoke Tail without anesthetic,” said Trinh flatly, turning back to her painting. “Fight away from the paint. If either of you mess up the tag I'll tear your dicks off.”

Hau stomped over to Kohaku, whose hand went to the Pokéballs at his own belt— there were four of them now. Moon was kind of surprised by this, because her memory had painted Kohaku as a lazy Trainer.

Hau sent out Uila first— always a good move; but Kohaku countered with a Raticate, a smaller version of the very first Totem that Moon had fought. They tussled for a little while, and the Raticate got in a few nasty Bites; but Uila managed to knock it out with Electro Ball. Kohaku's next teammate was something she'd never seen before.

“That's a monkey,” she said, surprised. “A monkey with a volleyball.”

“It's a Passimian, bzzt,” chirped Rotom. “They are Fighting-type Pokémon— and they're rather rare. I believe they can only be found in Lush Jungle.”

“But that's a trial site, and Team Skull aren't really allowed on trial sites.”

“It's entirely possible that he got it through a trade,” said Lillie, though there was a slight frown on her face. “Or he asked someone to catch it for him. I considered asking you to catch a Pokémon for me.”

Moon turned to Lillie, surprised. “You did?”

She nodded. “I was thinking about raising a Comfey. They're pure Fairy-types— they look like leis. The flowers have known healing properties, and I wanted to see if I could make my own Potions for you and Hau to use for free. But they're only found in Lush Jungle, much like Passimian.”

“I totally would have caught one for you. Why didn't you ask me?”

“I was considering this before we got to Paniola Town, but then we met Snowfall.” Lillie reached out and gently scratched behind Snowfall's ears; the Vulpix purred softly. “I had to change my plans. It happens to the best of us.”

The Passimian defeated Uila, who had already been weakened by the Raticate. Hau sent in Poppy— a wise choice, as the Brionne had access to Disarming Voice. Poppy performed a one-hit knockout. Kohaku, with eerily empty eyes, sent out a little Shuppet.

The Shuppet was clearly a fresh catch— it was hesitant, not fully trusting Kohaku and frankly, after what she'd seen and heard of the guy, Moon didn't really blame it. Poppy confidently knocked it out in another one-hit, and when Kohaku sent out his final teammate— a tall, rather sinister-looking Hypno— she growled with a ringing, melodic undertone that sent chills down Moon's spine.

“Oh,” breathed Lillie, clutching Moon's arm. “Moon, I think— I think she must be about to evolve.”

Hau carefully angled Poppy so she was facing in the opposite direction of Trinh's tag, then began the Z-Dance for Hydro Vortex. The wave of water that swirled about him and Poppy rose, avoiding the freshly painted mural, and slammed into the Hypno with a great deal more force than may have been strictly necessary.

And when all the water had vanished into thin air, as it usually did after a dry-land battle— a gorgeous mermaid Pokémon sat where Brionne had been perched.

“That's a Primarina, bzzt,” said Rotom.

Hau crouched next to Poppy, looking into her eyes with warmth. He said something quiet, for her ears alone; then he straightened and strode over to Kohaku, fists clenched.

“I don't hit people,” he said quietly.

“Sure doesn't look like it,” said Kohaku evenly. “Go ahead, I know you want to.”

Hau smiled, at that. It was not his usual cheery, toothy grin. “No,” he said simply, “I don't. I pity you, dude. I think you like to pretend you're a monster, but you're just as scared and human as the rest of us. Why would I hit someone who's suffering just as much as anybody else?”

He turned around, recalled Poppy to her ball, and walked back to where Moon and Lillie were sitting with a nonchalant expression on his face.

“You're a badass,” Moon informed him. “Physically, mentally, emotionally, and hell, philosophically.”

“More like I've been listening to Gramps talk for the last eighteen years of my life,” snorted Hau, but his mouth was curling up at the edges. He released all his Pokémon. Poppy went straight for her lunch, then paused to look up at Hau in confusion.

“Pri ri?” she said hesitantly.

“I've been prepared for weeks, Poppy. Of course I've got fish for you.” Hau laughed and dug in his backpack for a packet of freeze-dried Wishiwashi.

Moon glanced over at Trinh and Kohaku. Kohaku hadn't moved since Hau had finished speaking to him, and his expression revealed nothing. Trinh continued to paint, keeping her back turned to all of them. There were more skeletons, an army of them growing on the wall— each with their own little quirks, some of them recognizably Team Skull by their hair colors: Molly, Rogelio, Uilani, Jack, and even Emmett. Above it she scrawled, in a looping cursive font—

 

long live the dead

puppets of bone on the string of a ruthless queen

 

And then she gave each of the skeletons a noose, which led back up to the cursive writing.

“That's cheerful,” murmured Lillie, keeping a straight face despite the heavy sarcasm in her tone.

“I'm done, we can go,” Trinh said to Kohaku. She picked up paint cans, shoving them into a stained duffel bag that had been lying on the ground.

He nodded once, picking up a few more cans. When they'd cleaned up, Trinh turned to look at Moon, Hau, and Lillie. She raised one hand— specifically, one finger— but her expression wasn't hostile. Moon waved back, and pulled Rotom out of her pocket.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: I think the apology thing went ok

shakespeare jr: She flipped us off as she and Kohaku were leaving tho

the girl with the curls: yeah no that's normal, she does that to literally everyone except Plumeria

shakespeare jr: also Hau said some stuff to Kohaku and idk what kind of mood he'll be in when they get home. just letting you know

herbalist: HOLY ARCEUS, THANK YOU

shakespeare jr: ????

the girl with the curls: so last time Kohaku was in a Mood™ he poured weedkiller into Rogelio's herb garden

herbalist: I SPECIAL-ORDERED THE SAFFRON PLANTS FROM THE ORRE REGION

herbalist: THE REPLACEMENTS SET ME BACK LITERALLY 100,000 POKÉ

herbalist: WHEN I ASKED HIM WHY, I WAS LITERALLY IN TEARS NO JOKE

herbalist: HE SAID, AND I QUOTE: “I DON'T KNOW, I JUST FELT LIKE WATCHING SOMETHING DIE”

the girl with the curls: capslock spam aside, it was fucked up and we appreciate the warning because we can hide the plants now

shakespeare jr: wow I'm seriously glad I told you then

the girl with the curls: I mean he's probably going to find something else to kill but as long as it's not a Pokémon or Rogelio's plants, I think we'll live through it

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [skeletonarmy.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: also you were right, trinh is an amazing artist

the girl with the curls: wow

herbalist: oof

shakespeare jr: ????

the girl with the curls: nvm don't worry about it. it's a beautiful painting though

herbalist: Oof

shakespeare jr: okay now you've really got me curious

the girl with the curls: it's Skull business, u don't need to worry about it

herbalist: suffice it to say she's making a pretty controversial statement and I don't think the boss man's gonna like it

shakespeare jr: oof

shakespeare jr: and you're definitely not telling me?

the girl with the curls: no, sorry

herbalist: yeah, Plumeria would be pissed if we told you, sorry

shakespeare jr: that's fine

shakespeare jr: at least you TOLD me that you can't tell me, unlike certain ex-not-boyfriends I could name

the girl with the curls: OOH THE SHADE

herbalist: that wasn't just shady it was a straight-up diss

 

“I don't understand most of your conversations with them,” said Lillie, shaking her head.

“It's okay, you grew up sheltered,” said Hau. “If it helps you, I don't really understand them either. But they seem really nice.”

“Hey there!”

At the familiar shout, the three of them turned to see Professor Kukui, coming down to land from a Ride Charizard. He was wearing a small backpack, and he climbed off and walked toward them as the Charizard took off once more.

“Hi, Professor,” said Hau cheerfully. “Look, Poppy just evolved!”

“Oh, I can see that! She looks fantastic, yeah!” Poppy preened, basking in the admiration. “And Lillie and Moon, how are you guys doing?”

“Pretty good,” said Moon. Lillie nodded.

“You got here pretty early, yeah?” Professor Kukui sniffed, frowning. “I can smell paint. Do you guys smell that?”

Hau, Moon, and Lillie all pointed at the mural. Professor Kukui turned to look at it; his eyebrows raised. “Wow,” he said finally. “The big phallus off to the side really lends some gravitas to the piece, yeah?”

All three of them burst out laughing, and Professor Kukui grinned.

“It's an interesting picture, yeah. It must be really fresh if I can still smell the paint.”

“We watched them finish it.”

Professor Kukui raised one eyebrow. “Graffiti's illegal, yeah?”

Moon thought of what one of the people in the Gladion-focused group chat had said. “I think it's better that they're doing something slightly illegal but sort of productive, instead of something really illegal.”

“Good point. And it's beautifully done, yeah. Do you know the name of the artist?”

Moon coughed and cleared her throat. “Her name is Trinh. She did the skeletons, anyway. The di— um, phallus was someone else.”

“Oh,” said Professor Kukui, with a nod. There was a slight frown on his face. “Yeah, Trinh. Yep, that makes sense. She's from Poni Island... her sister is an artist too, yeah. I thought I recognized the style.”

“Do you know everybody?”

“Well, I do get grade reports for every graduating high school senior in Alola each year, yeah. That's how I pick who gets elemental Starters.” Moon had never seen Professor Kukui look sad— it was strangely uncomfortable. “She should be graduating this year, but she dropped out of school after her sister graduated. She ran away from home. I'm glad she's still making art, yeah.”

“I think they take care of each other,” offered Moon cautiously. “Team Skull. I've run into a few more of them recently, and from what I can tell they're like a very large, very dysfunctional family.”

“That's also good to hear. Still, it's a shame that not everyone can or wants to take up the island challenge. It would be good for them, yeah.” Professor Kukui smiled. “But who knows— it's never too late to do the island challenge! I'd welcome every one of those kids to try it, if they wanted to.”

It was some time before Moon heard the rumble of an engine coming their direction. She looked up from the copy of Those Who Conquered the Night that Lillie had lent her while she was discussing her own research with Professor Kukui— Hau had gone to train in the nearby tall grass, adjusting to Poppy's new typing.

“Oh, looks like the bus is here, yeah!”

“It's a double-decker!” said Moon excitedly. “They don't have those in Kanto, I've only ever seen pictures.”

“Then we have to sit on the second floor, yeah!” Professor Kukui laughed. “Let's go— I'll cover the fare.”

“It's like ten Poké a person, you really don't have to.” Hau put his own backpack back on.

“How do you know that?” Moon asked, surprised.

Hau's jaw tightened slightly. “Oh. I... forgot to mention this to you, but, um— Gram lives on Mount Hokulani. There's a senior center— kind of a hybrid apartment building and hospital. It's up on the mountain because it's a bit drier than most of Ula'ula Island.”

“Oh! No, I think you definitely mentioned she lives on this island.” It had been ages ago, back when Moon had first asked Hala about Tapu Koko and Lunala.

“I haven't seen her in months,” said Hau softly, “but she only remembers who we are half the time anyway.”

“Should we stop by and visit?”

“I'll ask Gramps if that's okay.”

“I'd like to meet her, too,” said Lillie shyly. “She's probably wonderful, if she helped raise you.”

Hau flushed deeply. “Um— wow. Thanks, Lillie. That means a lot.”

His voice was soft, and Moon decided it would be a good idea to pull Professor Kukui into conversation as they climbed onto the bus— which was garishly painted with Alolan Exeggutors and advertised itself as the Exeggutor Express. A few other Trainers and travelers had arrived while she was reading, and boarded along with them; but Moon and her friends were the only one to climb up to the second story. When Hau and Lillie sat down next to each other, Moon pretended not to notice but did an internal fist pump.

The bus would travel through the evening and most of the night, arriving at the Hokulani Peak bus stop at about six-thirty in the morning. Most of the reason for the travel time was that Mount Hokulani was made of a very hard rock that didn't take well to tunnels or drilling— so all paths had to wind around the mountain, and it had taken decades to build the roads. The trek from Malie City to Mount Hokulani had once taken ten days on foot; Moon was quite happy to take the shortcut of an overnighter on a bus instead.

 

Chapter Text

It was, perhaps, fortunate that they had spent the night on a bus. Moon hadn't slept all that well, due to a combination of Professor Kukui's hearty snores and the jolting and swaying of the bus as it carried them up the mountain. But sleeping lightly meant that she wasn't going to have a repeat of the nightmare that had woken her up previously. Instead she put in headphones and listened to a playlist of calming music on Jigglify, and watched in amusement as Lillie fell asleep on Hau's shoulder— merely shrugging at him and grinning when he made panicked faces in her general direction. And when they had both nodded off, Hau's head turning naturally to accommodate Lillie, Moon quietly put a blanket over the two of them and returned to her own seat, closing her eyes.

She did eventually manage about four uninterrupted hours of sleep, but they came to an end when the bus rolled to a halt, the pneumatic valves hissing and squealing as the bus was lowered to the ground.

“Oh, we're here, yeah!” said Professor Kukui brightly, taking off his glasses to rub briefly at his eyes. “Fantastic.”

They seemed to be a little early— the sun was just over the horizon. Moon gathered her things and followed Hau, Lillie, and Professor Kukui off the bus.

“Welcome to Mount Hokulani!” Professor Kukui spread his arms wide. “Do you want to settle in and get some breakfast, or would you like the tour?”

“I think we'd better have breakfast,” said Hau, patting his stomach. “The beast is hungry.” A loud gurgle aptly made his point for him, and Moon and Lillie burst out laughing.

“Sounds great! It's been a minute since I had one of those tasty breakfast sandwiches from the café, yeah.”

They went into the Pokémon Center. Professor Kukui took their orders for breakfast, cheerfully insisting on paying for it as he had insisted on paying their bus fare. While he was buying food, Moon, Lillie, and Hau checked into the Pokémon Center to rent rooms for a week. Moon wasn't sure if there was anywhere to train on Mount Hokulani, but if worst came to worst she could always use the Ride Pager and fly back down to Route Ten.

Their Pokémon ate at the same time they did— including a few of Professor Kukui's Pokémon. His Torracat, Blazer, was a familiar face; but the others were new. A lanky wolf that she guessed was a Midday Lycanroc wagged its tail eagerly— apparently it was the Rockruff that she had first seen on a video call with Professor Kukui, back in Kanto. Moon also recognized a Magneton— she'd seen a few in Kanto as well as Alola. And a fat, downy eaglet was perched in the Professor's lap, trying to eat his sandwich as well as its own serving of Pokébeans.

“Starstrike, that's my food,” complained Professor Kukui, but he pulled a little piece of bacon out of the sandwich and fed it to the bird all the same.

“I know I've seen that Pokémon before— what is it, again?”

“Starstrike's a Rufflet, yeah. He's a long way from evolving, but watch out when he does!”

“Braviary are known for their strength and speed, bzzt,” Rotom informed them. Starstrike preened, puffing out his chest-feathers. Professor Kukui took the opportunity to cram the rest of his sandwich into his mouth, chewing with bulging cheeks as the Rufflet stared at him— betrayal written all over his face. Moon, Hau, and Lillie burst out laughing.

After breakfast Moon was feeling much less like a zombie, so she joined Hau and Lillie on a quick tour of Mount Hokulani, led by the Professor. The Pokémon Center was an obvious landmark, and seemed to be quite busy; but there was a small strip-mall of shops as well, including a Swirly-whirl Malasadas and an ice-cream shop. There was also a video game store— which was surprising to Moon. Video games didn't seem to be as big of a thing in Alola as they were in Kanto.

“There's the observatory, yeah!” Professor Kukui pointed at the tallest building on the plateau. “They have the best telescope in Alola— I'd say the world, but a lot of people argue for the one at the Mossdeep Space Center, yeah. It's also where your next trial takes place.”

“An indoor trial?” said Hau, raising one eyebrow.

“In Kanto, we just call that a gym,” said Moon, keeping a straight face.

“It's definitely still a trial, yeah.” Professor Kukui chuckled. “Just you wait. Captain Sophocles is pretty excited to meet you guys— I'm staying with his cousin and I told them both all about you.”

“Sophocles?” said Moon, raising one eyebrow. “Like, the guy who wrote—”

“Trust me, there are no similarities between Captain Sophocles and the ancient playwright,” said Professor Kukui without missing a beat. “You'll especially like him, Moon— he's a seeker of knowledge, just like you. Now, over there's an apartment building for the people who live and work up here— employees of the Pokémon Center, the observatory, the shops, and so on.” He pointed at a building next to the observatory. “And then there's the gas station for the bus; and over there's the Hokulani Senior Center, yeah.”

“That would be where Gram lives,” said Hau. "Gramps said it would be fine if we visited.”

“Awesome. We can go whenever you want.”

“Maybe in the afternoon.”

Professor Kukui pointed ahead of them. “Now, my favorite place on Hokulani Peak is the lookout point, yeah. Moon, you brought Rotom with you? Good. You're going to want him. And we're up here at just the right time, too.”

The lookout was situated up a small rise on the plateau; there were several stone benches, all of them facing southwest. Moon was confused as to why until she saw the tall, distant mountain, mired in snow and ice.

“Mount Lanakila,” said Professor Kukui, gesturing toward it. “The tallest mountain in Alola— Hokulani is second, yeah.”

He turned to look at Moon and Hau. “Traditionally, Trainers go on their island challenges and complete trials and Grand Trials. At the end, they travel to the peak of Mount Lanakila, braving the cold and the snow to do it— and they face off against the island kahunas once more, in order to become an island challenge champion, yeah! It's an honor to complete your island challenge, and I've got no intention of changing the trials or the Grand Trials. But I think it's time we caught up with the rest of the world, yeah? Moon, where do Kantonian Trainers go after completing their gym challenge?”

Moon swallowed. An image rose to mind— one she'd cobbled together as a kid from television feeds, visits to Red and Blue at work, and her own imagination. She'd tried to keep her little dream quietly tucked in the back of her mind— she'd been too poor in Kanto, and Alola simply hadn't had a way for her to live out the dream.

“They challenge the Pokémon League,” she said quietly. “They face the Elite Four and the regional Champion. Some complete the challenge just to get it done and say they did it. Others challenge the Champion for their seat, to try and become the next Champion.”

“Exactly!” Professor Kukui beamed at her. “I did my own island challenge when I was young, but I also went to Kanto and took on a gym challenge, yeah! It was amazing. I wasn't able to beat the champion at the time, but I realized we'd been missing something in Alola. It's not that the Pokémon League makes Trainers any stronger than the end of the island challenge— it's just a way to organize the end of the island challenge in a way that the world will recognize. Think about it, yeah? Four kahunas— four people in the Elite Four. And a Champion, just like the rest of the world has. That's what my project is, Moon— the one I mentioned to you when you came back to visit my lab on Melemele Island."

“Holy shit, we're building a Pokémon League?” shouted Hau, connecting the dots.

“We're building a Pokémon League!” confirmed Professor Kukui. “It's time we showed the rest of the world what's so great about Alola, on a scale that they can recognize. Our application to the International Championships was approved, and construction started in September. I want to finish building before winter ends— even though it's always winter on Mount Lanakila, yeah!”

Moon's wrists had been tingling with cold through the previous day and the night spent on the bus; but as she stared at the far-distant peak, with the clouds and snow around and atop— they slowly warmed to a bearably cool temperature.

“I never thought I'd be able to challenge a League,” she said softly. “I used to dream about facing off against the Champion— against my friends.”

“And now you can,” said Lillie, her hand resting on Moon's shoulder.

Hau grabbed Moon's opposite hand, lifting it up to the sky. “Now we can!” he said eagerly. “We can both be Champions, right? Just like Red and Blue. Even though Blue was only a Champion for a little while, he's still a Champion. And when I beat you, you'll still be a Champion, too.”

“That's assuming you can beat me, you— overgrown pastry!” Moon smacked Hau in the arm, laughing. “And you can re-challenge a Champion as many times as you want. I can beat you and you can beat me, and we'll keep challenging each other until we're old and grey.”

“What about all the other Trainers who will come to challenge you?” said Professor Kukui, amused.

Hau smirked. “Either we don't have to worry about them, or they'll be a pleasant surprise.”

They parted ways with Professor Kukui after that; he was headed to his friend's apartment. Moon suspected that he wanted to take a nap, even after sleeping soundly enough to snore on the bus. She would have tried to take a nap herself, but she had never been good at napping. She would wake up at five p.m. with a massive headache and a reversed circadian rhythm if she tried it.

Hau and Lillie walked down to the Pokémon Center, chatting easily. Moon watched them go— she suspected that Lillie was leaving the hand closest to Hau out on purpose, and that Hau was determinedly avoiding taking it.

But she remained at the lookout, taking pictures of Mount Lanakila. There was other interesting scenery as well; Mount Hokulani rose high above a range of shorter peaks. None of them seemed to have villages or settlements like Hokulani itself, but she could see radio towers. The north boasted mountains, which faded down to a jungled slope and a northern beach. In the far northwest, Moon could barely make out a large structure through the zoom function on Rotom's camera. It looked like a wall or a fence of some kind.

To the southwest was Mount Lanakila, of course— but a range of shorter peaks extended in that direction as well, giving way to plateaus and canyons. Moon could see several obviously man-made structures on one fairly tall plateau— that was likely Blush Mountain, and the power plant where her father worked. And hovering in between Mount Lanakila and the power plant was a dusty gray cloud— not the pure ice of Lanakila, but the sort of cloud that indicated a tornado or a sandstorm of some kind. A consult of Rotom's e-book edition of The Traveller's Guide to Alola indicated that it was the Haina Desert, located off the Haina Junction. The Haina Desert was inaccessible to Trainers who hadn't passed the Grand Trial of Ula'ula Island, and also led to the Ruins of Abundance— the ancestral home of Tapu Bulu. It was easy to see why Lillie would be worried enough about navigating a storm like that without the assistance of Hapu and Epicentre.

She took pictures of everything, and selected a few of the best shots to send to her friends and family. The news of a Pokémon League she decided to keep quiet— she could ask Professor Kukui about it later, and if he said it was alright she would tell Red and Blue then.

 

chat: IKI SQUAD

 

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachments: [mtlanakila.jpeg], [mountains.jpeg], [weirdwallthing.jpeg], [blushmountain.jpeg], [hainadesert.jpeg]

lillie-pad: Wow, Moon! These are really pretty. You've become such a talented photographer. (^u^)

walking malasada: srsly u should submit these 2 like the tourism magazines, they would prob pay u 4 them

shakespeare jr: omg thank you, I have the BEST best friends

lillie-pad: By the way, we both decided to take a nap! I just thought I'd let you know so you don't feel bad if you accidentally wake me up when you come back to our room. (^u^)

shakespeare jr: man, I wish I could take naps without turning into a corpse raised by unholy necromancy

walking malasada: wait u mean u weren't 1 already??? i've been thinking i was doing my island challenge w/ a zombie

shakespeare jr: talk shit, get hit, say that to my FACE

walking malasada: no thx I like living lmao

walking malasada: and so do u because ur obviously not a zombie!!!

shakespeare jr: that's more like it

lillie-pad: It's so strange how I know this is playful banter, even though tone doesn't always carry through written messages.

lillie-pad: Having friends has been extraordinarily educational, in so many ways.

shakespeare jr: omg Lillie you're going to make me cry

lillie-pad: For instance, I've learned that it's possible to be obsessed with an author to the point of naming all your Pokémon in a theme.

shakespeare jr: omg

walking malasada: OHHHHHHHHH

walking malasada: MOON, YOU'VE BEEN ROASTED.

walking malasada: BY LILLIE.

lillie-pad: I've also learned that it's possible for someone to go from mangled text-speak to perfect spelling when they're excited about something.

shakespeare jr: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

walking malasada: ok i prob deserved that

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachments: [mtlanakila.jpeg], [mountains.jpeg], [weirdwallthing.jpeg], [blushmountain.jpeg], [hainadesert.jpeg]

the girl with the curls: WOW THESE ARE SO PRETTY WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU

shakespeare jr: I'm at Mt. Hokulani, on my way to do the trial

the girl with the curls: oh shit haha I actually forgot you were on an island challenge b/c you're like one of us LMAO

herbalist: tag yourself, I'm [weirdwallthing.jpeg]

the girl with the curls: same

the girl with the curls: since that is actually where we live and all

shakespeare jr: Wait really????

the girl with the curls: yea, welcome to mcfuckin po town

shakespeare jr: What's with the fence???? is it like a maximum security prison or smth????

herbalist: it was built by rich people lmao

the girl with the curls: ^

the girl with the curls: it used to be like a really fancy vacation resort town with fuckin mansions and shit

the girl with the curls: but then someone here like SUPER blasphemed tapu bulu and he basically said “all right fine, if you assholes sitting in the lap of luxury wanna bitch about something I will give you SOMETHING to bitch about” and it's been raining ever since

herbalist: and what she means by “ever since” is “literally over ten years”

shakespeare jr: Omg are you for real

herbalist: im dead serious, i actually use the greenhouse to keep plants DRY.

the girl with the curls: he has cacti and succulents and the aforementioned saffron in there

the girl with the curls: which we were able to rescue from Kohaku and his Mood™, thank you again

shakespeare jr: Np

 

Moon, still laughing at Molly and Rogelio, walked back down to the Pokémon Center on her own. Lillie was sound asleep when she arrived— half-smiling, one hand on her phone. Moon's heart warmed with pride; Lillie was doing so well.

Better than Moon, anyway.

She gathered up a few of her things and quietly slipped into their shared bathroom to take a shower.

Despite the poor sleep of the last few nights, the news about the Pokémon League and her shooting session on the lookout had been something of a balm upon Moon's soul. Under the soft pressure of hot water— another balm, on top of a mountain— it occurred to her that both were signs of her life moving on as normal.

Gladion had broken their not-relationship off, yes— but that didn't mean she was a wreck of a woman.

Nihilego had made her mind tilt and whirl, and given her brilliant thoughts that she only remembered the slightest inklings of— but that didn't mean she was a genius, either.

She was just a Trainer, doing the best she could with what she had; and she would try to maintain that. No matter what life threw at her, Moon vowed on impulse, she would always do her best with what she had. It was a promise to herself— difficult to keep, but precious all the same.

Lillie stirred a couple hours later, when her phone beeped with an alarm. Moon glanced over from where she was lounged on the neighboring bed.

“Hi,” she yawned, sitting up. “It's really only ten? It feels like noon.”

“Naps will do that to you,” said Moon, amused. “That's why I don't take them.”

She studied Lillie for a moment. There was something about Lillie that she'd had one of those Nihilego-poisoned brilliant thoughts about— something important, but the thought had left her when the venom did. She'd tried to tell Hau about it, but the nausea of being carried piggyback to the apartment on Aether Paradise had wiped it clean from her mind.

Perhaps she would remember later. Moon shoved the thought to the back of her mind with an abundance of similarly marinating thoughts.

“When are we visiting Hau's grandma?” she asked.

“I think he wanted to wait until after lunch,” said Lillie. Her voice was soft— oddly fond. “Something about letting her have the dignity of being spoon-fed without us staring at her, even if she doesn't know us or remember him.”

“That's really kind of him.”

“Hau is unfailingly kind.”

Lillie's answer was quick, and twin spots of pink rushed up to her cheeks as she spoke. Moon observed the blush, but didn't say anything. She'd learned her lesson about meddling in other people's relationships when she was twelve, and it had— mostly— stuck. Hau confided in Moon, which was why she was aware of at least one side of the relationship; but Lillie had not chosen to do so. It wasn't knowledge that Lillie was withholding, but feelings; and you didn't just ask people to tell you their feelings. She'd learned that lesson from Gladion.

It didn't mean she couldn't vent on her own, though.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: So hypothetically if your two best friends are slowly falling for each other while you're still trying to get over some asshole who didn't even define the terms of the relationship with you before he broke it off, even though it was definitely your fault that he broke it off, what is the correct way to deal with the ensuing random jealousy

the girl with the curls: hypothetically, she says

herbalist: straight people have such weird problems

shakespeare jr: Do gay people not have relationship problems

herbalist: no we do, it's just that gay people are used to falling for people who may never love them back in the same way

herbalist: statistically speaking, there's a 5 percent chance or so that a person I find attractive will also find me attractive

herbalist: cause like 50ish% of people aren't men, and about 10% of people are in the LGBTQ community

herbalist: and u know, math and shit. but that doesn't even account for personal taste and compatibility

shakespeare jr: Oh damn, I have it easy don't I

herbalist: yeah u kinda do, but it's cool

the girl with the curls: u can still vent here

the girl with the curls: like u verbally acknowledged your privilege and that's not usually the Straight People Shit we have to deal with

shakespeare jr: Maybe this is a rude question

shakespeare jr: But due to your use of the word “we” I am now wondering

shakespeare jr: Are you maybe also gay?

the girl with the curls: I don't really see gender, I'm just attracted to people period

the girl with the curls: some call that bisexual, some call it pansexual, I'm cool with both

the girl with the curls: anyway back to your friends

herbalist: the boy with the dreads and the girl with the big eyes?

shakespeare jr: Yeah

herbalist: they'd be cute

the girl with the curls: it's super obvious that he's into her too, I remember that from the restaurant lmao

shakespeare jr: Trust me I am well aware, I'm the one he talks to about it

herbalist: and blondie?

shakespeare jr: Pretty sure she likes him but she plays her cards really close so I can't actually tell

shakespeare jr: It's been a bit less subtle lately

shakespeare jr: Like they both include me in stuff, I don't feel like a third wheel at all

shakespeare jr: But at the same time, sometimes they're like taking turns to stare at each other and trying not to get caught and I'm just like WOW CUTE

the girl with the curls: aww omg

herbalist: that's like cavity-inducing levels of sweet

shakespeare jr: AND THAT IS EXACTLY MY PROBLEM

 

Moon, Hau, and Lillie went down to the café to eat lunch together, and then made the walk over to the Hokulani Senior Center.

“Oh, Hau! It's been a while!”

A red-headed girl, sitting behind a receptionist's desk, beamed at Hau and jumped to her feet.

“Oh. Hi, Danielle.” Hau's voice was uncharacteristically flat.

“You graduated, right? Oh, you must be on your island challenge!”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Are these your friends?” chirped the girl, turning to look at Moon and Lillie.

“Yeah. Moon's my second cousin, she's from Kanto.”

“Hi,” said Moon, lifting two fingers in a slightly crooked peace sign.

“And this is Lillie, she's Professor Kukui's assistant.”

“Hello,” said Lillie coolly.

“Nice to meet you both!” Danielle turned to look at Hau, her smile slightly shy. “It's been weird not seeing you come with Kahuna Hala and your family. I... missed you.”

Hau blinked at her a few moments. “Oh. Anyway, we're here to see Gram.”

“All of you?” Danielle's gaze flicked curiously to Lillie.

“Yes, all of us.” Lillie's tone was clipped.

“Oh— o-okay.” The girl tried to laugh off the exchange, but didn't quite manage it. “I'll just get you some visitor badges.” She went back behind the desk and slid three clip-on tags across it. Moon fixed one to her shirt; it read VISITOR. “And I'll show you up to Mrs. Akiona's room—”

“I know where it is,” said Hau hastily, grabbing his own badge in one hand and Lillie's wrist in the other. Danielle's gaze immediately dropped to his hand and her eyes narrowed slightly. Moon suppressed a snicker; Lillie's expression was nothing short of smug. “Thanks, Danielle.”

“Um— okay. See you.”

All three of them were silent until the elevator door closed, but then Hau released Lillie's wrist to point threateningly at Moon.

“Not one word,” he hissed. “Not one word out of you.”

“I wasn't going to say anything,” lied Moon, holding up her hands in pretend innocence. “But she clearly has a crush on you, right? How old is she?”

“She'd be a high school senior this year.”

“So, my age,” said Lillie, folding her arms.

“I think she's older than you, but you'd be in the same graduating class, right?”

Her nose wrinkled. “If you say so.”

Hau sighed. “Her parents work at the observatory and the Pokémon Center,” he explained, head drooping. “This has been her part-time weekend job for like a year, and she's gotten more obnoxious every time. Dad and Mel teased me about her at the beginning, but then they realized that I was really uncomfortable with it.”

“What's wrong with her, if you don't mind my asking?” inquired Moon. It wasn't strictly meddling, to ask about Danielle instead of Lillie.

Hau frowned at Moon; he could read her like a book. “I do mind, actually, because I know what you're trying to do. Please stop.”

“I'm rather curious about that, myself.”

Hau turned to look at Lillie, eyebrows flying up in surprise. “Um— yeah, okay. Well, for starters, I'm just not into her. That's like, the primary thing that overrules everything else. She's nice, and not super dumb, and I guess she's kind of cute or whatever. But she doesn't really appeal to me.”

“You're the type of extravert that thrives on an audience,” said Moon shrewdly, “and so is she. Neither of you would ever want to shut up, and you'd drive each other crazy.”

“Sounds fake, but okay,” murmured Lillie, a smile creeping onto her face.

“Has Hau been teaching you memes? Aw, Lillie, no, you're better than this.”

“I mean extraversion in general. I believe your analysis, but I am very much an introvert.”

“I'm so surprised,” said Moon, clapping a hand to her heart in very fake surprise. “But essentially— Hau and this presumptuous young lady are not at all compatible, thank you for listening to my keynote address.”

Hau rolled his eyes. “The only presumptuous person I've spoken to in the last twenty minutes is you, Moon Hawkins, and you know exactly why.”

“I presume nothing. I accept that you don't like the kid, and we will leave it at that.”

They left the elevator, and Hau led them down the hallway to a door numbered 415. A nametag was taped onto the door as well: Samantha Grayson Akiona.

Hau stopped in front of the door, taking a deep breath and turning to look at Moon and Lillie. “She's sick,” he said bluntly. “Both of her kidneys are failing and we're not really sure why. She's on dialysis a couple days a week, but it's only so long before she either gets a transplant or she passes away. Probably the latter, because she's a bit old to be on the top of the list for kidney transplants.”

Lillie reached out, putting one hand on his shoulder. “Hau—”

He pressed resolutely on. “She can walk, but prefers not to. She also has dementia and it's like a fifty-fifty chance on whether she'll remember us or not. She'll probably call me Kai at least once, if she remembers me at all. She might think Moon is Aunt Kap or even Great-aunt Keahi; she's not going to know Lillie at all, obviously. I'll do the talking at first, because she'll be confused. She's not stupid, though, and she usually knows she can't remember things.”

Moon swallowed. “We don't have to do this, if you don't want to.”

“I want to,” said Hau softly. “I miss Gram. It's been weird, not seeing her for the last few months. But she hasn't really been here in a long time— you know what I mean?”

“Yes,” said Lillie softly. “Yes, I do know what you mean.”

“Okay, then.” Hau took a deep breath, then knocked on the door.

“Come in!”

He opened the door.

It was a large room, rather than several smaller rooms— Moon thought it might have been a regular apartment once, with the walls between rooms knocked out for more space. The only separate rooms were probably a closet and a bathroom; everything else was open. A queen bed was tucked into one corner of the room; a small kitchen was in another corner; and a couch and a comfortable recliner were in another, along with a television. The recliner was occupied by a woman with curly white hair and thick glasses.

She peered at them for a few moments. “Is that Kai?” she said, after a moment.

“Close enough,” said Hau, visibly relaxing.

“Oh, then you're Hau.” The woman shook her head, with a smile. “Kai's too sweet to sass me like that.”

“He sasses Gramps all the time. I don't sass my mama, either.”

“You better not have. I didn't raise my son to raise disrespectful kids. Speaking of which, I'm seeing a couple of young ladies I don't know, but I haven't been introduced yet. Maybe you oughta do the mannerly thing here, kiddo.”

“Of course, Gram. This is Moon,” said Hau, pointing at Moon. “She's Keahi and Mack's granddaughter. Kapua moved to Kanto and married Yoshiro, remember? She's their daughter.”

“Moon...” Her eyes went clouded for a few moments. Then she looked back up. “Didn't they give you some high-falutin' Kalosian name, though?”

Moon smiled. “Yeah, they did. It's Marion, but everybody calls me Moon.”

“Marion! I was thinking Marguerite, but I've watched too much of The Scarlet Flabébé. Come shake my hand, Moon. You can call me Gram, if you like— seeing how Keahi's passed.”

“Thanks— Gram.” She called her dad's parents Nana and Grandad, so there wasn't any conflict. Keahi and Mack had been Grandma and Grandpa, but Moon had only met them once or twice before they had passed away.

“And the other young lady?”

“This is Lillie,” said Hau. His voice cracked slightly, but he kept going. “She's our friend, and she's Professor Kukui's assistant.”

“Who now?”

“Professor Kukui. He's the new one, after Professor Sago retired five years ago.”

Gram mouthed the names to herself, frowning. Then she shook her head. “Nope, doesn't ring a bell.”

Hau sighed. “Professor Kukui is the one who does Battle Royals in costume and we pretend we don't know it's him.”

“Oh, the Masked Royal! Yes, I know him.” Gram nodded sagely, looking back at Lillie. “So you work for him, do you?”

“I collect research data on several different kinds of Pokémon for him,” explained Lillie. “I'm not on my island challenge, like Hau and Moon— I'm a little too young to go.”

“Oh?” Gram's eyes went suddenly sharp, looking up at Hau. “You take care of your friend, then.” Her gaze slid to Moon. “Both of you.”

“They take very good care of me, Mrs. Akiona.”

“Oof, that doesn't sound right. Nobody calls Hala Mr. Akiona, do they? Just Sammy is fine, Miss... ah, I've already forgotten.”

“Lillie.”

“Lillie! That's right. Lillie, Lillie, Lillie...” Gram mumbled the name to herself a few times, staring hard at Lillie.

“Pew!”

“Absolutely not,” said Lillie sharply, grabbing her wiggly bag. “Not here, not now. You be quiet.”

“What's that, then?”

“A Pokémon,” said Hau, sounding resigned. “Might as well let her out, Lillie. We're in a confined space— she can't go anywhere.”

“A Pokémon stuffed in a bag?”

“She's... well, she's a pseudo-legendary and there are only a few of her kind in existence right now,” explained Lillie. “She's agreed to travel with me, but she has some special abilities that I don't want to hinder by capturing her in a Pokéball.”

She unzipped the bag with a sigh, and Nebby floated out, beaming and heading straight for Gram.

“Nebby!”

“Oh, relax, she's just a bit of fluff,” chuckled Gram, reaching out to pat Nebby. “Oh— not fluff. Ice and rocks, is that it? Sparkly rocks? You look just like a little galaxy.”

“Pew pew, pew pew,” sang Nebby, preening under the petting.

“Spoiled rotten,” muttered Lillie under her breath; but her expression was fond, and so was Hau's— though he was looking at Lillie, not Nebby.

“I've seen you before,” said Gram solemnly, to Nebby.

The room stilled and quieted.

“You have?” demanded Hau. “A Cosmog, really? What was it like?”

“Wasn't quite a Cosmog.” Gram frowned. “That's a fuzzy memory, sorry. Not too long ago— my hair was getting gray, and so was Hala's. Mack had gray hair too... and so did Keahi, but she also had the golden blessing of the Tapu, like usual.”

Moon had read a bit about people with dementia. She had done so after she had accidentally asked, rather carelessly, where Hau's grandmother was and learned about her disease and memory problems.

Gram didn't look sick, at first— she wore a bright yellow cardigan over what appeared to be a nightgown, as well as several pairs of cozy socks. She was knitting, or she had been when they had arrived; and her hair was painstakingly styled into a knot on top of her head.

But her skin was a little too yellow, and her cheeks were slightly sunken; and behind the thick glasses her eyes were tired. And she had not gotten up once since they had arrived.

The dialysis machine was also fairly hard to ignore— a computer screen sitting on top of a tall plastic box with various buttons, knobs, and dials attached to it. It was right behind Gram's chair, and there were two slender tubes that connected to a taped patch on her arm— a patch that Moon knew would hide a pair of needles. Dialysis filtered the blood, which meant that there was an outgoing needle and an ingoing needle.

“It wasn't a Cosmog,” said Gram finally, her voice decisive. “But it was real similar. Maybe an evolution or something.”

“An evolution?”

Moon, Hau, and Lillie all turned to look at Nebby.

The little space cloud beamed at them. “Pew!”

“If you can evolve, why wouldn't you have done it by now?” said Hau skeptically. “Other than the whole warping thing, you're basically useless.”

Gram reached over with her free arm to pick up a small pillow, which she threw at Hau— beaning him on the ear. “Don't be rude,” she scolded him. “There's no such thing as a useless Pokémon. Every one of them is precious, and deserves your respect.”

“Pew pew pew,” agreed Nebby, wiggling happily on Gram's lap.

They chatted for a little while longer, but about halfway through a sentence Gram paused, eyes suddenly clouding in confusion.

Hau sighed softly. “Gram,” he said gently. “Gram, hey.”

She blinked at him. “...Kai?”

“No, it's Hau.”

“Kai, be sure and pick up some milk, if you're going to the store later.” Her eyes rested upon Moon and Lillie— there was no recognition in them. “Take your girlfriend and little Kapua with you. Your cousin looks sad.”

Hau and Lillie both sputtered indignantly at Gram's assumption but Moon inhaled sharply. Was she really that transparent?

Gram leaned forward, reaching out a thin, withered hand to pat Moon on the cheek. “It'll be all right, Kap,” she said gently. “You're a strong girl, and you'll be all the stronger for fighting your way through whatever you're struggling with.”

“Gram, it's me,” Hau tried again. “Not Kai— Hau. I'm Kai's son. That isn't Kapua, it's Moon— uh, Marion.”

Tears sprang unbidden to Moon's eyes. Why was she crying? Why the fuck was she crying? There was nothing that made sense about any of this. Her emotions were up, down, and all around— the way everything had been on Nihilego venom.

“It'll be all right,” said Gram, ignoring Hau. Her eyes were fixed on Moon— a stranger's eyes, but knowing all the same. “You'll see. Maybe not right now, because you're in the middle of the thing; but eventually you'll get there.”

They didn't stay long after that— Gram didn't seem to understand that Hau was her grandson rather than her son, and kept turning to frown at the dialysis machine.

“I'll tell Danielle to ask an orderly to look in on her,” said Hau, though he seemed torn at the idea of leaving. “Hopefully she doesn't get confused enough to rip out either of the IVs.”

“Has that happened before?” said Moon, slightly horrified.

“Only when she's really confused. Like, she almost always knows she's sick. She just isn't sure about faces, or times. She's fully hallucinated a few times— though it happens more when she doesn't sleep well.”

Danielle was not at the receptionist desk when they arrived in the lobby; instead there was a little bell, with a sign next to it that read “Ring for Service.”

“Pass,” said Hau under his breath, which made Moon and Lillie laugh softly with him. “Hard pass.”

He reached behind the counter and pulled up a pad of sticky notes and a pen, leaving a quick note as well as their visitor badges before they left the senior center.

“I like her,” said Moon, as soon as they were out in the fresh air and sunshine. “She's a firecracker.”

“Right? She suits Gramps to a T,” said Hau He sounded as though he was trying to keep a brave face. “It's hard seeing her mind go, but that's just how life is sometimes. She lived really well, and I hope she'll be happy for the rest of her life.”

“I think she will be,” Lillie assured him. “She seems like a happy soul— just like you, and Kahuna Hala.”

“Hau's entire family is unnaturally cheerful, he definitely came by it honestly.”

Hau playfully punched Moon's arm, but he laughed with them anyway. Moon felt a little of her soft heartbreak stitch itself closed. Laughter probably couldn't do much for Samantha Akiona, at this point; and it certainly did not solve her post-Nihilego stress nor the whole Gladion problem— but it was a great medicine all the same.

 

Chapter Text

There hadn't been much opportunity to train in Malie City, and Moon was only able to do so much training on Route Ten. Now that they were settled on Mount Hokulani for some time, it was easier to spend whole days training on the mountain. There was plenty of wild grass lining the sides of the road that led back down to Route Ten, and a very interesting variety of Pokémon as well.

“If I see another Fearow I'm going to eat my hat,” said Hau, glaring at the bird he'd just defeated as it scuttled away.

“You don't wear hats.”

“I'm going to buy a hat for the express purpose of eating it.”

“If you're looking for additional fiber intake, you should eat more fruits and vegetables.” Lillie's tone was deceptively mild. “Consuming actual fiber seems a bit extreme.”

“Hey!” protested Hau, though he was laughing.

“I don't know why you keep getting Fearow. I've been finding Clefairy and Minior.” Moon had liked the little asteroids at once, though she didn't want to add one to her team. Under the protective shell they were colorful and cheery, beeping and squeaking over the general hum of the tall grass.

“I've thought about using a Clefable,” said Lillie softly, gazing at the cheery pink Pokémon. “It would be a little redundant now, because Snowfall will gain Fairy-type when she evolves—”

“Wait, really?” Moon peered at Snowfall, surprised. “Wow, that's actually super cool. In Kanto, Vulpix and Ninetales are Fire-types.”

“They used to be here, as well,” explained Lillie. “But most of the Alolan forms that differ from regular forms exist because they evolved differently, in different locations. Alolan Vulpix tend to stay around the only icy place in Alola— Mount Lanakila. Foxes are scavengers, and it's hard to compete for food so a few of them moved up to the mountain area and adapted to the cold and the climate.”

“Oh, cool— heh.”

“Don't,” groaned Hau.

“Pun unintended, but I'll take the credit anyway.”

She headed a little further downhill— Hau was training Rumble on a new TM, and the vibrations from Bulldoze were reducing her encounter rate. Lillie had moved off by herself as well.

“Bel.”

Moon looked down, stepping backward in surprise. A metallic, cylindrical Pokémon had floated up to nudge her shin.

“Veeon,” snarled Ben, glaring at the newcomer.

Moon frowned at him. “Hey, be nice.” She turned back to the Pokémon. “You want a battle?”

“Bel.” It rolled over, making several beeping sounds.

“Cool. Rotom, what's this one?”

“That's a Beldum, bzzt. They're Steel- and Psychic-types and they're rare, found only in Hoenn, Unova, and Alola— with very low encounter rates. You're pretty lucky to have run into one, bzzt!”

“Bel bel.” The Beldum rolled over again.

“Awesome. Ben, use Thunder Fang.”

Ben lunged at the Beldum, hissing and snarling. The Beldum countered with what looked like Take Down.

They slowly wore the little Pokémon out, until it fell to the ground. Moon crouched, rather concerned; but the red eye at the center blinked politely at her before it rolled over again.

“I think that's a win— Ben grew from it, anyway.” Moon waved at the Beldum. “Okay, that was fun. Bye.”

The Beldum regarded her for a few long moments, but then it rolled back toward her, resuming its hovering.

“Bel bel duh,” it informed her.

“Um.” Moon glanced at Ben, who looked like he was seconds away from attacking the Beldum again. “Listen, I'm flattered, really. But you don't get to decide to come with me. I have to catch you.”

“Dum bel.”

“I can't just do that, either. I gotta talk to my team about it.”

Vee!” snapped Ben, and several sparks rose from his fur.

Moon looked from Ben to the Beldum, conflicted. On the one hand, the Beldum really seemed to want to come with her; on the other hand, Ben appeared to be virulently anti-Beldum... and it hadn't actually been that long since she'd gotten hold of Macbeth. It was true that Puck's and Ariel's evolutions had mellowed them out considerably, and Ben was decidedly more mature as a Jolteon than he'd been as an Eevee; but it was still a big adjustment to make and Moon didn't think they were quite ready. Macbeth would take a while to adjust to a new teammate as well— despite being big and powerful, she was still shy.

“I don't think he can be reasoned with,” said Moon, indicating Ben. “I really can't train you. I'm sorry.”

“Bel bel.”

The Beldum, oddly enough, didn't seem upset by this. It merely regarded Moon with a stoic expression.

After a few moments of awkward staring, Moon turned back to Ben. “Right. So, let's keep training.”

Ben sniffed haughtily, still glaring at the Beldum; but he seemed content now that Moon had said she wasn't going to add it to the team. He turned away and began looking for something else to fight.

It was not until a few battles later that Moon noticed that the Beldum was still watching them. It seemed to stare equally at Moon and Ben, seemingly observing the battles. Moon was about to tell it to go away, but it would probably be better if she didn't draw Ben's attention to it. She did, however, begin to watch it more closely.

It didn't seem angry about the rejection. It merely watched. If Moon had thought that the Beldum was capable of harming her or her teammates, she might have found it creepy; but its expression remained solemn and neutral, and it seemed to be watching Ben train.

She finished with Ben and brought out Macbeth— watching the Beldum as she did so. It blinked several times at Macbeth, who blinked back.

“It's okay,” Moon reassured Macbeth. “Ben fought this little one already, and it wanted to come with us but I don't think it's a good idea. It's just watching us now.”

Macbeth blinked a few more times, then shrugged. “Pod goli.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. It's not doing any harm by watching.”

“Bel bel,” called the Beldum. Moon shouldn't have been surprised by this— they were talking about it more or less to its face, after all.

“Um, you're welcome, I guess?”

“Who's welcome?” asked Hau, walking downhill toward them. Lillie was with him.

Moon pointed at the Beldum, which bobbed politely up and down in greeting.

“That's a Beldum, right?”

“Yeah. We defeated it and it actually wanted to come with us, but Ben threw a hissy fit so I had to turn it down. It's kind of just been watching me train.”

“Weird.” Hau scratched his head, considering the Beldum. “It doesn't want revenge or something, right?”

“No, I don't think so.”

They resumed training. Macbeth was heavy, and made the ground vibrate as often as Hau's Rumble did; but the Beldum floated about eighteen inches from the ground and didn't seem bothered by anything. It even held still while Lillie scanned it, adding an entry to Professor Kukui's Pokédex through the app on her phone.

“What should we do for dinner?” she asked, tucking her phone back into her pocket. “It's getting to be about that time, isn't it?”

“There's a little place on the strip mall that does a whole bunch of different kinds of noodle soups,” suggested Hau. “They do ramen, saimin, pho, udon, jjamppong...”

Moon raised one eyebrow, intrigued. “I've never even heard of half of those.”

“They're all good. I've had just about everything there. Our family usually goes when we visit Gram.”

“I like pho,” said Moon decisively. “We should go there.”

They finished up their training and began walking uphill. Moon glanced back at the Beldum; it was still watching her.

“Bye,” she called.

It merely blinked a few times, but said nothing.

The noodle shop, as Hau had said, was fantastic. Moon had pho— she'd had it a few times in Kanto and liked it a lot. Lillie ventured a bit out of her comfort zone to try something called saimin, a dish native to Alola. And Hau's order of jjamppong was spicy— Moon could smell it from across the table, and the broth was bright red.

“I'm guessing you enjoyed Mallow's trial,” she said dryly, reminded of the rare-Bone minestrone.

“It was fantastic,” said Hau solemnly, pressing one hand to his heart. “I've never had a soup so good in my life. And the battle with Tsareena was fun.”

“Oh, you fought the Tsareena? I got the Lurantis. Luck of the draw, I guess.”

Hau blinked at her. “You fought a different Totem?”

“Well, yeah. Most of the trials have two, I think— it's pretty random who you get.”

“Which ones have you fought?”

“Um— Raticate, Araquanid, Marowak, and Lurantis.”

“I didn't fight any of those!” said Hau, wide-eyed. “I fought Gumshoos, Wishiwashi, Salazzle, and Tsareena... wow. I guess it really is random.”

“I wonder what the Totems will be for this trial. What type do you think it is?”

“I dunno.” Hau frowned. “If Kahuna Olivia wasn't a Rock-type specialist, I would guess Rock... and we got the Flying crystal on Melemele, which would be my second guess. I suppose Steel or Psychic could work— or even Fairy. I think the trial has to connect to the observatory somehow, since they're in the same building.”

“Good point.”

After dinner, it was a short walk back to the Pokémon Center— which was uneventful until a loud banging sound echoed from around the side of the building.

Moon, Hau, and Lillie glanced at each other, alarmed; but Moon had Rotom turn on a bright white light and they went around to investigate.

A trash can by the kitchen entrance had been knocked over, and a familiar cylindrical Pokémon was nudging its head through the trash.

“What are you doing?” asked Moon.

The Beldum looked up. She had no way of knowing whether or not it was the same one— at least, not until it promptly zoomed toward her, doing figure eights around her legs.

“Is that the same one?”

Moon sighed. “Apparently.”

“It's kind of cute,” said Lillie, laughing. “It likes you so much it's following you around. I wish Nebby did that, instead of wandering off every opportunity she gets.”

Moon sighed again, squatting to look at the Beldum. “Don't eat trash,” she said sternly. “Knocking over trash cans is kind of a dick move, you know. Someone's going to have to pick that back up, and it won't be you because you don't even have hands.”

The Beldum turned to look at the mess on the ground; it suddenly went very still, and then the trash flew up into the air and back down into the trash can, which righted itself at once.

“Right,” said Hau thoughtfully. “A Psychic-type.”

“Bel?”

“No, you can't come with me,” repeated Moon. “Here— do you like Pokébeans? You can have some of mine.”

She dug in her backpack for one of the Poké Pelago sacks— the pale-blue beans were the first ones she found so she opened it and scattered some over the ground.

“Dum dum bel.”

“Sure, you're welcome. When you're done eating, go back to your home, okay?”

“Bel.”

They left the Beldum eating happily, but Moon was not quite convinced that it was the last she would see of the Pokémon.

As it turned out, she was correct.

When she and Hau and Lillie left the Pokémon Center the next morning, she was greeted with a cheerful chiming noise. The Beldum had evidently slept right outside the door. It followed them back down to the tall grass, watching as the three of them trained.

When they made the trek back up to the Pokémon Center for lunch, the Beldum followed. It even went inside with them, sitting by Moon's ankles. Ben was hissing and spitting at it— to the point that sparks were jumping off his fur and charging Moon's clothes and hair with static. She didn't have all that much hair to begin with, but what she did have stood on end. Moon eventually had to put Ben back in his ball so that the rest of them could eat in peace. Macbeth ignored the Beldum, as did Puck— the former neutrally, the latter disdainfully. Ariel seemed curious, pecking lightly at the Beldum in a polite request for information that was answered with beeps and boops.

The Beldum followed them back down the hill for afternoon training. It followed them back up the hill again when they went to the Pokémon Center for dinner and bed. It followed Moon the next morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that— until an entire five days had passed.

“Seriously, I'm not catching you. You should go,” said Moon, frowning at the Beldum as she got ready to go downstairs for breakfast on the sixth morning. She'd invited it inside after the first night it had spent out-of-doors— she didn't want anyone to take advantage of it, even if she wasn't going to catch it.

It blinked. “Bel.”

“Arceus, you're stubborn.”

She did her best to ignore it— on the second day she'd had a talk with her teammates, specifically Ben, about doing the same. The result was a Jolteon that didn't spark so much as it did sulk, and the other three members of her team were taking it in turns to stare at the Beldum in patient confusion.

Moon sighed and turned to Lillie, who was looking at her phone. “What's on the docket today?”

“Professor Kukui is introducing us to the trial captain's cousin,” said Lillie. “He's been very busy lately— something about repairing a machine for the trial. But he has free time today and wants to meet us.”

“Oh, cool.”

After breakfast, they walked uphill to the observatory— the Beldum trailing Moon closely. Nebby kept peering out of the bag, staring at the Beldum— they were both Psychic types, so perhaps she had sensed the stranger.

Professor Kukui was waiting for them at the doors, along with a tall, thin man with messy, curly hair. “Hello!” he called, waving happily. “Come meet my friend, he's excited to meet the challengers!”

“Hey there,” said the tall man. His gaze flicked from Moon to Hau to Lillie, and then down to the Beldum; a bright smile appeared on his face, eyes nearly disappearing with happiness. “And who does this little cutie belong to?”

“None of us,” sighed Moon. “It's stalking me. I defeated it six days ago and it's been following me ever since.”

He looked up, raising an eyebrow at her. “It must want to go with you.”

“It asked me after I beat it. I wouldn't mind, but my teammates are really, really temperamental— especially my Jolteon, which has decided he hates Beldum. I have to prioritize them, you know?”

“That's fair,” said the man, with a nod. “Well, be prepared to see it for a long time— Beldum tend to be pretty persistent.” He stuck his hand out for Moon to shake. “The name's Molayne. I'm a friend of Maleko's— I took my island challenge a few years before he took his.”

“Molayne was my role model when I was growing up,” laughed Professor Kukui. “And he used to be the trial captain here, but he's recently retired from the position.”

“Yeah, little Soffy will do just fine.” Molayne shook Hau's hand as well as Lillie's, sticking his hands in his jacket pockets. “Well, Maleko— introduce them to me.”

“Oh, yeah! This is Lillie, my assistant— she's not doing her challenge yet, she's not quite old enough.”

Molayne raised one eyebrow. “You couldn't have gotten kahuna permission? Soffy, Ace, and Hapu are all underage.”

“We discussed Lillie's situation already,” said Professor Kukui, without missing a beat.

“Ah, right. Makes sense.”

“This is Hau— he's Hala's grandson, but he's a fantastic Trainer on his own, yeah! And this is Moon. She's Hau's second cousin and Hala's great-niece, and she moved here from Kanto in the summer— just in time to start her island challenge.”

“Very nice to meet you all.” Molayne grinned and pulled his hands out of his pockets, clenched in fists. “I haven't got anything for you, Lillie— sorry about that. Hau, Moon, hold out your hands.”

Moon, puzzled, stuck her hands out. Hau did the same. Molayne opened his fists, and two shining grey crystals fell into their hands.

“Whoa!” said Hau, bringing the crystal up to peer at it. “Which one is this?”

“That's Steelium Z.” Molayne's eyes flicked down to the Beldum again, then back to Moon. “Maybe you'll reconsider this little cutie; it sure seems to like you, and once it evolves it should be able to use Corkscrew Crash. Let me show you the steps.”

He demonstrated the dance for them. The Beldum whizzed in a figure eight around Moon's ankles once more.

“We don't have to fight you for it?” Moon tucked Steelium Z into her Z-Ring with the rest of her crystals.

“Oh, I'm sure you'll be battling me sooner or later,” said Molayne vaguely, but his eyes were twinkling with amusement. “Emphasis on later, if you know what I mean. Well, Maleko, have you done any Battle Royals recently? What's your little alter ego called again—”

“Well, I'm sure Moon and Hau and Lillie have training to do for the trial!” said Professor Kukui loudly, bringing his arm down heavily on Molayne's shoulder. “And I think Sophocles wanted you to take a look at the Ping 2.0 and see if you couldn't spruce it up a little bit. He wants to take some stuff from the Ping 1.0.”

“But the Ping 1.0 was way too powerful, it was putting out like a bajillion volts per second...”

They went back into the observatory, Molayne's argument fading into silence.

“He's acknowledged Professor Kukui as the Masked Royal, and is therefore my new hero,” said Moon, after a few moments. “And Steelium Z is neat. I might try it on Puck— I gave him Steel Wing just before we left Akala Island.”

That's what you took out of that conversation?” said Hau, amused.

“Hey, I just think the whole pretending that the Professor isn't the Masked Royal thing is kind of dumb.” Moon crossed her arms. “What's wrong with acknowledging it?”

“I'm just saying, you literally probably met one of the future Elite Four and you're talking about the Professor's alter ego—”

“Wait, what?”

“Professor Kukui is the one organizing the League,” said Hau patiently. “It doesn't really make sense to have the kahunas be the Elite Four— they've got duties on their own islands, and making trips out to Lanakila Island every time there's a challenger is pretty inconvenient. So he's got the kahunas to stand in for now, but he probably wants to have separate Elite Four members. Molayne's one of the older trial captains, so it makes sense to ask him and put in a new one— Professor Kukui would probably default to asking Trainers he knows well first. And Molayne was just saying he'd battle with us sooner or later, which seems like a pretty direct hint.”

“That makes sense to me,” agreed Lillie.

“Huh. I wonder who else he's going to ask. I haven't met any other type specialists who weren't also trial captains.”

They began walking back downhill to the Pokémon Center— the Beldum still trailing Moon.

“I guess we can cancel out Steel for this trial,” mused Hau. “You think it's Psychic, maybe?”

“It would be kind of fitting, especially since you can find Beldum and that little UFO Pokémon around here.”

“Elgyem, bzzt,” supplied Rotom from Moon's pocket.

“Yeah, that one. Thanks.”

“No problem, bzzt.”

“I don't think it's Psychic, actually,” said Lillie. Moon glanced at her, surprised; it was rare that Lillie disagreed with either of them, even on something as small as this. “Places that are frequented by Psychic-type Pokémon tend to have more of an... aura, I suppose. Something of the arcane or the mystical. Mount Hokulani is a beautiful place, but it's very technologically advanced. It might look magical, but it's actually mundane.”

“If you're thinking technology, maybe it's Electric?”

“We haven't seen very many Electric-types around here,” pointed out Moon.

“There's been a few Elekid, I think.”

“And that's it. I don't think it could possibly be Electric.”

Moon and Hau planned on challenging the trial, whatever it was, the next day. They had both trained hard over the last week so they decided to take the day off to relax. Moon took her teammates— and by extension the Beldum— up to the lookout point to show them Mount Lanakila and the scenery of Ula'ula Island.

“See, isn't it pretty?” Moon pointed at the distant mountain, then at the lush greenery in the far west and the red rock canyons to the south.

“Hoo deci?” inquired Puck.

“Good question. We'll go to the canyons first, and then maybe to the green places. And then we'll have to go to Poni Island, but after that we'll come back here and climb the mountain. Hopefully by then, we'll have an Alolan Pokémon League, and—”

She found herself choking up. It hadn't been too hard to hold back the tears when Professor Kukui had first told her about it, but it was still fairly hypothetical at that point. The Elite Four had been vague, shadowy images in her mind instead of solid names like Will, Koga, Bruno, and Karen... but now that she'd met Molayne, it was starting to feel a bit more real.

Puck's wings wrapped around her then, and she felt Ariel ducking beneath them to press against her side. Macbeth, with Ben perched in her claws, shuffled closer— and a nudge against her shoe told her that the Beldum had approached as well.

“We'll be Champions,” she told her team, with a couple of hearty sniffles. “I always dreamed of this, but I never— I never thought I'd be able to do it. We were poor in Kanto— we were so poor. I can mend clothes— hell, I can almost sew them from scratch. We used to live on rice and porridge and ramen, and my mom's Meowth had to have cheap kibble because we couldn't afford beans or frozen Magikarp. I used to do my homework at the library every day because we didn't have a computer at home. My laptop computer was a present from my parents that was my birthday and Christmas the year before this one. We only got it because I needed it for school.”

She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “And I know I broke their hearts, my parents.” It was hard to admit it out loud, because she'd only ever thought these things in the quiet of her own mind— though her mind was no longer as quiet as it used to be. “I know I broke their hearts, because I had such big dreams about being a Trainer and having at least like, a pet Nidoran or something, before I went on my own journey. It would have to be really fucking awful to tell your kid they can't have something they've been dreaming of forever because you couldn't afford it. I couldn't help wanting it, and I know it hurt them to tell me no. We were so lucky that Dad got that job offer. If he hadn't, I'd never have met any of you. I'd be in Kalos, studying literature with maybe a pet Fletchling for company. I'd be so... I'd be so alone.”

Moon's voice caught, because all she could think of now was the times she had been alone.

She'd had her parents and Meowth, but all everyone talked about at school was Pokémon, Pokémon, Pokémon, and when you knew you couldn't ever have something like that— well, you had to pull away, so you wouldn't break your heart every day. She'd had Red and Blue— more because she'd been an annoying kid who had forced her way into their lives and refused to leave, than because they'd actually wanted her around. But even they left, eventually; and then they stopped crime and became famous and they had each other, and they remembered Moon and loved her but she was still alone.

“Thank you for helping me to not be so alone,” she said finally.

“Cana tou, cana,” chanted Ariel, hopping up to the back of the bench where they sat to rest her beak on Moon's head.

“Goli,” said Macbeth softly.

Ben said nothing, even after a pause where Moon waited for him to speak. She looked at him, and realized that his attention had been drawn to something behind her.

She turned around her and surprise, more than anything, made her breath catch.

A thin figure in black, with white-blond hair, was walking away from her at a quick pace— slouched over, hands crammed in pockets. She would know Gladion anywhere.

But there was only a slight pang in her heart— a fondness for the conversations where she had laughed and taken silly pictures of herself, the first time she'd ever really liked someone. That had been nice— but she was all right without it, too.

She was all right without a lot of things. She'd been all right without a lot of things in Kanto, and she was all right without them now. The really important things were right around her and back in the Pokémon Center (pining over each other, but nobody had heard that from Moon) and over at the power plant and back in the little blue house on Melemele Island. The really important things were the people and the Pokémon that had grown to become her family.

“Think we're ready for that trial?” she asked presently, turning back around to look at Mount Lanakila again.

Puck bobbed his head in a nod, and Ariel let out a loud, pretty trill. Ben and Macbeth also answered in the affirmative.

“Bel,” said the Beldum.

“I wasn't really asking you, but sure.” Moon chuckled and got to her feet. “Let's go back to the Pokémon Center. We can watch a terrible movie and eat candy or something equally unhealthy. Sometimes you just need to indulge after a good cry, and I can't think of anything better to do today before we challenge Captain Sophocles.”

They followed her back to the Pokémon Center— including the Beldum, though it kept its distance from Ben. Considering Ben's distaste for the wild Pokémon, Moon didn't blame it in the slightest.

 

Chapter Text

Moon wouldn't have minded waking up to gentle coos and humming from her Pokémon, but it often happened that the things she wouldn't have minded were nothing more than wishful thinking. Instead she woke to screeching, snarling, the crackle of electricity, and a smell of singed fabric.

Ben had spotted the Beldum, which Moon had allowed to sleep in the room with them; and he was not happy with its presence. The Beldum took his attacks without so much as flinching, merely gazing at him with its solemn red eye. Macbeth was curled up in a ball by the door to the bathroom, and Puck and Ariel were standing in front of her.

Ben,” said Moon flatly.

Ben froze in place for several seconds before turning to look at her.

“No.” She picked him up by the scruff, wincing at the jolt that rushed through her arm. “The Beldum didn't do anything to hurt you, but you went ahead and attacked it anyway. That's mean. Plus you're scaring Macbeth.”

Ben wiggled around to stare at Macbeth, who lifted her head slightly from where she'd pulled her neck down into her shell.

“Liso,” she murmured.

Ben let out a soft sigh and hung limply from Moon's hand. She set him back down on the ground.

“Apologize to the Beldum.”

The fur on Ben's back stood on end as he hissed angrily, glaring first at the Beldum and then at Moon.

“Bel bel...”

“No, he has to apologize. You didn't do anything, and it's not right for him to just attack you for existing.”

Moon folded her arms and waited, raising her eyebrows at Ben.

It was nearly a whole minute of silence before he sighed again. “Veeon,” he mumbled sulkily.

“See, that wasn't so hard. Hop up on the bed and calm down.”

“He really doesn't like that Beldum, does he?” commented Lillie, from her bed.

“Oh, did we wake you up? I'm sorry about that.”

“Don't worry, I should have been getting up anyway.”

Moon got dressed and dragged her team downstairs to be fed— the Beldum trailed along after them, so she pretended that she wasn't feeding the Beldum by “accidentally” purchasing an extra packet of beans and “accidentally” dropping them on the floor.

“You're not subtle,” snickered Hau.

“What am I supposed to do, let it starve? I'm not catching it, but I don't want to just ignore it, either.”

“Jol veeon,” mumbled Ben, glaring at the Beldum.

“You shush,” said Moon, frowning at him. “The only way I can tell it what to do is to capture it, and you don't want me to do that so we're at an impasse. Suck it up and deal.”

She felt bad the moment the words left her mouth, but was surprised when Ben blinked several times, then turned away from the Beldum and moodily applied himself to his breakfast.

After breakfast, Moon, Hau, and Lillie packed up their teams and made their way to Hokulani Observatory. Lillie was hoping to watch their trials, even though she wasn't on her own island challenge— Professor Kukui had suggested it, and said that neither Captain Sophocles nor Molayne would mind.

All they knew about Captain Sophocles was that he was Molayne's cousin and that he was underage. Moon had really no idea what to expect, but she definitely did not expect a slightly chubby, rather short teenager with curly hair and a serious expression, waiting for them in the observatory lobby with Molayne.

“Hi,” he said, and immediately cleared his throat. “Hi.” The second time was deeper. Moon fought the urge to giggle; that would be really mean. “I'm Captain Sophocles. Um— welcome to the observatory. We're not quite ready for you yet. The Charjabug need to eat so we can set everything up.”

“Honk honk honk honk!”

Moon turned and immediately flinched back, stumbling into Hau and Lillie. There were nine Charjabug sitting on the ground, scooting towards them.

“Arceus f—”

“Mind your language, thanks,” said Molayne briskly, but he was grinning. “Soffy's an impressionable young man. Maleko mentioned you weren't fond of Bugs.”

“Yeah, I'm really... not.”

“She has a Golisopod,” said Hau in a loud whisper.

“Shut up, Macbeth is an exception to every known law of the universe.”

“Um— I'll just let them out to eat,” mumbled Sophocles, slipping past them and opening the door,

“Honk honk!” chorused the Charjabug, scooting out the door.

“Nice to see you all again,” said Molayne, nodding. “And I see the little cutie is still following you around, Moon. Sure you don't want to catch it? Beldum's a great Pokémon— has a lot of potential.”

“Considering the temper tantrum my Jolteon threw this morning just because the Beldum exists, I'm going to have to pass.”

Sophocles allowed the door to close behind the Charjabug. There was another Pokémon trailing him— a small, fat gray rodent with yellow and brown marks on its back.

“What Pokémon is this, Captain Sophocles?” Lillie asked, kneeling down to get a closer look.

Sophocles went bright red. “Um— that's a Togemaru. I mean, a Togedemaru. Mine's named Togemaru... that's confusing. Sorry.” The last few words trailed off into a mumble.

“Togedemaru is an Electric- and Steel-type Pokémon, bzzt,” offered Moon's Rotom, slipping out of her pocket. “The spikes on its back usually lay flat, but can also act as lightning rods to power up its attacks. Togedemaru do not naturally produce much electricity, and often increase their power by seeking out thunderstorms and other sources of electricity.”

“Yeah, that,” murmured Sophocles, but he was staring at Rotom with something like hunger in his eyes. “Um— that's a Rotom-Dex, right?”

“Yep. You want to see it?”

“S-sure.”

“Oh, you've made his day,” remarked Molayne, grinning when Sophocles shot him an injured look.

Moon passed Sophocles the Rotom Dex. To her surprise, Sophocles immediately flipped it over, examining the back and the casing rather than interacting with Rotom.

“Whatcha looking at, bzzt?”

“Oh! Um— I'm sorry, I just, I've never seen one before and I wanted to see what the casing is like. It was developed by Clemont, wasn't it?'

“One and the same, bzzt,” confirmed Rotom. “Though I think he got a couple ideas from Colress, and Silph Co. is in charge of the production and machining anyway.”

“Right, yeah. It's got that Silph Co. feel...” mumbled Sophocles, his eyes losing their focus. “High-quality plastic. Wish I could see the circuits, though.”

“Check in the developer options menu, bzzt—there's probably a spec somewhere in there.”

Sophocles turned Rotom back over, fingers sliding and tapping expertly on the screen. A menu that Moon had never seen before popped up, and then suddenly Rotom was projecting a three-dimensional image in the air, with blue lights and lines.

“What's that?” said Hau, peering at it.

“A diagram of the inner circuitry of the Dex body, bzzt,” explained Rotom. “I suppose you could compare it to an X-ray, though with me inside that doesn't seem quite right...”

There was indeed a sort of pulsing purple aura, something nebulous and undefined around the sharp blue lights and straight lines.

“Just a picture, then?” suggested Lillie.

“Not with the casing. Er— not to make things awkward, but I think the best comparison would be a nude portrait, bzzt.”

“Wow, Rotom,” said Moon dryly, as Sophocles furiously swiped his hand through the diagram to close it, and shoved the Dex back at Moon. His face was Cherrim-red. “You definitely made things awkward, good job.”

“I think the Charjabug should be done feeding now,” announced Sophocles. “I'm gonna go get them be right back!”

He was mostly out of the door by the time he finished the sentence.

“Sorry,” said Moon to Molayne.

“Eh, don't be sorry.” Molayne shrugged. “Soffy's a sweet kid but he's awkward— which I guess happens when you're an engineering and programming prodigy. He graduated from high school early and he's doing college through Celadon University, but he doesn't get out much. Not that I set a good example for him, or anything. Most of the time we stay in and play video games.”

“How old is he?”

“Sixteen. Doesn't look it, does he? Graduated last year, just before his fifteenth birthday.” Molayne's voice was full of pride. “He's a great kid, and a great trial captain. I'm still helping him with some of the administrative stuff, but he's taken to building the trial like a Ducklett to water.”

The door opened again, and Sophocles stuck his head in. He seemed a bit more composed. “Um, Big Mo? I found Onejabug through Sixjabug, but Sevenjabug, Eightjabug, and Ninejabug haven't come back yet.”

“Of course they haven't.” Molayne rolled his eyes. “Well, let's go find them. Come on, guys— consider this extra credit for the trial.”

“It's a pass-fail trial,” pointed out Hau.

“Well, when you put it like that, it takes all the fun out of it.” But Molayne's eyes were twinkling.

There was a patch of dirt that was separated from the rest of Mount Hokulani by the road, which wrapped around it in a circle— likely the turnaround point for the buses— and by a small wooden fence, which would be entirely useless at keeping anything out or in. There were six Charjabug lined up by one of the fence posts.

“Moon, Hau— you check in the bushes in the feeding patch,” suggested Molayne. “And Miss Lillie, you go with Soffy and check over by the Pokémon Center. They might've smelled something tasty.”

“Sure,” said Lillie, offering Sophocles an encouraging smile. He went bright red again, jamming his hands in his pockets.

Hau frowned, watching them walk down the hill together. “I'm not sure I like that,” he said under his breath.

“I'm pretty sure you have even less competition with him than Lillie does with that Danielle girl.”

“That's not the same thing at all!”

“Oh, isn't it?” Moon rolled her eyes. “We're looking for Bugs. Focus.”

Molayne leaned on the fence post with the Charjabugs wiggling at his feet— one was crawling up the side of his leg, but he didn't seem to notice. “Beautiful day, isn't it?” he said cheerfully. “I don't really blame Sevenjabug, Eightjabug, and Ninejabug— I wouldn't want to go back inside either.”

“Oh, I think I found one.” Hau reached into a bush and pulled out a Charjabug, which honked indignantly at being manhandled by a stranger.

“Oh, quit whining, Eightjabug. You've got two trials lined up today, you'll have plenty of time to play later.”

“How do you know which one it is?”

“We put a bit of nail polish on their shells with the number.” Molayne turned the Charjabug around to show them a tiny eight painted in black on its back. “They don't have any limbs long enough to tie things around, but their shells aren't too absorbent so as long as we clean them off with acetone once a week, they're fine. Soffy's working on something a bit more eco-friendly, but it's one of a bajillion projects he's got going on so it could be a while before we can fix it.”

Moon found a Charjabug of her own, attempting to burrow into the ground. She gritted her teeth, reached out, and pulled the Bug out of the hole. “Gross, gross, gross,” she muttered, holding it gingerly away from her body and handing it to Molayne.

“And that's... Ninejabug. Of course it's Sevenjabug that's still missing— he's the troublemaker of the bunch.” Molayne rolled his eyes, pulling a phone out of his pocket. “He wouldn't have gone to the Pokémon Center— knows we'd look for him there. I'll call Soffy and tell him to come back up. You two keep looking for Sevenjabug.”

Sevenjabug didn't seem to be in the patch of dirt at all— there weren't many places to hide and Moon and Hau had checked all of them. Hau went to check by the flower garden outside of the senior center, and Moon searched over by the bus stop.

She caught a glimpse of something green and wiggly vanishing under the bus, and knew she'd found her quarry. She considered for a few moments, kneeling down to peer underneath. The bus was too low to the ground for her to fit underneath. Ben might fit, but it was a tight squeeze.

“Bel bel,” said the Beldum abruptly.

Moon had forgotten about her erstwhile stalker in the search for the Charjabugs. “Think you can corral the little bug under there? Get him out for me?” she asked it.

“Bel dum bel.” The Beldum slid easily beneath the bus, and soon the Charjabug hastily scooted out into Moon's waiting arms.

“Gotcha,” she said, grimacing. “Arceus, I hate Bugs. Not you personally, just in general.”

Lillie and Sophocles had returned by the time she deposited the Charjabug into Molayne's now very full arms. The other six honked happily at the sight of their friends, and they all made their way back inside.

“Okay,” said Sophocles. His Togedemaru began herding the Charjabug toward a back door. “It'll be just a few more minutes. Um, which of you are doing the trial again?”

“That'd be us,” said Hau, indicating himself and Moon.

“Right. Um— you're Hau, and you're Moon.” Sophocles flushed, at Moon's raised eyebrow. “Big Mo told me your names. It's not— I'm not being weird.”

“Not at all, dude,” Moon assured him.

He nodded quickly, rushing into the back room.

“Ah, to be young and romantic,” murmured Molayne.

Moon blinked at him. “What does that mean?”

“Oh, nothing.”

A few minutes later, Sophocles emerged with the Togedemaru at his heels. “Okay,” he said, with a firm nod. “I'm ready for you to do the trial. Come on back.”

“Both of us?”

“Sure,” said Molayne easily. “We're not so fussed about ceremony up here on the mountain.”

“Fire-water-grass to see who goes first?” suggested Hau, turning to Moon.

“You're on.”

Hau lost with fire to Moon's water, and therefore had to go first. Sophocles and Molayne led them through a gleaming chrome hallway, turning a corner to a slightly less gleaming hallway packed high with cardboard boxes full of junk. One box was filled to the brim with actual nuts and bolts; another revealed a smooth, shiny metal ball half hidden by packing peanuts. It was past the boxes that Moon spotted a doorway painted with the colorful, triangular pattern of the island challenge— yellow, pink, red, and purple.

Moon and Lillie were directed to sit on a comfy-looking sofa in one corner of the room; the Beldum settled at Moon's feet, next to her backpack. Judging from the sticky rings on the low table in front of them, Sophocles and Molayne both did a lot of work here— some of the rings looked like coffee, others like soda.

“I want to buy them some coasters,” she said to Lillie under her breath. Her friend hid a smile behind one hand— which meant she thought it was funny, but also believed it would be rude to laugh. Lillie, reflected Moon, was really too good for this world.

The room was mostly occupied by a large table with a grid on it— it appeared to be a machine of some kind, judging by the wires that led to another machine. A metallic model of a Pokémon that Moon didn't recognize dangled from the top, with rods pointing straight at the model.

“All right,” said Sophocles, after fiddling with a few dials on the second machine. His Togedemaru sat obediently at his feet. “Um, welcome to the trial of Mount Hokulani. It's, um, an Electric-type trial.”

Hau turned around to look at Moon, raising his eyebrows. “What was that you were saying yesterday about how this couldn't possibly be an Electric-type trial?”

“Hey, I'm allowed to be wrong sometimes!”

“And I'm allowed to savor it, since it's a pretty rare occurrence.”

Moon opened her mouth, then closed it again. “That's either a really backhanded compliment or a really kind insult and I don't know which,” she said grumpily, crossing her arms.

Sophocles cleared his throat. “Um, the trial?”

“Yes, sorry.” Hau turned back around.

“Right. So, um, the table you see before you is called the Roller. It's a puzzle. There are switches at the corners which will rotate the squares— which will have the Charjabug sitting on them. Your job is to rotate the Charjabug until you can get them in a straight line that I'll mark on the board— think of it as lining up batteries inside of a remote control.”

“Literally, because Charjabugs are living batteries,” added Molayne.

“Yeah, that.” Sophocles nodded. He seemed to be more comfortable explaining the trial; Moon guessed that he was more in his element here than he was outside. “So I'll give you three at a time to work with. Anyway, the Charjabugs, when correctly aligned on the Roller, will provide power to the machine over here.” He patted it gently, and the metallic model swayed with the motion. “This is the Pinger— well, the Totem Ping 2.0, to be exact. The 1.0... was problematic.”

“It shot the power to the entire observatory as well as the senior center,” explained Molayne. “Overloaded everything. We're lucky the senior center had backup generators— some of them are on life support, and all.”

“Yeah, thanks for reminding me that my failures can kill people,” muttered Sophocles, flushing. “Real nice of you, Big Mo.”

Molayne coughed. “But you know, the 2.0 has been working bee-you-ti-fully. Absolutely no complaints here, all the praise and kudos to you. You've worked really hard.”

The flush on Sophocles' face deepened from pink to beetroot. “Um, okay, moving on,” he mumbled. “So the Charjabug on the Roller will power the Pinger, which will hopefully call the Totem. It usually takes a couple of tries, and you'll probably summon wild Pokémon instead.”

“I expected something like that,” said Hau, nodding. “I'm no good at puzzles, but this sounds fun. Lay it on me, dude.”

“Um— okay.”

Molayne moved off to the side, sitting down backwards on a metal folding chair.

It was an interesting puzzle. Moon suspected that the puzzle would be changed for her, which was why Molayne and Sophocles were lax about letting her watch. Three of the Charjabug (Onejabug, Twojabug, and Threejabug, at Sophocles' insistence) were placed on the Roller table, and Hau poked at the switches to move them around until he got them in a straight line.

“Okay, is that right?” he said, looking at Sophocles.

Sophocles nodded. “There's a large button on the floor over here,” he said, pointing to a tape-marked square between Molayne's chair and the Pinger machine. “Step on it, and we'll see if we can summon the Totem with this much power.”

“Got it.”

Hau stepped on the button, and bright golden crackles of electricity began running through the Charjabug, which vibrated excitedly. The power raced through the cables to the Pinger, and the dangling metal Pokémon model began to vibrate.

“Bel bel,” said the Beldum, beginning to creep forward.

“Restrain it,” said Molayne, a touch sharply. “I don't want the little cutie involved in the trial at all.”

Moon grabbed the Beldum— it was heavier than it looked, because it levitated about eighteen inches off the ground most of the time and she had assumed it was lighter.

“Ele kee!”

And Hau was facing off against an Elekid, which Moon had kind of expected— they were the only Electric-types one could find on Mount Hokulani. It was an easy win for Hau; he'd taught Bulldoze to Rumble and the move was super-effective.

“All right, let's add three more.”

Fourjabug, Fivejabug, and Sixjabug were loaded onto the Roller, and Hau did his best to create another straight circuit. This one was perpendicular to the first; they met at the corner and went through one wire to the next. The Pinger vibrated and whirred; the next battle was an Electabuzz— which was logical as well, since Elekid evolved into Electabuzz.

“All right,” said Sophocles, brow furrowed. “This last one will be a little trickier, but I think you can do it.”

He lit up a diagonal line on the Roller, so that Sevenjabug, Eightjabug, and Ninejabug would form a triangle with the first six when properly aligned. Hau flipped the switches until he got the triangle, and the power surged through the wires to where the metallic Pokémon model was bobbing up and down, beeping loudly.

“Oh, that's the Totem!” said Sophocles happily. “Great job, Hau. This is a balanced, reliable circuit pattern, and the Totem should be approaching any second—”

Vika!”

“Perfect!”

“Oh, fuck no!” squeaked Moon, burrowing into Lillie to hide. Lillie laughed sympathetically.

The Totem that faced Hau was an enormous version of the metallic model that dangled from the Pinger— a beetle, with huge, vibrating saw-teeth that snapped together like a vice.

“Language,” said Molayne lazily from his folding chair.

“That's a Totem-sized Vikavolt, bzzt,” piped up Rotom. “The final evolution stage of Grubbin and Charjabug. It's Bug- and Electric-typed. They're fast, vicious, and full of powerful electricity.”

“You're biased, you're an Electric type,” said Moon crossly.

Hau seemed to be considering his options, frowning slightly at the Totem. He'd begun with Rumble and used Bulldoze on the Elekid and the Electabuzz, but considering the Vikavolt's Levitation, Bulldoze probably wouldn't work again. Moon wasn't sure what Hau would do— she wasn't fully updated on his team's moveset.

Eventually, however, he brought out Ollie. This made sense— Ollie was a Fire-type, which was strong to Bugs. Moon watched as Hau directed Ollie around the battlefield. The Vikavolt summoned two Charjabug to assist it, but Ollie was more than a match for all of them, thanks to Fire Fang. The Vikavolt was fast, but it didn't have anything that directly countered Fire-types.

“Congratulations,” said Sophocles, when the Totem vanished into the corners of the room— it had likely made a nest for itself among all of the cardboard boxes. Moon would have been too creeped out at the thought to work in the room at all, but Molayne and Sophocles clearly didn't mind it. “Here's your Electrium Z, Hau. If you don't mind waiting, I'll teach you and Moon the dance for Gigavolt Havoc at the same time, after her trial?”

“Not at all,” said Hau cheerfully, accepting the yellow crystal. “I'm going to give this to Uila right away.”

He took Moon's place on the couch next to Lillie, and Moon left her backpack with them.

“Bel bel?”

“Absolutely not,” said Moon firmly, frowning at the Beldum. “You're not part of my team. I don't mind that you're following me, and you're kind of cute when you're not staring creepily through my soul; but this is an important battle and I need to rely on my teammates.”

“Bel,” sighed the Beldum, returning to sit by Moon's backpack.

“Be sure and hang onto it once she starts powering up the Pinger,” said Molayne, addressing Hau and Lillie. “The Pinger sends a signal to all the wild Pokémon in the area that share a typing with one or the other of the Totems, and Beldum does happen to share a typing with the other one.”

“And what typing would that be?” inquired Moon.

“If you get the other Totem, you'll find out, nosy.” Molayne snickered at her, folding his arms. “Let's see how you do.”

“Right,” said Sophocles. He turned to face Moon, but he was looking at her shoes rather than her face. He had managed to make eye contact with Hau a few times, but Moon was beginning to suspect that Sophocles was rather inexperienced at talking to girls. “Um, do you need me to explain how the trial works again? Or do you remember how it goes from my explanation to Hau?”

“I remember,” said Moon.

“Okay. Let me just clear the Charjabug from the table, and we can start.”

“Togemar,” said Sophocles' Togedemaru, peering up at the Charjabug.

“It'll be okay,” said Sophocles reassuringly. “They like the extra electricity— don't you, guys?”

“Honk, honk!” chorused the Charjabug.

“What was she saying?” asked Moon.

“Oh, just that they might need a little time to cool off between trials, but Charjabug really like electricity. They should be just fine.”

Molayne shifted in his seat, but said nothing. Sophocles glanced at him nervously, then drew himself up a little straighter.

“All right. I'll load Onejabug, Twojabug, and Threejabug onto the Roller for you.”

The first puzzle was easy enough; it was identical to Hau's puzzle, getting the Charjabug in a straight line along the edge of the Roller table closest to Sophocles. Moon lined them up, looking at the captain for further instructions.

“And now you can stand on the button.”

As it had with Hau, the button summoned an Elekid. In any other kind of battle, Moon would have begun with Macbeth, due to the power of her First Impression move; but Macbeth was part Water-type and particularly susceptible to the electricity in the room. Hau probably hadn't gotten Poppy or Sonar out at all, for the same reason; and Moon didn't want to bring Ariel out due to her same weakness to Electricity. That left her with Puck and Ben.

She sent out Puck first, remembering the Grass-type resistance to Electric. Puck was smooth in battle, and he had much more power than the Elekid. A single Spirit Shackle quickly took care of the little Pokémon.

“Now the next puzzle,” said Sophocles.

This puzzle was different from Hau's puzzle. Instead of a line of Charjabug that was perpendicular to the first, Moon was instructed to form a parallel line on the opposite end of the Roller table. Obviously the two lines didn't connect at all, so when she stepped on the button she was surprised to see that there were two separate wires traveling into the Pinger, which she hadn't noticed before because Hau's puzzle had only used one. Puck was able to defeat the resulting Electabuzz with easily.

“Soffy,” said Molayne, “which circuit are you using?”

“I was thinking either Iliad or Zephyr, since I used the northwest Tricorn for Hau.”

“Ah, gotcha.”

“Should I know what this means?” asked Moon.

“We have code names for the patterns, so we can talk about them without giving anything away to the Trainers who are doing the trial,” explaind Molayne. He got up from his seat, instead leaning on the wall and crossing his arms. “If you like circuitry, we could show you a couple after the trial.”

“Ah— I don't know much about circuits, sorry.”

“Fair enough.”

“I think we'll do Zephyr,” decided Sophocles. “Okay, um— here's the last three Charjabug, and here's the pattern you need to make."

Three squares lit up on the Roller table. Moon studied it, trying to visualize the end product in her mind.

“It's a Z shape,” she realized. “Z, as in Zephyr?”

“Never said it was a terribly complex code,” chuckled Molayne.

“Is Iliad an I shape, then?”

Sophocles was turning pink. “Well— yes.”

“Are there other letters? Probably an N, right? Maybe even a T, or an X— though that would be kind of hard to do without the corners, huh?”

“Right, yeah,” mumbled Sophocles. He managed to make eye contact with Moon, but quickly turned back to the Roller, blushing even harder. “Anyway.”

It wasn't too difficult to solve the puzzle; the Charjabug were soon aligned in a Z shape, and at a nod from Sophocles, Moon stepped on the button to power the Roller.

Something was wrong— this much she could tell at once. The very air they breathed was suddenly charged, making the room hot and stuffy; the Charjabug were glowing, and the electricity was pumping furiously through the wire that led to the Pinger— which vibrated madly.

Clunk.

The metallic model had been shaken loose from its hook, and now spun wildly in a circle as it beeped and squealed. Moon ducked her head as a tendril of lightning careened over her; it flashed across the room, leaving a scorch mark on the wall behind her and briefly charging around the metal chair that Molayne had been sitting on earlier. He had moved over to stand between Hau and Lillie and the Beldum, tucked safely in Hau's arms.

“Mo, I don't know what I did wrong!” Sophocles' eyes were wide with fear, and instead of pink his face had gone snow-white, putting his freckles in high contrast.

“It's okay, Soffy! It's a learning experience, and as long as nobody dies we'll be fine!”

“That's not reassuring at all!” bellowed Hau.

Sophocles grabbed something that looked like a rubber wand and poked it at the spinning model, clearly trying to still it. “Come on, come on!” he muttered. “Lock back in, you dumb bug!”

He kicked the Pinger.

“Attaboy! Manual reset!” cheered Molayne.

The model stopped spinning— but it was facing the wrong way, pointing at the Charjabug— and at Molayne, Hau, Lillie, and the Beldum.

“Oh, no!” shrieked Sophocles, trying to poke the model; it seemed determined not to move anymore, for all it had been spinning earlier. A noise that sounded suspiciously like the wind-up of some video game weapon sounded, the pitch scaling higher and higher as electricity gathered on the vice-jaws of the metallic model. “No no no! You're going to overload them! They're already at max capacity, they're gonna get hurt—”

“Tomaru!”

Sophocles' Togedemaru bounced into the air, intercepting the beam of electricity that had just barely begun to leap across the floor between the Pinger and the Roller.

“T-Togemaru!” Sophocles burst into tears. “Togemaru, no, you can't hold it either, you're not big enough—”

“She's buying you time!” shouted Molayne. He was herding Hau, Lillie, and the Beldum out of the direct path of the Pinger. “You've got to get the Totem here! Where is it?”

“This signal was way too strong, it should definitely have heard it! I don't know why it's not showing—”

Togemar.”

A large, round shape slammed into Sophocles' Togedemaru, knocking it out of the line of fire; Moon belatedly realized that it was a much larger Togedemaru.

“Ah,” she said. “This must be the Totem.”

Sophocles had burst into tears, crawling across the floor to gather up his Togedemaru. It had fainted as soon as it had been knocked out of the electrical current, and even now weak sparks crawled over its fur.

“Go for it, Moon!” called Molayne. “Once you knock it out, the Pinger powers down and we'll all be safe!”

Moon sent out Puck, and the Totem in turn summoned a Skarmory— a Skarmory which balked and squalled at her.

“Hey, you're the one we shared a campsite with on Route Ten!”

“How the hell do you recognize it?” demanded Hau.

“I'm assuming, but I think it recognized me.” Moon studied the Skarmory— Puck was at a bit of a disadvantage here, but she went for a Spirit Shackle anyway.

When the Skarmory used Aerial Ace, however, she knew she was in trouble. Puck took the hit, but he staggered backward, whining in pain.

“Okay, hell no, we're getting out of this one.”

“Language!” sang Molayne, still disturbingly cheerful. He'd pulled a now hysterically-sobbing Sophocles over to the group huddle in the corner, and was patting him consolingly on the back.

“I don't think he's listening, but sure Jan,” mumbled Moon under her breath. She recalled Puck and sent out Ben.

And then an amazing thing happened: the Totem Togedemaru used an Electric-type move she couldn't identify, probably its signature move; and the sparks rippled over Ben and gathered in his fur; the green flash that indicated healing, of all things, flickered briefly over him before fading into nothing.

“Wait, how are you doing that?”

“Ben's ability as a Jolteon is Volt Absorb, bzzt,” explained Rotom. “Any Electric-type attacks used on him will actually heal him.”

“What the hell, that's so cool! Why didn't I know about it earlier?”

“Veeon,” said Ben primly, drawing himself up straight.

“Well, you didn't ask,” pointed out Rotom.

“I... okay, yeah, I kind of forgot about it, I was just so excited he'd actually chosen an evolution in the first place. Ben, use Discharge!”

In the excitement of discovering Volt Absorb, she'd forgotten about Lightning Rod— the attack only further powered up the Totem Togedemaru, and didn't touch the Skarmory at all.

“That's probably a really bad idea, given the current— heh, current— situation,” advised Molayne.

“Yeah, I kind of get that now. Um— let's go with Swift.”

It didn't do much, because Steel resisted Normal-type moves; but it hit both the Skarmory and the Totem, and Moon was quite satisfied with that. She wore them down slowly, and soon she was able to knock out the Skarmory.

“Yeah, Moon!” cheered Hau.

“Great job!” called Lillie, her voice barely audible above the loud crackling of the Pinger's electricity.

The Totem, undeterred, let out a loud cry which summoned another ally— another rodent, but this one was smaller, with dark-gold fur.

“That's a Dedenne, bzzt,” said Rotom, interest in his voice. “I... huh. Um, Electric- and Fairy-type. They like to, um, absorb electricity from houses or power plants, and use it to defend themselves from other Pokémon...”

“What are you stumbling over your words for?” demanded Moon, worried. Rotom was an Electric-type; was there something wrong with him, with all the extra electricity in the room?

“I— it's nothing, bzzt. He's just kind of, um. You know...” Rotom cleared its throat. “...cute.”

“Dede!” said the Dedenne, looking extremely pleased with himself.

“Arceus, do we really have time for this? Get back in my pocket.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Moon directed Ben to use Swift again, as it could hit both of her opponents at once. The Dedenne didn't have the same type resistance as the Skarmory or the Totem, and went down much easier. She ignored the quiet groan of disappointment from her pocket because that was just base treachery; better to pretend it never happened in the first place.

From there it was just a matter of wearing down the Totem Togedemaru. Moon remembered that Steel didn't resist Dark and had Ben use Bite; the increase in damage was satisfying, and it carried her through to the end of the battle.

The Totem fled; the Pinger's power was cut; and the Charjabug stopped glowing, relaxing with tremulous squeaks. The only noise remaining in the quiet room was Sophocles' crying.

“ 'M sorry, Mo,” he sobbed, words muffled by Molayne's shirt. “I shoulda listened to Togemaru, she knew it would be too much for them, she was right. And she got hurt because of me. It's all my fault.”

“Soffy, buddy. Relax,” said Molayne gently. “Deep breaths. Look around. Look at the Charjabug. They're a little tense, and we should probably cancel challengers for tomorrow and maybe the day after; but they're okay. We can take Togemaru to the Pokémon Center after this, and they'll fix her up right as rain. And Moon and her Pokémon didn't get hurt, and neither did Hau or Lillie or the little Beldum or me.”

Moon studied Molayne for a few moments. “You knew, didn't you?”

Molayne looked at her. “Knew what?”

“You knew something would go wrong. You moved out of the metal chair, and you went to block Hau and Lillie and the Beldum even before the model was pointed at them.”

“Never hurts to take precautions.” Molayne suddenly seemed very interested in his own fingernails.

“She's right. You did know,” said Sophocles quietly, looking up. His face was red and tear-stained; he wiped his eyes with his wrist and frowned at Molayne. “That's why you asked which circuit I was using. You don't usually ask me that kind of thing in a trial.”

“I was kind of hoping you'd think about it a little more,” admitted Molayne. “Hau's circuit was closed; those are safer. I know you like the open ones because they look cool, but Zephyr's a pretty wild one to use— especially when the Charjabug have already been running a circuit.”

“So you knew it would break the system, and you let me do it anyway?”

“Yep.” Molayne patted Sophocles' head, a fond smile on his face. “And you did just fine, Soffy. Yeah, you were a bit upset and you missed most of Moon's trial in favor of getting my shirt wet— but you got Togemaru safe, and you were worried about everyone else in the room. You made a mistake, but you did a good job anyway. Accidents happen.”

Sophocles' mouth trembled, as though he were about to start crying again; but then he nodded once and got to his feet. He stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out another Z-Crystal, offering it to Moon.

“Here's Electrium Z,” he said softly. “You really earned it, Moon. Thank you.”

“You're welcome,” said Moon. She held out her free hand to Sophocles, who blinked in confusion before taking it. They shook hands. “This was a great trial, Sophocles. Thanks.”

Sophocles went bright red again. “Um, sure,” he mumbled, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck. “Um— so the Z-Dance, for Gigavolt Havoc. Let me teach you and Hau.”

He demonstrated the dance, ending with his hands posed in the shape of a lightning bolt. Moon and Hau copied him a few times before Sophocles nodded, satisfied that they had learned it.

“Thanks for coming,” said Molayne cheerfully, as they filed out of the room. “Oh, and Moon— could you bring something to Maleko for me? He went back down to Malie City this morning, and I think he'll be there for a little while; but he left this here.”

He held a piece of bright red fabric out. Moon examined it, and recognized it as the mask that Professor Kukui wore when he was the Masked Royal.

“Yeah,” she said, grinning. “I can bring that to him.”

“I thought you'd get a kick out of that.”

“Oh, I really, really do.”

Molayne's laughter, and a soft, shy giggle that had to be Sophocles, followed them out into the sunny afternoon on Mount Hokulani. Five trials down; three to go.

 

Chapter Text

Following the success of their trials, Hau suggested that their group stay on Mount Hokulani an extra day, because his family was coming to visit Gram and it would be nice for him to see them. Hau hadn't gone home yet at all during his journey— a fact that neither Moon's mother nor Leilani failed to remind her of whenever she texted or emailed either of them. And Moon's mother would be tagging along, just to see Moon. Her father wasn't able to fly up from Blush Mountain to visit; but she would be seeing him fairly soon anyway, on the way to the next trial.

In the meantime they had some time to kill, so Moon ventured back down to the wild, grassy areas of Mount Hokulani. As she had come to expect, the Beldum followed, and so before she began training, Moon squatted down and had a chat with the Pokémon.

“Listen,” she said. There was something oddly nervous in her stomach. “I've been letting you follow me, because it's harmless and you aren't trying to hurt me or my team. That's fine. But the thing is, I'm going to be going back to Malie City soon. I'm not gonna take the bus— we have Ride Pagers, so we're going to fly and get there in like an hour and a half. And you can't come with us.”

“Bel bel,” said the Beldum placidly.

“Arceus, you're on about this again. I can't catch you. Ben would never forgive me, and he's— he's my baby.” Moon's voice cracked slightly. “He's not so little as he used to be, but he's still young, and he wouldn't understand. Maybe he'd get used to you in time, but he would resent us both for a very long time. I can't do that to him— or to you, frankly. So— yeah. I'm sorry.”

The Beldum blinked at her several times, but didn't move. Moon sighed and wandered into the grass to train.

She was surprised to see it slinking away, out of the corner of her eye; and an odd feeling rose from stomach to heart. “Don't get attached,” she muttered under her breath, tossing out Ben and taking out the Electrium Z. “Don't get attached. It was never going to work. Don't get fucking attached.”

With the Electrium Z, Ben's Discharge and Charge Beam were both greatly improved. Moon practiced Gigavolt Havoc with him a few times, tucking Normalium Z back into its slot on the Z-Ring. The resulting explosions of sparks sent wild Fearow and Minior ducking for cover. Moon grinned, thinking of how she would best put Ben to use against other trainers; and as a result she was quite surprised when the Beldum came hurtling back toward them, single eye wide.

“Bel bel bel!” it cried loudly. “Dum bel, bel!”

Ben hissed, fur sparking.

“Shut up for a second, kid. What are you saying? I'm not quite as familiar with the way you speak, and you sound really upset.”

An image popped into her head— a foreign thought. It was fuzzy and oddly sepia-toned, but it was clear to see a group of wild Fearow attacking something smaller— Moon couldn't quite make out what it was.

“Okay, wow.”

“Bel, bel!” The Beldum hastily began moving back uphill.

“Come on, Ben— we've gotta help it.”

Ben sniffed, but trotted along after Moon all the same.

The offending wild Fearow had mostly left by the time they arrived, but two of them were still there, huddled over and picking at whatever they'd been attacking.

“Hey!” shouted Moon, racing toward them. “Knock it the fuck off! Ben, use Discharge!”

With the boost in power from the Electrium Z, one Discharge was enough to send both Fearow scattering, giving Moon a perfect view of what they'd been doing. Her stomach turned, and a strange ache settled behind her sternum.

*****

It was a nest— or it had been, once. The mother Clefairy was thin and malnourished, but that didn't seem to matter since she had been killed— the way birds kill their prey. Her body was broken against the hard earth, twisted oddly in its lean roundness.

The Cleffa kits were also dead— what was left of them, anyway. There were only three, as well as some viscera that suggested to Moon that there had been at least five before the wild Fearow had attacked.

“Oh, Arceus fuck. Holy shit.”

Moon scrambled to pull Rotom from her pocket, dialing Hau.

“Hey, what's up?”

“The Beldum just led me to a nest of dead baby Cleffa and I don't know what to fucking do.”

His eyes widened. “Arceus, what happened?”

“There were wild Fearow and we chased them off—”

Cle...”

The noise was soft and broken, but it was definitely there. Moon stared at the nest, wide-eyed; she hadn't looked too closely because she was nauseated by the death and dismemberment but one of them, with a long, deep wound down its side, wiggled and squeaked in pain.

“Shit, no, they're alive, one of them's alive. Holy shit.”

“Moon, calm down.” Lillie had taken Hau's Dex, her face tranquil. “We're coming down to find you right now.”

“I can't calm down! I'm— I'm staring at a nest of dead babies, except one is alive but practically sliced open and I don't know what to do, fuck—”

“Moon.” Lillie's voice was firm. “Freaking out is not going to help the little one survive. You need to capture it.”

C-capture it?”

“There's no Aether clinic close enough to call, and the Pokéball will put it in stasis until we can get it to the Pokémon Center. Once it heals, you can release it or train it— just like I did with Snowfall.”

It made sense. Lillie was making sense. Moon swallowed and recalled Ben, then dug in her backpack for a Pokéball and carefully tossed it at the injured Cleffa.

The little one vanished, and Moon carefully put the Pokéball in one of the slots on her belt, with the rest of her team. The ache behind her sternum lessened, just a little bit.

“Do you want to name—”

“Not right now, Rotom— wait, fuck.”

“What is it?” said Lillie patiently.

“There's another baby Cleffa, it was beneath the hurt one— it's a lot smaller than the other one, but it doesn't look like it's hurt.”

The uninjured baby squirmed, then let out a soft cry.

“Let me see— have Rotom turn on the back camera.”

“Are you sure? The other ones are around it, and it's not pretty.”

Lillie's jaw twitched. “I'm quite sure I've seen worse,” she said quietly. “Turn the camera.”

Moon tapped a button to flip the Dex call from front-facing to camera mode. Lillie was silent for a few moments.

“Should I capture this one, too?”

“No, I'll do that.”

“Yeah, we can see you from where we're at,” called Hau through the Dex. “It makes sense— Lillie's got three and a half and I've got five, plus she's better equipped to take care of a runt.”

“Don't call it that!”

“You said it was smaller than the hurt one, and it was hiding underneath. By definition, that's probably a runt— they tend to get trampled by the other hatchlings. In this case, it probably saved the baby's life.”

“I'm going to hang up now,” said Lillie. “Put one hand over the baby Cleffa; it doesn't have its sibling to keep it warm. I'll be there in a minute.”

The call ended. Rotom slipped into Moon's pocket as she reached down to cover the tiny, wriggling baby with one hand. It calmed at once, blinking up at her in confusion. Moon's heart burned with something she couldn't name.

“Hey. I'm— I'm sorry about your mama, and your brothers and sisters. I think maybe we can save one of them— it's in my belt.”

“Moon!” called Hau, his voice carrying from uphill. “Moon, you okay?”

“I'm here.” It wasn't really an answer to his question, but saying she was fine would be a lie.

Lillie was running ahead of Hau, arms pumping and braids flying; her hat had fallen off, dangling by a string behind her head. She winced at the sight of the dead Clefairy and Cleffa, drawing a white Pokéball with a single red stripe from her pocket. Moon recognized it— a Premier ball, like the one she had caught Ariel with.

“Move your hand; I'm going to catch it.”

Moon backed away, and Lillie easily captured the baby.

“Now we need to go uphill and have them healed,” she said, holding one hand out to Moon. “Come on.”

Her voice was soft; her face was not. Moon blinked at her for a few moments; then she took Lillie's hand and was surprised at the strength with which her friend pulled her up.

Lillie nodded, patted Moon's shoulder, and turned to sprint up the hill.

“She's way faster than me,” groaned Hau, leaning on hands and knees to catch a breath. “Look, I'll stay here and take care of the mama and the babies— they deserve a proper burial. You go take care of the baby.”

“Thanks,” mumbled Moon.

She began running uphill after Lillie, only vaguely aware of the Beldum that was still silently tailing her.

Her lungs were nearly bursting by the time she arrived at the Pokémon Center, but she kept up the sprint until she arrived at the counter. Lillie was explaining the situation to the nurse, who was already summoning a Blissey and two Audino and took the Pokéballs.

“A girl and a boy,” she said, examining them. “And the boy is critically injured, you said?”

“That's correct,” said Lillie.

“All right. If it's really bad, we may have to call the hospital in Malie City and have him flown down by helicopter. It would be a couple of hours, but the Pokéballs should be able to keep him in stasis until then... no guarantees, mind you.” Her tone was apologetic, but Moon appreciated the honesty.

The nurse gave the ball with the female Cleffa— Lillie's catch— to the two Audino; they scurried off to a corner. The Blissey crowded over the examination table as the nurse pressed the button to open the ball; Moon felt her fists clench along with her heart.

A hand slipped into hers; it was Lillie. “Come on, Moon,” she said softly. “Let's sit in the café and wait for Hau. There's nothing we can do here. It's up to the nurse and Blissey and Audino now.”

“I— okay.”

“Bel bel.”

Moon blinked away tears, looking down at the Beldum as they sat down at one of the café tables. “Thanks,” she said quietly.

“It helped you find them, I'm guessing?”

“Yeah. You know how Hau's Raichu can kind of communicate telepathically? Like sending images or memories. This one did the same thing. I saw the Fearow attacking.”

“Huh.” Lillie considered the Beldum. “And you're sure you don't want to catch it and take it with you?”

“I can't,” said Moon, shaking her head. “Especially not now, with the Cleffa. Ben's going to be so mad.”

“I'm sure he'll understand if you explain it to him.”

At that moment, Hau came walking into the Pokémon Center; his face was blank. He glanced at them, nodded, and walked straight past them— toward the bathrooms, tucked between the healing station and the Poké Mart.

“What took him so long?”

“He— he said he would bury the mother and the other babies.” Moon took a deep breath; it went in raggedly and came out as a shudder. “I don't— I should've—”

“Moon.” Lillie's hand came down to rest firmly on her shoulder. “There is no should, would, or could about this situation. You did exactly the right thing, at exactly the right time. You've probably saved their lives, you and Beldum. Don't—”

Her friend took a deep breath. Moon was surprised to see tears sparkling in her eyes.

“Don't beat yourself up about what you think ought to have happened,” she said finally. “Regret and guilt are important emotions to have— they keep us accountable for ourselves and they help us to have empathy for others. But needless guilt is a burden, one I'm only just beginning to unpack for myself. Don't carry around more than you have to, Moon. Don't make things harder for yourself.”

“Miss?”

Moon and Lillie looked up. The nurse was standing in front of them.

“So, the female Cleffa is fine,” she began. Lillie let out a sigh of relief. “She's a little undernourished for her age, but you can fix that with high-nutrient formula to supplement her diet.”

“How old are they?” asked Lillie.

“A few weeks. They're weaned, and it seems likely that they've learned where it's appropriate to relieve themselves as well— neither of them has had an accident.” The nurse's gaze slid to Moon. “The male Cleffa is not doing well. We've managed to stabilize him for now— but he's very weak. He's simply lost too much blood, and we don't keep enough up here to do a transfusion. I've called the hospital in Malie City and they're airdropping several pints, which should be more than enough. But it would be remiss of me if I didn't warn you that he may not make it until then. Even the stasis function of the Pokéball can't stand up very long to wounds of this severity.”

Moon swallowed. “What are the chances?”

“He's got about a twenty percent chance of survival.”

Her heart plummeted down to her stomach. “Shit.”

“That's low,” murmured Lillie, putting an arm around Moon's shoulder. “But we have to have faith that it will work out.”

“Can I stay with him?”

“Of course. We have a few seats behind the counter for Trainers who want to stay close during healings. Please follow me.”

Hau emerged from the bathrooms, joining them; his face was still a blank mask. The nurse raised one eyebrow at him.

“I— took care of the mother and the other siblings,” he said quietly, gesturing at the two Cleffa. Moon sat down by the Blissey who carefully cradled the male in her arms; Lillie took the female back from the two Audino and gently stroked its fur.

The nurse's mouth fell open in horror. “Oh, Arceus, there was a nest?”

“I didn't have time to explain that part,” said Lillie apologetically. “A wild Beldum led Moon to the nest. What was it you said attacked them, a flock of wild Fearow?”

Moon nodded, unable to manage words.

“So she called us, and we rushed down to help and get the babies up here.”

Hau cleared his throat. “And I, um— well, Ollie's got Dig, so I had him carve out a grave and I buried the others. It's a few feet down, so they shouldn't be disturbed. Covered them up, set the biggest rock I could carry on top, threw up a few times, walked back up, and scrubbed my hands because there was— there was fucking blood on them—” He choked on the words, falling silent.

“I'm so sorry,” said the nurse apologetically. “It's so hard to experience things like this, isn't it?”

“Unfortunately it's just— you know, life.” Lillie's voice was rather thin, but she took the female Cleffa's Pokéball and tucked it into her Trainer's belt before pulling out her phone, using it one-handed as she cradled the little Pokémon to her chest. “Don't worry, Esper— I'll take care of you now.”

“What did you call her?”

“Esperance— Esper or Essie for short.” Lillie put away her phone. “It's a modified Kalosian word that means 'hope.' ”

“You couldn't just call her Hope?” said Hau, raising one eyebrow.

“I could have, but I like the word better in Kalosian.”

“What about the little fellow over there?” Hau indicated the male Cleffa. Its eyes were closed, and it breathed shallowly— Moon could almost hear the shudders of pain in each breath. The Blissey was focused, murmuring in a Pokémon language of healing with soft pink and white sparkles glowing around her paws and around the little Pokémon.

“What about him?”

“Are you going to name him?”

Moon swallowed. “Should I?” she said quietly. “He's only got a one in five chance of living until the extra blood arrives from Malie City. If I name him, and he dies— it will be so much worse.”

But her hands were already on Rotom, already pulling up the prompt that had been denied earlier, in her state of panic.

“And yet, you're naming him.”

“I can't help where my mind goes.” Moon tapped on the letters. “I just hope little Horatio can be like his namesake.”

“You'll have to remind us what play that's from.”

Hamlet, Prinplup of Denmark.” She set Rotom down on the seat beside her, holding Horatio's Pokéball in her hand. She'd grabbed the first one she found, in her panic; it was a Dive Ball, oddly enough. “Horatio is Hamlet's tutor and friend, and he's the only major character that survives to the end of the play.”

“And Arceus willing, your Horatio will live, too,” said Lillie firmly.

Horatio's breath was so soft she could barely hear it. Moon leaned in, accepting the face mask that the nurse passed her; she closed her eyes and listened, willing his tiny lungs to keep on breathing.

“Blis blis,” said the Blissey suddenly, though her arms and paws were steady and did not move.

“I'll grab the propofol— hang on a little longer, okay?”

“What's she saying?”

“She's trying to hang onto him, but he's slipping away. If I can induce a coma we might be able to give him a little more time.”

Moon stared at Horatio. His eyes slowly fluttered open— black and shiny and damp, looking straight at Moon for a few seconds before closing again.

“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I'm so sorry. Please just live. Please.”

A machine behind the Blissey's seat began beeping. Horatio let out a tiny gasp, and Moon waited for him to inhale.

He didn't.

The beep changed to a single, ongoing tone. The nurse darted over, a syringe in hand; she quickly injected it into Horatio.

“Come on, come on, come on—”

But the flatline continued.

“You can't do the shock paddle thingies?” demanded Hau.

“He's too little— the force of the defibrillators would have killed him anyway.” The nurse let out a sigh. “I'm sorry, Moon. I wish I could have saved him.”

The Blissey carefully held Horatio out to Moon. She took him— holding him, staring at him. He was still warm— but beginning to cool in her hands.

Fuck.”

He was a baby. Ben had been a baby once. All of her team had been babies. Every Pokémon living had been a baby once. But Horatio hadn't ever had the chance to grow, to become a Clefairy or even a Clefable.

She wasn't fully aware of anything other than the sound of the flatlining machine, of the tiny, cold body in her hands. People were moving around her, but it was faded, muted.

“Come on, Moon.” Lillie's hands were gentle, wrapping around her wrists. “Put him in his ball. We— we can take him down to his family. Do you think that would be okay?”

“Why am I crying, Lillie?” whispered Moon, still staring at Horatio. He looked as though he could be asleep. “I barely knew him. Why does this hurt so much?”

“Because it was ugly.” Hau's mouth trembled. “It's the way things go. Pokémon kill and eat each other to survive, and— and they get hurt, and they die. It happens all the time, we just don't see it like this very often.”

“It's stupid, it's so fucking stupid—”

She broke, then.

Hau and Lillie cried with her, this much she knew; she was vaguely aware of being led outside, of Horatio's ball being pressed into her hands. Moon recalled Horatio and clung to the ball, blindly following her friends downhill. Ollie dug another grave by the first, and when she let him go it was like trying to breathe with only one lung.

“I hate this, I fucking hate this, I'm never gonna, I can't—”

“I know, Moon.” Lillie's voice was laden with grief and sympathy. “I've lost someone, too. I know.”

*****

Late that night Moon lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying not to think about Horatio, about meeting him and immediately parting with him. The Beldum, which had silently followed her through the chaos and pain of it all, lay at the foot of her bed between Ben and Ariel— the former surprisingly non-hostile. Puck and Macbeth were too large to share the bed, and had to sleep on the floor. Lillie had been up late feeding little Esper— the Cleffa was practically starving and chowed down on both formula and Pokébeans as though she would never eat another meal; but it hurt Moon's heart to look at her so she had spent most of the evening with her eyes closed, pretending to be asleep.

It didn't make sense. She had known Horatio for less than an hour before he had slipped out of her life, as softly and silently as he had come into it. Why, then, did her heart hurt so much? Why was she such a mess?

Moon resisted the urge to laugh aloud, at that thought— Lillie had only barely fallen asleep, with Esper snoozing on her chest; she didn't want to wake either of them.

Ever since the Nihilego— no, that wasn't right. Ever since Gladion had broken things off, between them, she had been a mess. Moon was rather disgusted with herself— because of a stupid boy who had managed to make his way into her feelings, she'd become this moping crybaby that couldn't function— a person who had to rely on her friends to get anything done at all. Relying on Hau, when he had his own island challenge and struggles to worry about; relying on Lillie, who had mental illness and many, many secrets to keep. She ought to have been stronger. She should have been able to be a strength to them, and not a burden.

Rotom vibrated softly on the bedside table, lighting up.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

herbalist: yo moon we haven't heard from u in a few days??? u ok???

the girl with the curls: rog. it is two in the morning could you at least make the official Missing Moon hours when the sun is in the sky?

herbalist: but her name is moon lmao

shakespeare jr: Sorry, I'm fine

shakespeare jr: Beat the trial, on my way back down to Malie probably like tomorrow evening? Idk

the girl with the curls: congrats, and all that

herbalist: good job

herbalist: also there's a reason I'm awake right now

herbalist: so at skull hq we have like dorm rooms, right

herbalist: there's a lotta fuckin rooms but most of the guys are in the ones on the bottom floor, most of the girls are on the second floor

herbalist: anywho since Gladion is in self-destructive mode he's currently rooming with me

herbalist: since I'm the only dude who isn't a dick to him

herbalist: aaaaaaaand he has nightmares, which woke me up b/c he gets, yanno, loud

herbalist: but he definitely, totally said ur name in one of them

herbalist: it was clear as day, couldn't possibly have misunderstood

the girl with the curls: okay nOW I AM AWAKE

shakespeare jr: I don't know how to process this information

shakespeare jr: Like, I need more context, what was the nightmare about

herbalist: oh i have no idea

herbalist: wasn't gonna ask, because knowing Gladion he'd rip me a new one

herbalist: i woke him up, gave him some medicine, and sent him back to sleep

shakespeare jr: ... what kind of medicine

herbalist: allergy medicine

shakespeare jr: Why would you give him that for nightmares???

the girl with the curls: b/c if he's making noise all night, emmett and any of his assorted dingleberries will just give him a hard time about it in the morning

herbalist: i know what i'm about, moon.

herbalist: most family doctors will tell u that you can occasionally use allergy meds to get yourself to sleep if u don't have like chronic insomnia. if it's regular then u need melatonin or something stronger, but if it's just every now and then u can get away with allergy meds

shakespeare jr: Well, today I learned that it's okay to abuse over-the-counter drugs.

herbalist: ...

the girl with the curls: moon, are u really ok?

the girl with the curls: b/c no offense that was kind of really a dick thing to say

shakespeare jr: Sorry, I kind of had a rough day and I shouldn't have taken it out on you.

shakespeare jr: I should be okay in the morning, I just need to sleep it off

herbalist: it's ok, i figured it was something like that

the girl with the curls: then we will stop blowing up the chat. sleep well, Moon.

herbalist: ^

 

Moon sighed and set Rotom back down on the bedside table. Her Z-Ring caught her eye, glimmering softly in the pale light of Rotom's screen before it turned off. She reached out blindly and picked it up, turning it over a few times in her hands.

Her fingers found the Z-Crystal slots, both empty and full. Normal, Fire, Water, Grass, and Electric— these were from the trials. Then there was Fighting, from Hala's Grand Trial; Flying, from the mint-haired woman at Ten Carat Hill; and Rock, from Olivia.

One of the things that will bring you strength is vulnerability... Let yourself be weak sometimes. Let your guard down... In doing so, you will gain even greater strength— a strength that is not nearly so easily broken as mere emotional fortitude.

The words rang as clear as day— a memory that had been forgotten in the chaos of the Nihilego. Olivia had seen her crying over Gladion— or trying not to cry over him. She had offered Moon some advice, before Moon and Hau had followed Faba the Bug Dude to Aether Paradise.

One of the things that will bring you strength is vulnerability.

Was letting herself grieve for Horatio's short existance being vulnerable? Was there strength in this? She could feel nothing but weakness— the empty, hollow-eyed feeling after a good long cry and a soft, numb ache where she imagined her heart to be.

Let yourself be weak sometimes.

Olivia was older, and wiser, than she was. Moon took one deep breath, and then another; and then the deep breaths turned into shuddering sobs, which she buried in her pillow. She had thought she was all cried out, but that evidently wasn't the case.

One of the things that the Nihilego had done that she did remember was change to the general shape of Gladion. It wasn't that surprising— she'd had a lot of strong emotions about him, at the time. But what she remembered was that it had heightened the good emotions, and dulled the bad ones. She could only remember thinking about his uneven haircut and his sharp eyes and beautiful hands and all the other things she liked about him, heightened to intensity by the toxins.

Let your guard down.

Nihilego dulled inhibition, but increased potential and strength. Yes, intelligence had been part of the potential— but Moon also remembered her own wild heartbeat, pounding up to fill her ears and eyes. She remembered the selfie exchanges and Julius Caesar and the Pokémon playdate, and her stomach had tumbled over in the most pleasant manner.

In doing so, you will gain even greater strength—

She was a stronger person, because of Gladion— both the good parts and the bad. She was a stronger person, as hard as it was to swallow, because of the Nihilego. And... she was a stronger person because of Horatio.

Lillie was a creature of emotion— this much Moon could tell after how long they'd been friends. Lillie got emotional easily, but she was good at hiding it— likely a product of the abusive mother she'd mentioned on Akala Island. But Lillie laughed and cried and smiled and felt things strongly, often far more strongly than Moon.

If she didn't think Lillie was weak— and she didn't, because Lillie was one of the strongest people Moon knew— then it didn't make sense to think she was weak, either. If the Nihilego chose to heighten her strengths, and it increased her passion and emotion as well as her intellect— then her emotion was a strength.

— a strength that is not nearly so easily broken as mere emotional fortitude.

Or rather, her emotion wasn't the strength— it was being aware of it. It was knowing what she was feeling, identifying it and letting it wash through her.

Horatio was young. He was... wasted potential. Moon liked Fairy-types; she had almost begun to picture him as part of her team. Sure, he wasn't the Ground-type she had been looking for; but she'd already beaten an Electric-type trial, and Molayne had given her Steelium Z so she probably wasn't going to need a Ground-type as badly as she had thought she would.

The Beldum came to mind briefly, and Moon swallowed down guilt over that but really, she couldn't catch it when Ben was so vehemently opposed. And since Horatio was gone— she couldn't really bring herself to discuss things with her teammates, either. It was just too soon.

 

The only good part of the next day was when a group of four Charizard touched down in the center of Mount Hokulani. Hala on his own, Kai and Wiki together, Leilani and Mel together, and Moon's mother came to greet them. Moon hugged her mother, and she cried a little bit in her shoulder; but her mother was too kind to tell on her to the others.

The visit to Gram ended up being fairly brief, because they had come on a bad day. Gram was mostly incoherent, eyes unfocused as they drifted from face to face. The only person she recognized was Hala, and even then she seemed to forget he was there, merely watching The Scarlet Flabébé playing on the television with a vacant expression on her face.

It was depressing, but afterward they went back to the noodle shop and Moon sat with her mother and Lillie— giving Hau time to catch up with his family, but also because she had several stories to tell, stories she didn't want to tell in front of Mel and Wiki.

Her mother listened intently over artificial-pork lo mein as Moon told her about Gladion, and how things had ended; as she told her about Aether Paradise and the Nihilego; as she told her about the strange friends she had found in Molly and Rogelio and even Plumeria; and about the nest of Cleffa. Lillie added details where appropriate— and when Moon's voice failed, she finished the story with the death and burial of Horatio.

“I think,” Kapua said slowly, when Lillie was finished speaking, “that you're hurting so badly because you're a compassionate person.”

“I don't feel like I'm a compassionate person,” mumbled Moon. “I'm mean. Sometimes I like being mean.”

“Just because you're compassionate doesn't mean you can't be mean, or vice versa. People contradict themselves all the time, Marion. We're all paradoxes, in our own way.” Her mother tapped her chopsticks decidedly against the plate, before continuing. “You should be sure and tell your father about this, when you see him at Blush Mountain. He's always been the soft one, of the two of us. You got kindness from him, and you got extraversion from me.”

“And intelligence,” added Lillie.

“I'm flattered, thank you,” chuckled Kapua. She turned back to look at Moon. “Marion, you don't need to worry that being kind and being weak are the same thing. I would venture to say that it takes much more strength to be kind than it does to be unkind.”

And oddly enough, a calmness rose in Moon's chest— a calmness she hadn't felt since before Gladion.

Her mother eyed her knowingly. “Do you try to be kind to people and Pokémon?”

“Well, yeah. Unless they've done something to majorly piss me off.”

“We can't all be perfect,” her mother dismissed the qualifier. “You try, and that's what matters. Being kind, by which I mean doing things that are kind, is what makes you into a kind person— by which I mean a person who says and thinks kind things. There's exceptions to every rule, but part of being an adult is figuring out who deserves your kindness and who doesn't. The answer is usually everybody.”

“Unless they're being deliberately unkind, and then I can say whatever I want.”

“I would do the same thing, in your shoes.”

It was nice to talk with her mother, and it was also nice to see how effortlessly her mother included Lillie in the conversation— even going so far as to hug her and kiss her on the forehead, just as she did for Moon when it was time to make their farewells. Lillie's eyes went round and her face went pink, and she only waved silently as the Akionas and Moon's mother took off on Ride Charizards to return to Melemele Island.

That being done, it was time for them to call Charizards of their own, to head back to Malie City. Moon packed up her things and her teammates, putting on her hiking backpack and walking down to the café.

The Beldum was still following her, and since Moon was the first one to finish packing she sat down in the café and looked at the Beldum.

“Last time I tried this conversation, a whole emergency happened,” she said pointedly, to the metal Pokémon. “So we're going to try again. I can't take you with me.”

“Bel bel,” said the Beldum— and to Moon's surprise, it zipped off toward the Pokémon Center doors.

Moon watched it go, surprised at how compliant the Beldum was being. She might have been suspicious, if Hau and Lillie had not come downstairs at that moment with their own big backpacks and the tents folded up and rolled beneath them.

“Ready to go?” said Hau, already pulling out his Ride Pager.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“It looks like you managed to persuade the Beldum to leave you,” said Lillie, glancing down by Moon's feet. “I'd gotten used to it.”

So had Moon, but she wasn't going to say so. “Well, it's probably for the best. Let's go outside and call the Charizard.”

The ETA was five minutes, which meant they had time to stand around and wait. Moon took her backpack off and set it on the ground so she could stretch out her neck and back before she would spend twenty tensed-up minutes on the back of a Charizard, eyes closed and trying not to throw up.

“If we've got time, the Professor wants us to have dinner with him this evening at the little restaurant in Malie Garden—”

Nebby's head abruptly poked out from Lillie's side bag. “Pew, pew,” she said, and was off like a shot.

“Really?” demanded Lillie, rushing after her. “The Charizard are nearly here! I don't want to leave you on top of this mountain, and I don't want them to have to wait for us, either! Come back here!”

Hau and Moon exchanged glances. “I guess we'd better go help,” said Hau stoutly.

They managed to corner and put Nebby back in the bag just before the Charizard arrived. Moon put her backpack on— she really shouldn't have taken it off in the first place, because it felt heavier than before.

She didn't figure out why until the three of them slid off their Charizards in Malie City and went inside the Pokémon Center to check in again— just for a few days this time, and then they would head out to Route Eleven.

Moon set her backpack down next to the bed and unzipped the top pocket.

“Bel bel!” said the Beldum cheerfully.

“You have got to be kidding me!”

 

Chapter Text

Moon spent about ten minutes standing next to the wall in their room at the Pokémon Center, slowly hitting her forehead against it. The Beldum had taken up residence at the foot of her bed. Moon's other teammates were still in their balls, though Ben was vibrating furiously in a way that told her that he was Not Happy about the situation and was likely to resort to violence if she let him out any time in the near future. And Lillie and Hau were laughing themselves silly, sitting side by side on Lillie's bed.

Finally, she turned to stare at the Beldum. It regarded her with a solemn expression in its eye. “Bel, bel, bel,” it chirped.

“You do understand that you've almost guaranteed that I can never catch you, right?” she said wearily. “Ben's never going to forgive you. I think you almost had him sold, but he's mad.”

The Beldum considered this for a few moments. “Bel dum bel.”

Moon threw up her hands, disgusted. “What do you mean, it doesn't matter? How did you even get in my backpack in the first place? You don't have opposable thumbs— hell, you don't even have hands!”

The Beldum blinked politely, then turned to stare at Lillie.

“Pew pew!” explained Nebby, popping out of the bag once more.

There was a long moment of silence.

“Oh my god,” said Lillie, appalled. “Nebby, oh my god.”

Hau burst out laughing again. “Oh, they were in cahoots! Amazing.”

“I want to cry,” announced Moon, staring at the ceiling. “Like, I may actually tear up.”

“I am so sorry. Really, I had no idea Nebby would do that.”

“It's not your fault, don't worry about it.” Moon waved Lillie off, putting her hands on her hips as she stared at the Beldum. “I'm guessing that they were communicating in some way, because Psychic-types— and she got out of the bag to cause a distraction?”

“Bel,” confirmed the Beldum, bobbing up and down as though nodding.

“Arceus.” Moon sighed. “Well, I'm not going back up just to drop you on the stupid mountain, but I'm not going to catch you, either. So you're stuck following me. Or you can, I don't know, leave.”

She wasn't really too angry with the Beldum— in fact, part of her admired its ingenuity, and the fact that it had gone to Nebby, troublemaker extraordinaire, for help— yeah. That was pretty impressive. And it had thought to get her when it had discovered the Cleffa and the Clefairy... Moon shoved that thought away and let what little annoyance she had with the Beldum bubble back up to the surface.

“Seriously, you're a pain in my behind,” she informed it.

“Bel bel.” The Beldum seemed unbothered by this. Moon was beginning to suspect that it was impervious to insult.

They had a little time to kill before they had to go to Malie Garden to meet with the Professor, but Moon wanted to train— she hadn't gotten much of a chance since the previous day, with its violence and sorrow and chaos. The three of them— Moon, Hau, and Lillie— got ready to go to Malie Garden.

“Moon, do you still have the sling you used to carry Ben when he was a baby?” asked Lillie, with a slight frown.

“Yeah. Do you want to borrow it for Esper?”

“That would be lovely. And, er— I don't have an Experience Share, either. Could I borrow that as well?”

“Yeah, absolutely.” Moon dug in her backpack and pulled out the sling, handing it and the Exp. Share to Lillie. Lillie wrapped Esperance in the sling and pulled it on over her blouse; Esper made several happy, squeaky sounds that didn't sound much like her species-call, and they all, including the Beldum, went outside.

Moon let out Macbeth and Ariel first, letting them get situated to walk with her; Hau was doing the same with Rumble, his largest Pokémon. Puck was next, and he eyed the Beldum disapprovingly but didn't attack or say anything.

She released Ben but immediately dove on him, catching him mid-pounce toward the Beldum. Angry sparks raced up her arms, but Moon gritted her teeth and held on.

“No,” she said flatly, clenching her hands around Ben's hind legs as he flailed and squirmed. “Stop it.”

He hissed, trying to shake her free with another wave of sparks.

Benedick.”

She hadn't called him by his full name— well, not since she'd named him in the first place; and she was relieved when Ben fell silent and still at once.

“It's not your job to punish it,” Moon informed it. “I'm slightly annoyed that it followed me without asking, but it's not doing you or me any harm at all. There is no reason for you to attack it. If you attack it without a good reason— by my definition of a good reason— then I'm confining you to your ball with the exceptions of meals and battles. No extra training, no spending time with your siblings.”

“Goli, goli,” said Macbeth gently, bending to touch Ben.

A spark bounced up to her claws and she flinched, but pressed forward anyway. Moon, for what felt like the millionth time in the last twenty-four hours, fought back tears as Macbeth lifted Ben up into her arms, carefully petting the stiff fur into flatness. Ben was still glaring at the Beldum as though it had personally offended him; but then he shot Moon an injured look and settled into being petted, a sulky expression on his face.

“Thanks,” said Moon, reaching up to press one hand against Macbeth's face. Macbeth hummed in response.

“Well, that was dramatic,” commented Hau.

Moon glanced over at him, slightly annoyed to see that Poppy, Uila, Sonar, and Ollie were all perched on Rumble's back; and Lapin, Umber and Snowfall were similarly assembled around Lillie, with Esper sticking out of the sling. “You have such well-behaved teams,” she sighed.

“I think I've just been really, really lucky,” admitted Hau. “Watch my last teammate, whatever it is, turn out to be a pain in the butt.”

“I only have a well-behaved team if Nebby doesn't count,” said Lillie primly, and at this Nebby's head popped out of the sling, next to Esper.

“Is that a good idea?” said Moon, pointing.

“Well, it's probably not the safest place for her to hide, but she seems to be enjoying the novelty enough that she's not going to run off.”

“I'm more worried about Esper's personality developing into mischief,” said Moon, but she grinned and reached out to gently poke Nebby's face.

“Pew, pew!” sang Nebby.

“Pu?” inquired Esper, turning to blink at her.

“Clef,” corrected Nebby.

Moon, Hau, and Lillie all stared at Nebby.

“What the heck,” said Lillie finally.

“Clef,” tried Esper.

“Pew pew!”

“Clef clef.”

“As long as she doesn't try to run away with Nebby, it should be fine,” decided Lillie. “Esper's in a Pokéball— I do have a bit more influence over her than I do with Nebby.”

Malie Garden was exactly as beautiful as Moon remembered it, though a few of the trees had begun to shed their leaves in the cooling autumn. It was fairly late in October, and most of the leaves would have been gone at this point in Kanto. It was strange to think that it was almost November— at this point, in Kanto, she would have been wearing her winter coat to school and hoping for snow days.

She did not, however, have a very long time to enjoy it; three familiar figures stood before them, with several curious Trainers and other visitors to the garden gathering nearby. Moon, Hau, and Lillie recalled their Pokémon in the crowd— the exceptions, of course, being Nebby, Esper, and the Beldum that knocked at Moon's ankles.

“You know, it's not too late to do an island challenge,” Professor Kukui said earnestly. “All you need is a GED, yeah.”

“Yeah, no fuckin' thanks, old man,” snorted Emmett. “The island challenge is fucking stupid. I'll pass.”

“Oh, is that so?” Professor Kukui folded his arms. “Maybe you'd like to test that out in a Battle Royal then.”

“What?” said fire-haired Jack, blinking in confusion.

“Battle Royal, right here and right now! Come on,” encouraged the Professor. “You've gotta beat the man to be the man, boys! An island challenge will prepare you for the Pokémon League we're building on Mount Lanakila. If you work hard, you could be recognized as an international battling talent, yeah!”

“Yeah, Professor!” cheered a woman in the crowd. “Show those Team Skull brats their place!”

“Yeah, make those numbskulls pay for the stupid things they've done!”

Before Moon had met Molly, Rogelio, and Plumeria on the Outer Cape— it was strange to think that it had only been a couple of weeks ago— she might have sympathized more with the crowd in Malie Garden. But the way Jack's face twisted into something uncertain, the way Emmett's brows furrowed and his hands clenched with anger— well, she wasn't exactly sympathetic to Emmett, after all the things he'd said and done; but Jack was another story.

Professor Kukui's eyes turned, scanning the crowd; they lit up when he saw Moon, Hau, and Lillie. “Ah, Moon!” he said loudly, though his eyes flicked to Hau and then Lillie, with a slight frown. “You're early, aren't you? Come here and do a Battle Royal with us, yeah!”

“Oh, fuck no!” yelped Emmett, taking a couple of steps back.

“I've fought you twice in your entire life, don't be such a baby,” said Moon, folding her arms. Lillie took Hau's arm and pulled him into the crowd— Professor Kukui had probably been trying to tell Lillie to blend in and hide, which was why he'd singled her out.

Jack was studying Moon, a curious expression on his face— he probably remembered her from the restaurant. Moon did her best to keep her own face calm. She wasn't sure how well she succeeded, especially not after the last few days she'd had.

“Hold up. There's no need for any Battle Royal bullshit.”

This was a new voice— deeper and raspier than Gladion's, but Moon was reminded of Gladion all the same. The crowd parted, and Emmett and Jack turned with relief on their faces as a man approached Professor Kukui and Moon.

His hair was bleached snow-white— though Moon could see black roots peeking through. He wore black and white, with a heavy golden chain around his neck; and something about the chain was familiar.

“Yeah,” piped up Emmett, folding his arms to glare at Professor Kukui. “You can fuck off, 'cause Guzma's here.”

Guzma, as his name apparently was, turned to regard Emmett with a flat expression on his face. “Do I look like I need you to hype me up, you little shit?”

It sounded harsh, but Moon could have sworn there was something... affectionate in the man's tone. Regardless, Emmett subsided. “No, sir,” he muttered.

For this he received a condescending pat on the head, and then Guzma turned back to Professor Kukui.

“You know, for once in your nerdy life I agree with you,” he said, folding his arms. “It's about time we cut out all that silly shit— island challenges. It's about time we made something new for ourselves. Trust me, I get that.”

Professor Kukui said nothing, though his eyes were oddly soft.

“Don't get me wrong, though, Kukui. We've got no need for a Pokémon League.”

“Speak for yourself, Guzma.” Professor Kukui turned to look at Moon. “Moon, you want to show him why we need a Pokémon League?”

Moon?”

Guzma's tone was sharp, and Moon turned back to look at him, blinking in surprise. For a moment the surprise was mirrored in his eyes; then hostility took over.

“Ah,” he said, with a nod. “You're the little shit who's been beating down my grunts left and right— the kid who's friends with Molly and Rog.”

His grunts. Several things fell into place. “You're the boss of Team Skull?”

Guzma's mouth twitched. “That's me,” he said, though not without a touch of bitterness. “Plumes says you've got balls the size of Mount Lanakila, and you've beaten her down twice now. Not to mention all the other little scrubs on the team.” His head jerked in Emmett's direction; Emmett's mouth fell open indignantly but Jack quickly stepped on his foot to silence him. “Guess it's about time I show you who's the boss, huh?”

He took a step forward, slipping one hand in his pocket and pulling out a Pokéball. Moon could see a scratch on the gleaming red of the ball.

“Yeah, all right,” she said, with a nod.

“You show him, Moon,” said Professor Kukui. Moon turned to look at him, surprised at the vehemence in his voice. “You show him what an island challenge can do for a Trainer.”

Guzma rolled his eyes. “You're not gonna change my mind, old man.”

“I'm only two years older than you, Guzma.”

“And yet you think you've got all the fucking answers. You think a Pokémon League is gonna fix things? You think it will make Alola better?” He shook his head. “The only way we'll get anywhere is to destroy the broken system. I'd gladly watch it all burn.”

“Is that what you've learned over in Po Town?” said Professor Kukui, his voice soft. “That the only thing you can do with something flawed is to destroy it?”

“Well, you know me.” Guzma spread his hands wide. “Ya boy, Guzma— destruction in human form.”

Moon reached for her own belt, though not before pausing to look down at the Beldum at her ankles. “Stay with the Professor,” she ordered it. “I don't want you underfoot while I'm battling.”

“Bel bel,” said the Beldum agreeably, moving over to nudge Professor Kukui's ankle.

The Professor blinked at her. “Oh, it's not yours?”

“Nope. Long story, I'll tell you later.” She took out Macbeth's ball— it was always smart to start with First Impression— and at a nod from Guzma, they threw their Pokéballs at the same time.

For a moment, Moon thought there had been a mistake; but when Guzma began laughing, bending over and slapping his knee with loud, whooping laughter; she knew she wasn't, in fact, seeing double. Guzma had a Golisopod, too— a whole head taller than Macbeth, and quite a bit broader as well.

Another piece of the puzzle clicked in Moon's mind. “Right,” she realized. “Plumeria said she was— um, dating a guy who trains a Golisopod.” Gladion had mentioned it, too.

Dating,” snorted Guzma. “Yeah, I'd bet you anything she didn't say we were dating.”

“Sure, but we're in public and referring to what I can only assume is a pretty long-term relationship as just fucking seems kind of crass.”

“Which is how she likes it,” said Guzma, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Moon rolled her eyes. “Sure, whatever you say.”

Macbeth had ventured forward to sniff at Guzma's Golisopod; it had taken a few steps to do the same.

“All right, all right, enough of that,” ordered Guzma. His Golisopod retreated at once, bending its knees slightly in a battle-ready pose— well-trained, thought Moon approvingly. Macbeth backed up as well, glancing back at Moon with a wary expression on her face.

“Macbeth, First Impression!”

“Goliath, First Impression!”

The timing was such that they ended up giving the order for First Impression in unison. Macbeth and Goliath both darted in at once. Macbeth hit first— which surprised Moon, since she'd figured Guzma's Golisopod would have been faster; but then Goliath's claws ripped into Macbeth and she squealed sharply, immediately retreating to her Pokéball with Emergency Exit.

“Wow,” said Moon, staring at Goliath.

“Is that all you got, kid?”

“In your dreams, asshole,” retorted Moon, and tossed out Ariel. The advantage of having a Pokémon in common with Guzma was that she knew what to do to defeat it.

Of course, his Golisopod knew Razor Shell, when Macbeth still hadn't learned a Water-type move. It hit Ariel fairly hard, but she was the tankiest of Moon's team for a reason. Her responding Beak Blast wasn't quite enough to knock out Goliath, but it was enough to trigger his Emergency Exit.

“Nice,” said Guzma, albeit grudgingly. He tossed out another Pokéball; a flash of light revealed a Masquerain.

Moon automatically cringed.

“What, you don't like Masquerain?” said Guzma, a hint of aggressiveness in his tone.

“It's not that I don't like them— okay, it kind of is, but it's not like, personal. I kind of... have a phobia. Of Bug-types.”

Guzma blinked at her for a few seconds.

“You're afraid of Bug-types, but you have a Golisopod?”

“She was a rescue,” explained Moon. “A couple of asshole kids thought it would be funny to poke a Wimpod with a stick. She had bruises beneath her shell. I told them off and adopted her.”

Guzma blinked at her for a few more seconds. “Arceus, I can see exactly why Plumeria likes you,” he muttered. “Fucking hell. Lady, use Ice Beam!”

Moon hadn't expected that from a Masquerain. “Ariel, dodge it and hit her with Beak Blast!”

But Guzma's attack had come out of nowhere. Ariel was pretty quick, but she was tankier than she was quick and the Ice Beam hit her squarely— and powerfully. She fainted, and Moon was forced to recall her.

Ben was the obvious choice, of her remaining Pokémon; Masquerain were part Flying-type and he directly countered that. He came out with sparks to intimidate— a touch that Moon always appreciated— and while he took damage from another Ice Beam, it took only a Discharge to knock the Masquerain out.

Guzma nodded shortly and sent out another Pokémon— Moon recognized Ariados, reminded of the one that Hau's father Kai owned.

“Stripey, use Sucker Punch!”

“Ben, another Discharge!”

Sucker Punch, of course, hit first← that was the point of it. What surprised Moon was the sheer power behind the hit— the Ariados was strong, just like the Golisopod and the Masquerain. Guzma was clearly a skilled Trainer. Ben didn't have quite the same stamina as Ariel did, and he fell unconscious.

An uncomfortable feeling welled up in Moon's stomach, making its slow way up to her throat. Two of her Pokémon had been easily defeated by Guzma's team— she only had two left, and Macbeth was already injured.

She sent out Puck, trying to ignore the twinge in her stomach when Guzma's focused expression shifted into a smirk.

“Stripey, Fell Stinger,” he ordered, folding his arms.

“Puck, use Spirit Shackle!”

The Ariados scuttled forward, but Puck remained calm, taking the hit as he prepared his own attack. The string from nowhere, wing to foot, was drawn; the feather-arrow, half magic and half attack, went back and back and back— and then shot forward, true to target.

It was a one-hit knockout, which she hadn't expected. Guzma's smirk vanished, and his eyebrows knitted together as he tossed out—

— his Golisopod, once more. That meant he probably didn't have any more Pokémon, which in turn meant that Moon might win the battle.

“Goliath, First Impression!”

“Puck, another Spirit Shackle!”

The Golisopod slammed into Puck, and her owl winced at the force of the hit; but he bravely drew his bow all the same and took the shot.

The Golisopod fainted, which meant Moon had won. It was probably the hardest Trainer battle she'd had to date.

Guzma stood motionless for a few moments, but then he began mumbling under his breath. He dug in his pocket and pulled out a handful of Pokémon medicines, applying them to his teammates. “So, a Trainer with a Wimpod and a Bug phobia,” he said conversationally, wrinkling his nose. “How the fuck does that work?”

“I got used to her.” Moon got out her own medicines. “And it helps that my Jolteon likes her. He's the difficult one, so I was really surprised when he informed me that she was cute.”

“Your Jolteon's got good taste. The Golisopod looks pretty fresh— newly evolved?”

Moon swallowed, thinking of Aether Paradise and whispers in her mind, coldness on her wrists. “It's been a few weeks, but yeah.”

“Not many Trainers can raise one well.” He cleared his throat, scowling. “Props, and all that.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Don't fucking mention it. Next time I see you, I will beat your ass to a pulp, got it?”

“Loud and clear.”

“No need to be a sore loser,” laughed Professor Kukui.

Guzma's expression turned poisonous. “You can fuck right off, Maleko. I was talking to the kid.”

“Guzma—”

“Skulls,” said Guzma loudly, turning his back on the Professor. “We're done here. Let's go.”

Emmett and Jack followed him as he walked out of Malie Garden. They both stared at Moon— they looked terrified, and Moon didn't much like either of them but she suddenly wondered if they were going to be in trouble, or if Guzma would take his anger out on them.

She hastily pulled Rotom out of her pocket.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: I'm pretty sure I just met your boss in Malie Garden and I may have kind of beaten him in a battle and I don't know what kind of mood he's in, but Emmett and Jack were looking at me like they'd seen a Ghost or something

 

“Moon?” said Professor Kukui.

“Just a sec, Professor— it's important.”

 

the girl with the curls: HOLY FUCKING SHIT

herbalist: run that by me one more time.

herbalist: we're talking about Guzma?

herbalist: you beat GUZMA in a battle?????????

shakespeare jr: Yep

the girl with the curls: I REPEAT, HOLY FUCKING SHIT

shakespeare jr: ??????

herbalist: fun fact: we have never actually seen or heard of Guzma losing a battle

herbalist: not even to Plumeria

the girl with the curls: and she's not even like, going easy on him or anything. she's legit trying to beat him when they train together

the girl with the curls: and you just waltz in and beat him

herbalist: fucking WILD

shakespeare jr: Anyway I thought I'd let you know so that maybe you can tell Plumeria so she knows to maybe expect him if he's really mad or something

the girl with the curls: He doesn't get Moods™ the way Kohaku does, but he does get Moods™ that result in alcohol and breaking lamps and shit so I'll tell everyone to hide their knick-knacks

herbalist: yeah thanks for the heads-up

shakespeare jr: it's the least I can do for my friends

 

She put Rotom back into her pocket, satisfied that she'd done a good deed for the day, and smiled at Professor Kukui. “Sorry about that. How are you doing?”

For a few moments, the Professor's face was unreadable; then he grinned and brightened. “I'm doing pretty good. Have you met Guzma before? He seemed pretty comfortable with you, yeah.”

“Um— not exactly. I've sort of, um— made friends with some of the Team Skull grunts? I'm in a group chat with a couple of them, and I was just letting them know that he might be kind of mad when he gets home because I beat him.”

Professor Kukui nodded approvingly. “Good call, yeah.” He sighed. “I kind of worry about the guy... but he's made his choices, and he's an adult. All I can do is let him know that there are better things waiting for him, if he wants them.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It doesn't really matter anymore,” said Professor Kukui, “seeing as how he turned me down anyway. Oh, well.”

Hau and Lillie approached them, from the dispersing crowd. Lillie had a slight frown on her face. “Why didn't you want me to be seen?” she asked Professor Kukui, point-blank.

“Ah, right.” Professor Kukui scratched his head, looking a bit sheepish. “I've always been pretty bad at reading Guzma— can't tell what he's thinking most of the time. I was a bit worried about what he'd make of Nebby, so I thought it would be better if you and Hau blended into the crowd for a bit, yeah?”

“Probably a good idea,” said Hau, with a nod.

“But I've got a couple of gifts for you guys, so why don't we head over to the restaurant? I'll spot you all some dinner, yeah.”

“Sounds good to me,” agreed Moon.

The fare at the restaurant was pretty light— salad and tea-sandwiches. Moon had never had a watercress sandwich, but she decided that the next time she had one would be far too soon, whenever it was. Hau didn't discriminate between the watercress or the imi-chicken salad, but Lillie actually liked the watercress sandwiches.

“I'm not sure we can be friends anymore,” joked Moon. “You're eating a slimy leaf and butter sandwich.”

“It's something I'm used to,” said Lillie, with a shrug. “I ate them a lot at— at home. Before I left. They're very light— you know, since it's just watercress and butter.”

Her tone was deceptively casual, but the way her voice stuttered in the middle of the sentence told Moon just how much effort it had taken her friend to admit that small detail.

“You can have mine, then,” she said, setting another watercress sandwich on Lillie's plate. “I'll stick to the chicken salad.”

Lillie blinked a few times, but offered Moon a smile.

“All right,” said Professor Kukui, grinning at all three of them. “I've got some gifts for you— and these are pretty special, yeah.”

He held out one hand to Hau and the other to Moon, fists closed; then he opened them.

A Z-Crystal rested on his open palm. It was a greyish violet color, but there was a fleck of green in it. On the Professor's other palm was a bright blue crystal, with sparkles of pink about it.

“These,” he said solemnly, “are Decidium Z and Primarium Z.”

It took Moon a few seconds for the information to register, but when it did she snatched at the crystal, peering closely at it with round eyes.

“You said there were only eighteen Z-Crystals!” she said breathlessly, staring at it. “But this— this is made for Decidueye?”

“Right in one,” said Professor Kukui, with a nod. “We haven't seen these Z-Crystals before. Plenty of Trainers have used Decidueye, Incineroar, and Primarina in the past— but these are new, yeah. It's interesting, though.”

“What is?”

His eyes twinkled. “Don't you want to know how I got hold of them?”

“Z-Crystals come from the Tapus, don't they?” Moon blinked several times, realizing. “Okay, wow, what the f— heck.”

Hau snorted at Moon's hasty self-censoring. “Did these come from the Tapus, Professor?”

“Certainly. It's very interesting, yeah— Tapu Bulu gave Decidium Z to Kahuna Nanu, who got in touch with me at the same time as little Hapu, who told me that Tapu Fini visited her all the way on Melemele Island to give her Primarium Z. And Tapu Koko handed Incinium Z to Hala, who in turn gave it to me.”

“There's not enough room on the Z-Rings for all eighteen crystals plus this one, though,” pointed out Moon.

“Well, believe it or not, there are a few more Z-Crystals that we did know about— that weren't basic elemental ones, yeah. There's one for Pikachu, and another for Eevee— but neither of you expressed interest in keeping your Eevees as Eevees forever. Same with Hau's Pikachu. So I figured you wouldn't mind not being able to use those.”

“Fair enough,” allowed Moon.

“Yep. And there's also one for Raichu, but they're pretty rare and I haven't been able to hunt one down just yet.”

“Ooh, really?” Hau's eyes lit up. “It would be awesome to have a special Z-Crystal just for Uila.”

“Then you'll have to keep an eye out for it, yeah! Now, Lycanium Z, for Lycanroc, has been around for a little while; Olivia's been studying them, as they're usually given to her by Tapu Lele. And I think there might even be a few more— but you'd have to research it, because I don't know much else about it.”

They finished eating, and Professor Kukui took care of the bill; then he led them over to a barely used part of Malie Garden.

“You'll notice, Moon, that Decidium Z is purple, rather than green.”

“Right.”

“That's because Decidueye's special Z-Move is based on Spirit Shackle, yeah!” Professor Kukui beamed. “Kahuna Nanu told me to pass along the message that it's called Sinister Arrow Raid. And since Spirit Shackle is a Ghost-type move, you'll need to learn the Ghost-type Z-Dance in order to use it.”

“What about mine?” asked Hau. “Do I need to learn the Fairy-type Z-Dance?”

“Nope! Hapu said that Primarina's Z-Move, Oceanic Operetta, is a Water-type move because it's based on Sparkling Aria, yeah. So you already know how to do the Water-type Z-Dance. Now, Moon— I'm a bit rusty with Never-Ending Nightmare, so you'll have to excuse me—”

“Or you could have me teach it,” chirped a familiar voice.

Moon turned, surprised, to see Acerola trotting toward them. There was a Banette creeping after her, zippered grin widening when it caught sight of the Beldum at Moon's feet.

“Hey there, Acerola!” Professor Kukui beamed, holding out his fist; Acerola bumped it with a matching grin. “I don't see you very often in these parts, but I'll be making my way up to Tapu Village soon enough, yeah!”

“It'll be nice to see you there, Professor. Now, would you like me to teach Moon the dance for Never-Ending Nightmare? I wouldn't want her to use it incorrectly.”

“That'd be really nice of you, Acerola. I appreciate it.”

Acerola cleared her throat, backing up a few steps; the Banette lurched backwards, head spinning in a complete circle. Moon watched as the younger girl performed the dance. It seemed simple enough; she copied Acerola's movements, ending with her hands dangling near her face.

“Nice,” said Acerola, with a nod. Her gaze flicked to Hau and then Lillie, with amusement. “And how are you all doing?”

“I'm still weirded out about how you basically disappeared into thin air at the library,” said Hau grumpily, crossing his arms.

Acerola giggled. “Well, you have to be a grown-up to use a Ride Pager, unless you're a special case like Miss Hapu, or Captain Sophocles,” she said innocently. “I think it's a pretty dumb rule, so I've taught Eva Shadow Sneak, and she can take me anywhere with a shadow in Alola.”

“It's not many Trainers who can use the shadow paths, yeah,” chuckled Professor Kukui. “Acerola here is a rare soul, in more ways than one.”

“I like Ula'ula Island, because it's much more shadowed than other places in Alola. There is a darkness here that you cannot find on any of the other islands.” Acerola smiled, and a chill crawled up Moon's spine. “And yet, there wouldn't be shadows without light— be it from the sun, the moon, or the stars. There are some people who have lived for too long in a place without shadows. Everything is black or white— no grey, no play, only one way. But in the shadows, there's much more room to grow.”

A silence fell over their group; but then Acerola giggled again. “It was nice seeing you again,” she said, waving and taking her Banette by the hand. “You should be running into me pretty soon, though. Alola!”

And just as she had in the library, she vanished into thin air.

Professor Kukui didn't seem surprised by this; he simply laughed, though it was rather subdued. “You got that?” he said.

“What do you mean?”

But the Professor was looking at Lillie— and Lillie, much to Moon's surprise, was tearing up. She took a deep breath. “I understand,” she said quietly. “Tell her thank you, please.”

“Tell her yourself, in a few weeks. She lives in Tapu Village, and that's your next destination on the island challenge.”

The next thing to do, of course, was to test out their new Z-Moves; and as Hau put it, “What better way is there to find out how the Z-Moves look than with a battle?”

Moon agreed. She hadn't battled with Hau since they'd first arrived on Ula'ula Island a few weeks ago. It would be interesting to see how Poppy's evolution to Primarina changed things— though she wasn't particularly worried about the Z-Move, since none of her teammates were weak to Water. She replaced Puck's Grassium Z with the Decidium, and waited as Hau did the same with Primarium Z.

Professor Kukui and Lillie retreated to the sidelines— a fairly safe distance from the battle, Moon noticed.

She started with Macbeth, and was unsurprised when Hau brought out Uila in a clear attempt to counter her, Electric to Water. First Impression worked wonders, however, and Uila fainted in a single hit.

Hau's mouth went slightly sour, but he brought out Sonar— which was exactly what Moon would have done, in his shoes. It took a few turns— mostly because Moon had replaced Macbeth's Frost Breath with Sucker Punch when she had thought Sophocles would have a Psychic-type trial. Sonar and Macbeth traded hits until the little bat got a lucky critical hit with Aerial Ace; Emergency Exit sent Macbeth scrambling back to her ball.

“Nice one,” said Moon appreciatively, but she wasn't going to go easy on Hau so she sent out Ben, who took out the already-weakened Sonar with a powerful Discharge.

Hau sent out Rumble, which confused Moon until the bull snorted and stomped out a Bulldoze— which was very effective on Ben, judging by the one-hit knockout.

“Wow,” she commented. “Rumble's getting really strong, isn't he?”

“He sure is,” said Hau affectionately, patting the Tauros, who mooed cheerfully in response. “But that's not all you've got, Moon.”

Moon sent out Puck, because Rumble's STAB Normal-type moves wouldn't do much now that Puck was part Ghost. Hau nodded approvingly.

“Rumble, use Pursuit!”

“Puck, Razor Leaf!”

Pursuit was super-effective, but Puck bravely shook off the hit and countered with Razor Leaf. It took a few turns, but Puck defeated Rumble. Moon took the opportunity to heal Puck with a Hyper Potion as Hau sent out Ollie.

Fire was super-effective against Grass, so Moon decided to go straight for the kill. Puck took Ollie's Fire Fang with a wince, and watched attentively as she performed the steps to the new dance, but blinked in surprise when she shouted,

“Puck, use Sinister Arrow Raid!”

There was a beat of silence; but then something in Puck's eyes went... oddly dark.

He spread his wings wide; and feather-arrows popped into existence, extending in a halo around him; then he leaped high into the air; the arrows went with him.

“What the hell,” breathed Moon. “I thought you didn't fly?”

And he didn't, really. It was just a very high jump. At the apex of his leap, Puck turned and barrelled down toward Ollie, surrounded by the arrows.

He landed first, beating at the Flareon with his wings before jumping away, backflipping toward Moon. The arrows slammed into him next— Ollie didn't have a chance.

For a few moments, none of them spoke. Then Hau recalled Ollie, grinning.

“Okay,” he said, nodding. “That was sick, Moon. That was awesome. But now it's my turn.”

He sent out Poppy.

“Pri-ma-riii!” she sang, clapping her flippers.

Moon raised one eyebrow at him. “You do realize it's not going to do much, since it's a Water-type move?”

“Yeah, yeah. I just want to try it out.” Hau grinned, already stepping into the Water-type Z-Dance. “Poppy— use Oceanic Operetta!”

Poppy's eyes went wide with wonder and joy. She opened her mouth.

It was, possibly, the most beautiful song that Moon had ever heard in her life. The water swirled and gathered around and above them as the Primarina sang. It was high and ancient— something pure and raw, something that could not hope to be captured by anything so mundane as a Pokéball.

The song reached a climax, Poppy holding out a long, high note as she rose to stand on her hind flippers. The giant globe of water floated forward, above Puck; and then Poppy spread her front flippers wide and the water dropped, splashing heavily onto Puck as well as Moon; Poppy bowed, pressing one flipper to her heart.

“Wow!” shouted Hau, beaming. “Poppy, that was amazing!”

“Pri ri, mari!” Poppy beamed, settling back down onto her stomach as usual.

Despite the fact that Puck resisted Water-type attacks, the sheer power of the move had knocked him out. Moon— dripping wet and not even slightly annoyed about it— recalled him and sent out Ariel.

Hau's grin suddenly went razor-sharp. “Poppy, use Icy Wind!”

Moon had forgotten about fucking Icy Wind. “Ariel, dodge it and use Beak Blast!”

It was a near thing, and only the sheer power of Beak Blast was able to prevent Moon from losing to Hau. Poppy's Icy Wind clipped Ariel's wing, but the Toucannon bravely came through and defeated Hau. Moon let out a sigh of relief.

“That was a close one, yeah!” shouted Professor Kukui, excited. “And those Z-Moves were amazing, yeah! I'll be testing out Incinium Z on Blazer as soon as I can get around to it.”

“Oh, Professor,” said Moon, suddenly reminded of something. “Um, Molayne said you left something up at the observatory. He wanted me to give it to you.”

She pulled the Masked Royal mask from her backpack, holding it out to Professor Kukui with a grin.

“Well, this isn't mine,” said Professor Kukui innocently, though he took it anyway. “But I'll be sure to deliver it to my good friend, the Masked Royal, the next time he shows up at the Battle Royal stadium, yeah?”

“Oh, come on, you can't seriously expect me to—”

“It was an amazing battle,” said Lillie quickly. “I was certain Hau was going to win for a few moments.”

“Seriously, that was one of the best battles I've ever had.” Moon crossed over to where Hau stood, offering her hand to shake. “You knocked out two and a half of my team— and if you'd gotten Ariel, you definitely would have won. Macbeth was already weak from Sonar's attacks, so I don't know if she could have stood up to Poppy.”

Hau's eyes were shining. “It was so fun,” he declared, shaking Moon's hand. “Sorry you got all wet— Poppy and I will have to practice the spacing on that move. Puck's Z-Move was super cool, too.”

“It really was.” Moon shook her head, sending water flying onto both Hau and Lillie; a drop landed on Esper's forehead and she squeaked in surprise. “Anyway, I should go back to the Pokémon Center and change clothes.”

“Let's all go back,” decided Hau, with a glance at Lillie; she nodded. “Between that Guzma dude and Primarium Z, this day has been a little too exciting for me.”

Moon agreed— though it occurred to her that she had been so occupied that she hadn't had much time to think about Horatio, the Nihilego, or Gladion— she'd been oddly happy through all of it. Perhaps staying busy would make some of the things she was going through a little easier to bear.

 

Chapter Text

From: marionhawkins@pmail.co.alo

To: garyo@pmail.co.kan, redsatoshi@pmail.co.kan

Attachment: [MalieVlog.mov]

 

Love, Moon

 

Open with media player?

Yes No

*****

[The screen is black. One letter at a time— as though being typed— words appear in white on the screen. There are accompanying clicking sounds, as though one could hear the words being typed as well.]

 

Hi.

This is a vlog.

I made it because I'm kind of going through some stuff.

I dunno, it's gonna keep me busy.

And if I'm busy then I'm happy.

You know what I mean?

Whatever, here's the video

Like, comment, and subscribe...

JUST KIDDING this isn't PokéTube

 

[The words disappear, leaving only a black screen— which is quickly replaced by a face, very close to the camera. The face belongs to a young woman with dark-brown hair that reaches her cheekbones: Moon. She is wearing purple glasses frames (which she does not technically need) and a black baseball cap with two metal rings hanging from the brim. The architecture visible behind her head is reminiscent of Ecruteak City in Johto.]

 

Moon: Yo, what up!!! Red and Blue. Or Blue and Red. Whatever you prefer. It's been a hot minute since either of you could hear my beautiful voice, because honestly international text and call rates suck giant Mudsdale balls. Sooooo I made a little video blog thingy for you. I thought it would be cute, and plus I have like a semi-professional camera robot AI Pokémon who can film me doing shit hands-free.

Rotom: Hi, that's me, bzzt.

 

[Accompanying the rather buzzy voice is a lime-green text, appearing in the corner of the video for several seconds.]

 

Hello, this is Rotom. All of my text commentary will be in green, and Moon's will be in white.

 

[The camera moves away from Moon's face; she holds up her hands, wiggling them to show that she is not holding the camera.]

 

Moon: So, yeah. I was just doing stuff and shooting the shit with my friends and I was like, hey Rotom, film some stuff for me, thanks. I edited it together—

Rotom: Excuse you, I edited it together, bzzt.

Moon: It was a group effort—

Rotom: It was ninety percent me, bzzt.

 

[The camera is jerked downward, and the screen goes black. Scuffling noises and arguing are heard in the background: “—where do you get off saying you did all the work, I'm the one who—” “You have no idea how to edit a video, bzzt, you literally just did everything I suggested—” “IT WAS STILL ME DOING IT THOUGH—” The audio cuts out, and green text appears on the screen.]

 

We eventually came to an agreement that I did 78.32% of the work, and Moon did the remaining 21.68%. Thank you for your understanding on the matter.

 

[The video immediately cuts to another clip. Moon is in the foreground, squinting at the camera; behind her are a young man with neat dreadlocks tied back into a bun at the crown of his head, and a young woman with a wide, floppy white hat and a suspiciously wiggly bag. They appear to be in a traditional Kantonian garden, complete with bridges, roofed gazebos, and bamboo growing by the ponds.]

 

Moon: Okay, so Hau and Lillie and I— wait, you guys have seen pictures of Hau and Lillie but you haven't actually met them. Say hi, guys!

Lillie: Hello!

Hau: Hi, Red and Blue. Um, not to be awkward, but I'm like a huge fan, oh my god—

Moon (interrupting) : So anyway, we just walked into Malie Garden and we saw the funniest thing.

 

[The camera pans over to show a large bridge. Several trainers stand along the bridge, staring skeptically at the camera.]

 

Moon: Remember when you guys told me about Nugget Bridge? That was up by like, Cerulean City, right? You had to pass them to go to the PC guy's house or whatever. I don't really remember, it's been a while since you told me that story. But Red always mentioned that the Trainers on the bridge would challenge you as you went past them, and there was a dude at the end who was like, “Join Team Rocket!” or whatever, right?

Hau: You've basically spoiled what's going to happen.

Moon: Well, they probably wouldn't have known that if you hadn't said anything! Anyway, these Trainers are basically saying that this is Nugget Bridge 2.0 and if I beat all of them, I can get a cool prize. So Hau and I are gonna do it.

Lillie: I'll stay back with Rotom— I don't think Esper is ready to train just yet.

Moon: Right, yeah. You can talk to Red and Blue if you want, they're probably curious about y'all because you've replaced them as my best friends—

Lillie: Moon!

Moon: What? It's true. That doesn't mean I don't still love them. They're my best Kanto friends, and you're my best Alola friends. That's how it is.

 

[Moon blows a kiss at the camera, then passes it to Lillie. She fumbles with it for a few moments, resulting in a few brief moments where the viewfinder focuses on her sneakers— high-top canvas in cotton-candy pink. Moon's voice in the background says, “Okay, stalker, you stay with Lillie.” The camera swings up to focus on Moon and Hau, who are approaching the Trainers on the bridge.]

 

Lillie: Well, there they go.

 

[Moon engages the first Trainer in battle, sending out a large Bug Pokémon; Hau begins with the second Trainer, sending out an oddly-colored Pikachu. The camera remains focused on them as Lillie speaks in the background.]

 

Lillie: I suppose if you're both from Kanto, you might not be familiar with either of their Pokémon. Moon has a Golisopod— it's a Water- and Bug-type.

Rotom: Other way around, bzzt. The Bug-type is primary, the Water-type is secondary.

Lillie: I wasn't aware that there was a difference.

Rotom: In practicality, there isn't one— it's got more to do with biology than anything. Macbeth looks more like a Bug-type than a Water-type.

Lillie: Oh, that actually makes sense. Um, so Golisopod is Bug- and Water-type. Moon caught it as a Wimpod on Akala Island, and it evolved a few weeks ago. It's very large and quite fast. And Hau has a Raichu, but I've read that Alolan Raichu look rather different than Kantonian Raichu. Alolan Raichu also gain Psychic-type on evolution, while Kantonian Raichu maintain their pure Electric-typing.

 

[Moon easily defeats the first Trainer, just as Hau does the same with the second. They swap places, waiting for the Trainers to heal up.]

 

Lillie: Um... what else should I say? I don't want it to be boring, and the microphone doesn't really pick up on what Moon and Hau are doing. Moon's surprisingly quiet when she battles. I mean— not that she's terribly loud, or anything! She can be very chatty, but she also listens. I wasn't ever a fan of Pokémon battling as a child, because I was— um, rather sensitive. I didn't like to think of them getting hurt. But it's a pleasure to watch Moon battle. She clearly cares a lot for her Pokémon. It's always fun to watch Hau, as well. He hasn't ever beaten Moon, but he works very hard, and he came quite close to defeating her a few days ago.

Hau [shouting from the bridge]: Seriously, I had her on the ropes!

Moon [also shouting]: I was totally lucky that my Toucannon is so fast at dodging!

Unknown Trainer (2) [also shouting]: Are you guys fighting us, or what?

Moon [turning back to the Trainer, still shouting]: I'm sorry, I can't talk to my friends for a second? Calm your ass down, pal.

 

[Lillie remains quiet as Moon defeats the Trainer who was shouting at her. Hau does the same; they move on to the third and fourth Trainers on the bridge.]

 

Lillie: I'd get up and get a closer angle, but I think the Trainers might take that as a challenge. I'm not battling today— I'm taking care of a very young Cleffa.

 

[The camera turns and pans down to show a sling on Lillie's chest; a wide-eyed Cleffa stares up at the camera before it returns to focus on Moon and Hau. Lillie's voice resumes in the background.]

 

Lillie: Um, let's see... I suppose you probably want to know how Moon is doing. I think she's doing well. I don't know if she's happy, necessarily— she's been through some difficult things, lately. I understand that. I've gone through my share of difficult things, too. But Moon is doing well despite the difficulties. She recently passed her fifth trial, which means she only has three more, plus two Grand Trials, before she can challenge the Pokémon League.

Moon [shouting]: Alola doesn't currently have a League, but I'm going to explain that to you as soon as I'm done here, okay?

Lillie: Or I could do it... but perhaps she wants to be the one to tell you. Knowing Moon, that's almost certainly the case.

 

[Moon and Hau defeat their respective Trainers and switch places again. As they are waiting for the Trainers to heal their Pokémon, both Moon and Hau turn and wave at the camera, making silly faces— Moon crosses her eyes and puffs out her cheeks; Hau sticks out his tongue and wiggles it from side to side. Lillie laughs quietly in the background.]

 

Lillie [quietly, almost whispering]: You know, she's probably going to see this later, so I won't try to embarrass her or anything— but even if she doesn't consider you her best friends anymore, she does really love both of you. I've only ever heard her express homesickness about you and about cherry-blossom trees. I know you're both very busy, and frankly so is Moon... but if you can find the time, perhaps in the next year or so, maybe you could surprise her with a visit? She would be overjoyed. And Alola is a very nice place to take a vacation, or so I've heard. I've... um, I've never taken one. Well, I suppose the six-month trip to Kalos when I was thirteen counts, but that was more like an intensive language primer than anything... it didn't feel like a vacation. Anyway, I'm rambling. It's probably not very interesting. Sorry.

 

[The screen cuts to black. White text appears on the screen, indicating that Moon has edited this part.]

 

Okay I know you guys don't swing that way but like

ISN'T LILLIE ADORABLE

Okay that is all, thank you

Also Rotom wouldn't let me listen to like the last forty-five seconds of the clip.

Like, the little fucker scrambled the audio every time I tried to look at it.

I don't know what she said to you, but knowing Lillie it was just nice things haha

I'm not worried

Not much, anyway

 

[The next shot is taken of the bridge again, but at a different angle, off to the side. Moon is facing an older Trainer, a man in a long black coat.]

 

Unknown Trainer (6): Hey, nice job defeating me. Here's a Big Nugget for you!

Moon: Oh, dude, sweet.

 

[The Trainer hands a Big Nugget to Moon, who puts it in her backpack.]

 

Unknown Trainer (6): Why don't you join Team Rocket?

Moon: Yep, totally. Where do I sell my soul to become a heartless yakuza asshole?

Unknown Trainer (6): ...I can't tell if that's a yes or a no.

Moon: It's definitely a no, buddy.

Unknown Trainer (6): Good answer! Team Rocket's been gone for ages now, but lots of people remember how they challenged passing Trainers on Nugget Bridge. Thanks for playing the game with us!

Moon: ... um, sure.

 

[The camera cuts to Moon's face, close to the camera. She is walking; it is possible to see the garden behind her, as well as Hau and Lillie.]

 

Moon: That was cute and everything, though the guy asking if I wanted to join Team Rocket at the end was kind of weird. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed that little trip down memory lane. Um... Hau, Lillie, were we doing anything else today?

Lillie: I kind of wanted to check out the community center, if that's all right with you? And Those Who Conquered The Night suggested some more histories I should check for details on my research regarding Ne— I mean, Cosmog. So it would be nice to go back to the library, as well.

Moon [laughing]: Oh, this is gonna be funny. Red and Blue hate taking me to libraries, but now they're gonna be stuck with me in a library if they want to keep watching the video. Done and done.

 

[The camera cuts to a shot of a tall, ornate building; a sign outside reads Malie City Public Library. The shot lasts for several seconds, before immediately cutting again to what is clearly the inside of the library— the walls are lined with books. The camera cuts again to Moon's face, with the library in the background. Moon is grinning widely.]

 

Moon [whispering]: I'll make this quick, because the librarians are staring at me like I've suggested a book burning and I do not want to piss off the librarians. This is the library, it's spectacular and gorgeous and amazing and I love it. I'm mostly just going to clip together pretty architecture shots, so I'm not making noise and talking. I'll probably edit text over it, too. Peace.

 

[Moon makes a peace sign with two fingers by her face. The camera cuts to a shot of a high ceiling with an arched roof. White text on the screen reads: “SO PRETTY OMG.” The camera cuts to a shot that focuses on Hau and Lillie from far away; they are in a section of the library labelled Alolan History and Culture. The shot zooms in on them; their heads are bent over the same book, but Lillie is staring at the page while Hau is looking at Lillie. In the background, Moon is whispering but gradually grows louder.]

 

Moon: I'm not meddling in their relationship, because I tried to do that to you guys and it was a capital-M Mistake. But look at them. Look at them. They are so cute and I just want them to be happy. Hau's told me he likes Lillie, and I mean, duh. Look at him, he's not subtle. But I think Lillie might like him a little bit, too. I'm not sure, because she tends to keep her cards close to her chest. But I think she's falling slowly. Ugh, my heart. Cute.

Unknown Librarian: Miss, I'm going to have to ask you to be a little quieter.

Moon: I'm so sorry, I'm just filming a vlog for my friends in Kanto. I'll try to keep it down. I was whispering but I got excited about something. Please don't kick me out of the library, this is possibly my favorite place in Alola.

Unknown Librarian: Er— I wasn't going to ask you to leave. Just try to keep it down, please.

Moon: Absolutely. I am so sorry.

 

[Green text appears on the screen.]

 

Moon has very little control when it comes to libraries, but you probably knew that already.

 

[The camera cuts to a slow, panoramic shot of the entire library. It is admittedly impressive. The camera turns to face Moon, who makes a face by widening her eyes and letting her jaw drop, as though surprised. Moon's back is to the door of the library. A shadowy figure approaches the door and opens it in the background. Moon sees the figure in the viewfinder and frowns slightly at the camera. When the lighting has adjusted, the shadowy figure is revealed to be a tall, slim young man dressed in black, with white-blond hair. The camera spins rapidly, zooming close to something deep red before turning black— it would seem that Moon dropped Rotom by accident. The camera cuts to Moon, Hau, and Lillie, walking out of the library. Hau looks annoyed, and Lillie looks upset; Moon's expression is disturbingly empty.]

 

Moon: It's a story for another day, but I ran into someone I didn't really want to see and we had to go. What do you guys want to have for lunch?

Hau: I could go for malasadas.

Moon/Lillie [in unison]: When could you not?

Hau [laughing]: Hey!

Moon: As delightful as malasadas are— oh, Red and Blue, they really are, they're like big donut holes but so much better. My point is, we need to eat something that has like, actual nutritional value.

Hau: Malasadas—

Lillie: I don't even know what you're going to try and say, but I'm going to go ahead and stop you right there. Malasadas do not have any nutritional value whatsoever. They are all sugar and fat.

Hau [pouting]: But they're tasty.

Lillie: I never said they weren't tasty. I just said they weren't healthy. I'd like to have something with protein or fiber.

Moon: What do you say we go to that burger shack down the street from the Pokémon Center, and then we get malasadas after?

Lillie: That sounds lovely.

Hau: Ooh, you know, I could actually go for a burger right about now.

Moon: Great. Let's go.

 

[The camera cuts to a brief shot of the exterior of a restaurant. The sign outside reads McMiltank's: Home of Alola's 100% Authentically Flavored Imitation Beef Burgers. The camera pans around to Moon's face. She raises and lowers her eyebrows several times before smirking. The camera cuts to Moon, Hau, and Lillie sitting in a booth; the camera is clearly perched in the window. Moon makes a minute adjustment to the angle before turning her attention to a server, who has approached with a tray.]

 

Server: All righty— we've got one imi-chicken sandwich, light mayo and extra pickles?

Lillie: That's mine, thank you.

Server: And the cheese-and-Big-Mushroom imi-burger?

Hau: For me, please.

Server: And that leaves the classic double imi-cheeseburger with lettuce, Tamato berry, and onions?

Moon: Yum, thank you very much.

Server: Can I get you guys anything else? Refills on your drinks?

Hau: Yeah, that would be great— root beer for me. You guys want refills?

Moon: Yeah, sure. Mine was Nomel berry soda.

Lillie: Mm-hmm. I had Cheri cola.

Server: All right, I'll be right back with fresh drinks for you!

 

[The camera cuts to hovering immediately above a plate, which contains a cheeseburger with lettuce, onions, and slices of Tamato berry as well as a side of Kalosian-style fries. A glass next to the plate contains a clear, bubbly liquid. The camera zooms in on the food; Moon, Hau, and Lillie can be heard speaking in the background.]

 

Moon: Get jealous, boys. This is like the real Unovan shit, the good burgers.

Hau: It's imi-beef, there's nothing real about it.

Moon: It tastes like beef, and that's what counts. I don't think I've ever had real beef— we could never afford it. But would you even want to eat beef at this point? You have a Tauros on your team.

Hau: Yeah, you have a good point. I'll stick with imi-beef. I've had actual fish before though— I had Wishiwashi sashimi once, and Octillery calamari is really good. But I prefer imi-fish on principle.

Lillie: I've had real beef before.

Moon: Is it good?

Lillie: It's slightly better in terms of flavor, I suppose. I really don't think it tastes that much different than imi-beef, but now that I've had both I'm not going to have real beef again. It's not that I'm against the meat industry, necessarily— it's just that imi-beef has been shown to be more cost-effective, especially in Alola where there isn't a lot of real estate for big cattle ranches. It's better for our economy. Raising Tauros just to kill them is kind of costly— especially because most people buy imi-beef.

Moon: I just get weirded out at the idea of eating Pokémon. If I don't know it's real, I probably wouldn't mind too much.

Lillie: You probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference unless you wanted to order a rare steak. If a steak is cooked rare, then it's usually still pink on the inside. Rare imi-beef is more of a pale-brown color.

Hau: Why would anyone order a rare steak, though?

Moon: I mean, true. The ideal steak is medium well or medium rare.

Lillie: I advise both of you to never, ever look up beef tartare.

 

[The camera cuts to Hau, staring at his phone with a nauseated expression on his face.]

 

Hau: Are you serious? People actually shape raw beef into a little patty, crack an egg on it, and call it a meal?

Lillie: I did tell you not to look it up.

Moon: That's just fucking gross.

Lillie: Is it much different from sashimi, though?

Moon: Well, yeah. Fish aren't usually prone to getting, you know, parasites.

Lillie: I see your point.

 

[The camera cuts to a shot of another restaurant. This one has no obvious lettered sign, but a large Swirlix has been painted onto the front window. The camera pans over to Hau, who is running toward the restaurant with his arms outstretched.]

 

Hau [shouting]: Hello, malasadas! I've missed you so!

Moon: He literally had malasadas for breakfast this morning.

 

[The camera cuts to several boxes of malasadas, all of them open. One box contains twelve identical pastries dusted with granulated sugar and filled with scarlet jelly; another has six of the scarlet jelly, three yellow jelly, and three chocolate; and the last box contains two with a white cream, two with an ivory custard, two with a chunky golden-brown jelly, two with an orange jelly, two with a bright red cream, and two with a smooth caramel filling. The camera pans up to Lillie, who seems torn between disgust and amusement.]

 

Lillie: I cannot believe that we regularly order eighteen Aguav-berry malasadas for Hau.

 

[In the time that the camera pans over the scarlet jelly-filled malasadas and the time that Lillie finished speaking, two of the scarlet jelly-filled malasadas have been eaten. Lillie reaches into the last box and picks up one of the malasadas filled with bright red cream. Moon can be heard speaking; she is clearly holding Rotom to film.]

 

Moon: That's one of the special spicy ones, right?

Lillie: They were offering a special on— believe it or not— Haban berry cream-filled malasadas. Haban berries are spicy. I'm really not sure if this is going to be any good.

Moon: I'll try it, hand it over.

 

[Lillie holds out the Haban berry cream-filled malasada. Moon's hand reaches out and takes the malasada, and Lillie takes the camera, turning it to film Moon. As the camera turns it shows the malasada shop. Moon, Hau, and Lillie are sitting in a booth. Hau has eaten six Aguav-berry malasadas; and several of the other shop patrons are staring at him with mixed expressions of disgust, awe, and horror. Moon sniffs the Haban berry cream-filled malasada, then shrugs and bites into it.]

 

Lillie: Well?

 

[Moon finishes chewing and swallows.]

 

Moon: I can definitely taste the Haban berries, but the cream and the pastry and sugar negate a lot of the spiciness. They're not half bad.

Lillie: They're rather pungent. I can already smell your breath from here.

 

[Moon grins, showing red-stained teeth, and blows toward Lillie and Rotom. Lillie lets out a shriek. The camera cuts to Hau, staring at the camera with an exasperated expression before turning it to show Lillie, holding a metallic Pokémon over her head and whacking Moon in the arm with it. Moon is laughing hysterically.]

 

Hau: I dunno if any of the video's going to have the Beldum in it other than this, but that Beldum isn't technically Moon's. It's stalking her. It's been following her since the last trial because it wants to be part of her team, but her Jolteon is a brat and doesn't like it. For some reason, Moon is letting her Jolteon get away with telling her what to do.

 

[The camera cuts to black. White text appears on the screen, indicating that Moon is speaking.]

 

Hau is technically correct.

BUT.

I'm not letting Ben tell me what to do.

I'm also pissed at the Beldum.

It basically decided that it's going to follow me until I catch it.

I don't like being told what to do.

So I'm not catching it.

It would take a fucking miracle for me to want to catch it at this point.

 

[The camera cuts to a sign that reads Malie City: Outer Cape and Malie Recycling Plant. The sky had been growing increasingly darker in previous shots, but now the sun is out and bright. The camera turns to reveal Moon, Hau, and Lillie, walking along a road.]

 

Moon: Goooooooood morning, my grumpy Kanto boys! I've already been down this way to train, but last time Hau and Lillie were holed up at the Pokémon Center reading a stuffy old history book—

Lillie: You can't really say anything disparaging about my research when you're the one who gets annoyed whenever anyone can't identify which of Shakespeare's plays you're talking about at any given time.

Hau [shouting]: Ooh, burn!

Moon: ... you know what, I don't even have a response for that. She's right.

 

[Lillie smiles and shoots the camera a thumbs-up. The camera cuts to an open field of grass. Four figures in black are standing there. One has hot-pink and neon-yellow pigtails; one has curly orange hair; one has teal hair and glasses; and the last has white-blond hair. The camera quickly pans down to face the ground. Voices can be heard in the background.]

 

Unknown (4): I'm going now.

Unknown (1): Sure, whatever you need to do. Let me know when you get home.

Unknown (4): I'm not going to the house, I'm going to the trailer.

Unknown (1): I'll remind you that it's my trailer and I took your key, dumbass—

 

[The audio cuts out and the camera fades to black for a few seconds before video resumes. Moon is facing the camera, which is floating fairly high. Hau and Lillie are also visible in the background. The orange-haired girl and the teal-haired boy are peering at the camera, curious expressions on their faces; the hot-pink and neon-yellow-haired girl has wandered further away. The boy with white-blond hair is nowhere to be seen. Hau looks angry, and Lillie looks upset. Moon's expression suggests that she is trying very hard to be cheerful.]

 

Moon: Yo, fellas! I ran into a couple of friends out here. This is Molly and Rogelio, and the one over yonder is Plumeria. I text Molly and Rogelio a lot.

Molly: Moon's a fucking riot, I love her.

Rogelio: Both of them drive me crazy. Moon, who are you even talking to?

Moon: Didn't I tell you I was making a vlog for Red and Blue?

Molly: Ha, pull the other one.

Rogelio: ...Molly, I think she's actually being serious.

Moon: Yeah, they're kind of like my childhood friends. Annoying, dumb older brothers who happen to also be celebrities.

Molly: Arceus fuck, you're being serious. Uh— have you told them about us? Like, who we are?

Moon: Not yet. I'll only tell them what you want me to.

 

[The camera cuts to Rogelio, who is staring into it with wide eyes.]

 

Rogelio: So, Moon mentioned that the two of you are... um, together. I didn't know that. That's really cool. I, um... I also kind of, um... yeah. I'm like you guys. I've never heard of anyone, um, like me, making it big in the battling scene and it, um, it really means a lot. To be, you know, represented. Even if Kantonian media doesn't acknowledge it or whatever? You guys know who you are, and I know who you are, and that's— that's important. It's— it's really nice. It's a nice f-feeling.

 

[Rogelio's voice breaks on the last word. The camera quickly pans away from him to Moon, whose eyes are just as round.]

 

Moon: You're not even here and you made him cry. Red, Blue, control your man.

 

[The camera cuts to Molly and Lillie, standing further away from Moon, Hau, and Rogelio. Molly is looking seriously at Lillie, speaking in a low voice. Lillie is blushing, and the intensity of her blush increases as Molly continues to speak. The camera pans around to Moon, who speaks in a whisper.]

 

Moon: I'm not going to meddle, but Molly is kind of a born meddler and she's actually pretty fucking good at it. So maybe she'll make things, you know, start moving.

Hau: What things?

Moon [at a normal volume]: Oh, you know. Things.

Hau: I still have no idea what you're talking about.

Moon: If it works, you'll figure it out.

 

[The camera cuts to Plumeria. She is wearing a black Kantonian-style face mask over her nose and mouth.]

 

Plumeria: The kid says I'm talking to Red and Blue. If she's pulling my leg, then oh fucking well, I guess. But if she's for real, let me ask you this: what would you do if one of you had gone over to Team Rocket? Would you still be friends and support the Team Rocket one? Or would you try and talk the Team Rocket one out of it? Send Moon your answer, she knows how to get in touch with me. Thanks in advance.

 

[The camera cuts to Moon, who looks confused.]

 

Moon: I don't know what she's talking about, but you should definitely get back to me on that because, uh, she's kind of scary when she's upset so I'd rather let her know as soon as possible.

 

[The camera cuts to another building. The Malie City Public Library is visible in the background. The sign outside this building states that it is the Malie City Community Center. The camera flips around to reveal Molly, who is carrying it.]

 

Molly: Hey, Red. Hey, Blue. What's up, I'm Molly. So we're taking Moon and company to the community center. Which, you wouldn't think that Rog and Plumeria and I would be into a place like that, but it's one of the only places that can't actually kick us out just for who we— I mean, what we're wearing. We're kind of, um, alternative punk and a lot of places don't really like that so we get kicked out a lot. Yeah. Um, anyway, we're taking her to the community center, which is a lot less boring than it sounds. There's a flea market and a couple of free Training advice classes and, most importantly, vending machines that only cost fifty Poké for a can of Soda Pop. You can't find as good a bargain anywhere in Alola. There's also like a free weight room and shit. Rog goes there a lot, but that's because another friend of ours, Jack, he's there a lot and he works out shirtless and Rog is really into—

 

[The camera jerks suddenly away from Molly, swinging wildly around. Molly can be heard laughing in the background, and Rogelio's voice can be heard shouting, “Would you fuck off? That's not why I—” The camera and audio both cut out to silence and a black screen for a few moments, before the video resumes with Moon looking into the camera.]

 

Moon: Okay, so this place is actually really neat. I've found some cool caps in the flea market. Check this out, Red— they've got knockoffs of your signature hat.

 

[The camera pans around to show a table with baseball caps on it, zooming in on a row of red and white caps. Moon can be heard speaking in the background.]

 

Moon: I'm totally going to buy one and send you a selfie. Or better yet, I'll buy two and send one to Blue, so you can take matching couple pictures.

Rogelio: Would they do something like that?

Moon: Fuck, no. It would be a gag gift. They would yell at me for it because each of them would think that the other one hates it, but they're actually both super soft and romantic on the inside so they would secretly think it was cute and want to do it. Maybe if they watch this, they'll realize that they would both think it was cute. Wear the hats, take a picture, and make it your fucking Christmas card. Okay, guys?

 

[The camera cuts to the inside of a plastic bag. Two of the red and white caps are inside. Moon's hand reaches past and takes one out. The camera turns as she sets it on her own head, squinting at the camera's viewfinder.]

 

Moon: Arceus, I look like Red's dorky little sister or something. I'm never, ever wearing this in public.

 

[She quickly takes the hat off, shoving it back into the plastic bag. The camera cuts to Moon, Hau, Lillie, Molly, and Rogelio outside of the community center.]

 

Moon: Bye, guys! I'll let you know how they liked the video!

Molly: It was good seeing you. Sorry about Gl—

 

[The audio briefly cuts out.]

 

Moon: It's okay, don't worry about it. Things like that happen all the time. I'm not going to overthink it.

Rogelio: Let us know if you want to talk, though.

Molly: Seriously, we're not usually doing much and even if we are, we can usually text at the same time. They don't send me out too often anymore— the boss man and Plumeria are away from the house a lot and I'm kind of in charge by default when they aren't there.

Moon: No kidding? That's pretty cool.

Rogelio: The house has never been cleaner and I'm so glad. It used to be fucking disgusting.

 

[The camera cuts to Moon, lying on a bed; the camera floats above her face. The metallic Pokémon that Lillie used to hit her in the malasada shop is lying next to her head, staring at the camera without blinking.]

 

Moon: Hau and Lillie and I are setting out to start the next part of our journey tomorrow. We're going to Route Eleven, and it's going to take us forever to get to the next Pokémon Center— it's all the way in Tapu Village and that's like, on the other side of the island. Luckily, my dad works at Blush Mountain, which is on the way. So we'll get to see him in a couple of weeks. And it's always fun to camp with Hau and Lillie. But I need to pack and make sure I've got enough supplies to last two and a half weeks, which is how long it takes to get to Tapu Village from Malie City. It's a week for Route Eleven, a week for Route Twelve including Blush Mountain, and four days for Route Thirteen. It ain't pretty, but we can do it. You guys have definitely camped out for longer. Anyway, this video was a lot of fun to make. I might do another one if I ever have a couple of days where I don't really have to do anything. Anyway, I love you guys.

 

[The camera changes angles as Moon sits up, adjusting a pillow so it's between her back and the headboard of the bed.]

 

Moon: Ah, that's better. And... I do miss you, but not in a way that makes me really sad. It's just remembering the fun times we had together. I remember that party you took me to, your high school reunion, and you took me along because you were both really adamant that it was Not A Date. I was like, fifteen and you assholes were barely twenty-one. And yet I watched you both get drunk and play Spin the Bottle with a bunch of people from Pallet Town that you all went to Viridian High with. Unless stuff happened on Mount Silver that I don't know about, I'm pretty sure that was your first kiss. I'm really glad I got to be there for that. And I remember all the times you let me play with your Pokémon— with Red's Snorlax and Venusaur, and Blue's Alakazam and Arcanine, mostly. I'm glad you let me love them, even when I didn't think I would ever get to love Pokémon that way until I was a grown-up with a degree and a job. I owe you guys a lot. I've grown and changed a lot since coming to Alola— but I'm always going to remember my roots. I'll always remember Kanto, and you guys. So I just wanted to say thank you, and give you a little taste of life in Alola. Um— bye, I guess.

 

[The camera fades to black. Green text appears on the screen, indicating that Rotom is speaking.]

 

I was not paid enough for this.

I'm a Pokédex, not a video camera.

 

[White text appears, indicating that Moon is speaking.]

 

He was, in fact, paid for this.

Rotom's been investing some of my Trainer winnings into bitcoin.

As a result, I've got a lot more fucking money than I thought I did.

Anyway, I love you guys.

Bye.

 

[The screen fades to black. The video ends.]

 

*****

 

From: garyo@pmail.co.kan

To: marionhawkins@pmail.co.alo

CC: redsatoshi@pmail.co.kan

Re: what the fuck Moon

 

IT'S TOO EARLY TO HAVE ALL OF THESE EMOTIONS AT ONCE.

 

I WAS LAUGHING! I WAS CRYING! I WAS ROOTING FOR YOUR TWO OBLIVIOUS FRIENDS TO GET TOGETHER! I WAS WORRIED ABOUT WHATEVER JACKHOLE IN BLACK KEPT SHOWING UP AND MAKING YOU ALL UPSET! I WAS VERY VERY TOUCHED BY YOUR FRIEND WITH THE TEAL HAIR WHO SAID OUR RELATIONSHIP WAS INSPIRING! I WAS DISGUSTED BY THE STUPID KNOCKOFF HAT, BUT I WANT YOU TO SEND IT TO ME ANYWAY. I WAS AMAZED AT HOW MANY PASTRY DONUT THINGS YOUR FRIEND MANAGED TO EAT. I AM INTRIGUED BY WHAT YOUR CUTE BLONDE FRIEND SAID ABOUT A POKÉMON LEAGUE????

 

In all seriousness, I'm glad you're doing well. Thanks for the video— it was really nice, and it's really good to see with our own eyes that you're doing well.

 

Tell the girl in the mask that supporting a friend doesn't mean enabling them— in fact, it often means the opposite. Sometimes your friends need a good hard kick in the ass to know what they should be doing. I would know, because I was almost always the friend that needed the kick in the ass, and Red was almost always the friend who did the kicking.

 

Love, Blue

 

P.S. You should really catch the Beldum. — Red

 

Chapter Text

The journey from Malie City to Tapu Village was widely regarded as one of the most difficult parts of a Trainer's island challenge. Without the aid of a Ride Charizard to get from point A to point B until after one had already arrived at point B, it took approximately two and a half weeks to get from Malie City to Tapu Village. Route Eleven alone was six days; Route Twelve was eight; and Route Thirteen, including the small oasis at Haina Junction, was four days. Most Trainers agreed that Route Thirteen was the worst part of the trip— the harsh climate of the nearby desert, combined with the fact that one had just spent two weeks to get there in the first place, combined to make the last part of the journey a miserable slog.

Moon, Hau, and Lillie had done their best to map out their journey so as to negate as much of the misery as they could. The plan as it stood was to traverse Route Eleven in six days and rest for a day, camping at the small junction between Route Eleven and Route Twelve. Then they would take four days on Route Twelve before sidetracking to Blush Mountain, where they would meet up with Moon's dad and squish themselves into the little dormitory apartment he called home during the week for an extra day. Then they would do the next four days on Route Twelve, stopping to rest for another day at Haina Junction; and then they would take the last four days to Tapu Village as quickly as they could manage it.

“So this bit at the beginning will be the most difficult, since we're basically going to be camping for a week solid,” said Moon, over the planning process. “We have to make sure we've got enough food for that whole time. It's possible to fly by Charizard to the Route Eleven-Twelve junction, so once we get there we can go back to Malie to load up on supplies. Same goes for Blush Mountain, though Dad says they actually have a store there. I don't think there's a store at Haina Junction, but The Traveller's Guide to Alola says that there's sort of a little bazaar market? Some of it's run out of trailers, some of it's from tents.”

“As long as they don't take advantage of Trainers by jacking up the prices,” said Hau, with a shrug.

With this in mind, the trio rose before sunrise and made their way through the dawn in Malie City to the trial gates that blocked Route Eleven from those who had not passed Sophocles' trial. The trial guide waved them through, seeing Moon's and Hau's Electrium Z as well the letter from Professor Burnet that allowed Lillie to travel with them.

Route Eleven itself was lush and forested, much like Route Ten. Bamboo and tall trees rose high over the route, leaving the grass damp and dewy where it blocked sunlight in the early morning. Moon was in charge of carrying their breakfast, partially because she had a hammock instead of a heavy tent, but also because it was a sore temptation to Hau's self-control if he were to carry three boxes of malasadas.

They trained as they traveled, as most Trainers did— it was preparation for the trial at Tapu Village. It was possible to get from Malie City to Tapu Village in eight and a half days if you didn't stop to battle or sleep, but neither of those things were possible for three Trainers and a Rotom-Dex with thirteen captured and two uncaptured Pokémon between them.

The Pokémon, thought Moon, adjusted to travelling better than the humans did. Hau's Rumble was steadily growing into a big, powerful Tauros; Hau was having him carry some of his supplies, adding a little more weight each day. Rumble didn't seem to mind— he was very sweet-natured, for a breed of Pokémon known for their unruliness. He seemed to like being useful. Poppy, less mobile as a Primarina than she'd been as a Brionne, travelled in her ball. Uila had his floating surfboard, on which he carried Ollie as well as himself. Sonar alternated between dangling from one of Rumble's horns, clutching Hau's shirt, or napping on the surfboard with Ollie. This left Hau to carry his backpack and tent.

Lillie was fortunate in that two of her teammates had evolved into upright bipeds— which meant that they could help her carry things as well. Lapin carried Lillie's camping-stove and the can of fuel that accompanied it; they were both in a small backpack that he shouldered with pride each morning. Umber, on the other hand, had the unenviable task of carrying Snowfall in a sling. At first the little Vulpix had objected to this— vehemently, judging by the scratches that both Umber and Lillie received for it— but after a stern talking-to she settled into the sling, radiating sulkiness. And Lillie was still carrying baby Esper as well as her own backpack and tent— though she was beginning to train the Cleffa, and the Experience Share had been working its magic. Nebby generally alternated between the bag and the sling with Esper, but she occasionally floated alongside Uila, communicating in pews with all the other Pokémon.

Moon had only her own backpack to carry, because her hammock was compact enough that it fit into the backpack without trouble. Puck generally walked at her side, looking quizzically around at the humid jungle path; Ariel flew, though when she was tired she tended to land on Rumble before Moon scolded her to get off. Macbeth's pace was fairly slow, but she was by far the tallest Pokémon of the fifteen and her stride was much larger— she was able to keep up without issues. She carried Ben, who was entirely too pleased with the arrangement.

And of course, the Beldum tailed after Moon with the same dogged persistence that it had shown since she had first met it on Mount Hokulani. At first, Moon did her best to ignore it; but it seemed to be growing more and more restless as she trained her teammates.

“I don't know what's up with you,” she said darkly, frowning at the Beldum. “But as long as you're not interfering with my battles or training, you do you.”

“Bel, bel.” The Beldum rolled its eye.

The Trainer that Moon had just defeated peered around her, expression interested. “Wait, the Beldum isn't yours?”

“Nope, it's stalking me.”

“So that means it's up for grabs?”

Moon had been about to say something along the lines of “sure, at least then it will be out of my hair.” And yet, as she opened her mouth, the words died on her tongue and she fell silent for a few moments.

“No,” she said finally. “I've kind of gotten used to it, and I think it would be pretty mean of me to let you capture it without at least consulting its opinion on the matter. I mean, if it wants to go with you, sure.”

She glanced down at the Beldum. It shook its head quickly from side to side.

“Ah, well,” said the Trainer, amused. “But you're sure acting like it's yours, even if you haven't caught it.”

“That would be the Beldum's fault,” said Moon, dignified, and she stepped back to join Hau so that Lillie could battle the Trainer next.

Hau was quiet for a few moments, as they watched Lillie battle; but then he crossed his arms.

“I don't think you're being very fair to the Beldum,” he said, after a few moments.

“Bel?” inquired the Beldum, looking up at them.

Hau waved it off. “I mean, if you're happy with how things are, I guess it's not my place to say anything.”

Moon frowned at him. “What do you mean, I'm not being fair? I let it choose whether it wanted to go with that Trainer.”

“That's not the kind of choice you offer a wild Pokémon. That's the kind of choice you offer a caught Pokémon that is not happy to be a part of your team.”

“I wouldn't catch a Pokémon that didn't want to be part of my team.”

“That just tells me that you should catch the Beldum. A lot of Pokémon wouldn't be so persistent— it really likes you.”

“It still hasn't been that long since I caught Macbeth,” pointed out Moon. “I've had her for what, a month and a half, tops?”

“I'm pretty sure you only had Ben for a month and a half before you caught Macbeth.”

Moon had to think about it— it had been a while, and the time blurred together. She'd started in late June— most of July had been Melemele— early August was Paniola Town, then. Late August was Route Five and Royal Avenue, and September was Wela Volcano Park— and Route Eight, and Lush Jungle. It had just barely turned to October before they arrived in Konikoni City.

“It was five weeks,” she said, surprised. “It felt like longer.”

“Probably because you raised Ben from an egg, and because he's a little shit.”

Ben hissed from Macbeth's arms.

“I guess I'm the only one allowed to call him a little shit,” said Moon, amused.

“My point is that your team's probably ready. They seem fine to me. Ben isn't attacking the Beldum on sight anymore, is he?”

That was true. Moon studied the Beldum, which gazed back tranquilly.

“I'll think about it,” she said finally.

“You've had about ten days to think about it,” pointed out Hau, which was true. “That's more time than you gave Puck and Ariel to adjust to the idea of Ben—”

“Okay, okay. I get your point.” Frustration bubbled up in Moon's chest, but it wasn't frustration with Hau and she couldn't really describe it anyway; so she tried to keep it down.

 

It was not until a few evenings later— the fifth of six days on Route Eleven— that she managed to find the words she was looking for.

“It's too much,” she said abruptly.

Hau looked at her from across the fire pit they had built for Lillie's camp stove— a pot of noodles, cooking fragantly in pesto sauce, bubbled gently over the can of burning fuel. “Dinner? I dunno, I'm hungry enough to start eating rocks, and the box of pasta said it serves six. I could eat the whole thing, if we had more for you and Lillie—”

“No, not dinner. The Beldum.”

Lillie, sitting with her back against one of the palm trees from which Moon's hammock dangled, looked up at this. Her hands didn't stop moving through Snowfall's fur— the Vulpix tended to start nibbling on fingers that weren't petting her— but her eyebrows creased with confusion.

“Why is it too much?”

“When I added Ben to the team, that was the only thing I was doing.” Lillie, who had been present for most of that process, nodded in understanding; Hau, who had not, frowned in confusion.

“What do you mean, the only thing you were doing?”

“I wasn't training,” explained Moon. “I got the egg, and it hatched a couple of days later and literally the only things I did for the next ten days were eat, sleep, make formula and feed Ben, clean up poop and spit-up, do laundry, and occasionally shower. I didn't go outside of the Pokémon Center for more than five minutes at a time during those ten days.”

“Okay?” Hau was clearly still confused.

“Macbeth was a little easier. I'd been talking to them about another teammate for like, a month. They were used to the idea. Macbeth was kind of a rescue, but it wasn't as big of an adjustment because I prepared them so well. The only other thing I had going on in my life was— well, Gladion.”

“Oh, Moon,” said Lillie softly.

“Which is fine! I don't regret the time I spent with him, it made me happy and it's nice to think about sometimes, when the guilt isn't eating at me— but that's not the point.” Moon cleared her throat. “The thing about the Beldum is that I'm also still dealing with Gladion— though I'm doing a lot better with that, these days. And I'm still dealing with the Nihilego, which I'm also doing better with. And I'm still dealing with Horatio—” Her throat caught, as it always did when she said his name aloud. “Which, um. I'm not really... over him, yet. So trying to add the Beldum to my team on top of that, it would be— it's too much.”

“Oh, that's what you mean.” Hau nodded slowly. “I guess I can see where you're coming from. I really lucked out with my team— they didn't have much adjusting to do with new catches, since they're all so mellow— except Poppy, but she's friendly. She likes getting new teammates.”

“Snowfall's been a little needier since I caught Esper, but other than that she's adjusting, too,” added Lillie.

Something poked at Moon's leg; she looked down and saw the Beldum. It blinked up at her a few times.

“Bel dum bel, bel.”

Hau's and Lillie's jaws dropped. Moon swallowed, hard.

“It might be a while,” she told it. “I have to start talking with my team, and I won't catch you unless all of them are at least partially on board with the idea. Ben is really stubborn, and he doesn't like you for some reason. Can you— can you really wait that long?”

“Bel tang.”

That was a new sound, one she hadn't heard before. Moon blinked at the Beldum in surprise.

A blinding flash of white light in the darkness of the evening had her eyes watering and she turned away, wincing; she heard Hau and Lillie making similar noises. A sound rather like several large bells being rung at once vibrated through the campsite.

When the noise stopped and the brightness of the light faded behind her eyelids, Moon opened her eyes, blinking at the scarlet patterns that hung in the air.

Two red eyes greeted her, instead of one.

“Um, Rotom? Could I get a flashlight?”

“Sure thing, bzzt.”

The Beldum had evolved. Moon could see the old shape of it in two arms, but its body was flatter and wider, and there was a spike sticking out between its eyes that vaguely resembled a nose— a spike made of the same silvery metal as its claws. It contrasted with the bluish-gray steel that comprised the rest of its body.

“That's a Metang, bzzt,” Rotom informed her. “It evolves from Beldum— or rather, it evolves when two Beldum fuse together, bzzt.”

What?”

“Meta bel,” said the Metang hastily.

“What do you mean, there wasn't really another Beldum?”

“Bel meta bel, tang bel.”

“Oh,” said Rotom, its voice growing thoughtful. “Huh. That's... interesting.”

“I didn't really catch most of that,” said Moon pointedly.

Abruptly, a vision slid into her mind. She could see a pair of large legs and feet in a sepia tone, constantly before her; but then she saw a bright, violet spark up higher, where the legs met the waist.

“Whoa, okay, what the fuck,” breathed Moon, reeling backwards.

“Bel meta?” said the Metang meekly.

“What is going on?” demanded Hau, staring at the Metang.

“Um— so I guess the Beldum evolved because of Rotom? There wasn't another Beldum around, they all live on Mount Hokulani—”

“Tang bel.”

“Excuse me, most Beldum live on Mount Hokulani.”

“Beldum have been found throughout the range of peaks between Mount Hokulani and the Haina Desert, bzzt,” said Rotom helpfully.

“Anyway, there wasn't another Beldum around, so the Beldum— excuse me, the Metang, it was looking for a similar... intelligence, I guess.” Moon glanced at the Metang, it bobbed its head up and down in a nod.

“ 'When Beldum evolve into Metang, their nervous systems fuse together to form a super-brain,' ” said Lillie, reading from the Pokédex on her phone.

“So it fused with Rotom?”

“Not really,” said Rotom. “It just borrowed some of my energy, bzzt. It kind of... made its own second brain.”

Moon, Hau, and Lillie stared at the Metang.

It shrugged. “Tang dum bel.”

“Also, it did the Uila thing again, where it showed me like a memory or something.”

Hau whistled. “And Metang aren't even fully evolved, I don't think. This one must be pretty powerful if it can already do that.”

For a few moments, there was silence around the fire. Moon considered the Metang— definitely too large to cram itself into her backpack, at this point; but they didn't have any long Charizard Fly journeys coming up so it probably wouldn't feel the need to do something like that again.

“It's been a lot,” she said abruptly.

“So you said.” Lillie's voice was soft.

“Yeah. You guys know, because you've been here with me for it. But I've been thinking a lot lately, about how my mind is working and what I'm feeling. Some stuff has happened to me, and it's okay to be affected by it. It's okay to... to not be okay, I guess. I know we've only been on Ula'ula Island for a little less than a month, and it's normal to have to take time to get over things. But I've been kind of trying to rush that, because I thought I should be healing faster.”

Lillie's mouth fell open slightly. “It's... okay to not be okay,” she repeated, almost under her breath; her eyes lost focus, drifting down, dreamily to the ground.

“So, when I started high school, I was five foot nothing.”

Moon blinked at Hau and the non sequitur. “Okay?”

“I was five foot nothing and I probably weighed about a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet.” Hau crossed his arms. “I was a short, skinny kid with a big appetite and little inch-long worm dreads. And I wore braces in high school, so I looked like a complete nerd.”

Moon tried to picture what she knew of Hau— tall, broad-shouldered, supremely confident in himself— in conjunction with what he was saying, and found herself unable to repress a snort of laughter.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh at my pain.” But Hau was grinning, too. “My point is, I was a shrimpy little nerd. I wanted to play rugby for a little while, but I went to the tryouts and was very, very grossed out by the level of physical injury I kept seeing. Later that year was the malasada-eating contest, though. I was like fourteen and I ate thirty-seven malasadas and won, and all those big rugby players couldn't manage more than like, two dozen.”

“That's still disgusting,” said Lillie, shaking her head; but she was smiling.

“Then, over the summer, it was like— well, my mom likes to joke so she calls it 'the summer we gave Hau a malasada stone so he would evolve into an adult.' ”

“Oh my god.” Moon and Lillie both cracked up.

“Yeah, I grew like a foot and gained about sixty pounds, and my shoulders grew out with me so it was all nice and even. It was a really weird summer. None of my clothes were fitting right, and I think I gained three or four shoe sizes as well. And my voice dropped, which I'd been waiting on since fifth grade so it was about damn time.”

“Wait, you had a squeaky little-kid voice on top of being tiny and skinny?”

“Yes. I graduated my freshman year of high school looking and sounding like I was still in fifth grade, and then I started my sophomore year looking and sounding like one of the linebackers on the rugby team. Well, maybe not a linebacker— those guys are huge, like they're the size I am now but they're still in high school.”

“I just can't picture you with a little-kid voice.”

“I'm sure Mom has home videos we can watch sometime where you can hear me squeaking like a baby Ducklett,” said Hau dryly. “My point is, with all this— is that it was really sudden, and really weird. And it took me forever to adjust to it, because things just kept changing. It wasn't just my body, it was also my brain. And other people around me changed, too. Like for the first time in living memory, I could see people, um— checking me out, I guess.” Moon could just make out the faintest trace of color in Hau's face, a slight deepening from his usual glowing brown. “People thought I was attractive. And when people think you're attractive, they actually listen and talk to you. I was funny before, I made jokes and laughed a lot— but nobody noticed, because I looked like a dweeb. Once I evolved, people noticed and soon everybody knew I was the guy with the jokes.”

“That sounds horrible,” said Lillie frankly.

Hau shrugged. “It wasn't that bad.”

“Yes, but none of those people were really seeing you for who you were in the first place. They saw that you were good-looking so they started paying attention. That's very superficial.”

“Most of my high school friendships were superficial.” Hau's gaze was hooded. “You know, there were about seventy kids in my graduating class from Hau'oli City High School? I was the valedictorian. I think about twenty kids said they were going to do an island challenge, but I was also the only one that Professor Kukui trusted with an elemental Starter.”

Moon frowned. “Really? Only twenty out of seventy?”

“Yeah. A lot of kids, especially if they moved here during high school, go to other regions and do a gym challenge. And some go to college and some start work right away. But still, it's twenty kids my age on the island challenge right now, and I know all of them— I grew up with them. We went to the same elementary school, the same middle school, the same high school. And I'm not traveling with any of them. A lot of them are traveling together in groups— I see it on Probobook and Spindagram. They take pictures and post with their teams and with each other. But I didn't go with any of them, because they weren't really my friends. I think I had maybe one good friend in high school, but we kind of ruined it by dating for about seven months in my junior year. And then she dropped out and joined Team Skull. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing— like, obviously we know people from Team Skull who are super nice! But our paths went different ways. And that's okay.”

Moon opened her mouth to speak but she caught Lillie's eye; the other girl shook her head minutely. Moon decided to follow her advice, closing her mouth again.

“I guess what I'm trying to say,” said Hau finally, after a few moments, “is that when you go through something that changes things— that changes you, in a really big way— it's okay to have growing pains. My stomach and arms are stretch-marked to hell because I grew so fast. So it's okay if you're not okay, Moon. You went through something that's changed you— don't pretend it hasn't, neither Lillie and I are going to indulge you in that— and you're having growing pains. Maybe it's left some stretch marks on your soul.” He frowned. “That sounded less cheesy in my head.”

“You always know what to say,” said Moon, shaking her head. “You always know what to say, and how to say it.”

“Consequences of living with an island kahuna and listening to him spouting aphorisms for my entire life.” But Hau beamed at her. “I hope it helped.”

There were a few more moments of silence, and then Lillie cleared her throat.

“My mother caused my eating disorder.”

It was just six words— words that Moon had suspected were truth for some time now, but didn't dare say out loud.

And expecting the words didn't soften their impact.

“Lillie,” said Hau, his eyes growing round.

She held up a hand to stop him. “My mother caused my eating disorder,” she repeated, her voice firm. “She had— has an obsession, with things being beautiful. She can't stand things that are ugly. And when I was going through my own growing pains, with puberty and all that, she kept telling me I was ugly and fat. She didn't say those words very often. It was more in her tone. She would ask me if I was absolutely sure I wanted to have seconds, or she would remind me that dessert has sugar and extra carbohydrates. And my mom is beautiful. People have said that I look like her. So when she said or implied that I was getting ugly or fat, I took her at her word because I was a child, and when you're a child your parents are always right.”

A slow, sick feeling was gathering in Moon's stomach; she could see the same feeling on Hau's face as they continued to listen.

Lillie took a deep breath. “So I started to listen to her. I started eating less and taking smaller portions and skipping dessert. Then I started skipping whole meals. At this point my brother had left, so it was just me and my mother. When my brother was there, he usually got the worst of the scoldings. I've— I've done some research into narcissistic and borderline personality disorders, and something that narcissists often do is to make someone in their life a scapegoat— blaming them for problems, and being unkind or abusive under the pretense of helping that person. My brother was the scapegoat, and I was the golden child. My mother favored me openly. But after he left—”

Lillie's voice caught, and she took a deep breath.

“After he left,” she continued quietly, “there wasn't anybody for Mother to scapegoat. So she began picking on me. It was much worse than before. I couldn't really see that what she was doing was wrong, because I was so focused on trying to meet her approval and win back the kind mother I'd always known. I was so focused on trying to be beautiful for her that I didn't notice myself fading into nothing. I didn't notice until I woke up in the hospital after fainting, a little over a year ago.”

Lillie,” said Hau, getting up and stumbling across their little fire pit. He carefully gathered Lillie into his arms, pulling her close; Snowfall hissed but scrambled out of Lillie's lap, retreating to a safe distance to glower at them both. “Lillie, that's— fuck. Lillie.”

Lillie hugged Hau, patting his back. “I'm all right now,” she said softly. “Truly. It was the wake-up call I needed to realize that there was something wrong with the way my mother was treating me. I didn't really even understand that it was wrong after that— not until my mother came to visit me in the hospital and said she hoped that I wouldn't gain back too much weight while I was sitting around and eating and not doing anything.”

“What the fuck,” muttered Moon, swiping furiously at her eyes. Hau let go of Lillie, but kept an arm around her shoulders; the deep blush was much easier to see on her than it was on him.

“A-anyway, I started talking to my only friend about it, and she helped me by essentially becoming my therapist. She wasn't trained in it, but she bought a DSM and researched what she could do to help me. And eventually she helped me escape with Nebby, as well.”

Lillie's eyes found Moon; there was something soft and sweet in them, something that was untarnished by the pain and suffering that they had witnessed and experienced.

“I'm also learning,” she explained. “I'm learning, like you, that it's okay not to be okay. And my growing pains aren't much like either of yours, thank Arceus; but my recovery is slow, and it will continue to be slow. This journey I've taken with the two of you has been healing for me, in so many ways. I am a braver, stronger person because of it, and those are some stretch marks I won't mind having on my soul.”

 

The next day, when they stopped for lunch, Moon took her teammates (and the Metang) aside, sitting them down a little ways off from Hau and Lillie. It was for several reasons: firstly, she was going to be having a conversation with her team, and she didn't want them distracted; and secondly, Hau had been very touchy with Lillie since the previous evening and she wanted to give them some alone time. Lillie was not discouraging the touchiness— on the contrary, she smiled every time Hau's hand landed on her shoulder or back. Hau was, of course, a perfect gentleman; but the way he looked at Lillie was the same and yet different than he had always done. Moon wondered how it had taken her this long to realize that Hau did not just have a crush, that he did not just like Lillie or even just Like her— he was actually in love, the dork.

But she was getting distracted. Her teammates were eating; she had bribed Puck and Ariel into staying with packets of freeze-dried Bugs, so that they didn't need to go hunting for fresh. Ben and Macbeth and the Metang were content with beans. Moon got out a loaf of bread and began putting together a peanut butter and Rawst-berry jam sandwich.

“So,” she began, “I'm sure you're all wondering why I've brought you together for a family meal.”

“Cana tou?” inquired Ariel, looking up from her food with interest.

“No, keep eating.” Moon finished making her sandwich, then wrapped it in a paper towel and set it down carefully on top of her backpack while she put away the peanut butter and the jam. She waited until her hands were free, letting one drift to a certain pouch on her Trainer's belt, nonchalantly looking at the ground. “We're going to talk about a new teammate.”

It took a few moments, but then something angry flashed in Ben's eyes and he turned, hissing, to jump at the Metang; but Moon had prepared for this, and she recalled him to his ball in mid-air. It vibrated furiously in her hand when she caught it.

“Goli wim,” said Macbeth, a touch reproachfully.

“You saw what he was going to do,” said Moon pointedly. “Ben, I know you can hear us. Quit throwing a tantrum. I didn't say I was going to catch the Metang. I said we were talking about it. Talking involves using your words, not attacking for no reason. If you can't behave, I'm confining you to the ball.”

The vibrating stopped. Moon waited a few moments, then let Ben out again.

He glared at Moon and the Metang, but settled down to sulk over his uneaten beans.

“I'm generally reconsidering having a Ground-type teammate,” said Moon, pulling Rotom out of her pocket. “We already passed Sophocles' trial, and it turns out we didn't really need a Ground-type to pass it. Sure, it's always nice to have immunity from something; but we already have three full immunities on the team. Puck's immune to Normal-type moves, and Ariel's immune to Ground-type and Ghost-type moves.”

Ariel's chest puffed up slightly. “Trum cana,” she sang.

“Yes, it means you're very useful, but you already knew that,” said Moon, amused. “My point is, since we've gotten through the Electric-type trial, we're not likely to need the Ground-type immunity to Electric. I can only think of two other things we would really need a Ground-type for. One of those is Plumeria, because she's a Poison-type specialist... it would be nice for if she ever lets us challenge her for Poisonium Z. But we've beaten her without a Ground-type, so we should be just fine. The other thing we would want Ground-type for is Steel-types, but that's just one thing and Ariel has Brick Break.”

She looked at each of them, making eye contact.

“The Beldum, as you may have noticed, is now a Metang.”

“Tang bel,” said the Metang helpfully.

Moon rolled her eyes. “Yes, but I like to be sure everyone's on the same page.” She turned back to look at Ben, narrowing her eyes; but she still addressed the team at large. “Maybe you've gotten used to the Beldum that is now a Metang; maybe you still bear an irrational, unjustified hatred for it. Either way, it's time to understand that I am giving you all the courtesy of understanding that the Metang has first dibs on the next teammate slot.”

Ben sniffed disdainfully, curling up in a ball.

“No, none of that. Look at me.”

Slowly, Ben turned back to look at Moon.

“I'm your Trainer,” Moon reminded him. “I don't have to listen to you, you know. I could just catch the Metang and add it to my team right now, but I'm not going to, because you're still uncomfortable with it for whatever reason. Maybe you're seriously uncomfortable; maybe you're just being a little shit. I can't tell, because you haven't deigned to explain yourself so far. My point is, I am giving you time to think about it, understand it, and accept it. Whatever it is you don't like about the Metang, you're going to get over it. I will help you. We will go at your pace.”

For a few moments, they were all silent. Then Puck made a noise that sounded as though he were clearing his throat. Ariel, Ben, and Macbeth all turned to look at him; so did the Metang.

“Hoo hoo,” he said pointedly, making eye contact with each of them. “Deci hoo eye, dar hoo deci.”

“Yes, of course!” exclaimed Moon. “I didn't think it needed to be said! Of course I'm still going to love you all anyway!”

And for the first time, it felt like she was including the Metang in that statement as well as the rest of her team.

 

Chapter Text

“You know, when I said it liked you, I didn't think it liked you this much,” remarked Hau.

Moon did her best to maintain a straight face, but in the end she couldn't help but laugh.

“Jol vee,” said Ben disdainfully, from his perch in Macbeth's arms.

“Hey, you have no room to talk. You are also being carried.”

“It almost makes me want to catch a large Pokémon,” remarked Lillie. “Once Rumble is fully grown, Hau can outfit him with a saddle and ride. But my team so far doesn't have anyone large enough to ride.”

“Yeah, Umber is your biggest so far, and he's shorter than you.”

“I'm fairly certain I'm still growing,” said Lillie, a look of satisfaction on her face. “My mother is quite tall, but my father was short. I'm not sure which I'll get.”

“You're going to be taller than me,” Moon predicted glumly. “I think I might've stopped. I'll be five foot seven forever.”

“I want to check, when we get to Tapu Village.”

“You might already be taller,” suggested Hau, grinning at Moon.

“Hey, no. Stop it. Don't make me get down from here and hurt you.”

“Tang bel,” said the Metang cheerfully.

Moon was sitting cross-legged on the Metang's back as it floated along the road. She had not really considered this as an option until a day into Route Twelve, and only at the Metang's suggestion. She had done some research on its evolution, Metagross, and was slightly dismayed to discover that it would get very large indeed— five foot three, which wasn't too tall; but it was also very wide, and weighed a little over twelve hundred pounds. It would be awkward to take indoors, and it unfortunately reminded her of spiders, with the way the limbs bent.

However, Metagross were clearly very sturdy, and Moon would be able to ride it, if she wanted. It wouldn't be an official Ride Pokémon— she'd checked— but there wasn't any law about riding on your Pokémon to travel. Puck, Ariel, and Ben could all fit on a Metagross's back as well; Macbeth, at six feet and seven inches, might be a bit too large; but that was what Pokéballs were for.

The Metang was very clearly trying to endear itself to Moon's teammates. After the lunch meeting where they had discussed adding it to her team, it had gone out of its way to be friendly and communicative— which had won Ariel over immediately. Puck was a little more reserved, but Moon had learned that some of the Dartrix grumpiness was not just a phenomenon of Pokémon adolescence, but part of Puck's personality. He wasn't grumpy, exactly— just taciturn. Macbeth seemed to be tolerating the Metang, but Moon had the impression that the Golisopod was actively holding back from befriending the stranger simply on the grounds that Ben did not like it. Ben was utterly whipped for Macbeth— not in a romantic way. Even though Ben was two and a half feet tall and Macbeth was nearly three times that, he doted on her like a little sister. Macbeth, in turn, showed her loyalty by supporting Ben's moods and whimsies— unless, of course, they were in direct interference with Moon's commands.

The Metang had offered to carry Moon— likely thinking it would please her teammates if she didn't have to walk. Moon had agreed, but on the terms that Puck would be allowed to sit next to her, if he so chose. Her Decidueye was perched next to her, one wing wrapped over her shoulders and the other folded into what seemed like his lap. Macbeth still carried Ben, and Ariel still flew around their whole party; but the latter seemed more willing to land on Moon or Puck since they were riding on Metang.

It had also helped Moon set up her hammock the night before— and it had helped gather firewood, and it had fetched rocks for the fire pit, and it had even helped Hau and Lillie put up their tents. Moon would never have guessed that the Beldum who had stalked her down the mountain would evolve into such an intelligent Pokémon.

“Hello there!”

The familiar, friendly voice made Moon look up, pleased; Hapu rode toward them, astride Epicentre.

“Hi, Hapu!” called Hau, waving. “How are you doing?”

“I'm doing quite well,” said Hapu, and there was a touch of pride behind her eyes. “I have defeated all of the trials and Grand Trials that Alola has to offer; now I am searching for the remaining Z-Crystals. I have managed to track down all but three— but I have the location of one of them.”

“Is having all of the Z-Crystals a requirement for being a kahuna?”

“No,” admitted Hapu. “But I think it would be wise if I were capable of using all of them. If it gets to a point where I simply can't find them, I will ask Professor Kukui to assist in my search. He did mention that some of them were protected by Trainers, but I've only met one non-trial captain who has given me a Z-Crystal. Mr. Parker offered me Steelium Z, when I challenged Captain Sophocles.”

“When you challenged— oh, you mean Molayne?”

“Yes,” said Hapu, with a nod. “I prefer to refer to most adults formally, because of my youth. Since Captain Molayne would no longer be an appropriate title, I have elected to address him by his surname. But that is not important. It is growing close to noon, and my teammates and I are feeling peckish. Would you all care to join us for lunch?”

“Sounds good,” said Moon, after quickly consulting Hau and Lillie with just her eyes. “I think we were going to stop pretty soon anyway.”

“Excellent.”

They went over to the side of the road, and as usual Moon began getting out her sandwich equipment. The Metang helped by preparing Pokébeans for Ben and Macbeth, even though it earned him a scowl from the former. Puck and Ariel went off to the scrubby brown grass at the sides of the road to look for Bugs to eat.

Besides Epicentre, Hapu had three other teammates: a large, ominous-looking golem that promptly ruined its ominousness by plopping down on the ground and stuffing Pokébeans into its mouth; a bright blue-and-green sea slug; and a bug-eyed green dragon.

“Those Pokémon are Golurk, Gastrodon, and Flygon, bzzt,” said Rotom.

“Ah, you have a Rotom-Dex.” Hapu nodded tranquilly. “I thought of asking Professor Kukui if I could use one, but in the end I decided to stick with a traditional Pokédex. Demeter, come back here.” This was addressed to the Gastrodon, which was snaking across the dusty ground in the direction of the cliff drop-off that faced south, toward the ocean. The Gastrodon pouted, but slithered back to Hapu and began eating beans.

“Demeter?” said Moon, intrigued. “That's a mythology reference, right?”

“Indeed. Demeter was a mythical goddess of the harvest— though the translations of the ancient texts suggest that those referred to as gods and goddesses was originally mistranslated, and that the Demeter of legend was merely a powerful Trainer rather than a true deity.” Hapu opened her own backpack and pulled out a plastic container with a lid; it contained some sort of noodle dish, which she began eating cold. “Demeter was likely a Grass-type or a Ground-type specialist.”

“Like you,” said Moon, realizing what all of Hapu's Pokémon had in common. “You're a Ground-type specialist, aren't you?”

“Yes,” said Hapu, with a nod. “As was my grandfather, may his soul rest peacefully. I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps from a very young age, especially as I was raised more or less at Epicentre's side. She was a Mudbray when I was seven or eight, and now we are both adults— or I am attempting to be one, anyway.” Her eyes twinkled over her noodles. “And despite my best efforts, you found out about my team.”

“Well, you could have left them in their balls and fed them later.”

“That defeats the purpose of a lunch break, and it is not as though I was trying particularly hard to conceal it from you. You will face me in battle eventually, no matter what you know of my team. I know I am strong enough to be the kahuna, and that is what matters.”

Something violet flickered in her gray eyes. Moon remembered this from speaking with Hala and Olivia— it had something to do with the Tapus.

“Pew?” said Nebby, looking up interestedly.

“Yes, that's— uh, Tapu Fini's chosen,” said Lillie, with a glance at Hapu.

“Pew pew!”

“No, Tapu Fini isn't here. At least, I don't think she is.”

“She is not,” confirmed Hapu, with a smile. “But I know you will visit us soon enough, little one. You will grow in strength, and at the apex of your gathered energy I will lead you and your friends through the vast, wild canyons of my home to the Altar of the Moone. That is your home, is it not?”

“Pew, pew!”

Lillie's eyes grew round. “How do you know so much about Cosmog?”

“They come from my island,” said Hapu simply. “Nothing happens on Poni Island that Tapu Fini and I do not know about. We have been guardians of the Cosmog since time immemorial. Tapu Bulu and Kahuna Nanu guard the Cosmog who dwell at the Lake of the Sunne— an ironic name, since it is so close to a place of perpetual rainfall.”

“Do you mean Po Town?” asked Moon. “That's where Team Skull hides out, right?”

“That's correct. I ventured along Route Seventeen earlier on in my journey, but I was turned away at the gates of Po Town by some of the ruffians who dwell there. I was not too disappointed by it, however— in my explorations, I had become quite thoroughly soaked; so I was only too willing to pack up my team and fly back to the Pokémon Center on Route Sixteen.”

“Yeah, I can see why you wouldn't want to stick around.” Moon wondered if it would be worth it to go to Po Town. It was possible that Molly and Rogelio might like a visit, and it would be nice to see Plumeria again as well.

Then she remembered Gladion; but instead of changing her mind, her resolve only grew. Gladion had decided not to be part of her life; she wasn't going to be part of his. But she could visit her friends, and there wasn't anything he could do about it.

“It is interesting that you travel with a Cosmog,” said Hapu, looking at Lillie. “I know some of your story, of course; it was Professor Burnet's prerogative to share a few details with the kahunas, that we might aid you in your journey. But the knowledge of Cosmog, while still limited to very few of Alolan's citizens, is not as private as I would have thought. I was approached by a pair of scientists, a Captain Phyco and a Private Soliera. They asked me if I knew anything about Cosmog.”

Hau's eyes widened. “No way! We know them.”

“You could put it that way,” muttered Lillie, scowling.

“I did not mention you or your Cosmog at all,” Hapu assured her. “I was told to be discreet with my knowledge of your situation. I did tell them about my role as kahuna-to-be, and offered them a tour through the Vast Poni Canyon to the Altar of the Moone as well. They were most intrigued, and I think that they will take me up on that offer at some point. I can only hope it does not coincide with your own journey— I should hate for things to be awkward because of poor scheduling.”

The four of them finished their lunch and packed up their teams, ready to part; but just as Hapu was about to climb onto Epicentre she paused. “Ah. Moon, Hau— would you be so kind as to hand me your Ride Pagers for a few moments?”

“Ride Pagers? Sure.”

Hapu typed something into Moon's Ride Pager, and then into Hau's. “I've registered Mudsdale for you,” she explained, passing them back. “It was remiss of me not to do so in Malie City; I apologize for the oversight. My grandfather was the kahuna before me, but my entire family has also assisted in the training programs for the Ride Pokémon—specifically Machamp and Mudsdale, so I ought to have known better.”

“It wasn't a problem.”

“Perhaps not up until this point, but from here to the junction of Route Twelve and Blush Mountain there is quite a bit of rocky earth that is exceedingly difficult to traverse without the aid of a Mudsdale. It occurred to me that none of you are using one.”

“I don't have a Ride Pager,” said Lillie, with a frown.

“While technically illegal, it is highly unlikely that a Mudsdale would feel the presence of a second rider unless they were very heavy. If you were to ride with Moon or Hau, nobody would object.”

“Or I could sit on my Metang and Lillie could use the Mudsdale from my pager,” offered Moon.

“That is also a feasible option.” Hapu climbed back onto Epicentre. “It was pleasant to catch up with you all. I look forward to seeing you at Haina Junction, to guide Lillie and Cosmog to the Ruins of Abundance.”

“It was nice seeing you,” said Moon, waving with Hau and Lillie as Hapu and Epicentre trotted off in the direction of Route Eleven.

They resumed their journey. Hau summoned a Mudsdale with the Ride Pager, helping Lillie climb up before hopping on the back himself; Rumble sniffed at the Mudsdale before deciding it was an acceptable vehicle for his Trainer. Moon remained on Metang, deciding she would try riding a Mudsdale another day.

It seemed that the universe wished to test some of the emotional strength she had gained, because several hours later— as they picked their way off a long, rocky road— Lillie said, her voice oddly high, “Moon, isn't that—”

Moon looked up to see Gladion, walking toward them. He was staring at the ground, his hands in his pockets; he didn't seem to see them at all.

“Okay, we've run into him like three times now on this island,” said Hau, turning to frown at Moon in a whisper. “And every time you've told us not to say anything or talk to him about it. Can I for once, please, just tell him he's an asshole and be done with it?”

Moon considered it— she really did. But one of Mudsdale's hooves rang out loudly against the ground, and Gladion looked up, startled by the noise.

He saw Moon first, which wasn't difficult because she was in the front of the group; then his eyes flicked to Hau before landing on Lillie.

There was something— there was something there. A whisper of a thought that had been teased out while she'd been enlightened by the Nihilego— it had vanished with the rest of her thoughts at the time, but Moon suddenly remembered that it had to do with both Lillie and Gladion. She still couldn't quite put it together; but perhaps she would figure it out with time.

Gladion's eyes met hers again, for just a few moments— defiant, focused. Moon studied him, still distracted by the Nihilego-thought for a few moments.

He looked away first. It should have been a victory, but it just made her heart ache, ever so softly.

“No,” she said finally to Hau, as they approached him. “I owe him more apologies than he owes me. And he wanted me to forget about him. Right now, I think that's what I should do.”

“So, the silent treatment?”

“That seems unnecessarily childish,” said Lillie sharply. “Nod once and keep moving.”

“If you say so.” Hau didn't seem convinced, but he didn't say anything as Gladion approached.

Moon kept watching Gladion, as he approached. He was staring at the ground again, and the sun was fairly low in the sky so she wasn't quite sure if she was seeing correctly or not; but his ears and neck were red.

He drew level with them— ten feet, eight, five, two; almost unwillingly, his eyes flicked back up to meet Moon's again.

She followed Lillie's advice and nodded once; but her instinct was to smile at him, and Moon was trying to do better at trusting her emotions so she just went with it.

His eyes widened before he quickly looked away, passing them and picking up speed to make his escape.

There was a long silence. Moon didn't turn around, even though she wanted to; Hau and Lillie both did, peering back into the dimming light of day.

“He was embarrassed,” she told them, once she was fairly certain that Gladion was out of earshot.

“Why?”

“I think it's because I didn't say anything.”

“Do you think he wanted you to?” said Hau skeptically. “I mean, clearly you're the expert here— Lillie and I don't really understand this guy.”

“No,” decided Moon, after a few moments. “I just nodded, and I smiled at him.”

“He doesn't deserve your smiles! You're way too forgiving, Moon.”

“I'm really not, but I want him to forgive me, too.” She took a deep breath. “I can be civil to him. I can even be kind to him— but he's got to earn my trust back, if he ever wants to really be friends again. And I have to earn his— I really have to earn his.”

There was another pause.

“He was blushing,” pointed out Lillie.

“Okay, so I definitely wasn't seeing things! I thought maybe it was the light, because the sunset's half blocked by Mount Lanakila and things get very red here at this time of day since the light reflects off the rocks.”

“No, he was definitely blushing.” Lillie cleared her throat. “And you didn't turn around at all, Moon; but Hau and I turned to check on him and we caught him staring at you.”

“That sounds significant for some reason, but I'm not picking up what you're putting down, here.”

Hau sighed. “He was checking you out, Moon.”

Moon blinked, several times.

“Okay,” she said finally. “It would have been nice if that had happened maybe, I don't know, two months ago. I'm really not sure how to process this.”

“As the song goes: if he liked it, he shoulda put a ring on it.”

“There will be no rings, thank you very much.” Moon rolled her eyes, even as Hau and Lillie both snickered at the joke. “Let's just— move on. I'm fine.”

And she was. It was surprising— Moon, rather cynically, had expected herself to break down or feel sick, the way she'd done when she saw him in Malie City on the vlog-days; but this time she just felt a little soft and sad and hollow, the way she might have felt after watching a sad movie on her own and crying over it. Some of the guilt lingered, but there was an odd peace as well.

She said as much, to Hau and Lillie. They were both quiet for a few moments; but then Lillie cleared her throat.

“I think that's a good sign,” she said softly. “You're associating him more with the things you liked about him than the things that drove you apart. If you really do intend to let him back into your life, it will be really important that you talk about that sort of thing.”

“But don't forgive him too easily,” said Hau, a slight frown on his face.

“I can forgive him without trusting him, which is where I think I'm headed.”

Much later in the evening, Moon laid in her hammock, wrapped in an insulated sleeping bag and blankets because it was nearly November. Ula'ula nights were cold, especially nights in the rocky, mountainous canyons of Route Twelve and Route Thirteen and the wasteland that was the Haina Desert. She had Rotom out with a sudoku puzzle-app opened when he chirped with a notification.

 

Chat: edgelord complaint box

 

beatdown: the kid said he saw Moon today

the girl with the curls: omg boss man STARTED a conversation

beatdown: oh literally fuck off, I'm in this damn chat for a reason

beatdown: anyway, Moon, you got something to say?

shakespeare jr: It was uneventful

shakespeare jr: In the not-technically-a-breakup conversation back on Akala Island he said he wanted me to forget about him

shakespeare jr: But like if I keep running into him it ain't happening

shakespeare jr: Honestly I don't mind running into him, it's like exposure therapy or something

shakespeare jr: I just smiled and went on my merry way

shakespeare jr: I think he was embarrassed though

shakespeare jr: My friends were with me and they know about what he said to me so they were kind of mad but nobody said anything

shakespeare jr: Idk

shakespeare jr: Though I'm kinda curious why he would be telling you all that he saw me?

salamander: okay first of all you type way too fucking fast

beatdown: ^

Cranky Grandpa: ^^

herbalist: it's a young millennial skill

the girl with the curls: we get it from ingesting all the Spicy Memes of the internet

shakespeare jr: Actually I have a Rotom-Dex so I just do voice-to-text

the girl with the curls: BOO you spoiled the joke

beatdown: if the joke is that Plumes and I are old then you can take my next shift washing dishes

the girl with the curls: there's no joke, what's a joke? who is she, I don't know her

herbalist: come on, take your punishment like a woman

herbalist: wait

herbalist: fuck

herbalist: that came out wrong

the girl with the curls: OMG I'M DYING AKSDHAKSHAAKDDHK

salamander: chat rule number four, no keysmashing

herbalist: i meant it in the vein of “take it like a man” but that's gendered language and toxic masculinity and i didn't want to imply that women are designed to be punished or anything!!!!

salamander: I get you, kid, you're not in trouble

beatdown: what the fuck is going on up in here on this day

Cranky Grandpa: You know, some of us have day jobs.

Cranky Grandpa: It's real fucking hard to get up and start work at six am when you IDIOTS keep making my Dex go off every thirty seconds at one o'fucking clock.

salamander: sorry, we'll continue the conversation elsewhere

 

 

chat: obnoxious

 

the girl with the curls: Plumeria's sitting on my bed and says to tell you that basically Gladion just randomly mentioned he'd seen you today

shakespeare jr: Dumb question but like

shakespeare jr: Did he seem like annoyed or depressed about it?

the girl with the curls: Gladion's default emotion is a combination of annoyed and depressed so there's not really a basis for comparison

herbalist: I could ask him

herbalist: seeing as how we're currently roommates and he's also awake rn

the girl with the curls: no, because he probably knows you're texting us and we shouldn't do his job for him

shakespeare jr: His job????

the girl with the curls: it's definitely his job to approach you to restart the friendship, because he fucked the thing up in the first place

shakespeare jr: I'm pretty sure I fucked the thing up but sure, Jan

the girl with the curls: Plumeria says it's a fifty-fifty split but he ended things so it's his prerogative to start them again

shakespeare jr: Fair enough

shakespeare jr: Does Gladion know you guys text me?????

herbalist: he knows about this group chat, but he doesn't know about the one with Plumeria and the boss man and Officer Nanu

the girl with the curls: yeah he would Not Appreciate the existence of that chat

shakespeare jr: Is he okay with you talking to me?

shakespeare jr: Also how did he find out?

herbalist: I woke him up once by laughing too loud and he asked why so I told him

herbalist: I think he was kind of pissed at first but then he said something about he hoped we'd have better luck than he did and rolled over and went back to sleep

herbalist: hasn't mentioned it since

the girl with the curls: Plumeria wants to know why he's still awake, he was walking a lot today apparently

herbalist: hang on, I'll ask

herbalist: okay

herbalist: “fucking insomnia and the inability to turn off my goddamn brain,” apparently

the girl with the curls: Plumeria says thanks for letting her know

herbalist: np

herbalist: k so I offered to make him some chamomile tea and he actually took me up on it so I might not answer for a bit

shakespeare jr: Yeah, I should go to sleep too

the girl with the curls: good night Moon! travel safe and all that jazz

the girl with the curls: Plumeria says she might see you around Haina Junction, she has a trailer in the park there

herbalist: Good night, Moon.

herbalist: You're a good person.

shakespeare jr: Thanks, I try

 

Chapter Text

Two roads diverged in a wood and I— I took the one less traveled by,” quoted Moon, as the road split into the remainder of Route Twelve and the road that would take them up to the power plant at Blush Mountain.

“That's not Shakespeare, is it?”

Moon stared indignantly at Hau. “That's Robert Frost, you heathen.”

“I can't tell the difference,” said Hau, shrugging. “There weren't any thee's or thou's or thy's in it.”

“You probably covered it in high school literature classes!”

“We covered some of Shakespeare's plays too, but do I remember any of them? Nope. Something about a Durant and a Heatmor who were tragically in love but everybody told them it was a bad idea.”

Durantony and Cleoheatmor is depressing, so I guess I don't blame you for not remembering it.” Moon sighed, pulling Rotom out of her pocket. “I'm gonna call Dad and ask where he wants to meet us.”

“I only met your father once,” said Lillie, doubt coloring her voice. “Are you sure he'll be comfortable letting me stay in his apartment?”

“He won't mind at all. Hey, Rotom, call my dad.”

“Sure thing, bzzt. Calling contact: bringin home the francis bacon.”

“You've got to be kidding me,” said Hau, pressing his hand to his face.

“I debated about something to do with Edward De Vere, because historians of Galarian literature have been debating for years about the true identity of Shakespeare. They're not sure if Shakespeare was a frontman for the real writer, because it would have taken someone educated to write them and Shakespeare was like, a middle-class merchant and he wouldn't have been educated. But some people think it might be Francis Bacon, and I thought this would make a better pun.”

“The thing is, she's a hundred percent serious,” said Hau, in a whisper to Lillie. “Like, she's legitimately into this stuff. It's cool, but it's also really nerdy.”

The face of Yoshiro Hawkins popped into view on the screen; Puck, next to Moon, wriggled closer to peer at him in interest. “Hey, Moonbeam! How are you doing?”

“We just turned onto the road to Blush Mountain. You told your boss you were taking tomorrow off, right?”

“Yep, I'm free and clear. I get days off much more often here than I did at Silph Co., and my boss was happy to let me off to see you. They all tell me that you only get one island challenge, so I should take every opportunity I can to be there for you.”

Moon smiled. “That's really nice of them. Tell your boss I appreciate it. Um, is there anywhere specific that you wanted to meet us? We can stay in your apartment, right?”

“You can, but I wouldn't call it an apartment as much as I would a dormitory. There's a bed, a couch, a bathroom, and a kitchenette which I don't use because the employee cafeteria is open twenty-four seven. It's you and Hau and Lillie, right?”

“Yeah, and we've got fifteen Pokémon between us.” Puck hooted excitedly.

“And I've got Scooter and Millie, which makes seventeen.” Her dad frowned, chewing on his bottom lip in concentration.

“Wait, I thought you just had one Pokémon.”

“I did, but your mom and I decided a little while ago that we could each afford to take care of another one. She hasn't gotten a second one yet, but I have. We thought that we'd be helping you more with money, but you've hardly asked us for anything at all.”

“Yeah, I actually earn more than enough to get by just from battles. And I kind of... um, started a business? And also my Rotom-Dex has been investing some of my winnings in bitcoin and it's been surprisingly lucrative. I'm pretty well-off at the moment.”

Her dad's smile was bright and proud. “That's great to hear. Are you thinking you'll save up for college? Maybe go after you're finished with the island challenge?”

“Maybe,” said Moon noncommitally. “I want to talk to you about that later, actually.”

“Sure thing, Moonbeam. Well, back to the housing issue— we've got seventeen Pokémon and four people to fit into a one-room dormitory, and as much as I'd love to have you all I don't think it will work. Would you mind camping again? I'll come with you, and you're all free to use my shower and bathroom as well. The employee dormitory building has a lot of amenities that a Pokémon Center does— a little shop, a healing station, and a laundromat, for one thing. There's also a small park with some tall grass, but there's some spots we can camp in as well.”

“If we can use your shower and do laundry tomorrow, I think camping would be fine. Hau? Lillie?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Hau, steering the Ride Mudsdale closer to the Metang so that he and Lillie could peer into the camera. “Hey, cousin Yoshiro!”

“Hello, Hau. And that's Lillie with you? How are you both doing?”

“We're doing well, Mr. Hawkins,” said Lillie politely.

“Glad to hear it! So, Moon— if you just turned into the road to Blush Mountain, you've got another hour and a half or so before you reach the plant and the dormitories. I'll meet you out front of the visitor's center— it's the first building you'll see as you arrive. Send me a message when you pass the first gate.”

“Cool. See you in a bit.”

“Yep, see you!”

She ended the call and tucked Rotom back into her pocket. “I hope this camping place has trees.”

“You can always share the tent with me, I don't mind,” offered Lillie.

“It's my backup plan. I hope my dad has a tent, because otherwise he's sharing with Hau.”

“He could go in and sleep in his bed,” pointed out Hau.

“Oh, that's true.”

They made their way to the first gate. The chain-link fences were only partially visible against the scarlet canyons, and the gatehouse was made of a reddish brick that matched and blended into the landscape. Moon could see how it had been built in a way that would least affect the beautiful scenery, and it probably had something to do with protecting the local Pokémon habitats as well.

“Hey, Rotom,” she said, pulling it back from her pocket. “What kinds of Pokémon can you catch around here?”

“I'll scan the area and get back to you, bzzt.”

“Thanks.”

“Thinking of picking up a new teammate?” said Hau, with a pointed stare at the Metang where Moon, Puck, and Ariel were perched; Macbeth, as usual, plodded along next to them with Ben in her arms.

Moon rolled her eyes. “No, I'm trying to figure out what my dad could have caught that's local. Hala got hold of a Komala for him, a few months back— they're pretty low-maintenance and my dad thought it would be easier for work. He can use a Ride Pager, since he's an adult with transferrable badge credit from when he did Kanto's gym challenge.”

“Ah, nice. Your mom mentioned they met on their Pokémon journeys, right?”

“Right, yeah. They started dating before they went to college, but they didn't get married until after, and they waited a couple of years to have me.” Moon shrugged.

Rotom beeped softly. “Local Pokémon include Graveler, Elekid, Torkoal, Dedenne, Charjabug, Mudbray, Turtonator, and Togedemaru, bzzt.”

“I know most of those. Remind me where Torkoal is from?”

“They're found in Hoenn, Unova, and Kalos as well as Alola, bzzt.”

“Right. Tortoises are pretty placid, aren't they? And— what's a Turtonator?”

“Turtonator are Fire- and Dragon- type Pokémon native to Alola, bzzt. They resemble other turtle Pokémon in that they have shells, but their shells are chemically unstable and prone to explosion at the the slightest disturbance.”

Moon blinked at Rotom, slightly alarmed. “Well, I hope Dad didn't catch one of those, Arceus.”

“He might not have caught a Pokémon from this area,” pointed out Lillie. “Or he might have made a trade with someone.”

“I guess that's true.”

Once the security guards had waved batons to scan them up and down, Moon sent her dad a message to let him know that they had passed the security gate. As a result, he was waiting for them as Moon, Hau, and Lillie approached with their Pokémon.

“Ah, that's quite the herd,” he chuckled.

Moon hopped off the Metang and ran to hug her dad— he was familiarity, warmth and comfort in the midst of her confusion and occasionally painful growth. And if she shed a few tears into his shirt, he was too kind to point out either the damp blotch or the hearty sniffle that followed when she let go of him.

“It's good to see you, Moonbeam,” said Yoshiro affectionately. “You can all pack in your teams— they won't fit in the apartment, and I'd bet you all want to shower before anything else, right?”

“Yes, please,” sighed Moon. “There have been streams and a couple of beaches, but it's really hard to bathe out in the open without getting spotted by other Trainers. I've been making do with sponge baths and a lot of deodorant.”

“Yeah, I can tell— you're smelling pret-ty strong right now.” Her dad's eyes crinkled with the force of his laughter, as Moon smacked his arm in mock indignation.

“Fire-water-grass for the shower?” suggested Hau.

“No need,” said Moon loftily. “You stink the worst, you should go ahead.”

“Hey!”

Lillie laughed softly. “I'm sorry, Hau, but I'm afraid I have to agree with Moon on this one.”

“They're ganging up on me,” Hau complained to Moon's dad. “All this because I couldn't tell the difference between Robert Freeze and Shakespeare.”

“Robert Frost,” corrected Moon, narrowing her eyes at Hau.

Come over the hills and far with me, and be my love in the rain,” recited Yoshiro. “Can't go wrong with Frost; he always delivers.”

"Aw, no, you're as bad as she is."

Her father snorted. "Where do you think she gets it from?"

Moon, Hau, and Lillie recalled their teammates to their balls— with the exceptions of Nebby and the Metang, who had to be explained to Yoshiro. He listened intently as they went upstairs, as Moon told the story of how it had begun to follow her; that, of course, led naturally into the nest of Fearow and the subsequent death of Horatio, and Lillie's adoption of Esper. And then, because she was tired and a little heartsick, she told him about the Nihilego and about Gladion— mentioning Wicke as well, which brought a slight smile to his face. By the time she was finished, both Hau and Lillie had showered.

“Hmm,” said Yoshiro thoughtfully, in the sudden quiet of the room. “ Amelia Wicke, huh. I remember her. Very nice girl— very quiet, if I remember right. Can I have a little time to mull the other things over before I offer advice, if you want it?”

“Yeah, sure. I've got to shower anyway.”

After the dirt and grime and sweat of the roads, it was such a relief to bathe with hot running water that Moon spent nearly half an hour in the shower, eyes closed as the heat rained down around her. Despite the fact that she had been the last one to shower, the water was still piping hot. The dormitories had to have a good system, housing several hundred employees; but Moon knew that it was also due to the fact that the power plant ran on geothermal energy— which could do just as well as a furnace for heating water.

When she emerged from the shower, her father was just closing the door of the dormitory, holding four boxes of pizza in one hand. “I've got a bag that will keep the heat in, if I can remember where I put it— ah, here it is. Shall we go set up camp and eat?”

“Yeah, let's go!”

With an extra person to help, setting up camp went smoothly. A few people passed by, waving at Yoshiro and asking about Moon; they went through introductions several times. Her father was discreet enough to introduce Hau and Lillie as Moon's friends— nothing about Lillie being the Professor's assistant, or a runaway. It turned out that Yoshiro had borrowed a very nice ten-man tent from one of the other employees— there was even a layered screen of fabric in the center that could be pulled down to make separate rooms. Moon, Hau, and Lillie all agreed to stay in the roomy tent; and there was enough room for all the Pokémon as well. Macbeth had to stay seated because she was so tall, but she didn't mind that. Moon's father had not met any of her team besides Puck, so she introduced him to Ariel, Ben, Macbeth, and the Metang— who she was trying to think of a name for. She'd already used the name of Puck the trickster; it would have been equally fitting for the Beldum who had stowed away in Moon's hiking backpack. Hau's and Lillie's Pokémon were called out and introduced as well; they all settled in with dishes of either Pokébeans, frozen Bugs, or fish.

Moon's father reached into the pocket of his tan chino trousers and pulled out two Pokéballs. The first, as Moon expected, revealed a sleepy-eyed Komala, which smiled as it clung to its bit of wood; but the second was an icy-smooth, familiar-looking rodent.

“Is that a Sandshrew?” she said, peering closer.

“Correct,” said Rotom promptly.“In Alola, Sandshrew adapted similarly to Vulpix by fleeing to the harsh climates of Mount Lanakila when the competiton for food grew too fierce in their preferred habitat of Blush Mountain and the Hokulani Range, bzzt. They are Ice- and Steel-types.”

“Oh, nice.”

“The Komala is Scooter, and the Sandshrew is Scratch,” said Yoshiro, reaching out to the Sandshrew to pat its head; the little Pokémon cooed at his affectionate touch. “A boy and a girl, respectively.”

“Where can you find the Sandshrew?”

“Oh, over in Tapu Village. The power plant's just a little closer to Tapu Village than it is to Malie City— so you're over halfway there, in case you were wondering.”

“Ah, nice,” said Hau appreciatively. “Can we have pizza now?”

Yoshiro laughed. “Yeah, let's eat.”

Hau ate a whole pizza and a half's worth of slices on his own— not surprising, considering the amount of malasadas he could pack in on any given day. Moon's dad had gotten four different pizzas: plain cheese, imi-ham and Pinap berry, double pepperoni, and loaded veggie. It was all tasty, and there was plenty to go around; Yoshiro also had the forethought to buy a box of canned soda from the dormitory shop, and the bias for his daughter to choose her favorite: Nomel-berry soda.

“So my first question,” said her dad, looking at Moon, “your mom knows about all this? The stuff you've been through?”

“Yeah, I told her when she came to visit with Hau's family on Mount Hokulani.”

“Good. She told me you'd been struggling with some things, but thought it would be best for you to tell me on your own.” Yoshiro's fingers tapped restlessly on his lap. “I see now why she wanted me to wait— it wouldn't have been the same hearing it secondhand.”

“Do you guys tell each other everything?”

“Of course we do! I mean, some things you keep private— especially secrets that aren't yours to share. I'm sure you and your mother have secrets I don't know about, and you and I have secrets that I really hope your mother doesn't know about.” He winked, making Moon giggle. “But when you're in a relationship, you communicate about everything. You have to, or you won't understand each other sometimes, and then you'll fight over it.”

Guilt and annoyance in equal measures rose into Moon's throat. “So— the thing with me and Gladion, then—”

Her father surprised her by laughing. “Moonbeam, you're barely eighteen and you've never really gone on a date, let alone had a serious boyfriend. Communication isn't something that comes naturally to most people, especially introverts— and from the way you described him, I think your Gladion must be an introvert. I'm shyer than your mother, and I had to work hard to feel comfortable expressing my needs. So don't worry about messing things up. If it's meant to be, he'll come back into your life, and you can figure things out from there.”

“You guys make it look easy, though.”

“Maybe it looks easy to you, but it takes plenty of work. I get caught up in my work here a lot— that happens to me, with projects. I forget to eat sometimes, and I forget to call your mother. So I have alarms set on my phone, to remind me to call her once a day and to eat meals and snacks at the right time. I keep pictures of the two of you in my office, and I try to think of you often. And when something happens that I get upset about, I try to write it down first. It helps me organize my thoughts, as an introvert. You and your mother might not need to do that, but you should give it a try. It can't hurt.”

“Writing things down first?” mused Moon. “I guess I could try that.”

“I've got a couple of spare notebooks up in my office; I'll grab one before you before you leave.” Yoshiro studied her. “The important thing to remember is that it's a skill. You have to practice. Do you have trouble communicating with Hau or Lillie?”

“Not really.”

“Because you and I are extraverts,” pointed out Hau. “But Lillie's not.”

Lillie smiled softly at Moon. “You know I struggled to communicate with the two of you. I had to write things down too, remember?”

“Right, but wasn't that more of a— um, a you thing than an introvert thing?”

“It was partly my mental health issues,” admitted Lillie, the smile turning crooked for a few moments. “And I don't mind if your parents know about that, Moon. But some of it was being an introvert. I don't always have the right words ready. I have to think about it more, and even then I lose my train of thought. You don't notice it, because I've— well, I've had to train myself to give complete, coherent answers. If I pause before speaking, or if I take some time to think about it first? That's introversion, not just me being thoughtful.”

“There you have it,” said Yoshiro, with a nod to Lillie. “Introverts need time to think before they speak; extraverts need to verbalize as they think, because that's how they organize it. So maybe you not giving your Gladion time to think about what he would say to you was a mistake on your part, and him being cold and avoiding you is a mistake on his.”

It certainly gave Moon some things to think about as conversation turned to lighter things. She helped her dad teach Hau and Lillie the finer arts of poker— Unova hold'em, specifically— but she was a little too rattled to cheat, as she usually did in self-defense when her dad always cheated at poker. They were betting with the remaining slices of pizza, and due to Hau's utter lack of a poker face and the bad luck of a poor hand, he was getting thoroughly trounced. Yoshiro won, in the end— though perhaps not honestly— and he took the pizza back up to his apartment. Moon, Hau, and Lillie followed so they could brush their teeth and wash their faces, and Yoshiro changed into clothes he could sleep in before they went back out to the tent. The subdividing screen was pulled down so that Moon and Lillie could change into pajamas on one side, and Hau could change on the other.

At night, Blush Mountain was cold, as most mountainous areas were. Luckily, Moon had a good thermal sleeping bag, and so did Hau and Lillie. Her dad was not so fortunate, but he'd brought five blankets down as well as a regular sleeping bag, and he bundled himself up cozily on the “boy's” end of the tent. Moon kept her teammates in their balls, as it was rather cold and she didn't want them to suffer unnecessarily— the exception, of course, being the Metang. Hau and Lillie did the same, though Nebby wiggled her way into Lillie's sleeping bag and ended up at the very bottom, by her feet.

“Are you sure you're all right in there?” said Lillie anxiously. “I could unzip the bottom a little bit.”

“Pew, pew!” said Nebby, in a rather muffled voice.

“She's space dust. Does she even need to breathe?” pointed out Hau.

“I mean— you're not wrong, but Nebby does breathe.”

“Pew!”

“If you're absolutely sure.”

“I've been told not to ask, both by Kapua and Uncle Hala,” said Yoshiro, amusement coloring his tone. “But someday, I hope I get to hear the full story of that little lady. I imagine there is quite a bit of laughter to be had in it.”

“Tears as well as laughter,” said Lillie softly. “More tears, sometimes.”

“Then I hope the rest of the story will contain more laughter. With Moon and Hau at your side, I don't doubt there's plenty to go around.”

“Nonsense, I never laugh at anything,” said Hau— but his terrible poker face gave him away once more, and the twitching of his face gave way to giggles when Moon outright snorted at him.

 

Despite the cold, they slept well and when morning came it came with enough sunshine to thoroughly warm them again— in fact, it was oddly warm for the beginning of November, and Yoshiro suggested that they go down to the beach and do some Mantine Surfing.

“Anyone over sixteen can surf locally, though it takes Z-Crystals to qualify you to surf between islands,” he explained. “Moon's mother taught me to surf when we visited briefly for our honeymoon— it's been a while, but I've gone a few times with friends from work, as well.”

“I've been surfing since I was a kid, sounds fun to me,” said Hau with a shrug.

“We might need some time to get ready,” said Moon, with a glance at Lillie. “Did you pack a swimsuit? You bought one in Hau'oli City, right?”

“Yes, but I'd rather have clothes on top of it,” said Lillie, flushing scarlet.

“No problem. I do that, too.”

Moon and Lillie took it in turns to shave their legs in Yoshiro's tiny bathroom, and Moon tugged on her plain purple swimsuit to be sure it still fit after five months of travel. It was slightly loose on her— evidently she'd lost a couple of pounds, which was something she needed to investigate the next time she went to a Pokémon Center. Lillie's swimsuit was also a one-piece, because she had been mortified at the idea of wearing a bikini; but it was festooned in bright pink and lavender florals, easily visible through the sheer white cloth of her cover-up shawl. Both Moon and Lillie wore shorts over their swimsuits, though Moon didn't bother with a cover-up; and they both put on hats— Moon picked one of her older baseball caps and Lillie set her big, floppy white hat on her head.

“I've got spray-on sunscreen, but we don't need to worry about that until we get to the beach,” she said briskly, striding out of the bathroom to put her razor and lotion back into her backpack. Lillie followed her silently, clutching the coverup around herself as though afraid it were going to fly away. “I think we're ready.”

“Sounds good,” said Yoshiro, getting to his feet. “We'll go outside and summon a couple of Charizard, I think— it would take about three hours to walk down to the beach, but it will be five minutes of flight. And we should pick up some sandwiches for lunch before we go.”

“Good call. We'll make a picnic of it. Hau will be on board if we get malasadas— right, Hau?”

He didn't answer immediately, so Moon turned to look at him and saw that he was staring at Lillie, who was turning beetroot red under the scrutiny.

“Oh, for Arceus' sake,” she muttered under her breath.

Yoshiro snickered. “Does that happen a lot?” he said quietly.

“Not as often as you'd think. He's a gentleman.”

At this Hau jerked his gaze away from Lillie, looking at the floor instead. Moon, watching Lillie, saw the tiniest of smiles on her friend's face and decided that her dad was a genius. Surfing was fantastic, surfing was excellent, surfing was a very physical activity that had the benefit of showing off the human body and if two people who already liked each other's personalities were to experience a more physical attraction, then it wasn't meddling and Moon was in the free and clear.

They bought sandwiches, sodas, chips, and malasadas and packed the lot into a basket, then went outside and summoned a trio of Charizard.

 

chat: girl power

 

shakespeare jr: Do you want to ride with me or with Hau

shakespeare jr: I know you usually ride with Hau but you're wearing considerably less clothes today so I thought I'd offer in case you're uncomfortable

lillie-pad: Thank you for offering, but I'll ride with Hau.

shakespeare jr: No problem

lillie-pad: It might give me some courage, where he is concerned.

shakespeare jr: IS THAT A CONFESSION I SMELL

lillie-pad: You're far too excited about this.

shakespeare jr: You're not the one who's been living with the two of you for months

lillie-pad: What?

shakespeare jr: What

 

Lillie glared at her as she climbed onto Hau's Charizard and wrapped her arms around his waist for support, but there was no heat in it and she seemed to be rather distracted anyway. Hau's expression was somewhere between terrified and delighted. Yoshiro had his own Ride Pager, as did Moon; so the three of them set out for the beach. Moon's teammates were in their balls, which was in her bag; but the Metang wrapped solid arms around her own waist and hung on, despite the suspicious looks it received from the Charizard who carried them.

The red rock of Blush Mountain gave way to orangey-brown soil and then to golden sands that fairly glowed under the Alolan sun. It was a warm day, even in mid-November. The ocean was very, very blue, and a great many people seemed to have the same idea as they did. Moon didn't object when her father led them down to a less crowded part of the beach to spread out their quilt. She let out her teammates, just as Hau, Lillie, and Yoshiro let out theirs, and was amused when Puck looked at the water the way he might have looked at a rotten Nanab berry peel before turning to sit on the edge of the quilt furthest away from the water. Ariel promptly joined Poppy, Sonar, and Nebby in rushing into the water, which surprised Moon not even a little bit. Macbeth sat in the sand and held Ben, who was looking at the water with a wistful expression.

“If you want to go swimming, you have to let me put a shock guard on you,” she told him. “Electricity in the water can hurt people and Pokémon.”

“Uila's going to wear one, too,” said Hau nonchalantly, holding his up in the sunlight where Ben could see it.

“And Scratch is going to wear a freeze guard. Nobody wants the ocean icing over just because she wants a swim,” added Yoshiro.

Ben stalked over to Moon, lifting his chin; she put the shock-guard collar around his neck. Once it was in place, he promptly turned and sprinted into the ocean. Macbeth, with a soft rumbling noise that Moon knew to be laughter, got to her feet and followed.

“We'll need to take turns with surfing and watching the Pokémon,” said Lillie, a slight frown creasing her face. “I don't want a stranger coming up to capture Nebby, or the Metang. And we don't want our food or belongings stolen.”

“I can watch the Pokémon, bzzt,” offered Rotom. “Pokédexes are waterproof, so if Hau takes his then I can reach you all easily in case of an emergency.”

“It's unlikely that anyone will steal our things— and if someone does, they'll get called out on it right away. Alola's friendly like that,” said Yoshiro, with a chuckle.

“Still, Rotom will have seventeen Pokémon to watch, as well as our things.” Lillie frowned down at the quilt, where Lapin had settled with Esper in his lap, petting her and cooing the way Macbeth often did with Ben.

“We can deputize,” suggested Moon. “Puck is the leader on my team, Lapin is the leader on yours— Hau?”

“Probably Uila,” said Hau, after some thought. “Poppy's too excited about the ocean to take that kind of thing seriously right now.”

“Scooter, despite his name, won't actually be scooting anywhere,” chuckled Yoshiro, leaning down to pat the sleepy Komala where it was curled up on the blanket. “But in a pinch, he can be responsible for himself and Scratch.”

“So our teams answer to the leaders, and the leaders answer to Rotom,” concluded Moon. “Make sure you can see them, okay?”

“Sure thing, bzzt. And your Metang friend can help with that— they can switch between regular vision and infrared at a moment's notice, so even if it can't see Pokémon, it can see heat signatures in the water.”

“Nebby, unfortunately, is a force of nature and I don't know how to control her,” sighed Lillie. “Let's just hope that she doesn't cause a lot of trouble.”

With the Pokémon taken care of, Yoshiro, Moon, Hau, and Lillie went to rent Mantine. Moon vaguely remembered the basic lessons she'd gotten when she and Hau surfed from Melemele to Akala, but those lessons had been very early in the morning and she was happy to retake them with Lillie. Hau didn't need them, immediately heading out into the ocean to ride the waves; and Yoshiro followed him.

Lillie did have to shed her hat and cover-up for the actual surfing bit, revealing a faint sprinkling of freckles across her shoulders; and Moon noticed Hau making a resolute effort not to stare. She approved of his manners, of course. Being a gentleman didn't exactly come naturally to any man, what with biological mating imperatives and so on; but the effort was what counted. And yet she had the feeling that Lillie wouldn't really mind that it was Hau staring.

That could have been projection, of course. If Gladion were here, Moon knew she wouldn't have minded him staring. She shook her head and said nothing, instead paddling her Mantine out into the deeper waters.

They played in the ocean for a few hours before returning their Mantine and walking back to their Pokémon to eat lunch. Rotom hadn't tried to call or text Hau, so Moon assumed that all was well with the Pokémon— and indeed it was.

“In the interest of full disclosure,” said Rotom promptly, as they arrived, “I should tell you that Gladion was lurking about a hundred meters further back from the shore for the last hour or so. He didn't approach, but he was watching us the whole time.”

“I swear to Arceus he's stalking us,” said Hau disgustedly, throwing up his hands. “Can I walk back there and punch him? Just once. Please.”

“You're going to need to let go of that fantasy,” laughed Moon. “There will be no punching Gladion just because he was lurking. I know he's not going to do anything creepy.”

She wasn't truly sure of this— he'd said some nasty things when they parted— but she had the feeling that it had been said in spite, more to hurt her than because it was actually true.

“He might have been concerned that our Pokémon weren't being supervised by a human,” suggested Lillie cautiously. “I would be, if I saw a group of Pokémon without their Trainers.”

“That's probably exactly what it is,” decided Moon.

“Is he still there?” asked Yoshiro. “I want to see what he looks like.”

“I've got pictures of him on my phone, don't worry about it.”

“Are they the kind of pictures you're okay with showing your father?”

“Ew, Dad!”

“It's a valid question! You're an adult and you pay for your own phone and messaging services, but I don't want to see your almost-ex-boyfriend's n—”

Okay, I get it! There's nothing embarrassing, Arceus!”

Hau and Lillie were laughing so hard that they'd sunk down on the quilt, leaning into each other. Moon grumpily pulled up the chat conversation she had with Gladion, and found one of the selfies he had sent before passing Rotom to her father.

“He's good-looking,” commented her father, after a few moments. “Maybe you should have been asking for n—”

Dad!”

 

Chapter Text

The Traveller's Guide to Alola had stated that Haina Junction— the place where Route Twelve, Route Thirteen, and the entrance to the Haina Desert intersected— was not quite populated enough to be considered a town; but the book, decided Moon, had to be a bit outdated. Haina Junction was packed with people, and there were more buildings than she had been led to believe.

“Maybe you should mail the book home and rely on, I don't know, the Internet,” suggested Hau. “People leave reviews on Pokémaps for all kinds of places. I bet the Junction has some.”

“But I like The Traveller's Guide,” grumbled Moon. “It's been really helpful so far. Maybe this is just a newer development?”

“It's quite possible that there's been an increase in population here due to construction on the Pokémon League.” Lillie frowned. “It seems as though that would only affect Tapu Village, but perhaps this place has something to do with it as well.”

“That's probably it.” Hau pointed at a large, cleared area with several pitched tents; there were construction workers and Machamp living there. “Makes sense. Tapu Village is the smallest town in Alola, so they probably don't really have the accommodations for the construction workers.”

Their destination among the crowds of people was fortunately easy to spot; it was the Haina Junction motel, the largest complete building. Moon could see construction on what looked like it would be a Pokémon Center, which would no doubt be larger than the motel; but in the meantime they didn't have much of a choice.

“Pew, pew...”

Moon glanced at Nebby, tucked in the sling with Esper; the little space cloud was peering out from the sling with an oddly serious expression, staring in the direction of the rocky cliffs that led to Haina Desert.

“No,” said Lillie firmly. “We're waiting for Hapu, alright? I'm going to call her this evening and we can go tomorrow. Be patient for just one day, please. You're going to be fine.”

“Pew,” said Nebby, a touch disconsolately; but she subsided and wriggled back into the sling.

They checked into the motel— there weren't many vacancies, so they decided to share one room, all together. Moon had assumed there would be two beds, either queen- or king-sized; but she was slightly taken aback when they unlocked the door of their room to see only one bed.

“At least it's a king,” offered Moon when Lillie eyed the bed dubiously. “And there's a couch, too.”

Hau shifted uncomfortably. “I'll take the couch, if the two of you don't mind sharing the bed.”

“Not at all,” lied Moon. She had her own ideas about that, even if it was meddling.

It had been several days since they'd left Blush Mountain, and they were once again in dire need of showers— though it was unlikely that the rather shabby motel would have enough hot water for all of them. Moon, Hau, and Lillie played several rounds of fire-water-grass to determine the shower order— Lillie would go first, then Hau, then Moon. Lillie fished her things and a change of clothes from her bag and disappeared into the bathroom with a sigh of relief; the water began running only a minute after the door had closed.

“We're just staying today and maybe tomorrow night, depending on how long it takes Lillie and Hapu to get through the desert. Right?”

“Right,” said Hau. “It means we've got some free time today, though. Want to explore the bazaar once we're all squeaky clean?”

“I'm down.” Moon glanced dismally at The Traveller's Guide to Alola. “I'm guessing this isn't going to be much help, what with the sudden population explosion here.”

“Yeah, probably not. But there's always Pokémaps.”

Pokémaps did, in fact, have an entire section of reviews for the various stalls at the bazaar. Some people had even taken pictures of the colorful tents and market stalls, as well as the pretty paper lanterns that lit everything up at night. Moon was reminded of the various spring and summer festivals in Kanto, for things like the cherry blossom front or the solstice or the equinox.

“There's a malasada shop— homemade, not Swirly-whirl,” she said, pointing at the map that Hau had pulled up.

“Done and done,” declared Hau. “That's all I need.”

“And it looks like there are a couple of bean vendors, too— yeah, there's PoniBean and Paniola Farms. Maybe I should hire someone to set up a stall here for Lunarbean.”

“That's a thought. Is there a shop that does Pokéballs or Potions? You know, the standard Mart fare.”

“Yeah, looks like it.” Moon pointed. “Good catch. I need to stock up on Hyper Potions. I thought I might run out today, I have like two left.”

“I'm not doing much better. Oh, hey, this is right up your alley— used book stall.”

Nice. I definitely need to stop there. What about rarer stuff? Are there any evolution stones or items?”

“Hmm— there's one shop that says it sells stones, but there's not a lot of detail. Maybe we should check that out.”

“I was thinking of Lillie, actually. Esper will need a Moon Stone once she's a Clefairy, and Snowfall needs an Ice Stone to evolve.”

They continued to plan their trip until Lillie emerged from the bathroom, wet-haired and pink-faced. Hau grabbed his own things and went to the bathroom.

“What were you doing while I was gone?” asked Lillie.

“Planning the evening in the bazaar. There's a lot of shops and things, check it out— this one stall sells shish kebabs, we thought we would do that for dinner.”

“Ooh, sounds yummy.” Lillie put her shower things away and took out a hairbrush, walking over to stand in front of a tall mirror on the wall. Her hair reached her waist— it seemed even longer when it was wet, and perfectly straight to boot. Moon watched as her friend expertly parted, brushed, and braided her hair back into two plaits; the pink streak was on the right side near the front, and it went from roots to tips, weaving in and out of the braid on that side.

“You have much more patience than I do,” she commented. “I just chop mine off, I get too annoyed with it. I kind of want to get it trimmed, actually— it's too long for my liking again.”

“It's only down to your cheekbones.”

“My statement stands. It's always getting in my eyes and it's not long enough to stay behind my ears."

Hau finished in the shower, so Moon— resigned to cold water— took her own. It wasn't too cold at the beginning and she took the opportunity to scrub as fast as possible; but by the time she was done the water was icy and she was starting to shiver.

“You're both cheaters at fire-water-grass,” she said grumpily, walking out of the bathroom. “I'm freezing now, and it's November so there's no way it's going to get any warmer—”

It was surprise that cut her off, more than anything. Lillie's hair had been in two neat braids when Moon had gone into the shower; now one side was caught up in a fairly messy braid and Hau was attempting to do the other side.

“I should know how to do this,” he said, frowning. “Mom and Mel and Wiki get their hair braided like, all the time.”

“Yeah, in salons, by qualified professionals. Which you are not, judging by the state of the completed braid.”

“Oh, leave him alone,” laughed Lillie. “I don't mind looking a little sloppy. It's fun to— to teach this.”

But her face was pink. Moon suspected that there were baser motives behind both Hau's request and Lillie's acquiescence. Maybe “accidentally” falling asleep on the couch so that Hau would have to share the bed with Lillie wouldn't be necessary, if the two of them were getting all touchy like this.

“Ready to go explore?” she asked them, as Hau tied off the second, equally sloppy braid.

“Let me see,” said Lillie, ignoring Moon and walking over to the mirror. Hau followed, with trepidation in his features. Moon felt oddly like a third wheel, which hadn't happened before with either of them. “Oh, Arceus.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“A little of column A, a little of column B.” Lillie snickered at Hau's disappointment. “But it gives me an idea— I just need a couple of bobby pins.”

She pinned the messy braids into an artful knot at the base of her neck, and Moon had to admit that it looked more planned this way— almost like an updo for prom, or something out of a Jane Austen novel.

“Wow, you look good,” was Hau's comment.

Lillie went pink again. “Thank you. Shall we go, then?”

“I asked you like three minutes ago, but you were busy fl—”

“Yes, let's go,” said Hau loudly, frowning at Moon as she snickered.

“Flipping out, I was going to say flipping out.”

“No, you weren't,” said Lillie; but fortunately she seemed more amused than embarrassed. This in turn gratified Hau, and it was a very cheerful trio that made their way out to the Haina Bazaar.

The first stop was a free healing station— a nurse in the pink uniform of the Pokémon Center was sitting outside of a trailer, which had the healing equipment and the PC inside. Moon, Hau, and Lillie fixed up their teammates. The Metang, which hadn't fought for Moon as it wasn't part of her team, didn't require any healing; but Nebby did and it was very interesting to see how the Code Purple stuff worked without the counter to hide it. The nurse made an entry on a tablet as her Blissey held onto a slightly squirmy Nebby.

“Stop wiggling,” Lillie scolded her. “I know you're antsy, but it's your own fault you need a healing. You aren't supposed to battle, and you're supposed to stay out of my way when I'm battling with my team.”

“Pew pew pew,” said Nebby crossly.

After that was food. Moon had beans to spare for her teammates as well as her friends; Arby had figured out how to send packages to her through the PC without attaching them to a Pokémon, which was nothing short of miraculous. When she needed more beans she texted him, and they were usually waiting for her at the Pokémon Center. She'd had a delivery at Blush Mountain's Pokémon Center, and she discovered to her delight that she had here as well, at the ramshackle PC in the healing station. It left a few of the Pokémon without meals— Poppy preferred fish, and Puck and Ariel liked Bugs; but there were packets of both being sold at a stall that neighbored some of the bean shops.

Moon, Hau, and Lillie, when their teams had eaten, proceeded through the bazaar to where the food stalls had been set up— most of them in or close to trailers. The shish kebab stand was vegetarian, as most of the stands were; but even if the bacon was fake it smelled fantastic and that was the important thing. They picked what they wanted on the kebabs— chunks of imitation meat or tofu, vegetables, and even a few berries— and watched the merchant fry them after they paid. Nebby squirmed impatiently whenever they stood still for too long.

“I've texted Hapu,” said Lillie pointedly. “She'll be here tomorrow morning, so you need to relax.”

Nebby glared at her. It was unusual— ordinarily she was the happiest out of their entire group of Pokémon.

“You think maybe she'll evolve?” Moon suggested cautiously. “Hau's Gram said she might, and this isn't like her.”

“Maybe,” said Lillie doubtfully, “but none of the research we have on Cosmog suggests that they're capable of evolving. There's a story in Those Who Conquered The Night about a Cosmog shrinking into stars, or something along those lines— it was very flowery language, so I wasn't entirely sure if I'd interpreted the meaning correctly.”

Hau frowned. “Shrinking into stars? Weird. Maybe she evolves and gains Rock-type or something— kind of like Minior?”

“That's a possible interpretation, but the part about shrinking is what confused me. I can't think of any Pokémon evolutions where the Pokémon is smaller after it evolves, than before. I think it must mean something else, but I have no idea what that could be.”

They spent some time at the other stalls of the bazaar as well. It was necessary to replenish their stores of Hyper Potions, Ethers, and Revives— those being the items that one needed most to survive and train on a road that stretched weeks between civilizations. Moon also rifled through the used book stall and managed to score a first-edition copy of The Pokémon Breeding and Parenting Guide, by Ethan Gold— or as he was better known, Johtonian Champion Gold, recognized as Red's counterpart even though Kanto and Johto shared their Elite Four.

Most people held that Red and Gold were fairly equal in terms of power, but Moon knew for a fact that Gold had only beaten Red once, and that was when he had just been completing his gym challenge. There was a difference between completing the gym challenge with a battle against the Champion, and challenging the Champion for their seat. It was possible to do both at the same time, though very few Trainers had managed it. Blue, and then Red, were two of them; a trio of kids from Unova— Nate, Rosa, and Hugh— were several others. There might have been a few more, but Moon couldn't remember them off the top of her head. The point was that Gold had defeated Red during his gym challenge, but when he had challenged Red for the Kanto seat he had failed. The only reason Moon knew any of this was because Blue had been unceasingly smug about it.

The book was a good find, at any rate; and she paid for and tucked it and a rather battered copy of Oricoriolanus into her bag. The three of them wandered over to the stall that claimed to be selling stones. They had a few of the main elemental stones— none of them quite up to the standard of what could be found in Olivia's shop— but the real prize was an Ice Stone, sitting quietly at the back. Lillie had to haggle the stall owner down from the ridiculous original price, but they managed to come to an agreement that pleased both of them.

“I think I'd like to evolve Snowfall today,” she said decisively, as they walked toward their last destination— the homemade malasada stand, which was raising up all kinds of nice smells: oil from a deep fryer, pans of cinnamon sugar, fruity jam and chocolate cream. “She's been ready for a while; she's mellowed a lot since I caught her. So after this, maybe we can go back to the motel and put away anything we don't need, then walk back over to the end of Route Twelve to train?”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Hau, with a nod. Moon had no objections.

The homemade malasada stand was run by two men who appeared to be more or less the same age. Moon couldn't decide if they were married or if they were brothers, and posed the question very quietly to Hau and Lillie while they were in line. Hau thought they were married, but Lillie believed they were brothers.

“They're really comfortable with each other. Look, my mom and dad stand like that all the time, doing the back-hug thing.”

“I used to stand like that with my brother,” said Lillie, shrugging. “Affection doesn't always mean romance, you know. And they're clearly related— they've got the same color eyes.”

“Maybe they're friends,” suggested Moon, enjoying the argument. She was leaning toward Lillie's theory, for both of the men did in fact have brown eyes. “Really close friends, who just so happen to have the same eye color. Or maybe they're friends with benefits.”

“Trust me, there's no benefits in this relationship,” said the one at the deep fryer, grinning at her.

Moon coughed, feeling her face burn with embarrassment. She hadn't realized they could hear her. “Um.”

“It's actually a question we get a lot,” said the other one, at the old-fashioned cash register. Neither of them seemed to be offended, which was a good sign. “We're childhood best friends, so we've been close for a very long time.”

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be like, rude or anything.”

“No worries,” said the first one, waving a hand at her. “All is forgiven, as long as you tip generously.”

The second one sighed. “You can't just guilt people into leaving tips.”

“I can do whatever I want because I make the malasadas, thank you very much.”

“Leave whatever kind of tip you want,” said the second one, addressing Moon. “Or none at all, that's fine too. We don't depend on tips or anything.”

Moon tipped generously, more because she was embarrassed to have been caught gossiping than anything else. Hau and Lillie were clearly fighting back giggles as they got their own treats, and once they were sure that they were out of earshot of the two men both of them burst out laughing.

“Oh, come on!” said Moon, but she was laughing, too. “That was definitely my fault, but you could at least show me some sympathy. It was awkward as hell.”

“The look on your face!” wheezed Lillie— she was laughing so hard that her eyes were nearly shut, crinkling beautifully at the corners. “You looked like, like a Deerling caught in the headlights.”

“And they were super chill about it, oh my god!” Hau was roaring with laughter, drawing the attention of pretty much everyone around them. “They have to get that question so often if they can answer it like that without getting flustered. How does it feel knowing that you asked the same question as everyone else?”

“Hey, I'm not that much of an intellectual snob!”

“Yes, you are,” said Hau and Lillie in unison.

“But we love you for it,” Lillie was quick to add. “And the one at the register who told you to tip generously— he kept winking at us, he knew we were trying not to laugh at you.”

“And the second guy was so embarrassed by him! He was almost as embarrassed as you, Moon—”

“You only have one volume, don't you?”

It was as though time had stopped, as soon as that familiarly raspy, sullen voice registered in her mind. She watched as Hau's eyes widened before his eyebrows creased in irritation; Lillie's mouth pinched into something thin and angry. Moon braced herself, and turned around.

Gladion was glaring at them, one hand on his hip. He wore his usual black jeans and jacket, with rips at the knees and in the sleeves— undoubtedly inflicted by Null, who stood next to him in silence.

“Seriously,” he continued, folding his arms. Something very strong hit Moon's nose, sharp and sour— alcohol, she theorized, and her theory was supported by a flush over his entire face, and the fact that he kept blinking at them. “Pipe it down a fucking notch.”

Moon had never seen Lillie move so fast in her life. Her hands had twisted around, yanking a water bottle out of her bag; with a quick wrench the lid was off and she was throwing the contents over Gladion; he stepped back, blinking in surprise.

“How dare you,” she snapped, eyes blazing. “How dare you walk up to us, as though nothing had changed, and say something so rude to someone who wasn't even bothering you. And how dare you get drunk in the middle of the day to— to find the courage for it, you coward!”

Lillie,” protested Moon, not sure whether to be grateful or appalled.

“And how dare you break my best friend's heart? You told her to forget about you, as though she could turn off her emotions like some kind of unfeeling robot! And then you follow us all over the place and run into us all the time! We owe you nothing, least of all the convenience of being quiet in a public place just because you've been drinking.”

Gladion said nothing, and his face showed nothing. He stood very still, half-drenched with water. Null hadn't moved either, and Moon was surprised— she would have expected her to defend her Trainer from a stranger throwing water at his face.

“That's fair,” he said finally, with a half-shrug. “Look, I came over here for a reason. Team Skull is looking for a Pokémon called Cosmog, and some of them think they might have seen it with the three of you.”

Moon summoned her very best poker face. “A what now?”

“Cosmog,” repeated Gladion, though there was a razor-sharp gleam in his green eyes that was oddly appreciative. “Little colorful blobby thing, makes noises that sound like a fake laser gun.”

“Sounds interesting, but we've never seen one,” said Hau. His poker face could use some work, thought Moon; but it was solid enough for Gladion to nod once— more to himself than to them, it seemed.

“At any rate,” he continued, “it would be a disaster if Team Skull actually did get hold of Cosmog. So if you see it, do your best to protect it.”

He turned to walk away.

“Why do you care?” The words burst from Moon's heart with a bitterness she thought she'd let go of. “Aren't you— aren't you selling out your team?”

Gladion paused, then turned back around. He took a few steps toward them, stopping about three feet away from Moon. He seemed more resigned than angry.

“You talk to Molly and Rogelio,” he said simply.

“You know I do.”

“So you know that Team Skull takes people who have nowhere else to go.”

“Yeah.”

“They took me in, but they never really took me in. The only people who actually give a shit about me are Molly, Rogelio, and Plumeria. Sometimes Guzma, if he's in a good mood. That's not Team Skull. That's four people. I might be Skull by association, I might wear the uniform— but I don't owe them a damn thing. They aren't my team. I didn't join them because I like graffiti or because I hate Alola. It's like I told you, I— I literally had nowhere else to go.”

His voice broke on the last sentence, but he maintained his composure. It was this crack in the façade that told Moon that she had been correct to feel guilty about the things she had said to him in Konikoni City; it was a sudden, breathless reminder that he had been just as hurt by her nosiness and pride as she had been by his secrecy and cutting words.

“I'm sorry,” she said, not for the first time. “I— I'm really, really sorry. I fucked up, and you were hurt, and I'm sorry.”

He nodded.

It was the benediction she'd been looking for. Moon swallowed back a gasp, or a dry sob— she wasn't sure which, but she wasn't tearing up.

“Thank you for the warning,” said Lillie abruptly. There was still something stiff and disapproving in her tone. “We'll keep an eye out for this— Cosmoke, did you say?”

“Cosmog.” Gladion's eyes were boring into Moon. She neither wanted to, nor felt able to look away. “You do that. Whatever it is, it doesn't deserve to fall into— Team Skull's hands.”

And with that, he turned and walked away.

For a few moments, none of them spoke. But then Hau sighed deeply.

“I didn't punch him. Are you happy?”

“Exceedingly.” Moon pulled Rotom from her pocket and sent a message in a conversation she hadn't had reason to look at in quite some time— though that had not, in fact, prevented her from looking at it anyway.

 

chat: hypothetically

 

shakespeare jr: Out of curiosity am I still blocked

 

fucking softie: [Read 3:42 pm]

 

shakespeare jr: I guess not lmao

 

fucking softie: [Read 3:43 pm]

 

“He unblocked me,” she announced, satisfied— more than satisfied; she couldn't quite keep the smile from curling onto her mouth. “I'll take it.”

“And here you are forgiving him,” said Hau, shaking his head.

“I've had a lot of time to reflect on what happened,” explained Moon. “The conclusion I have come to is that it doesn't really matter what he said to me, because I know myself and I know I try to be a good person. The only thing that really matters is that I hurt him, and it's my responsibility to make amends for that. And he approached me first, which is what Molly and Rogelio and Plumeria all said should happen, so I still have some of my own dignity left.”

“You're sure going to a lot of lengths to justify him.”

“But Lillie threw water in his face, so it all evens out in the end.”

They took a little time in the motel room to relax— after all, they had been traveling for several days. Even though Lillie wanted to evolve Snowfall and train for a while, everyone's feet were hurting, and now that they had all been fed and watered it was easier to just laze around for a while.

Moon was about to open the chat where they talked about Gladion behind his back, but then it occurred to her that Gladion had probably gone behind Guzma and Plumeria to warn them about Team Skull looking for Nebby. That meant that Team Skull was back to being the enemy, rather than a combination of friends and nuisances. She couldn't even tell Molly and Rogelio in their private chat; they would want a full action replay and Moon didn't know if they were also looking for Nebby or not.

Then again, if she didn't text Molly and Rogelio occasionally about other things they might get suspicious— and Moon didn't want them to get suspicious. If Gladion had gone against orders to warn them, then they might figure it out if she just ghosted them. She didn't want to ghost them anyway— they were her friends, whether or not they were Team Skull.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: Okay I have a story for you guys

the girl with the curls: lay it on me i am READY

herbalist: i too like stories

shakespeare jr: So my friends and I got to Haina Junction today, and get this

shakespeare jr: We go to the motel, we rent a room

shakespeare jr: Just one, because they don't do the Pokémon Center's island challenge rates and we want to save money

the girl with the curls: they double-charge skulls so plumeria always has us stay in her trailer lmao

herbalist: molly stop interrupting

shakespeare jr: So we're gross from the road, right

shakespeare jr: Lillie showers first, Hau showers second, I shower last. We played fire-water-grass for it and I lost

shakespeare jr: ANYWAY my point is

shakespeare jr: When I went into the bathroom Lillie's hair was braided really neatly

the girl with the curls: i like where this is going

herbalist: same

shakespeare jr: And when I came out, Hau was braiding her hair

the girl with the curls: that is not where I thought this was going

herbalist: same

shakespeare jr: Where did you guys think it was going??!?!?!?!

the girl with the curls: messy post-makeout hair

herbalist: just say sex hair it's the same thing

shakespeare jr: Omg no they're BABIES, they would never

the girl with the curls: that's why i didn't say sex hair

shakespeare jr: Well Lillie wouldn't

shakespeare jr: At least not to my knowledge and probably not in front of me

shakespeare jr: Okay maybe she would

herbalist: lmao make up your mind

shakespeare jr: ANYWAY he did a terrible job and it was super messy, but Lillie wasn't like “ew let me fix that”

shakespeare jr: She took some bobby pins and she smushed everything in a knot at the back of her neck and it looks like fuckin prom hair or something

shakespeare jr: It was all VERY CUTE, remind me to see my dentist

the girl with the curls: i would like to see this fuckin prom hair or something, if you can manage it

shakespeare jr: hang on a sec, I'll ask

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [ImAbraidKnot.jpeg]

the girl with the curls: OOH CUTE

shakespeare jr: I'm so sorry for the file name, my Rotom thinks it's hilarious

 

GLaDoS has joined the chat.

 

the girl with the curls: DUDE WHAT THE FUCK

herbalist: O HF UCK N O

GLaDoS: I beg your pardon, I AM hilarious.

 

GLaDoS has left the chat.

 

herbalist: liste n I fu cking PLAYED the Portal ga mes

herbalist: you can't do that to me. my heart aboutj umped out of my fucking throat

shakespeare jr: I don't know where it gets its goddamn audacity but I want a refund.

herbalist: didn't you get it for free

shakespeare jr: ...yes

the girl with the curls: i'm still freaked out that your fuckin Pokédex is actually a fuckin Pokémon

shakespeare jr: See I might have been freaked out about it too, if it weren't for the fact that on the day we met, it was judging me because my previous phone was a flip phone

shakespeare jr: Once I knew that my Pokédex was not only a Pokémon, but an asshole, the novelty wore off pretty quick

shakespeare jr: Free internet and phone service is nice though.

the girl with the curls: free internet and phone service??!??!?!?

shakespeare jr: Since Rotom is kind of a Pokémon and kind of an AI, there aren't really any laws to prevent it from leeching onto any Wi-Fi signal it can find

shakespeare jr: And there isn't a phone service company to prevent it from pinging satellites or tapping into cell towers without paying, either

herbalist: so you're definitely breaking a law, it just doesn't exist yet?

shakespeare jr: Yeah, basically

shakespeare jr: I think it kind of likes breaking the law though, it goes back to the poltergeist roots a little bit

 

GLaDoS has joined the chat.

 

GLaDoS: Accurate.

 

GLaDoS has left the chat.

 

the girl with the curls: arceus fuck, warn a girl

herbalist: why GLaDoS though

shakespeare jr: Because it texted me once unexpectedly and I'm at least as much of an asshole as Rotom is

shakespeare jr: Rotom just said out loud “I'm not joining your conversation anymore, it takes too much effort, but that's also accurate.”

the girl with the curls: that's a goddamn mood

 

“I think I'm ready to start training, if you both are as well,” said Lillie, looking up from her own phone. “I have a Vulpix to evolve.”

“Do you want to do that outside or in here?”

“In here is fine— Ninetales aren't terribly tall. She'll be smaller than Umber, at any rate.”

Snowfall sniffed disdainfully at this, watching as Lillie took the Ice Stone out of her bag and set it down on the floor in front of her.

“Whenever you're rea—”

Snowfall pounced on the stone before Lillie could even finish the sentence. A flash of bright, pale-blue light had Moon shielding her eyes in alarm.

“Ni ni nine,” said the fox smugly. Snowfall wasn't terribly prone to conversation as a rule— Moon guessed it had more to do with her personality, than the abuse she had endured before Lillie had captured her. But now her voice was a little deeper, more of an alto than the high-pitched yip it had been before.

“Oh, you're pretty,” said Lillie admiringly, patting Snowfall's head. Snowfall leaned into the touch, closing her eyes and humming; it was more affection than Moon had ever seen her show. “And it looks like you can learn Ice Beam, which is great— we've been relying on Powder Snow for a long time.”

“Can I take a picture of her to send to Molly?”

“Molly? Oh, because she was there when we met Snowfall.”

“By 'she was there' you actually mean 'was trying to get a Vulpix to give up a Bottle Cap without resorting to violence even though Kohaku clearly wanted to,' but yes, that's what I was thinking,” said Moon, amused.

“Well, you already took a picture of my hair. As long as Nebby isn't in the picture, I don't mind.”

Snowfall sat up straighter, tilting her head confidently at the camera; she was very photogenic and seemed to know it. Moon took several pictures with Rotom and spent a couple of moments quickly adjusting the color and light levels since they were indoors.

“Here's Model A, and here's Model B,” remarked Hau, pointing first at Snowfall and then at Lillie. “Someone should hire the two of you to do an ad campaign. I'd buy whatever they were selling.”

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [Throwback.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: She's come so far since you tried to take her Bottle Cap lmao

the girl with the curls: oh damn, that's a cute Ninetales

herbalist: she's lillie's, right?

the girl with the curls: yeah, that's how i met moon actually

herbalist: oh, do tell

the girl with the curls: plumeria wanted us to collect bottle caps for some reason, i think the recycling plant was offering more for them or something. kohaku saw that this lil vulpix had one and tried to get it but it bit him because it was already hurt b/c it was in a fight with a couple of lillipup

shakespeare jr: oh wow i didn't know that

the girl with the curls: yeah didn't really think to tell you, sorry

 

“Ready to go?” asked Lillie.

“Yeah, let's go train.”

Moon, Hau, and Lillie led their teams outside, walking back toward Route Twelve and the closest tall grass. The Metang faithfully trailed Moon, hovering behind her ankles as she worked first with Macbeth and then with Ariel. In between wild battles, Moon kept an eye on the conversation with Molly and Rogelio.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

the girl with the curls: anyway i was trying to get it too and some bitch was like “ew team skull” and was SO FUCKIN ANNOYING

shakespeare jr: She really was though, even Lillie thought she was annoying

the girl with the curls: yeah and basically moon and lillie saw us and they were like “leave her alone” and i was like “sure, just let me get the fuckin cap” and they were like “no” and we battled

the girl with the curls: they beat us, obviously

shakespeare jr: Lillie THRASHED Kohaku, it was awesome

the girl with the curls: ^

the girl with the curls: and then moon said a thing about how she wouldn't really be mad at skull if trinh and uilani hadn't been bitches to lillie one time, so i decided i liked her and i told her their names so she would know who to look for

shakespeare jr: trinh is okay, still don't really like uilani

herbalist: she's aight when she's not convinced that i'm secretly one of the Straights

the girl with the curls: biTCH I CHOKED, SHE REALLY DOES

herbalist: seriously im fuckin sick of it, let me be gay in peace

herbalist: my next hair color will be a goddamn rainbow, maybe she'll leave me alone after that

shakespeare jr: I am in full support of rainbow hair, that would look SICK

herbalist: i mean i probably won't, i don't want to become the Token Gay of team skull

the girl with the curls: ^ he says, as though he isn't already the Token Gay

herbalist: that's not true though, you and trinh are both bi and there's also ki-moon and jeremiah and almas, who are Baby Gays that have already come to me for advice

herbalist: and cassie isn't out or anything but i'm pretty sure she's a lesbian

the girl with the curls: no cassie's straight, i checked because she does kind of hit a lot of the Visual Lesbian Stereotypes like the flannel and the short hair and all that and i was like “ONE OF US, ONE OF US” but she was like “nah fam everybody wears flannel and I just hate having long hair”

shakespeare jr: Honestly same

herbalist: i guess this goes to show you that even gay people rely too much on gay stereotypes

the girl with the curls: wait hold up I didn't know ki-moon was gay??!??!?

herbalist: yeah he's out, and he's with jeremiah who is also out. they came to ask me for Supplies and almas came with them to ask me for some other stuff. i'm not a hundred percent sure on whether almas is gay though, the conversation just kind of implied it

shakespeare jr: Do I want to know what you mean by “Supplies”?

herbalist: I gave them condoms and lube and told them to double-check that the doors are locked when they're doing the frickle frackle because boss man forgets to knock

the girl with the curls: see, rog here isn't just the Token Gay

the girl with the curls: he's the Token Gay Dad

herbalist: YOU TAKE THAT BACK, I AM YOUNG AND HANDSOME AND VIRILE AND NOT AT ALL DAD-LIKE

 

“What are you laughing about over there?” called Hau, grinning at her. “We're going to get another noise complaint from your not-really-not-ex-boyfriend.”

“Not-really-not— wow, that's a tongue twister and a half. I mean, it's accurate but it's kind of weird to think about.” Moon took her backpack off and set it on the ground, walking over to Hau and Lillie, showing them the conversation. “Molly and Rogelio are hilarious, that's all.”

“Were you talking about Gladion?”

“No— but I would be, if they weren't Team Skull and possibly also looking for Nebby. He might get in trouble if Team Skull knows we've been tipped off.”

“Good call.” Hau chuckled. “You know, that's kind of funny— he was keeping Team Skull a secret from you, and now you're keeping each other secret from Team Skull.”

“How is that funny?”

“It's like Pukeo and Mukiet, you're star-crossed lovers or whatever.”

“I can't believe you actually got the title right.”

“Hey, I don't always tune you out when you're talking about Shakespeare.”

Lillie handed Rotom back to Moon, her face rather pink. “That's an interesting topic of conversation to get to, from a picture of Snowfall.”

“I've learned not to question it. They don't have to talk to me about being gay, which I would understand because I'm straight. But they choose to, and I'm really grateful they do. I think they like having someone who can be the audience when they're roasting each other.”

“I mean, I like having Lillie as the audience when I roast you.”

“Oh, very funny.” Moon rolled her eyes as Hau laughed.

Nebby!”

Lillie's sharp cry had both of them looking up in alarm; she was already sprinting back toward Haina Junction as the little dust cloud zoomed away from them. Snowfall followed at the sprint.

“Oh, shit, she's probably headed for the desert,” realized Moon. She broke into a run as well, and she could hear Hau just behind her.

There was a barrier that blocked general entry into the desert; only Trainers who had finished the Grand Trial were allowed inside. Moon assumed this meant battling the kahuna, whoever he was— she'd heard the name Nanu thrown around a few times, but she had no idea who he was or where to find him. Usually, Lillie was able to get around barriers with the letter from Professor Burnet; but the trial guide— a sour-faced middle-aged man— was adamant.

“I can't let you through. The desert is what separates Tapu Bulu from humankind. Out of all the Tapus, Tapu Bulu is the least friendly toward humans. He's aggressive to everyone who enters, unless they're with a kahuna. It's simply not safe to let you pass.”

“But m-my Pokémon!” pleaded Lillie, tears streaming down her face. “Please, she's very special— not quite one of a kind, but very close, a-and she's a pseudo-legendary, and we're trying to keep her hidden from Team Skull. She's not safe, either!”

“I can call the kahuna, but he's probably not going to answer,” sighed the trial guide, pulling out his Pokédex. “And... yep, there's the tone.”

“You're not going to even leave a message?” said Hau disbelievingly.

“Kahuna Nanu never listens to voicemails.”

“Fuck this, I'm calling Professor Kukui.” Hau pulled out his own Pokédex.

Lillie was sobbing, sinking down on the ground. “Oh, god,” she whimpered. “Nebby's going to get hurt, and it's all m-my fault, I should have captured her properly. She just doesn't learn—”

“If the Pokémon wasn't captured, it wasn't really yours in the first place,” pointed out the trial guide, rather nastily.

“Oh, fuck off with that attitude,” snarled Hau, before Moon could say anything. “If you're not going to be helpful, you can shut the fuck up.”

“M-medicine,” whispered Lillie, leaning against Hau's leg. She was trembling hard, so hard that she was having difficulty speaking. “I n-need my meds, I need them I need them I need them—”

“Yeah, okay, hang on, I got you.” Hau bent down to pull Lillie's backpack off her back.

“Fucking kids,” said the trial guide under his breath.

Moon looked at the man for a few moments. He was staring at Lillie, disgust written on his face; there was something wrong about that. There was something wrong about the idea of Lillie suffering, in general.

“Hey, asshole,” she said, eyeing him. He was thin and rather gaunt.

The man looked at her, irritated. “What do you want?”

“Let's play a game.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Why?”

“Because you're a fuckface. Tag, you're it.”

And with that, she sprinted past him and vaulted over the barrier.

Hey! Come back here, you little—”

“Moon! Moon, wait!”

But she didn't wait, because every moment she waited meant a greater distance between herself and Nebby. The orangey-brown rock of the canyon thudded under her feet, and she heard the trial guide shouting faintly behind her. But as she had guessed, she was much faster and in better shape than he was, and soon she couldn't hear him at all.

 

Chapter Text

At first, the desert didn't seem so bad.

Moon emerged from the rocky canyon after about twenty minutes to see a vast ocean of sand. It was late afternoon, which was a good time to be travelling in the desert— she wouldn't die of heat stroke, at least. And the Haina Desert was enclosed on all sides by the Hokulani-Lanakila range and Blush Mountain; so there was a limited number of places Nebby could go. And she had a general destination— Moon vaguely remembered from The Traveller's Guide to Alola that Tapu Bulu's den and the Ruins of Abundance were located due north of the entrance to the desert, a straight shot from where she stood.

In fact, she could even see Nebby. There was something sparkly and colorful in her vision— just a speckle in the distance, but it was solid and it moved the way Nebby did, bobbing gently up and down. Moon picked up her speed.

Then the rocky ground gave way to full sand, and running became much more difficult as her feet sank into softness with every step. There was soon sand inside of her socks, but she couldn't afford to stop and take them off.

Nebby!” she shouted, cupping her mouth with her hands in the hopes that it would carry far enough for the Pokémon to hear. “Nebby, come back! Lillie is literally worrying herself sick!”

Nebby, naturally, didn't hear her. Moon swore under her breath and tried to increase her pace.

It wasn't high noon, but the sun was still up and it beat down harshly on Moon's neck. She'd been wearing a hoodie, as it was fairly cool out among the rocks; and she vaguely remembered something about making sure one's head and neck were covered if one had to traverse a desert. A bead of sweat rolled from the nape of her neck down to her shoulder blades, but Moon put her hood up anyway. It was, at the very least, a layer between her face and the sun.

The wind stirred a drift of sand into motion, puffing up a cloud into the air; Moon was unfortunate enough to run face-first into it and got a mouthful and an eyeful of sand. She clenched her eyes closed, spitting it out and trying to keep moving.

San... san san...”

The whispers came from all around her, barely audible in the shifting wind. Moon ignored them— Sandile were annoying, but they didn't usually attack unless they felt attacked; and she wouldn't lose to a Sandile as long as she had her team at her side.

They seemed to be following her, however. She could see dark, glimmering eyes blinking at her from the dunes, and only the deeper hues of their stripes indicated that the eyes were more than a trick of the light. She didn't turn around to count, because that would mean losing track of Nebby.

The wind was picking up further, and more sand blossomed into the air. Moon covered her nose and mouth with one hand, squinting into the distance. It was hard to see, but she could make Nebby out in the distance yet. The little troublemaker had lit up her way with Flash, which shone white and gold and pink all at once. Or perhaps Moon was hallucinating. She wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.

The dunes gave way to rocky, chopped earth. Moon didn't have time to summon a Mudsdale, so she had to sprint around them as Nebby floated easily overhead. She was beginning to catch up, because Nebby's pace was fairly easy— she didn't seem to be in much of a hurry.

“Nebby!” she screeched, trying to catch the Cosmog's attention.

Nebby turned around, made a faintly surprised face, then zipped forward, rapidly disappearing into the sand and the wind.

“Come on, you little shit, get back here! You're making Lillie cry!”

Moon was moving at a fairly punishing pace, and soon she was gasping for breath as she ran. The sweat ran in rivers from brow to ribs to hips, and her feet were chafing uncomfortably against the sand in her socks; it was perhaps a rough method for exfoliation, but her feet would be very soft by the end of this. Or perhaps very raw.

“Gol gol gol.”

It was a Golett like the one Hapu had, peering at her curiously.

“You haven't seen a little ball of space dust fly past, have you?”

She wasn't going to wait for a reply, but the Golett raised one hand and pointed the way that Moon had been going anyway.

“Ah, thanks. Much appreciated.”

“Gol gol.”

See, Goletts were nice, thought Moon, continuing to stumble forward. They didn't follow creepily like herds of Sandile.

She stepped on something that moved, and promptly faceplanted into the sand. Her mouth was, unfortunately, open; and she had to roll over fast to gasp for air before she inhaled any of it.

“Ow, fuck.”

“Gi, gible gi...”

Moon scrambled to her feet, squinting down at the ground. Her face was hot in a way that told her that she was getting sunburn from the reflection against the sparkling sands. But that was a blue-ish shape, with a scarlet belly; and she knew the name Gible.

There were probably four of them, staring at her. They were sort of cute, in a frightening way. Moon glanced in the direction that Nebby had gone— or the direction that she thought Nebby had gone— but the air was hazy, and she couldn't even see the colorful dot or even the pink-and-gold lights.

“Shit, fuck.”

She tried to step over one of the Gible, but it leaped at her foot, snapping on empty air as she hastily withdrew it.

“I don't have fucking time for this.” Moon reached for Macbeth's Pokéball, but her hands grasped empty air and she looked down, confused.

Her Trainer's belt was gone.

“Gi gi gible,” said another Gible, shuffling closer. It grinned at her, showing sharp white teeth; it was not a nice smile and Moon swallowed.

“Listen,” she said hesitantly. “I don't suppose you'd take a rain check on battling? I seem to have, um, misplaced my team.”

Where could she have put them? She tried to rewind, to mentally retrace her steps. She'd been in the desert, and before that in the canyon, and before that just outside the barrier with Hau and Lillie; and before that—

—she'd taken off her backpack and her belt with it when she was showing Hau and Lillie the conversation with Molly and Rogelio, and she'd forgotten to pick them up when Lillie ran after Nebby.

And she'd dropped Rotom— probably assuming it would watch her things and anything that Hau and Lillie had left behind.

A weight on her shoes made her look down. One of the Gible had hopped onto her foot, blinking up at her with an innocent expression on its face.

“Okay,” decided Moon, after a few moments. “I guess you're not so bad. Can I go n—”

The Gible sank sharp teeth into her leg.

For a few moments, the pain did not register as such; but her knee-jerk reaction was to try and shake it off, and then fire shot up the nerves of her leg.

The other Gible crowded in. Moon staggered backward, away from them— but the little asshole clenched around her leg wouldn't let go. There was a layer of denim between its mouth and her skin; but that didn't matter when its teeth ripped through both like a hot knife through butter.

One of them snapped at her other leg; Moon, terrified, kicked out and caught it in the nose; it squealed in pain.

“I'm sorry, I'm fucking sorry, I don't want to hurt you, please.”

Another Gible leaped higher, aiming for her face; Moon covered herself with her arms and felt thin, razor-sharp lines of pain drawn down her arm. She heard, rather than felt a jaw snapping; but there wasn't a heavy clamping pain like in her leg so it must have missed.

“Stop it, get off—”

She kicked at the one hanging onto her leg with her free foot. It whined angrily and the teeth pressed further in.

“Ow, shit, fuck.”

Moon stepped awkwardly back, away from her pursuers; her foot landed on something that moved, again, and she toppled over on her backside. She felt a jaw close around her foot, though her hiking boot was fairly thick and the Gible seemed to be having trouble biting through it. She felt sharp lines on her torso and her face, burning first with sharp pain and then dullness, with occasional prickles where the swirling sand blew onto them.

She saw a shadow looming above her and covered her face with her arms, cringing preemptively against the attack.

Moon was going to die here in the desert. She was going to die, because like fucking Nebby, she ran into the desert with little more idea of what to do than to chase the little shit down and return her to Lillie.

She hadn't finished her island challenge. She hadn't challenged the Alolan League. She wouldn't ever go to college, she wouldn't ever take another picture with Rotom, she wouldn't be able to help Arby with the Lunarbean Company. She wouldn't get to say good-bye to her parents, or to Hau and Lillie. She would never find out what was so special about Nebby in the first place. She wouldn't ever ruffle Puck's feathers or tell Ariel she was pretty. She wouldn't ever get to pet Ben, and she would never see Macbeth learn a Water-type move. She hadn't even gotten to talk to Gladion— which seemed oddly important, as her death quickly approached.

“Bel tang!”

One of the Gible let out a high-pitched shriek, and the pressure on her foot vanished; then she felt something smack into her leg and finally the vice-like pressure left as well.

Moon blinked sand out of her eyes and looked up into the scarlet eyes of the Metang.

“Oh, fuck,” she gasped, sitting up. “I'm so glad to see you, you have no fucking idea.”

The Metang bobbed down in a nod, then turned and swiped at a Gible as it leaped toward them. The move was Metal Claw, decided Moon, rather than Iron Fist; the sharp bits on the end of Metang's arms were poking out and they pierced skin on the Gible.

Two of the Gible jumped at Metang, but it shook them off easily and delivered several rapid punches— she knew that one too, having seen Lillie use it with Lapin. Bullet Punch was a nice all-purpose move and the little sand-sharks didn't like it at all. They finally raced away, squealing their displeasure.

Moon looked down at her leg and promptly wished she hadn't. It looked rather like it had lost a battle with a meat grinder, if the meat grinder was two feet tall and had a jaw that could hinge open nearly a hundred and eighty degrees.. Gible's teeth hadn't gone all the way through her flesh, but there was torn skin and muscle and tendon and nerves— god were there nerves, sending fresh waves of pain traveling from calf to brain every time she so much as breathed. The middle of her calf down to her ankle was completely soaked through with blood. The boot on her other leg was mangled, but as far as she could tell the Gible biting that foot hadn't broken the skin.

She tried to stand up, tried to move her leg— but lightning arced through her bones. It took Moon a few seconds, through the screaming sandstorm winds, to realize that she had been screaming too.

“Fuck,” she gasped, gritting her teeth. “Oh, god, fuck.”

“Bel bel,” said the Metang, reaching out with careful arms.

It slid one down through the sand, scooping under both her legs; the other one rested under her back. Moon clung to it, grimly biting her lip so she wouldn't scream every time something brushed her leg. It lifted her up and she managed to drape herself partly on top of the Metang's bulky frame. Its arms moved, shifting her until she was fully sitting on its head.

“Thanks— thank you so much. I'm going to catch you as soon as we get back, swear to Arceus. You deserve it, and I've been letting Ben get away with murder for ages.”

“Tang bel?”

“No, we can't go back now. We have to find Nebby. That's why I ran into the fucking desert in the first place.”

The Metang sighed heavily. “Met bel.”

Her pace was much quicker with the Metang, because it had Levitate and didn't need to bother with stepping in the sand. The sun was rapidly vanishing behind Mount Lanakila, even though it was quite early— but Moon didn't really feel it until her teeth were suddenly chattering. She wasn't sure how much was cold, and how much was shock and bloodloss.

She was definitely still bleeding, though. There was a dark rivulet running down the back of the Beldum, and every few feet something dark splatted onto the sand behind them.

San san san...” hissed voices around them. Moon spotted several pairs of eyes gleaming in the darkness behind them and swallowed.

“We're being chased,” she said to the Metang. “Fucking Sandile, seriously.”

She didn't expect the Metang to spin around and swipe out abruptly with one of its claws; the force of the spin made Moon slide off, groaning as she landed on her bad leg, which buckled and brought her down even heavier. Her stomach swam with sand and pain.

“San die san san!” muttered the Sandile, backing away from them.

The Metang made a loud noise that Moon might have described as a snarl, if it weren't a robot that made weird clanging sounds along with its call signs. It was loud, it was angry, it was dominant— it was thoroughly done with whatever the Sandile were doing, promising to visit retribution on anyone that defied it.

Another one crept closer, hiding in the sand. Metang lashed out again, and made an even louder noise that rose over the screaming winds— an onimous, echoing clang.

Moon— albeit still squinting and trying not to throw up from the pain— was vaguely aware of thumping, running motion around them. The herd had retreated.

“Bel, bel,” murmured the Metang, oddly soft.

It lifted her out of the sand again, but this time it didn't bother transferring her to its back— she remained safely supported in the metal arms. Her leg throbbed every time it moved, but this was almost a normal sensation now. She lived and breathed pain.

Time passed— Moon wasn't sure how much, but in a moment where the sand and wind seemed to die down a little, she looked straight up and saw the moon, rising full and clear in the deepening sky.

“Do we know what way we're going?” she asked the Metang, yawning. It was probably still early evening, but she was oddly drowsy.

“Bel dum tang.”

“Oh, good. I'm glad you know what you're doing. I sure as fuck don't. You know, I think I told Hau once that I was kind of a mess when it came to romance and personal relationships and I was good at everything else, but if I have learned anything today it's that I'm a fucking idiot and a mess about everything, not just relationships. And in fact I think I'm doing better today on that than I am on everything else.”

She was so cold, and so sleepy. The Metang held her carefully.

“For real, for real,” she mumbled, trying to keep her eyes open. “I'm going to catch you. You're my fifth teammate. You're so— you're so good. I don't deserve you.”

“Met bel,” said the Metang mildly.

“I mean, yeah. Obviously that's your choice. But you're nice. I'm just selfish, and stupid, and messy.”

The stinging in her eyes was not just sand, it seemed. Moon blinked several times before deciding it would be easier to just close her eyes. The dim purple sky seemed to bear down on her, gently deepening to navy blue and then to black. The stars winked out, one by one by one; and the last things she remembered were the winds picking up again with a shrill whistle, and the ice-lightning burn in her leg.

 

*****

 

“What do you mean, you can't hear anything? You're a bat, you have fucking echolocation for fuck's sake, can you not use it?”

Bel bel bel!”

“What the fuck? Metang aren't native to the Haina... wait. I've seen you before, which means— you're with Moon— oh, fuck, you're literally with Moon. Thank Ar— god. I said god, Null. Shut up.”

 

featherlight touches on her face on her neck from hands that felt like home

 

“Moon— shit, sunshine, that's a lot of blood. Imp do not lick her— wait, actually do, there's fucking painkiller antivenom crap in your saliva. Lick away.”

 

harsh air in and back out it is the noise of someone who is used to breathing away their tears something soft and faint and rough against fire- ice - lightning

 

Okay okay never mind the licking, she's hurting too bad for it. Uh— I'll just recall you, you're too high-energy for her right now. Rey, Null— stand over here, shield her from the sand. Thanks, guys. And Nox— um, okay, you can sit there, I guess. Robots can stick together.”

 

plastic on metal is a curious friendship which one was she and which one was he

 

“Shit, this looks bad. This looks really bad. Okay, at least we're in a place where the sandstorm isn't as bad— I mean, it's right on the Tapu's fucking doorstep but we can't really do anything about that.”

“Pew, pew!”

You.”

 

scarlet-tinged ice and rock cheerfully spinning in circles a merry-go-round of celestial light

 

“You're an ungrateful little shit, you know that? You have the goddamn audacity to come out here and pew at us like nothing's wrong. This is all your fault. After everything my sister's done for you, you run off into the fucking desert. I can't believe this shit.”

 

light and lightning life and blood all is the dust of the stars swirling around like rainbows a pair of flickering golden eyes in the void blinked innocently at her and smiled like a teacup that's perfectly full

 

“...I hope to Ar— sorry, Null, quit your damn growling. And— morphine, good. I can't give her much but I hope it's enough... I hope she doesn't remember any of this.”

 

needle sharp in an ow place then gentle then fuzzy relieving numbness and blackness

 

“I dunno what you're so protective of her for. You're wild, aren't you? I'll ask, maybe Lillie knows.”

 

solid metal with a spark of life a shield and a friend

 

“Oh. I see. Thanks for being there for her. You know, when I wasn't.”

 

alien sensation pressure weirdness vaguely damp peeled off the leg and hot-cold-burning-frozen liquid splashed over with pain pain pain

 

“Hey, hey— I'm sorry. I thought the morphine would have kicked in by now. Shh, it's okay. It's just Rogelio's bootleg moonshine. I'm cleaning out that bite.”

 

if a kiss were a gift then her forehead is christmas and birthday forever

 

“Oh— oh, wow, that's— that's the necklace. I didn't realize you wore it.”

 

silvery stand-in for light pooling in her collarbones lingering fingers on metal and leather a secret gift from a friend who believed he wasn't

 

“What the fuck even bit you, sunshine?”

 

affection frustration sensation

 

“And where the fuck is the rest of your team? That Toucannon would be fucking useful right about now, it could fly up and tell us exactly where the fuck the exit is. Because god only knows Imp can't see well enough to be useful right now.”

“Bel tang bel bel. Meta dum bel bel bel.”

“Pew, pew, pew!”

 

earth rumble and grow with roses and clover violets and dandelions domestic and wild alike thread through the air and snake-soft-sneak a scent to lungs breathing blooms

 

Bulu bu.”

“Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. Fuck fuck fuck I'm so sorry, we're so sorry, we didn't mean to intrude. I know I look like Team Skull but I'm not really. Please don't kill me. She's hurt, I'm just trying to get her out of here. We don't want to bother you, please. Just let us go and I will never come back here again, swear to Ar—god. Sorry, Null.”

 

humming chiming voice like birdsong and avalanches the hermit god speaking revelation and frustration into the air words she could not quite hear vibrate in the ears the heart the mind the gut truth and glory and honor the broken family will restore the broken island in more ways than yet they know

 

“This is— oh, god. Oh, god, no. Fuck. I can't take this, I can't accept this. I don't deserve this, I've done so much bad shit. I-I-I'm not worthy, I can't, I can't serve you with honor or what the fuck ever they say in the ceremonies. I watched them on TV when I was a kid. Olivia's when I was six or seven, and then Nanu's second one when I was nine. Fucking— I can't take this. It's a beautiful stone, but I can't help you.”

 

can too

 

“Moon? Are you waking up? God, I hope you're not waking up. Not yet, anyway.”

 

eyes open but crusty weird by sand and sweat and dried tears but the starlight is soft above and closer yet an angel bent over her with worry and love written in pale crooked eyebrows

 

“Shh, go back to sleep. Close your eyes, sunshine. I've got you.”

 

eyes closed is easier because cold on the face like a mask for the skin like kanto-home and yet nothing alike

 

“Really, I can't take this. I— I haven't gone on an island challenge or anything. I probably can't, now. I've been practically everywhere in Alola. It wouldn't hold the same meaning.”

Tapu-lu.”

“I— oh god. Oh god, that's your voice, you're talking to me, that's not just Pokémon call noises that's your voice in my head, holyfuckingshit—”

 

fear panic guilt resentment too close and too hollow it is not good to be alone so she looks she searches she reaches out blindly with trust in her fingertips to find more of them with hesitation so they link like a wonderful payoff it's okay angel it's gonna be okay

 

Angel— oh fuck me that's cute.”

Ta bulu.”

“I'm getting roasted by a fucking god. What is my life?”

 

pain prickle forehead from the little land-shark scratches with blood running down to dry but don't worry because head wounds always look worse than they actually are

 

“But... I guess I can't really say no to a Tapu, least of all you. We all know how that goes.”

 

crisp clean water to empty the back of the throat washing sand washing sweat washing shame it's a shame it's a shame she can't tell him he deserves whatever gift he doesn't seem to want

 

“Well, if I can't say no— then I might as well ask you to help. I know it's probably beneath you to be a beast of burden or whatever, but I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. If you carry her, then I'll pack up my team and sit on the Metang with the little terror, here.”

“Pew, pew!”

“Of course I'm talking about you. I'm still pissed at you. You nearly got her fucking killed, and for what, exactly?”

 

red and warmth wrapping up like a sleepy little gift sending healing and gratitude in her bones and even erasing a wee tingle in her wrists phantom pain from a nightmare that had tried to swallow her mind

 

“What do you mean she's awake? ...oh. I did give her morphine, but I went with a minimal dose because I wasn't sure how much she would need and I'd rather give not enough than too much. So— okay, so she didn't really get knocked out, but she probably won't remember anything? Okay. She'll be in less pain if she sleeps properly. Would you mind doing that?”

 

heavy drowsy but don't want to sleep but maybe can't help it because already dreaming up a storm of scarlet amid the black just like this marvelous stubborn boy with a torn jacket who did not smile no matter how much she wished he would

 

Chapter Text

Moon slowly returned to herself, pushing up through velvety sleep because she needed answers— about what, she couldn't quite remember. She couldn't quite remember a lot of things.

“Bel.”

“What's that?” A familiar voice, getting closer. “She's waking up? She's not moving or anything, are you sure?”

“Bel tang.”

Moon finally managed to open her eyes, squinting blearily against more light than she had expected. The ceiling overhead was oddly textured, an all-white tile pattern with the occasional round lamp.

“Oh, there you are.” A face entered her vision— Lillie, she realized. Her younger friend was smiling— though there was something rather sad in it. “Hello, Moon. How are you feeling?”

Moon opened her mouth to speak, but only a dry croaking noise left her throat.

“I'll grab a cup of water,” said Hau, nearby. Moon carefully moved her head, turning to look at him; his back was to her but she had the feeling that he was holding back some very great emotion.

She sat up— which was fine, there wasn't any lingering pain; but she was wearing one of those hospital gowns which was open in the back, judging by the slight draft that passed across it.

Hau turned and handed her the cup of water, eyes oddly wary. Moon took it, and drank the entire thing.

“I'm feeling okay,” she said, in response to Lillie's original question.

“What do you remember?”

Moon racked her brains. “Nebby ran away,” she said slowly. “She went into the desert. The barrier guide was being an asshole so I ignored him and went in the desert anyway. But I was a dumbass who forgot her team, and a bunch of Gible ambushed me and—”

She threw the blankets off in sudden realization, drawing up the hospital gown just far enough to examine her calf. There was no bandage— just a pair of large, jagged crescent-shaped scars.

“Wow, that's ugly,” she said admiringly.

“It was Gible that attacked you?” said Hau, wide-eyed. “How many?”

“I think four.”

“Four? What the hell— they're little demons, how are you even alive?”

“That would be the Metang.”

“Bel bel.”

She hadn't been quite sure where it was, but the voice came from behind her so she twisted around in the bed to see the robot sitting on top of the bedframe, watching her calmly.

“Oh, hey. Um, thank you.”

It dipped its head in a nod. “Tang met.”

Moon nodded back before turning around to stare at her leg again. “Yeah— the Metang followed me, because of course it did, and it punched the little fuckers off, and then it carried me. And I think I passed out after that. I remember seeing the sky a couple of times. It was really pretty— purple and twinkly because of the stars.”

Neither Hau nor Lillie said anything to that, and Moon looked up at them. They wore twin expressions of relief.

“I guess the Metang brought me out of the desert, right? Um— did Nebby come back?”

“Pew, pew, pew!”

“Well, that answers that question.”

Nebby floated onto the bed, smile bright and innocent. Moon sighed.

“You're a menace,” she said, without an ounce of meaning in it.

“Pew.”

“You're not supposed to agree with me.”

“Trust me,” said Lillie flatly, “Nebby has been subject to a great many lectures since you returned. Not that she seems to care, particularly.”

“Pew, pew.”

“I guess she managed to visit Tapu Bulu— she's got red with the yellow and pink and blue. So I guess somebody got something good out of this, at least.”

After a few moments, she glanced up at her friends again. “So— the Metang brought me out of the desert?”

“Oh, um— yes, it did. Well, it was with you, anyway. Um, Tapu Bulu actually brought you back.”

Moon's eyes widened. “You're kidding.”

“Dead serious, swear to Arceus.” Hau smiled wryly. “That trial barrier fellow about peed himself when Tapu Bulu comes gracefully floating out of the desert, holding you with— with the Metang and Nebby, trailing behind him like ducklings.”

“I met another Tapu and I wasn't even awake for it. Damn— I wish I could thank him.”

“From what I know of Tapu Bulu, he doesn't want your thanks.” Hau's smile stretched into a full grin. “But you know what, Moon— it's really nice to see you're alive and well. It was touch and go for a minute, especially with the blood loss; but the hospital got you transfusions pretty quickly.”

Moon blinked. “The hospital?”

“Oh, right. There's not really a medical facility at Haina Junction— the nurse there couldn't have dealt with all this.” Hau gestured at her leg. “So we paged some Charizard and flew you back to Malie. We're in the hospital.”

“Oh.” Moon sighed. “Well, I guess we can always fly back. We made it to Haina Junction, so it should register in the Ride Pagers.”

“That's true.”

“Um— did anyone call my parents?”

“We didn't even think about it until the hospital was asking for next of kin to give permission for medical procedures,” said Lillie, with a slight frown. “Hau called your father first, since he's closer; he flew in immediately. Your mother was only a few hours later, having a longer commute.”

“Where are they?”

“They went to get food.”

At the mention of food, Moon's stomach gurgled loudly. Hau burst out laughing.

“Speaking of which.”

Lillie smiled. “I think you probably have to eat hospital food until they discharge you.”

“Oh, great.” Moon looked back at her leg again. The scars, she noticed, had a fainter reddish-pink color that seemed to indicate they were fairly well-healed already. “It doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt.”

“They brought some Blissey and Audino in from the Pokémon ward to help with your surgery.” Lillie hesitated. “Which... they only do when someone is close to dying.”

Moon blinked for a few moments. “Was I?”

Hau and Lillie both stared at her in response, expressions solemn.

“Oh god, I was.”

“It— it would have been blood loss,” said Hau, his mouth pulling tight. “It's— shit, Moon, it was bad. Tapu Bulu set you down and you were really pale, and there was so much blood. We got the Haina Junction nurse to stabilize you until the Charizards came, and then we flew to Malie and landed right in the ER bay where the ambulances drive in.”

Moon studied her friends. Hau's tight mouth and wary eyes— Lillie's sad smile and fidgety hands.

“I'm sorry I made you worry,” she mumbled, looking down.

“Don't be sorry, Moon!” Suddenly they were both hugging her at once, and Moon relaxed into it— a relief from the tension she'd been feeling. “It's not your fault, not even a little bit. It was really brave of you to go in after Nebby, really brave.”

“And kind,” added Hau, moving back to clap her on the shoulder. “That's the Moon we know and love. Yeah, we worried for a little bit— but you turned out fine and Nebby turned out safe, and that's the important thing.”

There was a soft knock at the door, and Moon had never been so grateful to see her parents' faces in her entire life. Both her mother and her father looked tired, and they were carrying boxes of takeout; but their eyes brightened when they saw her, and they both set the food down on a table to rush over and hug her.

“Marion, baby— it's so good to see you awake and well,” murmured her mother, holding her close. “You're all right.”

“We were really worried, Moonbeam,” added her dad. “We're so glad you're okay.”

With the return of her parents, things began to move quickly. A doctor and several nurses were summoned; they took her vitals and removed the IV that she had barely noticed stuck into her arm; she was made to drink about half a liter of water and given a tray with unappetizing hospital food— noodles with a cream sauce, some rather dry imi-chicken, soggy broccoli, and a square of wiggly Pecha-berry gelatin. Moon ate enough of it to satisfy the doctor and the nurses— though she watched in amusement as her dad pointed at one of the takeout boxes and mouthed “for you” when none of the medics were looking at him.

Most of the damage done by the Gible had been cutting into the muscle of her calf and loosening it, as well as partially tearing one of the tendons; but thankfully no bones had been broken. With the help in post-surgery from the Blissey and Audino, the healing had advanced rapidly enough that she was able to walk.

“I wouldn't recommend doing a lot of it,” warned the doctor, eyeing Moon's Z-Ring and the island challenge amulet on her backpack. “If you've got access to the Ride Pager, you should really consider using Mudsdale or Stoutland as frequently as possible in your travels for a week or so. Be sure and roll your ankle around and bend your knee a few times a day— this will help your tendon regain some of the elasticity it's used to.”

“But other than that, I'm free to go?”

“You're free to go.”

There were spare clothes in Moon's backpack— none of it particularly clean, since they hadn't had the opportunity to use the motel laundry machines at Haina Junction; but Hau and Lillie and Moon's parents had been staying at the Pokémon Center so she put on a slightly wrinkly T-shirt and a pair of shorts, even though it was—

“How long was I out?” she wondered out loud, dropping her socks and picking up Rotom.

It hadn't spoken at all since she had woken up, and Moon raised her eyebrows at Rotom's baleful stare before checking the date and time.

Lillie cleared her throat. “You went into the desert two evenings ago, you came out early yesterday morning. We got you here by mid-morning and you went into surgery around noon. They were finished by half-past one and you've been asleep ever since. It's twelve-thirty.”

“Oh, thanks.”

She pulled on socks, though her hiking boots were missing. “They were covered in blood and one of them looked like it had been torn up by an angry Granbull,” explained Hau.

“We'll get you a new pair,” said her mother placidly.

“Man, it took me like a week to break in those boots,” complained Moon. “I miss them.”

“Now you'll have the fun of breaking in a new pair,” suggested Hau, throwing one arm around her shoulder.

“That wasn't fun, you doofus. I had like, three blisters.” But she didn't shrug her cousin off, nor did she extricate herself from Lillie when her friend clung to her other arm.

The last part of her outfit was her Trainer's belt— recovered safely by Hau, when he went to get the things they'd left on Route Twelve between the time Moon had run into the desert and the time she had been returned. He'd also gotten all of their luggage together while they were waiting for the Charizard after Moon's return, and not a single thing of hers was missing. There were four Pokéballs in the belt, as there should be; and they were all vibrating madly and she wanted them more than anything; but the hospital policy forbade it so she simply ran her hand over them, trying to soothe them into stillness.

“You were wearing these,” said her mother, holding out her hand.

The friendship bracelet that Hau had gotten her on her birthday sat in her palm; so did the necklace with the sun charm that she had received on the same day. Moon put both on— she had taken to wearing them more or less every day, and they felt like such a part of her that she had barely noticed either of them.

“It's interesting,” remarked her father, nodding at the necklace. “You're Moon, but that's a sun.”

“Yeah, I thought so too. I got it on my birthday, but the sender was anonymous.”

“Maybe you have a secret admirer?” suggested her mother, wiggling her eyebrows.

“Maybe, though I highly doubt it.”

She fidgeted with the necklace as they walked— Lillie had provided a spare pair of sneakers, for Moon to wear just long enough for them to get to a store that sold hiking boots. There was something important about the necklace— not a Nihilego thought, but something fuzzier and softer and strangely enough, sandier.

Well, that might not have been so strange. She had just spent an entire night in a desert. But there was something about the sun charm that was important.

Her parents bought her a new pair of hiking boots and some soft, woolly socks; and her mother, frowning at Moon's shorts in the still-warm air of mid-November, suggested that she pick out a few more pairs of pants.

“You'll need snow gear eventually for Mount Lanakila,” she said, still frowning, “but that's something you won't need until you've completed the Grand Trial on Poni Island.”

“It didn't occur to me that any place in Alola would ever sell snow gear, but I guess it makes sense.”

It was not until they got back to the Pokémon Center that she was able to let out her teammates. Moon's parents had gone down to do some of Moon's laundry, and Hau and Lillie were probably kicking their heels somewhere, giving her privacy and a chance to rest. Moon herself went into the bathroom, because she needed to take a bath anyway; but before that she let out her team. It might have been a bad idea, because they all rushed her at once.

“Tou cana tou tou tou—”

“Goli pod wim—”

“Jol veeon, veeon, veeon—”

“Deci hoo!”

Moon closed her eyes and, for the first time since waking up, allowed herself to cry.

She had been feeling oddly removed from the whole experience— the pain of the Gible bite had overshadowed most of the other emotions. The fear of losing Nebby, her anger at the snotty trial guide, that burning wish to help Lillie; all had been dulled. But seeing her teammates, who she had missed badly, was enough to solidify the whole thing.

“I-I'm sorry,” she muttered, sniffling as she buried her head in Ben's ruff; the sparks tickled her nose, and she leaned back to sneeze before clutching him tight again. Ariel climbed into her lap, and Ben didn't protest the invasion of his personal space; Puck wrapped around Moon's back and sprawled there. Macbeth simply picked up the lot of them and deposited them all into her lap.

“I'm really s-sorry,” Moon repeated. “I forgot you, and I got hurt without you. I'll never go anywhere without you again. I love you so much.”

She had brought two more things into the bathroom with her, and she picked up one now. “Rotom?”

“Oh, now you want to talk to me, bzzt,” said Rotom crossly. “When I was dumped with your things to babysit, without so much as a please or a thank you!”

“Is that what you're actually mad about?”

Rotom sighed— the most human thing she'd heard it do. “No,” it muttered. “I'm mad because you're a stupid human with stupid emotions, bzzt. You can't really help it.”

“I might call you a robot AI all the time,” said Moon, amused, “but you're a Pokémon too, you know. You have just as many emotions as these guys.” She gestured to her teammates.

Rotom was silent for a few moments, but then it sighed again. “I'm not really even mad, bzzt. I was worried, too.”

“I know. Thank you for worrying, and thank you for looking after them.”

“You're welcome, bzzt. But if I'd been with you, I could have told you that Gible are hostile to intruders and will bite anything that moves on their territory.”

“I kind of figured that one out on my own.”

“That's an understatement, bzzt.”

Moon laughed, and reached for the other thing she'd brought into the bathroom— an empty Great Ball, in blue and red and white.

“Listen,” she said to her teammates. “If it weren't for the Metang, I would be dead.”

All four of them turned to look at the Metang, which had been quietly sitting on the floor next to the bathroom door.

“I know I said this was a democracy,” continued Moon, “and under ordinary circumstances I'd ask for you to vote. But I made my decision, and the desert made it very clear that this Metang, despite what you may think of it, is already part of our team. So I'm not asking for a vote. I'm going to catch it. What I'm asking for is your blessing.”

She raised one eyebrow at Ben, expecting resistance; but he surprised her by nodding eagerly. Macbeth turned, reaching one large arm out to the Metang; it blinked in surprise but cautiously floated over to join the cuddle pile.

“That's a pretty clear blessing,” laughed Moon. “Puck? Ariel?”

“Tou cannon,” said Ariel firmly. “Trrrrrm cana tou.”

Puck wiggled out of his spot between Macbeth and Ariel and sat down on the floor, eyes level with the Metang. They stared at each other for a few moments. Moon had the impression that they were having an entire silent conversation.

“Deci,” said Puck, finally.

“Meta bel,” replied the Metang.

“You have never once said thank you to me,” Moon jokingly complained to Puck, but firstly, he had said it before; secondly, she was tearing up again; and thirdly, the Metang reached out with one cylindrical arm to touch the tip of Puck's wing, both moving up and down in semblance of a human handshake.

Her vision was a little blurry, but she tossed the Great Ball at the Metang. It clicked, wiggled once, and stopped moving— a critical capture, just like Macbeth's.

“You've caught a Metang— the Metang, bzzt,” said Rotom, with a sharp grin.

“The only one that counts.”

“Agreed, bzzt. It knows Metal Claw, Bullet Punch, and Confusion. Would you like to name your Metang?”

Moon smiled. She had been thinking about this since she had turned in the bed to see the Metang— her Metang— sitting behind her.

“There's really only one thing I can name it. There's a Shakespearean heroine who's often overlooked in favor of her louder, brasher cousin. I'm guilty of ignoring her, myself. I've always preferred Beatrice. But the thing about this heroine is that despite what she goes through— things like false accusations and slander, and some really unkind words from the character she loves— she remains faithful. She's persistent in what she wants. She doesn't give up. And since the Metang saved my life in the desert, I think Hero is a very fitting name.”

Moon held the Great Ball, flicking along the black band at the center seam and waiting until the name had been changed from the species name to Hero. She tossed the Pokéball, letting the Metang out.

Hero blinked at all of them several times, then zoomed close to put its arms around Moon's knees. Ben sniffed— a touch disdainfully, but no more so than any expression he might have directed at Puck or Ariel or even Moon herself.

“Welcome to the team, Hero,” said Moon, reaching out to run her hand along Hero's smooth, gleaming surface. “You really, really fucking earned it.”

She eventually recalled all of them to their Pokéballs, once her parents had come upstairs with clean, folded laundry. Moon took a shower and reflected on how nice it was to actually have privacy— something she hadn't had much of over the last month or so, with Hero getting underfoot and watching every move she made with first one, then two intelligent scarlet eyes. Despite her various annoyances, she'd grown fond of it, and she had always done her best to treat it well. The fact that it had saved her life in return was, perhaps, a sort of karma.

There were a variety of notifications that she'd missed over the last few days, but when she opened her messages she was rather surprised at the additions to a few of the conversations.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

herbalist: YOU TAKE THAT BACK, I AM YOUNG AND VIRILE AND HANDSOME AND NOT AT ALL DAD-LIKE

the girl with the curls: oh please ur a dad waiting to happen

the girl with the curls: all u need is a book of dad jokes and a little bit of pudge around the stomach

herbalist: omfg that's such a stereotype, not all dads are fat

the girl with the curls: mine was and it was clearly hereditary b/c HELLO how do you explain this gorgeous curvy bod

herbalist: obv I don't see the appeal but sure jan

herbalist: my dad was thin tho

herbalist: kind of miss him

herbalist: if he and my mom hadn't died then maybe my aunt and uncle wouldn't have been batshit fucking crazy

the girl with the curls: ah, you mean They Who Must Not Be Named Lest Team Skull Find Their Address And Burn Down Their Home

herbalist: yeah them

herbalist: also we don't actually commit arson, moon

the girl with the curls: yeah issa joke

the girl with the curls: though u been pretty quiet, moon, u ok

herbalist: oh god are dads a sore subject for u

herbalist: @moon sorry if we offended u

the girl with the curls: @shakespeare jr, hello are u alive

 

GLaDoS has joined the chat.

 

herbalist: arceus fuck why

GLaDoS: Moon is phenomenally stupid.

GLaDoS: She went into Haina Desert after a runaway Pokémon and managed to forget her own team, Ride Pager, and ME in the process.

GLaDoS: She hasn't returned yet but I'll keep you updated.

the girl with the curls: holy shit we gotta tell plumeria

herbalist: holy shit gladion's gonna lose his fucking mind if he finds out

herbalist: probably wasn't supposed to say that but fuck it

 

GLaDoS: Moon has returned from the desert, but she is seriously injured. Hau and Lillie are taking her to the hospital in Malie City.

the girl with the curls: omg fuck i'm crying

herbalist: moon please be okay

 

GLaDoS: Moon just got out of surgery and will recover. She's expected to wake up sometime tomorrow morning— the anaesthetic is still in effect to give her body the energy to heal faster.

herbalist: thank fuck

the girl with the curls: thank u so much for letting us know omg

GLaDoS: Of course. I'll let you know when she wakes up, as well.

 

GLaDoS: Moon has woken up. She will likely be discharged from the hospital soon but may not have time to respond to you immediately.

the girl with the curls: that's totally ok omg i'm so glad she's all right

herbalist: fuckin SAME

 

“Rotom?” said Moon, looking up slightly from the conversation to meet its eyes.

“Hmm?”

“Thanks for keeping Molly and Rogelio updated. Oh— and for not name-dropping Nebby.”

“No problem, bzzt. It was actually Hau's idea, when he saw that I kept getting notifications from them.”

“Still, you were pretty constant about keeping them in the loop. I really appreciate it.”

“You're welcome, bzzt.”

 

chat: obnoxious

 

GLaDoS has left the chat.

 

shakespeare jr: Hey, I'm not dead

the girl with the curls: YOUNG LADY YOU ARE IN BIG TROUBLE

herbalist: no ur not we're just glad ur okay

the girl with the curls: yeah i just wanted to say that lmao

the girl with the curls: ur dex pal didn't say anything about how u were injured, u okay?

shakespeare jr: Yeah, hang on a sec

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [Ouch.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: Fun fact: Gible are assholes

herbalist: WTF

the girl with the curls: OMG THAT'S LIKE MOST OF UR LEG BELOW THE KNEE

shakespeare jr: Yeah I'm really lucky it didn't actually get away with a whole chunk of it

shakespeare jr: It tried but my Metang punched it in the face and said:

shakespeare jr: “Not today, bitch”

shakespeare jr: “Not today”

herbalist: omfg i think u broke molly i can hear her cackling from upstairs

the girl with the curls: NOT TODAY BITCH NOT TODAY

the girl with the curls: MY NEW FUCKIN' LIFE MOTTO

herbalist: big mood

shakespeare jr: I have cool scars though, like they look neat

the girl with the curls: tru they sick as fuck

herbalist: wait back up a second ur dex said u didn't have pokémon but u said ur metang punched it in the face???!??!

shakespeare jr: Well the Metang wasn't mine until like ten minutes ago because it was following me around but I didn't catch it because my head was up my own ass apparently

shakespeare jr: It followed me into the desert, thank Arceus or I'd be very very dead

the girl with the curls: damn son that's a loyal poké

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [Hero.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: As you can see by the file name, I named it Hero

shakespeare jr: Okay so what was Rog saying about how Gladion would lose his mind when he found out about me being in the desert

herbalist: uh oh look at the time i gotta blast

the girl with the curls: i'm late to wash my hair, ttyl

shakespeare jr: Omg you're both cowards

shakespeare jr: I mean I love you, but you're both cowards

 

There were other notifications as well— Hau's parents and Hala had all sent concerned texts, as had Professor Kukui and Professor Burnet; but the one that struck her oddly was from Gladion— the first message he'd sent her in a long time.

 

chat: hypothetically

 

fucking softie: Rogelio and Molly said you'd been hurt in the desert. Sorry to hear that.

 

It sounded sincere, but there was something not quite right about it— an itching in her memory. She'd been getting a lot of those, lately; perhaps it was time to do something about it.

 

Chapter Text

The scars on her leg wouldn't ever fade entirely, but Moon figured that they were the price she paid for being an idiot and running into the desert. On the bright side, she had hardly walked a step since she, Hau, and Lillie had flown back to Haina Junction to resume their journey. Either Macbeth or Hero insisted on carrying her at all times, which left Lillie to use Moon's Ride Pager to ride Mudsdale alongside Hau. Moon's teammates didn't seem to trust that she wouldn't run away again. They had been incredibly clingy since she'd caught and added Hero to the team.

She supposed, when it came down to it, that she didn't really blame them.

Still, their clinginess meant it had been a rather long few days of traveling. Moon didn't mind the extended cuddling, or Hau and Lillie's joint insistence that she was not to have anything to do with setting up or tearing down camp or working. She sat in her hammock, wrapped in blankets against the cooler nights and surrounded by her team. However, she didn't have much to do other than sit and watch Hau and Lillie working and cooking and Training— something else they had insisted she take easy for a few days. Moon was more than a little irritated by this— she felt fine, thanks to the accelerated healing provided by the hospital's Blisseys and Audino. But a few days of rest wouldn't hurt; she and her team had been working hard.

The one notable thing that occurred on the remainder of the journey happened during a Trainer battle on the second day from Haina Junction. Moon had been riding on Hero, so that Lillie could use the Mudsdale from her Ride Pager. A passing Trainer had approached and, in the manner of passing Trainers, had challenged them all to battle. Moon stayed sitting on Hero, but sent Ben out to deal with the man's Gyarados, instructing him to use Discharge.

Moon was incredibly surprised as sparks danced over Hero's arms and casing and up her own skin. She wasn't being electrocuted, exactly— it was more like being poked with pins and needles. But the attack spiraled out— not only knocking out the Gyarados in a single shot, but sparking over a nearby pond and sending several stunned Wishiwashi and Magikarp floating up to the surface. There was a crackling, fizzy noise that came from the opposing Trainer's belt— affecting his Dex or phone, probably. The radius of the attack expanded further and further— larger several times over than usual.

Moon exchanged glances with Hau, surprised.

“We've got to work on that,” he said decidedly. “You could make a whole defensive set about that, especially when Hero evolves— and if we were in a double, I could use Uila for the same thing.”

They arrived in Tapu Village on the fourth day out from Haina Junction. It was a beautiful town, even if didn't have much to look at. There was the Pokémon Center, a few old-fashioned houses overgrown with ivy, some stores, and a stately black-brick building that was labeled “Tapu Village School and Community Center.” It was colder here than anywhere Moon had been so far in Alola; she was wearing her purple hoodie with the Rowlet footprints, but for once it didn't seem quite sufficient to keep her warm.

“My mom said we would have to buy winter gear here,” she commented to Hau and Lillie as they approached the Pokémon Center. “But not yet— we really only need it for Mount Lanakila, and we can't go up there yet.”

“I think we might be able to go a little ways up, but they're still doing some construction on the lifts so we can't go too far even if we wanted to.” Hau rubbed his arms, with a frown. “I've never seen Gramps wear a coat a day in his life, but he's been coming here for a really long time as part of the island challenge.”

“He could be one of those people who never wears a coat,” said Moon darkly. “I know one of those— a certain regional Champion who spent a whole year on a frozen wasteland of a mountain.”

“Not that you're pointing fingers or anything,” said Lillie blandly.

“Oh, no, of course not.”

They settled into the Pokémon Center easily, as it was a routine they were long used to. Moon and Lillie shared a room; Hau managed to get one of the few single rooms and was relieved at the prospect of not having to share with a stranger. There was an hour or so of settling in, taking showers, and combining all their laundry into one load to save money at the laundromat— following which they sorted and folded their clean things and then, finally, went to the café to get something to eat.

There was the usual chaos of feeding fifteen Pokémon who had various dietary requirements and preferences, but in the midst of it Moon, Hau, and Lillie managed to order their own meals from the café as well. Moon had finally sat down with a bacon-and-pesto panini that smelled very, very nice when a shadow loomed over their table.

“Greetings.”

Moon and Lillie both jumped, but Hau's back had been turned to Phyco and Soliera and he had, unfortunately, taken a sip of root beer just before they had spoken. As a result, the soda went down the wrong pipe and it took a full minute of coughing and several hearty thumps on the back from Moon for him to recover.

Phyco and Soliera waited until they were no longer distracted by the possibility of Hau's impending suffocation by sarsaparilla to address them further. “Greetings,” repeated Soliera, making the Alola-wave with her arms in the squared-off way that she and Phyco had learned.

“Hi,” said Moon, pointing at a nearby, much smaller table. “Pull up a chair. Can we help you?” She took a hearty bite of her panini.

“We were wondering what you know of Team Skull,” said Phyco, without hesitation.

It was Moon's turn to accidentally inhale her food, but she managed not to choke on it. Hau and Lillie exchanged uneasy glances before nodding at Moon— apparently it was her question to answer. Moon scowled at them but took her time to finish chewing so she could think about it.

“We've run into them before,” she said cautiously.

“In your opinion, would you say they have respect for the scientific method and principles of research?”

“Uh— no.”

Phyco's lips thinned. “Hmm. That's something to consider. Thank you for your opinion.”

“Obviously, it's going to depend on the Trainer in question,” elaborated Moon. “You get all sorts in Team Skull. I have a friend who's Team Skull, and he's also a skilled botanist who runs a distillery to produce cheap and dubiously legal alcohol.”

“It's definitely not legal, since he's only seventeen,” pointed out Hau.

“Oh, right.” Moon shuffled her feet together, suddenly uncomfortable. “But some of them are pretty well educated, anyway. They just have strong reasons to be part of Team Skull.”

“So we have gathered,” said Soliera with a nod. “Interesting. We will make our observations from a distance— they seem to be hostile even to neutral parties.”

“Yeah, that's one way of putting it.”

Despite the fact that the aliens seemed to be done asking Moon questions, they were in no hurry to leave. Phyco drummed his fingers on the table in a rapid pattern that suggested the keyboard to either a computer or a piano. Soliera folded her arms and crossed her legs, angling her body to face them. It looked rather stiff, but she didn't seem to be uncomfortable.

“This is a very interesting town,” she said, her gaze flicking over Hau and Lillie before returning to Moon. “It has a rich history, and was once home to a pilgrimage site.”

“Pilgrimage site? Like, religious pilgrimages?”

“Not exactly. Er— Zossie is the linguistics expert, she would know the right word to use.”

Phyco reached toward his belt and handed Soliera something that looked like a small walkie-talkie, except considerably smoother and shinier. Soliera nodded her thanks and pressed a button on the walkie-talkie.

“Lieutenant, I'm having trouble with a Terran word.”

“Hi, Zossie! How are you? Great, I'm fine. And yourself?” chirped a high, mocking voice from the walkie-talkie.

“My apologies,” said Soliera demurely, but her mouth stretched into something that might have been a smile if it didn't look more like a grimace. “I'm in the middle of a conversation, which is why I didn't greet you properly. The word I'm looking for is—” She spoke something lithe and sinuous into the walkie-talkie. “I'm referencing a place where Terrans go to visit the buried remains of loved ones?”

“A graveyard?” said Moon, bewildered.

“Yeah, that's the word,” said— Zossie, as her name evidently was. “Pretty much. You might also want memorial or sepulchre, depending on the context. Is that it?”

“Indeed. Thank you.” Soliera turned off the walkie-talkie, handing it back to Phyco.

“You're talking about Uamake Beach, right?”

Hau's expression had gone unexpectedly sober. Lillie's eyes widened for a moment; apparently she knew the story as well. Moon had read Those Who Conquered The Night from cover to cover, but it hadn't mentioned anything about an Uamake Beach so she felt a little out of the loop.

“If you mean the beach and the body of water located at the end of Route Fourteen, to the south of Tapu Village— yes, that is what I refer to,” said Soliera, with a nod.

“I thought Route Fourteen was the only thing south of town,” ventured Moon.

“Route Fourteen runs along the coast, but at the very end is Uamake Beach. And the whole body of water is Uamake Bay. But nobody calls the beach Uamake Beach anymore, because it's, um, not really a beach.”

“What is it?”

“A Thrifty Megamart.”

Moon opened her mouth to reply to that, but found herself at a loss for words.

“Okay,” she said finally, after a few moments of trying to puzzle out what Hau could mean by a Thrifty Megamart. “I think I'm gonna need a little more context.”

“This is actually a good story, even if it's kind of sad,” said Hau, with a nod. “And since you guys were asking about Team Skull, you might find it pretty interesting as well.”

“Is that so?” Phyco cocked his head to the side, intrigued. “In that case, we would be pleased to hear you tell it.”

“Ah— right.” Hau cleared his throat. “This is pretty recent history, actually. The kahuna of Ula'ula Island is Officer Nanu, but the thing is that he was actually also the kahuna earlier in life, when he was a lot younger. He's like seventy-something and he's been doing it for about ten years, but he was also the kahuna when he was about thirty. There's a good fifteen-year gap between when he retired the first time and when he came back to serve as the kahuna again— and that gap was filled by a guy named Foxglove.”

For a few moments, silence fell over the group. Moon was about to ask why when Lillie added quietly, “He was the founder of Team Skull.”

“The founder of Team Skull was a kahuna?”

“Key word being was.” Hau cleared his throat. “So— yeah, Kahuna Nanu retired the first time around. The Tapu had chosen Foxglove about twenty years ago, now. It wasn't a fluke or weird paperwork or anything like that; it was a little weird because he was actually from Kalos, but he'd taken to Alolan life well enough that most people couldn't even tell. At the beginning he was a really nice guy, apparently. Gramps loved him. Foxglove was really enthusiastic about the work, a real mover and shaker. He liked to get things done. And to that end, he began calling for volunteers. At first they were called the Foxes, after Foxglove himself. He did a lot of really good things with them, actually. He's the reason that the Aether Foundation has medical outposts all over Alola, and he also campaigned for some government funding to go toward troubled kids and Alola's foster care system. He did a lot of good as the kahuna, at first.”

“At first,” agreed Lillie, but her mouth had thinned into something like disdain.

“Then one day he visited Tapu Village, which used to be much poorer— just a stopover for most people, because the second trial was at Po Town. Foxglove wanted to build something that would bring people to Tapu Village and get a little more cash flowing toward the town. He envisioned a big store that sold decent but cheap food, which would attract big families and people who had family at the senior center at Hokulani— it's just an hour's flight or so from here. The problem was that he hadn't studied his history all that well, and he chose Uamake Beach as the best place to put the store. Uamake Beach, and the grassy knoll above it, were sacred sites because Tapu Bulu had once fought a great battle with a monster there.”

Phyco nodded. “That's the story we plan to tell you, when you have finished telling yours.”

“Foxglove was such an efficient worker that the store was built before anyone thought to tell him that he'd built the Thrifty Megamart on a sacred place. At the grand opening of the store, Tapu Bulu arrived and spoke with Foxglove for a bit— you know, the silent way that they talk to the kahunas. Foxglove told everyone to leave and go back to Tapu Village, but he stayed with the Tapu. Nobody dared to go back and get him, and nobody ever saw him come back. And nobody heard from him for nearly three weeks before he published a letter apologizing for defiling a sacred place. People went back to check on the store, but it was destroyed. He went back to Po Town and became kind of reclusive, sending his Foxes to do errands and represent him at public functions. The government still thought the Thrifty Megamart was a good idea, so they rebuilt it on Akala Island instead.”

There were a few moments of silence, but then Moon whistled softly. “Probably a good thing he sent everyone away from the beach, if Tapu Bulu was mad enough to destroy everything.”

“Oh, just you wait. It gets worse.” Hau shook his head grimly. “Foxglove wasn't going out and about the way he used to, but he was still working to give Alolans a good life. Gramps reckoned he was ashamed of what happened at Uamake Beach, so he decided to move on and act like it hadn't happened. At one point he helped to fund a very, very respectful archeological study in a corner of the Haina Desert. They found bones— a lot of bones. Huge bones. And some of them were recognizable— there were big feline skeletons and big rodent skeletons, but the identifying features were bones that radiated out from the feline skulls, and bones that structured long arms on the rodent. All different ages— some ancient, some only a few hundred years old.”

Moon had to think about it for a few moments, but then she understood. Those Who Conquered The Night had provided much more detailed drawings than the painting at the beginning of The Light of Alola. “That's— Solgaleo and Lunala, isn't it? Spikes in the mane and long arms for the wings?”

“Yeah.” Hau nodded gravely. “The theory is that the Haina is where the old Solgaleo and Lunala go to die when they've lived their lives. It makes sense. The desert is a hostile environment, so most people aren't going to go on a stroll and randomly discover bones there. Anyway, the archeological study was very quickly concluded and the bones were properly buried in the sands again, and the government of Alola stated that no Trainer was to go looking for the bones of the legendaries under any circumstances. But— well, Foxglove didn't really like that.”

“It seems phenomenally stupid to mess with the bones of Legendary Pokémon.”

“Well, you've been to Miss Olivia's shop,” said Hau, folding his arms. “So you know for a fact that it's possible to turn fossils into viable Pokémon.”

A sick feeling swept over Moon's stomach. “He— wanted to raise them back to life?”

“Yeah. And he decided he was going to do just that, with or without permission from the government. So he had the Foxes go back to the desert and dig up a Solgaleo's skull and a Lunala's wing bones, and he brought them back to his home in Po Town in the dead of night. He didn't have the machines that Miss Olivia had— she was a kahuna at the time, just barely starting out. This was ten years ago. So... he tried to make his own.”

“But they obviously wouldn't work, right? Solgaleo and Lunala aren't Fossil Pokémon. They're legendaries who happened to leave bones when they died.”

“Right, but Foxglove thought he could do it. And the thing is, he did.”

“My mother always said it was necromancy,” said Lillie placidly, “but I became aware fairly early on that necromancy is fantasy, not science. If it had been necromancy and it had worked, then things wouldn't have gone as horribly wrong as they did.”

“He raised a Solgaleo and a Lunala, but they were... I guess zombies would be the closest term. They were all bone and rotting flesh, and they were angry. They injured Foxglove, went on a rampage through Po Town, and broke a big chunk out of one of the walls before running back through the mountains to the Haina, where they'd wanted to be left to begin with.” Hau lowered his voice. “Gramps eventually sent a team of people to check to make sure they'd gotten back to where they belonged— you know, really discreetly, from a distance. They found that the Solgaleo and the Lunala had, um, killed each other. Exactly where they'd been buried in the first place.”

“Arceus,” said Moon, appalled. “That's awful— I mean, it's good that they went back to how they should be, but it's still just— god, it's horrific.”

Hau nodded soberly. “The authorities were called and the government tried to arrest Foxglove, but he ordered the gates of Po Town closed and militarized his Foxes. Anyone who tried to come close to Po Town was sent away, and if they persisted they were killed. This went on for about a week, until Gramps and Olivia and old Kahuna Ikaika got together and talked with their own Tapus to ask them to appeal to Tapu Bulu. But I guess Tapu Bulu hadn't even heard about the disturbance of the bones before they appealed to him, because one day he showed up at Po Town, absolutely snorting mad, and wrecked the place even more than the undead legendaries had done. Vines overgrowing everything, houses destroyed by rosebushes, briars and thorns choking people to death and literally tearing them to pieces— it was not pretty. A lot of people died. Most of the people actually living in Po Town were rich and they'd known what Foxglove was doing, but they didn't care because he was the kahuna. They saw him as a status symbol for the town, thought his presence made them a big deal. The whole place was wrecked, with only a few survivors— most of them kids and teenagers. And about half of the Foxes weren't even in the town at the time— they scarpered and left everyone else to die. And then, as though to add insult to injury, Tapu Bulu, with the aid of Tapu Fini, called a storm over Po Town and just left it there.”

“For ten years,” realized Moon. “Yeah, Molly and Rogelio told me about this! They said it was always raining in Po Town because of someone who blasphemed the Tapu.”

“Well, that was sort of what happened,” admitted Hau. “Gramps says that part of the reason Tapu Bulu was so angry was because the Tapus sort of... share their strengths with their kahunas. For instance, Gramps is like, weirdly graceful for an old guy, because Tapu Koko is a dancer. Miss Olivia says that Tapu Lele has made her a wiser and more compassionate person. Tapu Fini can give her kahunas the power to call rain and storms where they will. Tapu Bulu often gifts his kahunas with the ability to cultivate life— they tend to be very successful breeders or farmers. And Gramps said that Foxglove used that power of cultivating life to bring back the warped forms of Solgaleo and Lunala. So in that sense, his misuse of sacred powers is a blasphemy, but more importantly it's an unforgivable sin. Foxglove was found—” He paused, turning to look at Lillie with a frown. “Um, this is kind of gruesome, is it going to trigger—”

Lillie shook her head. “I've heard the story before. I was very young when I first heard it, so you needn't worry about me.”

“Right. He was found inside the machine he invented to bring the legendaries back to life. He was alive, but it was very clear that Tapu Bulu had killed him, and then put him in the machine to bring him back. He was as much a zombie as the Solgaleo and the Lunala were.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. So, um— Gramps and Olivia and Kahuna Ikaika were working together and they tried to put Foxglove out of his misery, because it was very clear that he was miserable. Olivia was especially offended because it's Tapu Lele who holds sanction over life and death, not Tapu Bulu— his sanction is cultivating life that's already, um, alive. But Foxglove was wicked and smart even in death, and he managed to overpower them with the help of his Foxes. They were all wearing masks made out of fox skulls—”

Lillie leaned over, wide-eyed, to clap her hands over Snowfall's ears. The Ninetales ignored her, continuing to daintily pick at Pokébeans.

“Sorry,” said Hau sheepishly, glancing at Snowfall and then at Umber— who actually did seem to be paying attention to the story, and looked rather uncomfortable. “But, um, yeah. You can guess where they got those. Anyway Foxglove actually got away, and about half of the Foxes were taken into custody by the government and Interpol. Gramps and Olivia and Kahuna Ikaika and a few other people followed Foxglove back through the roads and meadows of eastern Ula'ula, all the way to Tapu Village and then down Route Fourteen to Uamake Beach. They found him standing outside of the ruins of the Thrifty Megamart, just staring at it with dead eyes. The Tapus arrived just after the other kahunas did. Tapu Bulu spoke to Foxglove privately for a few minutes. Gramps says that two more legendaries showed up, though Gram always used to tell him that there were three and he just didn't see the other one.”

“Wait, your Gram was there?”

“Yeah. She was with Gramps when he got the news about Foxglove and she went with him to help, because she was a capable Trainer herself. And actually, both of your grandparents were there, too— I think maybe your grandmother worked for or with Interpol, or something? Neither Gram nor Gramps would ever tell me what exactly happened on Uamake Beach, but they both referred to it as 'the trial of the gods' whenever they told the story. Anyway, after Tapu Bulu spoke with Foxglove, he killed him.”

“It was probably for the best,” added Lillie practically. “He was, er— undead, and probably in a great deal of pain.”

“Yeah. The remaining Foxes changed their name to Team Skull and promised not to leave Po Town as long as they didn't have to go to jail. The Alolan government agreed to that, and there you have it— Team Skull.”

“They aren't supposed to leave, though?”

“Only the original Foxes aren't supposed to leave. Gramps says the last time he checked there were still twenty or thirty of them, but mostly Team Skull has changed to the gang of troubled kids we know today.”

Moon wondered, in the ensuing silence, if her mother had ever heard that story from her grandmother. Keahi Akiona Nguyen had been a storyteller, and it seemed natural that if she had really been on the beach with the kahunas that day, she would have told the story to someone. Keahi Akiona Nguyen had also been blessed by Tapu Koko, as Lillie had been blessed by Tapu Lele; a golden streak in dark hair and a pink streak in pale hair. Tapu Bulu would have given someone a red streak, and Tapu Fini might have given a violet one.

“Why would Tapu Bulu have chosen him?” she said finally. “Foxglove. If the Tapu thought he were capable of doing something like that, why wouldn't he have picked someone else?”

“Every person is capable of evil.” Soliera had been quiet throughout the story, but at this she looked up, expression solemn. “People themselves are neutral entities. It is actions that are good or evil— actions which include speech and thoughts. Thinking is an action. Thinking an evil thought does not make a person evil; it means they have done an evil thing. I am not from your world, and I do not presume to know much of the island guardians. I think that Tapu Bulu may have seen the potential for cruelty and the hunger for power that this Foxglove had; but it seems likely that he weighed it against the good that Foxglove was capable of doing. And indeed, Foxglove did many good things before the bad. It cannot be Tapu Bulu's fault that Foxglove made the choices he did. I would assume that it is a risk that every island guardian takes, when they select a new kahuna. The person they choose must be worthy enough to live up to the honor of the title.”

Moon frowned. She had heard something like that before, though she couldn't remember when or where— which meant that it was probably a Nihilego thought, or something that had happened in the desert. Something about worth, and honor...

“Yeah, that's— that's almost word-for-word a part the swearing-in ceremonies they have for the kahunas.” Hau raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Did you study them or something?”

“It would be remiss to partake in Terran culture without understanding the customs behind it,” said Soliera with a nod.

“Perhaps we can trade you a story for a story,” suggested Phyco. “And, if you would not mind, we would like to request your assistance— not immediately, but at an indeterminate point in the future that all rather depends upon our own research.”

“What do you want with us?” said Lillie suspiciously, narrowing her eyes at the scientists.

“Nothing with you specifically— nor with your companion.” Phyco nodded at Nebby. “I see she has visited Tapu Bulu. She must be growing stronger and stronger each day.”

“Pew, pew!”

Lillie sighed. “She still doesn't know anything but Splash, Flash and Teleport. I've more or less given up hope.”

“That doesn't mean she is powerless— on the contrary. It takes strength of will to have power and choose not to use it.” Soliera smiled again— though it still looked more like a grimace.

“The story we wish to tell you is also about Tapu Bulu, and the fight he had with a beast on Uamake Beach, several hundred years ago.” Phyco cleared his throat. “A hole was ripped in the sky of Terra, over Uamake Beach. From this hole slipped a beast that devours light— what you now know as Necrozma, who we call The Blinding One after its former glory. What you and most Alolans do not know is that the Necrozma who visited Terra then came from our home-world— and that it is the same Necrozma for whom we now search.”

“Necrozma lives much longer than humans do, though they do have lifespans— the only truly immortal Pokémon we know of are Arceus and Mew. The Necrozma from our home-world is close to a thousand years old,” added Soliera.

“Necrozma has ever sought the light— it appears as a shadow in the void of space, but it is not a shadow— rather a mirror, or a prism. It reflects what light it is given— at least, a healthy one does.”

“Our ancestors, much like the man you called Foxglove, sought power. They sought to wield the light that Necrozma is capable of reflecting, and to that end they hurt it quite badly.” Soliera's mouth thinned.

Phyco nodded. “The pieces of Necrozma that were stolen by our ancestors have been scattered over the dark reaches of the universe, though a surprising amount of them have ended up here. In some ways it is quite disturbing to see Trainers walking around and using small pieces of a god to make their own teams more powerful; but we have grown used to it.”

“I daresay that Necrozma might, in its current misery, be happy to know that its sacrifice has not been for naught.”

“Small pieces—” Moon blinked, turning to Hau and Lillie in realization. “You mean— Z-Stones and Z-Crystals?”

“Indeed. Most Z-Rings we see are artificial, but the Z-Crystals cannot be replicated even by human ingenuity. A property of Necrozma's crystals is that they can grow as needed, like a fruit-bearing tree; as long as there is a source, the crystals will reproduce infinitely. Necrozma has, in the past, offered freely of its excess crystals to our ancestors; but for the last thousand years it has not been in a state to do so.”

“The place from where our ancestors took the crystals was from Necrozma's head, and we have theorized that doing so caused it significant damage,” added Soliera quietly.

“Like— like a lobotomy?” Moon felt slightly sick, looking down at her Z-Ring and the crystals that adorned it so far.

“It is an apt comparison.”

Phyco cleared his throat. “At any rate, the theft of its crystals left it incomplete, and it swallowed the light of our world in an attempt to replace what had been stolen. We have been without either sun or moon for nearly a thousand years. Necrozma no longer recognizes friend or foe, attacking all who approach. We have managed to keep it mostly contained on our home-world, but it has broken out several times, always going to Terra— presumably in search of its scattered crystals. We are worried that it will target your own sun and moon, and that Terra will face the same fate as Ultra Megalopolis.”

“And you want our help?” said Hau, raising his eyebrows.

“We will need the assistance of either you or Moon,”replied Soliera. “You both bear Z-Rings— real ones, not artificial.”

“And you both have a fairly significant amount of Z-Crystals, with the opportunity to earn more of them immediately before you. Our Necrozma is loose, but we believe it may be attracted to higher concentrations of its crystals. You would serve as— bait, if you will.”

“So you want us to collect all the Z-Crystals and let Necrozma sniff us out, then you open a wormhole and take it home?”

Phyco coughed. “Yes, I suppose that is essentially what we are asking of you.”

Moon glanced at Hau. He shrugged. “I'm down.”

“Yeah, same here.” She turned back to the scientists. “We can help you with that.”

“I assume that you don't want Nebby opening the wormhole,” said Lillie stiffly.

“Of course not,” Soliera reassured her. “We have access to a Pokémon that can create and travel through wormholes with ease.”

“Then why were you researching her in the first place?” wondered Moon.

“That has more to do with the scientific structure of the wormholes in general, which we are also studying— more for safety's sake than anything else. It would be quite unfortunate to go through a wormhole as it was closing and end up with your body at two separate ends of the universe.”

Hau made a face. “That's definitely a mental image I didn't need.”

“As Lieutenant Zossie often says— if I must suffer, then so must you.”

Soliera snorted. “She doesn't say it like that, Captain. She says, ' If I have to live in hell then I'm dragging all you assholes down with me.' It seems like a rather rude thing to call someone, but I believe she means it affectionately.”

“Yeah, that can happen,” agreed Moon, thinking of Molly.

As one, Phyco and Soliera stood up. “Thank you for agreeing to help us,” said Phyco, offering his hand to Moon. She shook it, and Soliera's as well; Hau also shook hands, but Lillie had (on purpose, Moon was fairly certain) picked up Esper and had both hands occupied. “We will find you when we need you. We hope for it to be soon, but so far we have not had many leads. We believe it is doing a great deal of traveling, though it has remained on Terra for several months now.”

“Perhaps it is waiting for something.” Soliera's eyes, inexplicably, flicked first to Lillie and then to Nebby; but neither she nor Phyco elaborated on that comment before walking away.

For a few minutes, the three of them sat there, pondering the stories they had heard. Most of their Pokémon had finished eating and were simply sitting or playing quietly around them.

“I'm still really disturbed by Foxglove,” said Moon finally. “And I have some questions for— well, probably for Plumeria, since I don't think Guzma is the type to give me answers about the past.”

“They're old enough to have been alive when Foxglove was killed,” pointed out Hau. “I was about eight, but both of them would have been teenagers. Maybe they saw it firsthand. But you know, some of the legacy from the Foxes to Team Skull is still a good thing. Foxglove improved the government programs for foster care and adoption and things like that— but Team Skull still welcomes both kids and adults who don't have anywhere else to go.”

“And they reinstated Officer Nanu after that? Why didn't Tapu Bulu pick a new kahuna?”

“Nobody knows,” said Hau, shrugging. “You could try asking Nanu himself, once we find him. It's pretty pointless to go looking for him on your own, but Gramps can get in touch with him easily so when we're done with this trial, we can train some more and then set up a meeting to do the Grand Trial.”

Moon grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”

 

Chapter Text

“ 'Black sand beaches are formed when lava comes into contact with water. The water quickly cools the lava, which then shatters into sand and other debris in various sizes. Black sand beaches may be formed virtually instantaneously as a lavaflow meets the ocean. There are two black-sand beaches in Alola: the infamously dangerous Poni Breaker Coast, which guards the way to Tapu Fini's den and the Ruins of Hope; and the beach that runs along Route Fourteen— also known as Uamake Bay.' ”

“Moon, you've been complaining for like weeks that The Traveller's Guide to Alola is outdated and they need to publish a newer edition. Why are you reading from it right now?” said Hau wearily.

“Because I wanted to know why the sand was black! And it still doesn't make sense. There isn't a volcano on Ula'ula Island. If anything, it would make more sense for a black sand beach to be on Akala Island.”

“There isn't a volcano on Ula'ula Island anymore,” Lillie corrected her. “Mount Lanakila is an extinct volcano. Professor Kukui mentioned that they sent probe drills down into the earth beneath the mountain before starting construction. They didn't find any lava, but it's more or less common knowledge that Lanakila used to be a volcano.”

“Why wouldn't that be in The Traveller's Guide?” grumbled Moon, slamming the book shut. “I swear I'm going to write a letter to the editors.”

She shoved the book into her backpack and kicked at the dark sand, sending a small spray of it into the water— not that it mattered terribly, for the sand beneath the water looked dark and murky anyway. Uamake Bay in general was rather shadowy— the weather seemed to be constantly cloudy, though it was often sunny in Tapu Village. The darker sand made the water appear darker and deeper; and as winter was fast approaching the skies had grown paler blue, and by now were a pearly grey-white.

“That doesn't mean snow, right?” she asked Hau, pointing.

“Nah, it's too early for snow. You wouldn't see snow anywhere but Mount Lanakila until mid-January, and even then it's just a dusting over Tapu Village and Route Thirteen. Everywhere else is too warm.”

“I might actually miss snow,” said Moon wistfully. “I really liked winter in Kanto. I guess I could visit Red and Blue sometime.”

“Or you can go to Mount Lanakila whenever you need some. It's more than enough for me, and I've never even been on the mountain.”

“Have you ever seen snow in person?”

“Nah.” Hau shrugged. “It never really interested me.”

“What about you, Lillie?”

“I've never seen snow in person, either. My home was too warm for it.”

The three of them were training on Route Fourteen. Lillie had finally transitioned Esper into fully training with the rest of her teammates; the little Cleffa had grown well, and Moon could almost look at her without a pang in her heart as she thought of Horatio. Hau had been working with Poppy, entertaining a theory that the next trial would be Dark-type— an interesting idea to Moon, because there were no Dark-type gyms in recorded history. Dark-type users had been found in Elite Fours and even a few Champions; but she'd never heard of a Dark-type gym. At any rate, Poppy's Fairy-typing would give her a solid advantage over a Dark-type trial.

Moon had been working with Macbeth for the same reasons, as Bug was super-effective against Dark-types; but she kept up training all of them and emphasized her work with Hero, as the newest teammate. It wasn't too difficult to train with the Metang. It had observed her for a long time now, and it easily understood her commands and what she wanted from it. Furthermore, Hero was powerful to begin with, and had worked hard to catch up to the rest of the team. Moon was confident that she was ready, or very nearly ready, to challenge the trial.

The three of them had finished a good morning's training and were walking back up to Tapu Village to have lunch at the Pokémon Center; but Moon's dreams of sandwiches were delayed at the sighting of a small crowd of children, facing up against two familiar and unpleasant faces.

“Give her back!” shouted a boy, stepping out of the crowd with his fists clenched. “She isn't yours!”

“Kids aren't even supposed to have Pokémon until they turn ten,” sneered Emmett, tossing a Pokéball into the air and neatly catching it without pressing the release button. “What do you have one for, anyway?”

“She's not mine! She belongs to the orphanage and, and she helps all of us.”

“All the more reason you shouldn't have her,” said Kohaku, his voice perfectly mild. “You learn as you get older that you have to struggle with stupid bullshit, and if you can't do that without the help of a Pokémon then you don't deserve to have one in the first place.”

Moon could feel the anger bubbling up into her throat, and she opened her mouth to start shouting; but was startled sideways by Lillie knocking into her shoulder as she passed.

“Excuse me, Moon.”

“I have the feeling that we're in for a treat,” said Moon quietly to Hau as they followed their friend over to the escalating argument.

“I just have feelings,” said Hau, a touch mournfully.

“It's Emmett and Kohaku, isn't it?” called out Lillie.

Both of them looked up, irritated; but their reactions were quite different. Kohaku's face flickered with annoyance followed by pleasure, when he saw Moon and Hau coming up behind Lillie; and Emmett's eyes went up and down her slim figure with all the subtlety of a speeding ambulance.

“Yeah, that's me,” he said confidently, putting his hands on his hips.

“Why don't you hand back that Pokémon?”

Lillie's voice remained pleasant, but there was an edge of steel in it that Moon had begun to recognize from the times she had seen her friend get angry.

“I don't think that's any of your business, doll,” said Kohaku— though his eyes were on Hau as he spoke. Moon felt Hau stiffen next to her and reached out behind Lillie's back to punch him in the arm. He frowned at her, aggrieved; Moon shook her head.

“He's trying to get a rise out of you, don't give him the satisfaction,” she whispered.

“It isn't any of your business that they have a Pokémon to begin with,” said Lillie, rather sensibly ignoring the by-play. “Additionally, if either of you were at all observant, you might have heard this boy mention that the Pokémon belongs to the orphanage. The only orphanage in Alola is the Aether House— a government-sponsored institution. Since these children are under ten years of age, the Pokémon belongs to the government, and is likely used as a therapy Pokémon or a playmate.”

“So?” sneered Emmett, taking a few steps forward. He was taller than Lillie— not by much, but she didn't appear to be intimidated. She lifted her chin, crossing her arms.

So,” she said, deliberately emphasizing the word, “stealing a Pokémon that belongs to the government is a federal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. I'm sure you'd rather not go to prison. And you would go, because juveniles with a high enough criminal record can be tried as adults, and there are about ten eyewitnesses here who saw you take and refuse to return a government-owned Pokémon.”

Moon's mouth fell open slightly as she stared at Lillie. She had never seen her sweet, demure friend sound as cool and badass as she did in that moment. Hau, on Lillie's other side, was mumbling something under his breath that Moon couldn't quite catch.

“I suggest,” concluded Lillie, tilting her head to one side, “that you cut your losses, return the Pokémon, and go back to wherever it is you've come from. I understand that you probably have your orders from your superiors in Team Skull, but surely they didn't mean for you to take Pokémon from a group of children. You can't possibly be incompetent enough to resort to that.”

“Ooooh!” Hau doubled over with laughter. “Oh, that was good. That was brilliant. You've made my entire week, Lills.”

“That's real cute and all, doll,” said Kohaku condescendingly, “but it's not like you have any room to talk about being incompetent. You're just tagging along with the two on their island challenge because you're too weak to protect yourself.”

“She beat you in a battle already, but sure, Jan.” Moon rolled her eyes.

“I'm quite capable of protecting myself and others,” said Lillie evenly, ignoring Moon. “Shall we settle it with a battle? If I recall, you have four Pokémon. So do I. Unless, of course, you're too much of a coward to face me.”

“We aren't cowards,” snapped Emmett, pulling out a different Pokéball. “And I've got five, too. I can take you.”

“She was challenging me, dumbass,” said Kokahu, bringing out his own.

“I'll fight both of you.” retorted Lillie. “One-on-one, with a healing in between. And you'll give the Pokémon you took back before I challenge either of you.”

Emmett glared at her for a few moments, but then Kokahu kicked his shin. He tossed the Pokéball back to the kid, who clutched it fearfully to his chest as he backed away; the other children were already leaving, tugging him along with hasty whispers.

“I'll fight you first, since you're so eager to lose.” Lillie drew her own Pokéball from her belt and sent out Esper.

At least, it appeared to be Esper; but when Emmett sneered and sent out a Hypno, the Cleffa turned around and winked at Lillie.

“That's Umber, isn't it?” Moon whispered in Hau's ear.

“Yeah, I think so. Esper's not really the winking type.”

Moon was, therefore, unsurprised when the Hypno's Psywave did nothing to affect Umber, and the disguised fox was able to knock it out in one hit with super-effective Night Slash. Emmett blinked a few times in confusion before recalling his fainted Hypno with a sour expression.

“It's a Zoroark, idiot,” said Kohaku, folding his arms.

Moon frowned at him. “Wow, rude. It's tacky to butt in on somebody else's battle.”

“Would you both shut up? I can do this myself!” shouted Emmett.

But he sent out a Poliwrath— a sensible move, after hearing the true identity of the “Cleffa.” Moon had thought hell would freeze over before she would see Emmett do anything sensible, but it would seem that miracles could, in fact, happen. Lillie didn't recall Umber— instead directing him to use Grass Knot. It took the Poliwhirl down considerably, but in the end the Poliwhirl's Brick Break knocked Umber out.

In response, Lillie sent out Snowfall, who looked at the Poliwrath and sniffed disdainfully before hitting it fast and hard with Dazzling Gleam. It was another one-hit, so Emmett— red-faced and angry— replaced the fainted Poliwrath with Torkoal.

“Tork, use Earth Power!”

“Snowfall, Psyshock!”

Torkoal were very slow, and Snowfall was light on her feet so the Psyshock was delivered before the turtle could even move— a third one-shot. Emmett glared at her and sent out his final teammate— a Golbat, which was dispatched even more quickly with Snowfall's Ice Beam.

Lillie nodded shortly and knelt down to search through her backpack for medicinal supplies.

“That was fucking rigged,” whined Emmett, recalling his Golbat. “I should have won.”

“Oh, shut the hell up,” retorted Kohaku, rolling his eyes. “You couldn't win your way blind out of a wet paper bag.”

“Are you fighting me, or not?” said Lillie briskly, cutting through Emmett's angry sputtering.

Kohaku raised one eyebrow, holding up a Pokéball of his own. “Sure am, doll.”

“Could you maybe not call her that?” demanded Hau, clearly unable to hold back his annoyance. “She's a person, not a doll.”

“Why not? Are you jealous?”

“He doesn't need to be,” said Lillie dismissively.

There was a pause as Moon, Hau, Kohaku, and Emmett digested this— though the puzzled and still-annoyed expression on Emmett's face suggested that he might just be having trouble digesting his loss to Lillie. A slow smile grew on Hau's face— the sort of smile that made Moon's heart warm fondly for both him and for Lillie. He looked down at the ground, keeping the smile to himself. Kohaku seemed to be both amused and disgusted, and Lillie herself seemed to have realized that it was more of an admission than she had likely planned to make out loud.

“Anyway, you're fighting me, not him.” She didn't sound embarrassed, but a pretty pink flush raced to her cheeks and ears.

Lillie sent out Esper first— but this time, Moon was pretty sure that it was actually Esper, and not Umber in disguise. Kohaku ordered his Passimian to use Low Sweep, clearly thinking it would hit Umber hard; but Esper, a pure Fairy-type, shrugged off the move with much more grace than Moon had expected of a baby Pokémon. She counter-attacked with Psychic, of all things— a very advanced move, but also one that both Moon and Hau had in their TM cases. Both Kohaku and the Passimian were caught off guard by the strength of the move, and they scrambled to compensate by means of Double-Edge; but Esper was tankier than she looked, surviving long enough to deliver another Psychic. The Passimian was knocked out, and Lillie hastily recalled Esper to her ball as well.

Kohaku's expression was sour, but he brought out his own Hypno. Lillie sent out Lapin, her strongest fighter; it took a few hits but the Lopunny held his own. As though to add insult to injury, Lapin also took out Kohaku's Raticate with a well-placed Jump Kick and then his Banette with Brutal Swing— finishing off three of his teammates with only one of her own.

Yeah, Lillie!” shouted Hau, striding over to Lillie and wrapping her in a hug that Moon suspected was just as much for show as it was genuine. Lillie squeaked slightly, but relaxed into the hug, a secretive little smile creeping onto her face.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: I think my ship is sailing

the girl with the curls: DID THEY KISS

shakespeare jr: Nah but there was more or less a confession and now they're hugging

shakespeare jr: And weirdly it's Kohaku's fault so I might actually have to thank him for that someday

herbalist: if u do please film it i need his reaction it's for science

shakespeare jr: Lmao sure thing

 

Kohaku's eyes were on Moon when she looked up, oddly enough; his mouth had gone pinched at the edges as he eyed her Rotom-Dex.

“The customary thing to do, when you've lost a battle, is to go away.” Lillie's voice had lost most of the pleasantness but the steel remained. “That's your cue. Good-bye.”

Moon stared admiringly at Lillie— the shy, meek girl who had been moved to the point of tears at a simple offer of friendship was now a confident, competent young woman. It was really impressive.

Emmett and Kohaku exchanged glances, and then Emmett sighed, turned around, and began trudging away. Kohaku remained for a few moments, still looking at Moon.

“Going to tell on me to Fatty and the Fag?” he said, a touch contemptuously. “Tell them to hide their stupid little flowers and mushrooms?”

Moon's vision flared scarlet. “What did you say?”

“That little group text thing you have.” Kohaku yawned, turning his hand to examine his fingernails. Emmett turned back to listen to the argument, confused. “I know you tattle on me like a little kid when you think I'm being dangerous or nasty or whatever. They hide the plants, like they think it will stop me from killing them if I really want to.”

What did you call them?”

She hardly recognized her own voice, shaking with rage.

“Fatty,” said Kohaku, a grin sliding onto his face as he stared at her; there was finally something like life sparking behind his eyes. “That would be busybody Molly, with her fucking lists of chores and grocery shopping and pretending she likes everyone when she clearly plays favorites. And the Fag would be Rogelio.”

“Oh, right, because he's a homo,” laughed Emmett, cottoning on. “Fucking disgusting, honestly— hey!”

Moon couldn't actually savor the feel of her knuckles slamming into Kohaku's face, because it was immediately followed by a starburst of pain just above her left eye and another in her stomach before Hau grabbed her, dragging her back and shoving Kohaku away. When she blinked the scarlet swirls of rage out of her eyes, Kohaku had a bloody nose and a very satisfied expression.

“Got you,” he said softly. “People are just little puppets. With the right words, you can make them do anything you want.”

“Get out of here,” spat Moon. “Get the fuck away from me before I fucking kill you.”

“With pleasure.” He lifted two fingers into a heavily ironic peace sign before turning and walking away with Emmett, who was cackling like a loon.

For a few moments, none of them said anything. Then Lillie sighed. “Let me see your face,” she said, stepping into Moon's vision. “You'll probably get a black eye, and he socked you in the stomach, so you might bruise from that as well. Let's get back to the Pokémon Center— the healing station can take care of you.”

Moon pulled her Dex out again, texting as she walked.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: Never mind I am never thanking Kohaku for anything ever and if I see him ever again I might actually kill him

herbalist: oh god

the girl with the curls: what did he do now

shakespeare jr: I guess he knows about the chat because he said some really, really nasty things about the two of you to get a rise out of me

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [blackeye.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: It worked

the girl with the curls: let me guess

the girl with the curls: he called me fat and used homophobic slurs for rog?

shakespeare jr: Yeah, actually

herbalist: on the one hand it's a really nice and validating feeling to know that ppl insulting us is something that gets u mad enough to get in a fight

herbalist: but on the other hand he definitely said that specifically to try and crawl up ur ass, which means u pissed him off somehow

shakespeare jr: He also said something about how I warned you to hide the plants the one time

the girl with the curls: wait

the girl with the curls: omg really?????

shakespeare jr: Yeah

herbalist: so that means he must've actually been annoyed about it which means you actually managed to crawl up HIS ass too

shakespeare jr: Okay so I understand what you meant by that, but there are some things that maybe you should pick a different metaphor to express

the girl with the curls: SSKSKDSSKSKSK DYING

herbalist: anyway I'm gonna do u a favor and tell plumeria about this

shakespeare jr: ???

the girl with the curls: trust me u will appreciate it, plumeria doesn't EVER let shit like homophobia slide

herbalist: kohaku's fucked, basically

herbalist: she'll bring the boss man in on it and everything

the girl with the curls: maybe even gladion if she's feeling real vindictive about it

shakespeare jr: I repeat, ???

the girl with the curls: wait and see, moon. wait and see.

 

Moon sighed and put Rotom back into her pocket once more as Hau pushed the doors of the Pokémon Center open and held them for her and Lillie. The first order of business was getting their Pokémon healed, but the desk nurse took one look at Moon's face and shouted for the nurse who specialized in human treatment to come out from the back medbay room.

The black eye wasn't as bad as Lillie had made it seem, and with a few minutes of holding a chanting Blissey on her lap it had faded from a reddish, beginning-to-be-magenta color to light green— as though it were weeks old, rather than minutes. Her stomach fortunately hadn't bruised, though it was a little sore from the force of the sucker-punch. The nurses did a scan with an X-ray to make sure Kohaku hadn't hit anything vital or caused a contusion, but everything checked out healthy so the three of them made their way over to the café to order lunch.

Hau and Lillie were quiet, as was Moon— she supposed it was partly because she was still angry and they weren't sure what to say, and partly because they might have been feeling awkward about Lillie's sort-of confession. It seemed it was her duty to break the silence, so she did.

“It's not really something they talk about a lot,” she said finally, “but Red and Blue have had some nasty things said to them. Kanto isn't exactly the most open-minded place in the world.”

“No, I think that honor belongs to Alola,” said Hau frankly. “People are mostly too laid-back to give a crap about sexuality here— though obviously, you get a few bad eggs anywhere you go.”

“Blue said Kalos was pretty chill about it, too.” Moon's mouth tightened. “My point is, that— hit me the wrong way. And he meant for it to hit the wrong way, but he didn't know exactly why. He thought it would just be about Molly and Rogelio. And I played right into his hands, so I'm mad about that, too.”

“He was very... systematic,” said Lillie thoughtfully. “He tried to probe at all of us, to see what could make us crack. I was quite nervous about approaching them—”

“You definitely didn't seem nervous.”

“Well, I was also angry. I think that helps. But the nervousness left once I had beaten them both in battle.”

“Speaking of which, that was magnificent,” said Hau, leaning forward.

“Agreed.” Moon offered her hand to Lillie to shake. “My hat's off to you. That was crazy and awesome and super strategic.”

Lillie looked down at her lunch, smiling a little shyly. “Well, I have been closely observing the best Trainers I know for months now. I must have picked up a few things along the way.”

“Or you're highly intelligent and well-read and you've picked up a couple things as a Pokémon Professor's actual assistant,” said Hau pointedly.

“Or you've worked very, very hard on both your mental health stuff and your Training over the last few months, and it has very clearly paid off,” added Moon.

Lillie blinked several times, but it was not until the blinking began to grow a little more shiny that Moon realized she was trying not to cry. Hau was a bit faster on the uptake, and had a travel pack of tissues out of his bag and on the table in seconds.

“Sorry,” murmured Lillie, accepting the tissues and wiping at her eyes. “I, um— it means a lot, to hear that. It doesn't always feel like the work I've put in has done anything to help— more so with mental health, than with training. And I feel so stupid and silly so much of the time, so— so yes, it really. It, um, it means a lot. Thank you.”

She wiped at her eyes again and blew her nose. Moon waggled her eyebrows at Hau and pointed at her own arm, miming putting it over someone's shoulder. Hau glared at her and made an obscene gesture with one hand, but took her suggestion anyway. Lillie sniffled and hiccuped, oblivious to the exchange, and leaned her head on Hau's shoulder.

“You're welcome,” said Moon— ostensibly addressing Lillie, but she waggled her eyebrows at Hau again to tell him that the remark was directed at him as well. “So— what should we do after lunch? Should we go back to training, you think?”

“Yeah, sounds good to me.” Hau flipped her the bird again, but kept his hand well out of Lillie's line of sight to do so. “We can check out the base of Mount Lanakila. You can only go as far as the lift that takes you up to Victory Road, but there's some tall grass before you get there.”

“I thought only official Leagues had a Victory Road.”

“I think it's called something else like, officially; but everyone's called it Victory Road for ages so I don't remember what the name is supposed to be. And it's the same as official Victory Roads anyway— you can't pass until you have everything you're supposed to have. Gym badges in other regions, but the Z-Crystals for the trials and Grand Trials in this region.”

“That's right!”

The familiar voice came from nowhere, badly startling both Moon and Hau— the latter jumping about a foot, which caused Lillie to flinch as well.

Acerola beamed at them, hands clasped behind her back; she was still barefoot and short-sleeved, despite the cool weather. Next to her stood the boy who had been bullied by Emmett and Kohaku.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully, as Hau mumbled something that was probably foul as he settled back down. “I'm surprised you haven't come looking for me yet! That's what most people do as soon as they get to Tapu Village, since there's plenty of training to do between Soffy and me.”

It took Moon a few moments to parse the nickname and the meaning of the full sentence. “Wait,” she said slowly. “You're the trial captain?”

“Sure am!”

Hau groaned, leaning backward to tap his head against the edge of the booth. “I thought it would be a Dark-type trial, so I was training Poppy! I don't think I've got anything for Ghosts.”

“I do,” said Moon with a frown, “but that goes both ways with Puck.” She studied Acerola, surprised. “You're like twelve, right? How did you get to be a trial captain?”

Acerola sniffed, putting her hands on her hips. “I'm going to be thirteen in two months,” she informed them. “But the answer to your question is that I decided that I wanted to be a trial captain, and nobody was going to stop me when I set up my trial in a place that had been both blessed and cursed by Tapu Bulu. In fact, Officer Nanu said I could be the kahuna if I wanted to, but then Tapu Bulu told him that wasn't allowed. So for now I'm just the trial captain.”

Just,” mumbled Hau, not quite under his breath.

“I'm more concerned about the for now bit,” retorted Moon.

“Oh, I'm sure you'll understand what I mean sooner or later,” said Acerola airily. “I'm not entirely sure I know what I mean by it myself, but it's what I said so I'm sticking with it. That happens sometimes, when you're a touch precognizant... Anyway, I did come here with a purpose.” She indicated the boy next to her— he was maybe nine or ten, decided Moon. “Hunter says you helped to defend him from some bullies.”

“They were Team Skull,” said Hunter, with a frown. “And she chased them off.” He pointed at Lillie.

“We discussed this, pointing is rude,” said Acerola mildly, pushing his hand down. “But how about that? It seems that Rapunzel's climbed down from her tower.”

“I left my tower a long time ago,” said Lillie, almost automatically.

“Sure, but I bet you left a few things behind.” Acerola's eyes twinkled. “No matter. I'm really grateful to you for helping Hunter and the other kids out of a tight spot, so I thought I'd drop by and say thank you, and let you know you can come down to the Aether House to schedule your trials whenever. I'm pretty much always there, unless I've gone to the library.”

“Do you live there?”

“Well, I am an orphan,” said Acerola pleasantly.

“When you ask a stupid question, you get the answer you deserve,” Hau informed Moon.

Moon flushed. “Sorry.”

Acerola waved her apology away. “Ah, don't worry about it. I did tell you I don't really mind, didn't I? I can talk to Papa whenever I like, and there are plenty of other ghosts to keep me company as well. It's a good life I've got. Well, Hunter and the other kids are very grateful to you for keeping Annabel out of the hands of Team Skull, so if you come by in the next day or so we'll have some cookies or something for you.”

“I'm a pretty good baker,” said Hunter, a touch shyly.

“Which is a very good thing, as I'm a terrible cook.”

“Aren't there adults who can do that stuff for you?”

“Yes,” said Acerola.

“No,” Hunter corrected her. “They come for about three weeks at a time, but then they walk downstairs in the morning and see her dangling from the banisters by her toes to talk to the Chandelure that lives on the front-hall ceiling, and they freak out and quit. The government keeps sending new ones, but they all get weirded out eventually.”

“Shouldn't they hire someone with a bit more tolerance for weirdness?”

“See, that's what I say, but nobody ever listens to me,” sighed Acerola.

Hunter blinked at her. “Old man Nanu would listen to you.”

“Oh, he's awful busy. I don't want to bother him with stuff like that.”

“Stuff like having a reliable, responsible adult to feed and care for fifteen orphans? That seems like something he should be bothered about.”

It was clearly an argument that the two of them had had many times; Moon could tell by the practiced flippancy in Acerola's voice. Hunter didn't seem to be angry at her— simply stating facts. The two of them were clearly good friends.

“Anyway, that's all we had to tell you. Drop by tomorrow for those cookies, and I can take you for the trial as well! We haven't had challengers come by in a few weeks or so.”

“Sure. I like cookies,” said Moon, shrugging.

“Is oatmeal butterscotch chip okay with you?” inquired Hunter.

Hau nodded fervently. “That sounds incredibly tasty.”

“We'll have them ready for you. See you tomorrow! Train hard for your trials!”

Acerola turned and skipped away. Hunter waved and followed her out of the Pokémon Center.

“Wait,” said Moon, realizing. “Did we just get suckered into scheduling our trials for tomorrow?”

Hau blinked at her for a few moments, then paled. “Oh— oh, Arceus, you're right. Crap, we have to train!”

“Lunch is over, let's go!”

Lillie watched, amused, as Moon and Hau scrambled to collect their trash and leftovers and pack up their teams. “I'm rather glad I'm not on the island challenge at the moment,” she remarked. “At times like this, it seems rather stressful.”

 

Chapter Text

The Aether House, despite its name, did not resemble the Aether Paradise at all. It was a rather old-fashioned building— a three-story greystone, like something out of a Galarian period film. The doors and shutters were painted black, but were rather shabby— with paint peeling off in places or staining the stone itself. There were trees around the house, but oddly enough the house itself was not overgrown with vines— in fact, there were no plants touching the house at all. A small ring of plain earth about a foot wide separated the house from the grass, trees, and bushes on all sides; and as Moon, Hau, and Lillie approached the house, Moon could have sworn she saw footsteps padding through the dirt, throwing up little dust clouds as they went.

Hau reached out to ring the doorbell, but the door was yanked open before he could do so. A curly-haired girl of eight or nine stared at the three of them with narrowed, suspicious eyes.

“Are you creeps?” she said bluntly.

“I don't think so,” answered Hau.

“That's what a creep would say.”

“They're not creeps, they're the Trainers who get the cookies.” Hunter appeared, wearing a flour-stained apron; there was also flour on his face and in his hair. Moon resisted the urge to squish his face. “Come in, please. Acerola went to the library but she should be back like, any second.”

A sharp-eyed, chittery Yungoos dogged Missy's heels, and an energetic Elekid followed dutifully behind Hunter. Moon saw other kids, peering around banisters and doors; but none of them seemed to have the courage to approach. Hunter pointed them into what looked like a living room.

“Annabel and I need to finish the cookies. Missy, you're supposed to talk to them until Acerola gets back,” he ordered.

“Who died and made you boss?” fired back Missy, crossing her arms.

“Literally all of our parents, and I'm not the boss— Acerola is the boss, and she asked you to do that before she left.” Hunter turned and went back to the kitchen.

Missy sighed heavily, but sat down on one of the chairs as Moon, Hau, and Lillie took seats on a squashy-soft sofa. The room was cozy and brightly colored; Moon's eye was immediately drawn to a large chalkboard hanging on one wall, with a tray of chunky, colorful chalk resting below it. There were doodles and words all over the board; a comedic rendition of a Pikachu sent sparks flying toward and around a list: renew all prescriptions at next 6-month physical (esp. lorazepam and methylphenidate!!!), buy potatoes and red onions, dust the Chandelure.

“Sniff search, Pat.”

The Yungoos darted forward, sniffing at Lillie's shoes and the bag resting next to them; it growled, hackles rising.

“Whatcha got there?” said Missy insolently.

The zipper slid open. “Pew, pew!”

“Stay in the bag, this isn't your house,” said Lillie warningly.

Nebby's face peeped over the edge of the bag, but she didn't seem inclined to run away, instead smiling beatifically at Missy and the Yungoos.

“Now, what are you bothering our guests for?”

Acerola flitted into the room, scooping up the Yungoos with one hand and depositing it on Missy's lap. She turned to beam at Moon, Hau, and Lillie. “Hi! Are you here to challenge me?”

“Yeah, we're going to give it a try.” Neither Moon nor Hau were sure they were quite ready, having only arrived in Tapu Village a couple of days ago; but Acerola seemed to think they could do it and there was something contagious in her confidence.

“Great! We're just waiting on the cookies, and then we can head down to Uamake Beach.”

Almost as though cued, Hunter appeared in the doorway with a plate of cookies. As advertised, they were oatmeal butterscotch chip, and they smelled fantastic and tasted even better. The plate was offered to Lillie, as the primary rescuer of the precious day; but she shared a few with Moon and Hau as well.

“Great, let's get going!” chirped Acerola.

“Good luck with the trial,” offered Hunter. The Elekid behind his ankles made two thumbs-up signs, but Missy merely scowled at them, and Pat the Yungoos hissed

Moon was a little startled at how quickly Acerola seemed to want them out of the house, but once the doors had closed behind them her shoulders sagged ever so slightly. “Some of them don't do so well with visitors,” she explained— for once, looking oddly young and vulnerable. “They're not all orphans, you know— some of them have family but they have major behavioral problems, or they ran away from home.”

“Kind of like Team Skull?” wondered Moon.

Acerola's eyes sharpened. “Yes, rather like Team Skull. But Aether House answers to the government, and Team Skull does not. And the minimum age requirement to join Team Skull is fifteen, so anyone who would want to join them but is underage comes here first. I take everyone.”

Hau frowned. “You don't try to talk them out of joining?”

“I may be a trial captain and a prodigy, but I'm still only twelve. If they're really set on joining, they're not going to listen to me.”

The rest of the walk to the beach was silent. The arch of the trial barrier rose above them, and a trial guide looked up from his chair as they approached. He had a book, an umbrella, and a jacket.

“Oh, is it supposed to rain today?” Acerola asked.

“It's not on the forecast, but those clouds are looking mighty gray.” He pointed up at the deepening sky— even though it was only mid-morning. “Luckily for the trial-goers, the trial itself is inside.”

“I've got an umbrella,” said Lillie, fumbling with her bag. Nebby hopped out, looking around at the bay. “No, you stay inside.”

“You don't have to wait while they do their trials,” Acerola assured her. “I usually stay, in case anybody needs to be rescued—”

“Has that happened before?” demanded Hau, high and panicky.

Acerola ignored him. “— but you're free to go back and wait at the Pokémon Center. It can be a pretty long wait— the ghosts tend to try and mess with the trial-goers a bit, so sometimes they're in there for much longer than they think they are.”

“Really comforting, that,” said Moon dryly.

“Well, you can both do the trial at the same time, so you'll have each other at least.” Acerola beamed at them as Lillie extricated the umbrella from her bag and scooped Nebby back up, tucking her inside once more. “Off you go, then!”

“I'll walk back to the Pokémon Center,” said Lillie, waving at them. “You can tell me all about it when you come back.”

“Will do.”

Moon and Hau passed under the trial barrier, and Acerola followed them. The barrier itself was on the beach, and was the only entrance into the trial site— everything else was closed off by chain-link fencing. It was easy to see the ruins of the Thrifty Megamart from far away— the brick building resembled the one on Royal Avenue, but an entire corner of the building had been smashed in, leaving a massive hole with debris both inside and out. Vines and bushes had overgrown quite a lot of the building as well— which made sense, as Tapu Bulu could grow plants in moments that would ordinarily take years without outside help.

“Right!” Acerola clapped her hands, and they turned around to look at her. “So, you can do the trial at the same time, but you're not doing Double Battles— you need to work separately. I let people come in pairs because a lot of them are paranoid about the ghosts. It's rather silly, because the Pokémon know they're not to harm anyone. The only malevolent ghost here is Foxglove—”

What?” said Moon and Hau, in unison.

“— but the Totems keep him well in check so he can't bother you.” Acerola took a few steps forward. “Now, the only thing you'll need for this trial is some special equipment for your Dex cameras. Oh, you have a Rotom-Dex!”

“Hello, bzzt!” said Rotom brightly. “I like the sound of special equipment.”

“Don't get too used to it, you have to give it back when you're done,” laughed Acerola. She pulled a small purple gadget from her pocket and slipped it onto Rotom's side. It looked rather like a clamp or a vise, but didn't appear to be putting any pressure on the casing. Hau received a similar gadget in golden-yellow.

“These will enable your Pokédexes to take pictures of Ghost-type Pokémon who are otherwise invisible,” Acerola explained. “You have separate colors, so that the Pokémon know to keep you separate within the trial— but in all other aspects, the add-ons are identical.”

“Kind of tickles, bzzt,” mused Rotom.

“You'll get used to it. Anyway, the trial is to take four pictures apiece: one each of the three Pokémon who will cause disturbances around the store, and one of the Totem you face in battle. When you return outside with picture proof of your battles, you'll have passed my trial, and I'll award you with Ghostium Z.”

“That's it?”

“Well, you're obviously going to have to do some battling, but you should expect that about trials at this point.” Acerola smirked at them before turning around and skipping back to where the trial guide was sitting. “Have fun!”

Moon and Hau exchanged glances, but there was really nothing to do except face the trial. They walked forward, and the doors slid open with the same pneumatic hiss that any shop door might have made.

The inside of the Thrifty Megamart was much the same as the outside— especially because of the caved-in ceiling and open sky in one corner. However, most of the store's roof was intact, and the place was oddly neat. Piles of trash and broken shelves blocked off certain aisles, but otherwise there wasn't much in the way of litter.

“So far, so good,” said Hau, letting out a breath.

“Why would you jinx it like that?” Moon punched him in the shoulder.

They ventured a little further into the store. There was a clear pathway laid out— they had to weave through shelves and registers. Moon was leading the way, and Hau was a step behind her— he was considerably more nervous than Moon, but then again she had been to the memorial tower in Lavender Town, which was far creepier.

One of the belts on a register began moving by itself; at the same time, a plastic shopping basket rose in mid-air, bobbing from side to side.

“Arceus fuck!” shrieked Hau, dodging behind Moon.

“This is part of the trial,” said Moon, shaking him off; but she'd also jumped at the sudden noises. It was unsettling. “Um— you take the belt, I'll take the basket?”

“Y-yeah, okay. I guess.”

Moon went past the belt, holding up Rotom to point at the shopping basket. For a few moments, she didn't see anything through the view-finder except the floating basket; but then a large face popped up very close to the camera.

BOO!”

Moon shrieked and fell over; this in turn startled Hau, who tripped and stumbled into another register.

The Gastly that had startled her in the camera appeared, snickering softly to itself. “Boo, boo, boo,” it chanted.

“You're an asshole,” Moon informed it, getting to her feet.

“Boo, boo,” it agreed.

She took a picture of it sticking out its tongue at her before weighing her options and sending out Ben, to start the battle. He hissed at the Gastly, and took it out in one hit with Discharge.

Hau also faced a Gastly, which had not attempted to scare the hell out of him the way Moon's opponent had; and he beat it easily with Sonar, who chirped happily as he hung onto Hau's shirt. Moon let Ben stay out of the ball as well— it was better to be prepared. She held Rotom tightly as they all made their way deeper into the store.

In what had once been the section where fresh fruits and vegetables were displayed, they ran into another pair of ghosts. Three of the empty produce crates rose into the air, bouncing in a triangular pattern that suggested they were being juggled; and a rogue shopping cart began zooming in circles around the display.

“Dibs on the shopping cart,” said Hau, wrinkling his nose at the dust falling out of the crates.

“So you're leaving me the rotted food, huh?” But it had clearly all become dust by now; eaten by Pokémon or simply melting into nothing with time and weather. Moon didn't really mind. She pointed Rotom upward and was unsurprised to see a Haunter, leering at her as it juggled the crates.

“Very impressive,” she informed it, snapping a picture, “but I know a guy who can do five at once.”

The Haunter pouted at her before chucking the crates into one corner with an echoing crash and floating down to challenge her properly. Hau was also fighting a Haunter, which told Moon absolutely nothing about what the Totem could be. Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar weren't unique to Alola, and so far all of the Totems had been Alolan.

As with the two Gastly, Ben and Sonar were each able to defeat their respective foes with ease. Hau seemed to be relaxing a little bit. “This really isn't as bad as I thought it would be,” he remarked, placing his hands on his hips.

Something rattled and crashed, deeper within the shop.

“Seriously, why do you say things like that?”

Moon and Hau pressed forward, into the back shelves which were darker and dustier than the ones exposed to the light from the front windows. She could hear their footsteps, but there were also some quiet, echo-ey sounds that sounded an awful lot like a third person was in the store with them.

“You're hearing that too, right?” muttered Hau. His hand found hers, and Moon was grateful he was with her.

“Yeah. Kind of creepy, but probably just echoes.”

“Yeah, probably.”

They emerged into a slightly more open area, in the back of the store— this had clearly once been where frozen food or dairy products had been stored. There was even a door leading back to what had to be a stockroom, judging by the faint shapes of shelving units she could see through the window of the door.

There was also a display of Pokémon plushies— old and dusty, but still kind of cute. Moon could see Pikachu, Marill, and Clefairy chief among them, but there looked to be a few Eevee, Buneary, and Skitty as well.

Several of the Pokémon plushies rose into the air, simply hovering— but more ominously, the stockroom door swung open with a loud creaking sound.

“Are you telling us you want us to split up?” said Moon doubtfully, peering into her camera to look for a response.

The Gengar dangling the plushies and the Gengar who had pushed the door open both nodded.

“Well, as long as it's for the trial and nothing creepier,” remarked Hau, with a sigh. “You can stay here— I guess I'll check out the back.”

He sounded very reluctant, so Moon took pity on him. “I'll go in the back,” she assured him, walking toward the stockroom door with Ben at her heels. “I'm not having as hard a time as you are. Puck is part Ghost, after all. And so is Rotom.”

“I sure am, bzzt,” agreed Rotom.

“You're not picking up anything weird, right?”

“Nope, bzzt.”

“Then it'll be fine.” Moon waved at him. “Good luck with the Totem.”

“Yeah, you too.”

She followed the Gengar into the dark stockroom. It let the door close after her, but a dim white lightbulb flickered to life on the ceiling and provided Moon with enough light to snap a picture of Gengar.

It was a tough battle— Gengar were fairly powerful Pokémon, and even the weaker wild ones were a challenge for any Trainer. But it was still only one wild Pokémon, and Ben was well-trained enough to take a solid Shadow Ball before ripping into the Gengar with a nasty Thunder Fang. They traded hits until Ben knocked the Gengar out, leaving Moon alone in the stockroom.

“Where to now?” she wondered out loud, but she didn't have to wonder for long.

“Follow me, please!”

A man wearing a white T-shirt came walking toward her. He was very handsome— tanned and healthy, with golden-blond hair and deep blue eyes.

“Oh, hi,” said Moon, relieved. She recalled Ben; she wouldn't need him, if there was a person to guide her. “It's a relief to see another human being, to be honest. Gastly and Haunter and Gengar aren't too dangerous, but they've been making me jump. Are you going to take me to the Totem?”

“It's just this way. Follow me.”

Moon trailed after the man through the stockroom shelves, most of which were empty; but there was a large, clear area in the back and Moon assumed that the Totem must be somewhere nearby. She raised her Rotom-Dex to look through the view-finder, searching for a Pokémon that was out of place.

She did not expect to see the same blond man with a pair of jagged, bloody holes in the middle of his chest, clothes shredded and worn; there were dark circles under his eyes, and he had gone oddly sallow under the tan. Moon looked up from the viewfinder; without it, he was still the same beautiful-looking person, offering her an innocent smile.

There was a great scraping sound behind her; Moon whirled around to see the shelves pushing together, cutting off escape.

“Usually, I don't bother with the Trainers who come here,” said the man conversationally. “But then you and your friend show up. He's not terribly interesting either, but you— you're full of power, power that isn't your own. The Tapu's healing.”

The last word was spat nastily, his face twisting with rage. Moon swallowed.

“What about it?” she countered, trying to keep her voice steady.

He took steps toward her; his appearance flickered between the horror of the viewfinder and the good-looking man who had led her back here. “I just need to borrow that,” he said, stretching out his hand. “A bit of his healing. I'm just a ghost here, but he could bring me back. He should bring me back. I'm the kahuna.”

“No, you're not,” said Moon quietly. She had suspected the man's identity as soon as she'd seen the holes in his chest— Tapu Bulu was a bull, and bulls gored with their horns— but he had more or less confirmed it. “You violated whatever vows the kahunas make with the Tapus. Do you think what you did was going to protect the people and Pokémon of this island?”

“Of course it would have. Another Solgaleo and another Lunala— a legendary for every island, instead of four islands sharing two.”

“There's already a legendary for every island, as you well know.”

“But what good are the Tapus, if they won't let people have the power they deserve?”

He flickered again, but this time his appearance solidified as the dead man, the walking horror. He was still reaching out; Moon was backing away, and they were circling around the boxed-in part of the room. “If the Tapus really wanted to serve the people, they would do whatever they could to make them happy.”

“It goes both ways, Foxglove.” He blinked at the name, clearly surprised she knew it. “Did you do everything you could to make Tapu Bulu happy? Or were you being selfish and cruel by demanding more and more, never giving anything back?”

“Ah, but you have no room to talk, Moon Hawkins.”

Moon's blood went cold. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, it's surprising what you can learn when there are three generations of kahunas on one island.” He grinned, revealing rotting teeth. “There's old man Nanu, doing double time like he never wanted. He had to retire from Interpol to come back, and he was pissed enough about that. Didn't much like being the kahuna, but chasing down criminals was a fine old time for him. Then there's me, sitting pretty in a twice-cursed ruin... and then there's the young wanderer. I don't know much about him— he's never come my way. But he's got a stone from the Tapu, and he knows what it means. He knows he's next— but he thinks of you often. I've seen your face before— I've heard your name, in his memories and in his dreams.”

He lunged. Moon dove to the side, rolling onto her back and scrambling to her feet; but Foxglove, or his ghost, or whatever was chasing her had the advantage of being able to float and go through things. He phased through one of the heavy shelves, and the silence was almost overwhelming before she heard harsh breathing behind her.

Moon ducked to the side, and Foxglove passed right through where she'd been. He turned, face set with rage; something greenish-black crackled around his hands and flew toward her; it stung where it touched her skin and she flinched back.

A cold, solid hand curled around her wrist, where the Nihilego tentacles had done; sleepiness took hold and a sharp tingling began creeping up her arm.

“This will hurt a lot.” Foxglove grinned nastily. “But at least it won't last very lo—”

Dhel!”

A manhole cover in the center of the room burst into the air, followed by a rapid jet of dark, clear water. It splashed over Moon and Foxglove, and he reeled back, shrieking; the water seemed to have peppered him with burns of some kind and he vanished into thin air.

“Mise, mise!”

A single eye peered over the edge of the hole in the floor. Moon had never seen an anchor Pokémon before, but she trusted it a whole lot more than she trusted Foxglove's shade so she followed it down the hole. The manhole cover rattled into place after her.

“Are you the Totem?” she asked it, climbing down the latter.

“Dhel, dhel.”

“That's a Dhelmise, bzzt,” chirped Rotom. “Ghost- and Grass-types, just like your Decidueye. There doesn't appear to be a Totem aura of any kind.”

Moon glared at him. “And where were you, when I was getting my ass handed to me by an actual ghost?”

“I didn't find anything on the scans, so I didn't think my presence would be helpful, bzzt.”

Moon glared at it and shoved it back into her pocket, but Rotom made a very good point. 

She could see light as they walked down the tunnel— which smelled rank and nasty, possibly a former sewage line; but there was a fresh, salty breeze rolling in toward them, and she could see stars in a lavender-violet sky ahead.

“Has it really been that long?” she said, shocked. “Hau and I got here around eleven in the morning. They'll be wondering where I am.”

“Mise, dhel mise,” said the anchor impatiently.

They walked outside, onto the beach. Moon peered around, but all she could see was ocean, black sand, and tall cliffs to either side. The Dhelmise hurried to the water and slithered in, dropping out of sight beneath the waves.

“Uh— should I follow?”

Palo.”

Moon turned around.

She had emerged from what she thought was simply a dark, sandy hole in the cliffs; but she had been wrong. The largest sand-castle she had ever seen in her life towered before her, with sparkling eyes that identified it as a Pokémon. Moon had walked out to the beach through its gaping mouth.

“I've seen Sandygast before,” she said to Rotom, taking a few steps back. “I'm guessing this is the evolution?”

“That's Palossand, bzzt. Ghost- and Ground-type. But this is an unusually colored Palossand, bzzt— they're generally tan.”

“Well, the sand here is black.”

“True, but Sandygast can't be found on Ula'ula Island at all. They're native to Akala Island, bzzt.”

“Huh.” Moon studied the black Palossand. “So maybe it's a shiny?”

“That's quite possible, bzzt. But the important thing is that this is the Totem.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured as much.” She raised Rotom and snapped a picture before studying the Palossand, debating her options.

Ben was out, as was Hero— they shared a weakness to Ground-type and Hero was additionally weak to Ghosts. Macbeth was a possibility, though she still hadn't learned a Water-type move; but Puck had the advantage of super-effective Grass and Ghost moves, and Ariel was immune to both Ghost-types and Ground-types.

Moon began with Puck, knowing she could fall back on Ariel if things got dicey. The Totem started off strong with Shadow Ball, which was super-effective; but Puck bravely took the hit and she had him counter with Leaf Blade. It hit strongly; and as usual, the Totem called out for an ally.

Moon was not terribly surprised when the Dhelmise re-emerged from the water, eyeing her and Puck with both wariness and a touch of malevolence. The dank seaweed that dangled from its bars slid over the dark sand and whipped around as it, too, summoned a Shadow Ball.

Puck wasn't going to be able to take two Shadow Balls in a row without fainting, especially not after the hit he'd already taken; so Moon gritted her teeth and recalled him to bring out Ariel instead. The Dhelmise's attack was harmless, fizzing off with little more than an eye roll from her Toucannon. Moon weighed her options and decided to go with Beak Blast on the Dhelmise, as it would be super-effective against the Grass-typing; but then the Palossand delivered a nasty Psychic.

“Okay, no, that's got to be cheating! That's a major Special Attack move but it's definitely not your typing.”

The Palossand blinked innocently at her. Ariel used Beak Blast, knocking out the Dhelmise in one hit. Moon had to give Ariel a Hyper Potion, not wanting to take the risk of knocking the bird out; the Palossand retaliated with another strong Psychic and Moon, rather sourly, applied another potion.

After a couple more stalemate rounds just like that, the Palossand let out a weary sigh and used Giga Drain, which wasn't very effective. Moon took the opportunity to unleash Beak Blast again. It didn't knock out the Palossand, though she could tell it was not far off from fainting; instead, it called out for another ally.

A small, sparkling blur floated out from the Palossand's gaping mouth. Moon squinted.

“Klefki,” supplied Rotom without asking. “Steel- and Fairy-type. Native to Kalos and Alola.”

“Thanks.” Moon chewed on her lower lip, thinking. Ariel had Brick Break, which would at least hit for neutral damage versus the ineffective damage that could be done by Return, Beak Blast, or Steel Wing. The only problem with that was that she still had to account for the Palossand, which could certainly knock Ariel out with another powerful Psychic— whereas the Klefki wasn't likely to have anything that could knock out the Toucannon.

Of course, Moon had Z-Power on her side, and the Palossand did not.

The steps of Supersonic Skystrike were familiar to her by now, and Ariel was well versed in her role. She shot high into the air before coming down to crash-land on the Palossand, who fainted immediately. The Klefki tried for a more half-hearted Mirror Shot, but Moon gave Ariel a Hyper Potion and a couple of Brick Breaks later, it too had fainted.

Moon stood on the beach for a few moments, considering; but she had to go back and find Acerola if she wanted Ghostium Z so she took a few steps toward the tunnel.

“Tou cana,” said Ariel abruptly.

Moon turned, following her teammate's gaze, and was surprised to see a familiar figure on the beach, walking toward her.

Of course, the last time she'd seen someone she thought was a human, they had turned out to be a malevolent shade of someone who had died here.

“This will grant you safe passage back through the trial site.” Gladion— or what appeared to be Gladion; but he was wearing a long red duster, nothing like his usual attire. The moon had only just risen. Moon half moved to raise Rotom's camera, wondering if he would just be another illusion; but then she decided she didn't want to know.

He held out a slender metal chain, with a flat iron tab dangling from it. Moon recognized it as a Cleanse Tag, and she looped it twice around her wrist. It clicked oddly against her Z-Ring.

“I'm guessing you're just another local spirit, and you've taken a form I find friendly in order to be reassuring,” she answered. “Will that thingy— you know, Foxglove, or whatever? Will he be exorcised?”

“After tonight, he will be.” It was Gladion's voice, too; but nothing about his face indicated either illusion or reality. Part of Moon wanted badly to reach out and touch him, to simply grab his hand and see if he was warm; but she wasn't sure she could bear the disappointment if her hand went right through him.

“Go on,” he said, turning around to look at the ocean. “I can't cleanse the trial site until you've left.”

“Right.”

She hesitated one more time, watching his hands crammed into his pockets like usual; but he didn't turn back to look at her so she turned and walked back into the tunnel.

It was dark, and she wasn't quite sure where she was going— at least, not until a Pokémon skittered into view. Moon thought it was a Pikachu at first, until Rotom cleared its throat.

“Mimikyu, bzzt,” he said softly. “Ghost- and Fairy-type. It wanted to be as loved as Pikachu, so it dressed up like one in the hope that people would love it too.”

“Mimi,” ordered the little Pokémon, turning and hopping further into the tunnel.

Moon was rather alarmed when two long, dark hands snaked out from under the ragged puppet-cloth to pull the Mimikyu up the ladder; and she was even more alarmed when two more arms reached up to push the manhole cover out of the way.

Foxglove's ghost was waiting, though the shelves had been pushed back to where they were supposed to go and the water that had splashed him was gone. He still looked as though he'd been peppered with burns, and he glared hatefully at Moon but didn't approach.

“What was in the water?” she asked, curiosity overcoming fear now that she had the Cleanse Tag and the Mimikyu to escort her.

“Like I'd tell you, bitch,” he sneered.

“Kyu,” said the Mimikyu sternly, and a long, dark hand snaked out toward Foxglove, smacking at his foot.

He flinched back from it. “Salt,” he said sullenly. “It was salt. All the old stories you hear about salt, and iron, and things like that, keeping away the horrors of the night— they're true enough. Leave me be.”

Moon shrugged and walked away. Foxglove's mere presence had given her more questions than it had answers, but she wasn't too keen to stick around even if he couldn't harm her anymore.

The front of the Thrifty Megamart was eerily quiet as she passed back through it, and no Pokémon appeared to challenge her; soon she was walking out the front door, stopping in surprise when she saw not only Acerola and Hau, but Lillie, Molayne, and Professor Kukui, as well as some people in firefighters' uniforms congregating nearby.

“Moon!” shouted Hau, and everyone seemed to converge on her at once.

“How long was I gone?” she asked them.

“It's been nine and a half hours since you went in,” said Lillie, draping a blanket over Moon's shoulders. “Your shirt is wet, aren't you freezing?”

Moon looked down, surprised. She must have been splashed at some point, when the Dhelmise had sent salt water to keep Foxglove's shade back.

“Oh, no. Not really.”

“I told you all she would be back,” said Acerola, sounding exasperated. “If there had really been anything going on, I would have known about it. It's my trial site.”

“I mean, I'm pretty sure I was being harassed by Foxglove's ghost for some reason, but I don't know why,” said Moon, frowning at Acerola.

“Really? I just made that up to scare you!”

Boom.

A rush of heat and light behind Moon made her turn around, startled. The front of the Thrifty Megamart remained largely untouched, but the back half of it— the stockroom, realized Moon— had exploded in a gout of fire and rocks.

“Holy shit!” yelped Hau, grabbing Moon and Lillie and dragging them back to the trial barrier.

Moon stared at the fire, wide-eyed. The spirit that looked like Gladion had said they would exorcise Foxglove— was this how he'd done it?

Acerola didn't so much as bat an eye. “Hmm. I guess I'll need to sort out the sewer pipe for Palossand.”

Molayne and Professor Kukui both had worry knitted into their faces, but as Moon, Hau and Lillie came back toward them they smoothed into relief. The firefighters were already in action— running toward the fire with water tanks, Wailmer, and Octillery to battle the blaze.

“I don't think there's much for any of us to do,” said Molayne finally. “They've got this. I'm glad you're back safe, Moon. You're a good kid.”

“And whatever kept you in there so long is probably gone, yeah?” Professor Kukui slung an arm over her shoulder in a brief side-hug. “You three head on back to the Pokémon Center— I'm sure you need to sleep after a trial like that.”

“Oh, before I forget!” Acerola bounced toward them. “I gave Hau his already, but Moon, here's your Ghostium Z. And I've already taught you the dance for Never-Ending Nightmare— do you still remember it?”

“Yep.” Moon accepted the Z-Crystal, tucking it into the first free space on her Z-Ring without looking.

“Then you go on and have a good night! Congratulations on passing my trial.”

“Sorry for— you know, the explosion,” said Moon, gesturing at the burning building.

“Oh, no, it's not your fault! The stockroom was a really confusing way for Trainers to get down to Palossand anyway. Maybe I'll just build a staircase in the ashes and rubble, and Trainers can walk down in the open air. The pipe was kind of yucky anyway, don't you think?”

“It smelled.”

“Well, it was once the sewer main— but it hadn't been used very much before Tapu Bulu destroyed the store.” Acerola beamed at them. “I'll have a lot of fun remodeling the back, and I'm sure Palossand will appreciate it, too! I think Mimikyu likes the front to stay the same, so we'll keep that part.”

“Oh, did you fight a Totem Mimikyu?” said Moon, turning to Hau in surprise.

“Yeah. I guess you fought Palossand?”

“Yep. It was black like the sand, and Rotom said it was probably a shiny because Sandygast and Palossand aren't native to Ula'ula Island at all.”

“Really? That's really neat, then— shinies are rare, and good luck at that.” Hau grinned at her. “Seems like you could use some of that right now, eh? You did kind of accidentally blow up a trial site.”

“I didn't blow it up! I had nothing to do with it!” She considered telling Hau and Lillie about the spirit that looked like Gladion, but it wasn't the sort of thing that hurt particularly to keep inside, the way that the Nihilego experience had hurt her.

She did squint down in the direction of the beach where she had fought the Palossand. There were firefighters running up and down the hill, and it was illuminated enough that she could just make out the hole in the cliffside— but there was no sign of Gladion in the red coat. It seemed likely that he really had been just a spirit.

 

Chapter Text

Moon's experience at the Thrifty Megamart, and the ensuing exorcism-by-explosion, was just the beginning of a streak of bad luck. She hadn't had any nightmares that night, which was something; but she'd slept at a bad angle for her neck and it was aching when she woke up the next morning. A hot shower might have cured that problem, but it seemed that every Trainer in the entire Pokémon Center wanted to take a shower just then because the pipes would only bring her cold water. Moon took her cold shower with very bad grace and took a couple of painkillers to try and ease her neck. She couldn't find the clothes she'd laid out the night before until it was discovered that Ben had slept on them, and since he tended to toss and turn, her T-shirt was wrinkly and sparked with static every time she touched it— or, for that matter, anything else. Her hair was nearly back to her chin, and she wanted to chop it all off again because it kept falling out from behind her ear whenever she leaned forward or bent over. And when they left their rooms and went down to the café to eat breakfast, the skies had clouded over with the promise of heavy rain.

Things were not all bad, of course. There were fat Belue berry pancakes with maple syrup and whipped cream for breakfast, because she hadn't had Belue berries in far too long; and she'd earned Ghostium Z and then some the day before, so the triumph and satisfaction of it had carried over through the night. Even if things were, physically, rather dreary and exhausting— there were also little things to appreciate along with them. Life was nice like that sometimes.

“Bzz-zzt—”

Then again, sometimes it wasn't.

“You okay there, pal?” Moon squinted at Rotom, who was spinning in circles with a frown on its face.

“I'm g-getting some kind of sig-signal that's interfering with overall fun-functionality, bzzt.”

“That's weird.”

“R-running virus protec-tection now.”

“Mine's working just fine,” said Hau, holding up his plain Pokédex.

“And the app on my phone is also working,” agreed Lillie.

“So it's probably an issue with Rotom, and not the internet?” Moon frowned at Rotom.

“User err-error is much more com-common than hardware mal-malfunction, bzzt.” Rotom sighed heavily. “Vir-virus protection didn't find anything wrong.”

“It sort of sounds like you have the hiccups,” said Hau, straight-faced. “I bet that's something you never thought would happen. Robot hiccups, just imagine.”

Moon cracked up, and even Lillie giggled at the idea.

“It does seem improba-probable, bzzt.”

Rotom's screen began flashing in bright, hazy colors; Moon frowned and shook the casing a little bit.

“I'm no-not doing that, bzzt,” protested Rotom.

The hazy colors deepened and solidified, until Moon was looking at an oddly familiar face; there was shouting happening in the background as well. She could hear Hunter and Missy, as well as other voices she didn't recognize.

“Hi, Acerola,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

“Hi! Sorry for hijacking your Rotom-Dex, but it's part Ghost-type and that means it can help me talk to you even if I don't have a cell phone or a laptop or anything like that. Which I don't, because there's a house phone here and all the kids have a phone or a tablet anyway. Oh, and don't worry— Rotom won't be permanently affected by it.”

“Could you maybe get to the real point!” shouted Hunter in the background.

“Right, yes. There's been a break-in at Aether House and we need you to come and have a look.”

Moon stared at her. “Me? Why not call the police?”

“I've left a message with Officer Nanu, but he rarely answers his phone and there are... ah, extenuating circumstances.”

“Um, okay. We're on Route Fifteen, we'll come right up.”

“Thanks! I'll take the liberty of saving your contact information into Hunter's phone, in case I need to talk to you again. Bye!”

Acerola smiled cheerily, and her image vanished from the screen.

“I did not like that, bzzt,” said Rotom crossly. “If a Pokédex could experience indigestion, that's what it would have felt like.”

“Robot hiccups,” repeated Hau.

They weren't terribly far from Aether House— perhaps a ten minute walk. Moon, Hau, and Lillie had all been training in the tall grass, but it was easy enough to pack up and return to the main pathway.

“I hope they're okay,” said Lillie, eyebrows creasing with worry. “They were all shouting, and Acerola and Hunter said that there aren't usually any adults at the house.”

“She seemed pretty calm,” pointed out Hau.

“That doesn't guarantee anything. Acerola's idea of normality is probably a little skewed from the rest of us.”

The rain that had threatened to fall all morning was just beginning to drop as Moon, Hau, and Lillie reached Aether House. Missy was standing on the porch, squinting suspiciously at them— at Moon, specifically.

“This is all your fault,” she snapped, turning and yanking open the front door— and holding it as they went in, an oddly polite exchange.

Moon blinked, nonplussed. “What's all my fault?”

“That's nonsense, it is not Moon's fault,” said Acerola, rolling her eyes and putting her hands on her hips; at that moment Moon remembered that the trial captain was twelve going on thirteen, even if sometimes it felt like she was twelve going on sixty-three. “Thanks for coming— we've got a bit of a situation.”

She stood in the center of the front hallway; the living room they had been in only the day before contained a variety of kids and teenagers. Some were crying, some were shouting; regardless, all were upset. Hunter was sitting at the base of a staircase, staring off into space with his hands folded so tightly that the knuckles were turning white.

“What happened?” asked Hau, looking around in bewilderment.

“I'll tell you what's happened, some Team Skull dicks barged in here with guns and took all the Pokémon!” spat Missy.

Moon felt her jaw drop, and did her best to close it.

“They've never had guns before!” said Lillie, dismayed. “We know a few of them who are very nice.”

“Well, whoop-de-doo for you, but they still stole our Pokémon!”

“Missy,” said Acerola sharply. “Take Hunter into the kitchen.”

Moon, surprised, glanced at Hunter; he was still sitting on the bottom step but he was vibrating in place.

Missy stomped over, grabbing his hand and pulling him forcefully to his feet despite the fact that he had at least six inches on her. “Stop that. You're allowed to stim here.”

Hunter didn't look at her, or at any of them; he simply followed Missy to the kitchen, eyes blank and yet full of pain.

Acerola sighed. “Most of the kids here can't have their own Pokémon for legal reasons,” she explained. “I'm an exception, as a trial captain— though I've had mine long before I was appointed. Even if you're ten years old and you're allowed to own one, you usually have to have parents to sign off on the ownership forms. A few of them have their own, but they've been great about sharing with the others. The others belong to Aether House as a whole— and therefore, the government. There are about ten Pokémon in residence, not counting my team. They function as therapy Pokémon.”

Moon was intrigued. “Therapy Pokémon?”

“Orphans and kids in the foster system are at much higher risk to develop issues with emotional disturbance and their mental health!” shouted a teenage girl from the living room.

Acerola nodded. “We deal with that by having Pokémon around. But the reason I asked you here is because of the message that was left.”

She reached out and took Moon's hand, pulling her into the living room. Moon's eye, again, was drawn to the chalkboard; but it had been wiped clear of lists and drawings and replaced with a single scrawled note.

 

If you want to get your freak show Pokémon back, send that bitch Moon to Po Town to get them. ALONE. If you don't follow instructions they all die slowly. And don't send that ghost chick to sneak in either. We've got people who can hurt her.

—Team Skull

 

Moon stared at the message for a few moments. There was red welling up at the corners of her vision, but she did her best to keep it at bay. It wouldn't do any good to get angry... not, of course, that that was going to prevent it from happening.

“What did the Team Skull people look like? Or I should say, what color hair did they have?” She pulled Rotom from her pocket.

“There were four of them,” said the teenage girl. “Two dudes, two chicks. The dudes had black hair and like, light purple hair—”

“For Arceus' sake, not those knuckleheads,” said Hau under his breath.

“And the chicks had hot pink and dark blue hair.”

“Dark blue?” Moon frowned. “I haven't met any of them with dark blue hair. I think I know the other three, though.”

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: Do any of the girls on Team Skull have dark blue hair?

the girl with the curls: yea cassie does, why

shakespeare jr: I might've seen her today, just curious

 

“Kohaku, Emmett, Trinh, and I guess Cassie,” she announced to Hau and Lillie.

Hau's face fell. “Aw, Cassie, really? That makes it worse.”

“Isn't she the one you dated?” Lillie's nose wrinkled.

“In high school, well over a year ago, and it was a mutual break-up so there wasn't much in the way of hurt feelings on either end,” said Hau promptly.

“Anyway, they seem to want me to go to Po Town.” Moon considered this, then held Rotom up and snapped a picture of the message. “I need to run back to the Pokémon Center and get my stuff, but I can go immediately. I'm not really in any rush at the moment— Officer Nanu's supposed to be a hard person to get ahold of, so Hau and I were going to try and schedule Grand Trials by asking Hala to get in touch with him.”

Thank you,” said Acerola. She looked relieved, and confused, and lost— twelve years old. “I'd have gone, but I know what they mean by 'people who can hurt me.' They're not kidding.”

“What are we getting into?” asked Hau, folding his arms. “You said they had guns? I need to find whoever thought it would be a good idea to give Emmett a gun and beat some sense into them.”

The teenage girl in the living room shook her head. “He didn't have the gun. It was the chick with the blue hair.”

Hau winced. “Oof.”

“You dated her,” snarked Moon, earning herself an elbow in the ribs.

“Could we have a list of all the missing Pokémon, to ensure we get each of them back?” asked Lillie.

“Great idea!” said Acerola brightly. “Guadalupe, you think you could write that all down on the board? Moon can take another picture.”

“Yeah, on it.” The teenage girl picked up a piece of chalk, moving to one side of the board.

Moon turned to Hau and Lillie. “I'm not sure how long it's going to take me to get to Po Town from here. I've never been there so I can't fly by Charizard.”

“It's about a three-day trip,” said Acerola placidly. “A day on Routes Fifteen and Sixteen with a stop at the Pokémon Center there, a day through the hibiscus fields with overnight camping, and a day on Route Seventeen. Pack rain gear, but don't camp on Route Seventeen.” She cleared her throat. “As for Hau's question, about what you're getting into— well, you remember old Foxglove, may he rest in— peace.”

Moon snorted. “That sounded very sincere.”

“I mean it. He should rest in peace, and stay rested. The peaceful dead have no reason to try and return to the land of the living.” Acerola's eyes glittered for a moment. “Not that he'll be able to even try it anymore. But you remember that some of his Foxes still live in Po Town, yes?”

“Right, but didn't they call themselves Team Skull?”

“It never really stuck. Most people believe the two groups are one and the same. The difference is— well, the leadership plays a role in it.”

Moon's jaw clenched as she thought of Guzma and Plumeria— they could have ordered this. “Well, the ones who stole your Pokémon answer to modern Team Skull, so they've got some explaining to do.”

“Yes and no.” Acerola shifted, looking slightly uncomfortable. “You see, Team Skull as we know it today has more to do with... um, escape and mild rebellion. Team Skull as the former Foxes— well, they were Foxglove's minions, and you know how evil he was at the end.”

“Right. What does this have to do with us?”

“Given what I know of Team Skull, as we know it today— I don't think Guzma would order the kidnapping of ten therapy Pokémon. At least, he's not supposed to, because we have a deal where Team Skull leaves Aether House alone.” Acerola gestured toward Guadalupe and the now-completed list. Moon snapped a picture: Yungoos, Elekid, Jigglypuff, Granbull, Lillipup, Mudbray, Togedemaru, Oricorio (Pa'u), Buneary, Growlithe. “That's definitely more of a Foxes thing. They might be on house arrest in Po Town, but they're still dangerous and they still have some followers. Some of the kids in Team Skull probably think it's all one and the same, and I bet the kidnappers have taken advantage of that.”

It was all news to Moon, though Hau and Lillie had both nodded thoughtfully— they knew more about the history of it all than she did, so Acerola's theory probably had merit.

“So I get to Po Town. Do I waltz right in and get the Pokémon?”

“If the Foxes sent these kids, then probably not.” Acerola frowned. “They're the ones who keep outsiders out of Po Town, and they've got some Hex Maniacs among their number so me taking you in with Shadow Sneak is out of the question. Officer Nanu can probably get you in, though; he lives on Route Seventeen."

“And I need to stay kind of in hiding?”

“In Po Town itself, yes. But the big gray house at the very end of the town is safe. That's modern Team Skull territory.”

“And you can't take me there either?”

“The Hex Maniacs would still know.” Acerola's mouth went flat. “I saw some of the kids in Team Skull get punished by the Foxes one time, just because I visited. I don't think they should have to do that again.”

“Yeah, we don't want that.” Moon nodded. “All right, if that's everything, I'll head out and get back to the Pokémon Center to grab my stuff.”

“Us, too,” added Hau, indicating himself and Lillie.

She frowned at them. “The note says to go alone.”

“Yeah, to Po Town. Nothing says we can't go with you as far as Route Sixteen. And I don't think any of us have ever been to the hibiscus fields, so we'll go that far with you anyway.”

“I have a rather selfish interest in going,” admitted Lillie. “I'd like to see the hibiscus fields, but I've also been considering a fifth teammate. I know I haven't had Esper for a terribly long time, but she's doing very well and growing nicely so I think we're ready for the next one.”

“What do you want to catch?”

“Oricorio or Cutiefly— I haven't completely decided.”

They'd been making their way to the door as they spoke; and Acerola followed them outside, closing the door. “Thank you again,” she said, her voice small against the heavy rain that was beating down on the porch roof. “This— this is really important. They need those Pokémon. Hunter in particular adores Annabel— excuse me, the Elekid. He says the sparks that come off her fur feel nice, and she also purrs to calm him down. It means a lot that you would go and do this for us.”

“Why wouldn't I? My name was, I don't know— evoked, in an attack on you. That makes it partly my responsibility.”

“I bet it's Emmett and Kohaku trying to get revenge for Lillie beating them so soundly a couple of days ago.” Hau pulled the hood on his jacket up over his dreadlocks, protecting them from the weather. “Give it three, maybe four days— Moon will be back before you know it, with all of the stolen Pokémon.”

Acerola waved them off through the rain, but the worry had not creased itself away from her eyebrows. Moon, Hau, and Lillie nearly ran back to Tapu Village— the time it would have taken for a Charizard to ride would have been longer than the walk. From there they only took about twenty minutes to pack their things and stock up on supplies, including sandwiches for lunch. They also stopped by the one shop that sold rain and snow gear so that Moon could purchase a good raincoat, as well as a small plastic tarp to wrap around her backpack; and then they were headed back out to Route Fifteen.

“Moon?” said Hau cautiously, after a good ten minutes of silent walking. “Are you doing okay?”

“I am really, really fucking angry right now.”

“Yeah, I don't blame you.”

“They used me.” She could feel her shoulders wanting to hunch in, but she needed to carry her backpack without hurting her back so she forced them to remain straight. “They used my— my sense of justice, I guess. Kohaku obviously wants some kind of revenge on me, and he knew he could get me to come if he made it so that I had to be the one to do the rescue.”

“Moon,” protested Lillie.

“You remember what he said, right? Just two days ago.” It felt like a lifetime, after the strangeness of her trial; but the memory was coming back with appalling clarity. “'People are just little puppets. With the right words, you can make them do anything you want.' Well, he's got me where he wants me. I have to go. How could I not? How could I see Hunter and Missy, and all of those kids who have enough on their fucking plates to deal with, and say 'Nope, not my problem?' That asshole knew that, and he knows I'll play right into his fucking trap.”

There was another silence, but this one was shorter. “You think it's a trap, then?” said Lillie cautiously.

“It's got to be. I don't see what else they'd want to see me for. I've got some kind of... I don't know, credit with Guzma and Plumeria. If they wanted me to come they could just send a fucking text. It's got to be Kohaku, and something to do with the Foxes. There's a— a split, in Team Skull.” She was rambling now, theorizing on little more than gut instinct; but Hau and Lillie listened. “Molly and Rogelio have kind of accidentally mentioned something like it, but they wouldn't explain it to me. I was fine with that, because until now it hasn't been any of my damn business. But now it is.”

“How can you be sure that Molly and Rogelio aren't on Kohaku's side of the split?” said Hau softly.

“I—” Moon choked on the words.

“Oh, Moon.” Lillie's hand slipped into hers, small and soft and comforting. “It's okay. It's okay to cry. Talk to us.”

She took a deep breath. “Remember when I was so absolutely sure that I could fix whatever problem I had with Gladion just by talking to him?”

“I wouldn't put it that way, but I know what you're talking about.”

“And then I was wrong, I was so goddamn fucking wrong, and it made everything worse.” A dull pain in her hands told her that she needed to stop clenching her fists, or her fingernails might break skin. “So I— I can't talk to Molly and Rogelio. I asked them who had dark-blue hair on Team Skull, but that's a really innocent question. I can't ask them anything else, because I don't know what's going on.”

“So your only source is Officer Nanu, and that's if you can even find him.” Hau let out a heavy sigh. “Man, this sucks.”

“I can't even call law enforcement. I don't know what they'll do to the Pokémon.” Moon thought of Kohaku, avidly watching as Trinh sliced off a Slowpoke's tail. “So it's just me, against an entire town of people who don't want me in there, trying to pull off a rescue mission.”

It was a lot, and combined with all the other things she'd been through— the Nihilego, Horatio, getting lost in the desert, Foxglove's interference with her trial, and all of the ups and downs with Gladion— there was something wailing in the back of her head, something that pounded like a heartbeat in her ears and shut out every other noise. Moon tried to shut it out, tried to keep breathing; but the chaos wouldn't give way.

Moon.”

Lillie's voice, ordinarily gentle, was sharp with reprimand. Moon blinked at her, confused.

“You're fine,” said her friend firmly. They had stopped walking, and Lillie and Hau both stood in front of her. Lillie had both of her hands wrapped around Moon's wrists; Hau was holding out Moon's water bottle. “Drink. It will help.”

She was surprised to find that the water did, in fact, help.

“What was that?”

“It might have been a panic attack. People can experience them without necessarily having anxiety.” Lillie let go of Moon's arms. “Try not to clench your hands like that— you nearly broke my fingers.”

“Oh, god. I'm so sorry.”

“It's all right, you didn't know what you were doing. Take off your Z-Ring and fidget with it; it's something for your hands to do.”

“All right.”

They kept walking, turning past the path that led up to Aether House and heading downhill. Moon played with her Z-Ring, thumbing over each crystal embedded in the band. Some of them were missing, as her Pokémon held them. Puck had Decidium Z, Ariel had Flyinium, and Ben had Electrium, so those spaces were empty; but the rest were lodged in place. Normalium, Waterium, Firium, Grassium, and Ghostium for the trials; Fightinium and Rockium for the Grand Trials; and—

“Wait, what the hell?”

She had never seen this crystal before, but there it was in her bracelet all the same.

“What is it?”

“I'm— not sure.” Moon pulled it out with a click to get a closer look. The crystal was a deep pink. “I don't remember getting this Z-Crystal.”

“When was the last time you checked your Z-Ring?”

Moon glanced at Hau with a slight frown. It wasn't the sort of question she'd expected him to ask. “I put Ghostium Z in last night, but— well, she handed me the crystal and I kind of slapped it in without looking. So it's been at least a few days. I probably checked it when we were on Route Thirteen.”

“Hmm.” Hau's eyes darted quickly to Lillie, and then back to the pink crystal. “Weird. The color means Psychium Z or Fairium Z, wouldn't you say?”

“Yeah.” Moon was struck with an odd reminder. “When we did Kiawe's trial, he taught you the Z-Dance for Psychium Z, right?”

“Yeah, it was the first one.”

“But he didn't teach anything for Fairium, which probably means someone else is going to do that. It'll be either a trial or a Grand Trial. So I bet that's Psychium Z.”

It was a logical conclusion to make, but there was only one way to know. Moon pulled out Hero's Pokéball and applied the mystery Z-Crystal before wading into the tall grass. There was quite a lot of it on by the road— a hill that sloped down to a rocky, white-sanded beach.

Sure enough, the crystal was Psychium Z. Moon was a bit rusty on the dance for Shattered Psyche, but she remembered it well enough for Hero to pull the move off and knock out a Snorunt in one hit.

“Nice,” she said finally, recalling Hero. “We'll keep that on, then. I guess I've got one more than you, Hau, but I don't know where I could have gotten it.”

“Right, I guess so.”

Moon hadn't expected him to be upset or anything, but he didn't even grumble jokingly and that, for Hau, was unusual. She studied him, watching the way he kept looking at Lillie. Sure, there was whatever he was usually feeling when he looked at Lillie, be it fondness or admiration or simply love; but there was also something guilty in it. Lillie's expression showed only worry for the missing Pokémon in the wrinkle of her eyebrows, but Moon knew that Lillie was a very good liar when she had to be.

They knew something, and they weren't telling Moon. Arceus only knew she probably deserved to be kept out of the loop, but it was a rather wretched feeling all the same.

The rain had been dying down somewhat since they had left the Pokémon Center, and by the time they got to the bottom of the hill it had decreased to little more than a sprinkle. Down on the beach, Moon was prepared to pull out her Ride Pager and summon Lapras to carry her; but Hau frowned.

“I think Acerola was maybe supposed to give us a new Ride Pokémon,” he said, pointing at the large boulders that blocked off a lot of the ocean, creating an inconvenient maze of rocks. The Route Sixteen Pokémon Center was already visible, a red speck on the far end of the shore; but going through every twist and turn of the maze would take them hours. “I think it's Sharpedo? Or maybe Wailord, they could probably slam through.”

“I don't think there'd be enough room for a Wailord to swim in that mess.”

“Well, yeah. Gramps mentioned something about breaking boulders.”

“Ah,” said an unfamiliar voice. “You refer to the practice of Sharpedo Jet?”

Moon turned and was surprised to see a tall, slim man in a white kimono with ornate black trimming. It threw her rather for a loop— being from Kanto, she was fairly accustomed to seeing kimonos even though they were more common in Johto; but men's kimonos tended to be in dark, subdued colors. There was nothing particularly subdued about the bright white fabric this man wore. He had a thin scarf as well, looped once around his neck— and it appeared to be made of the same black material as the kimono trimming.

“Am I really that good-looking?” said the man, amused. “Mercy, I shall have to tell Shauntal— not that she'll find it funny. Perhaps Marshall will be amused... or even the brats.”

Moon flushed. The man was rather good-looking, but that was besides the point; and she was able to identify the accent as he spoke. “You're wearing kimonos, but you're definitely Unovan,” she retorted. “That's why I was staring.”

“I was actually born in Kalos, but I do call Unova home.” He flashed a quick, bright grin, and suddenly she recognized his face as well.

“You're Grimsley.”

“Ah, someone's watched plenty of Elite Four battles!” He bowed rather mockingly. “At your service.”

“Holy crap, you're Grimsley? The Grimsley?” Hau's eyes were round.

“The one and only. And you are?”

“Um— I'm Moon, this is Hau, and this is Lillie.”

“A pleasure to meet you all. You were discussing how to cross the lake, were you not?”

“We were.”

“Hmm.” His eyes glittered in amusement. “It's a very long journey, by Lapras. It's possible to get through the maze, but given the time— oh, it's nearly lunchtime, isn't it? Yes, you wouldn't get there until one in the morning, probably.”

“That's twelve or thirteen hours.” Moon winced, turning to Hau and Lillie. “We'd better get going if we actually want to sleep tonight.”

“Well, you could,” said Grimsley, examining his fingernails. “Or perhaps you'd like to make a little wager with me.”

Moon remembered that Grimsley was a gambler— his Elite Four chambers were usually themed around casinos or cards. “What kind of wager?”

“Oh, it's nothing that will harm you terribly if you lose. But you do seem to be in a hurry, don't you? This could save you some time.”

“What happens if I lose?”

“You'll owe me a favor.” His smile stretched a little further. “I'd find you, when I needed to collect.”

“And if I win?”

“I code Sharpedo into your Ride Pagers, and you can smash your way straight through the maze and get there in— oh, I don't know, four or five hours, instead of thirteen.”

“That would be really good,” said Hau quietly. “You don't know what's waiting for you in Po Town, Moon. Getting to the Pokémon Center earlier means we'll get more sleep, and you'll be better prepared for everything if you've slept well.”

“Ah, Caitlin would approve of that philosophy. What do you say? Will you chance it?”

“Yes, but I claim the right to refuse your favor if it's illegal or unethical.”

“I would never ask you to do such a thing,” declared Grimsley. One hand rose to his chest, a bright silver coin wedged between two long, thin fingers. “Uncle Grimsley's going to flip a coin. Will it be heads, or tails?”

Moon had been having shitty luck all morning, and she was sick of it; but she didn't hesitate. “Tails.”

“That was very quick. Are you sure?”

“Would you just flip the damn coin?”

He laughed, sonorous and brilliant; the coin flicked high into the air before falling, tumbling down and landing on Grimsley's palm before he slapped it onto the back of his other hand, resting them together for a few moments before displaying the coin.

The tell-tale zigzag of a Pikachu's tail faced upward.

“Astonishing.” His smile was remote, but genuine. “You took a stab in the dark, like some kind of prophet. A bet is a bet. Hand me your Ride Pagers.”

“Nice one, Moon!” Hau gave his Ride Pager to Grimsley, pumping one fist in the air. “That's going to help a lot.”

Grimsley returned Hau's Ride Pager, and took Moon's for a few moments as well. “There you are,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back. “I wish you success on your journey, wherever it may lead you.”

And with that, he began walking uphill, away from the beach.

“We should eat lunch first,” said Lillie, before Hau could summon a Sharpedo. “We might not be able to eat on the water, and it will still be a few hours before we can get to the Pokémon Center to dry off.”

“Yeah, good point.”

Moon opened a sack of beans and let all of the Pokémon with them at it, though Poppy dove into the water to hunt for live Wishiwashi or Finneon while Puck and Ariel hopped into the grass to look for Bugs. She and Hau and Lillie ate their sandwiches standing up, which was annoying but better than sitting on wet sand or grass and getting more soaked than they already were. Moon's raincoat and the plastic she'd wrapped around her backpack were doing wonders for her general mood, but Hau and Lillie were both rather damp yet, and the end-of-November chill that was approaching wasn't nice for any of them.

“When's your birthday, Lillie?”

Lillie blinked. “Um— it's still a couple of weeks off. Why do you ask?”

“Assuming it doesn't take me that long to get the Pokémon back from Po Town, and assuming we can find Officer Nanu to do the Grand Trials, we'll probably be on Poni Island by then.” Moon frowned. “There's only a couple of towns on Poni Island, aren't there?”

“Yeah,” said Hau, nodding. “We might be celebrating your birthday out in the wild.”

“Oh, I don't mind,” murmured Lillie, face going pink. “It's fine, really.”

Moon looked at Hau, raising her eyebrows. “We're going to throw her the party she deserves no matter where we are.”

“Obviously, but I'm just saying it might be a little rougher than the Pokémon Centers.”

Lillie's flush was growing deeper and deeper as they spoke, but it cheered Moon up immensely to think that they were probably discussing another first for her friend. She had grown up sheltered and lonely, which meant that it was unlikely she'd ever had a birthday party thrown by her friends. And if they were on Poni Island then perhaps they could invite Hapu as well.

Lunch was soon finished, and Moon and Hau— not without a little trepidation— summoned a pair of Sharpedo with their Ride Pagers. Despite the Pokémon's breed reputation for viciousness, both of the Sharpedo were very well-behaved as Moon and Lillie climbed on one, and Hau on the other. Generally Lillie chose to share a Ride Pokémon with Hau, which was one of the factors in Moon's suspicion that Lillie had harbored a return crush for much longer than she chose to let on; but Sharpedo were slick even with the saddles, and not terribly large. It was more practical for Lillie to share with Moon than with Hau, who was tall and broad-shouldered to begin with.

At first Moon didn't mind the Sharpedo's speed, but when it aimed squarely at a large boulder, she couldn't help but flinch right before impact. The boulder exploded around them as Sharpedo carried them right through the debris in the waves.

There were not only rocks but also Trainers to contend with, among the waves. Moon didn't particularly want to fight any of them, but she soon learned that it was faster to simply send out Ben and finish the battle, than it was to try and explain that she was in a hurry. Most of the Trainers working on the route seemed to have Water-type Pokémon, which she supposed made sense— it was easier to train Water-types, especially water breathers, in the actual water instead of on land. It was for this reason that Hau was working with Poppy— she was more mobile than any of the others in the water, except for Sonar. Moon's choice to use Ben was more about powering through the maze than anything else.

“Ben can now learn Thunder, bzzt,” reported Rotom, after a particularly satisfying battle against an Ace Trainer with a Sandshrew, a Haunter, and a Wigglytuff. “Would you like to teach him?”

Moon considered for a few moments, studying the helpful information about the move that Rotom had pulled up on its screen. Ben, perched on her knee, rolled his eyes in impatience.

“The high power is good, but I don't really like that seventy percent accuracy,” she said doubtfully.

“Doesn't Thunder gain one hundred percent accuracy in the rain?” Lillie peered over her shoulder at the screen.

“Yeah, I'm pretty sure it does. Still, I'd have to teach him Rain Dance and that feels like such a waste...”

“Moon, you're on your way to Po Town, where it is always raining. You're not going to have to worry about that for a while.”

“Ooh, I like the way you think.” Moon replaced Discharge with its more powerful counterpart, sending Ben back to his ball as she did so. “I dunno why I didn't think of that. Now I feel kind of dumb.”

“Well, you are rather understandably distressed today,” said Lillie gently. “Give yourself room to make mistakes. There's— there's no good in beating yourself up over things you can't control.”

Lillie's voice trembled at the end of her statement, so Moon simply nodded and gave her friend some time to collect herself as their Sharpedo blasted through another boulder. Hau seemed to have overcome his initial hesitation, and was cheerfully doing stunts like jumps and flips with his Sharpedo, standing on its back as though he were Mantine-surfing and hanging onto the reins by wrapping them around one wrist.

“I'm glad he's having a good time, despite all this.”

Moon opened her mouth to reply, but thought better and closed it.

“He's— he's really something, you know?” Lillie spoke softly, practically into Moon's ear due to the way they were both jammed into the single-rider saddle. “I don't think I've ever met anyone who would do more just to make someone else happy.”

“Are you done being in denial about it?”

Lillie snorted. “I've never been in denial about it,” she said plainly. “I just don't wear my heart on my sleeve.”

“Why not?”

For a few moments Lillie was quiet, and Moon was afraid she'd been a little too rude; but then her friend answered.

“I've been trained not to.”

“By your mother?”

“By myself,” corrected Lillie. “A coping mechanism, to avoid becoming the target of her ire. I was much better at it before— before my brother ran away. He was always the one Mother picked on. He used to be much more like our father, but Mother rather trained most of that out of him.”

“Or she thinks she did,” suggested Moon. “I bet he's still who he was originally, under whatever your mother did to him. Just like you're still who you are, despite all the things you've been through.”

“And so are you,” Lillie reminded her. “And so is Hau— and so is Gladion.”

Moon thought about that for a few moments.

“Do you think Gladion's maybe always been a jerk?” she said finally.

“I don't think anyone is mean by default. You remember times when he was kind, don't you?”

“Well, yeah.” The entire day in Wela Volcano Park and the Ariel-Null playdate on the rocky Route Eight beach were proof enough of that, but she also had entire conversations in her phone that proved as much.

“He was probably mean because he was angry. You've said unkind things when you were angry, too.”

Trinh popped into mind automatically; but so did Gladion, and even Molly and Rogelio. She'd been mean to all of them. Moon winced. “I feel like such a hypocrite.”

“Everyone's been a hypocrite at some point,” said Lillie sensibly. “What other good traits do you think Gladion has?”

“He's sweet.” Moon was sure of that much. “Much shyer than me, especially when it comes to— well, dating. Flirting, relationships, that sort of thing. He could be really smooth over text, and even sometimes out loud. But mostly he was really shy about it, and that was... well, really cute.”

Lillie hummed noncommitally. “Anything else?”

“He's really smart. He's got common sense, which is rare. And he's observant. He doesn't let me get away with anything.”

“It sounds like you've forgiven him.”

“I mostly have.” It was a relief to say out loud, given the day's events. “Don't get me wrong, I still have things to say to him— especially if it turns out he was part of this whole thing with the stolen Pokémon.”

Lillie winced. “I didn't think about that.”

“Lucky you,” said Moon dryly. “He was mean to me when he didn't have to be, there's no getting around that. But I think after learning more about him from Molly and Rogelio and Plumeria, and after seeing him randomly all over the island and talking to him at the bazaar— I think I understand him a little better.”

“I'm proud of you,” said Lillie softly, resting her chin on Moon's shoulder. “I'm only a year and a couple of months younger than you, but I'm still proud of you.”

It was cold and wet and dismal, but Moon's heart warmed her from chest to fingertips. “And that means more than you know.”

 

Chapter Text

Moon had never been so grateful for hot water as she had been when they had arrived at the Route Sixteen Pokémon Center— which was a bit of a misnomer, for it stood at the junction of Routes Fifteen and Sixteen. It might have been better named the Ula'ula Meadow Pokémon Center, because most of Route Sixteen ran through the wild red hibiscus of the island.

After hot showers and a good night's sleep, listening to the last pitter-patter of the day's storm, Moon, Hau, and Lillie were more than ready to continue the journey. They did take the next day's journey a bit slower, since the only sensible place to pitch a tent to camp was on the border of Routes Sixteen and Seventeen; a brisk walk would get them there by lunch, and Lillie had a purpose in coming to Ula'ula Meadow.

She had a Nest Ball in one hand and her phone in the other, hunting for Cutiefly among the flowers. Hau was training in a different part of the meadow, well away from Lillie so as not to interfere with her catching process; and Moon was taking pictures, because Ula'ula Meadow was the sort of place you had to take pictures of. The crimson flowers stood out strongly in Rotom's viewfinder, and did not fade when the pictures were saved. Moon was half-tempted to send some to Gladion, but then she remembered that he was Team Skull and she couldn't be sure that it was safe to let him know where she was.

“Why Cutiefly?” she asked Lillie. “Snowfall and Esper already have Fairy-type, and you have a lot of things covered where you might need Bug-types.”

Lillie shifted uncertainly. “It... appeals to me, on multiple levels,” she said finally. “I've always liked Fairy-types. Cutiefly and Ribombee also produce pollen puffs, which are a delicacy in Pokémon cuisine.”

She didn't offer any further reason, and while Moon knew this meant she should mentally file this under “don't ask because it probably has to do with the past,” she was reminded of whatever secret that Hau and Lillie were keeping from her— the secret that had to do with Psychium Z. Moon tried to tamp down her irritation— people could keep secrets from each other even if they loved them; her father had said as much only a couple of weeks ago.

Moon turned away, peering through Rotom's viewfinder to look for something interesting to capture; but a familiar figure caught her eye as he sauntered along the pathway from Route Seventeen.

“Hey,” she said slowly, zooming in with Rotom. “It's that Aether Foundation guy— Faba. The one who looks like a Bug.”

She heard Lillie's sharp inhale and turned to look at her friend, surprised; but saw only a flash of pink-streaked blonde braids before the meadow appeared to be undisturbed. “I'm not here,” said Lillie shakily, her voice echoing from under the wooden walkway where Moon was standing. “Don't tell him I'm here, don't say my name, don't mention Nebby— please.”

“Of course,” said Moon, nonplussed. “Are you— is everything okay?”

“I— I'm fine. I'm going to be fine.” It sounded as though she were trying to convince herself, rather than Moon. “It's fine.”

“Right.”

She wasn't nearly as good an actor as Lillie, but she could manage. She took Rotom down, pretending to examine the photos she was taking, while discreetly pulling up the text conversations.

 

chat: IKI SQUAD

 

shakespeare jr: Hey Hau if you come back over here do not ask where Lillie is or even acknowledge her existence.

lillie-pad: Please!!!!!!!!!!!!

walking malasada: ok????

walking malasada: wait that's totally bug dude

shakespeare jr: Yep

 

“What an interesting coincidence, running into you here,” said Faba. Moon turned around, pasting what she hoped was a surprised expression on her face.

“Oh, hey,” she said, tucking Rotom into her pocket. “What brings you all the way out here? There's not much after Tapu Village.”

“Not in the way of civilization, no; but there are plenty of diverse and interesting Pokémon species. Particularly here in the meadow. Did you know it is home to the Baile variety of Oricorio?”

Moon stared him down for a few moments, then took Rotom back out of her pocket and held it up.

“Yes,” she said flatly. “I had Rotom do a scan as soon as we got here.”

“The following Pokémon can be found here: Ledian, Ariados, Cottonee, Petilil, Floette, Oricorio, Cutiefly, and Ribombee, bzzt,” chirped Rotom.

Faba's head cocked to the side. “Fascinating,” he said, studying Rotom with interest and— Moon noticed with discomfort— envy. “I applied to Professor Kukui to receive a Rotom-Dex, but I was turned down.”

“I can't imagine why.”

“Neither can I,” said Faba, either misinterpreting or ignoring Moon's sarcasm. “The Professor's response said something along the lines of having incompatible personality issues, but that's clearly nonsense. Pokémon are compatible with all personalities. I would venture to guess that there is professional jealousy involved. The Aether Foundation has cutting-edge technology, whereas Maleko Kukui has a beach shack full of holes and a dial-up modem.”

“Wow,” said Moon brightly. “He's sure done a whole lot more with far less resources than you have, huh?”

Faba squinted at her for a few moments, nostrils flaring in what Moon assumed was disdain.

“I am here for other reasons, of course,” he said, evidently deciding to change the topic. “Ula'ula Island has a rich and varied history, and it is where the alien Necrozma has been most often spotted. I have been attempting to work through the Necrozma issue on my own, as befits a qualified and prestigious researcher.”

“Of course you have,” said Moon under her breath.

“In this pursuit, I am traveling to various locations that have recorded evidence of Necrozma's presence, and scanning for lingering auras of Ultra Space and the wormholes formed by those that travel within it.”

“Sounds fun,” said Moon, crossing her arms. “I hope you know what machines you're using so you don't open up a wormhole by accident.” She paused, more for effect than anything. “You know, again.”

Faba's nostrils flared again, but Moon was neither scared nor impressed by him. She kept her arms folded, staring him down until he broke eye contact, turning away.

“In my day, children were more respectful to their elders,” he said— obviously a remark not intended for her ears, but Moon chose to reply to it anyway.

“I'm legally an adult, and I'll respect you when you've done something to earn it.”

“Good day,” said Faba, his tone clipped, and marched past her with surprising speed in the direction of Route Fifteen.

 

chat: IKI SQUAD

 

walking malasada: is he gone

shakespeare jr: Yeah

 

Hau came wading back through the flowers, frowning in confusion. “Where's Lillie?” he asked quietly.

Moon hopped down into the plants herself, pointing beneath the wooden walkway and ducking under. Hau followed, and they made themselves at home in a small hollow in the earth where Lillie was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees, curled up and not looking at them.

“It's all right,” said Hau gently, reaching out to tap at her hand with one finger. “It's just us now. He's gone.”

Lillie lifted her head; her eyes were red-rimmed, but she seemed relatively composed.

“I'm not— demanding an explanation,” said Moon, even though there was a part of her that sorely wanted to do exactly that. “Just tell me if I'm wrong. You're scared of him, I'm guessing— because you know him?”

“It's not that difficult to put together,” said Lillie, and there was a touch of bitterness in her voice. “I did my best to avoid the topic, but the Aether Foundation will inevitably come up at some point, when Trainers are on their island challenge.”

“He's a scientist,” said Hau— slightly horrified. “He said he's head of Research and Development at Aether. And you said Nebby was hurt by scientists.”

At this Lillie's bag wiggled, and Nebby's head peeped out of the top. It was the first time Moon had seen Nebby look scared, and she found that she did not like it at all.

“He tortured her,” she realized. Nebby shrank back slightly into the bag. “And you tried to stop it, and Phyco and Soliera were involved— shit, they were at Aether Paradise when we were there, and I didn't think anything of it.”

“You had more important things to be worrying about,” said Lillie, with a shrug. Her hands moved automatically, brushing gently through Nebby's spacedust-cloud to pat her little head. “I'm glad you didn't notice. It meant I could— pretend, for a little while longer.”

Hau frowned. “Pretend what, exactly?”

“That I'm— that I'm a normal Trainer with some anxiety issues, no more nor any less than any other person, and not a runaway and a Pokémon thief.”

Moon rolled her eyes. “You're not a thief, Lillie.”

“Nebby was in a Pokéball, which I broke in order to remove her from the system.”

“Should they have had her in a Pokéball in the first place?” said Moon pointedly. “She's probably from either the Altar of the Moone or the Lake of the Sunne, and those are like, holy to Solgaleo and Lunala so they shouldn't have been catching Pokémon from there anyway.”

“The Altar of the Moone.” Lillie's mouth quivered. “I suppose you're right, but I've never been able to bring myself to feel that way.”

“So you were— what, working for the Aether Foundation?”

Something like relief flashed over Lillie's face. “Yes,” she sighed, leaning forward. “I've always been ahead of the curve in academics, and I started— an internship, I guess you could call it, in R&D at the beginning of the previous school year. At first it was normal intern sorts of things. Making coffee, fetching and carrying, and so on. Then once I'd proven myself to be helpful and efficient, I was allowed to begin laboratory observations starting in January.

“I had met Faba—” Her voice twisted as she spoke his name. “—before that, of course. He had to interview me to approve the internship. But now I was working closely with him, almost as his assistant more than anything else. At first the experiments were with other Pokémon. They were normal, ethical experiements. Behavioral studies, training with positive reinforcement and that sort of thing. Then— some of the field scientists came in with Nebby. There were, um, unusual readings. Things that showed up as anomalies in the regular scans. Faba wasn't terribly invested in working with Nebby since she wasn't a very compliant research subject, but his, um, his superior was invested. So he focused a lot on her. And—”

Lillie's breathing had been ragged, but until this point it hadn't prevented her from speaking entirely. Nebby had vanished into the bag entirely, but a sad, muffled pew told them she was still listening.

“It's okay,” said Hau softly. “It's okay. Take your time.”

“It was— it was awful.” Tears streamed down her face. “Nebby's mostly gas, you know. She doesn't have limbs, so it's difficult to restrain her. They gave us oxygen tanks and piped a paralytic gas into the room, which kept her from moving but not from feeling pain. I could see it in her face. That was where most of the pain happened— it was the solid part of her, so it was where they did injections, and, and cuts, and all kinds of— a lot of nasty things. Collecting blood was one thing, but they usually took more than they should have. I showed Faba the math once, and he said it didn't matter.”

Moon's desire to strangle Faba increased monumentally in that moment, and from the expression on Hau's face he felt similarly.

“It was only then that I began to realize that pain was the point. They had the aura scanners in the lab. Faba would hurt Nebby and check the scanners, over and over. The worst pains for her were when they focused on the eyes and the sides of the head, sort of where the temples might be on a human. We had to hear everything, it was microphoned in so we could talk to each other through the airtight helmets. I can— I can still hear what she sounds like, when she's crying. When she's screaming.”

“Oh my god,” said Hau helplessly, shaking his head. “Oh my god, Lillie.”

“Pew, pew,” murmured Nebby, popping out to curl into Lillie's arms— a hug— before retreating back into the bag.

“A-after that, Captain Phyco and Private Soliera arrived, and so did Dr. Colress, visiting from Unova. All three of them were kind to me in person, but I couldn't separate them from the things I was seeing happen to Nebby every day. They didn't seem to like what Faba was doing, but they didn't stop him, either. They didn't even— they didn't even try. And when I couldn't keep my mouth shut any longer, when I spoke up, Faba demoted me from his team. He humiliated me in front of his superior, as well as all of the scientists in the department, by suggesting that it had only been due to the influence of my tutors that I'd even been considered for the program in the first place, and that I was an impediment to the progression of science. After that I couldn't see Nebby anymore, but she was, she was haunting my dreams. I d-didn't have to b-be in the same room t-to hear her s-screaming—”

Hau had his arms around Lillie before Moon could so much as move; and then after a few moments of what looked like uncomfortable kneeling, he shot Moon a stare that warned her not to say anything before sitting back down and pulling Lillie onto his lap, holding her the way one might hold a sobbing child.

Moon couldn't even bring herself to tease. She was too busy thinking about all the times that Lillie had talked about Nebby's torture, and all the times that they had discussed the Aether Foundation. The signs were all there, and she hadn't picked up on a single one.

“Why didn't you want to tell us?” she said finally. “We could have helped with this, Lillie. I'd never have accepted Faba's invitation to visit the Aether Foundation if we'd known how awful he was to you and Nebby.”

“That would have been suspicious,” said Lillie. She was still crying, her face half-pressed into Hau's chest; but she spoke clearly. “The most important thing, you see, was to keep Nebby safe. If it had just been me running away, if it had just been me— I would have told you everything. But the fewer people who knew about the Aether Foundation, the better. Who would believe me? They do good work, I won't deny that.” Her voice was bitter. “I trained in the Aether medical facilities long before I ever worked with Faba. I've seen firsthand that Aether nearly always protects and heals Pokémon. There's no way anyone would have believed that Nebby was tortured at their hands. And even if you knew and believed me, you would have acted suspiciously, and they might have thought to look for me because of it.”

Moon looked at Hau. He raised one eyebrow at her, confused; but nodded all the same— an expression of trust. Say what you will.

“I'm new to Alola,” she said to Lillie. “I don't really have the background trust of Aether that I might have if I'd grown up here. And six years ago, my dad was held hostage at Silph Co. by Team Rocket for two whole days before my two best friends managed to free everyone. Obviously that wasn't Silph Co.'s fault, but it gave me a healthy mistrust for corporations. And Hau— well, Hau is unshakably loyal. You could have trusted him, too.”

“I think that's the nicest thing she's ever said to me.”

The remark pulled a weak, hiccupy giggle from Lillie. “Thank you,” she said softly. “I know that now. I'm so glad I met both of you— so, so glad.”

“You're the first real girl friend I've ever had.” Moon swallowed back sudden emotion. “It's been an honor, an education, and a pleasure to be your friend.”

“You mean the world to us,” said Hau; then, clearing his throat— “You mean the world to me.”

Moon's jaw dropped slightly. Lillie wasn't looking at her so she mimed applause, which had the effect of Hau turning red and glaring at her.

He matched Lillie at least, because she had also flushed on hearing that. Moon turned and began crawling out from under the walkway.

“Where are you going?” said Hau crossly.

“I'm going to process some of this information by myself while training.”

“Oh, good id—”

“And the two of you are going to sit there and talk about your feelings like mature adults, because I've been living with unresolved romantic tension since fucking September and I'm sick of it.”

She left them both gaping at her, laughing as she climbed back onto the walkway and walked further down into the meadow to work on training. It wasn't meddling, because Hau had more or less confessed; and Lillie had done the same a few days ago.

“You guys wouldn't be up for a new teammate just now, would you?” she asked her teammates, looking down at the balls on her belt.

A series of protesting vibrations confirmed this, and Moon laughed again as she set Hero up against a curious Floette that had come to investigate the stranger in its home.

Lillie had worked for the Aether Foundation. That was interesting, in and of itself. Moon recalled that Lillie had been wearing all white, when they first met; if she'd ever seen an Aether employee's uniform before, she supposed she could have seen the similarities, though the employee uniforms tended more toward the practical than Lillie's lacy dresses and high socks. But that made sense, too— Lillie would have left work clothes at work, and left in her own clothes.

Of course, that raised some questions as well. Lillie had said that she'd never left her home until running away with Nebby, which meant that she had not only worked at, but lived at the Aether Foundation. Her mother, whoever she was, was probably still there. It occurred to Moon that Lillie had probably lived in one of the apartment buildings, like the one where she and Hau had stayed. She had probably visited the mall, had probably gone down to the labs every day to work. As far as she knew, there wasn't a school on the artificial island; kids raised on Aether would have done their studies online or commuted out to one of the other schools— Hau'oli City being the closest, and since Hau and Lillie hadn't been classmates it seemed that the first option was the most logical one.

Moon had questions. She would always have questions. But the way Lillie had dove under the walkway, with no regard for dignity or even subtlety at the mention of Faba, the way she had sobbed out the barest details of atrocities committed at the hands of the Aether Foundation— that quieted the questions. Lillie hadn't been ready to talk about this; if she had been ready she would have told them earlier. So Moon tamped down her curiosity, forced it back into the pot that was constantly threatening to bubble over in her mind and tried her best to turn the fire down.

It was fully half an hour before she heard footsteps on the nearby walkway, and turned to see Hau and Lillie walking toward her. They were both red-faced, but looked distinctly pleased with themselves; and better yet, they were holding hands.

“Glory, glory, hallelujah!” shouted Moon, grinning as she climbed back up onto the walkway.

“Hey, remember when you said you'd learned not to get involved in your friends' relationships?”

“I said no such thing.”

“I've got receipts, it's in our text conversations and I've screenshotted it,” Hau rebutted.

“Okay, I may have said such a thing.”

“You're a filthy liar, and I've never been more grateful to you.” Moon was prepared for the light punch in the shoulder, but not for the affectionate pat on the head.

“I feel like some kind of Fairy godmother,” she laughed. “What about you, Lillie?”

“Do you remember the story of Rapunzel?”

Lillie's voice was soft, and she was blushing even harder; but Moon nodded encouragingly. “Yeah. Acerola's brought that up sometimes, hasn't she?”

“Yes. Acerola... seems to enjoy teasing, much the way you tease Hau.” Lillie cleared her throat as Moon pumped her fist in the air and Hau made a rude gesture in response. “I've always felt a kindred spirit with Rapunzel. Long blonde hair, isolated from the outside world by an overbearing mother.”

“Oh, great allusion.”

“And it wasn't through any Prince Charming that I made my escape— that was my own intention, though in the end entirely Nebby's fault. But I do remember the part of the story where Rapunzel finds her prince among the thorn-bushes, because the witch had pushed him out of the tower and his eyes had been damaged.” Lillie laughed softly. “I think the metaphor begins to fall apart here, but the point is that I have found an entirely charming prince, among some bushes that are less thorn than flower, and it will be easier to face both my past and my future with that kind of— with that kind of relationship.”

Hau's eyes had gone round, and he stared at a scarlet-faced Lillie with a dumbstruck expression.

“That,” said Moon solemnly, “is the most disgustingly cute thing I've ever heard in my entire life.”

“If you didn't want to hear it, you shouldn't have pushed us into talking about it.”

“Oh yes she should have,” said Hau indignantly.

“All right,” allowed Lillie, “she should have.”

“What have I done?” exclaimed Moon, in mock horror.

They both laughed at that. Despite Moon's pretense of disgust, she was incredibly pleased. Hau had begun by seeing Lillie as someone to protect, but had grown to see her for the strong woman she was rapidly becoming. Lillie had been afraid to reach out to them, to connect; but Hau's gentle nature had persuaded her to give it a try. And the results, to Moon's mind, were magnificent.

When they had fully explored the meadow, joking and giggling as they walked onto the grassy patch of land at the end of Route Sixteen, Moon took out Rotom and snapped a picture that did not give away their location with any distinctive red hibiscus bushes in the background.

 

chat: obnoxious

 

shakespeare jr: So my ship has finally sailed

shakespeare jr: Picture Attachment: [HOLDINGHANDS.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: !!!!!!!!!

the girl with the curls: OMG IM SO HAPPY 4 U

herbalist: they're really fuckin cute, wow

shakespeare jr: SERIOUSLY

shakespeare jr: I may never recover

the girl with the curls: u gotta tell us all about it

the girl with the curls: im dying for some drama rn, all the skulls are being fuckin boring and nobody's asked rog or me for condoms out of the household stock in like, weeks

herbalist: why does nobody asking for condoms mean that they're all boring???

herbalist: and i call bs anyway because there's ALWAYS drama going on, it's team skull for fuck's sake

shakespeare jr: Maybe they bought their own condoms

the girl with the curls: good point

the girl with the curls: like we do stock a variety of sizes but maybe someone wanted like, the “ribbed for her pleasure” ones

herbalist: im gonna PUKE

herbalist: TMGFI

shakespeare jr: What does that stand for?

herbalist: Too Much Goddamn Fucking Information

the girl with the curls: IM JUST SAYING

 

Despite the fact that Moon wasn't entirely sure where Molly and Rogelio stood on the Pokémon kidnapping issue, talking with them was still fun— and it lightened the burden a little, in that she had someone to share the news of Hau and Lillie with.

“Okay, that's weird.”

Moon looked up as she put Rotom back into her pocket, and understood what Hau meant at once. They were at the exact line between Route Sixteen and Route Seventeen, and it was easy to see where the exact line was because of the abrupt divide between dry ground and damp ground. She stuck her hand over the line and felt the rain, then drew it back into the mild afternoon breeze. It was perhaps slightly more humid at this end of Route Sixteen than it was elsewhere; but that wasn't saying much to begin with because all of Alola, so far, had been humid.

“Wow,” she said, wiping her hand on her shirt to dry it. “That's crazy.”

“I'm guessing this is where we camp, then?” Lillie took off her backpack.

“Yeah, but I think maybe we should camp back from the main road a bit.” Moon shrugged rather self-consciously, when Hau and Lillie turned to look at her. “I don't want Team Skull catching wind of me being around before I actually get there, you know what I mean? It's probably all a trap anyway, but if I'm sneaky enough I should be able to avoid it.”

“Right.” Lillie pulled her backpack back on and turned around, walking away from Route Seventeen and catching Hau by the hand as she went— making him blush and Moon coo. “I know just the place.”

They followed her, bewildered; but Lillie led them back a little ways through the meadow and over to a branching path where some grass that was taller than Moon stood like a wall against the world. Lillie went straight through it, tugging Hau with her; and when Moon emerged after them on the other side she found another road, overhung with plenty of trees and flat spaces to camp.

“Where is this?”

“This is the Road of Dusk.” Lillie took off her backpack. “It leads to the Lake of the Sunne, which would be a very interesting place to visit; but we don't really have the time. I only knew where to go because I've read about it in my research on Nebby.”

“Pew, pew!”

“Maybe we could do that tomorrow while Moon goes to Po Town,” suggested Hau.

“Aw, no fair,” protested Moon.

“I know, but it actually works in all of our favor. Lillie and I do some poking around, maybe get some information about Nebby in the process; and then we fly back to Tapu Village and do our best to stay holed up in the Pokémon Center— or better yet, at Aether House. I bet Acerola would appreciate the security of having a couple of Trainers present to protect the kids from worse bullies than Team Skull, and maybe our teammates can help them out in terms of therapy and stuff. And if Faba is hanging around Tapu Village, which he will be because Necrozma's been there a few times, then he won't find us at the Pokémon Center.”

“That's a really good idea,” said Lillie warmly. “I like it. And we'll come back sometime and visit the Lake of the Sunne with you, Moon.”

“Well, if you insist,” said Moon, mollified. “Speaking of teammates— did you ever catch a Cutiefly?”

“Oh, yes!” Lillie smiled, reaching for her belt and pulling out the Nest Ball she'd been holding before Faba had shown up. She pressed the button to let the Pokémon inside out, and a tiny Cutiefly appeared, buzzing happily and darting over to rub against Lillie's cheek. “This is Charmant. I caught her after Hau and I finished, um, talking; but before we came over to find you.”

“Nice. That's Kalosian again, isn't it?”

“Yes. It means lovely or charming, which I thought was fitting for a Fairy-type. And Char is quite affectionate. I think she must have wanted to find a Trainer.”

“Kyu, kyu,” squeaked the little bee.

They set up the tents and Moon's hammock as well as setting up the camp-stove. Hau had fish for Poppy and Moon sent Puck and Ariel out hunting for Bugs; everyone else was content with Pokébeans and the humans opted for MREs and cup ramen, boiling water over the stove in Lillie's teapot.

“In all seriousness,” said Moon, as the evening wound down to a lazy after-dinner lull, “I'm really happy for the two of you, but, um— just let me know if you're going to be doing anything intimate so I can put in earplugs or run far, far away.”

“Not that it's any of your business,” said Lillie primly— though her face had gone Cherrim-red— “but I'm not legally an adult and won't be for just over another year, so you won't have to worry about it for quite some time.”

Hau nodded. “We're going at Lillie's pace, and that's final.”

Moon gave him two thumbs-up. “Attaboy. I've raised you well.”

“You had nothing to do with it, that's all Gram and Mom and you're a whole two months younger than me—”

“I've raised you well,” repeated Moon, grinning at him.

“It's okay,” said Lillie, leaning to rest her head on Hau's shoulder. “We can tell her the same thing when she sorts everything out with Gladion.”

“You know what, I can't even argue with that,” admitted Moon. “Even if we never end up being a thing, it will still have been the two of you who have helped me the most directly with finding a healthy perspective on him. So, you know, thanks.”

“So, you know, you're welcome.”

Moon threw her empty ramen cup at Hau, who batted it onto the ground one-handed. “Hey, I was trying to be sincere and complimentary.”

“I know, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to roast you on your awkward delivery.”

“There are a whole host of things I could roast you about—”

“Or you could not,” said Lillie placidly, “since once the two of you get started it takes ages to get you to stop and I, for one, would like to actually sleep tonight.”

“Yeah, Moon.”

“You were included in that statement.” Lillie patted Hau's hand. “And you're forgetting that despite her nosiness and meddling, we do, in fact, owe Moon for the relationship upgrade.”

Moon squinted at Lillie. “I don't know whether to be complimented or offended right now.”

“Why not both?” suggested Hau. “I feel like that was meant both ways.”

“It was. The only thing I'll ever appreciate learning from Faba is the art of the back-handed compliment, and while I try not to use them as a general rule they can, occasionally, come in very handy.”

 

Chapter Text

The night was dark and the rain streamed down in curtains, but flashlights and floodlights darted around her as shadowy figures combed each bush, hedge, and tree. Moon, curled in a small ball with her backpack in her lap, covered her mouth to quiet her breathing; but it did her no good. There were footsteps, treading closer and closer; then lights, shining on the bushes she had tried to hide in.

“Ah, there's the little bitch.”

Hands dragged her out. Moon fought, kicking and squirming; but her captors were inexorable, restraining her limbs and separating her from first her backpack, and then her Trainer's belt.

“No— please! Not my team, please, not my team!”

The one who took her Trainer's belt held it up; in the rain it was distorted but even Moon could tell that all of her teammates were vibrating with fear and anger. It was the woman who had them, gliding closer with a smirk painted scarlet onto perfect lips.

“Beg for them, darling,” she said softly.

Please.” Moon was dignified, but not that dignified; and she would do anything if they would just leave her team, her babies alone. “Please, don't hurt them.”

The woman chuckled, and tossed Moon's belt to another white-masked figure— a young man, by the looks of it. He was slight and slim, and something about him was familiar but she couldn't place him. “Take care of them.”

He nodded and turned, walking away.

“What— what are you doing with them?”

You won't have to worry about it." She drew one hand from her pocket, and Moon froze.

The dull metal of the revolver gleamed in the rain. The woman kept her hand over the back of the gun, presumably to keep anything from getting too wet; but she came even closer to Moon, lifting her chin up with claw-like fingernails. The barrel of the gun was pressed to Moon's forehead; she heard a clicking sound that meant the safety had been turned off. “Any last words?”

Moon drew in a shaky breath. There were so many things she would have liked to say, but none of her intended audience were there to hear her say it.

“No,” she finally said. “I— I've got nothing to say. Not to you.”

“Just how I prefer it.”

Moon closed her eyes and tried to remember, tried to breathe; soon she would be able to do neither, and it would be all her own fault. The events of the day flickered through her mind, in the face of her impending demise.

 

That morning...

 

Moon stood at the boundary between Route Sixteen and Route Seventeen. Hau and Lillie were still at the campsite, packing up their things before they would check out the Lake of the Sunne; but she had gotten an earlier start and made her way over to the rain. Her raincoat was on and her hood was up; her backpack was covered in the plastic tarp that would keep the contents dry; and she was wearing three pairs of socks in the hopes that even if her two-week-old hiking boots did leak, her feet might maintain some semblance of dryness or warmth.

She stepped into the rain and began walking.

The road of Route Seventeen was surprisingly well maintained; after only a half-mile or so of mud it turned into gravel, which was much easier to walk on. Moon supposed that gravel was the easiest paving equipment to get hold of, and it didn't require any special equipment to use. There was undoubtedly plenty of it to hand in the mountains to the east of Route Seventeen, so it was also free.

As Acerola had informed her, the Po Town branch of the Ula'ula Island Police was found about three-quarters of a mile after the gravel began. It was a rather run-down building, but easily recognizable as one of the Alolan police stations. It made sense for a branch to be located next to Po Town, which had been a bastion of crime for at least ten years; but the building looked as though it were older.

Moon shook herself as dry as she could on the front porch, only slightly sheltered from the rain; then rapped on the door before poking her head inside.

“Mrow.”

The lighting was dim, but Moon could see many pairs of glowing eyes. The noise, at least, was a familiar one; and when she felt her way over to what seemed to be the reception desk, a furry head butted up against her ankle, purring.

“I bet you're all Alolan Meowth, right?” she said, trying to count the eyes. One pair, two pairs, three pairs— ten pairs, eleven, twelve. Possibly thirteen, if the one lurking under a sofa was, in fact, a one-eyed cat and not some kind of glow-in-the-dark illusion. “Could you tell me where I might find Officer Nanu?”

“Mrow,” said the one sitting on the reception desk, and it daintily turned and began walking back through the darkness. That seemed as good an indication as anything, and so Moon followed it.

There was a back hallway, even darker than the front room; but one of the doors in the hallway had yellow light shining from underneath it. The Meowth who had led her trotted straight up to the door, scratching at it.

“Go away, Velvet!” snapped a voice. “Law and Order: Sinnoh is on and I specifically requested that none of you bother me.”

Velvet— if that was indeed the Meowth in question, as there were a great many Meowth to begin with— scratched at the door again.

“Ah, for fuck's sake. Gemma, get the door, would you?”

There was a soft splatting noise, followed by a quick patter of footsteps, and the door opened. Moon looked down, blinking, into the emptiness of a Sableye's face.

“Say, say,” it said, pulling the door wider.

“What now?”

Over the back of a rather comfortable-looking leather couch, an annoyed face appeared before startling into surprise. Moon waved one hand.

“Sorry,” she said, shrugging. “Um— Velvet, is it? Velvet let me in.”

“Fucking— does no one read my goddamn signs? It says right on the door outside. Do Not Disturb.”

“Well, Acerola sent me, if that helps,” said Moon pleasantly. She was struggling to keep her temper. “Team Skull took all the therapy Pokémon from Aether House, and I'm meant to get them back.”

There was a silence at this, broken only by the melodramatic crime show on the television; but then there was a click and the screen switched off. A Krookodile popped up, grinning at Moon with sharp teeth before reaching out one hand to the man on the couch. He took it, getting to his feet with a great many popping sounds that made Moon wince.

Officer Nanu wasn't much taller than the Krookodile— he might even have been shorter than Moon, but she wasn't about to check. He wore a police officer's uniform, but the shirt was unbuttoned to reveal a red undershirt. He still looked annoyed, but there was also a resigned expression to his face.

“So you're Moon,” he said, cracking his neck from one side to the other before striding over to a small kitchenette. “Heard a lot about you.”

“We've technically spoken.”

“So we have. Plumeria's little group chat, eh? Where she and her boyfriend can clear their consciences so they don't have to think about one stupid kid when they've got a hundred others to worry about.”

“A hundred?”

“Give or take twenty or thirty, yeah. Team Skull's grown a lot in the last few years. Can't keep track of them anymore.” Nanu sighed, rubbing his head as he opened the refrigerator. “What is it you need from me?”

“I need to get into Po Town.”

“You try walking up to the doors?”

“Would that work?”

“Nope.”

“There you go.”

Nanu nodded once, pulling out an unfortunately-colored block of cheese and a loaf of bread. A rather nasty smell filled the air as he unwrapped the cheese, and Moon winced at the fuzzy blue rind it had grown.

“Ah, that's off.” He threw it at an overflowing trash can in the corner of the room. “Toast it is, then.”

He jammed two pieces of bread into a decrepit toaster before turning to sit down at the kitchen table. “What about the brats? Curly, and the little nerdy one.”

“Molly and Rogelio?” Moon hesitated. “I— well, I don't know if I can trust them. They are Team Skull.”

“Good.” Sharp, dark eyes considered her— red eyes, an unusual color. “You're smarter than I thought. But you do have a resource you didn't take into account.”

“Which is?”

“The kid, obviously.”

Moon raised her eyebrows. “There are a lot of kids you could be talking about.”

“Gladion,” clarified Nanu. “He could help you.”

“He hasn't always been honest with me.”

“He'd be honest about this.” Nanu's eyebrows furrowed. “Think about it. He left home because his science experiment friend was getting mistreated, and he mentioned he would warn you that the Skulls are onto your friend's little mystery. He doesn't like seeing Pokémon hurt. He'd side with you over Skull, on this one.”

Moon hadn't thought of it that way, and felt slightly chagrined. The toaster popped, sending two blackened pieces of bread sailing out of the toaster; Nanu caught them with the ease of long practice and rummaged in the fridge for a plastic tub of margarine.

“But it's probably smart not to trust him on this, either,” he continued, scraping margarine over the burnt toast. “It means he won't start acting suspiciously. He's not as good an actor as he'd like to think, that one. Now, I can get you in the walls, but from there you're on your own. You know where you have to go?”

“No, the note wasn't all that specific.” Moon dug out her phone and showed Nanu the picture she'd snapped of the ransom note, such as it was. “It just said to come to Po Town. And they had guns. From the descriptions, it was Emmett, Kohaku, Trinh, and Cassie.”

Nanu remained silent, for several moments. “Right then,” he sighed. “Fucking— of course he'd drag Cass in on this one. Great kid, unfortunate criminal record. If I weren't a goddamn symbol for a fucking deity, I'd have wrung the life out of that purple-haired piece of shit.” He stuffed an entire piece of toast in his mouth, chewing furiously.

“Kohaku?”

“Who da fuck elsh.” Nanu sighed again, swallowing the toast. “Right. Well, that's clearly a trap in the making; they think you're dumb enough to waltz right up to the gates. Good thing you didn't, especially since the little shit seems to be behind the goddamn thing; if he had his way the Foxes on gate duty woulda gunned you down and taken your teammates for the deathmatch ring.”

“The deathmatch ring?”

“Don't ask.” Nanu's mouth was tight. “I know it's there, but I don't have proof so I can't get a warrant. Fucking bureaucratic do-gooders in the fucking government.” He crammed the second piece of toast into his mouth, chewing and swallowing.

“Is that— if they want my Pokémon, it would be, um— a match... to the death.” Moon felt suddenly sick.

“Think of it like the Battle Royals,” said Nanu, “except there's only one survivor. The fucking Foxes are pieces of fucking shit. I hate this goddamn job. Since you need the therapy Pokémon back, they'll be at the Shady House.”

“How do you know? If there's— deathmatches—”

“Team Skull,” said Nanu, his mouth twisting in an ugly fashion, “has a deal of sorts with Acerola. They usually know to leave Aether House the fuck alone. Which means if they went in, they had either Guzma or Plumeria sign off on it. My money's on Guzma, because he's got principles, but he's an idiot so he coulda been tricked into it. So the therapy Pokémon will be at the Shady House, which is the big gray house at the northwestern end of Po Town. The closest I can get you is one of the little wicket gates behind what used to be the Po Town Pokémon Center— not that the place has been functioning as one for years. Not since— well, you know about him.”

The bitter, hateful twist in his voice sent a shiver down Moon's spine, but left her in no doubt as to whom he was referring. “Foxglove.”

“Yeah him. Rest in pieces, motherfucker.” Nanu shook his head before getting to his feet, reaching for a gray raincoat that hung on the wall by the door. “I can get you in close to the Pokémon Center, but you have to get to the Shady House on your own. If you can get inside the Pokémon Center, they sometimes sell the black-and-white tank tops and the hats. You don't have highlighter hair though, so you might get funny looks. I don't think they've got the face masks. Let's go...”

 

Present time...

 

“It's funny,” continued the woman, dragging the barrel of the gun across Moon's forehead and moving it to her temple. “The rumor is that you're the little bitch who's caught the eye of Guzma's Enforcer.”

Moon remained silent.

The gun pressed harder. “Have you?”

“I don't know what you mean by Enforcer.” Moon swallowed. “If you mean Gladion, then— well, you'd have to ask him. I'm not sure what we are.”

As long as she could keep the conversation going, she could stay alive.

“Hmm. Maybe we should ask him.”

“No can do, ma'am,” said the tall, gaunt Fox. “He's been in meetings with Guzma all day.”

“Hmm. A pity, that. I'd like to see his face when I blow hers off. Well, she's also friends with the little housekeeper and the gardener— heh. Plumeria says she doesn't want to be like her rich, fancy family but that hasn't stopped her from giving jobs out to the babies, has it?”

“We could try calling them,” suggested the bearded Fox. “Let them listen as she dies?”

“Arceus,” breathed Moon, disbelievingly. “You really are cut out of the same cloth as Kohaku.”

“Oh no, darling, that's where you're mistaken. He doesn't really care about anything at all, that one. Whereas we, on the other hand... we care a lot.” Her smile flashed, blood and snow and wicked laughter. “It's going to be so thrilling to watch you die.”

The gun slid down, pressing against Moon's mouth.

 

That afternoon...

 

“This is it,” said Nanu under his breath.

They'd crept around the entire perimeter of Po Town in the rain— avoiding the other gates. There was one big main gate and several smaller ones, and all were manned by Foxes with guns. Nanu was able to point out the difference between the Foxes who called themselves Team Skull, and the kids and teenagers she knew as Team Skull— the ones everyone knew as Team Skull. The innocent ones, if you could call them innocent.

“Foxes wear masks that cover eyes and nose,” he said, pointing at the nearest guard. “They look like fox skulls— used to be made out of them, but since they've been confined to the town, the Vulpix poaching died out. Skulls have the caps, and the face masks that cover noses and mouths— sometimes they go without. There's no one in the compound who's not affiliated with one or the other, so if you get seen and questioned, you're trying to join Team Skull. That should take you to Plumeria, but you want to avoid it all the same.”

“I can't trust any of them.”

“Right.” Nanu nodded briefly. “And you make sure your Rotom doesn't do anything to show it's a Rotom. It's just a funny-shaped Dex when you're in there. A Rotom-Dex will give you away faster than anything else.”

“Got it.” Moon took a deep breath. “Thank you.”

“No trouble.” He waved her off. “I mean, you made me miss Law and Order: Sinnoh, but it was a rerun. And if Skulls are bothering Aether House, against the deal Acerola has with Guzma and Plumeria— because of something to do with the Foxes— that's something I gotta know about anyway.”

He left, and Moon studied the guard at the door. Nanu had shown her how to get past him, but it was a matter of drawing up the courage.

She picked up a rock, staying well back in the jungle that hid her, and hurled it off to the left of the door. It hit the wall and thudded to the ground.

The guard looked around, frowning. He held a long gun with a long magazine of bullets hanging out of it, which was intimidating; but he walked over in the direction she'd thrown the rock before wading a little ways into the jungle. Moon crept as quickly and as quietly as she could out of her own hiding place and climbed over the gate— a waist-high wooden affair in a tall doorway arch, which led to Po Town.

A decrepit Pokémon Center, as Nanu had said, loomed before her. The glass windows and doors along the back end of it were smashed, which meant she had no difficulty stepping inside. There were no lights or power in the building, but that didn't mean there was no one there← and she could, in fact, hear voices coming from the front of the Pokémon Center, where the café and the Mart would have been if they were functioning.

It was a toss-up as to whether she would be able to find the Team Skull grunts who maybe had Skull tanks and hats to sell; after some debate Moon decided she didn't really want to risk it. Instead she made her way upstairs and crept into one of the double bedrooms to regroup.

She really ought to have left most of her things with Hau and Lillie, or with Nanu at the police station; but she hadn't, and perhaps that was a good thing. Moon stowed her backpack and, regretfully, her raincoat in the closet, which was surprisingly intact in comparison to the rest of the room— mattresses gone, walls graffitied, mirrors broken, and mold in the bathroom.

In the end she took only a black jacket— it seemed to be a common enough outfit for someone in Team Skull— and a black baseball cap, the one she had bought at Aether Paradise with the metal rings jangling from the brim. It wasn't the stealthiest article of clothing, but it looked sort of punk and that might lend her some Team Skull believability. She didn't have black shorts, though she did have dark gray denim ones; and all that was left was her Trainer belt, a small satchel of Hyper Potions and Revives and that sort of thing, a switchblade in case of emergencies, and Rotom.

“Any last advice before I put you on mute?” she said quietly.

“Tap on the screen three times if you want me to send an emergency message to Hau and Lillie,” suggested Rotom. “Otherwise, I've got nothing, bzzt.”

“Sounds like a plan. Nanu didn't give me his number, so I guess I'd be calling... Acerola? I don't have her number either.”

“You can probably reach her through Hau and Lillie, bzzt.”

“Good point.” Moon turned the volume on Rotom off. “Thanks, my dude.”

Rotom vibrated once in answer, and she tucked it back into her pocket.

As Nanu had suggested, she stuck to the walls where she could; but she was soaked in seconds anyway. There were plenty of trees, backyards, and hedges to hide in, and even if the rain poured down relentlessly she would be able to get to the gray house soon enough. It was visible from everywhere in Po Town— clearly the largest building, the apex of the town. It wasn't Foxglove's old house— that had been demolished ages ago, along with the infernal machine he had made. Moon had been surprised to learn that it belonged to Plumeria, or rather to her parents who were rich, stand-offish sorts that lived in Kalos and didn't particularly care what their twenty-something daughter did with their decrepit vacation home in a town that never stopped raining. Nanu had delivered the story in a flat, deadpan tone and she hadn't had time to ask questions, the most important of which was Plumeria is Kalosian??!?!!?!?!?!??

The Shady House, as Nanu had called it, was huge and easily visible; but it was still at one end of a fairly large town, and as such it took her several hours to creep through without being seen. There was one delay of nearly forty minutes where she'd been about to scurry across a backyard when the doors opened, and two men in their mid-forties walked out. They wore simple, but stylish clothing, and they stood under a little back-porch roof to smoke cigarettes. Moon was stuck crouching in a hedge and eavesdropping, feeling sick to her stomach as they discussed betting on deathmatches, and laughed about a losing Herdier being torn to pieces by the victorious Manectric.

The afternoon was beginning to fade into evening by the time she squatted in a group of bushes to look up, satisfied, at the Shady House. There were about ten or fifteen kids from Team Skull outside on the front lawn, having an impromptu Battle Royal in the rain. Moon squinted, but she didn't recognize any of them.

It seemed that the Shady House was neutral territory, however, so she got to her feet and walked across the road, hands in pockets and head down. All she had to do was make it to the house; the front door was usually unlocked and Foxes didn't go into the Shady House, that was the rule—

“Well, well. What have we got here?”

Moon might have kept walking, but the familiar voice combined with an echoing click made her pause in place. Footsteps sounded behind her; she could see someone in her periphery.

Kohaku strolled around her, folding his arms with a twisted smile on his face. “Gotcha,” he said softly.

“Fancy seeing you here, but I can't stop to chat,” said Moon, attempting to step around him.

“I think that you can.”

Thunder cracked— except it was not thunder, but a gunshot. Moon flinched, but she was unharmed. Kohaku put one hand on her shoulder, forcefully turning her around. The kids having the Battle Royal had stopped, and were quickly herding each other inside.

“This is the one?” said the man holding the gun. Moon recognized him as one of the two smokers she'd been hiding from earlier.

“This is the one,” confirmed Kohaku. “She's all yours.”

He shoved her roughly at the three adults who had been with him. The gunman had a short, well-trimmed beard and salt-and-pepper hair; another man was tall, thin and gaunt; and the last was a woman, face concealed by a white mask like the others, but with velvety red lips that looked as though they belonged on a pinup model, not in a skeevy crime town.

“So the note was a trap?” Moon turned back to look at Kohaku, wanting to confirm what she already more or less knew.

“I mean, we did steal the Pokémon.” He shrugged. “But Plumeria would have made us give them back eventually. She was out of town when we got them— she's still out of town, actually. She should be back soon... not that you'll be alive for that.”

“Fuck you,” snarled Moon, furious— more at herself, than at him. “With a goddamn Cacturne, all the way to your small intestines.”

“Kinky,” said Kohaku, though his expression seemed more bored than anything else. “It's been fun, but you crossed the line from interesting to annoying a little while ago. Bye.”

He sauntered back over to the house, unconcerned. Moon turned back to look at the Foxes, heart rising to her throat.

“Such a mouth,” remarked the woman, tilting her head to one side. “If we weren't going to kill you, you might have made a good Skull.”

“A good Fox, you mean.” Moon pulled her switchblade out from her sleeve, trying to fumble it inside her pocket without cutting her hand open.

“Oh, you must have been taught the old stories.” The gaunt man laughed unpleasantly. “We were Foxglove's men once, but we've... evolved, if you will.”

“How is turning into third-rate Team Rocket knockoffs evolution?” Part of Moon was slightly horrified at the sass bubbling up to her mouth, but she was angry, and if she had to die then she was going to damn well make sure that whoever killed her had an unpleasant time of it.

“It's funny you mention Team Rocket.” said the man with the gun. “...Moon Hawkins.”

“Congratulations, you had Kohaku tell you my name.”

“Oh no, darling,” laughed the woman. “We've got better sources than that. You see, we actually do know some... alumni, of Team Rocket. And your name was brought up as a person of interest to Satoshi Red and Gary Oak— or as you and the rest of the world know them, Red and Blue.”

Moon closed her eyes. “You've got to be fucking kidding me.” She managed to slice a hole through the inside of her jacket pocket.

“Oh, darling, we don't joke. Come along quietly, and we won't make you suffer too much.”

“I'm already suffering. I'm soaked to the bone and I'm being forced to talk to knockoff Team Rocket.”

The man with the gun gestured. “Shut up and walk.”

Moon's jacket was baggy enough that she could poke her fingers through the hole she'd cut and lay her hands on her teammates. One, two, three, four, five— and five was what she wanted.

“Hands where we can see them,” said the gaunt man suddenly, staring at her wrists.

Moon had Hero's ball out, releasing it just as the gunman fired; the bullet clanged against the thick armor of her teammate and Hero, unprompted, body-slammed into all three of them so that they fell over.

She recalled Hero and sprinted back into the town, away from the Shady House— there was nothing for it but to run, with the Foxes behind her. Moon had never been a particularly good runner, but it didn't matter when her death was on the line.

 

The present time...

 

And they had caught her, of course. It had taken a good thirty minutes, during which time the sun had set, leaving Po Town a mess of rain-slicked shadows; but they had caught her, and they had brought reinforcements.

“Say good-bye, Moon.” They were filming her; she vaguely remembered that one of them had a camera. “Tell the Champion, and his washed-up lover, that you're sorry.”

A final flicker of rebellion stirred in Moon.

“I'm not sorry for a goddamn thing,” she whispered, opening her eyes and staring up at the phone that had been shoved in her face. “Not a goddamn thing.”

Blam.

Moon flinched backward, away from the gun; but it turned out she didn't need to because the woman stumbled away, shrieking and clutching her mutilated hand. A splatter of blood, as well as some solid bits— she suspected bone fragments— splashed across Moon's face.

Blam. Blam. Blam. Blam. Blam.

The woman fell; so did the gaunt man and the bearded man, and two of the other masked figures that had dragged her out of the bush. The only one remaining reached up to yank off the mask and pull down the hood.

“I am so incredibly, unbelievably fucking pissed off at you right now,” Molly informed Moon, striding forward and crouching in front of her.

“Oh god oh god oh god—”

“Back up, she's going to hurl.”

This was a new voice, languid and elegant; Moon looked up to see a tall, broad-shouldered girl with short, dark hair pulling a hood from her own face. She held a gun much like the one that the red-lipped woman had held; she flicked the safety back on and tucked it into a holster.

It took a few moments, but Moon happened to glance back down at the dead people on the ground and saw the blood, and then the tall girl's prediction came true.

“Fuck,” she muttered, between heaves. “Oh, god, fuck.”

“That's it,” said Molly, sounding resigned. “Take it easy, kid. You're okay.”

“I've got her team,” said another familiar voice— Rogelio. Some of the nausea faded when she heard that. “Whenever you're done puking, I'll hand them back. It's okay.”

She didn't stop until there was nothing left to puke, and even then found herself dry-heaving a few times.

“How about you turn and don't look at the blood,” suggested Molly. “Meanwhile, we're just going to tell you that you're a colossal idiot.”

“You really are a dumbass,” agreed Rogelio mildly. Cassie remained silent, which Moon thought was uncommonly decent of her.

“How was I supposed to know?” she said finally. Her throat was hoarse and raw, and everything tasted awful; she leaned back and opened her mouth, trying to let rainwater in to rinse it. Something plastic touched her face and Moon found it was a water bottle, that Rogelio was holding up. She took it and rinsed and spat, rinsed and spat.

“What, that you could trust us not to be evil Pokémon-torturing douchebags?” said Molly flatly.

“Well, yes.”

“I don't blame her,” said Cassie mildly. “We don't have a great track record, and it's not like all the evil ones are Foxes and all the good ones are Skulls.”

Moon blinked at her several times. “You killed them,” she said finally.

“They'd have killed you.”

That was true. “Thank you.”

“I didn't do it for you.” Cassie's mouth twitched. “I hear you're my ex-boyfriend's cousin, or something like that. Hau's a pretty cool dude— they broke the mold, when they made him. We're friends, or I'd like to think we are. It'd be kind of shitty for me to let his cousin die.”

“He'll be relieved. He was really disappointed when the Aether House kids said you were the muscle behind the kidnapping.”

“When Cassie's on the brute squad, Kohaku behaves himself because she scares him shitless.” Molly folded her arms. “It's not safe to talk out here. Did you stow your things somewhere?”

“Yeah, in the Pokémon Center.”

“Cass? You mind?”

“Not at all.”

“Um— second floor, double room, in one of the closets,” offered Moon, accepting her Trainer's belt from Rogelio. She fastened it back around her waist, brushing her hand over each madly vibrating Pokéball. “Hey, now. Shhh. I'm okay.”

Cassie walked off into the darkness, pulling up the hood of her jackets. Molly watched her go for a few seconds, then waved one hand at Moon. “Turn around.”

“Why?”

“I don't want you puking again.”

Moon turned around, but the sounds she heard suggested that Molly was stripping a black cloak from one of the dead Foxes.

“Put it on,” said Molly crisply, shoving the wet fabric at her. Moon was quick to put the cloak on and the hood up, over her face. “Cass did headshots, plus Barbara's hand. May she rest in pieces, that absolute fucking cu—”

“Cow,” said Rogelio loudly, over the end of the word. “Plumeria hates that word, remember? Gendered slur.”

“Walk quick and listen,” ordered Molly, turning briskly onto the street.

“Okay.”

There was quite a bit of traffic, despite the darkness and the rain; Moon was surprised to see that she blended in quite well with the hood of the cloak up. There were a few Skulls among the crowd, but it was mostly Foxes.

“You're an idiot. Fucking— what the hell were you thinking?”

“The kidnapping party was—”

“Emmett, who is a categorical dumbass,” said Molly, holding up one finger at a time. “Kohaku, who is admittedly a psycho who has it out for you. Trinh, who has as good as forgiven you, and Cassie, who doesn't know you.”

“Just because Trinh's maybe forgiven me doesn't mean she likes me, and and I don't know Cassie either.”

“Which brings me to my fucking point. You didn't ask,” hissed Molly, turning to glare at her. “You just assumed we would all be evil, all on the same side. You've been friends with Rog and I for how long, and you've heard us say that we don't like Kohaku and that he's a creep and that we aren't about the torturing Pokémon life? And then you do what you did to fucking Gladion all over again, which is tar Team Skull with the same brush. A couple of us are fucked up, so therefore we're all sadistic kidnapping monsters.”

“That's not what I—”

“Yes, it is.” Rogelio's voice was soft, dulled with both rain and pain. “You did what everyone else does. You saw the outfit before the person in it.”

For a few minutes, the three of them walked in silence. Moon, exhausted and cold and wet, was trying her best not to cry; the dampness on her face made her unsure as to whether she was succeeding, but it wasn't as though anyone would notice in all the rain.

“I'm sorry,” she said finally. “I was just— I was worried. The note said come alone, and I didn't want to do anything to hurt the Pokémon.”

“That's what we sent Trinh and Cassie for. Ever since Kohaku made Trinh cut the Slowpoke Tail she's been really adamant about making sure he doesn't lay hands on any Pokémon that aren't his own teammates. And Cassie's one of three people, out of all hundred and seventeen people on Team Skull, that Guzma and Plumeria both trust to carry weapons. The Pokémon went straight to Guzma as soon as they got back. There's no way we would let Kohaku at them.”

“So— Guzma ordered this?”

Molly turned to look at her for a few moments. “Yeah,” she said finally. “And not that it's any of your business, but Plumeria's been away for a couple of days, and when she gets back she's going to ice down the entire fucking house over this. Guzma will be on the couch for, hell, probably a month. There's some stuff they've been fighting about, and usually they just fuck it out when they're mad but this isn't something they can do that with. This is a real goddamn thing, and Plumeria's been majorly pissed with him.”

“I guess you're on her side?”

“Yes,” said Rogelio.

Molly nodded in agreement. “Guzma's an okay guy when he doesn't have his head stuffed up his ass, but he's got issues and— well, the stuff happening with Team Skull is hitting his issues, and Plumeria can't talk him out of anything the way she usually does; so she's just running with it and trying to put out fires along the way. Most of the Skulls are with Guzma, a few of us are with Plumeria, and we're all living in mortal fear of the Foxes but that's so normal it's not really an issue anymore. It's just part of our fucking lives.”

As they walked, they approached the Shady House. There was nobody outside anymore, but Molly and Rogelio went straight up to the door and strode inside as though they owned the place.

There were probably thirty or forty kids in the front hallway, which was— well, it was a disaster, if Moon were to be perfectly honest. There was broken furniture piled everywhere and paint all over the walls; she recognized hot-pink Trinh painting directly on the wall in one corner, with lime-and-blonde Uilani next to her, watching and blowing bubbles with her gum. There were a few other faces that were vaguely, mildly familiar.

You.”

Moon turned, vaguely alarmed by the vitriol in Molly's tone; her heart slammed with sudden fear and pain in her chest as she saw Kohaku, walking down the steps with his hands nonchalantly jammed in his pockets.

“Me?” he said, raising his eyebrows.

Molly stomped forward, jabbing her finger into his chest. “Yes, you. You sick fuck. How dare you leave a fucking innocent to the Foxes. How fucking dare you.”

Kohaku's gaze drifted to Moon, then. His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Huh,” he said, finally. “How'd you give Barbara the slip? She's a hell of a tracker.”

Rogelio cleared his throat, holding up one fist and extending his fingers for names as she spoke. “Barbara, Takehiko, Donato, Jyotsana, and Shouhei are all dead.”

A hush fell over the room— most of the Team Skull kids had been listening to begin with; but at this eyes widened, hands went to mouths.

Kohaku swallowed. “Van will have you all strung up for that.”

Molly snorted. “Van can try whatever he likes, but he's not going to find proof of anything. People die all the time in this fucking town. Doesn't mean a goddamn thing anymore.”

She turned and beckoned to Moon, who dutifully followed her and said nothing to Kohaku— though she wanted desperately to punch him in the face, or at the very least gloat over the fact that he hadn't been able to get her killed. But she refrained, instead following Molly up the stairs.

“Guzma doesn't see Team Skull for business after like, five in the afternoon,” she said bluntly, opening the door of a random room. “That's Fox hours. So you're going to have to stay the night, if you want to talk to him.”

“Won't the Foxes come looking for me?” Moon swallowed. “If— if they know some of their own have been killed, because of me—”

She'd never seen a human being die before, and now she'd seen five people die. It was a very strange, very uncomfortable thing to think about.

Molly ushered Moon into the room; Rogelio stayed outside. There were four beds in the room, as well as a couple of rickety-looking bookshelves and dressers.

“Take off the cloak and your jacket,” said Molly briskly. “Don't sit down just yet— Cassie will be back with your stuff in probably twenty minutes, and you can get some dry things and I'll walk you to the shower and stand guard.”

“Is that necessary?”

“Emmett's been known to creep on girls in the showers. He doesn't ever get away with it but he keeps trying because, as you might recall, he's a dumbass.” Molly rolled her eyes. “And to answer your question— no, the Foxes won't come looking for you. They'll know some of theirs are gone, and they'll probably suspect Cassie because she's one of the few Skulls who's actually killed someone before; but they're not going to find bodies. I had a cleanup team waiting, and they're working now while Cassie brings your stuff. Rog will go down and meet them outside.”

She was watching Moon, a wary expression on her face. Moon winced, but asked the question. “Why will Rog join them?”

“Because I'm the only one with keys to the greenhouse, and they're putting the bodies in the fertilizer machine.” Rogelio's voice was dry, but his expression was a mix of disgust and resignation.

Moon gagged, but as there was nothing left for her to throw up it was just a dry heave. “Arceus fuck.”

His smile was hollow. “They'll serve better in death than any of them ever did in life. I'm hoping Tapu Bulu will appreciate that, and maybe give us a day that's just cloudy every now and then.”

Moon stared at him, and then at Molly, for a few moments. “I had no idea,” she said finally, looking away. “All the happy, funny conversations we had— I didn't know it was like this.”

“To be fair, it usually isn't.” Molly shrugged, but it was half-hearted. “It's just this particular issue with Guzma and Plumeria. The Foxes usually know to leave well enough alone but they're trying to get involved.”

“The woman said something about Red and Blue.”

“You can blame me for that one, sorry. I happened to mention that I know someone who knows Red and Blue, and Kohaku probably put it together because you're native Kantonian.”

“They said they had ex-Team Rocket friends.”

“That's also possible. The Foxes were around ten years ago, and Team Rocket was what, six?” Molly sighed. “Look, Rog and I didn't tell you about all the dark and depressing bullshit because it was such a relief to not have to think about it when we were talking to you. Rog can just be as freely gay and nerdy about plants as he wants. I can be just as obnoxious and immature as I want. And you've got some depressing issues you talk to us about, but I'm guessing you also can't talk to your friends about how cute they are without majorly embarrassing them, right?”

“Right, yeah.” Moon closed her eyes. “I'm sorry. I should have trusted you.”

“Yeah, you should have.”

The hug surprised her. Despite having taken off the jacket and the borrowed Fox cloak, Moon was still wet through. But now Molly was wet too.

“We get why you didn't,” said Rogelio. Molly patted her back soothingly. “And we forgive you. It's okay. People have done plenty worse by us. Are you okay?”

It was perhaps this kindness that undid Moon, more than anything else had so far— the misery of the weather, the heart-pounding fear of hiding and running and being found, the sensation of a gun against her face, the certainty she would die— the way a human head looked with smashed brains leaking from it, blood and grey matter glimmering against wet pavement.

“I don't fucking know,” she muttered, resting her forehead against Molly's bracing shoulder. “I don't fucking know.”

“Understandable,” said a voice from the doorway.

It was Cassie, striding in with Moon's tarp-wrapped backpack and raincoat. The latter she hung on a small coat-hook rack by the door; the former she set on the ground before walking across to one of the beds, peeling off her own jacket as she went.

“Pick out something dry,” Molly ordered, letting Moon go. “Rog, you go let Jer and Moonie and Al into the greenhouse. And on your way back, ask Uilani if she'll make up a few cups of Tapu Cocoa for us.”

Rogelio sighed. “She's gonna flirt at me.”

“She's the only one besides Moonie who can make cocoa that's actually drinkable, and he's obviously busy.”

“Who on earth is Moonie?” said Moon, bewildered. “I'm Moon, not Moonie.”

“She means Ki-moon,” supplied Cassie. Moon glanced over and quickly looked away; the other girl was changing clothes, seemingly unbothered by Rogelio's presence. Rogelio himself grimaced and averted his eyes, as Moon did. “Cute kid, one of Rogelio's baby gays.”

“For the last goddamn time, I'm not a gay dad!” yelped Rogelio, stomping out of the room.

“Those shoes say otherwise, but sure Jan.”

The familiar joke made Moon think of Hau, which was oddly comforting. And speaking of Hau, she really ought to let him and Lillie know that she was okay.

 

chat: IKI SQUAD

 

shakespeare jr: [Picture Attachment: Ducklettfaces.jpeg]

shakespeare jr: It turns out I'm a monumental dumbass but as Molly says, we been knew

walking malasada: !!!!!!!

walking malasada: thats cassie!!!!!!

walking malasada: u r all making duck faces!!!!

lillie-pad: Really? She doesn't look like how I'd expected her to look.

shakespeare jr: She just made the “sure Jan” joke that Hau makes. It's very weird

lillie-pad: More to the point, are you okay?

shakespeare jr: I honestly don't know. I met Nanu, and he has fifteen cats, all Alolan Meowth. He told me all their names but I can't remember any of them. And he got me into Po Town and I snuck around in the rain for three hours before getting caught by, you guessed it, fucking Kohaku. And HE promptly turned me over to the Foxes because he's an absolute ass of a human. So I nearly died but then Hau's ex-girlfriend sailed in and shot five people in the head so I've now seen what human brains look like. I threw up a lot and I am a Mess and I'm not sure how to deal with it

walking malasada: holy shit

lillie-pad: Oh my god.

lillie-pad: Moon, I'm SO glad you're okay. Please tell all of them thank you.

walking malasada: yea from both of us

 

“Lillie and Hau say thanks,” said Moon, digging in her backpack. “To all of you.”

“Anything for a friend,” said Molly, waving her off.

“Tell Hau I said hi,” offered Cassie, changed into pajamas decorated with Bounsweet. “And congrats on the girlfriend, that's pretty neat.”

 

chat: IKI SQUAD

 

shakespeare jr: Cassie says to tell Hau she said hi and congrats on getting a girlfriend

lillie-pad: That is unexpectedly gracious of her.

walking malasada: i did tell u it was a mutual breakup & u have nothing 2 worry abt

walking malasada: tell her hi back

lillie-pad: From me as well, if you don't mind.

 

“Hau says hi back, and so does Lillie.”

Cassie's eyes flickered in amusement. “Is she keeping an eye on his ex-girlfriend?”

“I think she tentatively approves of you, actually.”

“The feeling's mutual.”

Molly did, in fact, stand guard outside while Moon took a shower. It would have been a cold shower, were it not for the fact that Cassie had picked up a Pokéball from the Trainer belt on her bedside table and let out a large, rather friendly Houndoom that licked Moon's face clean of any of the blood and— other viscera, that she didn't want to think about— that hadn't been rinsed away by rain. The Houndoom was sent into the bathroom with her, clearly well-trained to its task of using Flamethrower in a hole cut into the wall in order to heat the pipes.

The awkward moment, of course, occurred when she walked out of the shower, with her wet hair uncombed and sticking to her face, and came face to face with Gladion. Molly's expression was nothing short of gleeful, and Gladion looked as though he'd been punched.

“What the fuck is she doing here?” he hissed, rounding on Molly. “It's not safe, you know that! She could have been killed!”

“Hey,” said Moon sharply. “This was not her idea, don't yell at her. If you want someone to blame, I suggest Kohaku.”

“Guzma gave the order for the Pokénapping,” supplied Molly helpfully. “So it's actually his fault. Kohaku just tried to take advantage to get you killed.”

Moon shrugged. “Okay, blame both of them.”

Gladion closed his eyes for a moment. One hand went up to shove his hair back from his face— something she'd only seen him do once, when they had been arguing in Konikoni City. It was, unfortunately for Moon, devastatingly attractive.

“Where's Kohaku?” he said, sounding resigned.

“He's probably hiding in his room with Emmett and Jack. I think letting him know that Cassie killed five grown adults to protect your girlfriend— excuse me, mutually-interested-friend who is a girl— was sufficiently intimidating enough that he's decided to make a decision favoring his own health.”

Gladion opened his eyes to glare at a very smug Molly for a few seconds, but scarlet was already creeping into his cheeks, ears, and neck. Moon could feel the flush on her own face. “Tell Cassie thanks,” he muttered, after a few moments.

“You're welcome!” hollered Cassie, from down the hallway. “If you don't date her I'm going to tell all the straight boys that she's single!”

“Oh, fuck off!” shouted Gladion, turning and speed-walking away from them.

Moon stared after him until he vanished into another room. Molly snorted softly. “You're still gone on him,” she said, fondness in her voice. “And trust me, he's still gone on you. What an idiot.”

There was a hot mug of Tapu Cocoa waiting for Moon when Molly led her and Cassie's Houndoom back to the room she shared with Cassie and— Moon was surprised— Trinh and Uilani, who were lounging on their own beds. Cassie had a hand pump and a rather sad-looking air mattress, which she was attempting to blow up.

“Oh, it's you,” said Uilani, wrinkling her nose.

“Be nice,” said Molly, but there was no heat in her tone. “She's Gladion's not-really-girlfriend.”

One of Uilani's eyebrows rose as she studied Moon. “Wow,” she said finally. “I never thought he was into the drowned rat look.”

“I usually don't look like a drowned rat,” retorted Moon, “seeing how I don't live here.”

“When I said 'be nice,' that applies to you too.” Molly smacked Moon's arm.

“Sorry. Thank you for letting me stay in your room.”

Uilani shrugged. “No hard feelings. And you're welcome.”

“Though I bet Moon wouldn't mind if you did something about the drowned rat aesthetic,” added Molly, grinning. “It's going to take a good twenty minutes for the air mattress to be usable, and her hair's still wet.”

Uilani looked intrigued, at this. “You want me to do her hair?”

“You do hair?”

“I cut and dye hair for everyone on Team Skull.”

Moon stared at her. “Holy shit,” she said finally. “I have mad respect for you now. Everyone here has awesome hair.”

Uilani went slightly pink. “Um, thanks. Do you— do you want a haircut?”

“I mean, it's beginning to get longer than I like it. I had it cut really close last time— a pixie cut.”

“That I can do.” Uilani rolled off her bed, reaching beneath to pull out a polyester case. “Back to the bathroom, then. Are there clean towels in the linen closet, Molly?”

“There should be plenty. Moon, you can take your toothbrush and stuff like that, too.”

Moon was surprised when Trinh followed them to the bathroom; but she was even more surprised to see Gladion sitting on the floor outside of their room, glaring at his phone. He looked up as they approached, eyebrows rapidly rising.

“I don't think there's any need for you to stand guard, dude,” said Trinh pointedly. “Kohaku knows better than to bother Uilani when she's got scissors, and she's staying in our room anyway.”

“I'm not standing guard. What are you doing with her?”

“Haircut,” said Uilani briskly. “At Molly's request.”

“How much do you usually charge?” asked Moon.

Uilani blinked at her. “I don't charge.”

“You should. Seriously, they all have good hair.”

“Except that one,” said Trinh, indicating Gladion, who scowled in response. “Because he won't let her cut it.”

“I like my hair."

“The asymmetry is nice, it's just choppy as fuck and needs cleaned up at the short parts,” said Uilani, rolling her eyes. “Go to bed, dumbass. We'll take care of her.”

Gladion's eyes flicked to Moon, catching and holding hers for a few moments before he looked away, guilt flickering across his face. “Thanks,” he said, almost too softly for Moon to hear.

It did not take long for Uilani to trim Moon's hair to an acceptably short length. She even left it a bit longer on the top, which paid homage to the sharp angles of her jaw and cheekbones—her father's Kantonian heritage. Neither Uilani nor Trinh was particularly talkative, and Moon was too tired and relieved and confused to make conversation other than admiring the cut and thanking Trinh and Uilani. She brushed her teeth and fell asleep on the saggy air mattress between Molly's bed and Cassie's, uncertainty following her into her dreams.