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Alolan Nights

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There are many secrets hidden away on Ula’ula Island, though they may not be obvious to those who don’t look closely.

It’s easy to take things at face value. Is a Pokeball just a Pokeball? Or is it what’s inside that counts?

For example, is the island kahuna’s daughter simply restless or ungrateful? She’s tired of the relatively safe and easy life she’s led, and fears she's unprepared for what’s expected of her.

Will she be chosen as the next kahuna? All she wants is to be sure she's worthy.

It’s not a role she’s sure she even wants, but her suitor, Alola’s most recent champion, Garret, does. To ensure this, he’s seeks out a Pokeball he’s heard tales of in Haina Desert…

Though Garret’s gotten close, he can’t reach the lamp alone. He’ll need the help of a particular someone - a dawn stone in the rough.

And in the rough this dawn stone is. How could life not be rough when you’re the son of the leader of Alola’s most infamous crime syndicate? Things become even bleaker when Guzma’s father suddenly dies and leaves him in charge of Team Skull.

He’s left with expectations he finds he can’t meet, the memory of a mother he hopes to make proud, and the ghost of a father he’ll forever disappoint.

As a result, the numbers of this once fearsome gang dwindle, as does their reputation. If he wants to keep what little he has left together, Guzma will have to prove himself.

There’s nowhere better to do that on the island then at the grand opening of the massive garden in Malie City. There, he’ll show them all he’s destruction in human form.

But is that all he’s meant to be? All he can be?

So, it’s on an Alolan night in Malie Garden where the kahuna’s daughter and the dawn stone in the rough cross paths, setting into motion the finding of a Pokeball that, like them, is more than it appears.

Chapter Text

Guzma was not in trouble - not yet at least. You're only in trouble if you get caught, and he was pretty spectacular at not getting caught.

Most of the time.

Though, as he stares down the very tall chain-link fence blocking his way at the end of this alley, he wonders if he's about to be reeled in. He's stolen many things in Malie City, and there's even been many times, like now, where he's had to make a run for it. As a result, he knows the city like the back of his hand, but this fence? This is new.

He looks down at the piece of metal in his hand. A silver exhaust pipe - the final piece needed to get his fixer-upper motorcycle on the road again. It's nothing fancy, but it'll get the job done. He'd been trying to find one at a junk yard, but all that'd turned up had been too corroded or beat up to work right. It'd taken many months of research, elbow grease, and gathering materials (stolen or otherwise) to reach this point and he can't get caught now, not when this last bit is all that's needed. Sighing, and tucking the pipe awkwardly under his arm he begins to scale the fence as fast as he's able.

"There! He's right there!" yells one angry voice.

"You better hold up, street rat!" says another.

Guzma dares a glance over his shoulder to see both the shop owner and a Malie City police officer making their way down the alley. "Street rat?" he mutters to himself as climbs. "That's a new one." He goes as quick as his lanky arms and legs will carry him - not the easiest task in his getup of baggy black pants and hoodie. The medallion around his neck clangs repeatedly against the fence and his arm aches from both the climb and clutching the exhaust pipe.

He's at the top, swinging one leg over the side when the fence begins swaying wildly. Yelping, he clings to it and looks down to find the livid shop owner shaking the chain-link fence with all he's got.

The police officer stands behind him, hands on his hips. "Son, come down from there and we can settle this."

"Settle it by beating his thief head in!" the shop owner adds, face tinged red with rage. "You wanna settle this like men, you little vandal?"

Guzma's sunglasses slide forward from his forehead and fall over his eyes. "Ya sure got a lotta names, huh? Don't you - whoa!" The pipe slips from his grip for a moment and he scrambles to grab it. He catches it by the end just in time and stuffs the metal back under his arm. "Don't ya know who I am?"

The shop owner seems so perplexed by this question that he finally ceases his shaking. "What?"

Carefully and ignoring the various pains it's causing his arms and legs, Guzma straightens himself up at the top of the fence and glares down at the both of them. "I," he says, nudging his sunglasses back up onto his forehead, "am Big Bad Guzma."

The police officer and shop owner exchange glances before looking up again. "That supposed to mean something?" says the police officer.

Guzma's shoulders deflate a little. "Guzma, ya know, of Team Skull. You- you know Team Skull at least."

"They still around?" the shop keeper asks the police officer.

The officer scoffs. "Their leader died a couple years back. Thought they were disbanded, but I guess they still got a few mutts hanging around."

Guzma bristles and shifts on the fence. "Yeah, well, this mutt is about to make off with some free merchandise." He slides the hunk of metal between the bars guarding the platform of a fire escape just to his right. Then, as nimbly as he can, he clamors his way off the fence and over the rail, onto the platform.

"Hey, hey, hey!" the shop keeper calls after him.

There's the crackle of radio static as the officer begins to call for backup.

Guzma grabs the pipe and begins taking the stairs of the fire escape two at a time, this way and that, back and forth on the zigzagging flights. Was going to the roof the best idea? Probably not, but it's the best he's got for now. Maybe he can find a place to hide? Though, that idea doesn't sound particularly pleasant. He wishes he were already outside the city - it's a long walk back to Po Town. He glances at the glinting metal under his arm. Hopefully he won't he making this trip on foot anymore after this.

And hopefully they'll soon know who he is, the way they once knew his father. Maybe he hasn't built up as much clout in his two years as Team Skull's leader, but he's sure he can change that too.

The shouts and arguments of his two pursuers are left far below him as he stumbles out onto the roof and squints in the morning sun.

"Excuse me," a woman's voice says. She sounds suspicious, accusatory. "Can I help you?"

When his eyes adjust to the light he sees an older woman standing in a bathrobe and slippers, her hair wrapped in a towel. In her hands is what appears to be some kind of bird feed - clearly for the numerous Pikipek surrounding her. She regards him with wariness and maybe even disgust as she looks him up and down. Plenty of bird eyes are also upon him, scrutinizing.

On instinct Guzma hides the stolen metal behind his back - not a move that would inspire confidence in this stranger, but sometimes instincts don't work to your advantage.

"What are you hiding, huh?" she says, one hand on her hip, the other pointing at him with the bag of feed. Seeds and pellets pour from it in a wave with the motion and Pikipek are immediately upon the spillage.

"Not hidin' nothin'. I'm just passing through," he says. It's not convincing in the slightest. He doesn't have time for this. He needs to keep going, find a way to another roof, a place to hide, anything - but he wasn't expecting to run into any kind of adversary up here at all, let alone... this.

At the sound of police sirens down below her eyes widen. "That 'cause of you? You some kind of hoodlum? Riffraff?"

Guzma winces and makes a non-committal hand wave with his free hand. Was he those things? Well, he can certainly admit he's not exactly a fine, upstanding citizen.

"A gang member then? You're dressed like some kinda street urchin."

"Urchin?" Guzma repeats, face twisting in confusion. "What is this? People makin' up words to call me now?"

"Oh," shes says, looking at him incredulously, the bag of feed lowering slightly. "Oh, you're lucky you got looks."

"That... that mean you'll help me out here?" he asks hopefully, making a mental note to look up the word "urchin" later.

"Depends." The old woman continues to watch him, bag of feed still pointed at him like a weapon. "What," she says pointedly. "Are you holding behind your back?"

Reluctantly, and silently praying this will allow him to finally get a move on, he shows her his prize.

"Is that an exhaust pipe?" she says, bemused, her hand finally lowering. "As in for a motorcycle? You steal from that shop down the street?"

Guzma rolls his eyes. He had stolen it, sure, but it wasn't exactly like he could afford it with no money to his name. How much could it cost anyway? Was it worth chasing him down? All this for a hunk of metal? "I borrowed it." He scratches nervously at his undercut. ... Maybe someday he could pay the guy back for it? "Indefinitely."

Suddenly the woman lets loose a boisterous cackle, making him jump in surprise. She doubles over in mirth, more feed flying from the bag to be immediately set upon by birds. "You stole from Sam?" Her laughter is so unrestrained that it nearly drowns out the police sirens. "Good, I hate him - him and his loud-ass motorcycle shop. Just a parade of people in and out and all those noisy engines running. Scares my birds!" She points with the bag to a tool shed, where wooden planks rest against it. "Go on, go bother some other rooftop."

He runs for the boards, yelling a quick "thank you!" to her, but she merely grunts and waves her hand dismissively. Grabbing the widest one, he makes for the edge of the building. Would this makeshift bridge hold his weight?

He'd have to find out now since the doors to the roof are currently flying open.

"Hey!" the old woman screams at the two unfortunate policemen that burst through. "Coming up here like this is your roof? Uh-uh. This? This is my roof!" She jerks the bag of feed in their direction, sending it and every Pikipek their way.

Guzma scurries across the wooden plank, exhaust pipe in tow, as the officers scream and curse. They fight off birds as he fights off the stab of anxiety coursing through him when he hears the wood buckle. He only just makes it to the other building as it cracks, splinters, and falls. He rolls onto the new roof, breathing heavy. Well, at least they've got no way of following him now. Guzma forces himself back onto his feet and breaks into a run, eyes looking for something, anything, to be his escape.

It's then the door leading up to this roof flies open. Right, he supposes getting to the top of this apartment building is always an option. This time it's a single cop who lunges for him, managing to grab one end of the pipe. He tugs towards himself, and Guzma pulls back. They continue in this rooftop tug-of-war, both standing firm, feet planted, and unwilling to give in to the other.

"Give it up, asshole!" the officer yells, teeth grit.

"Ain't you got malasadas to be eatin' somewhere!" Guzma says, hands tightening even harder around the object.

There's a noise coming from behind the door the cop had come through. Backup? Instead it's a Growlithe that's managed to depress the lever on the door and comes bounding out. It collides into the back of the officer's legs, making him fall backwards over it.

He also releases his end of the exhaust pipe.

Guzma stumbles with the sudden lack of resistance, one arm flailing wildly, and the other still holding fast to his stolen goods. The back of his knees hits the edge of a small guard ledge and he fully looses his balance, falling over the ledge.

There's a moment of the horrendous feeling of weightlessness and his stomach does a panicked flip-flop, then he's plummeting quickly down, the world a blur as windows and brick soar past him. But it's not concrete he collides with - instead it's the red cloth of a canopy outside the front of the apartment building he'd been atop of. It gives under his weight and the whole covering collapses, leaving him on the ground, in the dark, lost underneath the sheet. It wasn't exactly a pain-free landing, but his fall was broken enough to do far less damage than he imagined.

Somehow, he's still got the pipe clutched in one hand. Using the other, he fights his way out of the red fabric amongst the confused and concerned murmurs of pedestrians who happened to witness his decent.

"Hey, you alright, man?" says a guy to his right when he manages to poke his head out.

The door to the apartment building is in front of him, and through the glass he can see both a cop and a Growlithe coming towards him. Guzma stands and throws back the canopy, fully freeing himself. "Yeah, sure, just hold this for me, would ya?" he tells the guy, shoving the red fabric into his arms before taking off down the street. Behind him he hears yells of frustration and the thud of what he hopes is the cop and his Pokemon getting caught in the remains of the canopy.

"Stop him!" someone screams.

There's the quick patter of shoes hitting the sidewalk some distance behind him, but he doesn't dare look back. Instead, he focuses on what's ahead, and how to best get out of this one. Down the street he runs, past building after building of shops, homes, restaurants, and more, all heavily influenced by the Johto region. If nothing else, Malie City certainly was unique compared to the rest of Alola.

He skids to a stop for just a second when he comes across the entrance of what will be a grand garden - soon to be the most touristy of tourist traps in the city. He smirks at it before continuing on. He'd be back for that later. After tonight, there'd be no questioning who he or Team Skull is. But first he's got to make it back to Po Town. This little adventure might have been one he'd chosen to do on his own, but their Malie Garden heist would take some teamwork.

It was time to make his trail a little harder to follow. He turns down one alley and then another; takes one street, turns up the next. All the while various Malie City denizens stare or move out of his way. Guess it isn't every day they see a man clearly on the run from something with an exhaust pipe in tow.

He slows to a stop now in a crowd of shoppers, chest heaving, and sweat dripping down the sides of his face. He turns about in the parade of people, looking for any sign of cops or the shop owner. He's deep in the city now, which sucks for trying to get outside of it, but it was good for losing his pursuers. He's so preoccupied that he accidentally bumps into a man walking by him.

"Hey, watch it!" the guy tells him.

"Yeah, yeah, sorry," Guzma mutters, still warily looking all about him. Out of the corner of his eye he catches a mother pull her two kids closer to herself as they pass by him. Alright, that one hurt a little. ... but should it have? That's what he wants, right? To be feared? To have a reputation?

He shakes his head. He can analyze this later - he can't let it throw him off his game right now.

Especially since he spots a couple cops on the lookout for presumably him.

Where can he duck into? If he can just stop for a moment and catch his breathe maybe he can come up with a plan. When he turns he finds he's standing in front of the library. Well, it was as good a place as any, so into the building he goes. Besides, maybe this was an opportunity to find out what "urchin" means.

This was certainly a Malie City highlight he hasn't visited much and he's sure he must look out of place here too - even if he weren't lugging around a hunk of metal and covered in sweat. It's about what he'd expect of a library with its rows upon rows of books and a staircase leading to another level of reading material. It's quiet and peaceful in here and he's grateful for the reprieve. If he hides out here long enough, maybe they'll give up the search for him. Or, maybe he can find a way to make himself look a little more inconspicuous - like something to hide the exhaust pipe in.

The library is sparsely populated. He moves as carefully and evenly paced as he can, trying not to draw suspicion. He just needs something - like a bag, a backpack, anything that he can fit the pipe into - but no one he passes has anything close to that. He makes the rounds through the shelves a couple times, but no luck. Hesitantly, and a little too aware of the librarian glaring at him from the checkout counter, he makes his way up the flight of stairs.

He reaches the top to take in the even more books and lack of people and sighs. Maybe he really would have to wait it out here or come up with another plan.

There's a door to his right that's suddenly thrown open, making him jump back. His grip increases on the metal in his hands as he's returned to full alert.

A man walks by him, completely oblivious to his presence. He's tall and muscular, with dark hair and he carries himself with an air of over-inflated self-importance. He's got an ancient looking book in his hands and a red parrot sits on his shoulder - it's a Chatot, Guzma thinks, though it's not the color of any Chatot he's ever seen.

"That's better," the man says, seemingly addressing no one. "So damn dark and musty in there. It's like trying to read inside the kahuna's asshole." He leans on the railing overlooking the lower level with the book in front of him, reading.

"Kahuna's asshole!" the bird repeats with an accompanying squawk.

"That's right, Iggy," the man chuckles. "But maybe with what we've found in this book-"

Guzma tunes out the rest of what he's talking about. He's got far bigger concerns than what some weirdo and his bird are doing - like what they may have left in that room.

Cautiously, he quietly makes his way past them and peers inside. Bingo. The room is indeed dim, but within he can make out a red and white duffel bag that's been left on a table. With one last glance at the odd pair to ensure they're still distracted, he ventures in.

The books in here are different; they seem older and more fragile. He supposes they're kept separated in this room for their own protection. Maybe even the lack of light is needed to prevent further damage. There's shelves lining the walls all filled with books of this nature. In the middle of the room is one long table upon which is the duffel. He grabs it, pulls back the zipper, and faces a new dilemma.

It's mostly Pokeballs inside along with a few other odds and ends: a tumbler usually used for protein shakes, a set of keys, a cell phone, a change of what looks like gym clothes, and other such nonsense.

He could just take the whole bag; there's still room enough for the exhaust pipe. He might not need the other things, but the Pokeballs? Hadn't his father been known for taking Pokemon too? He stares at the innards of the duffel for a long moment and swallows. Cursing under his breath, he begins to take each item out and gently sets them on the table. He really should have just taken it all. He's wasting time and that guy could come back any second. But he just can't. There's a mixture of feelings swirling in his stomach that he can't separate or identify. Didn't he want to be like his dad? He thought he did. Maybe he just wants to feel as important as he'd been.

Taking items was one thing. Pokemon? That feels like another. Couldn't he aim for being something better than his dad? He's sure his mom might've agreed to that one.

As he sets one particular ball down on the table, it begins to shake.

Guzma halts in his motions, eyes wide. Something was about to come out, and he can only hope that it isn't loud.

The shaking intensifies and then suddenly on the table next to the ball is a Wimpod - only this one is off color too, like the Chatot had been. Were all this guy's Pokemon red?

It does nothing but stare at him, antennae wriggling curiously. Well, at least it isn't alerting its trainer. Then he notices something else off about it: it seems hurt. On its back a few scales look out of place and a dark goo oozes beneath them.

Guzma finds himself sitting in a chair by the table, feeling like his legs might give out if he doesn't. This injured Wimpod is bringing back images and memories he doesn't want. The past couple years had taken more than just a father and uncle for him - it'd also taken his Golisopod, a companion he'd had since he was a kid.

The Wimpod on the table scuttles toward him and he only just stops himself from scooting backwards in alarm; he doesn't want the chair to squeak against the floor. "Hey," he tells the little isopod in a harsh whisper. "Hey, no, no, no, I'm not- don't!" But now the thing's crawled into his lap and is looking up at him expectantly. "I- whaddya want, huh?"

It chitters at him and then begins nuzzling against the pocket of his hoodie. What could it be after in his pocket? When he reaches inside he discovers some Pokebeans he'd long forgotten about. He huffs. Well, might as well give them to the little guy. He offers them open palmed, and the Wimpod pounces almost viciously. He stifles a yelp of surprise, but doesn't pull away as it devours bean after bean. It seems ravenous, like maybe it hasn't eaten in a while.

When it finishes, Guzma gingerly picks it up and places it back on the table beside the Pokeball. "Alright, ya got your beans, now get back inside before ya get me caught."

It looks with more disgust than Guzma ever thought its little insect face would be capable of at the Pokeball before batting it away with its tail.

"Whoa!" Guzma says, catching it just in time, preventing it from clattering to the floor. "Okay, fine, no ball." He stands with the now empty duffel bag and places the exhaust pipe inside. "See ya, buddy."

He starts for the door, but the Wimpod follows him down the length of the table, looking panicked.

"Hey, what're you- ya gotta stay here!" he whispers. "Stay!" Watching it carefully, he takes one step backwards towards the door.

The Wimpod gives him a desperate, pleading look.

Guzma dares one more step away.

And it launches itself off the edge of the table toward him.

"Holy shit!" Guzma hisses, nearly diving to catch it. After he does, it crawls up his arms, goes under his jacket and clings to his shirt, hiding. He opens the side of his hoodie, once more getting a good look at the injury on its back. What had done that? Why hadn't this guy gotten it patched up yet? He pulls gently on the bug, but it holds tights.

Guzma sighs. So he was gonna do this then? Was this a good idea? Could he look at this thing without thinking of his Golisopod? His eyes go to the ground for a moment as he tries to chase away the last of his misgivings. Then he refocuses on the Wimpod. "Ya really wanna come with me?"

In response it chitters once more at him and settles into his side.

Guzma lets his hoodie fall back over it. "Guess I'll take that as a 'yes.'" Alright, so he won't take anything else - just this bag and this Wimpod in questionable condition. That's a good compromise, right? He shoulders the duffel bag, lowers his sunglasses over his face, and pulls the hood of his jacket up. It's not much of a disguise and maybe not exactly a look free of suspicion, but if it can just get him outside the city, then he's golden.

He leaves the dark room of books behind and quickly walks past the guy and his Chatot. He's still muttering to the bird and pays Guzma absolutely no mind. Then it's down the stairs, out the door, and into the streets of Malie City.

He has to keep reminding himself not to run, but to blend in. If he can keep his cool, getting just outside the city gates shouldn't be a problem. He keeps his face lowered and his shoulders hunched as he tries to keep pace with the crowds. The occasional person gives him an odd look, but otherwise he's left alone. He's just got to keep going. He knows what streets to take to make his route as short as possible.

When he dares look up a little more, he sees what might be the shop owner he stole from to his right. When his gaze turns in Guzma's direction, he quickly lowers his head again and tries to put some people between them. He's almost there - just a couple more blocks.

There's a cop at the city entrance but he's talking to someone. It's now, or never. Holding his breath and using all the restraint he has to keep from running, Guzma walks briskly past the officer and out of the city.

He waits until he's gained some distance before finally throwing back his hood, shoving his sunglasses up on his forehead, and shaking the tenseness out of his shoulders. He heaves a great sigh of relief and doubles over, hands on his knees. Then, he inhales and stands up once more, letting out a whoop of triumph. He'd made it out, new exhaust pipe and all!

He pulls back the side of his hoodie, revealing the Wimpod once more. "How ya doin' little bud? Ya better hold on tight, we got a ways to go before we make it back home."

It wriggles its mandibles at him happily.

~~~

"Oooh! Oh, oh, wait! How about this one?" Your mother holds up yet another tiny cocktail dress to you, waggling her eyebrows. The best word to describe her is certainly "jolly." She's curvy and bubbly - two qualities that command the attention of any room she walks into. Well, that and the fact that she's the island kahuna. It's a role that she often times only seems to take seriously when it comes to the social aspects of it. Like, for example, this party for the grand opening of Malie Garden that she's preparing you for. She's had an outfit for herself picked out for weeks, but you? You're a little late on that.

You watch her in the reflection of the mirror in front of you, doing your best to smile back. It's not that you hate these kinds of gatherings, but they do feel a little... hollow. Surely there's more to being a kahuna that you should be learning. If you become the kahuna after your mother. True, someone from each generation of your family has been chosen for many, many years now, and there's no reason to think that you won't be - you are your mother's only child and therefore the only option after all. But, there's a part of you that doesn't want to just inherit this responsibility; you want to earn it. If you're to be a leader, then you want to do it right. Could that include parties? Sure, but it must mean more.

Do you even want to be kahuna? It's a question that's been begging to be answered with increased urgency the older you get. Truthfully, you're just not certain what you want. But, what you do know is that you'd rather not be trying on all these dresses right now.

Your mother shuffles through more dresses on the rack. You're not in a clothing shop, but it sure looks like it. No, you are instead in a home that sometimes feels a little too big and extravagant, though it has it's usefulness too. You and your mother both live here, but it's also the site where the city has gatherings for city planning and maintenance. It's your home and a place of work for many citizens.

Though, not usually the excited looking owner of the dress shop who'd wheeled a whole rack of dresses here as a personal favor to your mother. "That one is fantastic!" She says of the dress your mother is now placing in your arms. "Perfect for a grand opening."

"Yes! I think so too!" your mother agrees. "Oh, try it on!"

You look down at the garment in your hands. It's light green and simple, but elegant. It's a fine dress, but right now you're feeling almost claustrophobic. You need to escape. "Um, yeah," you say, hanging the dress on a hook by the mirror. "Perfect. We'll just... let's go with this one."

"You don't want to try it on?" your mother asks, looking a little disappointed.

You shake your head and give her a gentle smile. "I've got some other things I want to take care of before tonight." You hope it's a good enough reason for you to duck out.

Luckily, she smiles back jovially. "Well, okay, you go do your thing then."

You sigh in relief and begin changing back into a simple shirt and jeans as your mother converses animatedly with the dress shop owner. Then, it's out the room and navigating various hallways and flights of stairs until you find yourself in a large and well stocked kitchen. It's here you spot just who you're looking for.

Ethan has been your best friend for many years. He's a nervous guy, and often shy, but he's never let that stop him from going for what he wants. He's a nursing student at the local college aiming to one day find his dream job at a Pokemon Center. He's also enthusiastically vegetarian, and had taken it upon himself to prepare some veggie alternatives for tonight's festivities... even if he isn't always the best cook. Of course, you'd never tell him that.

When he hears you come in, he looks up and smiles. "Hey!" He uses his arm to push his glasses back up his nose since his hands are preoccupied with some kind of culinary creation in front of him. "How went the whole dress situation?"

You hop up on the counter away from the areas he's got food on. "Well, I mean, it's done."

He chuckles. "You sure sound like you had fun with it."

You give a halfhearted smirk back. "It's just... I'm not sure it's my thing. I don't know if any of this is, you know?"

"So you've maybe mentioned one, two, or fifty times," Ethan teases.

"What can I say? We're kinda getting down to the wire here, right? If I'm gonna be chosen, it'll probably happen soon. My mom was about my age..."

"Well, maybe Tapu Bulu won't do anything until you're ready."

"But, what if I'm never really ready?" And as you say it, you wonder if that's the question that's actually at the heart of all that's bothering you. "Maybe I need to see more or do more first. I feel like I hardly ever leave this city or this island."

Ethan begins mixing together ingredients in a bowl. "Didn't Garret wanna take you to visit that Aether place?"

You scrunch up your nose. "Are you serious? I'm not going anywhere with Garret - no matter how much he or mom wishes that would happen."

"You're not interested at all? He's sure interested in you." Ethan barely suppresses a laugh as he says this. He knows exactly how you feel about Garret and his endless and unceasing advances.

"No!" you say perhaps a little more forcefully than you mean. "Would you be?"

He sighs wistfully. "Well, there's no arguing that he's good looking. I mean maybe I would-"

"Ethan, no!"

"What, he is very good looking!" He shrugs his shoulders and sets the bowl aside. "But I do agree his personality might be a little less than stellar. Eh, he doesn't seem to bat for my team anyway. You know?"

"Right," you say thoughtfully. "You think- you think maybe he's just after being kahuna?"

"He's already champion of Alola. Isn't that enough? Besides, it's always people from your family that've been chosen."

You scoot off the counter, now growing more serious. "Exactly! Maybe that's what he wants. Get together with me, become part of my family, and maybe he'll be chosen."

Ethan blinks, looking uncertainly at you as he starts to chop up broccoli and carrots. "Plotting to marry someone for personal gain seems a little extreme, don't you think?"

"Do you think that's really beyond this asshole?"

Ethan looks at something beyond your shoulder. "Well, looks like you've got the opportunity to ask the asshole yourself."

When you turn around, sure enough, Garret's face takes up most of a circular window in the door to the kitchen. His ever-present Chatot, Iggy, leans over from his perch on Garret's shoulder to look in too. "Oh," you mutter as the door swings open. "Great."

Garret doesn't really walk into the kitchen and towards you - it's more like swaggering.

"There you are," he says, leaning against the counter. "Heard you were still looking for a date tonight. Wanna be my plus one?"

Iggy lets out a squawk before repeating, "Date!"

"You know, Garret, I think as the daughter of the kahuna I might just be a little more invited to this event then you are. Going together would make you my plus one - not the other way around."

Garret waves dismissively at you. "Hey, we could sit here and argue semantics, or we could make this official. Go with me tonight?"

Ethan pretends to be busy with his ingredients. You grab him by the arm, disrupting him and he looks alarmed. "Oh, this isn't gonna be good," he says under his breath.

"Sorry, I've already got a date," you tell him.

Garret lets out a dramatic, disappointed noise. "Oh, come on now! It's already been a very difficult day and I do not need these games."

You release Ethan's arm. "What about your day being the local golden boy could possibly have been difficult?" You feel maybe a little hypocritical saying that, given your status as the kahuna's daughter, but it's true: being the Alolan Champion has afforded Garret a degree of wealth, fame, and admiration from all of those around him. He might really be a skilled trainer, but he's also pompous, spoiled, and has grown a little too used to getting what he wants. That won't include you.

Garret sighs. "Someone stole my bag and a freshly caught Wimpod... Although, that thing refused to stay in a Pokeball. Might've ran away." He shrugs. "It was useless. But that bag - oh! That was a good gym bag, dammit."

"Just the bag?" you ask, confused.

"Yeah, left the rest of the stuff on the table. Must have known that Garret, Champ of Alola, would've hunted him down for taking much more. Anyway, yes, bag gone, I'm sad, be my date."

You and Ethan exchange sideways glances - a silent agreement passing between you.

"She's already got one," Ethan says quietly.

Garret crosses his arms. "Fine, but one of these days, you're gonna find yourself unable to resist all I've got to offer." He pushes himself away from the counter and turns to leave.

"Resist!" Iggy parrots.

Garret gently closes the bird's beak as he pushes open the door.

"Why don't you just tell him 'no?'" Ethan asks once he's gone.

"Oh, I have. It's just that Garret's always respected another man's claim over me far more than he's ever respected my rejections."

"Sounds about right," Ethan agrees.

Between worrying about the event in Malie Garden and your frustration with Garret, you need a distraction. "So," you say getting a good look at all the ingredients and cooking utensils on the counter. "What can I do to help?"

Chapter Text

There's a town on Ula'ula Island that's nearly abandoned, but it wasn't always so. Po Town has long been the stronghold for Team Skull, but it's certainly gone downhill in the last two years. It rains near constantly, and graffiti litters most spray-able surfaces along with, well, actual litter. Cars sit useless, abandoned, and rusty, windows are boarded up or broken, streetlights are busted, and grass and bushes are so overgrown they seem near ready to reclaim the rundown town.

When Guzma's father had been in charge, Po Town had been a bustling little community - one that was full of unsavory characters, all of whom were under his father's employ as Team Skull members, but a community. After the death of his father and uncle, many had packed up and left right away. Then, as the next couple years brought further and further decline, still more left the town abandoned.

Now there's just a handful of Team Skull members left, and all of them live in what was once a prestigious mansion at the head of the town. It's dilapidation mirrors it's surroundings, earning it the nickname "Shady House."

Po Town might be a shadow of its former self, and yet it's still home. It's within this home - this Shady House - that Guzma now sits at a table with three of his closest friends, all of them fixated on the Wimpod he's placed upon it.

"And it won't stay in a Pokeball... at all?" Jeremy asks flatly. He runs a hand over the side of his close-cut and dyed green hair.

Guzma sits with his arms folded on the table and his chin resting on his hands so his eyes are level with the Wimpod. "Nope," he answers before carefully sliding another Pokebean in the isopod's direction. It happily accepts the gift and Guzma grins. He'd found a decently filled bag of them in the kitchen and has since been feeding his new companion probably a few too many. "Tried several times on the way here and he hates it."

"'He?' You know it's a 'he?' How can you even tell?" Jeremy's tone is a mixture of cautious and annoyed. Guzma and his cousin have not exactly gotten along especially well lately - too many disagreements with the way things are going with Team Skull - but he knows Jeremy's too stoic and non-confrontational to do much more beyond being passive-aggressive.

"You were there for all those years I had Golisopod, weren't ya? You think I can't tell by now?" Guzma answers.

"I just don't- I don't think you should've stole it." Jeremy shoots him a look of uncertainty and crosses his rather heavily tattooed arms. His fondness for tattoos led him to an apprenticeship he's now nearing the end of. "And that red. That's not normal right? What's that mean?" His cousin also seems to find comfort (or anxiety) in the concepts of good luck and bad luck. Anything out of the ordinary - like, say, a Wimpod of unusual color - can leave him wondering if it's a sign of bad things to come.

The girl sitting beside Jeremy, Sweets, playfully shakes his shoulder, and immediately his expression changes, his wary mouth cracking into the slightest smile and his folded arms falling to his side.

"Oh, come on!" Sweets says. She's a relatively new member to their Skull family, though she fits right in. That might have not been the case many years ago - women were rarer members in his dad's day, and a trans woman, like Sweets, would have been unheard of. But she's talented with both cosmetics and tech, plus Plumeria was certainly happy to have another girl around, so how could such a thing ever matter to Guzma? She's also undoubtedly their friendliest member - perhaps not having witnessed the downfall of Team Skull meant some hope remained in her. Regardless of the reason, Sweets is the sunshine inside rainy Po Town. "It was meant to be! Look at them!" She gestures to the way the Wimpod is taking yet another bean from Guzma.

Guzma picks the creature up and turns him around so that both of them are facing Sweets and Jeremy. He puts on his most disgustingly pleading face before saying, "That's right Jere. Look at us." The Wimpod continues to noisily and contentedly chew on the bean. Despite any hesitation he might have had, Guzma is already starting to feel attached.

Sweets grins broadly at them while Jeremy frowns.

Plumeria shrugs, her pink and yellow pigtails bouncing with the motion. "From the condition the thing's in, it looks like G taking it wasn't necessarily a bad thing." If Jeremy is a pessimist, and Sweets is an optimist, then Plumeria falls right in the middle. In fact, she's the most level headed of them all, making her solidly the "big sis" of the team. She may not be family to Guzma by blood, but she's been in his life long enough for it to feel that way. She'd very nearly grown up with him and Jeremy after being taken in by the town - Team Skull might have been a fearsome criminal organization in its heyday, but even back then it wasn't all bad. "Anyway," she continues. "We've got more important things to discuss, like tonight."

"Yeah, can we go over this plan again," Jeremy says nervously. It was, in fact, this very plan that had been causing tension between him and Guzma.

"Alright so," Guzma clears his throat and places the Wimpod back on the table, growing more serious. "Tonight's the grand opening of that garden in the city, right? And guess who didn't get an invite?"

Sweets rests her elbows on the table and sets her chin in her hands. "Us."

"You're fuckin' right - us," Guzma nods.

Jeremy lets out a sigh that does little to hide his frustration. "Again, why were you ever expecting to be invited?"

"Dad woulda been!" Guzma says, feeling a little impatient that this subject has reappeared for at least the fourth time. "Both our dads as a matter o' fact. There's no way they wouldn't have. Can't you see this is disrespect?"

"Disrespect?" Jeremy lays both his arms on the table. He doesn't look aggressive as much as he looks imploring. "G, how can they disrespect what they don't even know exists? You know this ain't the same organization our dads were running. People- people hardly know we're around anymore."

Guzma swallows. "So maybe it's time we make them know, and this is how."

Jeremy doesn't answer, but his gaze goes from Guzma's eyes to the table.

The tension is broken by Sweet's laughter.

Plumeria raises an eyebrow. "What?"

She tries and fails to stifle a few more giggles. "Oh, no, it's just that, I dunno, it's like Guzma is Maleficent."

"I'm- I'm what?" Truthfully, he feels relieved that his and Jeremy's spat was interrupted.

"Maleficent! You know, from that movie? She got big mad that she wasn't invited to a party and cursed the princess."

Plumeria, Jeremy, and Guzma all exchange glances.

"She had a raven?" Sweets continues at their lack of recognition. "Jeez, what kind of childhoods did y'all have here?"

"One a little lacking in princesses," Plumeria says.

"Well, I'm planning a movie night then." Sweets begins to tap away at a square device attached to her wrist.

"Yeah, sure, a victory party when we get back," Guzma says, anxious to return to explaining the plan.

Plumeria seems a little more enthusiastic about the idea. "I'll see if I can dig up some popcorn."

Sweets smiles at Jeremy over the top of her oversized watch. "I can count you in, too, right?"

"Wha- yeah, yes!" Jeremy stutters, looking flustered. These kinds of reactions to Sweets were steadily becoming more commonplace for him.

"Anyway," Guzma says pointedly. They could flirt all they want on their own time; right now he's got scheming to do. "So, yeah, we're crashin' this garden party. And in that garden they got this tower, right? It's supposed to be based on some tower in Johto that's connected to Ho-Oh or somethin' - it don't matter. What does matter is this: Within that tower is the garden's most important artifact: a Ho-Oh statue. And what's important about this statue? The fact that it's got one, single, real, authentic Ho-Oh feather in its tail. Now, they're real excited about this because that feather is supposed to bring good luck and happiness to the city. And us? We're takin' it."

"And... doing what with it?" Plumeria asks.

"When the time's right we reveal Team Skull's behind its disappearance. Ya know, declare we're making a comeback and all that. Start putting that name in people's heads again."

"And if we get caught?" Jeremy says quietly.

"We don't," Guzma shrugs.

Jeremy's eyebrows crease further.

Plumeria gives him a concerned look. "How are we stealing this feather in the middle of this party if it's such a big deal?"

Guzma leans back in his chair, puts his shoes on the table, and his hands behind his head. Immediately the Wimpod crawls up his legs and comes to rest on his chest. "Tell 'em about it, Sweets."

Sweets face lights up with a mischievous smile. Her thick-rimmed glasses that are as pastel purple as her wavy hair glint in the low lighting above them. "So, I've been monitoring email correspondences about this event between all relevant parties. The whole thing's gonna culminate in the unveiling of this statue via a ceremony carrying it up the tower. Until then though, it will remain covered inside the kahuna's house, which is conveniently next to the garden. So we get dolled up, crash this party, get inside the house, and steal the feather before it ever even makes it to the garden!"

Everyone at the table is quiet for a long moment - not exactly the round of applause Guzma was expecting.

"That simple, huh?" Jeremy says.

"Eh, so we make up some of it as we go along. We'll figure it out; we always do. Ain't exactly the first time we've done something like this."

"Speaking of which," Plumeria says. "Didn't you almost get caught this morning getting more parts for that damn bike?"

Guzma sits up then, clutching the Wimpod to his chest like an infant. "But I didn't!" He gives her a confident grin.

Jeremy shakes his head. "Yeah, but how many times you think you're gonna get lucky, G?"

"Well, then it's a good thing we're stealing what's essentially a good luck charm." He places the Wimpod back on the table, where it wriggles cautious antennae at Sweets as she attempts to beckon it over. "You should be into that."

"You're okay with this?" Jeremy asks, turning to Plumeria.

Plumeria shrugs. "Hey, G's had stupider ideas. Honestly, I'm in it just for the party and getting out of this dump for a change."

"A little harsh, Plumes, but if it gets ya in, then whatever," Guzma says. He tosses a Pokebean over the table to Sweets to help her with winning over the Wimpod. "So how bout it, Jere?"

"Yeah. Yeah, alright," Jeremy mutters. He doesn't sound convinced, but it's a start. Guzma hopes - knows - he'll come around once the whole operation's underway.

"Hey, you name this little guy yet?" Sweets asks as she gently pushes the Pokebean towards the Wimpod with one finger.

Guzma rubs at his undercut. "Nah, I don't really- I haven't done the whole nickname thing before."

"So start with this one!"

Guzma gives a half smile. Well, he certainly couldn't just call it "Wimpod" or "Golisopod" later on as he'd done with his previous Pokemon... "Okay, what was the name of that crow in that movie?"

Sweets eyes flick up to his. "Diaval."

"Diaval it is then!"

She laughs. "You weren't supposed to, like, lean in to the whole Maleficent thing, you know."

"Too late! He's Lil D now."

"You gonna get him patched up?" Plumeria asks. "There's something going on on his back there."

"Yeah, I tried to clean that earlier and it didn't exactly work. Not sure what it is, but it don't seem to bother him much. Maybe we can get him to a Pokemon center while we're in the city tonight."

"Our to-do list keeps growing," she mutters.

"I might have just one more thing to add to it," he shows both of his forearms and their purple tattoos to Jeremy. "Ya mind touching these up quick?"

Jeremy looks pensive. He clearly isn't in the mood for doing Guzma any favors.

But it's more than the fact than Guzma wants a few patchy spots filled in on the Team Skull logos on his arms - he also wants a chance to attempt to patch things up with his cousin. He wants to go into tonight with a clear head and the brewing tension between them is a rough spot he wants to smooth over.

Jeremy finally sighs and rises from his seat. "Yeah, come on, I'll get setup in my room."

Guzma pushes back his chair and sets the bag of Pokebeans down in front of Sweets. "Ya mind watchin' Lil D for a bit?"

Sweets smiles and grabs the bag. "Absolutely!"

As Guzma leaves, the little Wimpod's face grows panicked and he looks ready to launch himself off the table. That is, until Sweets offers him a treat. Satisfied that Diaval's in good hands, Guzma follows after Jeremy.

~~~

"You know," your mother says, giving you a pointed look. "Your father - god rest his soul - was a champion."

"Mom, please," you say, as you follow her down a hallway. You're accompanied by various event planning staff. They're running through some of the schedule for tonight's grand opening, and your mother had insisted you tag along. "Not this again."

"What?" she asks teasingly. She most definitely is aware that you aren't fond of this subject, but it comes up with far too much frequency anyway. "I'm just saying: league champion and island kahuna? It's a good match!"

"So you go out with Garret," you mutter sarcastically.

"Ooooo," she says, eyes sparkling. "Now there's an idea."

The event staff exchange glances with one another and laugh nervously.

You sigh, embarrassed.

Your mother elbows you playfully. "Oh, you know I'm kidding."

"Okay, it's just... it's really weird."

She looks at you a little more seriously now, though her constant mirthful grin is still persistently there. "Oh, alright, alright. I'll stop bugging you about it. It's just that I, well, I want you to live a little, you know? Can't have Ethan be your pretend date for forever. Besides, he's got to live a little too! Don't you think he'd like to find someone himself?"

That thought gives you pause. Were you preventing Ethan from from finding someone by constantly having him be your excuse to ward off Garret? Guiltily you make a mental note to bring this up with him. After all, you hadn't exactly asked before declaring him your date in front of Garret. Then again, it wasn't as if anyone would confuse the two of you for a couple - Ethan was very much out of the closet. Was it time to find another way to tell Garret "no?" If so, how? He's annoyingly persistent, as is your mother's odd and awkward obsession that the two of you should get together.

She believes Garret's like your dad. He'd been a league champion from Johto who'd moved to Malie City for the familiar looking architecture. He'd come to Alola for new Pokemon and new opportunities, but had quickly grown homesick. Finding Malie City had eased that, and finding your mom had convinced him to stay. They'd been happy together, with a marriage that sounded almost like a fairytale from the way your mom likes to tell it. But, you can't remember too much about him, since he'd grown sick and passed away while you were still quite young.

But whatever your mother believes of Garret, it simply isn't true. You might not have known your father well, but there's no way he and Garret are alike in any way aside from them both being league champions.

You follow along after mother and the staff, feeling a little miserable. They all talk excitedly to one another, but you just can't get in the spirit. There's quite a few things that you feel unsure of, and now another has been added to the pile. Should you give Ethan space tonight?

Truthfully, you kind of wish you could just run away, at least for a little while. If you could just get away for a bit, maybe you could figure things out. You could think through if you really want to be kahuna, give the idea of moving out on your own more thought, plot a way to finally get Garret to back off, and maybe give Ethan the chance to do more on his own.

Or maybe just take a break from it all.

... So why don't you? You come to a conclusion then - something definitely a little outside of your usual actions, but maybe it's time - if tonight becomes too unbearable, you're sneaking out.

~~~

They're quite as they navigate the mansion. They only noise is that of their footsteps and the pitter-patter of rain outside. It's an awkward silence within which rings the sound of many words unspoken. It shouldn't be this way - Guzma doesn't want it to be this way. But that silence isn't broken, not when they enter Jeremy's room, not when he sets up all of his tattooing equipment, not even when he gestures for Guzma to sit and set one of his arms upon a table.

Not a word is spoken until Jeremy presses the pedal on the tattoo gun, making it buzz, and Guzma looks away, grimacing.

"Seriously?" Jeremy says.

"What?" he says, meeting his gaze. "Ain't like I got as many as you got. It does hurt."

"Yeah, but never as bad as you think it's gonna." Jeremy presses the gun against his skin.

Guzma winces, but doesn't pull away. Jeremy was right - it certainly doesn't tickle, but it's nowhere near unbearable.

Hopefully the same would hold true for this talk he wants to have.

He watches Jeremy work for a while and ponders their similarities and differences. They're related by their mothers: two women who were sisters and native to Alola. Their fathers had been best friends who'd come from Kanto and sought to emulate Team Rocket. Guzma's dad had been white, and Jeremy's was black. The resulting difference in his and Jeremy's skin tones sometimes made people question if they were really related.

But they are. Jeremy is less of a cousin and more of a brother for all they've been through together. There's only a year difference in their ages, and they'd grown up as best friends. He just doesn't want their paths to end the way their fathers' had... So, it was time to attempt repairing things.

"Jere, things are gonna go fine tonight. We've pulled off bigger stunts," Guzma opens.

"If you say so, G."

Alright, so he was gonna be like that still? Guzma sighs. Tact isn't exactly his strong suit. "What exactly are you hung up on, huh? We've gotta do something! You know why no one even thinks of us anymore? 'Cause we've been laying too low."

"Maybe- maybe it's better if they all forget."

"Forget?" Guzma knows where this conversation is going. He fears what comes next, but he can't stop himself from continuing. "How could it be fuckin' better if everyone forgets?"

"Because!" Jeremy takes his foot off the pedal and moves the tattoo gun away from Guzma's arm. He won't meet his eyes when he says, "Because maybe it's time to finally disband Team Skull."

And there it is. He knew Jeremy had come to this conclusion - probably had a while back, but he'd kept hoping he was wrong. Now, to hear it aloud, his stomach sinks with the sensation of betrayal. He supposes this is why Jeremy no longer wears the Team Skull medallion like the rest of them, and why his white beanie had been traded in for a black snapback cap. Words fail him for a long moment, then he says quietly, "You can't give up on this."

"G, there's hardly anything to give up on anymore. You- you're the only one who can't see that."

"You don't think we have a responsibility to rebuild this? After everything our dad-"

"I don't want to be our dads! You shouldn't either... You- Can't you imagine anything else outside of this?"

Guzma swallows. He's doing his best to keep from getting too angry - anger always made Jeremy shut down and he desperately wants Jeremy on his side for this. He had always envisioned that the two of them would inherit all their fathers left behind - and he doesn't want to be the lone captain trying to sail onward on a ship he refuses to believe is sinking. "Look, I know this don't look like much now, but it can again. Our dads? They had power. They were somebodys. We can be somebodys."

"... I don't want to be somebody like them."

"But they were great!"

"And I'm pretty sure you got a few scars on you that say otherwise!" This time Jeremy's eyes don't leave his.

Once more Guzma is rendered speechless. That was definitely a little more direct than Jeremy usually is. There's a mark along his shoulder that aches with an awful memory. Guzma has adoration for his father, but also resentment. "Maybe 'great' don't mean 'good' but it means they mattered."

Jeremy sighs. "Who do they matter to now, G? They're dead."

There's cracks forming in Guzma's resolve, but he desperately tries to patch them. Team Skull is all he has and all he's ever aspired to be. He can't let this go. "Then their deaths should mean something."

"They died fighting each other." Once more Jeremy looks at Guzma with more steadfastness than he ever has throughout their whole lives. "They did that to themselves. Our parents are not a prophecy that we have to fulfill."

To see Jeremy so ready to dismantle what's left shakes something within him. So often Jeremy seems quiet and unsure. How many times had he simply followed Guzma's lead? But, looking at him now, with the tattoo gun still in his hand, Guzma can finally see that he's starting to find his own way.

Guzma isn't like Jeremy though; he didn't learn something like tattooing. He isn't like Sweets with her hairdressing, or technical prowess, or like Plumeria with her music mixing. Guzma had laid his entire future on leading Team Skull, and maybe he's screwed it up so far, but he's ready to do better. There has to still be a Team Skull, because if there isn't then who is he?

"Jere," he says. "Just give it till tonight. Do this with me and then if you want out, you can go."

Jeremy looks away from him. He says nothing, but he starts the tattoo gun up again.

Guzma lays his arm back on the table. "That a 'yes?'"

"I don't know," Jeremy says quietly as he begins tattooing.

Guzma swallows. The two of them sit there with just the buzzing of the gun between them. This wasn't how he imagined this going. How can he fix this? He decides to go for levity. "Hey, I'll make everyone some hot cocoa when we get back, just like our moms' used to. Or for you I guess you'll want-"

There is just the slightest crack in Jeremy's stony expression. "Don't you say it, don't you fucking say it-"

"Cold cocoa." Guzma grins.

"How is your dumb ass gonna sit there still saying 'cold cocoa' when you know damn well that it's chocolate fucking milk?"

"You're lucky I've got enough respect to even call it cocoa. You sure you're related to me with your piss poor taste?"

He glances up from his work on Guzma's arm. "You've been in this Alolan heat just as long as I have. Nobody wants hot cocoa in hundred degree weather!"

"Hey, if you can't take the heat, get off the island." This was a phrase his mother had said on numerous occasions - especially when his father complained about the temperature.

Jeremy finally gives a halfhearted smile at hearing his aunt's words. "G, I know she's been gone a little longer than your dad but... maybe you should consider what your mom would want to."

It's Guzma's turn to look off at nothing. She would want something different, but he can't reconcile that with his plans right now.

"I think- I think she'd be pretty happy with the fact that you fixed up that bike. Almost done, right?"

"Yeah, yeah. Gonna finish that up after this." Everything he knows of motorcycles came from his mother, including his fondness for them... even if she had died in an accident when he was fifteen.

"So why not do that? Fixing up motorcycles or something like it?"

"Ain't exactly fully educated on that kinda thing. And I don't wanna go to some garage and be somebody's bitch to learn."

Jeremy shrugs and takes his foot off the pedal. He gestures to Guzma's tattoo. "Gotta start somewhere." The purple Team Skull logos on his arms had been some of the first tattoos Jeremy ever did, hence the patchiness needing repair now.

Guzma removes his finished arm from the table and lays down the other. "I don't- I don't wanna do that. This - Team Skull - is all I wanna be doin'.

Jeremy regards him with an expression Guzma can't quite parse for a moment before he says, "Alright," and goes back to tattooing. When he leans over Guzma's arm, something on a chain around his neck tumbles out of his shirt. It's a key from a computer keyboard - the number seven.

"What's that?" Guzma asks.

Immediately Jeremy stops the gun, sets it aside, and stuffs the key and chain back in his shirt. "Nothing."

Guzma scoffs. "Why ya bein' weird about it?"

Jeremy doesn't answer. He simply resumes tattooing.

There's no shortage of junk around Po Town. Finding busted up parts to repurpose for other uses would be all too easy. But they only person he knows of with excess computer parts is- "That from Sweets?"

Jeremy doesn't need to confirm it. Guzma can already tell from his less than convincing poker face that he's guessed correctly.

"What? It ain't that big a deal, Jere."

"We- we might have done a trade for it. Did a little tattoo on her wrist and she gave it to me."

Guzma hadn't noticed a new tattoo on Sweets, but then again she always wears the same black wristbands the rest of Team Skull does. "What of?"

Jeremy glances up at his face before looking back to his work, as if to make sure Guzma's interest is genuine and not simply looking for ammunition. "A number seven filled with sprinkles. A good luck charm for a good luck mark." He's quiet then for a moment before he adds. "I need to talk to you about her."

"Okay," Guzma says, wondering if he's finally going to admit that there might be something going on between him and Sweets.

"Don't- we can't bring her tonight. Tell her she's gotta stay here."

"What?!" Sweets is critical to his plans due to her talents. Not only had being raised in her grandmother's salon made her proficient with hairdressing and cosmetics (good for their getting dressed up tonight), but she's adept at many technical and nerdy things that Guzma doesn't quite understand. Her figuring out how to monitor the right emails was what allowed them to even scheme this whole thing up. If things go sideways tonight, she might be needed. Right now she knows more than anyone about that garden. How can he keep her here?

"I just don't- I don't want her to get-"

"What? In trouble?

"I mean... yeah?" He finishes with Guzma's arm and sets the gun down.

A thought occurs to Guzma then and he rounds on his cousin. "Is that what your problem is? That why you wanna disband the team?" The anger he'd been holding at bay is starting to escape as he speaks. "What do you think's gonna happen, huh? You're gonna run off with her and what? Get a little house with a white picket fence and live happily ever after? Like none of this ever happened? Like you don't come from here? From this?" He holds up the gold medallion around his neck.

Jeremy's mouth is set in a line. His eyes give away a hurt that he otherwise won't express. "I don't expect you to understand any of this, G, just respect it.

Guzma bites his tongue, but his temper continues to brew.

"Do this for me. Keep her here and I'll- I'll consider staying."

A pitcher of doubt is poured on the flames of his anger. All that's left, is the swirling smoke of uncertainty. He doesn't want to force Jeremy into anything - he just wishes that he wanted to keep the team together as much as he does. "She ain't gonna like this..." Guzma mutters. Sweets being denied a chance to get dolled up and go somewhere? She'll be, well, a little less than sweet about that.

Jeremy sighs. "Yeah, yeah I know. But you'll... do it then? If she's there and something happens I-"

"I'll tell her I need her to help from here," Guzma interrupts.

"You will?" Jeremy's face is incredulous.

"... Yeah, sure."

Jeremy stands and extends a hand to him.

Guzma rises, takes it, and they share a quick one-armed hug over the table.

"G... thanks. Now, let me cover that ink before you go messing around outside with that bike and get it infected."

"Alright," Guzma says, looking off at nothing in particular as Jeremy begins looking for wrappings. This isn't quite the way he was hoping things would be fixed between him and his cousin, but maybe Jeremy will change his mind after tonight.

The door to Jeremy's room opens and in comes Sweets, Diaval on her shoulder and two different dresses in her arms. "Hey, so help me decide-" She stops short in both her words and footsteps when she sees both their faces. She laughs nervously. "I think my ears are burning. What? You two talking about me? Better be good."

"Nope!" Jeremy's less than stellar poker face returns and he shakes his head a little too enthusiastically.

"Okay," Sweets says slowly, clearly not convinced, but seemingly ignoring it. "Anyway," she holds up the two cocktail dresses. "Help me choose what to wear tonight?"

Guzma tries to exchange a quick glance with Jeremy, but Jeremy simply stares straight ahead and swallows. Neither one of them looks particularly innocent right now.

"Okay, seriously. What?" Sweets says, her face changing from playful to concerned.

"I, uh," Guzma scratches at his undercut nervously. "I need you to stay here tonight."

Sweets face falls. "What? But- but I helped you come up with this plan. I'm- you can't be serious."

"I think it's better if you're on standby here in case-"

"In case of what? There's no reason for me to stay here. I can't do anything from this place. I'd be more help-"

"Sweets," Guzma says, attempting to put authority in his voice that he doesn't quite feel. "You're on the home team tonight. Stay here."

Her expression wavers between surprise and upset. "I was... looking forward to this. Why would you-" She goes quiet and her eyes fix on Jeremy. "Was this your idea? You did this?" It's perhaps the angriest he's ever seen her. There isn't much that perturbs Sweets, but right now she seems pissed.

Jeremy looks stunned. The two of them have gotten along swimmingly since Sweets arrival. This could very well be the first time they've had so much as a disagreement.

His silence appears to be all the confirmation Sweets needs. She gently takes Diaval from her shoulder and sets him on the table. Then, she gives Jeremy one last look full of the obvious hurt and betrayal she's feeling before leaving without a word.

Jeremy heaves a great sigh, lays his arms on the table, then rests his face upon them.

Guzma's not exactly in the mood to comfort him. He hadn't wanted to keep her behind anyway, and doing so had gone about as well as he predicted it would. "What? You wanted this," he says with snark.

"Man, can you just go," Jeremy mutters, face still in his arms.

One step forward, and two steps back. He feels unable to navigate this any further right now. Things were changing between him and his cousin whether he wanted them to or not.

So he does leave. He collects Diaval and sets off for the backyard and the project that awaits him there. Well, he hadn't stolen that part and almost gotten caught for nothing, right? Jeremy can wallow in the aftermath of this Sweets debacle. He's got his own head clearing to do outside. "Let me show ya something, buddy," he tells the Wimpod on his shoulder.

Diaval chitters curiously in his ear.

~~~

Garret isn't fooled for a second into believing that her little friend is really any competition for him. Still, he'll let her bide her time and use him as an excuse. She's nervous! Who wouldn't be? That's all this is. She'll come around - she just needs a little time.

Garret is a man of many virtues, but even he can admit he's not particularly patient. So, if he can find a way to speed this process along a little, then he's going to take it. Is his plan farfetched? Absolutely, but he hadn't become champion by believing things were off limits to him.

There's a tale they tell children around the islands - one of a particular Pokeball hidden away in a desert. Within this ball is said to be a being with the ability to grant three wishes to the person who owns it. The thing about legends like this is they have to start somewhere. In order to find the origin on this tale he'd poured over all he could, which hadn't been an easy task; after all, he's not a nerd. Eventually his pursuits lead him to Malie library and a room with the oldest books in Alola. There he'd finally found answers in a tattered old volume that may or may not have been off limits to take. But hey, it's not as if whoever took his bag earlier was worried about permissions either.

Which is how he now stands with the book in front of himself, pacing as he rereads important passages once again. His Chatot, Iggy, preens himself as he sits on his shoulder. Garret uses a few molted feathers as bookmarks.

There is a chance, at least according to this text, that such a Pokeball exists. The problem is, retrieving it. If it is real, it's hidden in the most treacherous parts of Haina Desert within an even more perilous cave. Does he have the ability to reach it? Sure, probably. But should he, champion of Alola, be forced to risk it? Absolutely not. He'd rather have someone else put their worthless neck on the line. It's not that he's afraid. Of course he isn't.

Once he finds a willing sacrifice, gets them to go after the ball and bring it back to him, he'll have three wishes and he'll get what he's been after this whole time: becoming the Kahuna of Ula'ula Island. And, perhaps, he won't stop there. Had there ever been a kahuna of all the islands? Why not? He'd only chosen Ula'ula as it seemed like the easiest entry point. Woo the daughter and earn the chance to be chosen... he just hadn't anticipated the kahuna's daughter being difficult.

It occurs to him that he could just simply wish to be the kahuna, but that doesn't feel good enough now. No, instead he's also going to wish for the adoration that's been denied to him. He'll wish for the kahuna's daughter to fall in love with him.

He's got all the info he needs and a plan that's coming together.

"All we gotta do now," he mutters to Iggy. "Is find some nobody dumb enough to be our errand boy. Someone no one will miss should something happen. But who?"

"Who?" Iggy repeats.

~~~

The phrase "It's not much to look at, but it'll get there" feels like it's said about a few too many things in his life, but this motorcycle is definitely one it applies to. He knows it might look a little mismatched and cobbled together. It's not the shiniest bike in the world, but after all the work he's put into it? Guzma can't help but feel proud anyway.

It sits, as it has for so long, under an overhang outside in the backyard of Shady House. All around it are tools, parts that wouldn't fit, and other odds and ends. It's his makeshift garage and a place where's he's spent a lot of free time - especially lately.

He places Diaval on an overturned bucket with a small pile of Pokebeans and gestures to the bike. "Ya see this, D? Pretty great, right? After today it's gonna go a lot more places than this backyard."

The Wimpod wriggles his antennae and absentmindedly chews on the feast in front of him. Guzma knows that he might not quite understand what he's saying, but he enjoys that the little bug seems to listen attentively anyway.

He removes his jacket and sets it aside, not wanting to get any grease or grime on it. He's grateful to have something else to focus on. His mind might wander while he repairs the bike, but its wanderings feel less scattered this way. He's able to put aside all the excess and recenter. He wonders if maybe that's got something to do with his mom - this had been her spot for tending to her own bike long before it was his. She might have been gone for some time now, but as long as he's out here doing this, he still feels a connection to her.

He picks up the stolen exhaust pipe and gathers the tools he needs before kneeling next to the motorcycle. It was time to finally get this bike of his running properly.

He remembers what Jeremy had said about what his mother would want for him. A thought like that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. It's not that he wants to forget - he definitely doesn't - it's just that some things can be painful to recall. Would she want to see Team Skull disbanded? He isn't sure. But, he is sure that she might have wanted to see it taken in a different direction. To see him go in a different direction.

His parent's marriage had been on the rocks for as far back as he can remember. How they even got together in the first place he was never sure of. They fought just as much as they got along. Their last fight had been the worst, and it had been over him.

He was fifteen, and he'd stolen something for the first time - something so small and insignificant that he can't even remember what it was. The discovery of this had changed something within his mother. So many things from that day can only be conjured up in bits and pieces, but he can remember her face. He can still see the way her features changed as realization dawned on her. She wasn't angry or even disappointed in him - she was worried.

She wanted things to change for her son's sake. She feared that being surrounded by all that his father had built Team Skull into was having an affect on him. And, of course, it was. How could it not? The entire town was made off his father's criminal empire.

So his mother and father fought. They screamed, shouted, carried on, got physical... Then she left. She'd taken a ride on her bike to cool off and never returned. There'd been an accident.

And she was gone.

It'd always felt like she'd taken a piece of him with her. Like there's an invisible wound and the only temporary mend is the times he's working out in this makeshift garage. As he got older, that feeling grew less intense, but it still hangs around. It's melancholic sometimes to be out here - the ghost of his mother is both a comfort and a reminder of what he's lost.

For a long time, he felt guilty. He felt like her death was on his hands. If he hadn't caused his parents to fight that day, maybe she'd still be around. He's yet to fully overcome that guilt, and maybe he never would, but he's managed contain it - to not let it tear into him and leave him adrift in regret as it once had.

His father often times seemed to also blame him, though his take on the situation had been this: it wouldn't have happened if Guzma hadn't gotten caught. So, to attempt to rectify his mistake and assuage some of his guilt, Guzma grew more duplicitous. If getting caught could have such dire consequences, then he'd do all he could to avoid it.

He also knew this might be at odds with what his mother would have wanted - especially close to the end - but she wasn't there anymore. The only authority figure he had left to follow and appease was his father. He was a man that Guzma seemed to constantly disappoint no matter what he did or how hard he tried, but Guzma refused to stop trying. He knows that if his dad could see him now, he'd definitely still be unimpressed with him. Maybe even ashamed.

With his father and uncle gone, so much had been left to him; their power, leadership, wealth, notoriety, and more that he was in no way prepared to suddenly receive. Even back then Jeremy wanted none of it, though he wasn't quite as despondent about Team Skull yet. Immediately Guzma had squandered so much money on things like matching uniforms and other purchases that were more for show then practicality. Their numbers dropped drastically and steadily with each new decision Guzma made. His father's followers always seemed to think that everything he did was so out of line with what he should be doing. Maybe they were right, but at the time he didn't care. He'd finally been set free to do as he wished with no limitations and no one could tell him that he'd done wrong.

It was safe to say he'd been taken down a peg or two since in the couple years that followed.

Sometimes he's not sure what he's working towards now other than trying to fix his mistakes and make his parents proud. Problem is, the older he gets, the more certain he becomes that they each would have wanted different things for him. So which one does he do right by?

And if he were to give up Team Skull, what then?

No, that can't be the answer. Not after everything.

Exhaust pipe now in place, Guzma sets down his tools and sits on the ground beside Diaval and his bucket. He smiles as he regards the motorcycle. He'd sat in this exact spot before, watching his mother work on her own bike with many of the same tools he still uses now. He'd stay there for hours as she showed him parts and explained what she was doing. She'd work back here in old jeans and a shirt his father had long stopped wearing. Her long, dark hair would be pulled back into a messy bun with a rolled bandanna tied into a headband to keep any stray hairs out of her face. It wasn't exactly clean work, but she didn't care. Her clothes would become as stained and dirty as his are now. Once, when he'd commented on the mess she'd laughed and playfully wiped grease onto his nose. "Don't be afraid of a little dirt," she'd said. "You think I'd have this bike on the road if I was afraid of getting dirty? No! Living's messy business! No way around that." Then she'd taken a rag and wiped the grease from his nose. "But we can always clean up later. And if there's stains? Well, that's just a souvenir from the adventure."

He's brought out of his reverie by a sudden weight dropping onto his lap. Diaval had apparently grown tired of sitting alone on the bucket. He's blindsided then by how familiar this feels too. Because, so often when he'd be out here with his mom, his Wimpod had been as well - his previous one, before she had evolved. He huffs, his chest aching with both a sadness and a newfound happiness. He can't deny he still misses his Golisopod. He'd grown up with the creature and to see her grow old and die felt like yet another death in the family, and he's seen far too many of those.

Diaval insistently nuzzles his head underneath Guzma's hand until he begins to pet him. This Wimpod is both heartbreakingly familiar and yet also completely foreign. It'd certainly taken to him faster than his previous one had. With so many past things he's trying to make right, it was kind of nice to have a new friend. He stands, and places the bug on his shoulder, where it happily clings to him.

He grabs a key from a nearby table, inserts it into the motorcycle, turns it, and grins as the engine growls to life. Everything seems to be in working order as far as he can tell. He's tempted to take it out now and finally test drive it. He imagines ignoring his plans for tonight and just driving off as far as he can, getting lost on the island somewhere far away from all the failed expectations he has for himself. Somewhere where the question of what his mom or his dad would want doesn't matter. A place a million miles away where maybe he can just be himself for a while - give up on the worries of all of this.

But that's not an option, and he knows he's short on time. There's a party to crash tonight and he's got to get ready.

Chapter Text

The ride on the way to Malie City is uncomfortable and tense. Guzma had wanted to take his newly fully functioning motorcycle there, but had been talked out of it by Plumeria. He supposes that it is true that's it's better if they stick together, and there certainly wasn't room for three of them on the bike. Still, it was yet another thing that soured the overall air of their getting ready.

Now, he sits in the front passenger seat of a stranger's car, elbow against the door, and his chin resting on his closed fist. He's changed out of his hoodie, sweat pants, and grease stained shirt into something classier. Well, as classy as he'd been able to find in the mansion. This had required going into his parents' room (an oft untouched area) and rooting through some of his father's things. There, he'd managed to find a pair of dress pants and a jacket - both a dark gray - that luckily had fit him well enough. Sweets had paired them with a deep purple shirt and then done her best to tame his unruly hair.

She was quiet the whole time, speaking only to Plumeria.

Plumeria occupies the seat behind him now. He catches sight of her in the side-view mirror as she gazes out the window. She looks cool and confident in her attire, her pink and yellow hair down for once. He'd thought she'd opt for a cocktail dress of some kind, but instead she'd surprised them all with a tight-fitting pant suit and heels. Sweets had excitedly done her makeup for the party as the two of them giggled and talked in whispers.

Then there was Jeremy, sitting beside Plumeria with his head hung low and making no attempt to hide his miserableness. It was odd to see him and Sweets interact the way they had while she was so angry with him. Usually Sweets would flit about him like the social butterfly she is while Jeremy would quietly smile and look in awe of her. Tonight however, she wordlessly fussed with his hair and adjusted his clothes, her mouth set in a line, while he looked both apologetic and afraid. Jeremy, too, had gone through a few of his own father's things, but for him the clothes look slightly too tight and uncomfortable. Not bad, but like the clothes weren't his, which, they aren't. Jeremy grew up to be tall and broad - add his stoicism to that, and he can sometimes appear more intimidating then he really is. He fidgets in the clothes now, eyes on the floor of the car and shoulders drooped.

Neither Plumeria or Sweets were happy about Sweets staying behind. And, hey, Guzma wasn't either, but Jeremy had yet to rescind his request, so stay behind Sweets did. After they'd all been fully dressed and ready she'd called them a car using a ride share app and seen them off. She looked near tears as the car pulled away causing a fresh wave of guilt to hit him, making him even more testy and anxious.

He really would have preferred her there - especially since she's the only one with a phone that she pays for with freelance coding work online. He'd wasted so much of the money left behind after his father's death, and he knows it. It wasn't long before new phones and phone plans were an impossibility. Though, this lack of phones wasn't exactly bad news to everyone. Plumeria had been very relieved that Guzma could no longer send the same picture of his Golisopod to a group chat over and over with the words "real isopod hours."

Beneath his jacket, Diaval squirms and resettles against his side. He'd been brought along in the hopes that they can stop by a Pokemon center to get the odd spot on his back checked out when they get a chance. If he had a phone now, he'd be sending a new "real isopod hours" photo to the group chat. But, he doesn't, and the fact that they can't contact Sweets - the person with the most info on Malie Garden - definitely bugs him. As does the fact that they'll have to flag down a taxi to get back home tonight. When they've once again got more money, phones would be the first thing on the list of amenities to get.

"So," says the guy driving the car. He'd looked nervous ever since picking them up outside Po Town - not exactly a place that often gets cars called to it. "Y'all look fancy."

"Uh-huh," Guzma grumbles. He's not in the mood for pleasantries and besides, the less everyone outside of Team Skull knows, the better. This guy doesn't need to know where they're going or what they're doing. No need to provide someone with possible tips for the police once that Ho-Oh feather disappears.

The driver doesn't attempt to make anymore conversation for the duration of the ride to the city.

~~~

People are starting to arrive as you help Ethan set his vegetarian food out on a table. The event organizers and chefs had been reluctant to let him bring out food of his own, but you suppose being the best friend of the kahuna's daughter has some benefits. They'd agreed to give him an entire table to himself... if it was separated from the rest of the displays of food.

The majority of the party is taking place in an area of Malie garden that's got a patio, gazebos, and the centerpiece of it all: a tower that is supposedly similar in appearance to a famous one in the Johto region. In fact, this whole event will culminate with that tower, when a Ho-Oh statue, complete with an authentic feather in the tail will be placed at the highest window.

Right now this section of the garden is decked out for the festivities with music, lights, and decorations twinkling in the twilight. The rest of it is more natural in appearance. There's streams of water that run throughout it, with bridges, grasses, trees, and walkways. It's beautiful, peaceful, and feels almost alien settled within the busyness of Malie City. It'd taken months to create this attraction, and the effort was well worth it - it's breathtaking.

You wonder if your father would have enjoyed it. Maybe it would have reminded him of the region he came from.

"You're gonna do what, exactly?" Ethan asks you, as he places a placard in front of a bowl of food.

"If I get too fed up with all of this," you gesture widely to the scene around you. "Or Garret becomes insufferable, I'm going back to the house, changing out of this," you pull on the light green dress you're wearing. "And sneaking out for a bit."

"You're... gonna run away?"

"Run away?" you laugh a little. "I'm pretty sure you've got to be a kid to run away - not an adult already contemplating moving out on your own." You take another plate of food and uncover it, arranging it neatly on the table. "I don't mean permanently or anything. Just... for the night. Get out of the city for a bit while everyone's distracted."

Ethan smiles as he sets down one more placard. "Your mom and Garret won't like that."

"No kidding," you fold your arms and look away for a moment before turning back to him. "You... wanna come with me?"

Ethan looks up at you, surprised.

"You don't have to!" you add quickly, remembering your mother's words from earlier. Maybe you shouldn't have asked - wasn't part of the reason you're considering running off to give Ethan space for a bit? But, you're also nervous about going off on your own, and you wanted to offer to negate any chance of him feeling left out. "Just, if you wanted to get out too."

He hesitates, like he's trying to consider his words carefully. "I do think about getting out of here sometimes." He nods towards another table where a woman in a white dress is browsing the food. You recognize her as Lusamine, president of the Aether Foundation. "You know, I thought about joining Aether for a bit, before taking nursing classes."

"You did?" You knew Ethan admired the Aether Foundation for their conservation efforts, but you didn't know that he'd seriously considered becoming part of it.

"Yeah, I thought maybe I could meet new people and maybe even, you know, a guy by going someplace new."

"But?" you urge him to continue, nervous for the answer.

"I love this city," he says. "And I wanted to go for that nursing degree I'd always talked about. And hey, I couldn't leave you here on your own to deal with Garret, right?"

Your shoulders slump a little. "Do I- am I... holding you back from things?"

Ethan's eyes go wide. "What? Oh, no, I didn't mean it like that. It's just, I dunno, we've been friends forever and sometimes it feels like it's always been you and me. I didn't want to... leave you behind." He trails off, as if fully realizing the implications of what he's saying.

You smile sadly at him. You might not have cultivated that many friends in your time, but of them, there's no doubt that Ethan has been the best. But, you're starting to see that the two of you have reached a point where it's time to spread your wings a little - in different ways. Ethan's a caring person, and that quality will make him a great nurse, but he doesn't need to take care of you as much as he has been. "Ethan," you tell him. "You stay here tonight. Who knows, maybe you'll meet someone!"

He returns your smile, his eyebrows furrowed. "Are you okay with that?"

"Absolutely!" you say brightly. Besides, maybe it was time to be more independent and make some decisions on your own. Maybe this was just one more step to becoming a worthy kahuna. You wonder if it's time not so much for the two of you to grow apart, as it is to simply grow a little more in general.

As you share a quick hug, you catch sight of your mother and Garret chatting. Right as your mother points in your direction, you break apart from Ethan and duck down behind the table.

"Uh," Ethan says, confused for a moment, until he turns to see them too. "Oh."

"Yeah, I'm gonna... I'm gonna go," you whisper as you stay low, using the table as cover to sneak away.

"Good luck!" Ethan calls after you.

~~~

"Jeez, cheer up, Jere!" Guzma says, elbowing Jeremy playfully. "It's a party an' all, ya know!" True, that wasn't why they're here, but Jeremy looks so sad and anxious that it might be suspicious.

They'd gotten in just fine with the fake invitations that Sweets and Plumeria had created, so that was one step down. But it is just one phase of this whole thing behind them. Jeremy's got to pull it together if this is to go off without a hitch.

"Right, a party," Plumeria says a little absentmindedly and smiling. "You guys go do your thing. I'm gonna scout the place and make sure we have a quick escape if we need." She doesn't wait for a response, and immediately makes her way to a dance floor that's been set up.

"Hey! Yeah, right," Guzma calls after her. Well, she had said that she was mostly in it for the party hadn't she? Still, now with Plumeria distracted too, it's just him on his game. Was no one else taking this seriously? "Whatever, let's get food."

Jeremy still doesn't respond, but follows Guzma over to a table of food that's set aside from all the others. Probably not a good sign that this one is empty except for one bespectacled and nervous looking guy while the others are full of party goers picking at the table offerings, but Guzma would prefer to avoid crowds anyway.

"Yo, what's the deal with this stuff?" Guzma asks, inspecting the tags in front of each dish.

"Oh! Well, everything on this table is vegetarian!" the guy says, pushing his glasses up on his nose.

Guzma's eyebrows scrunch up in confusion. "Is that - is that a whole fake turkey? Jere, Jere, come look at this!"

"G, I really don't-" Jeremy begins.

He falls quiet as Diaval rolls out from beneath Guzma's jacket and onto the table, where he begins to skitter through the plates and bowls.

"D, wait, no!" Guzma yells as the Wimpod evades his grasp.

He pauses at the fake turkey for a moment, antennae wiggling, but moves onto another bowl in time for Guzma's hands to close around nothing but air. In the bowl is what appears to be some kind of cooked and seasoned broccoli. Diaval climbs up the side of it, little legs hanging over the edge. His mandibles reach out and grab a piece just as Guzma lifts him around the middle. But he holds tight to the bowl, sending it and the broccoli inside all tumbling out onto the table.

"Shit!" Guzma says, placing the Wimpod on his shoulder where he happily munches on his prize. "Shit, sorry."

"It's fine! It's okay it... wasn't really getting eaten anyway. I'm glad someone enjoyed it at least," the guy at the table says as he sweeps the broccoli back into the bowl. When he's done, he watches Diaval carefully, blinking. "Your Wimpod... can I see it?"

"What? Why?" Guzma says, taking a step back, a hand protectively coming to rest on Diaval.

"Oh, uh, there's something on its shell there and I- I'm a nursing student, you know, for Pokemon, so I thought maybe I could check it out?"

Guzma exchanges glances with Jeremy who shrugs, and picks up a plate and knife. "You do what you want, G. I'm gonna eat this fake turkey." He sighs and follows this up by muttering, "It's all I deserve."

Guzma rolls his eyes and picks up Diaval from his shoulder. He regards the guy cautiously. "You won't - you're not gonna hurt him?"

"No, no, I just want to have a look. Here, bring him back here," he says, gesturing for Guzma to join him behind the table. "I'm Ethan."

"Guzma," he answers, wondering if he should have given away his name like that. "And this, is Diaval." He places the Wimpod into Ethan's outstretched arms.

Diaval looks ready to run until Ethan offers him another piece of broccoli. As he eats, Ethan inspects the isopod's back. "He usually this hungry?"

"Uh," Guzma scratches at his undercut. "Well, has been since I got him... today."

Ethan lifts Diaval up and looks directly into his face. "A new partner? Where from?"

"Caught him right outside the city," Guzma says quickly.

Ethan looks at him from over the top of Diaval's shell. "... Are there usually Wimpod there?"

Guzma looks away and shrugs.

Jeremy huffs as he stands and watches while sadly eating his tofurkey.

"Well, in any case, I think I know what's wrong."

"You do?"

Ethan hums in affirmation. "He seems to be recovering from a slight poisoning - nothing an antidote won't cure - but there's something else. That spot on his back? It's a wound that was exposed to a virus."

"Birush?" Jeremy asks around a mouthful of fake turkey.

"Yes," Ethan says, "a beneficial one."

Guzma shakes his head. "If it's beneficial, why's the wound look like that?"

Ethan hands Diaval back to Guzma, ducks down, and reaches under the table. "I think the poison slowed the rate of healing, but," he pulls out a large brown bag. "After he's had an antidote we'll start to see a rapid regrowth of that infected scale. See, the virus he's got is called 'Pokerus.'"

"And it's... good?" Guzma asks. "Wait, is that why he's red instead of purple?"

"No," Ethan says, pulling a vial out of the bag and standing. "Sometimes abnormal colors like that just happen. Probably a good thing he's not out in the wild - unusual coloring can mean standing out, which can make for easy prey." He pours a bit of antidote from the vial on another piece of broccoli before offering it to Diaval. "Poison? Not so good. But once that's gone and Pokerus can do what it does, well, watch!"

As Diaval finishes the medicated broccoli, something starts to happen to the wound on his back. The scale dries, reforms, solidifies and heals right in front of them. The rate at which it mends is almost alarming, like it shouldn't be something that's possible.

"Well, shit," Jeremy says, setting his plate down.

Guzma looks up at Ethan questioningly.

"And that," Ethan says, "is Pokerus. It's also why he's been so hungry. It's a virus, yes, but it's not harmful - instead it promotes fast growth. You might have a Golisopod before you know it!"

"Oh," Guzma says, holding Diaval to himself. Something about that catches him off guard. Having another Wimpod was one thing, but another Golisopod? How long had it been since his last one had died? He has guilty thoughts that he might just be replacing his deceased companion. He kind of just... wanted this one to stay a Wimpod for a while.

There's a voice from the other side of the table that sounds vaguely familiar then. "I'm gonna ask again, Ethan. Where did she run off to? I know she told you."

Every bit of friendliness from Ethan's face drops. When both of them turn towards the speaker it's-

The guy from the library earlier that day - the one Guzma had taken this very Wimpod from.

Guzma freezes. He considers quickly tucking Diaval back under his jacket, but to do so right in front of this guy might be too suspicious.

Ethan goes back to fussing with the way the food is arranged on the table. "Garret, I genuinely have no idea."

This Garret guy places both hands on the table in an almost threatening way. "We both know that's bull-" he stops short when he notices Guzma. "That Wimpod... where'd you get it?"

Guzma moves Diaval back under his jacket. "Caught it."

Jeremy quietly moves to Guzma's side.

Garret eyes them both suspiciously. "Weird color for a Wimpod. Just like one that was stolen from me today. You at the library earlier, huh?"

"Nope," Guzma tries to stand as tall as he can. He's lanky, but this Garret is just as tall. Beside him Jeremy crosses his arms. Height aside, this guy couldn't take on both of them.

"Show it to me," Garret demands.

"You got a problem?" Guzma asks.

Ethan moves away from them to clear away Jeremy's abandoned plate.

"Depends," Garret says. "The one that was stolen had something weird going on with its back. Show it to me and we'll make sure you're not a thief."

"No," Guzma says defiantly. He's not sure who this guy thinks he is, but he's not doing anything he asks.

"So you are a thief?" Garret say. "Who are you anyway? If you got invited, you must be someone, right? This is a closed event. You sneak in?"

Jeremy's resolve begins to waver. "Just show him," he whispers.

Guzma doesn't move.

"This could fuck things up," Jeremy says through gritted teeth.

Guzma sighs noisily. Fine. Fine, just for the sake of the plan they've still got to pull off. He pulls back his jacket to reveal Diaval clinging to his side.

Garret's cold eyes go to the Wimpod, then back to Guzma's face. "No spot."

Diaval chitters at Garret then skitters around Guzma's back, seeking jacket coverage. It seems afraid.

Guzma drops his jacket back down. "Ya happy now? I didn't steal anythin'."

"Still doesn't answer who-" Something off to the right catches his attention. "Ah, there she is," he says. He turns back to Guzma once more. "I'm keeping an eye on you." And with that, he's gone.

Jeremy sighs in relief. "Jesus Christ, G." He reaches for a cup on the table and fills it with water from a pitcher.

"You're the one who took Garret's Wimpod?" Ethan asks.

Guzma reaches for Diaval, but he moves to an unreachable spot between his shoulder blades, still afraid. "Sorta? I guess? Look, the little guy wouldn't let me leave him and that guy's an asshole so-"

"Oh, no, it's fine!" Ethan says. "I just have a friend who would have been really amused by this. Garret is an asshole for sure."

"Yeah, well, thanks for not giving us away an' all."

Jeremy gulps down another glass of liquid, still trying to calm himself.

Ethan nods. "Pretty ballsy to, uh, steal from the champion of Alola."

Jeremy spits out a mouthful of water.

Guzma goes wide-eyed. "He's what?!"

~~~

A voice calls your name - the noise that you least wanted to hear, especially coming from this particular person. Garret is running towards you, waving and dodging around people. Of course he'd been watching for you. All you wanted was to get some food and sneak back off to some corner for a bit, but apparently that was too much to ask. You feel adventure outside of Malie City calling you before Garret even reaches you.

Garret never dresses up - not really. You suppose that he thinks he doesn't have to. He probably likes wearing clothing that might remind the observant that he is a league champion. He just always looks like a Pokemon trainer, or a sports player - your typical jock. He might have placed a more formal jacket over this particular tee, and his ever-present Chatot might be missing from his shoulder, but the only thing allowing him to blend in with the prim and proper surroundings is his confidence and good looks.

Not that you're one for formality, but the dress you're wearing now at least looks the part. You might have been in a hurry to get out of trying many on earlier, but you're fairly happy with it. It's a very light green, with a white tulle overlaying the top, upon which are embroidered gold flowers. To your dismay, you realize the jersey Garret is wearing underneath his jacket matches it. Perhaps he'd spoken to your mother. You hum in frustration to yourself as you set your plate of food aside on a table. He's too close to run from now, so it's time to shoot him down. Again.

"Found you!" he says when he stops in front of you.

"Sure did!" you tell him with a sarcastic enthusiasm.

He grabs a drink off the tray of a passing waiter and takes a long gulp before continuing. "What've you been up to, huh? Busy getting pretty for me?" He laughs, slaps his knee, and some of whatever liquid is in the cup sloshes out.

You cross your arms.

"What, it's funny!" he says. "'Cause see, you're always pretty, I'm always pretty - it's why we go so well together."

"Hysterical."

"Yeah, I should try standup," he says as he switches the cup to his other hand and then proceeds to shake out the former, drops from the spilled liquid flying off. A woman turns around after a few hit her, looking confused and offended. However, when she sets eyes on Garret she smiles and excitedly whispers to a friend. Garret doesn't notice.

"Uh-huh," you tell him curtly. You weren't always so rude to Garret, but after so many times of politely telling him you're not interested, your patience has all but disappeared where he's concerned.

He polishes off his drink and hands the empty cup to a baffled looking party goer. Then he wipes his hand down the side of his pants and offers it to you. "Come on, let's dance."

Your arms remain folded. "I'm good."

His outstretched hand stays hanging in the air. "You can't just be a wallflower. Have some fun for once."

"I don't want-"

He suddenly grabs you by the arm and begins pulling you to the dance floor. You stumble, surprised, but then plant your feet and yank yourself from his grasp.

He looks confused when he stops and turns back around, like he truly doesn't get that he just crossed a line. His face becomes even more bewildered when his eyes meet yours and see the fury in them.

People are starting to stare and you can feel your cheeks heating up. "I said 'no,' Garret," you tell him quietly.

His arrogant smile returns. "Right, yeah, all part of your game." He reaches for your arm once more.

Incensed you back away, dodging him.

A couple of people around you gasp. You start to hear murmurs.

"Hey, come on," Garret says, ridiculous grin still plastered across his face. "I don't know what you're mad about, but it's nothing a little partying can't fix."

"I don't want to party with you," you say, trying to keep your voice even and low despite your anger. "I don't want to do anything with you. When are you going to get that?"

The whispers around you increase. You can just barely make out the words "kahuna's daughter" from a couple directions.

Already feeling mortified and not wanting to give Garret a chance to do more, you turn and quickly walk away, the crowd around you parting to let you pass.

"You know every other girl here would kill for a little attention from me, right?" he calls after you.

You pick up your pace, your chest feeling near on fire with rage. You won't meet anyone's eye as you storm past them, leaving behind the dancing, music, lights, and gazebos, and making a beeline back towards your home.

That was more than enough. You're escaping tonight, even if it is only for tonight.

~~~

"G, could you slow down?" Jeremy says as he trails behind him.

"We're doing this now, Jere," Guzma tells him, hurrying through the garden and towards a large building located next to it. "Wasted enough time at that party. We came here for a reason so let's do it!"

"And Plumes?"

They'd passed by Plumeria in their haste. She was still out on the dance floor and looked completely in her element, laughing as she twirled a girl in a short dress around. In fact, it was the happiest Guzma had seen her in a very long time. He couldn't bring himself to drag her away from that. "Feather ain't heavy," he tells Jeremy. "I think we can handle it."

All they have to do, is not get caught. He can handle that. He's good at that! The only thing complicating it is courting the ire of this Garret. Who would have thought the guy he stole that duffel bag from would have turned up here, and further more, would be the champion of that stupid newly established league he's been hearing about? It's not a big deal - not, really. Right? Still, having someone even slightly high profile taking notice of him makes it feel like he's in danger of being found out. So, it was time to finally pull off this little heist of theirs before anything else happens.

Theoretically it should be easy - getting into the kahuna's house won't be hard at least, since they'd built this whole damn garden right next to it. People are going in and out anyway, though it appears to be mostly staff. According to Sweets the kitchen and other facilities used for preparing for the party are located within the kahuna's residence. He's not exactly on the up-and-up on the kahuna, or who she is, what she's up to, or how she operates - all he really knows is that she and his dad did not get along for the obvious reasons... still, the kahuna seems to live in a building rivaling the size of Shady House. Apparently this is because it isn't just a home, but also where she and other officials of the island work.

The emails Sweets read mentioned the Ho-Oh statue was to stay in a storage room inside the kahuna's house until it was time to place it within the tower. They're not certain where this storage room is, but they'd narrowed it down to a few options. Better than checking every room in this place, or so Guzma tells himself. Just get inside, find the feather, take it, and get out. Shouldn't be hard. Hell, taking that exhaust pipe this morning had been more perilous.

So then, why does he feel so nervous?

Jeremy doesn't seem any more certain about this than Guzma does. The two of them mill about in what is probably not the most inconspicuous way at the divide in the garden's gate that connects to the kahuna's place. They watch as waiters, caterers, and other workers go in and out of the building. They may not be dressed like staff, but if Guzma's learned anything, it's all about confidence. If you act like you're supposed to be somewhere, most people won't question you. However, to cut the risk they've got to wait until there's not many people around, which is what they're doing now.

Jeremy's quiet as he looks at Guzma seriously, anxiously. He's stopped moping, at the very least, but Guzma's not certain this is any better. They've got to pull off "cool" and "nonchalant," even if they don't feel it. "We really gotta do this?" Jeremy asks.

"We got this far," Guzma tells him. "Look, the sooner we get this done, the sooner we get back, and you and Sweets can make up, alright?"

At the mention of Sweets, Jeremy looks away from him. "I wasn't trying to- to hurt her, I just-"

"Hey, hey, focus," Guzma says. "I mean, she's pissed at me too."

"You know it ain't in the same way, G."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't my idea to leave her behind. Let her in on the next one."

"Right, the next one," Jeremy mutters. He sounds disappointed, maybe angry.

Guzma had hoped that being out here and causing some trouble would have reawakened something within his cousin - make him see that the team shouldn't be disbanded and they're all right where they're supposed to be. ... but it seems to be doing the opposite.

No time to waste on it now though - there's only a couple staff still around the door. They should move while they can. "Let's do this," he says.

They walk, casually, calmly towards the door. Jeremy's breathing is heavy and quick, but otherwise he feels like the two of them are doing alright. There's a waiter smoking off to the right who doesn't pay them any mind. A girl to the left eyes them curiously, but looks away when her phone buzzes. So far, so good.

Guzma opens the door without hesitation and enters the building, Jeremy just behind him. They maintain their pace quietly as they emerge into a brightly lit building, with more workers on the inside bustling about. Guzma looks at the ground, avoiding eye contact, and hopes Jeremy is doing the same. They take a right down a hallway to the first possible room Sweets had pointed out.

~~~

You, unfortunately, pass by your mother in your huff to get back to the house and pick up your pace, nearly at a run. You'd thought that perhaps she hadn't noticed you, but apparently she'd excused herself from whoever she was talking to and now she's at your side, urging you to stop.

"Are you alright?" she asks, concerned at the look on your face. "Did something happen?"

You sigh, and continue towards your destination. "No, I'm fine." Your mother has been so weird about you getting together with Garret for a while, but you've yet to fully confront her on it. You're unsure if you're ready to do so now. Would she fully accept your "no," or would she also continue to push this the way Garret does.

"You're not fine!" she says. "I can tell. Please stop! You can talk to me!"

You do finally stop, and turn to her. "Can I though?"

Your mother looks so flustered and hurt and you automatically feel guilty. "You've just- you've been so upset lately and I just want to know how I can help."

You inhale, the pinprick of tears in your eyes. There's people staring again - of course there is. The kahuna and her daughter all upset in the middle of a formal event? Who wouldn't look. You love your mother but all the frustration and fear that's been building up within you for so long is making you volatile. An audience doesn't help that.

Your mother though? She doesn't care about people watching and she never has. You wish you were as sure as her and you wish you were as confident about following in her footsteps, but you're not.

She's always been a natural leader, but you? You just don't know. There's too much to explain to her in this moment at this party. It's more than just Garret, even if he was the tipping point. It's the push and pull between being an adult and still feeling so trapped at home, trapped in a life you're not sure you're ready for. A life you're not certain you even want. Why was this all decided for you anyway? Even Garret feels like something everyone is constantly pushing on you. Weren't you allowed to decide anything for yourself?

Your mother says your name questioningly in your silence.

It's just too much. Getting out and getting away will help. You need that. You need a moment away from here. A distraction.

She reaches out to touch your shoulder, but you pull away. Again, she looks perturbed.

You hadn't meant to avoid her touch - you'd done it before you'd even thought about it - but after Garret and the way he'd pulled you along to the dance floor, you want everyone to be hands off.

"Okay," your mother says gently. "What will help? Do you want me to get you a drink? Or, hey! I can go find Garret for you!"

A rage is reignited within you again. There's so much that she doesn't see - refuses to see. Tears are so close to spilling out your eyes. You feel small, immature, childish. Embarrassed.

You turn away and continue again for the house, praying you get there before any tears escape their confines.

This time, she lets you leave.

You're making at least one decision for yourself tonight and it's getting out of this city.

~~~

They've checked three rooms now with no luck and Guzma is beginning to sweat. It doesn't help that Diaval has stayed firmly lodged between his shoulders and refused to move ever since their run in with Garret. This is taking too long. The longer this takes, the more chance they have of being caught or something else going wrong. When were they supposed to do this statue thing? Are they running out of time? It's starting to feel like they are.

Jeremy is also losing his cool. He's removed his slightly-too-tight jacket in order to breath better and circles of moisture are starting to grow at his armpits. Guzma wonders how long until Jeremy just straight up runs out of this place.

He also feels somewhat ashamed. This whole endeavor was about proving themselves, right? Making a statement? His hand goes to his undercut and his eyes to the ground as they hurriedly make their way down yet another hallway in this big and confusing house. It feels so easy to get lost right now, but maybe that's just nerves. Maybe the reason this matters so much is because of why they're doing it. It's the name he's trying to rebuild - a name he knows he personally ruined.

But he's not just stealing another part for his bike to get it up and running, or food or toiletries for Shady House. No, this is different. This is not an item that is remotely something that he needs no matter how much he feels like he might. This is a much bigger ticket item with probably much bigger consequences if they're caught.

Don't get caught. Terrible things happen when you get caught.

His dad would think this is pathetic. Both their dads would. They'd ran an entire criminal empire and the two of them can't hold it together long enough to take a feather? What was wrong with him?

"Jere, can you cut that out," he whispers irritably. Jeremy sounds like he's almost hyperventilating.

"Someone's coming!" Jeremy gasps out.

They both halt, and sure enough, there is the sound of footsteps echoing down the hallway in their direction.

But they're almost to their destination now. It's fine, they'll just duck inside and hide. The door is right there...

... and it's got a keypad.

"Shit!" Guzma hisses.

"It needs a code! Sweets didn't give us any codes!" Jeremy says so quickly Guzma almost can't make out the words.

The footsteps draw closer. Whoever it is will make the turn and find them any second now.

He tries the door anyway, just in case, but the handle won't turn. "It's fine!" he whispers. "We'll just say we got lost!"

Jeremy leans against the wall, his breathing still heavy. "Nuh-uh, won't work!"

"Not if you're gonna look like that it won't!" Guzma braces himself. He's going to have to cover for Jeremy in his panic.

The footsteps are close, loud, sharp - heels clacking on the floor. Someone rounds the corner and it's-

Sweets stands there, hands on her hips, and a knowing smile on her face. Her hair is in some kind of fancy up-do, and she's wearing a close-fitting, sparkling silver dress that comes just above her knees. Her feet, firmly planted as she eyes them down are in matching strappy heels.

"We ain't doing shit! Sweets?!" Jeremy nearly bellows before Guzma has a chance to say anything.

Sweets whole posture changes at the panicked look Jeremy has. In an instant she's standing in front of them, a hand reaching for Jeremy, her face concerned.

In that movement Guzma catches sight of the tattoo on her wrist - a bubbly number seven that's maybe only an inch and a half in length and filled with sprinkles of all colors.

Then, Sweets seems to remember her anger. She withdraws her hand and her eyebrows furrow. "Yes," she says, looking from Jeremy's face to Guzma's as if challenging them to say anything about her being here. "It's me."

Jeremy collapses into a sitting position on the ground and she looks once more like her temper is waning.

Guzma shakes his head, confused. "But... what?"

Her hands return to her hips and she fixes him with a stern look. "Did you really think I was gonna miss this just 'cause you said so?"

Guzma shrugs. He sorta figured Sweets just showing up might be a possibility and he can't exactly say he's displeased about it, given their current obstacle.

Jeremy heaves a great sigh of relief and puts his head in his hands. "This night is gonna kill me."

"How did you even get here?" Guzma asks.

Sweets smiles. She always did love explaining things. "Started getting ready right after you left! Also, more good news," she holds up her other wrist - the one she always wears a device on that looks like a square over-large watch. "Figured out how to get this to work as a ride pager! Although, let me tell you, trying to climb up on a Charizard in this dress was an experience." She points to the keypad beside the door handle. "You're happy to see me though, right?"

"Yeah, please tell me you know the code for it," Guzma says.

"I might," she says coyly. "But first," she turns her attention to Jeremy, face once again serious.

Jeremy reluctantly looks up at her.

"I... appreciate you being concerned for me," she says slowly, like she's being cautious with her words. "I know you're only trying to protect me, but there are times I don't need you to. There are times that I just need you to trust that I can handle myself. I want to be fully part of this team no matter the danger - not the little tech princess locked away in the mansion. I mean, this is the first big thing I've gotten to be part of with Team Skull. I helped set up so much of this plan. I earned being here. It hurts that you would try to take that from me."

Jeremy remains quiet, though his face looks like he's near bursting to say so much. Words and feelings weren't something either Guzma or his cousin were ever strong with. They hadn't exactly had the best role models for navigating such things. He swallows before finally saying, "There's just things that- I just-" he sighs once more. "I don't want to see you in trouble. Ever."

"Trouble?" Sweets smiles. "You're only in trouble if you get caught, right?" She looks to Guzma for confirmation.

Guzma rubs at his undercut and nods awkwardly. Those were his words, and the words of his father before him. Maybe what Jeremy was ultimately worried about was the same thing that his mother had been the night of her accident - that Team Skull is absolutely a bad influence.

This idea is only cemented further when Sweets puts a hand on her hip and says, "I can be just as bad as the rest of you."

"Uh-huh," Jeremy mutters, his eyes going to Guzma's.

Guzma looks away. He's not ready to ponder the morality of their actions any more right now - not when they're so close to their prize beyond that door.

"So, just, please trust me?" Sweets says, holding a hand out to Jeremy.

He looks from her hand, up to her pleading face, and his expression changes - he gives in. "Yeah, yeah, alright. I'm sorry," he tells her, taking her hand.

She helps him to his feet, a grateful smile lighting up her features. "You can make it up to me."

"And how's that?" Jeremy asks, blinking. Their hands remain interlocked.

"Dance with me!" she tells him.

"I-" Jeremy starts, but she's already leading him back down the hallway only giving him just enough time to grab his jacket from the ground.

"Hey, hey, the code!" Guzma calls after them.

"It's one-five-one!" she yells over her shoulder.

His last glimpse of them is the two of them rounding the corner, hand-in-hand. The worry finally melts from Jeremy's face as his smile matches Sweets.

Guzma turns back to the door and inputs one, five, and one into the keypad. A tiny light on it flashes green, and finally the handle turns.

The door swings open, and he finds that, at last, it is the right room.

The statue sits there in the dark, illuminated only by moonlight from a singular window. It's covered by a black cloth, but with the Ho-Oh embroidered upon the fabric, there's no mistaking what this is. He gently pulls the cover from it.

It's smaller than he thought it would be, but still impressive. It's about the size of a basketball with it's tail fanning out behind it. The detail on it is remarkable, with every single feather lovingly crafted. The pedestal it's on is tall, bringing it to nearly his shoulders. A placard on it reads "A guardian of luck and fortune for this small garden of Johto in this large Alolan city." The entire thing is golden save for one, singular rainbow feather in the center of it's tail.

It's beautiful, every bit the commemorative centerpiece it was always meant to be. And that feather? That luminous feather? It will be missed.

This is definitely exactly the kind of stunt they need - the warning that will herald the return of Team Skull.

Finally feeling his certainty returning, Guzma reaches out and gently plucks the feather from the statue. It resists only for a moment. Then, he backs toward the open doorway and the light pouring from it, his eyes upon the trophy in his hands.

His fingers close around it. This is it. The deed is done and they've pulled it off. Now they just need to make their escape.

He places the feather in the inner pocket of his jacket and sets the cover back over the statue, leaving it without its crown jewel.

~~~

You're nearly running through the hallways, desperate to avoid the eyes of anyone who happens to pass by you. You take quick, frantic steps, and go around corners a little too quickly. Your insides are a shaken bottle of anger, confusion, and a longing to disappear for a while. You don't want to let that bottle overflow until you're away from prying eyes.

It's this inelegant frenzy of escape that is perhaps what causes the next event.

Because suddenly you aren't sprinting down corridors and ducking the gaze of staff. No, now you're running smack into someone - a tall man with white hair that you catch just a fleeting glimpse of as the two of you collide hard and bodily, his nose smacking into your forehead. Then, you're falling away from him and landing hard on your ass.

You're dazed for a moment, the storm inside you made to suddenly clear, only to be replaced by disorientation.

"Fuck," the man says. "Ah, shit, fuck." He's got a hand over his nose, and there's blood running down his chin.

"Oh my god!" You crawl over towards him on your hands and knees, but then hover there unsure what to do. Your forehead stings a little from the impact, but you feel otherwise unharmed. This guy though... "Are you okay?" you ask.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm- shit. Is it broken?" He momentarily removes his hand from his nose, revealing a mess, where more blood is now flowing freely out of his nostrils.

It's not pretty, but it doesn't look broken... you don't think. Despite your uncertainty you shake your head.

His hand returns to attempting to stop the flow of blood. He continues to grumble on the floor as you eye him over. He's dressed mostly in dark gray with a purple shirt underneath, all of which has - mostly- managed to remain free of blood so far. His undercut is dark, while the hair atop his head is white, maybe bleached, and a bit messy. Whatever had been done to try and hold it back a bit wasn't quite working. It's disheveled, especially after your collision, but somehow not necessarily bad looking. He's about your age, you think, like a lot of the staff, but he definitely doesn't work in the building. What was he doing here? Who is he?

"Jeez, fuck. Why ya runnin' around here, huh?"

You blink. Does he not know who you are? "Me? What were you running from? Why are you in here?"

He suddenly looks a little alarmed, eyebrows shooting up. "I just- I got lost! Why are you here?"

He doesn't know who you are. And you? Right now you kind of like that. Still, if you want to keep him in the dark, you'll need an excuse - you don't exactly look like staff either. "Um, I, well," you stutter.

His eyebrows nearly disappear into his hair.

"I'm a guest? Staying here for a while."

"A guest... of the kahuna?" he says suspiciously.

"More or less," you mutter. You decide to change the subject. "Anyway, let's get you cleaned up. I know where a bathroom is."

"What? No, no, that's- I'm fine. It's fine. Ya don't gotta-"

You stand and offer a hand to him. You're not entirely sure of what you're doing, but if he really is lost, you can't exactly leave him there all bloody. There's something enticing about spending a little time with someone who doesn't know you're the kahuna's daughter - even if he is a stranger you quite literally ran right into. You were wanting a distraction, right? Just get him cleaned up, send him back to the party, and make your escape out of the city. Your plans are still the same, just a little... delayed. "It's the least I can do," you tell him.

He stares at you wide-eyed, but doesn't move. "I mean, uh, I was runnin' too so it ain't your fault..."

You fix him with an amused smirk. "And? You gonna just go back to the garden all bloody? Let's go." You extend your hand again, a little more firmly this time. If he's really insistent, then you'll leave him. But after all the stress that's been building up for you because of your identity, you could use a little time pretending it doesn't exist with someone.

He eyes you for a moment longer before finally taking your hand with his clean one.

Then he lurches forward, making you jump in surprise, though neither of you lets go. "D! D, what-"

There's something moving beneath his jacket. A bulge on his back that you hadn't noticed before shifts downward, goes around his middle, and approaches the edge of his jacket. First, there's red antennae followed a gray carapace, then a Wimpod of unusual color crawls out of his jacket, up his chest, and onto his shoulder. You're alarmed again when it makes its way down his arm, and up yours.

It's so fast and you're so shocked that you don't pull away. It is just a Wimpod at least - not a whole lot of harm it could do to you. And while bug Pokemon might not be your favorite type, it's not as if you have a fear of them. It finally comes to a stop on your shoulder, where it clumsily spins itself about, nearly whacking you in the face with its tail, until both it and you are now staring at the guy on the ground.

"Uh, so, that's Diaval," the guy says.

You glance over at the Wimpod and it chitters excitedly at you. "And, you are?" you ask, turning your attention back to him. You give a gentle tug on his arm, helping him to his feet.

"Me? I'm, uh- shit- I mean." His hand leaves yours and rubs at the back of his neck nervously. He swallows, his eyes look at the Wimpod briefly before coming back to yours. "I'm... Guzma."

"Guzma?" you repeat.

Something about you saying his name back to him seems to startle him, but he recovers quickly. "Yeah, how 'bout you?"

You tell him your name as you cautiously reach a hand up to pet Diaval. Your eyes, however, don't leave his face. You wait for a reaction, but there is none. He really doesn't seem to know much about the kahuna, including never having heard the name of her daughter. Good.

He rubs at his nose. The bleeding has stopped, but there's still quite the mess. "So, you, uh, know your way around here?"

"Yes!" you say a little too enthusiastically. You lead him further into the house, down various hallways and into the area where you and your mother live. At one point he offers to take the Wimpod back from your shoulder, but Diaval seems content to stay with you, so you let him.

Then it's into a decently sized and clean bathroom, decorated with a water Pokemon theme. He looks around as you open a drawer beside the sink to gather supplies.

"This place is nice," he mutters.

Before you can answer, Diaval suddenly launches himself off your shoulder and onto the counter. His little legs and mandibles paw at a clear container full of cotton balls and there's a clattering as he manages to tear off the metal lid.

"D!" Guzma says, snatching him up, and extracting a single cotton ball from his mouth. "Why are you like this?" Diaval near thrashes in his grip, his face fixated on what he must believe is a canister of forbidden food. Guzma struggles and sits upon the edge on the tub. He places Diaval in his lap and tries to pacify him with "Shhh" noises. It takes a minute, but the Wimpod does still, though his gaze never leaves the cotton balls. He looks ready to pounce again should he get a chance. "Sorry," Guzma says.

"Hey, at least he didn't eat one," you say. "You don't have a Pokeball for him?"

"He, uh, won't stay in 'em."

"Problem child?" you smile. This whole situation is strange to say the least... but you admit it's kind of cute watching this guy try to calm his rowdy little Pokemon.

He pets the Wimpod soothingly. "Yeah, that's for sure." The instant he stops his motions Diaval attempts another go for the counter. Guzma sighs as he holds him back and resumes petting him. This creature does seem to be a handful where food is concerned.

"Well," you begin as you pick up a washcloth and turn the sink on, letting the water warm. "How about you hold him and I'll get that blood off you."

Guzma looks caught off guard. "I-" He reaches a hand for his neck - clearly a nervous habit - but Diaval squirms, making him return to petting him. He eyes you, scrutinizing, but for what you can't tell. "Yeah, okay."

You run the washcloth under the sink and then wring it out. Was this weird? This is definitely weird. But, it's also kind of... strangely exciting. You turn to him and try to give him your best reassuring smile. Time to see what he looks like under all that blood.

He stares you down as you approach him with the rag, which throws you off a little. Your heartbeat picks up and you realize that you're nervous. The instant you touch him, his eyes break from you and his eyebrows scrunch together in obvious discomfort.

This was more than weird - it's awkward.

Despite this, you continue. His eyes look all around the bathroom, trying to focus anywhere but your face, the act of which seems to be taking a lot of his concentration, as Diaval nearly makes another great escape.

You can't help it- you laugh. It's nervous laughter, but laughter none the less. It becomes more genuine when you see his reaction.

He looks completely baffled, like running headlong into a girl, getting a bloody nose, and having that same girl laugh as she cleans up the mess is so beyond any predicament he could have predicted he'd get into. It's certainly not how you thought the night would go and the absurdity of it tickles you. He gives you a lopsided grin, chuckles apprehensively, and fidgets. That last action throws him off balance, nearly causing him to fall into the tub.

You reach out and grab his arm, steadying him.

You both freeze at this, and all your anxious giggling dies too.

That is until Diaval throws himself into the tub only to discover he can't get back out. He attempts fruitlessly to climb up the smooth sides, but his legs can find no purchase. He wines at Guzma.

"Nope," Guzma tells him. "Your ass can stay there for a while." He huffs and turns back to you.

You've managed to get the majority of the blood off his face to find... he's not bad looking at all. With his hands now Wimpod free, he could finish this himself, but you decide to cautiously continue. Though, he's not making it easy considering what's left is mostly below his chin and on his neck. "Hey, could you just-" you start but find yourself reaching out and gently tilting his chin up slightly with your free hand.

Once more his eyebrows betray a surprise that he otherwise doesn't show. He swallows as he watches you and says, "So, you, uh, you going to the garden thing they got going on?"

"I was there for a bit," you say, looking him over for more blood. Your fingers can feel the beginnings of stubble along his jawline.

"So... you were runnin' from it?"

Satisfied that his face and neck are blood free, you release him. "Maybe. I'm not sure these kinds of events are my thing, you know?"

"Yeah, yeah, I get that," he says, feeling along his chin in the spot your hand was. "Not exactly my kind of party."

You set the dirty washcloth on the counter. "And what is... your kind of party."

He huffs. "Let's just say it don't require gettin' dressed up like this." He pulls at a lapel of his jacket to illustrate his point.

You smile, feeling a little bold. "Well, hey, this don't look bad on you." It is the truth.

His hand goes to his undercut for just a moment but falls back to his side. "It's the blood that makes it, right?"

"There's just a couple spots," you laugh. "And your clothes are dark so I don't think anyone will notice."

Guzma shrugs. "Eh, if they do, fuck 'em. It's part of the look now."

"Is that so?" You smile, amused. He's certainly different from the folks that usually show up to these events.

"Sure is, Doll. Nothin' like a little blood to show them you ain't someone to fuck with."

"Doll?" you question. You haven't been called that before.

The cool demeanor he's been cultivating disappears for a moment with the return of his hand to his neck. "What, don't like that one? It's just, you know, you're all dolled up real cute and- I won't-"

You laugh. "It's fine."

"Yeah?" he asks giving you a cautious grin.

"Yeah." You nod.

His smirk becomes more reassured, and his hand leaves his undercut as he looks you in the eye. "Well, 'Doll' it is then."

You glance away, but you're unable to stop yourself from returning his smile.

"You going back? To that garden shindig?"

"I- I dunno," you say. What of your plans to escape this party and this city? This definitely threw a wrench into things. But was that so bad? You look over at Guzma again. This was... pretty nice. He doesn't know who you are and isn't trying to get anything out of you because of it. You wouldn't mind spending a little more time with him.

And, hey, if Garret were to see you with another guy, then all the better.

If things go well enough, maybe the two of you could get out for a while after the party. Hadn't your mother told you to live a little?

You give a small laugh, once again finding hilarity in the unexpectedness of it all. "Would you... want to go back with me?" You bump your shoulder into his lightly.

His face splits into a toothy grin. "Hell yeah, Doll."

~~~

He knows he shouldn't be doing this. He knows. Maybe he hit his head a little too hard in that literal crash with this girl. But, hey, if Plumeria and Jeremy were allowed to run off with chicks during this operation, then why wasn't he? And, he'd done what he came here to do, so maybe it was time to blow off some steam.

When he looks at her as the two of them hurriedly navigate the hallways back to Malie Garden, nervously giggling like two teenagers on the way to prom, it's hard to feel like this is a mistake.

No, instead it feels like a sorely needed reprieve from all the stress and problems that have been piling up.

And that she's someone outside of all that also feels like a plus. She had no reaction to his name, no idea who he is or what he's apart of... so, this is fine. It can't be that bad to have fun for a night with a stranger. Even Diaval seems to like her - he's been switching off between their shoulders all the way back. Guzma's sure he's earned a break.

He's also anxious to see the looks on Plumeria, Jeremy, and Sweets' faces if he's honest.

All in all, this is a plus. Or so he's telling himself.

So, back they go out the doors of the kahuna's digs, through the gate connecting to the garden, and toward the section the core of the party is set up in.

It's darker now, with the sun fully set, making all the lights they've got strung up shine that much brighter. The night air is cool, with a slight wind that carries with it the crisp scent of the water that runs throughout the garden. The sound of nighttime insects mixes with the music echoing out over it all, people dancing along with it. Those not dancing gather in groups that chatter, drink, and laugh. Some are taking walks throughout the scenic garden. He hadn't really appreciated how pretty and peaceful it all looks when they'd first arrived, but now it feels as if he's stepped out of chaotic Malie City and into some kind of tranquil oasis.

Not far from here a tower rises up, glittering gold in the warm lights that illuminate it. The tower where this whole party will end.

The happiness gathering within him flickers for a moment. All he can think about is the feather still nestled in his jacket pocket. This place is beautiful, but he's an intruder - none of this was meant for the likes of him and perhaps with good reason. He's going to be the one to ruin it.

But he had to take it. Didn't he?

He doesn't belong here.

There's a hand at his elbow, then an arm sliding it's way under his. He looks over to see her grinning up at him as she clings to him. Her face lights up when his eyes meet hers, like there's a secret here - an inside joke - that only they know. He smiles back as Diaval changes shoulders once again - or attempts to. He kind of winds up awkwardly between them, making her laugh.

"I've got a friend we're gonna drop you off with," she says to Diaval.

Guzma smirks. "Pawning me off on a friend? Ready to get rid of me already?"

"Not you," she says, laughing again and gently pulling him forward.

They walk further into the party together, side-by-side, and he feels a little too aware of, and maybe delighted by her closeness. This is... very different from the first time he'd walked into this whole thing earlier tonight. No, he doesn't belong, but she makes him okay with pretending. Just for one night.

They approach a table set off by itself - Ethan's table. He's still there, though now a lot of the food is cleared away. He's sitting atop the surface, watching people out on the dance floor. When they get close, he does a double take. He says her name questioningly, amused.

"How'd the veggie food go?" she asks him.

Ethan shrugs. "Eh, well, some of it got eaten anyway." He looks at Guzma. "Still got plenty of broccoli if your Wimpod wants more."

"You guys have met?" she asks.

Guzma huffs. "Might've checked out the tofurkey."

"Yeah, I patched up Diaval a bit," Ethan adds.

"About him," she says. "Would you mind... watching him? Just for a bit?"

Ethan blinks. "Oh! Yeah, sure."

She pauses, looking a little concerned now. She lets go of his arm to stand next to Ethan. "You're... okay with that?"

Ethan looks from her, to Guzma, then back to her. He sighs and smiles. "It's alright. ...Maybe next party. I imagine this garden means there might be more of them, right?"

She rolls her eyes. "Unfortunately."

Ethan laughs. "Hey, I kind of like these things!" His gaze goes to the ground before it goes to Guzma and Diaval. "But, yeah, your Wimpod will be in good hands."

"Are you... are you sure?" she asks, not sounding convinced.

"Yeah! My time will come. And you know I'm always okay with being around Pokemon."

"...Okay," she says, and turns to Guzma, motioning for him to bring Diaval forward.

He's a little confused as to exactly what's going on, but Ethan had certainly been good with Diaval before, so he deposits him into Ethan's arms. Ethan pulls a bowl over, and Diaval ecstatically throws himself into it and the broccoli within.

"We'll be back," she tells Ethan, giving him a quick hug.

"Have fun!" he answers when they break apart.

She rejoins Guzma and the two of them walk away from the table. He kind of hopes she takes his arm again, but she doesn't. He's a little alarmed to find her looking so troubled. "You, uh- you alright?"

"What?" she says absentmindedly. "Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Just... I'm not always sure Ethan is. He really wants to meet someone, you know?"

"Ah," Guzma says, feeling unsure how to continue this conversation. "Well, it'll happen, right?"

"Right," she says, still looking contemplative.

He rubs at his undercut. "You want somethin' to drink?" A little alcohol might make this easier to navigate and there's an open bar.

"Absolutely," she says, sounding almost relieved at the suggestion.

Together they wordlessly seek out a stand on the patio designated for alcohol. There's a bartender behind the counter and stools set up outside it. They take two seats and place their orders.

Guzma taps his fingers anxiously on the counter, wondering how he can get back the energy they had before. Maybe a little conversation? He clears his throat. "So you're staying with the kahuna?"

She glances over at him puzzled, eyebrows furrowed, blinking. Then she shakes her head as if to clear it. "Yeah! Yes, that's right."

"For how long?"

"Oh I'm just- just in town for this event. The kahuna is a friend of the family, so..."

"Okay," Guzma says, giving her what he hopes is a reassuring smile. She seems tense now. Should he stop asking her questions?

"And you?"

"Me what?" Now it's his turn to feel tense. He should have anticipated that asking questions might result in her returning questions that he doesn't want to answer.

"Are you from here?"

"Yeah! Well, near here anyway," he mumbles, a hand finding its way to his neck.

"So... what are you here for? Well, I mean, for the grand opening, obviously, but, I guess, what do you do? Ha, sorry I guess that's a weird way to ask. Just, most everyone invited here is..."

She trails off, but he gets what she means. Everyone here is someone - Important people invited to an important event. A closed party. He's not someone. Not yet.

"Sorry," she says again shrugging.

Where was that alcohol? "Nah, it's fine. I'm-" Better make this good. Alright, alright why is he here? "I'm... I help with the trials!" Well, he had tried and failed to be a trial captain in his younger years. Saying he's something adjacent to that is as good a lie as any. "I assist with one of the trials on the island. Ya know, guide trial goers to stuff and shit. And they invited everyone involved with the island trials so..."

"Oh, okay," she says.

Thankfully drinks are placed down in front of them. Sighing in relief, Guzma reaches for his and turns to her. "To, uh," he tries to come up with something to toast to, and laughs a little before he says, "to runnin' into each other."

She huffs and repeats, "To running into each other," before they gently clink their glasses together.

Guzma downs his quickly, ignoring the burning and sharp taste of whatever's in the cup. He glances over at her mid-gulp and is a little amused to find her doing the same. The two of them place empty glasses back on the counter at nearly the same time. "So," he begins.

"G!" an excited voice yells. A voice that sounds very much like Sweets.

Sure enough, Sweets and Jeremy suddenly appear to his left, both all smiles and, perhaps, just a little intoxicated.

"Whatchu been up to," Jeremy says. "Did you get the-"

Sweets elbows him, apparently the first to realize that he isn't alone.

"What? Oh? Oh!" Jeremy's face goes on a journey from confused to disbelief to teasingly excited. "You- you made a friend, huh? That's- holy shit."

"Yeah, okay, thanks, Jere," Guzma says, feeling a little embarrassed, even as he's also becoming slightly buzzed.

Sweets smiles and rolls her eyes playfully before addressing the girl. "I'm Sweets, and this is Jeremy."

She tells them her name and asks, "You're friends of Guzma's? You work on the trials too?"

Immediately both Sweets and Jeremy's gaze go to him. Guzma tries to bat down his sudden spike of panic and gives them the smallest nod.

Jeremy's eyes bulge and he remains quiet, but Sweets doesn't miss a beat. "Sure do!" she answers cheerily.

She and Sweets begin to make small talk, but Guzma doesn't quite hear it - he's too busy essentially having an entire conversation with Jeremy through just glances.

Jeremy looks at him sideways and Guzma nods. Yes, I did get the feather.

Jeremy's eyes go to the girl, then back to him. Guzma shrugs. She doesn't know anything about this and she's cute. Let me have this.

Guzma nods his head slightly towards Sweets and raises an eyebrow. Jeremy grins. She isn't mad anymore and things are going well.

Then Jeremy looks at him a little more sternly with a tiny shake of his head. Maybe there's something going on between us, maybe there isn't. I ain't saying and don't you dare give me shit about it later.

Guzma smirks and rolls his eyes as he accepts a shot glass from the bartender. He quickly swallows it. Jeremy had never been forthcoming about the girls he was interested in before - shyness always seemed to get in the way - he supposes it'll be no different with Sweets. He'll come around. Hopefully Sweets is brave enough to make a move herself.

"Well," Sweets says cheerily. "We just wanted to stop by and see how G was doing." She fixes Guzma with a mischievous smile. "He seems to be doing pretty great, so we'll leave you to it."

"Yeah, this night is just full of surprises," Jeremy mutters, giving Guzma a teasing look.

"I mean, I think me showing up was a pretty good surprise," Sweets tells him. "Of course, it wouldn't have had to be a surprise if-"

"Hey, I paid my penance!" Jeremy interrupts. "I was so sad that I ate fake turkey!"

Sweets looks befuddled. "And... how was that?"

"Actually it was pretty good," he admits.

She laughs and pulls on his arm. "Come on, let's leave them alone."

The two of them leave, Jeremy glancing back to give Guzma one last small nod - a gesture that's both a "see ya" and "good luck."

"So," Guzma says, drumming a couple times on the counter. Whatever was in that first drink was strong and the shot only added to that - he can definitely feel it now. It's not enough for him to be anywhere near drunk, but he's pleasantly buzzed. That bit of little liquid courage was starting to bring his confidence back. "You wanna go dance?"

Her eyes go wide, but then she smiles. "Oh, I dunno. I don't usually do much dancing at these kinds of things."

"Ey, you'll do fine," he says smirking. "Betcha I can make this yuppie party fun."

She huffs. "How so?"

"Lemme show you." He's ready to reconnect and get back to enjoying this night, and he hopes she is too. He offers her his hand. "May I have this dance?"

She laughs at the formality of his question. Then, meeting his eyes and beaming, she takes his hand and answers, "Yes."

They rise from their seats, hand-in-hand. Once more, he's not entirely sure what he's doing, but the way she's smiling at him makes him feel like he just might be able to figure it out.

~~~

You notice a couple people look your way as you and Guzma join the throng of people on the dance floor - you don't know if it's because you're back after your spat with Garret, or because you're out here with someone who definitely isn't him. The closer you get to being the age your mother was when she was chosen to be kahuna, the more you become a name on people's lips. It isn't an uncommon assumption that you and Garret are an item - a rumor he no doubt encourages... and you wonder if your mother does too.

The other thing making you feel a little awkward is, well, the idea of dancing - at least dancing like this. This isn't the first event of this caliber that you've been dragged to, and not your first time on a dance floor... though you can admit that you sit out the dancing more often then not. The kind you've most participated in was dancing that was a lot slower with a couple exes, but that's not what the music is now. And with people already eyeing you, you aren't keen on making a fool of yourself.

Your enthusiasm waning, your mind wanders back to Ethan alone at his table. Usually it was the two of you playing wallflowers at these things. You feel guilty - you hope he truly is alright by himself. You wonder if there's a way you can both give him space, but also help him get himself out there.

You catch yet another person staring, making you refocus. If there's one thing placing a point firmly in favor of not wanting to be kahuna, it's having to worry about people's judgement.

Guzma seems to notice your anxiousness. His hand goes from cupping yours to your fingers interlocking, which would be surprising enough, but then he also leans over and whispers, "What's got ya so shook, Doll?" His voice is low, but mirthful, his breath brushing your ear.

You suppress a shiver and look up at him, managing a small smile. "I just... I told you: I haven't done much of this."

He chuckles. "Well, what are you afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid," you huff in phony offense, doing your best to play off your tenseness.

He blinks, then looks at the people around you both before turning back to you. "What, ya worried about them?"

Yes. "Not at all."

"Uh-huh," he says, unconvinced, as he bumps his shoulder into yours.

"What, you don't worry about what people think?"

"Big Bad Guzma doesn't have time for that," he shrugs and grins at you.

You laugh incredulously. "Excuse me, who?"

His smirk grows wider at your reaction. "You heard me, Doll. Now, you gonna dance with me, or am I gonna do the Chicken Dance alone?"

Your other hand comes to rest on his arm in a warning you don't really mean. "You are not. How much had he had to drink?

He pulls you closer and playfully nudges into you as he continues to tease you. "I absolutely am."

You shake your head. "You aren't afraid of looking like an idiot?"

"Doll," he tells you. "You're about to find out real fast that I'm always an idiot." He breaks apart from you then and, true to his word, begins doing the Chicken Dance at you.

"I- what? What are you doing?" you say, definitely aware of eyes starting to pry, but also unable to keep the humor out of your voice.

"You ain't never seen the Chicken Dance?" he asks, reaching the part of the dance that requires wriggling your ass. "Want me to teach you?"

You roll your eyes, but can't stifle the giggle that escapes you. "I know the Chicken Dance."

"Prove it."

You shake your head once more, baffled, but amused. Definitely nothing like the guys you've been to these events with before. Sure, he's kind of an idiot... but you suppose it's endearing.

"You better catch up! Coming up on the part where, you know, the arm thing?"

"How can you tell?" You gesture to a speaker. "This isn't exactly Chicken Dance music."

"Ya just gotta feel it!" He rushes toward you then, and interlocks his right arm with your left so the two of you are side-by-side, but facing opposite directions. Head turned toward you, he brings his other hand up and gently sweeps a strand of hair out of your face. "Ey," he whispers. "Don't you pay them no mind." His mouth splits into a grin. "Just keep your eyes on me. Fuck 'em. Right?"

You blink, taken off guard by the combo of his ridiculous actions paired with that tender motion.

His eyes search yours - questioning, hopeful - pleading with you to join him in this moment of abandon.

Maybe you could do with abandoning a few worries for a while. You finally smile back. "Right."

You burst out laughing when in the next moment he nearly skips about, bringing you in a circle, as per the Chicken Dance's steps. The two of you do this a few times, the smile on your face growing larger and more carefree with each rotation. This is the most absurd thing you've done at one of these events, and that fact kind of tickles you. He lets you go and begins the dance again, this time with you joining him.

Guzma laughs when he sees you mirroring his actions. It's a boisterous noise full of a levity you're finding to be infectious. You're sure people are looking, staring, maybe disapproving, but that laugh is absolutely worth it. Something about it sets a lightness in your chest, like the concerns you've been placing there are being cleared out. You can't help but giggle along with him. It's anything but elegant, but, he was right, he certainly had made this party a little more fun.

Once more you lock arms and skip in a circle a few times before coming to a stop. You finish your Chicken Dance standing close together, arms still upon one another, and laughing. You realize then that you aren't paying anyone else any attention. One act of silliness later and you feel like it might as well just be the two of you here.

"What are you doing?" says a female voice.

Guzma waves a dismissive hand. "Hey, we can't all be you on a dance floor, Plumes."

You turn to find a woman in fitted pant suit with pink and yellow hair. Her eyes fall on you and go wide for an instant before she recovers. She smirks. "And who's this?"

"Y'all don't need to act so surprised," Guzma says. "I am capable of meeting people, ya know."

She huffs. "More worried about other people's capability to put up with you."

Guzma puts his hand to his chest in pretend hurt. "Listen, I'm a fuckin' delight."

"That's one way of putting it," she says, then turns to you and extends a hand. "I'm Plumeria."

You tell her your name, take her hand, and shake it.

"Plumes here tends to do more than Chicken Dance," Guzma tells you.

"And she's good at it too!" says another voice. Sweets pulls Jeremy over to the three of you.

Plumeria's face lights up. "There you are!"

"Saw you earlier," Sweets says. "But you looked a little busy with a girl and I didn't wanna interrupt."

"Wait, you knew she was gonna show up too?" Guzma asks.

Plumeria crosses her arms. "Of course."

Guzma and Jeremy exchange glances. "Teaming up against us. Can you believe that?"

Jeremy merely shrugs and looks a little sheepish.

The music suddenly changes then, as does the lighting. With the party starting to wind down they've switched to something slower and distinctly romantic. The lights strung up all around the area dim, leaving the brightest glow in the whole garden the tower. A lone singer with the band begins to croon out a song.

"G, should we-" Jeremy begins, but he stops short when Sweets takes his hand. Smiling, she gently pulls him close until they're nearly touching. Jeremy looks stunned at first, but recoups as Sweets guides him. They begin to sway together to the music.

It's then you notice Guzma and Plumeria exchanging concerned looks. Plumeria taps on a nonexistent watch on her wrist.

You look from one to the other. They're worried about the time? Why would they need to leave early?

"I- I think it's fine," Guzma says.

Plumeria holds his gaze a moment longer, then shrugs. She glances around before approaching a lone woman and extending a hand to her. Soon the two of them are dancing just like Sweets and Jeremy.

When you turn to Guzma he's eyeing you, a nervous hand planted on his undercut.

"So you can Chicken Dance, but you can't do this?" you ask, grinning.

"Hey," he says, putting his hands on his hips. "You don't do much of that other dancin' and maybe I don't do much of this."

This time, you offer your hand to him. "What, do you need me to teach you?"

He smirks and places his hand in yours. "I might be willing to let you teach me a thing or two."

A couple steps toward him and then you're just a few inches apart, face-to-face. You move your hands to his shoulders while his find their way to your waist. He'd been so unfettered before, but now he looks unsure. His hands twitch uncomfortably as they lightly sit on you and his eyebrows are furrowed. He's concentrating entirely too hard on this. The two of you begin to move to the music.

You move a hand down a bit so that it's on his chest and give a little rub in an attempt to comfort him. You swear you can feel his heart hammering away beneath the surface. "Hey," you whisper, and his eyebrows shoot up as his gaze meets yours. "What's got ya so shook?" you ask, attempting to imitate his voice.

He gives you a baffled look. "What- was that supposed to be me?"

"Maybe," you snicker. "What's got Big Bad Guzma so nervous."

His hands finally firmly fall on your hips as he grins down at you. "Ain't nervous."

"Mmm hmm," you tease. "What happened to 'fuck 'em?'"

He huffs. "Maybe it ain't them I'm worried about."

Was he concerned about what you're thinking? "Then... who are you worried about?"

"I-" Now he looks a little embarrassed.

You move until the two of you are chest-to-chest and wrap your arms around his neck. "You know, this is the most fun I've ever had at one of these."

He laughs a little and you feel the rumble of it against you. His hands pull you tighter to himself. "Even with cleaning up my bloody nose?"

"Oh, the night wouldn't have been the same without that," you say sarcastically.

He grins. "Yeah, well, thanks for playin' nurse."

"Couldn't leave you to bleed on the floor."

"I suppose you were the one that ran into me, so-"

You laugh. "Oh, no, you ran into me!"

"I dunno, that's not how I remember it."

You shake your head. "Let's just say bloodying you up was a team effort."

"Doll, you got a weird way of flirting, you know that?"

You step away from him slightly. "Well, I guess I'll stop then," you tease.

He wraps an arm around your middle and pulls you back. Then he looks down and touches his forehead to yours. "Ey, didn't say it wasn't workin' for me! I kinda like 'weird.'"

You shrug. "And I kind of like 'idiot' so I guess this works."

He laughs. One of his hands leaves your side and rises to your face. Coarse fingers run along your chin and tilt it up slightly. His face is so close to yours, bathed in the warm yellow glow from the low lighting and tower behind you. The lights can't compare to the warmth in his eyes though. He grins at your prolonged staring and lightly bumps his nose into yours - an invitation daring you to take this further.

If there's other people around the two of you, you've long lost track of them. There's just you and him, the night breeze, and the music that feels like it matches the rhythm within you. You bring yourself up on tiptoe, parting your lips-

Guzma is ripped roughly away from you. A hand on his shoulder jerks him backwards, and his arms leave you - a coldness filling the warmth where they once were. Whatever pleasant spell you'd been under just a second before is broken, and the snap back to the reality around you is jarring and confusing. That is, until you see the reason why.

"What're you doing with her?!" Garret yells.

"Wha-" Guzma starts, apparently just as dazed as you.

Garret shoves him. "What are you doing with her?!"

"You got a fuckin' problem?!" Guzma shoves him back.

"Yeah, I got a problem with you showing up outta nowhere and-"

"Garret!" you yell. You feel so incredibly indignant. How dare he?

He holds up a hand to silence you, which only sparks your rage further. "Garret don't you-"

But he ignores you and takes a step toward Guzma. "You need to leave before I make you leave."

Guzma does not back down. He pushes up the sleeves of his jacket and says, "Guess you're gonna have to make me."

"Yeah? You wanna go?" Garret threatens, shoving Guzma again.

People all around you have stopped dancing and there's a crowd gathering. The music has come to an abrupt halt and is replaced with murmurs and whispers. Beyond the immediate crowd you see Plumeria trying her damnedest to look over the heads of everyone in the way. Off to your left Sweets is holding Jeremy back by the hand and pleading with him not to join in.

"Fuckin' bring it, asshole!" Guzma yells, giving Garret another push to the chest.

Garret advances on him.

"Garret, stop!" you say, not wanting this to actually come to blows.

Once more he pays you no mind. He balls his hands into fists, his face darkens with outrage.

You've got to end this. You won't let him do this. Not caring if you wind up caught in the crossfire, you place yourself between them. "Garret, that's enough!"

He gives you a look that seems caught between betrayal, anger, and confusion. "This guy, huh?" he says in an accusatory tone. "You can't be bothered to give me a chance, but I catch you with this jackass?!"

Guzma begins to move around you to get to him, but you stay him with a hand on his arm. "Garret, you don't own me, and I don't owe you anything. Listen to me, and hear what I'm saying for once. For the hundredth time, fuck off!"

Garret deflates just a little bit. It's nearly imperceptible, but you see it - the lowering of his shoulders, his jaw and fists slightly unclenching, his eyebrows shifting into the smallest bit of surprise and hurt. And you have to admit:

It's cathartic to see.

Maybe he'd finally get it this time. In any case, you're out of here. Time to make good on your plans to escape the city. "Come on," you tell Guzma, and attempt to lead him away by the arm.

He doesn't budge. He looks from Garret, to you, then to the crowd that's surrounding the situation.

"Let's get out of here," you whisper to him. "Come with me."

"Yeah, yeah, alright, Doll," he answers. He gives Garret one last spiteful look before finally following you.

You quickly make your way to Ethan's table among endless stares and quiet gossip. Once there, Guzma wordlessly gathers Diaval when Ethan hands him over.

Ethan gives you a questioning, concerned look.

You shrug. "Fucking Garret," is all you manage to tell him. You're focused on only one thing now: getting out of Malie City. That need has become all-consuming and you just want to make your exit as fast as possible.

At least Guzma seems to be with you on this, even without talking it through. With his Wimpod now back atop his shoulders, you both leave Malie Garden and head out into the city.

~~~

Garret doesn't lose - never has, and never will, especially not to some thief. That's his Wimpod that jackass has, he's sure of it now. He won't get away with what he's taken, including her.

He's worked far too hard and had far too much patience to have some strange party crasher swoop in and claim her. Whoever this guy is, Garret's about to show him why he's undefeated. He's not sure if maybe she's just using this guy to get him riled up or make him jealous, but it won't work for long. This is the same as any other battle he's been in, he just needs to find a weakness, and exploit it.

He pushes through the onlookers, keeping them both in his sights, all the way from picking up the Wimpod from Ethan to them leaving the garden. He doesn't know where they could possibly be off to, but he does have a way of tracking them. He reaches into his jacket pocket where his hand bumps into various Pokeballs. As he does so, another idea occurs to him - he can prove the Wimpod is his, since he's got the thing's Pokeball. If that thief has tried to put it in a another, it wouldn't have worked, as it's already assigned to one. No wonder he was carrying it around on his shoulders like that. Not that that creature had been particularly good about staying in one anyway, but if he can confront this guy with an audience - perhaps some law enforcement - he can recall the Wimpod and prove this guy a thief.

Garret pulls a particular Pokeball out of his pocket. His plans will require tracking them though, and luckily he's got just the right help to do it. In an instant, Iggy emerges from the Pokeball and perches upon his shoulder.

"Ig," Garret tells the bird, voice low. "I need you to keep an eye on them." He nods to the retreating couple. "Wherever they stop, you come back and let me know about it. Got it?"

"Keep an eye," Iggy repeats.

"Exactly, but don't let them see you." He lifts the Chatot from his shoulders and sends him off into the air, watching as he makes his pursuit.

Garret can't leave this party yet - he won't miss out on this final bit. Besides, he's got to find the kahuna and whip her up into a frenzy about her daughter running off with a dangerous stranger, because, if he's willing to steal Pokemon, then what else was he willing to do?

 

Turns out, what he's willing to do is more thievery.

It's the culmination of this event now, but it's not coming together quite like it was planned. Sure, they'd brought that fancy Ho-Oh statue up that shiny new tower with a whole crowd gathered around to witness the unveiling...

But something is amiss.

Or rather, something is missing.

Gone from the tail of the statue is what made it special: an authentic Ho-Oh feather.

It sits, glinting golden in the window of the tower, a strange hole in the center of its tail.

Instead of the expected applause, there's gasps and immediate confused chitchat. A real big deal had been made over this feather, so where was it?

Garret is pretty sure he knows.

He leaves the crowd to locate both the kahuna and some backup. He's got a thief to find and a plan that's coming together.

The kahuna's daughter is never going to choose him, so it's time to set a new tactic into motion. He needs that mysterious Pokeball from Haina Desert, right? And that requires sending in a willing victim to get it?

He also wants this guy gone. So getting this jackass apprehended?

Two birds, one stone.

~~~

Yeah, this night really has been full of surprises. Moving through the bustling streets of Malie City hand-in-hand with this girl is yet another.

There's still a little voice in the back of his head questioning what exactly it is he thinks he's doing. None of this was to plan, of course, but hey, what's a little chaos in comparison to the rest of his life? The important thing was, he got that feather.

... that was still important, right? The longer it sits, burning a metaphorical hole in the inner pocket of his jacket, the more he's unsure. It's like the tiny war that's been in his brain for some time is growing more ferocious. On one side, there's his dad and rebuilding Team Skull into all it once was, and on the other is his mom, and... something else, whatever that could be. For so long he'd only given focus to that first side, but now? Now suddenly it feels like the other side has called in reinforcements.

And maybe tonight's had a lot to do with that. Sure, he'd intended whatever went on with this girl to be a night of fun just this once... but was that only because he feels like that's how it's got to be? After all, relationships and running a gang don't always exactly work out - he'd learned that well enough from his own parents as well as Jeremy's.

But, he's already lied to her about who he is. How would she react if she knew? What would she say if she knew of what's in his pocket right now?

Then there's the question of what, exactly, he'd do if there were no longer a Team Skull. Maybe thoughts of "something else" aren't something he has the luxury of entertaining.

He looks over at her, as she leads him toward the city entrance. He was worried she'd be upset from whatever that confrontation with that Garret guy was, but she seems quite the opposite. She appears downright giddy to be getting out of there with him. And, he supposes, he can set aside the war in his head for a while for the sake of that.

Diaval must be tired. He seems content to quietly sit on Guzma's shoulder, unperturbed by all their walking.

She doesn't say much, but she also doesn't stop smiling as she pulls him along through the crowds, past shops and restaurants, and down this street and that. She doesn't stop, not even when they do make it out of the city. No, nothing brings her to a halt until they're well down the route just outside Malie, in a grassy clearing with only the moon and stars for light.

It's there she finally stops, drops his hand, and just looks up at the sky, breathing in deeply.

"Hey, you, uh-" he starts.

But then she suddenly breaks out of her reverie, looks at him and says, "Oh my god!" She laughs and then whoops out into the night air. "You know what?"

"What?" he asks, amused at her newfound lack of restraint.

"That felt good. I mean," she looks a little contemplative. "Embarrassing, but good!" She heaves a huge sigh. "Honestly? I've been dying to get out of the city for a bit."

"That so, huh? Ya coulda said so. I would've had no problems heading out with ya."

She runs a hand through her hair. "Yeah, well, it felt a little hard to leave early being the kahuna's," she stops then before quickly adding, "guest." She laughs nervously. "Didn't want to be rude, you know?"

"So, uh, speaking of rude, that Garret-"

She groans. "I'm so sorry about that. He's such a complete asshole and has been for some time."

Now he's feeling a little confused. "For as long as you've been... a guest?" How long has she been staying with the kahuna?

She blinks. "Right. I just- I visit kind of a lot and he's always there hanging around being a pain in my ass."

He's about to ask where, exactly, she's from, but then she lets out another whoop and he's once again caught off guard by her change in demeanor. Maybe she really did need a little more time outside the city.

She turns to him excitedly. "But, oh, telling him to 'fuck off?' Now that felt fantastic. And hey," she grows a little more serious, but her smile still stays bright. "Thanks for being ready to kick his ass."

He chuckles and scratches at his undercut. "No problem." Then he swallows and asks, "So you're not, like, involved with him or anything then?"

Her smile drops for an instant and he wonders if it was a mistake to question her on that. But then she bursts out laughing and says, "Oh hell no! Absolutely not!"

"Hey, I just wanted to make sure I wasn't stealin' someone's girl or somethin'." Although, if he's being truthful, Garret was enough of an asshole that he's not sure he really would care.

She shakes her head, still laughing. "Oh, please, steal me."

It's then he gets an idea. She wants to spend a little time out here? He's got just the place - and it's got a great view to boot. "Okay," he says, taking her hand and leading her on as she'd done to him earlier.

"Wait, what?" she says, though she puts up no resistance to following.

"Stealin' ya!"

"To where?"

"Surprise."

She laughs again. "This better be good - I am not wearing the right shoes for this hike."

"Want me to carry ya?" They're both still dressed up and decidedly not prepared for walking like this, but he hopes it'll be alright anyway.

She scoffs. "You can not carry me."

"Wanna bet?"

"I dunno, I lost the first one."

"Yeah, nobody sees the Chicken Dance coming."

"Well, this one's less of 'would you' and more of a 'can y-'"

Before she has a chance to question his ability, he stoops down and sweeps her up, one arm under her legs, and the other under her arms.

She shrieks in surprise and throws an arm around his neck. She looks at him incredulously.

"What? Told ya I could." Once again he finds himself delighted with how close she is. And something about that? Makes him a little nervous. Embarrassingly he feels his pulse uptick and hopes his nerves aren't noticeable.

Diaval scurries from his shoulder to hers, making her smile widen. Though, now she looks smug. "Okay, alright. Let's see you carry me all the way there."

He lets out a fake strenuous groan and feigns difficulty. "I dunno, Doll. Arms givin' out and my back's aching already. Carryin' a princess gets a little heavy after a while."

"Hey! Don't be an ass!" she tells him, laughing. She turns to him, and, like when they'd been dancing their faces are so close.

It would take nothing at all to bring his lips to hers. He stops then, and they stay like that for a bit, eyes on one another.

But then she turns away, smiling, seemingly losing her nerve.

Which makes him lose his. He gently places her back down and they continue on.

"So, where are we going?" she asks.

"There's... this place I used to go to as a kid with friends around here. Probably best spot on the island for lookin' at shit."

"'Looking at shit?'" she repeats.

"Yeah, like the sights are nice."

"And where's it at?"

"It's not too much farther, though there is a tiny bit of an uphill walk."

She sighs dramatically.

"I promise it's worth it."

"I'll hold you to that."

He huffs. "Alright, Doll." He leads her onward, to the aforementioned uphill bit, through some tall grass, past a small gathering of trees, and finally to a tiny clearing in the brush overlooking the edge of a small cliff.

It's just as he remembers it. He, Jeremy, and Plumeria would camp out here occasionally - just them, sleeping bags, the stars, and the city lights. In the distance lies Malie City, all it's luminescence sparkling like diamonds from here. There's no hustle and bustle this far away - no crowded city sidewalks or noisy city streets. Not that Guzma had ever necessarily minded those things. The city could be hectic, sure, but sometimes it felt like it was where he belonged - especially in comparison to how isolated Po Town could feel. As a kid he'd stare out at that city from this point and feel like something better lie there. He was never sure what, but it was nice to imagine.

But, even if you aren't a fan of cities, it was hard to argue that the view isn't gorgeous - especially at night. The city has a different personality when the sun goes down. Right now it looks otherworldly and fantastical - a glittering work of art in some far off place.

He turns to her to see if she's as taken with it. "Worth it, right?"

"Yeah," she says absentmindedly. She stands completely still as she stares straight ahead. Her expression is a little unreadable, but her eyes don't leave the sight. "I've... never seen it like this." She sinks to the ground and sits cross-legged in the grass.

Guzma plops down beside her, and Diaval migrates back over to his shoulder. "There's a few spots around the island like this."

"And... how did you find them?" she asks.

"My, uh, my mom showed me most of them. She used to ride wherever she could on her motorcycle looking for views like this. She loved these islands."

"Used to?" she asks, picking up on the past tense of his words.

Guzma's hand rubs at his neck. "Yeah, she- she died some time back. My dad too."

"Oh," she says. "My dad's gone as well."

"And your mom?"

She sighs. "She's part of the reason I was so ready to get away for a while."

"Why's that?" he asks carefully, wondering how much he should pry.

She's quiet for a moment. "There's just... there's some things she wants me to do and I- I don't know if I'm ready or if I want to, but it doesn't seem to matter."

"Like what?"

"Well," she looks at the ground, then up at him. "She's a fan of Garret for one."

"Are you shittin' me?" He can't imagine anyone pressuring their kid to be with that asshole.

She laughs. "I think she just likes that he's the league champion." She rolls her eyes. "Anyway, that's more than enough about Garret. What about you? Did... your parents always want you working with island trial captains?"

That the conversation has switched to him puts him on edge. He's got to remember to watch his words or he's going to give away the wrong info. "Not- not exactly."

"What'd they want?"

"Something a little more... leader-ly."

"Well, I can relate to that." She exhales. "Sometimes I just... I wish I could get away from everything - not just for a night - but for a while. Like, until I have a chance to figure things out."

"Yeah," Guzma agrees. "I've definitely wanted to be a million miles away on more than one occasion."

"Wouldn't that be nice."

He scoots a little closer to her until their legs are touching. "Ey, what's stopping us?"

"What?" she says.

Diaval clumsily climbs down his front and nestles half on his lap and half on hers. He pets him and his little face relaxes as he begins to fall asleep. Guzma bumps his shoulder into hers. "We could just take off tonight."

She laughs incredulously. "And do what exactly?" She shivers as the wind blows past them. It does get a little chilly up in the dark.

"I dunno," Guzma shrugs off his jacket and places it around her shoulders. "We'll figure it out. That's half the fun ain't it?"

She joins him in petting Diaval, and their hands nearly bump into one another. "And what's the other half?"

"The relief of not having to live up to our parent's expectations?" he jokes.

She turns to him, smiling and pulls his jacket closer to herself. "Sounds like a plan." Then she squints at him. Her hand leaves the jacket and is now moving towards his face.

He braces himself, and leans in-

But then she merely plucks something from his cheek. Her eyes widen when she notices his reaction. "Oh. Oh, did you think- I was getting an eyelash."

His hand is immediately at his undercut. "What, yeah, I knew that," he says, playing off his embarrassment. "It's not like, ya know, I thought you were goin' in for a kiss or anythin'."

She giggles and places the tip of her finger in front of his face. Sure enough there's a single eyelash upon it. "You gotta blow it away and make a wish," she tells him.

"What?"

"It's a thing!"

"Okay, well, now I'm wishin' to kiss ya."

She laughs. "You can't tell me! It won't come true!"

"Well, shit!"

"Yeah, 'shit!' Now, make another wish and keep it to yourself!"

"You know this is stupid, right?"

She holds her finger in front of him more insistently. "Says the man who did the Chicken Dance at a formal event tonight."

"Fine, point taken," he laughs.

She stays quiet now, waiting.

She really wants him to do this? Alright, what does he wish for. He thinks for a moment. I wish... I could be as happy as I am now a little longer. Then he takes her hand and blows the eyelash from her fingertip.

"You make your wish."

"Yep, I did your whole charade here."

"Good... you still wanna kiss me?"

He pretends to give this great thought. "I dunno, you said that wish ain't gonna come true now."

She nudges him playfully. "Answer the question!"

He laughs, but then turns to her earnestly, pleadingly. He looks her in the eye before he says, "... Please?"

In answer she bites her lip and then slowly leans toward him.

He brings a hand to her face, sweeping hair out of the way, and meets her in the middle, their lips finally, finally joining.

It's a little too light and chaste and he's desperate to make the second kiss a little more intense...

But he doesn't get the chance to.

Flashing red and blue lights that dance around the leaves and branches overhead make them break apart and look around, confused. Are those... lights from police cars?

He stands, picking up Diaval and holding him under his arm as he does so. Diaval whines at the interrupted sleep. She stands next to him, hands clutching his jacket over herself.

People break through the trees and come into the clearing - three of them: Garret and two cops.

"Garret?" she questions, confused.

Guzma's fists clench. Had this guy followed them or something? What the fuck was his deal?

"This him?" asks one of the officers.

A bird - a red Chatot - swoops down out of the trees and alights on Garret's shoulder. He pets the bird's head. "Yes."

"Garret, what did you do?" she asks, but he doesn't answer her.

"Sir," one officers addresses Guzma. "Where'd you get the Wimpod?"

"What?" he says. That's what this is about? "I caught it!"

The other cop watches him carefully. "Can you place it in a Pokeball?"

Guzma shifts so that Diaval is hidden from their view. "He don't like those."

Both the officers turn to Garret.

Garret reaches into the pocket of his jacket and retrieves a Pokeball. He holds it up.

And in the next instant Diaval disappears from under Guzma's arm.

Guzma clutches at the air for a moment, his stomach feeling as if its dropped to his feet. He's stunned in that second, able to process nothing but the sensation of loss, of something so suddenly sorely missing. Then, he feels rage. This son of a bitch. He lunges forward toward Garret, ready to smash his stupid, perfect face right in. "Give him back!"

Immediately the two police officers are upon him, attempting to hold him at bay as Garret stumbles backward.

Guzma doesn't care. He trudges forward, straining against their grasp, paying no mind to whatever it is they're yelling at him.

"Garret!" she storms over to him, his jacket still on her shoulders, the end of it fluttering in her wake. She points a finger at him. "What is this about?!"

"What, you didn't catch that?" he says indignantly. "He stole that Pokemon from me!"

She shrinks. "But-"

"It ain't like that!" Guzma says, making another struggle against the two men holding him back.

Garret holds up the Pokeball. "Sure seems like that."

"Garret-" she starts, but he doesn't let her speak.

"And that's not the only thing he took."

"What- what are you talking about?" she says.

"Don't listen to this asshole!" Guzma tells her.

"Try checking the pockets of that jacket," Garret says coldly.

Guzma freezes. No. "Doll, Doll wait!"

She does nothing but stare Garret down for a moment, then, to his absolute dread, she begins reaching into the pockets, one-by-one.

"Don't!" he yells, struggling once more.

She reaches into an inner pocket. The change on her face is immediate, and it's one he recognizes. It's the same look his mom had the day she'd caught him stealing:

Betrayal. Utter and total disappointment. A hurt and distrust that he put there.

Guzma's legs go out from underneath him as he stops fighting. He's on his knees, arms pinned behind his back.

Her hand reemerges from the jacket and she opens it to reveal the missing Ho-Oh feather.

"See? What did I tell you?" Garret snarls.

Eyes wide and voice breaking she turns towards Guzma, feather still in hand and says, "Why would you- who are you?"

Maybe he should have wished for something else with that eyelash. Who is he? Well, right now he wishes he were someone else. "Doll I-"

"A thief," Garret says. "A thief who thought he was gonna sneak off with the kahuna's daughter."

Everything goes cold within him. Kahuna's daughter? He looks up at her. "What?"

But she doesn't meet his gaze. Instead, she hands the feather to Garret, turns, and vanishes into the trees.

"Hey, wait! Please just- just let me-" he yells after her, trying to stand, but the two men holding him down won't allow it.

Garret takes off after her and all he can do is watch.

Then Guzma's cuffed and marched through the brush toward a cop car.

Don't get caught. Terrible things happen when you get caught.

Chapter Text

There's only so much you can do sitting in a jail cell alone, and Guzma has already run through the list: pace, envision an impossible escape, imagine strangling the guy who got you here, try to yell to the guard sitting at a desk down the hall, take out your frustrations by fruitlessly kicking the bench, run your hands along the bars, and mope.

That last one though? That last one is the one taking up the most time and it's also the most intolerable - the most painful - because moping is what happens when you're left alone with your thoughts. Guzma's thoughts aren't good company right now.

He feels so incredibly foolish in several ways. He shouldn't have let himself get distracted. If he'd just left after getting that Ho-Oh feather, then he wouldn't be sitting on a cold bench in a dark, musty jail cell in the middle of the night right now. No, he'd be back in Po Town and he'd-

He'd have Diaval.

He puts his face in his hands. That loss cuts more than it should. How attached had he gotten in just one day? All he can think about is how afraid Diaval was of Garret. What would his little Wimpod life be like now? It positively ate at him to think about. It's like there's two wounds on either side of him. On one side there's the hole left by Diaval, and on the other is the look on that girl's face when she pulled that feather out of his jacket pocket.

He's so embarrassed. Embarrassed, ashamed, and... confused. He can't tell what it is he wants anymore. Why did he stick around that party as long as he had? Especially after a couple Garret run-ins. Getting on the bad side of Alola's champ wasn't exactly keeping a low profile.

But he can't deny that she was kind of worth it. Despite the less than ideal ending, this night had been pretty great. But the kahuna's daughter? Not friend, not guest, but daughter? There's no way that would've ever worked out in even the slightest. He wonders if she knows now - really knows - who he is. Not just that he's some guy who crashed a party and stole some things, but that he's the leader of a gang. A gang her mother is probably none too fond of.

Why feel so conflicted about that? Wasn't being known what he was after in all this? If so, then wouldn't her knowing be good in some way?

Then why does the idea of it feel terrible? He hadn't meant to deceive her - at least not to that degree. The kahuna's daughter running off with the local gang leader would definitely be a bit of a scandal. Does she think he was trying to cause that? She couldn't right? She'd lied to him too, didn't she? Why'd she do that?

Was it even worth thinking about? Any of it? What does it matter when he's sure he'll be put away for his thievery? No matter what kind of connection they may have forged in their short time together, it's over now.

It's all over now. Are Plumeria, Jeremy, and Sweets wondering where he is? Do they know? He supposes Jeremy got what he wanted. With Guzma behind bars, this would be it for Team Skull. Everything is gone.

Maybe his dad had been right to treat him as he had - to always seem like he was nearly downright ashamed of him. Look how much he's fucked up. Who wouldn't be ashamed?

And his mom?

Guzma lays himself down on the bench, one leg on, one leg hanging off. He throws an arm over his eyes. There's no one here to see the start of tears, but he hides them anyway. He heaves a great sigh, frustrated with himself. He was going to cry over this? Really? What's wrong with him?

This is a supreme fuck up he's gotten himself into. He can rage at the thought of Garret all he wants (and he will) but it was really his own stupidity that landed him here.

Don't get caught.

That was all he had to do, and he couldn't even do that. Just one simple thing.

He's not sure what will happen next, but he wonders if attempted theft of something like that feather is enough to turn this jail cell into a prison one. Would they come after him for other things? Was the cop who saw him steal that exhaust pipe here?

This kind of thing was never something his dad had to worry about for multiple reasons. From crooked cops he bribed to the best lawyers money could buy, his father was safe from a life behind bars. But his screw up of a son? Not so much. Was the feather too much to risk without having that kind of support to fall back on? Maybe, especially since he's not even sure of its actual value.

Guzma lets his arm fall from his face, wiping away the tiny pools of tears that had gathered beneath with the motion. Maybe that wasn't worth thinking about either. What's done is done and he's already been caught. No point in "what ifs." Still, he can't stop his mind from spiraling through all these thoughts.

He wishes he could have the certainty of Jeremy that things would be okay without Team Skull. That finally fully giving up everything their fathers built from the ground up wouldn't result in him somehow disappearing. Hell, he was so certain that Team Skull was destined to be his identity that the emblem is forever emblazoned on each of his forearms. In hindsight, maybe that was another rash decision. Or, maybe it was that doing something so permanent like that would force him to stay the course. Can't give up on something you're marked by, right?

He rolls up one of the sleeves of the button up shirt he's still wearing to reveal the bandages. Jeremy had been worried about them getting infected. A jail cell might not be the cleanest place, but he unwraps his arm anyway to expose the bright purple skull beneath. He stares at it in the pale moonlight steaming in from the singular window. There it is - the symbol of this idea he's wrapped up so much of himself in. Had he been so sure when he asked Jeremy to do this? He'd thought so.

He places both his arms over his chest and knits his fingers together. If by some miracle he got out of here, what would he do? It damn near scrambles his brain to think about. Instead he decides to question what would have been if there'd never been a Team Skull. What if he really was just someone helping out with the trials? He imagines being the kind of person who would have really been invited to that party. He thinks about the kind of life such a person would have led.

He doesn't know what it would mean for his dad - he can't separate Team Skull from his father - but his mom? Maybe she'd still be here. Without her shock from his petty theft, and without the raging asshole his dad had been to fight with, maybe she never would have taken off that night. He wishes he understood more what she might have wanted for him. If only she'd been around as long as his dad had. If things had been different, maybe he would have succeeded in becoming a trial captain. Maybe he could have attempted something like becoming league champion.

Eyes closed, he can picture so clearly what this other Guzma's life might have been like. People would know who he is, like he so desperately wants now, but for a much different reason. He's not hated or feared, but admired. He imagines being a welcomed part of the community and doing things like coaching trainers just getting started with their first Pokemon. He sees someone happier, mature, confident... someone he'll never be.

And he sees someone else too: the person his mother never got to be. He imagines an older woman, hair grayer, and skin less smooth, but still full of that same energy she always had. Still repairing and riding motorcycles, still talking endlessly of her love for the islands. And he can see her giving him a different look than the one of disappointment she'd had the night of her death. No, instead she beams at him with pride, the start of wrinkles at the corner of her eyes, and the temples of her hair silver as she tells him "I'm so proud of you, my boy. "

He thinks about how tonight's party would have went for that Guzma. What would it have been like to meet that girl not as someone secretly crashing a formal event, but as a champion who was supposed to be there? They probably would have hit it off without him getting a bloody nose. She would have wanted to talk to him of her own accord and maybe tonight would have had a much more pleasant outcome.

He opens his eyes to take in the reality of the jail cell still around him. Kahuna's daughter, huh? And his dumb ass did the Chicken Dance with her? Once more he feels the red hot sting of embarrassment. He must have sounded so stupid to her.

Other Guzma gets to be with someone like her. Other Guzma gets a happy ending. But this Guzma? He gets jail time.

Guilt, regret, and misery feel as if they're three rocks sitting on his chest as he lays on the bench. Tonight was supposed to be a new start for him and Team Skull. Instead it might be the first of many nights he spends behind bars. He's never been more uncertain of his future.

He closes his eyes again, hoping for a sleep that seems in no hurry to come.

 

It's not the light coming in through the window that wakes him - it's the sound of sneakers thudding against the cold, hard floor. They draw closer until whoever it is, is right outside the bars of his jail cell. Guzma finally, reluctantly, opens his eyes at the sound of someone clearing their throat. Then, he finally looks at his visitor when he hears the low squawking of a bird.

Garret. Fucking Garret is standing there, looking every bit the smug asshole champ he is, now changed out of his formal wear. The red Chatot is on his shoulder, and the both of them look down at him with pompous satisfaction. He's clutching a bag in one of his hands - a familiar bag - the same one he'd stolen from Garret in the library. Dark fabric pokes out of it. How did he get that back?

Doesn't matter. As Guzma rises in a flash and rushes the bars of the cage, there's just one thing he's thinking about. "Where's Diaval?!" he yells, reaching between the bars.

Garret nimbly steps back, evading his grasp. "Who?" he says in a confused but condescending tone.

Guzma clutches at the bars, knuckles going white. "The Wimpod, jackass!"

"Jackass," repeats the bird on his shoulder.

Garret scoffs. "You named the pathetic thing?"

"If he's such a worthless Pokemon, then why hold on to him?"

"Because you want him," Garret shrugs.

Guzma seethes behind the barrier separating the two of them. His mind is still a little foggy from the sudden wake up call, and the rage starting to cloud it isn't helping. He shakes his head and finally releases the bars. "Why are you even here? Didn't ya already win?"

"Well," Garret says, taking a step back towards him. "There's some things I think you ought to know."

"Like fucking what?" Had he just come here to gloat? Why had the guard even let him through? This city really admire this guy that much just for being champ?

Garret reaches into the bag and holds up a black hoodie. On the back of it is the Team Skull logo. "Like how I know who you are. Who you really are." He quickly pushes the hoodie between the bars and tosses it onto the floor.

Guzma picks it up and holds it in his hands. He stares at it for a long moment, confused. "What- how did you?"

"You weren't exactly the most careful about hiding your name last night. Didn't take much to figure it out. And, well, I wanted my gym bag back so I paid your little trashed town a visit. Figured you could use a change of clothes since you've been wearing a disguise all night. Isn't that right?"

"Trashed," says the Chatot.

Guzma glances down at the formal clothes he's still in. He wonders for a second if the girl still has the jacket he'd worn to the party or if she'd gotten rid of it as soon as she left the scene. A thought occurs to him then, one that once again makes him feel as if his stomach is about to drop out of him. He looks up at Garret. "Did- did you tell-"

"No, not yet," Garret says calmly. "She has no idea. Neither does her mother. Whether or not I reveal that information depends on you."

"What?" What the hell was this guy's deal? What's he getting at?

Apparently Garret wants to make him wait on an explanation. He leans against the wall nonchalantly and folds his arms. "Let me ask you something. Did you really think you had a chance? You? A gang leader? You thought you had a shot with the kahuna's daughter?"

Guzma says nothing, but he stares Garret down. No, he longer believed he really did. There's no way she ever would have even paid him any mind at all if she had known who he really is. But, he's not about to tell Garret that.

"You're right where you belong, you know that? Behind bars."

Guzma's hands curl in fists around the fabric of his hoodie. "So ya just came here to gloat, huh? What, like you had a better chance? Pretty sure I witnessed her tellin' ya to fuck off."

That seems to knock Garret down a peg. He pushes himself from the wall and approaches the cell. "Don't speak about it like you know everything that's going on. She'll come around. A champ's a hard thing to turn down - especially for someone who might be the next kahuna. You though? You'd be bad for her in more ways than one."

"That's not how it seemed to be goin' last night."

"And you think last night would have happened if you'd shown up wearing all this?" Garret turns the duffel bag upside down and dumps it. Out tumble the rest of his usual outfit, including his lopsided sunglasses and a gold medallion that clatter to the floor.

Guzma swallows, and stares at the pile of his belongings on the ground.

"You can think whatever you want of me. I don't give a shit," Garret tells him. "At least I'm not a death sentence for her reputation if she were to choose me. At least I'm someone worth a damn."

Guzma's more than had enough. He sits on the bench in the cell, fight leaving him, but the anger remaining. "What the fuck do you want?" He just wants Garret to go. If he's to rot behind bars, then he'd rather do it alone.

"I think you and I can make a deal," Garret tells him. "It'll get you out of here."

"A deal!" his Chatot repeats excitedly.

Guzma blinks. He's not sure where this could possibly be going, but it can't be good. Why would Garret help him? "And what, exactly, would get me outta here?"

Garret crosses his arms again. "Being champ has its perks - clout and all that. Plus, I've got the ear of the kahuna. They've got you in here for taking my Wimpod and the feather, right? But if no charges are pressed then they can't hold you."

"You sayin' you ain't pressing charges?"

"I'm saying I might not if you do me a favor."

"I-" Guzma shakes his head. "But what about the feather? That wasn't yours to drop charges on."

"No," Garret admits. "That would be the kahuna's. Do you know where her husband came from? He was a Johto champion, which, hey, might also be why she wants to see her daughter with a champ." He gives Guzma a sly smile.

Guzma clenches his jaw. How many times was he going to brag about that?

"That statue and the Ho-Oh feather were gifted to her by that region when they found out about the construction of Malie Garden. She might have chosen to display it there, but it's her property. Almost taking that feather and kidnapping her daughter? Oh, she was ready to see you hang believe-"

"Kidnap?" Guzma says, flabbergasted. "I sure as hell didn't-"

"Your word against mine," Garret tells him nonchalantly.

"And her daughter's and the people at the party!" Guzma reminds him. Surely the girl would have told her mother that he never forced her away from the party. It was her idea even!

Garret rolls his eyes. "Anyway, I may have talked her down. Might have told her that I'd pay you a visit and set you on the right path. No one gives a pep talk like Garret."

"Alright," Guzma shrugs. "So no charges."

"Not quite." Garret's smile turns a little menacing.

Of course there's a catch. "Again, what the fuck do you want?"

Garret takes a couple more steps towards the bars. "Out in Haina Desert there's a cave called The Ruins of Abundance."

This Guzma has heard of a couple times before. "Yeah, and?"

"And I need you to go there, travel to the deepest part of the ruins, and bring back a Pokeball that you will find there."

Now he's just confused. "What? What kind of Pokeball?"

"Just an ordinary Pokeball," Garret tells him. "Shouldn't be too hard, right?"

"There's... nothing it? Fuck, can't we just get you a Pokeball from any Pokemart? Why's it gotta be out in the desert?"

"You want your freedom?" Garret grabs a bar of the cell and looks Guzma in the eye. "Then bring me that exact Pokeball."

He's quiet for a moment, thinking. "If you're such a big, tough champ, why don't you go do it yourself?"

Garret releases the bar and sighs. "I've just got way too much on my plate. I'd rather send an errand boy."

Guzma doesn't buy this. He can nearly feel that there's something he's not being told. Still, maybe he can work this to his advantage. "I want Diaval."

Garret's face twists in confusion for a second. "What, the Wimpod?"

"Yeah, sweeten this deal a bit, huh? Give me the Wimpod, drop the charges, get me outta here, and that ball is as good as yours."

Garret's eyes go to the ground as he appears to think this over. "It is rather useless..." he mutters.

"Useless," his bird parrots.

Guzma approaches the bars and grips them. "Do we have a deal?"

Garret fishes in a pocket and pulls out a Pokeball.

Guzma extends a hand for it.

Instead, Diaval suddenly appears on the ground beside Guzma. He looks startled and wild-eyed as he takes in the jail cell.

Guzma nearly laughs in relief. "Hey, bud!" he tells the little isopod.

Immediately Diaval climbs up his leg and does not stop until he comes to rest between Guzma's shoulders once more. Guzma stretches a hand over his shoulder, trying to comfort him, but he's in an unreachable spot and refuses to move.

"Consider this," Garret says, shaking the ball. "My guarantee that you're not just gonna run off on me. I'll give you the Wimpod's Pokeball in exchange for the one in the cave. If you don't hold up your end of this deal, I'll see that you're back in this jail cell for stealing that Pokemon, and this time you won't leave. And I'll make sure the kahuna and her daughter know exactly who you are. Deal?" He places his gloved hand just outside of the bars.

What choice does he have? Guzma swallows before reluctantly taking Garret's hand. It takes even more restraint not to jerk the asshole towards him and bash his smirking face into the bars.

For a brief second they shake on it.

"Deal," the Chatot says.

~~~

You sit on your bed staring down the jacket that's slung over a chair in your bedroom. Once more you run through the events of last night in your head - all of it - from Garret first upsetting you to when you pulled the Ho-Oh feather out of the pocket of the very jacket sitting across from you.

"And you never found out his last name?" Ethan asks. He sits on the bed beside you with various study materials spread in front of him. You were suppose to be helping him practice for an exam on common Pokemon illnesses, but you're much too distracted, as is he.

"Nope," you sigh. "Just 'Guzma.'"

Ethan picks up a stack of flashcards and begins absentmindedly flipping through them. "He said he's a island trial worker... you think that's true?"

"Don't think so... why- why would a trial worker steal that feather?"

"Why would anyone steal that feather?"

You shake your head. "To resell it? Though there aren't exactly a ton of Ho-Oh here in Alola. A feather like that showing up for sale here? It'd be obvious it was the stolen one."

"Strange," Ethan mutters.

"He wasn't even invited."

"No? You think any of them were? Him and his friends?"

"I dunno. I don't know how they even got a hold of invitations. There's never been a breach like this before at one of mom's events." Which was true and also probably one of the reasons she seems so freaked out. Well, that and Garret. He had worked her up into an absolute tizzy after you and Guzma left. When it was revealed that the feather was missing, he'd immediately found the kahuna and told her that not only did he know the uninvited intruder who took it, but that he had made off with you too.

Your mother was an absolute wreck by the time you got back to the house. You'd managed to finally convince her that you hadn't been "kidnapped" - an idea that feels almost insulting - but she was no less irate and panicked. Of course, Garret had stuck around for all of this, and especially seemed to appreciate the moments where your mother thanked him for his perceptiveness and quick actions.

After at least an hour of arguing and absolute chaos you'd disappeared to your room. You were already confused and hurt by the events of the night, and your mother and Garret certainly weren't helping.

And now, after it's all over, what do you make of everything? You're not sure.

You crawl forward on the bed and reach for the jacket. Plucking it from the chair, you sit back and hold it in your lap, staring at the fabric. You shouldn't feel any way about this article of clothing or the man it belongs to, and yet...

"Are you keeping that?" Ethan asks sounding amused.

"I probably should toss it, right? Donate it? Can't imagine he needs it in a cell... Got no real way of returning it." You roll the fabric between your fingers, thinking about the moment when the music changed to something slower, and you had felt the shoulders of this jacket back when it was still on him.

"Eh," Ethan says. "If you had fun then keep it!"

You huff and pull the jacket to your chest. "I mean, it was certainly more fun than I usually have at those things. It was different - he was different."

Ethan sets the flashcards aside and looks at you seriously. "What if everything was a misunderstanding? Maybe- maybe it'll turn out that he's not just some party crashing thief?"

"Well, it was more than the feather. He also took Garret's Wimpod, remember?"

"Yeah, but-"

"That's kind of hilarious," you and Ethan both say at the same time.

Ethan laughs. "From what I saw, I think Guzma might appreciate the Wimpod more than Garret ever would."

"Yeah, he was awful close to him for being something that he stole..." you trail off, thinking about Diaval and the way he crawled back and forth between you and Guzma. If that little Pokemon was so keen on him, then maybe you weren't so naive for holding onto a few tender moments from that night. Yes, Guzma had come uninvited and stole some things... but what if Ethan's right? What if it's not as bad as it seems?

You look down at the jacket again and swallow. Then, you place it back on the chair. You suppose it doesn't matter. You aren't sure where he came from or where he is now. If he's still in a cell or how long he'll be there. He wasn't even supposed to be at the party. The likelihood of seeing him again feels almost nonexistent. You sigh, resigning yourself to these formal events going back to being full of the same kind of stuffy guests they always are... like Garret.

He'd sure painted himself as a hero, and you worry that your mother's not-so gentle pushing you together will increase now. For definitely not the first time today you imagine going to school with Ethan or finding a good job - anything that would let you move out on your own.

Your eyes go to the jacket again and you smile. What was it Guzma had suggested? Running off a million miles away? In some ways you wish it could have been possible to do just that. What if you had? Where would the two of you be now? What would you be doing?

Whatever the answer to those questions are, you'll never find them out. But, it's fun to imagine and think about.

But should you think about such things? Had there been a misunderstanding? Was the situation last night not what it seemed?

Or was he just some thief off the street that you were a fool to trust?

You shake your head, trying to let it all go. None of it is the reality that surrounds you now, so it doesn't matter, does it?

You turn back toward Ethan and pick up the flashcards. "You wanna go over these again?"

Better to go over these cards again then to do a constant circle in your head over a man you'd only known for one night.

A night you maybe wish you could get back.

~~~

He could care less if this street rat dies in the ruins. Garret knows this is a possible outcome and it's one he'd accept as well. It's true that it would be disappointing to not have the Pokeball that he's after, but, at the very least, this gang leader would be out of his way.

It's absolutely infuriating how this nobody - no, this less than nobody - had managed to accomplish what he couldn't: in just one night he'd seemingly earned the affection of the kahuna's daughter.

But, of course, seeing the look on her face when she pulled that stolen feather from the pocket of that jacket had been a moment that he'll remember forever. Because, it was in that moment that Guzma started to lose. Or, at least that's what Garret had thought. But, if the conversations he stuck around for between the girl and her mother were any indication... despite this guy being a thieving miscreant, she still seemed to prefer him to Garret.

Absolutely unbelievable. Unacceptable.

So, whatever the outcome of this little venture into the Ruins of Abundance, it would be fine. Either he'd have the ball, the being within it, and wishes to make, or, Guzma would be permanently no longer an option for her. Either was good.

The thing about the ruins, is this: it itself may not be a secret, but what lies in the deepest and most dangerous parts of it is. Sure, this Pokeball may be a legend, but it's a forgotten one, still sitting in a place he'd rather not go.

He'd never admit it aloud, but Garret was afraid of retrieving the ball himself. He might be afflicted with some claustrophobia and fear of the dark, but no one need know that. He practically denied it to even himself. Furthermore, these regions of the cave are long left unexplored and uninhabited. It was perilous enough to traverse through Haina Desert, as he and Guzma are doing now, but to add cave exploration to that? He'd rather not.

Plus, the old book he'd taken from the library sure used some colorful language to describe the dangers within. He'd conveniently skipped those parts when showing the book to Guzma. Right now he holds it in front of the scoundrel's face as he points to a map of the ruins. "Yeah, so you got that? This should be the room. But remember: don't touch anything but that Pokeball."

"An' why's that?" Guzma asks. He's changed into the clothes Garret had brought, which can't be comfortable in this hot sun. Good.

To get his scruffy gang leader outfit had been a trip to Po Town and a few tense conversation with his criminal friends in their shitty mansion. But, he really wanted that gym bag back. And, he wanted confirmation that his hunch on who Guzma is was right. It was good information to have in his pocket.

"You want to break the rules and find out," Garret tells him. "Then be my guest. No skin off my back if you wind up stuck down there."

Guzma does nothing but glare at the sand they're trudging through. Their little alliance right now is tense to say the least.

"Do you understand where you need to go or not?" Garret says.

"Understand?" Iggy repeats.

"Yeah, whatever," Guzma shrugs. He looks at the old book once more. "Thought you weren't supposed to take books from that section of the library. Ain't they too fragile?"

Garret closes the book and tosses it over his shoulder, leaving it in the sand behind them. "Probably."

Guzma wipes sweat from his forehead with his arm. There's a bulge on his back under the hoodie where the Wimpod is hiding - probably not helping in this heat. Definitely not dressed for this Alolan desert.

Garret's not exactly comfortable either. The sun beats down almost unbearably. The air is dry and entirely too warm. And the sand? He hates sand. Course, rough, irritating, and gets everywhere. It's uncontrollable and Garret likes to be in control. He'll be happy when this is over and he can be done with this desert.

They march on to a dark spot in the distance where the Ruins of Abundance lies.

Garret gives Iggy a quick pet on the head and smiles. At last he has a chance of getting that Pokeball.

He's waited long enough.

Chapter Text

It's so hot that he's almost anxious to actually go in this damn cave.

Both Guzma and Garret stand outside the Ruins of Abundance now, the sun beating down overhead. He probably should have taken off his jacket, but Diaval had refused to move from between his shoulder blades this entire time, and he didn't want to expose him to direct sunlight for that long. Guzma puts a hand to his damp forehead to shield his eyes for a moment as he stares at the formation in front of them.

The entrance is just a rather small and simple hole in the center of a large, dark brown rock jutting out of the ground. There's barely enough light reaching inside for him to see that the path leading inward curves sharply down. Was this... safe? He certainly hadn't been provided any climbing equipment. He supposes Garret isn't exactly concerned for his well being. When he looks over at Garret, he's leaning in the shade of another nearby rock and chugging water from a canteen he'd brought along. The two of them hadn't talked or interacted much on the way here. And why would they? It's not as if they have many kind words for one another. The sooner this shaky truce is over, the better. Guzma wants nothing more than to get back to Po Town and to sort the fallout from all this the best he's able to.

He stops when he notices Guzma staring. He wipes a hand across his mouth and says, "What, didn't think to bring water?" His Chatot carefully climbs its way down his arm, and Garret pours some of the contents of the canteen into his hand where the bird begins to lap it up. Great, big drops hit the ground and start to quickly evaporate. Garret smiles tauntingly at him.

"Ya didn't exactly give me much time to prepare," Guzma mutters, which was true. In fact, he's fairly certain that his current uncomfortableness was part of Garret's plan anyway.

Garret stares at him a moment longer, then rolls his eyes as he recaps the canteen. Much to Guzma's surprise, he tosses the container to him.

It nearly slips from his hands, but Guzma catches it. He looks from it, back up to Garret, confused. This was a kindness he didn't expect.

Garret shrugs. "You get lost in that cave? Whatever. But there would have been no point in marching through that desert if you die of heatstroke before you even have a chance to attempt getting that Pokeball."

Guzma's mouth sets in a line. So this was not so much a kindness as it was a halfhearted attempt to make sure he got even somewhat closer to obtaining Garret's prize.

"What?" Garret says when he still hasn't drunk from the canteen. "It's clearly not poisoned." He reaches into his newly stocked gym bag to pull out another container of water.

Guzma's further annoyed to realize this asshole had had multiple containers for himself for this little trip, but had given him neither the time or means to prepare. He looks down at the half empty container in his hands and unscrews the cap. He supposes recently released gang leaders can't be choosers. He takes just a few careful swigs before capping it again. He can't imagine Garret's charity is going to extend beyond this. He's lucky that he's got so much hanging over Guzma's head - there's no way in hell he'd put up with any of this otherwise. He damns his soft spot for Pokemon and wonders how Diaval is doing under his jacket. Maybe once inside the cave and away from Garret he could convince the little bug to come out.

Sighing, Guzma turns again to the cave entrance. So he was really going to do this, huh? He supposes it's this or jail, right?

And losing Diaval.

And the girl finding out more than he wishes her to know.

But would any of that matter if he doesn't even make it back out of this cave?

He has half a mind to just fight Garret now. To rend Diaval's Pokeball from his grip and leave him in this sandy wasteland. But that would only solve things for a little while, wouldn't it? Garret knows who he is and where to find him. As if he and Team Skull really need the police to pay a visit to Po Town. He could run off. He could finally shut it all down - the team, Po Town, everything... but that option doesn't sit well with him either. He may not be sure of what, exactly, he wants anymore, but he knows he's not ready for that. He especially doesn't want to give it all up because of this jackass.

The thought of running away from everything reminds him of the conversation he'd had with the girl. Again, there's the stirring of shame in his guts. She was part of the reason he's out in this desert now - her, and the information he so desperately doesn't want her to know. Maybe he shouldn't care about that now. What was he gonna do? Pay her a visit after this? Maybe. Maybe he could find a way to explain himself - maybe he could make something up.

There's a small voice somewhere within him that tells him that would be wrong too. He'd only be lying more. But, it's not as if he could tell her the truth, right? No, the truth would be unacceptable. But a lie wouldn't fit with his goal of rebuilding his reputation and that of Team Skull. Once more he finds himself at a stalemate.

"You gonna get a move on or what?" Garret says, interrupting his thoughts. "I don't want to be out here any longer than I have to be."

Guzma ignores him as he continues to stare into the cave before him. Fine, alright, he's doing this then. It's just a cave, and he's only getting a Pokeball. Simple, yeah? Just do this and be done with Garret. Make everything else right after that. Big Bad Guzma could handle a little cave exploration. This isn't a big deal.

He takes a step forward. Yeah, this is definitely not foolish at all.

"Hey, remember," Garret calls after him. "Don't touch anything but that Pokeball."

Guzma waves a hand dismissively and pockets the canteen as he continues on into the cave. At the very least, being in the cave means getting away from Garret for a while. Time to find out if these ruins really do hold any sort of abundance.

He almost slips on the steep, sandy path in - already off to a good start. Out of the sun the air is already mercifully cooler, and Diaval stirs on his back.

The sand dissipates and the passage levels out, leading to a cavernous room with large, ornate, carved square rocks. There is only one way forward on a tiny road paved with stones set there who knows how long ago. The square boulders sit, dotting the path, some of them directly in the way with little room to move around them. Could he push them? They look far too heavy. Maybe climb over them? squeeze around them? He looks over the edge of the rock walkway he's on to see more sand down below. It rises and falls in tiny hills around the room. Some of the mounds pile high enough to meet the trail he's on, and others fall far too low. He wonders how much the sand would drift away beneath his feet if he were to avoid some of the square stones by using the sand he can reach. He'd rather not get stuck down here that quickly.

He walks up to the first stone, a massive, perfectly cut rectangular boulder, taking up nearly exactly the entire width of the path. He gives it an experimental push, but it doesn't budge. Once more Diaval moves a bit between his shoulder blades.

"Gonna have to come out at some point, bud," Guzma tells him as he peers around the stone, trying to gauge if he could duck around it. The path has a tiny ledge running along the side of it that he might be able to inch his way along. Carefully, on tiptoe, he steps up onto the ledge, and moves sideways, spreading his arms along the boulder.

It's unfortunately this moment, as he's awkwardly hugging the rock as much as he can, with feet barely finding purchase, that Diaval decides to move from his back and peak his head out from underneath the neck of his jacket.

Guzma gives a small gasp. The surprise of the Pokemon's sudden movement is enough to make him sway slightly, legs wobbling, and fingers desperately digging into the rock. Air leaves him as he pushes his front against the stone, face turned to the side. He glances downward to see that it's quite a drop from here. How hard was sand to fall on?

"Holy fuck, D," he mutters. As much as he's taken a liking to the little Wimpod, he admits he sure is trouble.

His words only cause Diaval to move more, until he's fully out, sitting partly on Guzma's shoulder and partly on his outstretched arm.

"Not helping!" Guzma hisses through gritted teeth, afraid to move.

Diaval takes one look at the fall, and begins to scurry up onto the stone that Guzma's so perilously clinging to. He sits atop of it and stares down at Guzma, antennae wriggling.

Guzma opens his mouth to speak, but it quickly turns into a yelp as one of his toes slips from the ledge. His nails make futile attempts to dig into the stone, and his legs quiver dangerously as he tries to bring his foot back up. He's sure he's going to fall-

But then there's a tug at the shoulder of his hoodie. It's small, and not very strong, but it's enough to allow him to again stand with just the toes of his shoes on the ledge once more. Diaval has climbed partway down the boulder and has a chunk of dark fabric in his mouth, pulling Guzma to him with all he's got. He doesn't stop pulling, not when Guzma has two feet on the ledge again, not as Guzma slowly moves along it, not until he reaches the other side of the boulder with both shoes fully back on solid path. It's then he finally releases the hoodie and drops from the boulder down right on top of Guzma's head.

Guzma grunts in surprise and reaches up to pluck Diaval from his hair. "Jeez, D," he tells him. "Thanks for the assist, I guess."

The little red Wimpod chitters at him, looking both concerned and confused at their surroundings.

Guzma sighs and sits on the ground, back to the large rock. He just needs to get his bearings again and maybe get Diaval some water now that he's no longer hiding.

 

The rest of the stones prove not quite as treacherous to get around. One he was able to scramble over by using another smaller, conveniently placed rock as a stepping stone, one damaged one had crumbled nearly in half, rendering it light enough to shove just enough to get by it, and another he took a chance on the sand below the path where it rose up high enough to walk on for a moment.

Diaval, now out of the sun, away from Garret, and refreshed with water is now a lot more active, climbing about him as he traversed that first room. While it was a bit of a pain at some points, more than anything Guzma was happy to once again see proof of just how much the bug preferred him to Garret. It makes it feel like making his way through these ruins might be worth it.

But it was just the first room. This second room is different - there's no immediate obstacles or dangers to navigate, but it's no less ominous. It's another large space with another stone path, this one taking up most of the area of the room. At the far end of it are steps leading up to an altar.

An empty altar.

If that Pokeball were here, wouldn't this altar be the most likely place? Carefully he approaches it, inspecting the leafy decorations around it. In fact, the decor reminds him of something, but he's unable to place what until he's right up at the altar.

This is supposed to be the home of Tapu Bulu, wasn't it? ... So where is it? Where else would it be but here? What was it that thing did again? That's right.

Tapu Bulu chooses kahunas - kahunas like her mother. What was it he'd heard about the kahuna's family? They said that only members of her family had been chosen for many generations now.

Would she be chosen too? Is inheriting the title of "kahuna" from her mother what she was destined for?

Seeing no where else to go, nothing to bring back, and now with thoughts that are feeling a little too heavy, Guzma sits on the altar, letting his legs dangle off the side of it. Diaval happily turns a few circles in his lap and settles down. Guzma absentmindedly pets him as he considers this new revelation. He supposes that he hadn't totally thought through what her being the kahuna's daughter really meant. He's sure Garret might have even mentioned this fact, but the weight of it never fully hit him until seeing this altar. Maybe he'd been too distracted with being thrown in a jail cell. Maybe he'd been too busy being pissed at Garret. Maybe he'd been too concerned over what some girl he barely knows would think of him if she knew the truth.

Fucking Garret. Was he right? Maybe he was right that a league champ was a more suitable partner for her than he could ever be... but that was up to her wasn't it? And despite all of Garret's bragging, at the very least, she doesn't seem to want anything to do with him.

But that doesn't mean Guzma's got a shot either. If she knew who he really was, she'd probably hate him.

Frustrated, Guzma picks Diaval up from his lap and stands. Maybe it's fine that she'd hate him. He's got no business getting this caught up on a girl he'd only known for a handful of hours. Let her hate him - he's got his own destiny to fulfill.

But it's a destiny that might put them at odds. Say he really does build Team Skull back to to it's former glory... say she really does become the next kahuna. They'd clash the same way his dad and her mom must have at some point.

Guzma gazes around at the altar, Diaval tucked under his arm. Once again, he finds himself wondering what the outcome would be if he were someone else - the other Guzma he daydreamed about in the jail cell. If he was some kind of league champ like Garret, how would this play out?

Something catches his eye, pulling him out of his muddled pondering - something sparkling in the dark behind the leafy decorations on the altar. Moving aside the fronds lining what he'd thought had been a wall, he discovers another room. The ruins continue.

As soon as he steps into this new space, an otherworldly blue light emanates from rocks along the ground. They aren't particularly bright, but it's enough to give him a look around and to light up the way forward. The rocks sit, evenly spaced on either side of a dusty, neglected path. There's just one way to go, so he starts down it, looking around, baffled. How long had this been here? And - what - are the rocks motion activated? What was doing this? The further into the space he goes, the more unease he feels. The hair on the back of his neck stands on end and he shivers. Something is... very strange about this place.

A twinkling catches his eye again, the same one that had lured him in here in the first place. It's coming from-

There's a motorcycle sitting here in this cave - a new looking polished thing, with chrome bits shining in the dim light from the rocks.

"What the fuck?" he mutters as he approaches it. What was something like this doing here? How did it get here? Something... something sure isn't right about this. He walks around it, inspecting it carefully. It's like his dream bike. From the paint job to the modifications, it's everything he would want if he had the means. Certainly a lot more cohesive than his cobbled together machine back in Po Town. This thing definitely wasn't made of stolen parts.

A set of keys sit on the seat of the bike. He reaches out for them...

Diaval begins to scramble down his side, pulling his attention from the motorcycle. His little body hits the ground with a soft plop and he scurries up the path toward something that Guzma can't quite see.

"D, what're you-" Guzma says as he gives chase. There's a tiny pile of pebbles that Diaval is making a beeline for. He scoops the Wimpod up right before its little mandibles close around one of them. He struggles in his grip, trying desperately to get to the pile, drool dripping from his mouth.

"Yo, yo it's not food!" Guzma tries to calm him. "Why do you wanna-" He remembers then what Garret had said multiple times. He'd warned him not to touch anything but the Pokeball. He glances back at the shiny, new motorcycle. Was the cave... tricking them? Was this some sort of trick? Maybe that bike was nothing but rocks too - a temptation to keep him from reaching his goal.

Diaval tries again to escape him, puny legs kicking and tail thrashing as he whines. Guzma places him in his jacket and zips it up, making him finally still. "Ain't cotton balls or whatever it was you were tryin' to eat in that bathroom," Guzma tells him. He looks back once more at the motorcycle, then turns away from it. "And that sure as shit ain't here either."

As they continue, his sense of foreboding grows. More objects begin to appear - more things he's wished for in the past that logically shouldn't be in this ancient cave - motorcycle parts, electronics, clothing, various kinds of drinks and containers of water (Garret's canteen is nearly empty), a legit version of the knockoff watch he's wearing, and the list goes on. He keeps Diaval tightly to him as he hurries past everything, the items growing more numerous and extravagant as he goes. At one point there's an entire car sitting in the dark, illuminated only by the blue, glowing rocks.

"Jeez, what's next?" he says aloud to no one. "You got my dad's approval in here too or-" He stops short at what he sees on the ground ahead of him.

It's a bandanna. Just a plain, red bandanna with a paisley design.

In his memories he can see that bandanna so clearly, always folded into a headband that his mother wore while she worked on her latest motorcycle project.

He's frozen for a few moments, unable to step forward, barely able to breathe. Then, one hesitant foot in front of the other, he approaches it. He stands before it now, eyes upon it, hand over Diaval under his jacket as the bug clings to his shirt. Everything within him screams for him to pick it up, to hold in his hands this object that, to him, was so emblematic of his mother. Would it smell of the floral scented shampoo she always used? Would he find some grease stains on it? Would having this memento help him hold onto her memories for just a little longer?

Guzma swallows hard. It's not here. It's not real. This bandanna was lost along with his mom the night she died. It couldn't possibly be in this cave, no matter how much it seems that way. He holds his breath as he steps over it, and doesn't release it until he's taken a few steps away from it. He hopes they find that Pokeball soon. Whatever it is that's making him have these visions clearly isn't afraid of playing dirty.

He's not sure what will happen if he were to give in and actually grab one of these nonexistent objects, but he'd rather not find out. This was already surreal enough. The apparitions begin to decrease after he rejects the bandanna. It's like they'd reached a fever pitch and now they're giving up. ... or maybe there was another danger incoming. Why, exactly, was Garret unwilling to do this himself? He carefully follows the blue stones ever deeper into the cave. He's definitely far from any help should anything happen down here. The thought of being stuck in the dark waiting to die makes him shiver again. Maybe Garret was right to not want to do this. Still sucks that he's been conned into it though. Somehow, someway, he'd have to find a way to get back at Garret - for this and for everything else.

Taking the girl he's been chasing after might be a good start. His thoughts once again wander back to last night and its ups and downs. If he could have a second chance at impressing her, he wouldn't act like such an idiot. He distracts himself from his growing anxiety by trying to think of excuses to tell her. How could he see her again and not have it go to shit? There's got to be something he can think of.

"Whatchu think, D?" he says, pulling back the neck of his jacket to look at the Wimpod. "What if I said I just found that feather on the ground or something, huh? And I didn't know what it was? You'd buy that, right?"

Diaval merely wriggles his antennae at him.

"Well, you come up with a better story."

A chittering comes from inside his jacket.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I should probably just... not. I just-"

He pauses as Diaval vocalizes in response, as if considering the Wimpod's words.

"Hung up?" Guzma huffs in offense. "I ain't hung up on anything. It's just, I dunno, I had a fun time... would like to have some more fun? Don't look at me like that."

Diaval does not look at him any differently than he had been.

"Look, I haven't exactly had much luck when it comes to... Listen, I know what I want when I want it, okay? And I think I can come up with a way to make this work, D."

Diaval yawns.

"Tell the truth?" Guzma's shoulders slump and he puts a hand to his undercut. "Yeah, if only the truth were okay."

Diaval's eyes begin to close as he falls asleep. Guzma releases the neck of his jacket. "Me too, D. Let's just get this damn Pokeball and get out of here."

It's as if the cave can hear his words. He can see the end of the path now. The blue lights come to a halt at something way out in front of them. There's a small object sitting on a rock. Something red and white.

All too ready to have this trip be over, Guzma takes off running. He doesn't stop or slow until he's before it, the thing he'd been sent down here to collect: just your regular, average, ordinary Pokeball. He stares it down, breathing heavy. Was this safe to touch then? This was real? He wonders if it's possible this is a fake, only put in front of him because it's what he currently wants. He looks around him, but there's nothing more in the darkness. The path ends here. This must be it. There's only one way to find out.

Cautiously and ever so slowly he reaches out for the ball. A bead of sweat travels down the side of his head and he can't tell if it's from physical exertion or nerves. He swallows, eyebrows creased as his hand closes around it. He freezes then, arm outstretched, Pokeball still on the rock, his hand covering it.

And nothing happens.

Sighing, Guzma picks it up and holds it in front of his face, looking it over. "I don't get," he says. "It really is just a Pokeball. What do you think's so special about this, D?"

It's only then he notices that the Wimpod is no longer clinging to his shirt. Confused, he pats at his jacket and frantically looks all around him. When did he drop off of him? While he was running? While he was getting the ball? "D? D, hey, where are you-"

He turns to find Diaval mere inches away from yet another pile of pebbles.

"No, don't!" he yells, and sprints. But there's no way he'll make it in time. He knows that, but he's moving as fast as his feet will carry him regardless. "Wait!"

Diaval takes a pebble into his mouth and bites down. It crumbles in his mandibles. The bug looks disappointed and disgusted, spitting out bits of rock and dirt.

In the next instant, Guzma is scooping him up and tucking him under his arm, waiting for whatever it is that comes next. He whips about, looking this way and that. Would there be repercussions for this or not?

It starts as a low grumble from a direction he can't determine. The noise grows louder as the entire cave begins to tremble. The blue lights change - one-by-one they turn from blue to red.

"Oh, D," Guzma whispers. "You sure fuckin' done it."

The ground beneath him shakes with such intensity that it's hard to make out the path in the darkness. If not for the now red lights he'd be lost. He begins retracing his steps and almost falls when a large rock comes crashing down behind him.

The ruins are collapsing.

Throwing all caution to the wind, Guzma pockets the Pokeball and flees, Diaval clutched tightly to his side. He'll never make it. There's too much ground to cover and things are falling apart way too fast, but he's got to try.

The glowing red rocks blur together as they quiver with the destruction. All around him he can hear thunderous cracking. In the dim lighting he can see long, jagged crevasses traveling up the wall like lightening bolts. He takes this all in, but does his most to ignore it or else panic might get the better of him. Teeth grit and eyes wide, all he can do is follow the path back the best he can, his balance barely kept as new rocks and boulders nearly steal it.

The objects start appearing again - the things put in his way to distract him - and, just as he'd thought, they reveal themselves to be nothing but rocks. Each one damn near explodes into rubble and dust as he passes them, making it even harder to see. He's simply tearing through the cave now with one singular goal: survival.

That is, until he sees the bandanna again. For a split second his thoughts feel as scrambled as everything around him. Maybe this was it. Maybe he'd be seeing his mother again just a little too soon. He nearly trips as he approaches it, but then, like all the treasures before it, the bandanna looses its form, now just a pile of pebbles on the ground. They roll about on the path, right under his feet.

He hits the ground hard, flailing forward, thoughts now on trying to keep Diaval from feeling the impact. His effort only sends the Wimpod sailing from him, plopping onto the ground a few feet from him. "D!" he yells.

Diaval is on his back, little legs struggling in the air. Guzma can just barely hear his screams over the never-ending din and he hopes they're simply cries of fear and not pain.

Extremities now stinging from the numerous cuts and scraps he's collected, Guzma shakily gets to his feet. Once more he scoops up his tiny friend, noting the trickle of blood dripping between the Wimpod's eyes. Diaval is in a sheer panic and scrambles up his arm and back under his jacket. "It's gonna be alright!" he tells him, feeling like he's lying.

With each tumultuous tremor the way forward grows more dangerous. The only thing propelling him is pure adrenaline as he clamors over fallen boulders and other obstacles, desperately trying to keep himself between the two rows of lights - his guides toward escape. The objects of his desire that had tempted him before, continue to fall apart as their true forms appear, adding to the wreckage determined to seal him in this cave.

Finally, by some miracle, he finds himself tearing at the leafy fronds behind the altar, bursting into the empty and mercifully still room. He pauses for a moment, heaving great breaths and blinking in this brighter area.

But then the thunder catches up to him, causing the altar room vibrate with the same intensity as the treacherous depths he just left behind.

Brief break now definitely over, Guzma's feet pound down the passage. He just has to cross this room and make it back through the area with the large, rectangular boulders and he'll be free. He can see the doorway leading to that final room. He can make it. Maybe he can make it.

The ground shifts and the entire world suddenly seems to tilt. Behind him there's a loud crack as the road before the altar splits. The strip of path ahead of him rises, and his feet slip out from beneath him. Then, Guzma finds himself gracelessly sliding on his backside down the rocky land toward the destroyed altar below him. He flails, arms closing around a piece of rubble embedded in the slanted path, and clings to it. Rocks, gravel, dust, and debris all fly by him, coming to rest in the wreckage at the end of this makeshift slide. He coughs and looks frantically around.

He hadn't fallen far - he can see the archway to the next room overhead. Body aching, and stamina running low, he drags himself up onto the rocky lifeline he's still holding onto. As he does so, Diaval crawls to the space between his shoulder blades and hunkers down under his hoodie. "Hang on, D!" he yells, eyes on the scrap of land still hanging in the doorway. He jumps toward it with all he's got.

The wind's knocked from him as the edge come into contact with his stomach. But, there's no time to regain his bearings or catch his breath. Guzma frantically claws and pulls himself up onto the small bit of ruined pathway leading into that final room. He's up on his feet again, nearly loosing his balance and plummeting back into the altar room when the quaking follows him to this last sandy gamut.

He's scrambling over the square stone that had been broken in half long ago when the path begins to shatter, cracks winding their way through it. All around him the formidable boulders and bits of walkway plummet to the sand below.

And then he is too.

He yelps as he descends, but lands on a mound of sand that luckily breaks his fall. Getting painfully to his feet for what feels like the hundredth time, he struggles to stay upright as the sand moves. He sees that this room has now become a giant sandbox, the incessant shaking of the collapsing ruins evening out the hills. The large rectangular stones and chunks of path dot the tan ground around him.

But beyond all that and up a steep slope, is the exit - the entrance to the Ruins of Abundance where he'd left Garret waiting. He's so close.

He propels himself toward it, crashing into this last barrier to his escape and haphazardly makes his way up, his fists full of sand. He slips downward, once, twice, and even a third time, but won't relent, not with salvation so near.

The air begins to clear. He can feel a draft. He can see a craggy hole and beyond that a night sky and a bright moon. How long had he been down there? Doesn't matter. Right now the stars are a welcome sight. Feeling rejuvenated with the promise of safety, he scurries even faster up the sandy incline, the rumbling of the ruins growing louder in his dust. He knows bits of this must be falling away too, all crashing down into a dark hole of remnants. He's nearly vertical and only barely outpacing the collapse, but at least he will make it.

A figure appears, silhouetted by the moon. There's a bird on his shoulder.

Garret.

As Guzma's arms find purchase at the ground by Garret's feet, the last of the cave crumbles away, leaving the rest of him to dangle in the dark nothingness.

He slips back a few inches, his fingers leaving lines in the sand. He doesn't have it within himself to pull himself out of this now, not after the struggle he's just been through. "Hey!" he calls to Garret. "Help me up!" Why was he just standing there, staring at him?

"Did you get it?" Garret asks coolly.

"What?" Guzma yells, confused. Couldn't that wait just one more moment?

"The Pokeball!" Garret screams, his composure breaking. "Do you have the Pokeball?!"

"Yes!" Guzma tells him. Was this jackass really only going to save him based on that. "But ya ain't gonna have it if I fall! Help me!"

"First the ball!"

"The ball!" his Chatot echoes.

He can't be serious. But, sure enough, Garret does not crouch down, he does not reach for him. He doesn't move at all.

Guzma slides back a little more, as the ledge deteriorates under his aching arms. "I can't hold on!" he pleads.

"Give me the ball or fall!" Garret tells him over the still thundering cave. He takes out a Pokeball from his pocket and holds it up - Diaval's ball. "Do we have a trade?!"

He can't argue anymore. As quickly and carefully as he can, Guzma reluctantly releases one arm from the ledge and pulls the damn ball from his jacket. "Hurry up and take it!" he says, offering it. Diaval shifts on his back.

For a second, Garret remains frozen, eyes fixed on the ball in Guzma's hand as wind from the ruins ruffles his hair. Then his face splits into a manic grin as plucks the ball from him and holds it a loft, admiring it. He laughs in what sounds like disbelief. "At last," he mutters.

Guzma's scrapes at the sand, his grip failing him. "Fuckin' pull me up now!"

Garret gives one last smile to his new prize, then shifts his attention back to Diaval's Pokeball. He winds his arm up, and tosses it into the disintegrating cave.

"Wha- what are you doin'?!" Guzma yells.

Garret sneers at him. "Go fetch, street rat."

"Street rat!" his bird screeches, flapping its wings.

Something crawls up onto Garret's shoulder - the one opposite his Chatot. Something red and gray.

Diaval bites down onto Garret's ear.

Garret screams and whirls about, a few droplets of blood hitting the sand. He nearly steps on Guzma's hands as he tries to remove the Wimpod from him, the Pokeball from the cave still in his grip.

"D!" Guzma calls. He hadn't even noticed him leaving his hoodie amid all the chaos.

Garret stumbles about, his Chatot leaving his shoulder and attaching itself to his head, as it continues to flap and let out cries of alarm. Garret curses and struggles with Diaval, and the bug makes his way down his arm. With each bite Diaval leaves, Garret's flailing becomes more wild and his yelling louder.

To Guzma's utter helpless horror, Garret reels back his arm and flings Diaval forward, sending him flying over Guzma's head. "D, no!" he hollers as his tiny friend sails past him and back into the Ruins of Abundance. There's something clutched in his little bug legs. Something red and white.

The ground beneath Guzma's arms finally gives way, and he screams as he tumbles back into the darkness, free falling amid nothingness.

The last thing he sees before the entrance closes and the light winks out is Garret's enraged face, his mouth open in a cry of fury.

There's no longer a Pokeball in his hands.