Guzma was pissed off.
Even though most people would argue that annoyed and sulky were his default operational settings — interspersed with vicious and cocky every now and then —, this time the sentiment reached uncharted levels of aggravation. He felt like punching something. He might punch something. Or someone. But, for the time being, he pushed his trademark sunglasses higher up the long bridge of his nose and took an angry swig of the lukewarm beer he had stolen from an unguarded picnic blanket.
Lovely as the public gardens might be, he wasn’t exceedingly fond of the pompous city of Malie, largely because it was a major hot spot for the perpetual swarm of tourists that roamed the islands, pointing fingers and snapping photos at anything that moved, disrupting the wild fauna and getting on his hair-trigger nerves without even trying. And then there were the locals who actually knew about his history and either cowered pathetically to avoid getting on the receiving end of his wrath or openly expressed their aversion towards what he had built, adding fuel to the perpetual fire raging inside. Whispers and stares followed him around like a second shadow. He had earned them. His reputation preceded him, the mighty boss of Team Skull. Destruction in human form. While Guzma took great pride in provoking all those reactions, sometimes he just wanted to take an uneventful stroll away from headquarters without bloodying his knuckles.
Today, he felt such a need, badly, but the universe thought otherwise. It wouldn’t even let him enjoy some peace on his lonesome. Figures. Not even fifteen minutes after leaving Po Town, he had received a message from the grunts he had sent to scout Mount Hokulani — agitated over some business with a stupid bus stop —, and no amount of grumbling would deter them from sticking to their beloved boss thereafter. Those kids were inconveniently used to his nasty mood swings, devoted to pleasing him by any means necessary.
Guzma had to admit the underling army came in handy, however, when they quickly moved to shoo a lovey-dovey couple of sightseers away from his favourite gazebo without him uttering a single word. The pair of fools objected, at first, then saw him looming menacingly in the back, hood drawn ominously over his murderous face, and scattered away. Word spread like wildfire and the crowd discreetly veered away from that particular corner, providing a relative calm borne of fear. What a fuckin’ blessing. At last, he allowed himself to relax, leaning back on the bench to watch the afternoon slowly bleed into dusk, sipping on that disgusting beer that did nothing to take the edge off.
Experience had taught him it was best to visit the gardens at nightfall, when the bulk of the multitude moved downtown to spend their money in all those fancy restaurants he had never set foot in — despite attempting to do so that one time, earning a denied entrance and a night in a prison cell for destroying their lobby. Not that he wanted to spend way too much money on way too small portions of way too pretentious food, thank you very much. But still, nobody was entitled to decide what he could or could not do.
One could say the park became a different place when there was no one around. Somewhere special. At least, it was special for him, thanks to all the bug pokémon living in that winding river. It was a pity humans submitted them to such an aggressive intrusion because not all of them preferred the dark and yet they were forced to come out after sundown when the park was the most peaceful. The areas where a few distinctive species felt comfortable enough to nest were scarce, to say the least, but this environment was perfect. The other place he could name off the top of his head was Brooklet Hill in Akala, and he had forgone his visits there after it became a trial site, for obvious reasons. He felt a distinct type of scorn thinking about it. That had been the birthplace of his dear Surskit, long-since evolved, and now he could hardly stomach a quick trip to the beautiful waterfalls in case he came across someone undesirable.
Thus, whenever he felt uncharacteristically troubled, Guzma would come here. He would rather keep an eye on the nesting sites, considering that Dewpiders and Surkirts were sworn enemies, sharing both habitat and preys. Somehow, over the years Golisopod had become an intermediary of sorts. He helped bring some order if hostility between bug clans arose, and over time the wild pokémon had accepted Guzma’s guardianship. He just had to throw some Poké Beans in from time to time to ensure he was welcomed.
He wasn’t in the mood for bug-watching today, though. He wasn’t really in the mood for nothing but fighting and drinking — and his pokémon had already beaten the crap out of several weak-ass trainers along the trip from the other side of the island. Pointless, insipid battles against pointless, insipid contenders. Were it any other shitty day, he would have holed himself up in some sleazy bar all night long but something had compelled him to go there instead. Something he didn’t understand. A passing thought, a gut feeling…
A stinkin' pile of Tauros shit.
It was the end of summer, golden season for tourists, and he knew there was bound to be an annoying mass of people around, so why? Why couldn’t he dismiss the absurd notion that he had to be right in that exact place, at that exact moment in time?
This was the opposite of what he wanted.
He had been spectacularly stressed out with all the ridiculous demands Madame Prez dropped on his lap as of late, more and more capricious if he said so himself. Do this, do that, go there, get this rare pokémon with very specific nature and skills for her collection, pester a business rival she particularly disliked, send Team Skull to create a distraction for the latest of her foundation’s misdoings… Guzma was starting to feel like a glorified errand boy at the glamorous woman’s beck and call, a collared pet to which she held the leash. He kept wondering if their deal was worth feeling like a toy-boy since they didn’t seem to be getting any closer to their goal. She was stunning and powerful, full of crazy ambitions and pretty words, and her stiletto heels trod the delicate line between a delirious thirst for greatness and true insanity in a way that really got him going. But, if the money wasn’t so good and the promises so succulent, he would have flipped her majesty the bird and quitted a long time ago.
Nothing was going as he had expected when he signed up for the ride. Frustration ate him from inside out nowadays and Plumes had made it crystal clear she was done listening to his angry rants. It was no secret she disliked the deal he had struck with Aether. When he started groaning about the situation again that morning, she had graciously invited him to fuck off. Stop complaining and do something about it, then. You got us in this mess, you get us out. She was right, of course. She often was. But he couldn’t bring himself to follow through with those pieces of advice. Hence the knee-jerk decision to follow the invisible cord tugging him to Malie.
After the last clandestine shipping of pokémon, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do. No new instructions. No missions. Sometimes his mind drifted to what that bunch of mad scientists did to the creatures in those underground labs, but he was fast to drown that voice in booze. He told himself he didn’t need to know.
Before he realized it, his feet had carried him halfway across the island in a livid trance. He had met with the upset grunts in the alley behind the Malasada shop and the moment they started complaining about a girl beating their asses over a stupid bus stop, he almost punched the brick wall in exasperation. Not any girl, mind you. The girl. Guzma was tired and sick of hearing about the mysterious trainer that had been systematically interfering with Team Skull’s business over the last three months, sending every plan, big or small, down the drain.
The worst part was that she didn’t seek to antagonize them, but… help them, or something. It irked him beyond reason.
Everyone seemed to have met this faceless enemy. Everyone but himself. All he knew was that she was some young woman, older than the usual trial-goer but somehow still taking on that stupid challenge, and an unusually strong trainer to boot. Although that last bit was for him to decide. He could almost picture her, if he tried hard enough, a ghost plaguing his thoughts. The inevitable encounter had played in a myriad of scenarios inside his head, the favourite being the one he evoked alone at night in the sanctity of his throne room — him standing victorious and claiming the prize.
Exhaling through his nose, he looked over the Garden.
“Fuck my luck.”
Just when Guzma thought his mood couldn’t possibly worsen, the last person in the world he wanted to see walked right through the entrance archway. The offending man had a goatee and wore sunglasses with a teal frame, a white hat and a lab coat over his bare chest. He sauntered nonchalantly to the big black and golden bridge, hands in his pockets, looking every bit as if he would start whistling a merry tune at any moment, where he stopped to lean against the wooden railing and gaze at the water below.
Guzma had almost forgotten how annoying he was.
He felt a snarl rising like bile in his throat. Standing at once, he flung the empty beer bottle into a nearby trashcan, momentarily satisfied with the loud crash of glass shattering at the bottom. Without thinking, he headed straight towards Kukui. Professor Kukui. The grunts trailed behind him like little uneasy Duckletts, quick to support their leader in whatever confrontation may arise.
Was he supposed to believe this was an ill-fated coincidence? The asshole just waltzed into the exact same place he happened to be at for no reason at all? Well, maybe, but he wouldn’t buy it. It didn’t matter how much time passed, the self-righteous prick kept sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, thinking he had a saying in Guzma’s life just because they used to be “friends” ages ago. He scratched a phantom itch on his chest, sneering at that ludicrousness of that word. Kukui interfered with the gang in the name of morality and whatnot, wielding big words about redemption as if everything that had gone awry since they were starry-eyed kids that knew nothing of the world was Guzma’s fault.
He had no fucking idea.
People like him had no fucking idea. The obstacles in their lives were small and easy to surmount. They had set goals and a clear path ahead. They thought they could tell right apart from wrong like everything was set in stone, as simple as deciding to shed your skin and obtain a blank slate. He looked at Guzma, at any of his little siblings, and saw a charity case, someone in need of fixing, a potential good deed to pass the time and clean his conscience. Guzma knew he was the one stain on Kukui’s perfect record, the black sheep he could not return to the fold, the friend he couldn’t help — couldn’t save.
Well, guess what? He didn’t need saving.
It was too late for that, anyway.
There was no point in fighting the inevitable. He couldn’t win. He had given up on a lot of things, a long time ago.
He had his own little family now. He didn’t need anything else. Anyone else.
He was known. And feared. And soon enough, when their plans took off, he would be respected.
He just had to hold on a little longer.
“Still allergic to shirts,” he sniggered, although not amused in the slightest.
Kukui turned around as though slapped. “Guzma,” he spoke his name with reluctance. At least, he had the decency to look shocked for about two seconds before drawing one of his infuriating smiles, which at the moment Guzma could only perceive as mocking. “I didn’t expect to find you here on this fine afternoon.”
Guzma fought the urge to punch the smug grin from his old rival’s stupid face. It was a recurring daydream, had been for years. He had to muster a lot of strength not to finally fulfil it, hands balling into fists in response to the scientist’s irritatingly carefree demeanour.
“What the fuck are you doin’ here? Followin’ me around?”
“If you must know, I’m waiting for a friend. But I could humour you with a pokémon battle in the meantime. I reckon it’s been a while since I got a good look at your team’s moves. They were always quite… interesting, your methods, if a bit unorthodox. Did you happen to hear about the upcoming Pokémon League?”
Arceus almighty, why wouldn’t he shut up already?
Obviously, Guzma had caught wind of that nonsense. It was the latest gossip in an arguably monotonous region. He didn’t know what to make of it yet, though. His grudge toward the islands’ traditions ran deep and corrosive, so he wasn’t entirely opposed to a game changer, even if the kahunas themselves backed it up.
“And what if I did? Shouldn’t ya be afraid it will prove who’s the strongest trainer around, once and for all?”
Kukui shook his head. “You will never change.”
Several voices echoed the negative undertones of his statement in a cacophony of murmurs. Somehow, the same crowd he had been dreading formed around them. Guzma had deliberately ignored the nosy bystanders despite knowing the lot of them were clearly eavesdropping and dropping in their unsolicited judgement, until someone started encouraging his rival, spurring the professor to beat his ass, and he couldn’t contain the beast that had been gnawing at his insides all day anymore.
Fuck it, he was going in for that punch.
However, right in that instant, the multitude parted to let someone through and he all but forgot about the argument when Kukui turned to effusively address the newcomer, his alleged friend. She — you — approached the bridge with hesitant steps, perceiving, no doubt, the antagonism charging up the air like static electricity.
Exhaustion was painted all over your haggard appearance, yet he couldn’t help but notice you were… rather easy on the eye. Even with your hair pulled back into a messy bun like that, some stray curls falling over a flushed face, you were beyond cute. Regardless of the dust on your clothes and the scraps on your knees, he thought you looked ridiculously hot, taking in your figure and the bare expanse of your legs in curious wonder. Everything about you seemed to glow in the fading light of sunset. He had never thought about anyone in such terms, least of all a random girl. It was utterly ridiculous but your sole presence stole the breath from his lungs.
He had a sudden inkling about who you might be — had to be — and he felt a twinge of dark pleasure. There stood the meddlesome trainer he had been looking for, within reach at last. Exhilaration surged like fire through his veins. He felt an awful lot of things, to be honest, but most made little sense in his mind.
The sort of dangerous dizziness that assaults the senses when standing on the edge of a tall cliff, facing a raging sea.
There was the flicker of an uncanny, enthralling light dancing in the depths of your eyes — those that now locked with his, inquisitive and confused and ever defiant. He couldn’t look away and it was seriously starting to freak him out. Guzma was ninety-nine point ninety-nine per cent sure that he had never seen you before, but somehow he felt like he knew you, as though trying to remember the details of a dream.
After a small eternity, you broke the connection to talk with Kukui in vehement whispers, and he was left with the deepest of frowns, a pounding on his temples and a burning knife twisting in his chest.
“Who are you?”