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Temple of Eluvium

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High in the sky rises a tall tower, white like ivory and illuminated by the stars of space. It floats in silence in the middle of the starry sky where nobody can reach it, where no one can touch the godly beings that live there.

It's a fortress that nobody can enter, one that nobody can exit; unless one has a reason to be there, that is.

Lusamine is the one to lure them into the Æther Tower. The goddess of death herself, or so she makes herself be called. High in the dome of the mighty tower, she lives with her children, her little beasts and the stars. Everything is white, clean and pure. Her children bear the looks of angels and the pale skins of porcelain.

The fortress keeps the world in balance. It captures the essence of life and the world within it. The mighty ones remain upstairs, and the guardians of time and space remain in a middle ground where nothing flows, yet nothing dies.

Gladion has never understood the function of their home, their so deep, tall and artificial house. Lusamine explains that without them, the planet at their feet would be no more than a husk.

"People like me and you make sure there is space for everyone on that planet. Your sister guides people out of this land, she brings them joy and life." She ruffles his uneven hair. "What is not to love about Æther?"

The response is always the same, yet he never understands it. Explanations are always sweeter than needed, vaguer than expected and it never leaves him satisfied.

"But Mother, why are we so high up in the sky?"

She smiles at him. "It is so people don't judge our work. It is so people don't hurt us."

Gladion, at a young age, clutches his pillow to his chest. He glances at the gems and crystals that hang from his window to the starry space. "Why would they want to hurt us?"

She presses a kiss to his forehead. "People don't like balance. They don't like it when good things happen to them."

And bad things, too, but Gladion doesn't have the ability to comprehend the implications of her words and he eventually falls asleep in his bed. The gentle rattle of the crystals on the window lulls him into a peaceful slumber.

 


 

One day when Gladion is older and wiser, he receives a call from his mother to her office. She is buried in papers and there is ink on her lithe fingers. She is holding a little list out to him.

"I need you to go down to the Night Chamber, as I have no time to do it myself," she says. "It's just a routine thing, just to make sure everything is going well there."

Gladion has never gone down to that certain place. Her mother once told him it was a very dark place that lured men in like sirens sing to sailors, only for them to be killed. Whenever she spoke of that place, her words were bitter and slightly disarrayed.

He isn't sure of what he will see there, yet he doesn't pay much mind to it. In his world of constant solitude and mindless rituals, Gladion thinks this will at least allow him to step out of routine and explore the unknown corners of this paradise.

The lift takes him down in a breeze. He has been at Day Hills several times under his long-time friend Sun's demand, yet he has never been allowed to enter the other end of the wing before.

Both ends of time and space sit in different wings of the fortress, separated by paths and stars. He knows the way to Sun's lair by heart: a long hallway, the shapeshifting trees, the light, the clouds and a blue artificial sky he creates. There is a crash of the distant oceans he controls and Sun is always surrounded by Pokémon and sometimes people.

On the other hand, as he walks in the opposite direction, all that greets him is silence and the abrupt sight of just a small door. It's made of wood, it's white and it has a golden knob.

There is no magical shifting. No walls fading. He twists the knob gently and it clicks as it lets the door open.

What he is given sight to is both parts eerie and breathtaking. Above him, the naked fabric of space is exposed to him in its full glory, constellations and stars hanging low and almost at reach. The tiled floor seems to break into pieces as it expands forward, creating a path illuminated by cosmic pieces of all colors and gems.

And at the end of the bridge of stars sits a lonely cage, bigger than any other he had ever seen, so much so it seems to graze the sky. The edges of the metallic home gleam under the distant shine and its bars are wrapped in vines of all tones of green.

Gladion hesitantly makes his way there, pulled by some unknown force aside from the task he is supposed to carry out.

He steps carefully, the cage becomes bigger the closer he is until he realizes there is lush, verdant green concealed within the barriers, full of white flowers and trees. It is built like a prison, yet he soon discovers it has a door.

He ascends the golden steps to the door and it offers no resistance as he opens it. "Hello?" he lets out in a low, hushed voice.

The flowers that had been sitting idle on the fresh grass of this place pick up at his voice and creatures rise from under them, green and blue letting out small noises of curiosity. Bulbasaur, he knows their names.

After all, Pokémon knowledge was ingrained into him at an early age. He knows them to be kind creatures and he has no fear as he walks over to them. He is surprised they are not scared of him.

"What are you doing here?"

Somebody speaks from a few feet away. He only realizes her presence when he hears her speak. A woman looks at him, sitting on the grass and before a pond of generous size. It's transparent and colored in an aquamarine hue, big enough to fit a few Venusaur in it.

Gladion recognizes there is a hoarse element in her voice as if she hadn't spoken in a long time. "Mother sent me down here for maintenance reasons. I suppose this is something she does quite regularly."

He stares at her thoroughly. Cold eyes meet solid steel. She seems uptight by his presence.

Gladion takes in her appearance: the pale green dress, so thin it would melt under his fingers; the darkness of her short hair, all crowned by the light of faux moonlight. Obsidian eyes like those of the night she was tucked under stare back at him.

His eyes flicker in subtle recognition. "You must be Moon, aren't you? Sun has mentioned you a few times."

She nods gently, a hum of approval slipping through her lips. He watches her inspect his appearance, his blond hair, his black long coat and the minimal breeze that pushes his hair around, yet not hard enough for her to see his hidden right eye.

That is when she speaks once more. "Gladion, son of Lusamine, the Bringer of Death. The guard has told me plenty about you."

He nods in acknowledgment but feels slightly tense at the mention of his title. If she holds any resentment for this information, she doesn't say it.

Bulbasaur and Corsola gather around her. "I thought your family followed the human schedule when it came to sleeping. I'm surprised to see anyone here at this hour."

Prior to this little detour to her lair, he had been busy with paperwork and other duties, so he hadn't been vigilant of the time passing. "You are also awake."

Moon lets out a small breath, barely a sigh. "It is my duty to be awake when Sun goes to sleep." Her fingers caress the silver flute in her hands. "It is in his power to keep people awake. I am the one to pull the blanket over them and kiss them goodnight."

She speaks in a hushed tone, as if intimate. The only noise around them is the cradle of the waves in the lake.

Gladion is, needless to say, mystified by what he is seeing. There is a forest around her that seems to stretch ad infinitum, the lake glimmers with stars and flowers bloom at her wake. There is a peace he never thought he would find in this tower of control and balance.

His silence, something she doesn't know is a regular thing around him, makes her speak up once more. "Everything is going alright here, I would say. You can tell the Mistress that nothing is out of place."

Her slow, gentle and patient words shake him out of his reverie. "Then my job is done here for today. Have a good night."

He sharply turns around to leave, barely catching her waving goodbye.

Tranquility leaves his heart once he is out of the cage and he can't help but wonder who that woman with the voice of silk truly is.

 


 

Gladion betrays himself sooner than he had expected.

Curiosity kills his typical discipline.

It takes him around four days to become overwhelmed with paperwork and throw the pen to the table, frustrated with the endless pile of papers he has to sign for his mother. He can barely read the papers anymore, eyes blurry and mentally disoriented.

So he pushes his chair back and stands up abruptly, startling the sleeping Pokemon on the basket behind him. They look up to see Gladion walking away from the desk, grabbing a glass of water and murmuring useless things to himself.

Silence envelops him yet his unfinished paperwork seems to make an invisible noise he can't quite shake out. Shoulders squared, he takes his black coat and walks out of his office.

His mother's lounge is devoid of people at this hour, the owner of it asleep in her bedroom. His sister must be sleeping at this hour, too, and with no clock to check the time he can only imagine it's too late to be awake.

At least business is done for the day and everyone is asleep– but one person comes to mind that he knows won't be asleep. In her solitude and in company of the water, she must be sitting by the forest.

He has no need to go there. As far as he knows, his mother should have gone down there to do any needed maintenance.

He finds himself pressing the button in the elevator anyway. The descent is silent and the light woosh of the metal sliding against the walls soothes his sore muscles. He twists his shoulders a little, cranes his neck around.

Maybe sleeping would have been the smarter idea.

Instead, he walks the same path down the hallway, turns to his left and travels the distance to the bridge of stars. The area is no less silent than before, no less lonely but no less beautiful, either.

When he enters the lair, he discovers it to be empty. The flora and Pokémon remain all the same, yet the owner of this secret paradise is nowhere to be seen. A light zephyr and the cracking of the water at his right fill the space gently.

Gladion hears a wavy, soft noise coming from his right and when he turns to his left, a middle-sized creature is hovering in his direction. It lets out a dim green hue and is surrounded by a layer of a slimy substance, a baby-like expression embedded on its face.

Confused about who this could be, he draws black embers to his fingers as the figure inches closer to him. It lets out a bubbly noise he can't quite understand and bounces in the air like a Drifloon.

Its arms hobble around it. "Cluu?"

Before he can use his hand to make the unknown creature step back, a mighty force keeps his hand in place. Fires crackle on his fingertips while a figure clad in green steps from the shadows.

"Don't you dare attack him," she warns, brows drawn to a gentle scowl. Gladion looks at her in confusion. He wiggles his wrist in her psychic hold and fails to free himself from it. "He won't hurt you."

In response, the creature squeals gleefully. He blinks from her to the other being before his lethal embers fade away in surrender. The bubble of purple power fades from his wrist and he shakes it loose. A dull pain has settled on the joint, causing him to hiss.

Moon steps closer to them and the unknown creature floats to her side. It jiggles from side to side. She pats the slimy layer around the white little body. "I thought you knew about Pokémon. Never thought I'd see you of all people attack one."

"Well, I don't know what it is." He speaks with sheer indifference.

Moon almost rolls her eyes. "What else would it be then?"

"Maybe an Ultra Beast." He puts a hand over his forehead and another on his hip, ashamed. "I thought it would attack me."

She arches an eyebrow in doubt. "Attack you? Don't be ridiculous." The creature squeals in agreement. "This is Reuniclus. I lost sight of him earlier and I was unpleasantly surprised to see you about to attack him."

Reuniclus. He mouths the name and tastes it, trying to search in his mind for the familiar name. "Must be a pretty uncommon creature if I haven't heard of it."

"You sure are a know-it-all, I see." His dead glare serves as enough response to her jab. "It's a unique species I rescued from Earth. And I'll have you know he's very peaceful."

The little bite in her words makes him look aside in shame. "Stop rubbing it on my face. I already learned my lesson."

All she responds with is silence, one that screams of unfinished business and lingering tension. She is probably doubting him, judging by the teasing glances she throws at him now and then as she takes care of the Pokemon.

And if there is something Gladion hates, it's being teased.

While Moon rubs a small piece of cotton against the creature's goo, he sits down beside her and decisively pats the Pokémon's head. Both him and the creature yelp in surprise and shock as he draws his hand back and finds it to be covered in the slimy substance.

Moon isn't appalled in the slightest. "What were you really expecting?"

He stares at the goo, moving his fingers around. "I suppose this is not dangerous."

He can tell she is biting back a smile as she continues to tend for Reuniclus, who seems flustered by the state of his hand.

"It's only a protective toxin he creates for weather acclimatization." As he hears this, he makes an internal note to later jot all of this down. His mother would be interested in this creature. "What brings you here again? The Mistress already came down here earlier."

And that's how he gets caught in the trap.

The thought of explaining his motives to her sends a stirring feeling down to his stomach that doesn't quite settle. It's not like he is there for any ulterior or strange reasons, he just wants to relax.

He knows this sort of detour is weird in his demeanor, which makes him uneasy. "I thought I'd check out how everything is going here. I wasn't around for that long the other day, I guess."

A very well constructed and improvised lie. Moon hums in response. He believes his reasoning makes sense and that he can keep his professional façade up and pretend he just isn't tired.

"You look pretty tired, though."

Well, fuck. "I'm pretty fine, I would say. Wouldn't be here if I wasn't."

"You are in my realm. I know a tired face when I see one." Almost playfully, she pokes his shoulder. "Why aren't you sleeping?"

Gladion lets out a sigh. He finds her smartass personality jarring and fascinating at the same time. He can't choose how he feels about it, but he settles with complacent.

He believes that now is the promptly time to leave, when she is asking questions a step too close to personal territory. Unique silence is all that wraps around him and the gaze of the girl in askance.

His back leans backward and it falls on the grass softly. "You are awake too."

Moon peers at him from above, rolling her eyes. He can tell she is not angry at all. "Don't turn the tables on me. I'm not the one following humanly sleeping patterns."

Her hair creates a curtain as it falls around her face, casting shadows on her elegant features. The ease with which she sits so close feels unnatural yet comfortable to him, for some odd reason.

It is maybe because his title doesn't truly allow many people to come and chat with him unless they are Sun and are just horribly irresponsible with their lives.

"I had work to do. It's always paperwork and soul or spirit siege in my schedule." He watches her nod yet he can tell she is not satisfied with the answer. He decides to continue, impassive as ever. "I can't sit here lazing around like you guys do, sadly."

That was not what she was expecting and the goddess puts her hands on the grass to frown at him, pouting. "Don't be mean. Sun and I are the ones keeping you all in check so you sleep tight at night."

He chalks his appeased demeanor to exhaustion and lets out something akin to a half-baked chuckle. His body sinks against the grass and faint cricketing puts his body to rest. Moon blinks down at him and the translucent veil of composure falls on once again, not wanting to be too casual with the actual seam ripper of Æther.

Her nails drum against the flute on her hands. "If you wish to sleep, I can grant your wish." Gladion peeps an eye open at her. She has pushed herself a little away. "After all I'm sure most people in Æther Tower are asleep, right?"

He cranes his head to the flute on her lap. "You can make people fall asleep?"

"I can play a lullaby that will make you fall asleep. I haven't played it in a long time, so it should be interesting," she explains, fingers caressing the smooth surface. "In the same way Sun's flute wakes people up, I can put any creature to sleep with my own."

That odd mention of his friend stands out to him. "You and Sun seem to know each other pretty well."

Moon nods and deflects the topic right away. "Do you want to try?"

Gladion has no time to respond before he sees her press the lips to the side of the flute, touching the many holes prodded in it. The blond catches a giddy spark of enthusiasm in her eyes he has not seen before, and he finds himself nodding against his own responsibilities.

An eerie yet heavenly tune starts to seep out of the instrument and to float in the air. It's resounding and wavy, wraps him up in an aura of tranquility. It enchants him into relaxation that later makes him heave down against the grass, sound asleep.

Reuniclus watches him sleep and Moon continues playing the tune after he is sleeping. The music fills the area and places dreams of cotton and happiness in their slumber.

Chapter Text

That's how they initially meet and how a secret yet mysterious bond is created between them.

He visits her two days later, pulled by the oddity of silence and peace.

Then, he does it again, and again until it's been weeks and his visits become less distanced– frequent, even.

He's starting to think he has a problem.

"I'm starting to think you have a problem, Gladion." It's half a joke that he internally agrees with. "Isn't it forbidden for you and your sister to come down here? Or maybe the Mistress sent you here again?"

She says it gently, lets it linger in the air. Hands him a route of escape, he knows. He takes it eagerly. "Yeah, she… got busy again."

Moon looks at him for two seconds too long and nods a bit too curtly, then goes back to tending to a little Bulbasaur. If she sees through his well timed lie, she doesn't express it.

The rest of creatures are bundled all around her, Reuniclus nowhere to be found this time around. "I see," she mouths almost invisibly. Gladion hears the breathy tone of her voice, then takes a seat at a respectable distance from her. "I'm curious as to why the grim reaper of the tower hangs around here."

It's almost a question he doesn't focus on entirely. Instead, his mind takes another completely new direction.

"You don't seem very appalled by my presence here, either." Moon turns to him in question. "I thought you would be scared. When Sun first saw me, he thought I was sending him to the gutter."

"That's a very nice way to put what you do into words."

He agrees. His job is not the easiest one, nor the prettiest. When his mother collects stray souls and people, all of them end up in his chamber for quick yet gruesome execution. A flicker of his fingers, a seal on a chest. You name the method, he knows them all.

His clothes are black and red and his hands are surely tainted with crimson, yet the few and in-between times he has been to this place, he never feels the weight of his job. Maybe Sun and Moon's realms truly float at a standstill.

"It's not like I get a say on my job. I'm used to it." Strangely enough, Moon hums in response. Not appeased, nor grossed out. "You're the first one to not be scared of me, though."

She breathes out a chuckle. "You don't look like the most intimidating fellow."

The underlying sarcasm in his voice makes his cheeks almost splash in rose, but he deflects her parry. "Sun looked scared enough for me to think it's a problem."

"He's not the bravest one and I'm not that weak, you know. Besides, not many people come around here anyway." Moon rises to stand up. A snow white Vulpix yips at her from behind Gladion and the girl bends down to pick it up. "I have these guys with me, at least."

His evergreen eyes shift to her. She is rather small, but not petite. Her expression is that of eternal and unchanging bliss, all with a splash of mischief that shows increasingly often. Moon is serene like the little pond at her feet, where she lets the little Vulpix dip its paws into.

The cold temperature makes it shriek and cower behind her dress. Moon crouches, back facing Gladion. She feels his gaze on her neck and something within her seems to vibrate at the attention.

When the silence drags for longer than he wishes, he breaks it. "I thought you knew Sun." He watches her nod her head. Her hand is testing the waters. "Doesn't he come visit?"

"Unlike your family, we can't move away from our rooms for long. Our cycle of sleep is what determines the cycle of sleep for all humans and animals on Earth," she explains. "We can't be awake at the same time, because when I wake up, the moon does as well."

Part of him knows he has heard this story. He nods to it in understanding. "How come you and Sun know each other, then?"

Moon turns to look at him over her shoulder, then gives him a small smirk. "We have an unconventional way of communication. Our bonds transcend words and physical presence."

A comfortable silence settles after that, again. He can't help but wonder what she means, but is also very curious by this revelation. Moon and Sun, as predicted, are terribly different individuals. Maybe they compliment each other well in the same way they oppose the other.

Gladion's eyes cover in a thin mist of nostalgia and relaxation, looking up at the sky. There is something about the endless dome above him that glues him to the ground. "What about you?"

Such question garners her a pair of wide eyes in her direction. Her face is fully turned in his direction, a smile hidden behind her shoulder. He can see it in her sparkly eyes. "You're full of questions today, and you won't let me ask any? You're so unfair."

Gladion chuckles to himself and presses his hands against the cold soil. "I guess it's in my contract to be unfair."

Instead of brushing it off as a joke, she gives him a light-hearted look. It is only interrupted when the little Vulpix from earlier dips its paws into the water and now jumps tummy first into the pond, splashing until a blue Corsola surfaces from underneath.

She observes the playing creatures wistfully, taking in their laughter, the squealing and the water that occasionally sprays into her spotless dress. A long breath is drawn out of her lungs without her realizing.

Her eyes turn to him again. "How did you meet Sun?"

She decides to begin from there.

 


 

Much to Moon's surprise, they become friends rather quickly, or so she wants to think. Months on end pass by as their meetings grow longer and less sporadic, more like a secret tradition she can't quite put into words.

Gladion visits frequently when he has free time, which is a rare occurrence on its own. However, it always seems like he is skipping hours of sleep for the sake of some afterwork peace and quiet, which worries her.

Other times, it's for the sake of maintenance.

He is telling that excuse less often, lately. One night they are sitting by some trees and he has brought Silvally with him to show her.

They had talked about this rare artificial creature that he had secretly adopted when he was young and Moon listens to the tale patiently. "It's a very calm creature, but it's a killer in disguise. Its bloodthirst only rivals mine, I think."

The girl nods as she reaches out to pet the animal. Gladion shoots her a warning look that melts as Silvally leans forward to nuzzle her outstretched palm. She chuckles. "Most creatures in this land become pretty docile. You will rarely see anyone attacking anyone."

The notion of such peace is foreign to him. So much so he dedicates a look of pure surprise to her. "I'm guessing you have never battled with Pokemon, then?"

It's her turn to be surprised by his statement. "What do you mean?" Sitting a few feet away from him, her confusion is as clear as if she was right in front of him.

"For ages, Æther has battled against fellow gods as a display of strength of mind. For us, having a strong bond with our Pokémon proves how worthy of a place here we are. It's a tradition that Earth has inherited." Moon nods wordlessly, yet she still looks a little puzzled.

Then, she lets out a breathy laugh. "That's not what I meant, you know."

The girl brings her free hand (for the other held her flute) to her back and, much to his surprise, she takes out a deep blue and gold Pokéball. She throws it to the sky.

When the ball lands again on her hand, a massive creature with the colors of the night is outstretched on the sky with a wail, softly descending to hover by Moon. Its skin is made of deep blue and its wings are lit up like little suns. Lines of fluorescent trace its body with a gleam similar to that of lava.

"Greee!"

Gladion scrambles to his feet and takes a few steps back. His voice comes out wobbly, something she has never seen before. "That's Kyogre! You have an actual Kyogre!"

"Primal Kyogre," she corrects with a raised finger. Kyogre lets out a small cry and the goddess reaches up to pat its cheek gently. "Are you that surprised I have a legendary Pokémon? I have quite a few, you know. Are you scared?"

"That's not my point!" he says, beginning to calm down as the creature stares at him in silence. Her tease is forgotten in favor of utter confusion. "It's basically a god in our mythology! Groudon roams free in Sun's lair, how come Kyogre actually obeys you?"

She doesn't understand his fuss. "Kyogre controls the sea, and I control the sea. It came to me when it was very little from the depths of that pond. I trained it against the many people that came here to claim Kyogre as theirs."

Gladion blinks very carefully. Such big creature being small enough to fit in that pond of hers is unbelievable to him even if he knows, by all history he has studied at a young age, that it could very well be true.

Kyogre and Groudon had very small sizes when they were created by Arceus, but as far as he thought (this information was not in his books) they were still relatively big even when young. And he always believed Kyogre had stayed in the depths of Earth's oceans.

Interrupting his train of thought, Kyogre gives Moon a small cry and she fetches a small berry from her pouch on her hip. Its sharp teeth bite too close to her fingers. He is almost scared for her, yet she seems unfazed.

"I think Groudon was developed in the depths of Earth's crust and it was forced to remain there at a very young age, much like Kyogre. For some reason, though, Arceus sent Kyogre to my pond and not back to the ocean," she explains while some Pokemon come to greet the mythological creature. "It was small and had a lot of bruises all over. I believe it was sent to me so I could tend its wounds, only."

Gladion looks at her as she watches the other Pokémon interact with Kyogre. They don't seem intimidated either by its massive size or terrifying permanent glare, which is for some reason fixated on him.

He makes a clever observation. "It's not raining."

"It never rains here. It can't make it rain when there are no clouds."

Her explanation doesn't distract him from the menacing eerie presence Kyogre holds. It roots him into place in a way very few people can.

Not because he's the bravest but because nobody is brave enough to dare stand in his way.

"Kyogre won't hurt you." Which is hard to believe when he has seen the teeth that Pokémon bears. "You can touch it. Aren't you the Pokémon specialist?"

The other gives her a bothered glare. "I specialize on human execution, not Pokémon grooming. All the knowledge I have is theoretical."

A little gap of silence follows his statement.

"That's bullshit."

Her foul language wakes curiosity in him with a sense of startlement.

She almost rolls her eyes at him being so taken aback. "I mean, you freed Silvally from his helmet, didn't you? That takes a lot of time and care to accomplish, or so you said. Not to mention I know you possess an Umbreon!"

If he should be flustered by this soft side she is pointing out, he doesn't know. He refuses to look at her. "And?"

"You might be the Mistress' favorite God of Death but that doesn't mean you are heartless. Because you are not heartless, right?"

The doubt is weak at best, for Gladion senses she somehow knows him in a deeper way that he can't explain. It might be because his dynamic with her is different than most he has ever had. He's on the fence if that's good or bad.

Gladion clears his throat, looking aside again. "No, I'm not."

She nods to herself with a smile of satisfaction, almost smug. "That's what I like to hear. Now pet Kyogre or I'll tell it to freeze you over."

A sound resembling a chuckle slips past his throat. "You wouldn't do that."

"Don't test me."

This is the only time he regrets how unfazed she is despite his very dire and dangerous position in Æther. Gladion is not used to people ever having the upper hand on him and he's quick to find out he detests it.

Her being in that position, though, is not as upsetting as he expected it to be.

The blond slowly walks to stand by Kyogre, who lets out a small shy noise at his proximity. Moon conceals a small smile at the exchange and watches Gladion raise his hand to the creature, slowly but steadily.

Then he presses it against Kyogre's forehead and nothing happens. He doesn't know he had actually expected anything to happen. Moon clearly trained it well.

Relaxing, Gladion rubs his palm against the Pokémon and it lets a small noise of glee in response. "You have been here many times, so it knows you are not dangerous," explains she. "They wouldn't attack a stranger right away either."

The skin of the blue beast is cold to the touch, slimy and almost damp. Its eyes glow as they look at him from under their eternal glare, one that could very much rival his own. The fact that Moon has tamed this fearsome creature so well is, he thinks, terrifying.

She calls Kyogre to its Pokéball again and it disappears in a flash of stars and sparks. It's almost as if it had never been there. He believes this exchange should give him an answer to his previous question, one he barely remembers ever asking.

"So," he murmurs, then arches an eyebrow at her, "you can battle."

Moon directs a smile at him. Not a grin, not a smirk, just a small smile. "Yep. You should ask Sun about it." Her face darkens at a satisfactory memory of a past battle. "We don't meet that often but I'm sure he can give you many details."

Gladion nods and the evening passes peacefully.

When he, as promised, asks the other god about it, he watches him pale to a ghost and say that "You don't want to get into an argument with the Miss, that's all I will say."

Considering what he had seen the night before, he decides to agree.

 


 

Gladion one day visits a little bit earlier than anticipated. He fails to look at the clock before taking to the elevator, yet he does mutter the same everlasting maintenance excuse to his mother on his way out.

Ever so conventionally distracted by the prospect of leaving his office, he reaches her den with quick feet.

However, he finds the meadow to be empty. This wouldn't have made him tense if it weren't for the unmovable fact that she was always there. He likes to think she is waiting for him in the way he secretly longs for their meetings.

(Something he will never admit to himself, he adds.)

So he waits, just a little.

He sits down by a specific tree he has always unconsciously chosen, cross-legged. Most Bulbasaur remain dormant sans for one that is taking water from the pond.

Gladion drums his fingers against his forearm and doesn't understand why he is so impatient. He is not attached to Moon in the slightest, other than their mutualistic exchange of company during the nights that help him sleep better, being frank. They have known each other for some months and have shared secrets here and there, but they aren't friends.

They aren't strangers, either. Maybe acquaintances? That didn't quite match either. It all rings hollow to him in ways he didn't comprehend.

Thought fails him, and so does his patience. He combs his hand through his hair in a fit of sporadic emotion, the impulse to find her and distract himself from his loneliness pulsating through him.

Silence extends all around him. He has never noticed how silent this place is without her words to fill it in. Words full of softness, friendly banter. Sometimes she is a smart-ass with good intent, others she gives him these glares that scream danger and well-hidden ferocity.

He remembers those clearly. The force she had exercised on his wrist that day with Reuniclus still pounds in his hand. The only thought that had passed him that day was how fearsome she could be, sometimes.

And Moon hadn't even showed her true powers to him. In the way Sun is pretty flashy with his abilities and a smidge self-aggrandizing, Moon is poised and serene. The day she brought out her Kyogre had been a ground-breaking sight to his eyes.

Another day, she had brought out a gigantic Gyarados from a deep blue Pokéball. The beast was smaller than Kyogre but let out an equally terrifying screech of power nonetheless.

The second Moon pet it and offered it a berry, however, it leant down to take it in silence. Her control over such dangerous beasts was ridiculous enough for him to wonder what extent her abilities could reach.

He soon finds himself unable to think about anything else other than her absence and gets up abruptly. Whipping his eyes around the area and finding it just as empty, he wonders at what point he began to seek her out this much.

That's not the point, he tells himself, and marches to the forest. As true as it is that he always held curiosity for this vast evergreen forest of hers, he is also curious about her absence.

His first conclusion is that she is tending her Pokémon or just somewhere else. He knows this cage lair of hers has limits. Once inside, everything seems big enough to get lost in it and maybe she has an actual hut in the middle of nowhere.

After all, Sun has a cabin on top of a rock. Why can't Moon have a home of her own with a bed and a comforter to keep her warm?

It is five minutes later that he comes across this spring of clear water in the center of the forest. Water flows seamlessly from the top of a rock, so much so it barely seems to move at all. A small pond receives the water, lilies float on top of it among other leaves and small dormant Pokémon.

He takes a step out of the forest and into the clearing. Gladion expects her to come out from some corner to hold him back from interrupting the silence of the place. She doesn't.

Mainly because Gladion finds her cuddled on a rock close to the stream, covered in a blanket of flowers and leaves. She is curled like a child, impossibly small when tucked under those measly covers. Her toes poke from underneath. Long fingers clutch the flute to her chest and hold the blanket in place.

It is that discovery that takes his breath away, for some reason. And unlike other occasions, nobody is there to stop him from relishing on the view.

Her chest rises and falls softly. Her breathing moves some strands of hair around, some getting on her face. The mistifaction he feels at seeing a goddess sleep like any other regular person is inexplicable. It holds him rooted and almost gaping at her.

A flute's wind interrupts the scene and Gladion all but trips with his feet as he leaps back to hide, fearing that he has been discovered. The water around them begins to steam in its cold temperature, issuing a silver mist that makes Moon stir.

The tune floats for a minute, then halts, and she begins to rise from her rock and to peel the blanket off her body.

She stretches her arms, groans, cranes her neck to place her muscles on their right places. Moon yawns, scratches her back, looks back to her bed, considering going back to it and just give in to its warmth. Then, she just hops down her rock to begin her day.

Like… a normal person. And it still captivates him.

So much so he finds himself running away in shame.

 


 

"You got a sister," she begins one day, petting his Silvally gently as it dozes on her lap. Umbreon purrs under her brush, "Lillie, right?"

Gladion nods silently at her inquiry. Long time ago he had mentioned the existence of a girl with powers like his, yet they had found at a very young age that the consequences of those were opposite to Gladion's. Where the former could bring death, Lilie brought life and healing.

Moon had once listened to his story with deep interest, during those times where any story he told her was a big story. He is a little bit more talkative now but the difference is still too subtle for her to truly count her blessings.

"Well," She smiles to herself, almost concealed by the curtain of her hair. Before he can fall into temptation and move it away, she tucks it behind her ear, "a girl with bright blond hair and green eyes was peeking from behind the bars right after I woke up. White dress, all frilly and with this ridiculously cute ponytail."

"Don't tell her it's ridiculous, she will throw a fit," he chuckles. "Did she talk to you? What was she here for?"

Moon simply shrugs. "I'm not sure, I don't know why she would be here to begin with. I thought only you were assigned with maintenance duties."

He's not sure if he read that light teasing at the end of it but he decides to ignore it for his pride's sake. "Then I guess she did not talk to you?"

For some reason, she sighs out in dejection. "She stared from the bars for a long time, and when I saw her, I think she froze up. And when I waved at her, she just ran away." Moon looks at him with genuine confusion. "Did I maybe do something wrong? Is she scared of me?"

Gladion doesn't know what to tell her. He knows his mother, for some reason, dislikes him coming down to Moon's lair even when it's for 'maintenance' (he needs to drop that charade someday), and he wouldn't be surprised if Lusamine disapproved of Lilie dropping by as well.

He decides to dismiss her concerns lest he worried her. His mother's issues with Moon were not his business, but he didn't like the idea of Lilie getting in trouble with their mother just for the sake of being sneaky. "It's fine, I'm guessing she just went for a walk and ended up here. Maybe she just got shy."

Moon's shoulders seem to relax and, in reflex, his do as well. "Maybe," she lets out softly, relaxing against the tree she's sitting by. His Umbreon has fallen asleep by her side, something he is very inclined to do at this very moment.

Such impulse is unexplainable and he can't understand why he feels so utterly at peace by her side and in this place. He has dedicated time and physical pages to develop and write down these occurrences but he always just chalks it up to him constantly needing a break.

Her soft voice breaks the silent lull. "Is your sister nice? She has the face of a Lillipup."

"That's because you haven't seen her get angry," he chuckles, "she's more of a Gyarados when she's pissed off."

"That's not very nice to say, you know!"

A crystalline and clear voice comes from afar, their eyes flash to the bars behind some bushes and see a face pressed between the golden bars. As predicted, she is wearing the same updo, same dress, and her eyes are just as radiant and bright as her brother's.

Moon just thinks their genetics are true witchcraft.

Gladion gapes at her. "Lilie? What are you doing here?"

The girl in question crosses her arms, pressing herself against the bars. "That's what I should be asking you!" Her cheeks puff in an adorable pout. Moon's eyebrows disappear under her unkempt fringe. "I just took a small detour to find you chatting the night away. It's so late already!"

The situation makes Gladion feel uncomfortable really quickly, so much so his shoulders stiffen at the speed of light and Moon notices this, used to his body language. She clears her throat and, careful not to wake Gladion's Pokémon up, she rises.

Lilie seems taken aback by this, seeing Moon walk over to her. The brother watches in silence. "You must be Lilie, right?" Moon's words float on the air and the girl tenses up, seeing the other approach. "I have heard a little about you."

"... Really?"

Moon nods with a polite smile that Gladion knows is not her realest. He knows all her smiles, or most of them, and he has never seen something as tight as that. "Moon, you don't need to–"

But she raises her hand to silence him. The act is so effective Lilie's lips part in shock. "My name is Moon. Gladion is just here for maintenance purposes and he takes his Pokémon here from time to time."

Lilie looks from over Moon's shoulder for confirmation, which Gladion provides with a curt nod. "I see."

"He was just about to leave, actually." That catches him off guard and it shows, seeing how his eyes were a little wider when she turns to look at him. "Weren't you, Gladion?"

She is offering him a way to flee and not endure the tension any longer. That girl knows him too well for his own liking, but he is getting up and calling his Pokémon regardless, accepting her offer. "Yeah, it's getting really late."

Lilie seems somewhat satisfied with this for reasons Moon can't quite understand. Before she can hold any judgments over the girl, however, Lilie turns to her and smiles almost apologetically.

"I'm sorry for the interruption." She talks like a mother, hands clasped in front of her. "I just don't want him to get in trouble with Mother."

Moon thinks she's referring to how late it is and nods in approval. "Make sure he gets enough sleep, please."

A voice comes from the exit of the cage, raspy. "I don't need to be babysat!"

The girls giggle to themselves, Lillie more openly than Moon, who stifles it with her hand. Then, Moon raises a hand towards the bars and holds it in front of the girl. "I hope you come by soon again. I would love to get to know you properly."

The blonde looks completely blown away by the gesture, judging by how she blinks at her hand as if it has grown six fingers. "Y-Yeah." Lilie hesitantly reaches out as well and takes hold of her hand, shaking it awkwardly. "Thank you!"

Lillie doesn't know what else to say other than wish the goddess a good night and sprint down the corridor to chase after her brother, leaving a smiling Moon behind. She looks at Reuniclus, who is peering from underwater at the pond.

As she goes to pet it, she shakes her head. "I wonder what's wrong with her. What a strange girl."

 


 

"Gladion, wait up!" yells Lilie from afar, sprinting after his brother who is going up the stairs to the dorms on the highest part of the tower. She is out of breath. "C'mon, I already said I'm sorry!"

He turns from up the steps to almost glare at her, staring pointedly. "You didn't sound that sorry earlier, Lils."

She pouts and crosses her arms again, a gesture Gladion finds amusing in a girl as sweet as his sister. For the longest time, she used to be this meek and helpless girl who hid behind him when encountering strangers. As she grew up, an apex of personality resembling that of their father's began to show up.

Gladion hates that spunk of hers at times like these. Seeing her drumming her foot against the carpeted steps, he believes she actually is irritated for some reason.

"I said I'm sorry! But you can't really expect me not to be surprised to see you with her, out of all people– because you know what Mother told us when we were little!"

The boy rolls his eyes. "Are you being serious right now?"

"This is a serious situation!" She takes the opportunity to skip some steps and reach him, only for Gladion to begin ascending the endless stairway once more. "What are you doing there with her? Is that where you go every night after work is done?"

Her incessant prodding turns a defensive switch on within him. It causes him to turn back to her and scowl, shielding his motives. "That's none of your business."

Seeing how Lilie gives him no response, she is not buying it. Her following "Huh-uh," doesn't make the situation any better, "it's been months since Mother sent you there, though. Is there anything going on down there?"

He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his long black coat, thankful for the ample space within them so he can twitch and fist the fabrics as he pleases. "No, everything's fine and, again, it's none of your business. No need to poke your fingers into my affairs."

He regrets the secretive wording just as soon as the words leave his mouth. She sucks in a small wondrous breath. "Affair, huh? Are you having an affair with her?"

His back stiffens like a rod and he turns to her with an incandescent glare in his eyes. "Of course not! What gave you that idea?"

"Maybe the fact that you spend a lot of time there and that you are almost shaking, Gladion." Her words are sincere, eyes kind and he notices that his hands are, indeed, shaking. A tale-tell sign of distress. "You have been going there pretty frequently, right?"

"You were there minutes ago, too. And Moon told me you also popped by not long ago." He looks over his shoulder, frowning lightly. "Care to explain why you were there?"

Lilie suddenly grows shy, shrinks to a reverse shrug and looks at the suddenly interesting smooth walls of Æther Tower. She utters something under her breath that he doesn't hear very loudly but he still repeats it at full voice.

"You followed me?"

Lilie rushes to catch up with him and puts a finger over her lips. "Don't be so loud, Mother will wake up!"

His teeth grind in anger at her actions and he looks at her sternly from above. "Why were you following me? You have no right to do that!"

"I know! But I was curious as to why you are always leaving so late in the night. Do you think I don't notice? And Sun told me about it the other day too." Her words end with a sigh. "Don't you remember what Mother used to tell us when we were children?"

He does, and he did as well when he first met Moon. He can admit that the first time he was too enchanted by the views to recall the tales his mother told him when he was little, but he can't lie and say he never knew of the dangers.

But Moon only offers him kindness and silence. What is not to enjoy about that? "I do, Lils. And you know I'm not there for leisure, either–"

"Please," Unlike Moon, Lilie does catch his lie and breaks it in twain before he can finish his parroted line. "Sun told me you have been friends with her for months. Is it really about maintenance only?"

He remains in silence for ten counted seconds that feel like an eternity in which Gladion thinks hard about what cards to play, seeing that this side of him is about to be revealed. A side that only Moon knows about.

A side that seeks the comfort of a lonely goddess in the middle of the night just to relax by a pond, whispering tales and speaking of science to each other.

The word friends rings a chord within him.

He turns his back to her again and begins to ascend the stairs ghostlily.

Then, he stops half-step up.

"Don't assume Moon is a demon just because Mother told us that," he says, frowning to himself as the creepy tales of murdered men and siren calls replay in his head. "Go visit her and see it for yourself. And mind your own business, Lils."

She considers his answer to be clear enough and smiles gently in agreement. Yet, something in his secrecy makes her think that there is a bond between him and Moon that she doesn't know of.

Knowing him, Lilie concludes, maybe he doesn't know such bond exists in the first place, anyway.

Chapter Text

Next time Gladion heads to her lair, things are not as disturbed as one would expect after Lillie's abrupt act of presence. Or, at least, he is not letting his turmoil show.

Moon is more silent than usual, he notices. However, as caught in his own thoughts as he is, he doesn't call her out for it, thinking that maybe she is mulling over the exact same thing. The possibility irks him, for reasons he can't wrap his head around.

Their meeting goes as usual, sans the silence. Gladion takes a seat by his tree, tense back pressed against cold bark. Moon sits unreasonably far from him, at the pond, eyes fixed on the sky in a way he knows is not wistful, or pensive. She looks expectant.

The distance between them bothers him in particular, because he is used to her listening and sitting close. Gladion feels cold, either because he feels something is wrong or because of the physical space between them.

His sparkling green eyes rise to her shape, contrasting with the artificial moon and the stars above the cage. Her back faces him in an irritatingly cold manner, yet shifts out of the blue to look at him over her shoulder.

"Is everything okay? You are particularly silent today," she asks, softly, the way she cares for him so subtly never getting old. In his ears, her anchoring him to these talks and mutual respect screams care and comfort in unseen ways.

And she is as perceptive as ever, and just as warm even bathed in the empty, jarring space that surrounds her. "I'm not the most talkative person."

"Neither am I." Her answer is soft, then she turns to the sky again. "I was just curious."

Gladion disagrees, however, considering that her voice is most of what he can remember about their meetings. The sound of it, her words, her sighs and her gentle but measured and scarce smiles. Moon is all whispers and very gentle demeanor, sometimes sparkling with splurts of mirth and fun, others just calm and composed.

An appeased fire is always present behind her dark eyes.

And even when serene, she always makes him talk, even if it's all chat and no meaning. She never pushes, she never forces anything. Moon is infinitely patient, yet still as stubborn and witty as she can just to grind his gears.

She is uncannily calm today. Or, at least, she isn't filling the space as much as she usually does. He doesn't know when this became a need of his, hearing her voice, but he craves the conversation in the silence of his own thoughts.

"What about you?" he asks, much before he can stop himself. He feels like the question hangs loose and unfinished.

A sigh escapes her lips and gets lost in the minimal breeze of the field. "I'm not sure, actually." It sounds like a confession. She sounds more pitched than usual, unkempt in her calm posture. "Something is off in the air."

Gladion stands still as if the same feeling she mentions will come to him. The world beats around him and seconds pass just as ever. He feels no perturbation other than the dragged out silence. Everything feels too slow when he's used to living his days fast. The pace is off; nothing else is, though.

"What do you mean?"

"I just feel something's wrong. I sent Kyogre out earlier to explore the seas and Lugia is flying around Æther just in case… but they haven't come back yet." He can tell she is worried just by looking at her too straight back and how other Pokémon are dispersed as well.

She trails off to a pause after that. Gladion stares at her from the commodity of his tree, arms crossed and not at ease with how she still looks so stiff.

It looks unnatural to him. He has seen her sit a thousand ways, lie down in at least a hundred, and sometimes she has even floated on the pond.

That stiff and awkward pose, though, he has never seen it. She looks small, shoulders squared and sitting like that. No matter what the situation is, he doesn't enjoy seeing her this tense.

He leaves the tree, hands in his pockets, then crouches by her side. Moon idly looks at him in acknowledgement, then glances up to her sky. The flute she is always holding is tight in her grasp, so much so that her knuckles have turned white.

Gladion crosses his legs over the edge of the pond, his black coat a stark contrast against her pale mint dress. She takes in his silence and his presence, the brush of their shoulders giving her a warmth she had almost been missing.

It makes her smile a little. No words are said between them, not needing the verbal compass for company anymore. He finds himself suddenly content with the proximity, just as she feels slightly calmer now that he is closer.

It's intricate and the weight of conversation slips off her shoulders and she sighs in a silent thank you he doesn't notice. Her eyes narrow at the sky, the clouds of pink and blue and the stars of different sizes.

It is all too calm, suddenly.

"It will be fine."

His voice comes from her side and Moon turns her head to look at him, who is looking at the sky too as if he's in deep thought too. She blinks in wordless questioning.

Luckily, he elaborates. "Whatever it is, you have trustworthy Pokémon at your reach. And I'm sure you wouldn't let anything bad happen to any of us. Nor would I." A small chuckle escapes him, something he tends to do when he talks like this: as if it is a fact and she is, indeed, a pillar of protection. He reaffirms himself. "Trust me."

Gladion doesn't meet her eyes as he says that, not because he is embarrassed but because he feels visual contact is unnecessary after such heavy words have been said.

In fact, he can see her smiling to herself.

"Trust you, huh." Moon mouths this breathlessly. He doesn't catch the sound of it but he relishes in the peaceful silence anyway. She speaks a bit louder again. "How would you protect Æther, though?"

He arches an eyebrow and looks at her from the side. Her eyes are a bit more full of spark now, encouraging him to speak a little bit more, teasing. "My Pokémon are very powerful. And I'm not exactly the most patient trainer or god, I wouldn't give anyone a chance."

Moon shakes her head slightly. She is all but surprised about this. His impatience knows no bounds, nor does his recklessness. "Well, it looks like we'd all be in good hands, then." It sounds like she is saying it to herself, though.

Their shoulders brush as his body turns to face her. "You are."

Voice too firm, she turns as well to look at him. His eyes convey a thousand messages in their intensity.

His desire to protect, his desire to save.

She blinks as he turns back to watching the lake. In the while they have known each other, she has never seen him as compromised as this.

She can't say she is taken aback by him being courageous, though.

"Promise?" She utters.

And Gladion nods. "Promise."

His mind turns to a sentence from a day earlier.

"Is it really about maintenance only?"

Staring into the rocking waters, he decides that this arrangement is not as bad as he had primarily expected, and that the word maintenance hadn't crossed his mind for weeks now.

They settle into silence again, the weight of their conversation shifting and morphing into comfortable serenity.

From the bars of the cage, Lillie watches the two with a knowing smile, smiling to herself as she lets them be, her step giddier than she would ever admit.

Because at least her brother seems at ease there and she can't help but believe that maybe things aren't as bad as she first thought.

 


 

"I saw you with her today."

"..."

"Don't give me that look, at least I didn't interrupt you two again. I bet you didn't want to be interrupted, did you?"

"... Good night, Lils."

"Stop running away from me! You are hiding something from me and I'm not having it!" There is a pout in her face. "It's not the end of the world to finally have a close friend, Gladion!"

"We are not–"

"Don't try to deny it! You two must be pretty close, huh?"

"... Don't meddle with my life, Lils. I'm going to bed."

"Aha! You are not denying it any– don't give me that face, wait up!"

 


 

Moon's predictions end up coming true a week after their meeting.

Life had gotten busy after that night and more and more people had come to his office for the same operational method of siege and bloodshed.

It is while he is washing his hands off the blood that he hears voices in alarm. He is usually rather thorough with his hygiene and never leaves a spot of his hands untouched, aware of how freaked out Lillie got over it when they were younger and he was still learning the ropes. She has always hated blood.

But at the signs of emergency ringing all across the tower, he throws his regime out the window in favor of worry as he descends down the staircase, slipping his red gloves on by instinct.

His mother is looking out the wide windowpane that overlooks Earth. Her hands are slanted on the desk and her eyes are narrowed in an infinite direction.

"Mother, I heard the alarm." Her fingers twitch when she notices her son's presence. "What's wrong? Did some stray soul crash with the generator again?"

His question is met with no response and he follows her gaze, seeking answers.

What he sees leaves him speechless and his heart begins to beat at an unsteady cadence, throat tied to a knot. A horde of beasts is coming towards them. There are too many for this to just be creatures seeking refuge and were roaring too loudly to be peaceful.

But he knows what they are right away when a particular beast shoots out its limbs and screeches with endless teet. "Those are–!"

"Ultra Beasts from the Alternate Universe," finishes Lusamine somberly, "They warped from a Wormhole and ended up here minutes ago. They even brought Stakataka along."

Her statement is dry in distaste, for that creature is particularly dangerous. Even in the neutrality of her voice can Gladion see a hint of worry in the grind of her teeth, and how she is blindly searching for her Pokémon in a drawer of her desk.

The other, however, pushes himself in front of her. "I will take care of this. Keep Lillie and the tower under check, I won't let them touch this tower."

"Well, it looks like we'd all be in good hands, then."

Willing to not back off from his promise to Moon, he stands with steel determination in his eyes. Lusamine takes in his glare, his straight posture, dismisses his slightly trembling left hand and nods curtly.

However, "It's too dangerous."

To survey the situation he looks over his shoulder. The number of beasts is unforeseen and he can't reach to count them. They are piling on each other in their desire to reach the tower.

He's one of the Gods of Death, with Lusamine. If there is somebody cut out for the task it's him, no matter how much jeopardy he might find himself in. "I will be fine. I'm not a weak kid anymore."

Lusamine nods again albeit hesitantly, then quickly addresses what she knows before heading off to the security of their private chambers.

His mind is instantly occupied with thoughts: what Pokémon he can use, if he has enough curing items to last the fight but, most weirdly, he wonders if Moon is okay.

He checks the clock on the elevator and notices it's daytime, so she should be asleep. His hand hovers over his forehead, deep in thought and frown knit in the middle.

When the doors open, Gladion is not surprised to see the God of Daytime himself standing in the hallway. The walls to the exterior are completely see through, giving view to the Earth and the unholy creatures howling for attention.

"This looks like a problem," comments Sun clumsily. Gladion simply hums in response. "I'm not the best for the job, but just this once, I can–"

The blond wordlessly steps past him to assess the situation further, as if being in a different floor would make plans any easier.

His frown doesn't lift, nor does the fierce violence bubbling in his eyes. A flame similar to that he holds during executions, albeit unrestrained now. "I'll sort this out. Executions are my field, after all," he claims, turning to look at Sun next. "Is Moon okay?"

A certain twinge of concern crowns his words, but he doesn't let it show. Sun doesn't give him a proper answer. "Actually, we have to wait–"

"Wait for what? If we don't attack those monsters, they will attack us instead!" Nervous as he is, Gladion doesn't let him talk.

The other god crosses his arms and frowns at him for his impatience. "We can't do this on our own. I'm waiting for Moon to show up."

Effective as the mention of her name is, he turns around so quick he is lucky he doesn't get whiplash. "Moon? What do you mean–?"

Familiar heels click against the marble floor.

"I'm sorry for the wait. I had to wait for Lugia to come back."

The blond turns once more and he finds himself speechless to see her there, arms crossed as if mimicking him. Her eyes are covered by a serious veil, brow sunk in worry and eyes shifting to the battlefield suspended in the sky.

Gladion's eyes, however, flicker in confusion at her presence.

"How come you two are here?" He successfully pulls Moon from her thinking. "I thought you couldn't be awake at the same time."

Sun proceeds to elaborate as briefly as possible. "Dialga and Palkia are holding the fort at the moment. Time won't pass in Earth as long as both of them are sleeping. It's something we resort to when trouble comes to the tower."

The trio stares as creatures fly around and begin to make more and more noise, so much so he begins to believe there could be a true and real danger in this mission.

With no hesitance, Moon is taking a step forward that he wordlessly halts with his arm, stretching it in front of her. His back faces her, black jacket staring into the pale green of her dress. "Stay here. I will take care of this."

Stunned, he feels her hand grip his arm in an attempt to lower his arm, but it doesn't budge. "You can't go out there on your own."

He looks over his shoulder, arching an eyebrow. "Who says? I'm the God of Death. This is my specialty."

But Moon still tries to step forward, only to be met with his arm. "Gladion, there's no way you're going out there alone! That's an insane idea!"

If this was Sun talking, maybe he would think this is as fantastic as he is picturing it. Maybe not fantastic, but the best option out of the many Moon is for sure planning in her head.

Turning fully to look at her straight in the eye, he speaks in a calm, powerful voice that makes her gulp. "Stay back," he commands, first looking at Moon and then more briefly at Sun. "I'm not going to let anyone else get hurt, I'll work this out."

Little does he know she is not happy with this, and nor is Sun for reasons he doesn't want to let them explain, for the situation is dire and there is no time.

He is already walking away from them and Moon is ready to give him chase again. "And I'm not going to let you go out and–"

"I told you to rely on me, didn't I?"

She blinks in recognition of the phrase, and she reluctantly nods even when he is barely looking at her. He gives her a small hum and finally turns his head to head off and keep his part of the promise.

"Stay here and protect Æther. I will take care of the rest."

He begins to descend down the red-carpeted stairs of the tower and she wants to go with him but Sun pulls her back with a meaningful gaze. "Sun, he–"

"He will be fine," her counterpart interjects, squeezing her shoulders for comfort he can tell she needs, "he's one of the best trainers I know, Moon. He can handle this."

"But he doesn't have the means to–"

"I know, but he will find a way," he interrupts her again to cease her rambling. "If he doesn't, we will step in, okay?"

The girl nods and she braces herself as a cry fills the space Sun's words leave, and there is a red aura raising towards the sky that she can read like the palm of her hand. Pokéballs surround him and his hands are shaking, flames erupting from them in ways she has never seen before.

Her eyes take in his posture, his calm yet angry demeanor and how he lets his Pokémon spring out of their cases– one in particular he throws to the sky and a black and red giant bird screeches above him, flapping its wings and creating wind tides with them.

Neither god can contain their shock. "That's–"

"Yveltal!" she finishes for him, teeth hissing in surprise but also scowling deeper at the assortment of creatures he possesses. "How does he–"

His voice comes through the glass and bounces around them like an echo. "You made the wrong decision when you decided to step into the boundaries of my home, Ultra Beasts!"

As his fury flares, so do his flames and he has to grab his left hand to not let it go out of control. "I will execute you with no mercy!"

A sign of his hand. All his Pokémon charge forward with practiced precision and tactics already put into acts, hits being delivered and blows being deflected. His Pokémon begin making dents on the many creatures that bare their teeth at the almighty creatures Gladion trains.

Moon stares at the show in awe, eyelashes fluttering and lips agape at his precision, the way he manages his Pokémon and taking in the hitch of his voice when somebody in his team gets hurt.

She is silent, her nails pierce a bit too hard into the glass of the window when one of his Pokémon is defeated.

Sun observes the show, smiling proudly. "He's pretty good, isn't he?"

She only nods silently. He maneuvers with a passion and intelligence that cause her heart to squeeze as if it was only beating for the first time. In the same way it always flutters when she sees him laugh or smile, but so strong it was about to burst out of her chest.

Moon drowns the feeling in the sound of his voice, and continues marveling over the battle. Her worries are soothed and she allows her shoulders to sink in temporary relief.

For a moment, it is as if they are going to win and Sun and Moon will not need to intervene.

Their gee is, indeed, very short-lived.

The moment Kartana is left alone against Gladion's very exhausted team and Yveltal is healing itself from wounds that a naughty Poipole had pricked, an unknown creature begins to float downwards towards them, revealing a terrifying creature with endless tentacles with teeth, an infinite mouth with piercing teeth and skin with the color of coal.

Guzzlord, he mouths the name.

He tries to give orders to his Pokémon to destroy this monster, but words can't roll off his mouth that easily. His hands shake, they don't move. Trying to breathe, he finds the task arduous.

This Pokémon is something he hasn't gone against before and, unlike past battles, this is one he is not sure he will get out alive from.

His face drains all its color with a choke of his breath.

The second it sets feet right before Gladion's Yveltal, the monster roars alive and Gladion's flames are blown out of his hands.

His breath hitches at this monstrosity but he doesn't let himself be caught off-guard by it for too long, so he commands Yveltal to attack with a voice half as intimidating, his confidence worn thin.

But then, Guzzlord launches a lethal attack towards Gladion full of poison and lightning that Yveltal shields him from before the god can stop it, and the creature faints before Gladion's shaky eyes and he trembles as he realizes that the battle is over for him.

He has no time to call his Pokémon back, however.

loud crash coming from underneath him and then, a gravitational pull is yanking him backward and into the tower, right through the crack in the window, all in a blur of pink and shouted orders.

Gladion lands on a hard plank, Sun's chest, and a wisp of green flies past him as the blond grunts half a curse.

He scrambles to his feet and turns back to find the culprit of his early flight. "What do you think you are doing!?" he roars, livid. "The battle is almost won! It–"

Sun pushes himself up as well. "The Miss ordered me to take you back here, you were in danger!"

At the mention of her name, he unconsciously whips his head around in search of her, and when he finds out she is not there, he fears for the worst.

Something within his chest constricts painfully at the discovery.

"Where… Where is she!?"

Sun says nothing. Instead, he crosses his arms and looks up to where Gladion had been standing seconds before. At his pause, Gladion very slowly turns around and sees the epitome of stubbornness floating in mid-air, facing Guzzlord directly in silence.

She hovers in utter tranquility even as the monster howls and thrashes before her. Moon stands between the monster and Æther, acting as a shield. His heart goes into a frenzy.

Despite her serene stance and the lack of violence, he presses himself against the windowpane hurriedly. "Moon!" his heart stutters as Guzzlord readies an attack, begins to charge up, his lungs fail to give him air and Gladion begins to shake as he turns to his friend, eyes incandescent. "Why did you let her go out!? She is in danger!"

"Do you really think I would let her go out there not knowing if she could handle it?" For once, Sun speaks in a tone that inspires nothing but trust to Gladion, who helplessly waits for Moon to do something, just move or try to deflect the hit she is about to receive.

When Gladion is about to lose his patience and climb out the crack to help her out, Sun hears a familiar buzz and grabs his arm to push him to the floor.

All washed into a blur, Gladion barely manages to catch a glimpse of Guzzlord releasing the attack and Moon beginning to move.

His first thought as he lands on the floor is that she will never make it out alive.

A magnificent explosion with white noise ripples and booms across the outside space, lighting the whole tower up for a brief moment in beautiful white and the hiss of steam.

His ears gorge with blood to cancel out the deafening noise. His heart goes a million times faster than bearable but the world around him is spinning too slowly. Confusion drowns him. As he begins to come out of his daze, he thinks that he will watch Moon be obliterated into pieces.

He waits for the worst. Gladion is ready for the blow, to lose somebody he just now realizes he cares a vast amount for, to lose somebody his heart is throbbing in a way he has never felt before.

The steam begins to clear. There is no debris, no blood.

Moon is still standing, a midnight blue grid of a shield right before her and expanding as far as the eyes could see, as if it was protecting all of Æther.

Sun chuckles at Gladion's blown away expression, watches him catch his breath and slowly come to terms with how dangerous Moon could be.

"As I said," Moon begins to issue a pale blue aura, her dress acting up as it flaps with the wind, "the Miss is not somebody you can just challenge that easily."

Guzzlord is utterly confused by this rejection and lets out a horrifying screech as if calling for help, yet nobody comes in its aid, much to Moon's relief.

When her eyes open again, endless white gleam under the lids.

Throw me some of that lightning, her eyes screamed, I dare you.

"I shall protect Æther!" she screams to the monster before her, body issuing a white glow as her eyes gleam in white. Deep blue and golden pokéballs begin to dance around her in a circle. "I'm not going to let you take another step in this direction!"

And then, several creatures spray out of their Pokéballs, their screeches creating an anthem of premature victory that makes Gladion's stomach lurch. The fierce look Moon has in her face makes him turn to Sun in doubt, as if maybe he knows something he doesn't.

"She has a bone to pick with this guy." That's all he says. Gladion is not preoccupied enough with the details and he decides he will ask her later. "And she's second best to nobody."

There is something in her eyes, in her will to protect Æther and the tone of her voice that prompt a shudder down his spine, replacing the racketing worry from before with sheer awe and a little bit of something that makes his heart race.

(Or maybe he does know, but he will not admit it to himself just yet.)

The fight ends temporarily when Moon calls back all her Pokémon and Guzzlord is stumbling on its feet to stand, weakened, paralyzed, and poisoned. It's soaked with water and its tough skin is prodded with cracks.

Moon takes out one single Pokéball with the color of twilight and throws it above her, light spraying everywhere like sunlight through a prism, and a creature slowly descends to hover behind her.

The guardian of the night, Lunala, peers from above and lets out a small noise.

Sun sighs heavily from behind. "I should have known."

Gladion puts his hands on his own hips in irritated confusion. "What is it now?"

"Well," Sun looks over the situation with eyes pinched by worry. "I was hoping she would take out the beast and be done with it, but it looks like I was wrong."

Exasperation and sudden trepidation begin to breach rapidly through him. "If she doesn't defeat it then what in the world is she going to do?"

The other god sighs again. "She's going to open a Wormhole and send it back to its home."

And that alarms him for many reasons, one being that Moon has many times told him about the powers that the guardian of her sanctuary has. A painfully sharp piece of information she once gave him sinks into his brain.

"Guardians often borrow power from their wielders to use advanced attacks. It's why they are tamed at the moment, having them run in the wild could endanger the lives of many people. Their power comes with serious retribution."

Serious retribution. The two words bounce and rattle in his mind and he holds his breath while Moon hops on Lunala and grabs her horns. A moment of silence after that, the guardian lets out a screech and a light surrounds both trainer and Pokémon. With a flap of its wings, Lunala rises up.

A beam of light shoots from above and strikes behind Guzzlord. Distorted space cracks appear where the hit collided, making sounds that Gladion could only describe as air being sucked into a sieve.

Right afterward another beam of light shoots out from under the monster and it is finally pushed back and away from Æther, slowly being sucked into the portal until it disappears behind the distorted hole.

Lunala is quick to dispel the traveling door and it only takes another beam of light for it to be sealed. Then, silence permeates the space and tower before everyone lets themselves hit the floor in relief.

Gladion's trembling hand clutches his chest but a small smile curls into his face nonetheless, Sun cheering for his friend happily. Seeing Lunala fly close, he interrupts his singing to pick the Pokémon up along with Moon.

The blond's happiness doesn't last much longer. When she is revealed from under Lunala's wings, she is walking out of the creature's wings in a daze.

Gladion sees her feet stumbling, he walks to her without a single thought.

Moon weakly calls out his name, reaches out for him blindly, then falls against his chest, unconscious.

He learns from Sun that she will need to remain in deep slumber until her body recovers the energy after opening and closing a Wormhole, and when he asks why she would do something only to get knocked out, Sun simply says that she doesn't like hurting Pokémon.

Gladion reluctantly leaves her in her realm. He holds her against his chest for a moment longer than necessary, relishing on the smell of battle and the light sweat that runs down her temple and to her neck.

Leaving her on the grassy meadow is one of the hardest things he ever has to do, and when he eventually leaves, he is confronted with all sorts of staff and personnel from the tower asking him about his attacks, his moves, how well he had done. Moon is forgotten in favor of Lusamine's son.

Everyone celebrates success. Everyone, except one of the saviors.

 

Chapter Text

Gladion steps out of his office and takes to the elevator without giving it any thought. His mind is too wrapped up in his need of rest to realize that Moon is not awake, most likely, and that she is still resting from the fight from days ago.

When he is to cross the bridge to her golden cage is when it dawns on him that she will not be there to greet him. Despite the hole that cracks itself open in his chest and the oddity of the situation, he still walks onward.

He still opens the door to her cage and finds her exactly in the same spot he left her, in deep slumber. Vines of deep green have grown around her ankles and arms, some are flat around her middle. It's like the earth is wrapping her in a hug and tucking her to sleep.

From behind the trees comes a screech that directs his eyes to a blue creature hopping towards Moon. Its noises seem to contain the voices of many creatures within it, but it doesn't seem aggressive at all. Its throttling comes to a halt when it puts its eyes on Gladion.

Dialga stares at him in contemplation. It has shrunk its size to run around the forest freely and it's barely an inch taller than Silvally now. The Pokémon makes a questioning sound and cranes its head to the sleeping guardian.

Gladion looks at her as well. Curled into a ball like she is, she is almost vulnerable. Fragile. Her short hair is spread around her in a halo, flowers blooming from between the tresses. He thinks he should have left her in a more dignified pose, but at the time, he wasn't in the right state of mind to think about her posture, just her well-being.

The legendary creature takes a seat and lies down on the grass. The god takes this as an invitation and sits as well.

His green eyes are drawn to her immediately yet the more he looks at her, the more he shakes and thinks of what happened that led her to this state. His jaw tenses,a silent gaze chaining his eyes to the girl before him.

A heavy sigh leaves his lips. Dialga lets out a coon. Gladion's eyes dart around her exposed skin and localize various cuts decorating her ankles and arms, one on her cheek. His had been worse, but seeing them on her makes his eyes sting.

Something heavy settles in his throat and he tries to gulp it down his esophagus. It doesn't move.

He wills his hand to linger over her face, then caresses the long cuts with a feather touch. Trembling digits feel the soft, cool kiss of her skin against his fingertips. Dialga looks at him questioningly again.

His voice cracks at the ends. His eyes never leave the figure lying on the grass. "I failed to protect you, didn't I?"

Gladion remembers the battle like it had been yesterday. Him being pushed out of the way when he failed to defeat the final beast, her shooting out instead to protect Æther. Her shielding the facility with her power, commanding her Pokémon and not having the heart to kill the creator of such mess.

Her collapsing on his arms, the one who had been struck by a fatal blow.

If there is one person that he had not wanted to get hurt by this mess, it was her. He should have told Sun to get her away from there, maybe she wouldn't have seen the battle and wouldn't have recklessly flown to the scene to save him.

Even when he thought he was strong, Moon saved Æther for him. She protected what matters to him. Gladion feels indebted in a way he knows he will never live down.

Sorrow coils deep in his heart. He knows he is strong, he just wasn't strong enough to protect her from danger.

He just needs to become more powerful. More business, less leisure, less relaxing.

A voice chirps from somewhere behind him. "You're thinking of that nonsense again, aren't you?"

Dialga and Gladion turn their heads to a blonde figure walking to them, wrapped in a fluffy white dress and spring green eyes looking at her brother accusingly. "You should be resting in your room as Mother told you to."

The other dismisses her concerns with practiced ease. "It's been days. I needed air."

Lillie holds her words back, then nods and walks to them. Her gaze sits on the sleeping girl. She doesn't look like more than a mortal in her inactive state, sans her dress and the flute attached to her hip.

Lillie's eyes soften, then she looks at her brother. "How is she?"

"She's just fine," he responds, fingers pushing some strands off her face. "She's just resting. No harm done."

The girl, however, wants to ask why he is touching her with that much delicacy, or why the actual God of Death is on his knees for the Goddess of Midnight. Why his eyes don't leave her, this woman they had been told mimicked the taunts of a siren.

Against her Mother's orders, she had been watching the battle ensue from the heights of Æther. She had told her mother that she just wanted to look out for Gladion but the moment Moon went out of her way to protect her brother, something in her heart grew fonder.

That something is also what dragged her to her lair and something in the way Gladion looks at her tells her his heart is just as moved. Not only the touch, the bow of his head. His eyes are the warmest of greens and hold a severe frown as a habit, contrary to his eternally smiling sister.

But now, with the situation being so dire, something in his expression is softer. Not by much, for he still looks unappalled and angry, but his body language and the way he frowns betray him.

"You did what you could," she sighs out. Her hands feel for Moon's skin and she is relieved to find a pulse. "We are all aware of what you can do. The circumstances were bigger than what we could have expected."

"Diii." Dialga lets out a noise of agreement. Or at least, Gladion wants to interpret it that way.

"I know," he concedes.

"Then stop mulling over it. Moon will be fine, won't she?" She insists on the issue, hoping Gladion will move away from the source of his grief. She understands how he feels sorry for not living up to the circumstances. The defeat in battle has never been easy for him after all.

The other nods and she moves closer to him, circling her arms around her brother's neck to bring him closer to her. Gladion leans into her touch and his face is buried in the crook of her neck for the sake of comfort.

Time passes slowly, they feel a familiar figure stir before them.

Gladion and Lillie pull away after the longest of times to see gray eyes fluttering open.

"Huh… I thought it was daytime already."

 


 

Gladion doesn't appear at her lair for a while after her awakening, and Moon wonders why as she spends the nights alone in her lair. She pets the Pokémon around her and Dialga returns to its place in space after it makes sure Moon is fine and able to function as usual.

The girl spends a long time tending Lunala's injuries as well and using some energy to restore the Pokémon's while she is at it. Moon is still aware of the wide silence around her and wonders when it was that she got used to Gladion's presence around her.

She finds herself missing him. Her heart beating at an unsteady pace when she thinks of him. Her stomach makes summersaults, her cheeks blister and she can still recall his expression of joy at her awakening.

Moon hears the creaking of the cage's door as it opens. She knows the steps to be too light to be his, so she turns slowly. Only to be surprised to see Lillie standing there.

Her expression is a thousand times lighter than when they first met, she's less tense. The goddess bows her head cordially as Moon steps closer. "I'm happy to see you are safe and well now."

Moon nods curtly. "And I'm happy to see you around here."

"I'm betting you were expecting somebody else, though." Lillie grins cheekily, catching Moon off guard at the lack of bite to her tease. She is thankful for the easy air the other goddess carries with her, however, and it invites Moon to relax.

It doesn't stop the blush from spreading through her cheeks, for some reason. "I haven't seen him in a while," she laments. "I wonder if he's okay."

Lillie nods softly with a smile of her own. "Gladion is fine, he's just busy."

And stupid, she wants to add, but keeps the thought to herself.

Whenever Lillie asked the death harbinger about his abrupt lack of visits, he just said he got busy and buried himself in paperwork. The girl swore he would end up needing Moon herself to go up to his office and tell him to stop overworking himself.

Lillie was sure Moon would never approve of his current way of life, yet it wasn't her business, as Gladion so adamantly stated over and over again.

Something akin to relief washes over Moon's features, then she walks a bit back to where she was sitting before. "I'm happy he's at least doing okay, though. I had this nagging sensation maybe he just was angry at me."

The end of her words falls flat. Lillie catches the glint in her eyes as the night goddess calls for Lunala. She can't help but wonder, "Why would he be mad at you?"

Her inquiry prompts Moon to turn around, eyes wide. The blonde is also surprised by her own boldness to ask, and while she swears she doesn't mean to be nosy, she also knows this will be good for the two.

The shock is wiped off from Moon's expression a second later, and a sincere smile spreads across her face, small but true all the same.

"Well," Moon tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, "I know he's a bit proud about his battle abilities. I'm sure that somebody pushing him off the battlefield like that didn't bode well with him, did it?"

It didn't, if his current state of stress and want to get stronger was any proof. Both girls sigh in defeat. Lillie's expression picks up much quicker, though, and it turns into a semi-frown of no animosity, just determination.

"Thank you."

Moon looks up to see the other goddess bowing her head again, but she doesn't raise it again as she continues talking, much to the other's bewilderment.

"Thank you," she repeats, voice with a slight stutter. "for protecting Gladion when he was too reckless to fight on his own. Nobody has ever stood up for him like this and… please don't worry, he is not angry at you."

A light, nervous laugh escapes Moon. "But it still offended his pride, didn't it?"

Lillie shakes her head and finally rises from her bow. "If there is anybody Gladion is angry at, it's only himself." Moon's eyes widen at this declaration, a hand on her heart as she takes the words in. "For not being able to protect you. And failing you."

She immediately rushes to frown at this claim, breath hitching. " But he–"

"I know. It's not his fault." Lillie smiles at herself, knowing how Gladion just will never change. "He just fights his issues with sticks and stones and blames himself for most of what goes wrong around here."

Moon gulps in front of Lillie sighs. Her insides tie themselves into uncomfortable knots that make her feel out of place, worried, guilt creeping up her blood and branching throughout her body.

"I'm still deeply thankful for what you did." Lillie murmurs, still clear enough to be heard. "Thank you for protecting my brother, and Æther, when I couldn't."

The girl in question blinks at her sincere words, paralyzed. Such gratefulness causes her cheeks to almost blister, the shortest of hairs across her skin shift at the blossoming feeling of warmth she feels for this girl, as nobody has ever shown such gratitude before.

Moon feels moved, therefore smiles again with serene and clear eyes. A pause passes through them until the black-haired girl speaks again.

"Have you ever seen a white Vulpix? I think they would suit you very well."

The suggestion drips with the offer to create bonds, making the blonde's eyes widen. Not having had a girl friend in her life and eager to see, she nods with enthusiasm and hurries to Moon's side.

As they walk into the forest, the Goddess of Life gives her a knowing smile. "I'm sure you have shown these to Gladion too, haven't you?"

The tease falls heavy on her shoulders and she sighs a chuckle. "You sure are one of a kind, aren't you?"

And a sweet one, too, Moon can tell. Lillie nods with a spark in her eyes, then follows her into the forest with a skip to her walk.

 


 

Lillie ends up telling all about the meeting to Gladion as he drowns himself in paperwork for his mother. His hands are littered with wounds from his relentless training earlier, but she doesn't address it.

The girl has a little wiggling Vulpix in her arms, which coos beautifully at its owner's happiness. "Moon showed me a few of these and she gave one to me as a gift! She says she wants to help me train it so it's the strongest ever!"

At this, Gladion looks up from his papers. "I could help you train it, you know."

Lillie puffs her cheeks and looks to a side. Vulpix imitates its owner's moves and shares a huff with the blonde. "As if! You are too busy to go visit Moon, you must be too busy to train with me too!"

The jab doesn't go unnoticed for the boy, who mutters a warning. "Lils…"

She forgets about it soon, though, and smiles brilliantly again. "Besides, she looked super eager to help me out. How could I say no? After all, she seemed pretty able from what I saw the other day."

Gladion gulps in response, sighing at the unintended reminder of some days ago. "Yeah, she totally is."

Lillie begins to walk away from his desk, sticking out her tongue. Her dress trails behind her. "Watch out, brother, I will be beating you to a pulp next time we battle!"

And the door clicks shut afterward, washing the room in silence. Even after she is gone, the boy smiles fondly at his sister. He shoots his arms up to stretch them and rolls his shoulders, relieving cracks issuing from his sore muscles.

He then leans back against his chair and props his feet on the mahogany desk, casually spinning his chair from side to side as he gives the image of Moon, her voice and her smile some thought.

He frowns at the idea. Maybe it wouldn't be bad to drop by again sometime soon.

But only when he gets stronger.

So he continues his duties.

 


 

When Gladion comes back to the Night Chamber, he only does it with the intention of checking on her from the door of her cage.

He very begrudgingly steps out of his office, past his mother (who no longer asks about his intentions) and very internally regrets the decision he is making– but he doesn't exteriorize his feelings. His hands remain calm, his eyes a little too narrow, his back a bit too tense.

He doesn't know if he's nervous about going to see her or if he still feels he's not ready for a confrontation. Gladion believes it will be one minute of vigilance, just a glimpse into her daily life.

Something that, in hindsight, he believes their relationship should have been. Him staring from afar for maintenance, her being well and in the serenity of her pond. No bonds. All safety.

Unable to regret their meeting, though, he walks faster to her lair. Everything is just the same, but the way he sees them isn't. The path is longer, his feet feel heavier.

He silently climbs the steps and he peers from the door. Patches of mint dot the grass and her palms are up as she is sprawled on the field. Some Bulbasaur meander the place and a pink Frillish is making her way to the guardian.

Moon promptly springs from her position after minutes of rest, pets the Pokémon and brushes some grass off her thin fins.

Gladion watches from afar, painfully aware of how stupid he is behaving.

As far as he knows, those fins are toxic and used as weapons. It is very jarring to see Moon caress them so softly as if they were silk. But then he remembers how fearless she actually is and guilt sinks into his stomach once more.

"Gladion," she calls from afar, a small smile floating in her voice. He tenses up. "if you want to come in, nothing is stopping you."

The blond lets out a sigh and she smiles into her hand. Frillish floats up a little in surprise as the boy reluctantly walks up to her, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his long dark jacket.

Moon turns in her sitting position with a small smile. "I thought you'd come to greet me properly, not lurk like some sort of Mimikyu."

With a small 'tsk', he lets himself fall down by her side, as if unwillingly. The way he refuses to meet her eyes tells another story, she knows.

The creature floats up to Gladion with a fin held up, seeing the silence between them and not liking it. The boy looks up at it and Moon does as well, neither of them speaking as Frillish stares at the visitor with dead, wide eyes.

Moon gives Gladion a meaningful gaze of encouragement, inviting him to speak. He looks to a side again, and the girl waves her hand at Frillish. "Let him be, he's just a bit tired."

A lie both know very well, yet Frillish buys it and floats away in compliance. Seeing the creature part, the blond finally speaks. "If I didn't know you better, I'd say all your Pokémon are out to kill me."

"Well, maybe they wouldn't be so cross if you actually spoke instead of brooding like that."

He flinches at the soft bite but accepts it regardless. "Sorry it took so long."

"It's okay," Moon lets herself fall back with a sigh under Gladion's gaze, "I'm just happy you aren't angry at me, or yourself. And that you are here."

And so is he, but, how many words were being left unsaid with that sentence? How many things was he willing to forget about for the sake of moving on? He doesn't know if he's ready to leave the topic behind.

He feels things are being left unsaid. His back hits the grass as well, tense but lenient. "I got busy." He excuses. "Very busy."

(Getting stronger, he doesn't say. Getting stronger to protect all of you in the future. To keep you safe.)

Moon nods. "I'm glad you had some time to drop by. Lillie has been coming by for some days now." Her speech is light and airy, happy. "She's good at keeping company."

Something falls at the end of her words and he squares the unintended punch with unprecedented silence.

Gladion never intended to build this distance with his punishment to himself. He can't help but wonder if he hurt her with his absence.

"She told me all about it," he chuckles shakily. His arms are tucked under his head. "She's always carrying that little guy you gave her around."

Letting out a content sigh, she opens her eyes to the endless sky. "I'm glad," she sighs in relief and glee, a tone of her voice Gladion finds extremely endearing. "She told me she was very reluctant about getting a Pokémon for herself."

Topics changed to a better place, they fall into silence. Clouds of pink and purple gently shift in the endless space sky, galaxies moving to the rhythm of the breeze. Everything is silent, tranquil.

Just as it should be, Gladion thinks, even when he wants to see her face and speak his mind.

Doubt bubbles within him. A thousand nonsensical apologies in his mouth. All of them shoved down for the sake of silence.

Moon suddenly points up and gazes up at the stars. It's suddenly as if she has been in deep thought. "Look at that! It's Cassiopeia!"

He snaps back into full attention, startled, and proceeds to follow the direction of her finger. After a small question and a whispered answer, he finds the shape in due time. It's nothing but some crooked constellation, yet Moon seems to find it extremely interesting.

Gladion doesn't understand the fuss, chuckling in amusement. "They are just stars, Moon."

"They are not only stars! They are super close to us," she retorts. "Besides, they are so pretty! Each of them could be nurturing a couple of planets just like Earth!"

He hums in response and she falls into a peaceful silence, satisfied with his curt answer. The little dots of light sparkle in the distance and cover his field of vision with gems and hollows of white and bliss. It is beautiful, he knows.

And he's glad he's experiencing this eternal tranquility with her, this silence and this little moment of intimacy. He shifts a bit closer and waits for her to chirp up once more.

Moon sighs.

"And to think all of this was almost destroyed…" She says it calmly like she hadn't been the one who prevented it from happening, looking wistfully at the stars. "Pretty silly, wouldn't you say?"

Gladion finds himself pulling his eyes away from the starry sky to her, always her. He takes in her satisfied smile. It's that of somebody who has had a good meal or has had a good nap– somebody who is happy.

The tone of her voice catches the same cold frost and remorse he has been feeling all these days. Betrays the purpose of her smile completely.

Her words leave an odd taste in his mouth. "Silly? You really think it's silly?"

That's how the curtain falls and Moon blinks in stupefaction at his indignant voice.

"Well," his words seem to bewilder her a little, "it's not that. It's just that the whole of Æther Tower was at stake, maybe more than that! And looking at it from this perspective…"

Before she can as much as continue, rustling occurs at her right and suddenly, his familiar shadow is looming over her from the side, brows crinkled in the middle in both confusion and very subtle anger he manages to keep in check. His eyes are a beautiful shade of spring green, she notices, now a tempest. His cheeks look so soft, splashed with dim pink, her fingers twitch to cup them.

Moon stutters out his name, instead. He silences her with a grunt of disapproval. "You have some nerve to dismiss what happened out there and reduce it to the stars." Voice a mumble, she can see the oddity of frustration in his scowl. "Moon, you could have died out there."

His ominous words don't seem to dawn on her just yet, but she can feel the bite of… worry? in his voice. It puts her on edge but also seems to warm her heart in contradictory and stomach-twisting ways.

"I'm one of the guardians of this place. What else was I supposed to do?" she asks, her eyes crowned with a frown of her own. "Shall I remind you that you also went out there before me?"

"You forced me to retreat," he says slowly, threat and menace dripping from each syllable, "to face those blasts on your own. Guzzlord is a universal threat, you could have gotten seriously hurt! Or, or..."

His words are laced with more emotion than intended and his hands shake as damning proof of his turmoil. Seeing her face off those beasts from the shelter of Æther's hallways had been both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because it was her fighting, but also terrifying because it was her in danger.

When the endorphin ride after the victory had washed away from his system, all that remained was a tingling feeling of reverse remorse. What replaced ecstasy was the unbidden feeling of how close she had been to being annihilated to pieces.

And he finds himself not liking it. At all. He despises it, almost fears it with increasing intensity that just happened to explode when she uttered those words.

She stares back, speechless, but still knowing he won't let her live it down but she won't let him win, either. "Gladion," she tries, sighing, looking at him with a gaze that bordered pity but was just unhinged kindness. "I was just trying to protect all of you, that's all. It's my duty as a goddess, as a guardian."

He sighs defeatedly. He knows. He is aware. Her responsibilities as a sheltered deity in this paradise rival his in their toughness, but it had been this time that she had been forced to the frontlines and it had been something so, so hard to see.

As powerful as she is, Moon still has the capability to drive him up a wall with very few touches of her staff.

One of them he discovers to be her bravery, the other and most recent one being how she is always right no matter how much he fights her logic. "I know, I know," he insists, but doesn't pull away from her yet. "I just don't like seeing any of you in a situation like that. I have seen it happen too many times already and..."

He carefully dodges the monumental care he holds for her and he almost exposes himself recklessly. Something tells him Moon doesn't buy it, though, for his hands are still shaking a little and her eyes haven't dimmed in their kindness.

Gladion is too tired to pick a fight, especially with her. And not over his baseless fears.

Moon is like a sacred monument, sometimes. She stands tall and in the faraway even when she is within shouting distance, always surrounded by a fog of silence and calmness that sets a wall between them. She is guarded and just as proud as he is.

The walls are reciprocated and respected.

He doesn't want to respect them anymore, for he realizes that he yearns for her to be closer and for that something to be at reach. All he wants is to reach her, for her to never be in danger and just be safe in his arms.

But he still worries. And his nerves don't quite settle as he fears the situation repeating itself again and he wants to tell her that she's wrong, that he can't bear it, that–

A hand presses itself on his shoulder and kneads the muscle gently, reassuringly. "Rely on me. You once said I could rely on you, can't I?" Above her, he nods. "Then let me be of use to all of you too, as one of the guardians of both Earth and Æther." A small smile graces her features, and his muscles relax under her hand. He leans a little closer into the touch. "Rely on me."

Whispering like that, she has control over him in ways he has yet to see happen with other people. When she reassures him like this, so intimately, he finds himself nodding slowly and letting the weight of her words shower him with the peace only she can convey.

"Just," he murmurs,"promise me you won't do something as reckless as sending me back again."

So close to each other, the flutter of her eyelashes is a slow display of nonchalance. Her expression turns somewhat grim. "Gladion…"

"Please," he lets that small bit of his worries linger a little longer, just for damage control and to make sure this would never happen again. "next time, let me be by your side. You rely on me, you said. Let me be by your side, then."

His words seem to strike a chord within her, for her breath hitches and she slowly nods. Her lips part as if she is about to say something, and so do his, stumbling for words to add.

Instead, they stare into each other's eyes for eternity in search of anything else to say.

Her eyes are flashing with countless scenarios of where things go wrong, too. He can see it in the way she flinches a little, the odd breathing, how Moon doesn't want him to get hurt and he is overcome with the need to wrap her up in a hug and tell her everything will be okay, that they will be safe.

Instead, he brushes his long fingers across her forehead to pet her gently, expression soft but still serious.

When a heavy sigh of hers fans across his chin, he looks down to realize that they are dangerously close. So much so he can count her eyelashes and get lost in each spark of color embedded in her irises, or feel the touch of her pale and smooth skin. She stares at him just as dumbfounded, a thin veil of something soft and warm covering her eyes.

He gulps and breathes in, taking in the way she looks at him so tentatively and before he can get his hopes up, Gladion pulls away all too soon, rolling to his side to gaze up at the stars once more.

A shaky sigh rolls off her lips. "The stars are beautiful, aren't they?"

The blond agrees with a sighed "Yeah," and turning his head to her a little with the intent of catching her eyes and expression looking at the sky, and finds something that makes his heart skip a beat.

He wonders why spare tears are falling down her face like that, even with a smile as beautiful as that and expression as joyful as hers.

A second after, he smiles to himself, feeling like they have reached a mutual, deep understanding and that he has finally reached her from behind their thin glass walls.

Chapter Text

Gladion discovers, too soon to his liking, exactly why Moon and Lillie managed to bond so quickly over the last few weeks.

It happened over ridiculing him, or so it seems.

They are sitting in front of a big sapling by the pond and Lillie grabs a handful of his coat and arches an eyebrow at him. "You have been wearing the same colors ever since you were a kid! You could try a different palette."

The blond turns to Moon, who is sitting idly by the pond and looking after some Vaporeon. She had told them there had been a bit of a discussion between the Pokémon earlier and that she'd be a bit busy, but that they could come stay regardless.

He sits close to her, though, even if he barely plans to make conversation with her until this very moment. "I see you two have been conspiring against my clothing choices, huh?"

His voice is just as grumpy as usual, and by the shake of her shoulders, he can tell she's giggling her life away. Gladion sighs then turns to his sister again to take her attacks against his fashion sense.

A sense which, judging by her uncanny frowning, seems to have upset her greatly.

"It's not a conspiracy if it's for your own good."

Gladion rolls his eyes. "You know it's much more practical to get the job done, Lils." Moon doesn't miss the way he glazes over his job's details but doesn't mention it at all.

She turns her head a little in an attempt to join the conversation, only reaching to look at Lillie. "He's right, you know. Black is more stealthy. And it matches his deadly edge perfectly."

The boy grunts and a vein pops in his head, and as always, Moon dismisses it and continues with her tasks. The exchange makes Lille laugh, something Gladion instantly brightens up with. Hearing his sister be audibly happy makes his heart feel lighter, happy to see her happy.

She might be a few years younger than him but she hasn't had her childhood any easier than him, that's for sure.

"I'm just saying you could use a change of colors. You would look so handsome in white like me." She insists, crawls over and squishes his cheeks to turns his head around a little. He tries to squirm out of her hold immediately.

Moon smiles at the bickering and looks at the brother from over her shoulder. "I think the colors fit you very nicely, Gladion."

She turns again, right in time to miss a small blush blossoming across his cheeks. When he and Lillie meet eyes and she smiles very knowingly, he grunts and looks to a side, the afterglow of her compliment long forgotten.

"Whatever, they are my clothes and I don't care what you think, Lils." he leans against the sapling and crosses his legs. "I don't tell you what to wear."

"Of course you don't! White fits me the best."

His words are nothing but a deadpan. "You look like a lemon popsicle."

Lillie lets out a small gasp and that's when the impossible happens, something Gladion thought he'd never hear in this lifetime. His eyes drift to the pond slowly.

Moon laughs. Boundless, carefree and so loudly she is clutching her stomach with her arms. The little Vaporeon on her lap springs from her hold as pearls of laughter roll off her lips and crawl at her throat, taking both siblings aback. It's boisterous and unconstrained, it booms through her chest and blows him away.

He has heard her giggle quietly, sometimes laugh a little but it's always a quiet noise– nothing like these loud barks and jerks of her shoulders.

Gladion discovers he loves the sound. His heart claps, his stomach curls in reaction.

It sounds like bells and a lullaby, either because he has always liked Moon's voice or because the sound is rare.

When she stops laughing, Moon turns and she's wiping a tear away after a solid minute of solo laughing. The joke wasn't even that good– hell, it hadn't been meant to be a joke, but she still laughed and Gladion misses the sound as soon as it's gone.

"Sorry, Lillie," she says through hiccups, giving her an earnest and sincere gaze of apology. The girl is too surprised to really be offended. "I didn't mean to laugh. Please, know white suits you very nicely."

The girl blinks and she seems to fall back into focus, judging by the pointed glare she throws at his brother. Even when Moon turns away to beckon at the Vaporeon so she can continue tending it, Gladion stares at her, unblinking.

"You know, Gladion," she pointedly says his name. His eyes widen momentarily and he catches her smirk once more, irking him greatly. "What about your hair?"

The blond tucks a strand of hair between his fingers in wonder. More exactly, a piece of his uneven front bangs. "What about it?"

Moon smiles to herself for no reason at all as they go on and on about the faults in his hairdo. Whilst Gladion isn't exactly confrontational – nor does he spring into a sour mood one minute into a bothersome conversation anymore – the way he speaks to his sister gives his affection away.

It's non-confrontational, perhaps even more than that.

There's softness and care in the way he speaks, how he dodges certain topics and when he teases her (which is rare) it's always done with a smile.

Lillie crawls over to him again and her fingers wiggle over his fringe, an action that makes him immediately lean away from her. "Your hair is so uneven, you could totally use a trim!"

Pressing himself further against the bark of the sapling, Gladion shakes his head in denial, a frown starting to show in his features. "It's fine." His voice is thin and tense. "No need to touch it, Lils."

The girl doesn't notice the crack in his voice right away, but Moon does. "C'mon, it's fine! It's just some hair–"

The blonde goddess is interrupted abruptly as his hand halts her own, grabbing her wrist with unnecessary force. Lillie notices its trembling, the now more evident quiver of his brow and the grind of his teeth. Pure signs of distress.

A pause invades the scene. They believe Moon ignores the scene politely. The hardened pressure on her Vaporeon's petting goes amiss.

Gladion holds his breath, then lets it go and releases Lille's hand. "Don't worry about it," he mutters as he scrambles to his feet, to which Moon does turn around with hesitant eyes. The boy is looking at her now. A hidden apology in his eyes. "I'm off to bed."

The sister notices his brisk departure and Moon almost hears the girl's heart sink as guilt washes over her face. "Gladion, I'm sorry if I upset you or–"

An instant hand on her head, petting her almost in instinct. "It's fine." The sentiment doesn't reach his voice. The girl's expression doesn't change, nor does Moon's. Both girls worried, Gladion doesn't direct another single glance at them.

Then, he's walking away, waving his hand without turning back. "See you later."

When he's gone, Lillie's hands fall on the mud and grass, brow loose in worry. "Do you think I went too far?"

Moon blinks as she thinks about her answer. Her eyes shift to watch his figure finally disappear through the bars of her cage. This is the only time she believes she can't decipher Gladion as well as she usually does.

Her mind is suddenly pulled away from the conflict as a flash of white pops up from between the trees but before Moon can put her eyes on it fully, the figure is gone.

"Moon?" Lillie calls out to her. She's moving to sit next to her, further concern swimming in her green eyes. "Is everything okay?"

The other goddess finds her breathing to be labored. Her shoulders have become tense and her hands are trembling for no reason in particular. The presence of that unknown creature has caused her heartbeat to quicken abnormally.

"Yeah," she breathes. When Lillie's hand finds her shoulder, she wills herself to relax. "I think so."

 


 

"I'll be gone for a few weeks, starting tomorrow."

Gladion doesn't even sit when he says those words. He doesn't soften the blow, hoping she won't mind whilst fearing she might not care. Her head whips to look at him, clearly taken aback by his abrupt statement.

That's the way he is, she can't be surprised. Gladion is all unexplained motives and dropped bombs in a field. And if he explains, he will do it in a rush of nerves. He doesn't like being idle.

She looks disappointed. That's his first impression, at least.

Hastily getting up from the grass, she walks over to him. Her eyes seek him for a premature explanation, almost in a panic. "Did anything happen? Is everything okay?"

Moon doesn't usually repeat her questions like that. To shaky words and puzzled eyes. He is used to other sorts of speech and mannerisms. In hindsight, they aren't used to being separated from one another for too long, either.

They are not dependent, but separation pains them. In secret, each in their own worlds.

Such pain is reflected in how he avoids her gaze, how her hands are shaking behind her back, just a little.

Gladion clears his voice. "I have to go to Earth. There has been some conflict somewhere that needs some… drastic measures, as Mother puts it." She nods curtly. He catches a glimpse of her gulping the implications down her throat. "It will take a while, though."

Moon takes a step closer. Her eyes are clear, emotions pushed aside, or so it seems. Her hands remain bent behind her back. "Are you going there in disguise?"

The other god chuckles with a small smirk. "Of course I am. They would freak out if they saw me just descending from the sky."

Her shoulders move up and down as she giggles softly, but it's nothing like the pure laugh he had heard a few days ago. He finds himself wishing she'd share that sound once more, just so he could keep it in memory during his mission.

Gluing her eyes to the ground, her toes play a little with the grass tickling her feet. "You must be careful, then. Humans can be rather barbaric." Her mind doesn't wander to the battle all those weeks ago. It only retains the feeling of unhinged panic from that day, and she suppresses it in a compressed smile. "I know you'll do great."

Gladion hums in approval, pushes his hands into his pockets, and much to her surprise, he walks past her, lips curled in a subtle smile.

He lets himself fall against a tree, his tree, as Moon watches him rooted to her spot. "I wanted to spend some quality time around here before leaving. Surely I'll need it later."

After he closes his eyes and relaxes into the usual posture she has come to know, Moon smiles to herself and walks to his side as well. She sits on the grass, a little Ledyba approaching her.

As she gives the creature a berry, Gladion blinks one eye open and then closes it, smiling to himself at the gentle picture.

"Did the Mistress tell you anything else about the mission?" she asks, holding the Ledyba in her arms before throwing it into the air, and then catching it. "It seems a bit too long to be a normal mission."

Gladion sighs. "People freaking out over a Psyduck horde, probably. They seem to be terrified of those." His dismissive tone makes her smile because of course he'd make light of something like that. "Humans are stupid."

"You haven't even met them! Don't be so judgemental." she retorts in amusement, but her brows are pinched in the middle a little. "The Mistress must trust you greatly to send you there."

"She just doesn't have time," he grumbles. Crossing his legs, he stops whatever he was about to say to ask something else. It has been rattling in his head for a while. "Actually, I have something to ask."

She blinks at him and throws the Ledyba up once more. The Pokémon flies away with a wave of Moon's hand. "What is it?"

His green eyes are solely focused on her. "Why do you call Mother like that?"

"Like what?"

"Mistress."

Despite having an actually good answer for that, she just looks at him with a bored deadpan. "Says the one who calls his mother 'Mother'."

"What else am I supposed to call her?"

"I don't know, mom?"

She says this as if it's a fact that Gladion doesn't quite understand, but he admits his relationship with his mother is… unusual. It has always felt more like a binding contract rather than a familial bond.

He grimaces lightly. "I'm just… being formal." Gladion gulps. "We have formalities ingrained into our very core, you see."

Moon chuckles. Not quite a laugh. "Yeah, I see."

Her taking it so lightly sounds wrong to him on many levels, but he can't really blame her. After all, she doesn't know about half the things that went on during his childhood, and he has no interest in telling her right now.

It's just not worth explaining, anyway.

Either because he's in deep thought or because today's work is piling up on his body, he doesn't notice the look Moon is giving him, digging holes into his cheeks and neck, and most importantly, his hair.

Remembering the conflict from the other day, she bites her lip. It's not like her to poke fingers into personal matters, but she can't help but wonder what had exactly gone through his mind to stop his sister like that.

A sister he loves with all his being, she knows.

"Gladion," she calls softly, unable to stop herself.

The other opens one of his eyes to look at her, an eyebrow arched. "What is it?"

Moon holds her breath, and then she moves. It's all too quick for him to register what she's exactly doing but when he focuses on her again, she's sitting between his legs at a very dangerous distance.

Intimidated by the very sudden proximity (but not minding it that much sans the abruptness of it all) he tries to wiggle further away from her. "Hey, hey! What are you–?"

He knows that look in her face like the palm of his hand. The crinkle of her eyebrows, the steel ground in her eyes and how she barely bats an eye. Raw determination, that's what it is.

But also seasoned with a pinch of worry that he certainly doesn't dismiss.

"Your hair." She points at the object in question. "What's up with it?"

A sigh of irritation blows between them. "It's just hair, Moon."

"Right," Her hands on her hips now, "so if I try to touch your fringe, you won't try to immobilize me on sight, will you?"

His shoulders jolt tense and if he has ever glared at her, now is the closest he has ever been to looking at her so angrily.

Moon just ignores his subtle anger. She's more worried about the underlying tension under that glare. She still decides to apologize, however. "I'm sorry. I'm just worried about that reaction of yours."

And, again, he can't really blame her for being worried. He had beaten himself up for his reaction upon reaching his bedroom and he wonders if Moon had been as pensive over the issue as he had been.

Judging by how she continues to wait for his explanation and her expression is twisted into such a pout, maybe that had been the case.

"I didn't mean to worry you." For one moment, her expression brightens. "But I'm not particularly interested in elaborating."

And her expression falls again, making his heart shake. There she goes, making his typical self break his typical rules. He hates how she makes him feel and how it's her he is so weak for.

He won't find a way out of those eyes of hers, will he?

Surprisingly enough, she seems to retaliate very quickly. "I won't push you if that's the case." Her words are sincere, and so is her understanding smile. "But I just hope you are okay about whatever happened back there. We got worried for a second."

That for a second is fake, or just a mean for her to dismiss her worries, something he doesn't quite enjoy.

In fact, it churns within him and makes him uncomfortable. Moon, however, is suddenly moving away from him, warmth fading from his cold body.

"If you ever want to talk about it, just know I can–"

He takes hold of her forearm, halting her words mid-sentence. All air leaves her lungs at the gesture and her eyes shoot from his shaking hand to his face, which is turned to hide the troubled waters in his clear eyes.

"I just," His fingers twitch, holding her steady. "I don't like people touching my hair."

The lie quivers at the end. He prays that Moon won't see through it, but she doesn't seem to buy it. Her eyes remain glued to his, searching for an explanation.

Being honest, he isn't sure what lying will accomplish. So, why lie?

"I didn't mean to gossip, I swear." Her voice becomes wavy, a little unsure, knowing these are rocky grounds to walk on. "I'm just not used to seeing you so… violent in front of Lillie. The few times I have seen you two together, you are super nice to her."

And caring. And loving. A great brother. She stays quiet.

And it had been very different that time, he knows.

His brows pinch in the middle and his grip tightens for a second before it loosens up, and Moon very carefully peels her arm off his hand. He is surprised he hasn't summoned his flames by mistake, something he has done in the past in spurts of nervousness.

His hands become soft and seek her wrist, touching it before curling his digits around the thin of her hand.

Her skin is soft and warm. He had expected her hands to be of the utmost delicacy, but the edges are slightly calloused. Her hand is limp in his. "You can touch it." Voice hoarse in thought, he sighs. "And move it. But you can't tell anybody, okay?"

He lets go of her hand, then crosses his arms like it will shield him from confrontation.

Something in his voice is pained, almost weak. This is a drastic shade of Gladion she has never seen before, soft-spoken and no bite to his barks– if anything, he's meowing in need of comfort, memories he didn't wish to remember sailing in his eyes.

She hesitates. Moon is sitting on her knees, a hand reaching to cup his cheek gently. "Are you sure?"

One last chance to escape. He doesn't think twice.

"I trust you." Meaningful words for a meaningful moment. There is a heavy feeling perched on her shoulders, sinking her heart.

Gladion leans against her hand, a vow of confidence. Her fingertips trace his hairline. His hair is incredibly soft, so much so it's almost feathery. It's the brightest of blondes, platinum with streaks of white along the sides. It tickles her fingers. His cheek presses harder against her palm.

When she reaches his fringe, he tenses. Something tells her whatever she's about to see won't please any of them, the more reason for her to know what's wrong and possibly help him.

Moon gently brushes her fingers against his uneven bangs and moves the bunch aside. A quiet gasp escapes her lips at the sight.

Skin marred with little scars, then a big one up his cheekbone to a side of his eye, irises like the most verdant of forests, staring at her with uncertainty and seeking a reaction to these footprints of violence.

She moves her touch all the way to his brow, where the scar ends abruptly.

There had been a gash there. Too close to his eye. A door to so many questions.

Moon is overcome with the wish to ask him how this came to be. "I understand now." Figuring it's too much of a sensitive topic, she pushes the selfish doubt aside and peers at him softly. "I didn't know…"

His arms are still crossed, eyes closing in meditation. "It's fine. It's not like I let anyone see what's under all that anyway."

She nods in agreement, then her eyes shift to his now fluttering eyes, which open in wonder at her. They are bright and the prettiest of colors she has ever laid her eyes on, she decides. Little specks of golden glitter the color along with streaks of maroon, and traces of black brush under his narrowed eyes.

Caressing his cheek, Moon dedicates him a gentle smile of encouragement. Even with both his eyes exposed now, the genuine feeling of fading discomfort and slight sorrow clings to him all the same.

"If you show him," she clears her throat, emotion stuck to her core at his vulnerability, "Sun can cure the scar. I'm sure it's not pretty to look at in the mornings."

She knows his mother, Lusamine, did this. A gut feeling. Those monsters he fights wouldn't do something so specific to an eye as pretty as his, nor would it leave such scars.

Gladion is too much of a good fighter to let his guard down like that.

He sucks in a sharp breath. "Really?"

Moon doesn't speak to not scare him. His shoulders are hunched and he is tense, so much so she wants to massage his arms into comfort again. She just nods in affirmation. Something in his eyes brightens.

Her voice is barely a whisper, hovering over his face. She can count his hairs and the number of small freckles across his forehead, just a shadow. "I can't really do much, but…"

"Don't be ridiculous," he sighs. "You're doing more than enough."

An arm snakes around her waist as it pulls her a bit closer as if he needs her proximity more than ever. She says nothing in response, winds her fingers into his uneven bangs and combs through the tresses very gently.

Some air blows past his lips as a sigh of comfort at her touch, his eyes fall closed. The hand cupping his cheek brings him up an inch to press her lips against his brow, barely a kiss.

His shoulders fall down gently at that, and she presses her lips against the end of the scar once more. His expression turns from stone to goo in her hands, at which she smiles against his brow.

"Thank you," he rasps out. His fingertips dig into the small of her back. "For everything."

Moon hums then leans a bit back to sit on the grass, right between his outstretched legs. Her hand never falls from his cheek, though, and he looks at her through lidded eyes to find her smiling at him.

"It's fine," she answers softly. "I'm surprised you're letting yourself be pampered like this, though."

Her words are dotted with amusement here and there and he doesn't have the energy to complain about it, but he does groan and hears her giggle very quietly.

She has no time to be surprised before he pushes her against his chest, cheek pressed against the cool fabric of his vest, her head nestled in the opening of his coat. His heart beats right under her ear, steady and faint under all the layers of clothing.

The vague scent of rain and mint lingers around her.

For all the energy he seems to lack in his words, he surely makes up for it in physical strength, she muses.

Moon wonders if he can hear the angry, mad drumming of her heart against her ribcage. She is sure it will explode at this rate, that it will break loose after so many somersaults and that it beats loud, too loud.

Shifting into a more comfortable position, Gladion presses her body further against his chest. Her hands are trapped between them, fingertips feeling the soft fabric of his clothes. "I know you can't sleep just yet." He almost sounds nervous. "But I–"

In response, she circles her arms around him, hanging loose around his back. Seeing how tense his muscles have gotten under her, she knows he doesn't do well with intimacy. She's okay with that, and nods quietly.

The wordless response puts him at ease, that they are okay the way they are. He relaxes visibly. Her lips move against his vest, ears covered by the long lapels of his coat.

"It's okay. You can nap for a while if you want."

And that's what he does, with her tucked tight in his arms.

Exactly as it should be.

When he comes to, Moon is long gone, and after a few minutes of tasting the silence, he gets up and parts.

When Moon comes back hours later, silence greets her.

And that's how the waiting commences.

Chapter Text

His first day in this place is full of awkward meetings and attempts to revamp his appearance to not stand out. Scar conveniently erased from his skin at Moon's petition, clipping his unkempt bangs to a side is no issue, other than the betrayal of his long-lasting appearance.

In spite of his blinding platinum hair, nobody seems to notice his unearthly nature. They welcome him as a lost vagabond with the need for food and shelter. The town is fairly small, just a handful of houses and a little lake by a hut. The region is separated by a row of mountains, where villagers rumor a big beast is hiding.

Somehow, he feels he has heard that story before.

An old lady with a worn-out dress tells him tales about this beast, about warnings and about the future. The blond listens carefully, gathering information professionally like his mother had commanded him to.

"For such a young, fine man," the woman cackles, "you are listening to me ramble for a while."

It's not like Gladion really likes spending his time in situations of this kind, after all, he doesn't really entertain long talks like these. However, he finds this lady interesting enough to sit down and hear her talk.

Maybe the mysterious aura that surrounds her pulls him in, too. "I might be a traveler, but I enjoy Pokémon folklore like any other trainer."

His words are clear, sincere. They don't betray his true investigative purposes.

While his mother had told him there was just some conflict in the human land, he had expected it to be a war. It seems like people are scared of something in the summit of that mountain, or so the lady says.

"Well, if you are a wise man, you will not go to Mount Coronet without a good team. People say something is wrong there, Pokémon running amok and noises coming from the summit."

All other people in the village have told him the exact same story, the same order of events and the same frown in their faces. He hums. "It does sound dangerous."

"Why, young man. It's as if you are planning to go up there."

He isn't quite sure how the lady knows of his pretenses. If danger was located in such a specific place, he sees no problem in going there to investigate. He doubts he will be in danger anyway.

It can't be any more dangerous than what happened with Guzzlord back in Æther, that's for sure.

Gladion is quick to submerge his expression into distinct indifference. "I don't have any major interest, really. I'm just a curious explorer."

But the lady still gives him a watered down, sweet smirk and proceeds to get up. In her advanced age, she is still very fluent in her movements, beckoning him to follow her.

They go down some steps, then through a cave and into the depths of a chamber of rocks and surrounded with flowers. They are all white in purple vases, splashed with mirages of pink and dotted with sparks of stars. Cherry blossoms and orchids litter the ground before the altar.

He looks up. A picture of a woman with short and black hair is built from her profile, holding the aforementioned flowers with a smile he knows all too well. His throat dries up, seeing her name written under the mosaic.

Moon, maiden of the Stars.

The woman leaves a bouquet of her own in front of the makeshift altar. "She's a lingering spirit from Canalave Town," she explains. "Sailors speak of a girl like her breaking through their nightmares with a Cresselia behind her, singing lullabies to keep bad thoughts at bay."

The tale rings familiar in his memory, but this reversed version seems magical and mystic. At this point, he isn't sure what to believe.

Unblinking eyes stare at the arrangement of flowers. "Casablancas?"

Nodding, she smiles at him. "Casablanca lilies. They only bloom during night time."

Gladion fights back a groan. How on the nose can mythology be with names?

Unaware of his shift in expression, she goes on explaining. "Legends say that she leaves lilies by sailors' beds after a bad night. Most of these are used for medicines. The goddess is said to have a great preference for therapeutic herbs and berries."

Thinking back, Gladion remembers Lillie very excitedly telling him about the many things Moon had taught her to do. In that list she had mentioned medicines, a minor detail he forgot about.

When the lady is done explaining, he makes a small note in his head to ask her about these tales. "She must be a clever woman."

"Of course, she is our goddess after all." Both stare at the mosaic of polished stones on the wall and the lady turns to him sharply. Only now does he realize she is a lot smaller than him. "Pretty, right?"

The woman is clearly referring to the flowers, not to the hypothetical figure of a goddess nobody has truly laid eyes on. He looks at her image regardless.

"Yeah. A lot."

The woman decides to let him be after that, thinking that this mysterious man will be fine on his own. Gladion only acknowledges her departure with a turn of his head as she clears her throat.

"If you wish for her protection in Mount Coronet, make sure to fetch some lilies from the base of the mountain." Gladion blinks in surprise, once more. "The goddess loves them."

Long after she is gone, the god sits at the roof of the lady's house and spends the night planning the next day's route under the moon's cradle.

He pushes the comfort he feels under the moonlight, and wonders if she will protect his dreams as well.

 


 

"Do you think Gladion will be okay?"

Moon stops treating Lillie's Vulpix to glance at her with an arched eyebrow, questions written all over her royal-like features. The blonde sighs and Moon continues to spray some potion on the creature.

"Brother has never gone down to Earth, as far as I know. He knows the territory and everything in it, it's all we studied when we were kids." Another sigh. "But Mother told me that the danger on Earth was too great for me to go with him. I can't help worrying."

The girl clad in mint pets Vulpix and it yips before shuffling to its owner, where it laps her cheek. Moon smiles gently then grabs some herbs from her pouch.

Multi-tasking, she gives Lillie's concern some thought.

"Your brother is very dependable, you know. I'm sure he'll be just fine."

The blonde seems very taken aback by her statement, for she turns to her friend who is standing up as she rummages through her pouch. Moon notices the silence and turns back to Lillie, blinking in askance.

"What's with that face?"

"You seem to have a pretty blind trust in my brother."

Moon smiles as if she was being silly, shaking her head. "You know he has been training a lot. And he's super brave too, why wouldn't I trust him?"

Unused to such belief being bestowed on his brother, she watches Moon as she moves.

She is no different than the people Gladion has had a story with – divine people with hearts like his own – but the words she says are worlds apart. Maybe Sun is another exception to the rule but he was not this outspoken about his respect for the god.

After a Pokéball is tossed, a Mareanie comes to life in a show of colors and bubbles, and Moon gives it some instructions Lillie can't follow.

"Do you really think he will be okay?"

Moon shakes her head again. "I didn't let him off without a horde of potions for a reason. I'll just have painkillers and a few berries for Silvally when he comes back."

The poisonous Pokémon chirps with a noise of its own. Lillie thinks it sounds like bubbles on the surface of the sea. As the night goddess takes some poison from the Pokémon, it chirps even louder.

Lillie finds her Vulpix to be nudging some flowers against her thigh, to which the girl caresses the petals gently. "Do you need any of these flowers?"

The girl in question looks up and assesses the flower momentarily before dismissing it with a wave of her hand. "Not right now. I'm just working on a quick potion for my Reuniclus."

Which begs the following question. "You know, I always thought you were into Psychic types. I never knew you had such a big assortment of poisonous buddies until that day with Jigglypuff."

She is referring to when she taught Lillie how to brew quick potions, Moon knows. "Well, they just are the best for what I do the most." A cheeky grin wraps around her lips. "And they are the cutest, as well."

Lillie gulps thickly. Her definition of 'cute' defies the laws of universal taste, but that's a matter for another day. At least Mareanie seems happy with its owner's attention.

After a few minutes of silence, Moon pats the Pokémon and feeds it a small berry before calling it back to its ball, then stretches her legs and falls on her back. "And you?"

"Hm?"

"Do you have a type?"

Lillie brings a finger to her chin, thoughtful. What little experience she has had with battling and training was in a too early stage for her to really pick favorites, but she has an approximate guess.

"I like fairy types. They are just the cutest babies in the world, don't you think?"

Moon chuckles. Jigglypuff is pretty cute, she agrees. Most Pokémon under that category have the looks of a baby in need of a hug, and some hide the sharpest of claws under their naïve appearance.

She wonders if Lillie is just like that. "They're fairly cute, yeah."

Lillie nods then looks at her with an arched eyebrow. "What about you?"

Lying on the grass, her view of Lillie is upside down, but she frowns nonetheless. "What do you mean? I already told you I'm into poisonous types."

The wicked, toothy grin that curls at her lips is priceless and almost makes Moon tremble. "You know I'm not talking about Pokémon."

It takes Moon a whole minute to catch on during which she pretends to ignore the comment, judging that it has some unwanted implications.

When the tease does reach her, though, she points at the exit of her realm with a fresh blush adorning her cheeks, covering her face with a hand.

Lillie erupts in laughter.

 


 

It takes Gladion a week to figure out how to get to his next stop, Eterna Town. He has heard plenty of stories from the elderly in his previous stay, a lot about ancient Pokémon that he could learn about.

After all, archives in isolated corners of Æther could only teach him so much.

Once he is in the town, the first thing that calls his attention is the freshly polished view of a statue. The Pokémon perched on it is not familiar, but some people are gawking at it as if it was a known figure.

Stepping closer, people come and go to read the plaques on the statue. Plaques dedicated to Dialga and Palkia, one of them he has actually touched and he feels terribly out of place, suddenly.

People in this town give him the information he seeks, equipment, and shelter. They treat him like another human of their own. It takes him another week to fully get ready.

Some people do ask how godly his genes had to be to give him such amazing hair. He dismisses those comments.

Staying with a nice married couple dressed in old robes, he learns of the dangers hidden in Mount Coronet. "I have heard of people being kidnapped and never making it back to the altar at the summit. People run away from there as soon as they get there."

Sure enough, Gladion sees an ominous whirl of black clouds piling on the mountain's top. A frown covers his expression at the uncanny conditions.

Despite his concern for the looming danger, he doesn't forget about what the lady had said and sweeps some Casablancas into his backpack. He enters Mount Coronet despite the many warnings of villagers.

The cave is soaked with humidity and darkness, but he has his Pokémon to light the way. He had caught a few fire-type Pokémon on his way to Eterna City, so the ways are clear for the most part.

Some rides through streams, then a few dry bushes cut. The way up to the summit is arduous and he has to fight a few creatures to get to his goal.

Soon enough, Gladion finds himself in the Spear Pillar, the summit of Mount Coronet.

The moment he sets foot on the altar, something clicks within him that tenses his shoulders. A shift in the energy, the dead silence. Time doesn't seem to pass, clouds don't move, the wind doesn't blow. The columns that surround the passage are curved outwards unnaturally, the ground seems almost soft under his feet.

Gladion hears a sound coming from above and he grabs one of his Pokéballs instinctively. Looking up, he is floored to find that the descending creature is none other than–

"Nihilego!?" His voice raises in alarm. This is not normal. As far as he knows, Ultra Beasts only spawn in space, not in Earth's realm.

The only conclusion he can reach is that a portal has ripped itself open somewhere… but where?

Nihilego lets out a screech for his attention, and for a second, he believes it might be this little Pokémon that is causing so much ruckus. Maybe it's now an earthly species that he will undoubtedly need to report, and he gets ready to fight it.

Before he can as much as spring his Lucario into battle, something much fiercer booms from behind him and an actual physical pressure forces him to his knees. A shadow flies ahead, lets out a dragon-like screech and releases a beam of light that blinds the god for a second.

On his knees, Gladion can barely open his eyes an inch to witness Giratina grabbing Nihilego with its claws and a portal warping open, which Giratina zooms through in the span of a second.

Getting up, Gladion notices the hush that has fallen in the zone and how the columns are pushed into an even curvier position. A portal pulses before him, inviting.

He jumps into the black hole without a second thought and disappears from the face of the Earth.

 


 

The first night Moon cannot find him in the sleeping souls of Earth, her heart stops.

The girl focuses again, actively closes her eyes and throws all her energy into the task. Gladion's aura is pretty easy to identify (him being a god in disguise and all that) but she chalks the mistake to just a miscalculation.

It takes her hours to conclude that he is not on Earth anymore. And when she does, the first thing she does is call out her Articuno and command it to search for him.

The bird flies into space and Moon waits for its return, heart in her hands.

 


 

This is not how Gladion had expected to spend his last day in Sinnoh. At least, he figures time flows similarly to Earth's standards because he is absolutely and mind-numbingly lost.

The world is enshrouded in pure darkness, but dim lights float in the air with the colors of blue and silver. There are patches of ground floating around where he stands on, vines shooting from the ground and up to the endless sky.

Is that the sky, even? Why does he feel like his feet are too light? Is what he sees real and is that waterfall going up?

A shadow shoots from behind him and dives deeper into the chasm that is this dimension. Gladion peers over the ledge and discovers lands that spiral down into the shadows. The silence around him is deafening.

He finds his way around. He takes some paths down that work like elevators. In others, he jumps down some steps and runs to places. At the end of his run, he ends up making a leap of faith from one floor down to another.

His landing is graceful. Arceus knows he wouldn't have survived such distance if it weren't for the weird laws of gravity in the zone.

Lillie and Moon would not approve. Sun would likely laugh it off but the girls would be hopping mad. Moon mostly.

Mew, why is he thinking of her during situations like these?

It only comes to prove he has to finish this mission off as fast as possible.

The shadowed figure from earlier flies west. Gladion takes no time to follow it, and he fails to notice a quick figure flashing behind the beast.

When he reaches the edge of the ground, he notices that there is nothing under them other than pitch black and increasing pressure.

If he fell down there, he's sure not even his immortal condition would save him.

As contradictory as it sounds.

Rocks float up to pave the way as he walks forward. The steps hobble lightly, but Gladion tries to not look down. A small platform floats at the end of the way, and a figure is slowly descending to his level at the intrusion.

Giratina carefully hovers before him, bright red eyes staring into his green ones. Gray like steel, black like leather, golden like the sun.

The creature of antimatter, rumored to burn your skin off with a mere graze of its skin.

He briefly wonders if her blessings will reach him down in hell like this, and then takes out his Umbreon, which lets out a screech of dominance at the very much larger creature before it.

"Breooon!" it lets out as Gladion gives orders left and right, commanding it to dodge the mighty attacks Giratina unleashes. The legendary monster flaps its wings at him wildly, screaming when hurt and cunning when a hit is landed on Gladion's Umbreon.

It becomes quickly apparent to him that Giratina is a ghost-type, so taking his Silvally out is probably a good yet arguably bad idea. He has read many legends about this (until now) non-existing creature.

Turns out it does exist. And it's starting to make dents in his team right as it is getting weaker and weaker. The wings flap more slowly and attacks aren't as precise as they began.

Gladion decides to take Silvally out, who immediately unleashes a fearsome attack on its foe. Bright beams of light flash from behind him and hit the beast square on the chest. Giratina begins to descend slowly, stops moving, and the battle stills for a second.

But then, it rises once more. It screeches, the wind begins to pick up and attempts to push Gladion and his team back to knock them down.

The blond stumbles back and he can't seem to give out a coherent order in the deafening tempest that starts to pick up. His Silvally hooks his feet to the gravel ground and tries to hold on.

Giratina shakes and wiggles, and it seems like it is about to fly away at the menace of being defeated.

A gust of wind much stronger and colder than Giratina's comes from behind him along with a "Cuunoo!" and freezes the foe in place. Its wings still their flapping and the snake-like Pokémon softly lands on the ground.

Gladion flutters his eyes open. Articuno has landed in front of him, wings spread in an attempt of protection. "Articuno! What are you doing here?"

Giratina thrashes before the blue bird. Roots of ice chain it to the ground and immobilize him temporarily. Articuno closes its wings, seeing that the creature will not fly away anymore. "Cuu-no."

Getting up from the ground, he brushes some dust off his clothes. "Of course I'm surprised. I had the situation completely under control, other than that unholy wind."

"Cuu?"

"I'm okay. Just didn't expect this guy to be such a nuisance. I wouldn't be surprised if people were hiding around here." He beckons Silvally over and sprays some potion on his skin, healing nasty cuts and a spurt of poison.

Articuno nods and hops aside. The god steps forward again. Giratina is trying to release itself from the ice and the boy sighs.

His bangs have fallen back into place. The lack of complete vision doesn't faze him. "I can't wreck him or else Mother will be angry. Everything is about balance, she says."

The other legendary bird stares at Giratina as well, Silvally getting ready to battle the monster once more. Gladion silently wonders how Articuno got here, and who could have sent it his way so precisely.

He'll ask later, he decides.

Narrowed green eyes stare into the monster. "Maybe I could put it to sleep and let it be. I'm guessing the portal isn't closed, right?"

"Cuu."

He breathes out in relief. As long as Giratina remains there, idle before the portal is closed, nothing will go wrong. Still, why had it been pushed to the outer world like that?

Gladion releases his Yveltal and orders it to put the beast to sleep, which the legendary Pokémon of death gladly obliges to.

A lethal arrow of dark matter falls from the empty sky and strikes Giratina, shaking the ground under the trainer and the legendary bird.

The attack is weakening just enough for it to be conscious, and then fall asleep. When Gladion hears a gentle snore come from Giratina's mouth, he lets out a sigh of relief.

In a way too reminiscent of Moon, he grabs a berry and feeds it to both his Pokémon, then calls Silvally back into its Pokéball before retreating from the battlefield. Yveltal and Articuno glare each other warily as the dark-type lifts Gladion to a higher platform.

Tranquility washes over him, confident that the region is now safe from Giratina's rampage. However, he feels a matter is still left to be solved, and his shoulders stiffen.

His mind falls into a piece of information he had forgotten in his haste to get down here, and he turns to Articuno once more. "Articuno, did you notice a Nihilego roaming around here on your way to Giratina?"

Urgency is written in his frantic expression, causing Articuno to scan the air. Its eyes flash with recognition for a second before it's flying up towards the summit of the chasm, and Gladion leaps on his Yveltal.

"Follow Articuno, quick!"

The chase lasts for barely half a minute. The blue bird sets its feet at the east part of a level of the dimension and lets out a "Cuunoo!" to call Gladion's attention.

When the god and Pokémon land besides Articuno, the blond almost chokes at what he sees.

The disgruntled noise causes the boy and his Pokémon to turn from the Wormhole. Sun greets him cheekily, and Solgaleo roars out a greeting.

"For Arceus' sake, what are you doing here?"

Sun fakes an offended gasp. "Hey, no need to be a jerk about it! Solgaleo picked up a weird disruption between dimensions and we saw Articuno zooming towards Sinnoh, I thought it was an emergency, so here we are." the nonchalant god points at the pulsing Wormhole. "You don't happen to know where this came from, right?"

Gladion wouldn't live it down if he admitted that Sun had just saved him the extra work of looking for the Wormhole. He grimaces and crosses his arms. "You're butting into my mission, Sun."

"Excuse you, Solgaleo and Lunala are the only ones who can close these, and the Miss is not around here, otherwise she'd be kicking your ass back home." The vivid image deepens Gladion's frown. "By the way, she's really worried. She couldn't find you at night and started freaking out."

The blond is skeptical about this but doesn't let his concern show for the sake of Sun not teasing him about it. "Now, how do you know that?"

Sun's laid-back demeanor is wiped off by a rare serious look. "Me and the Miss have rather uncanny means of communication. We watch over each other. Her sleep's perturbed lately."

Sighing, Gladion crosses his arms even tighter, as if his own touch would slow down the erratic beat of his heart. "She has nothing to worry about," he says sternly. Undoubtedly trying to hide the effect of his words too hard. "I have already taken care of Giratina."

Sun whistles. "I supposed you did. I heard a lot of noise coming from down there."

Teeth gritted, his left hand shakes in impatience. "You could have gone down there and helped out a little, you know."

"I knew you'd be fine," he answers, another grin curling at the corners of his lips. "Wouldn't wanna butt into your mission, as you said."

Him and Moon's attitudes are too similar for his taste.

Sun coughs. Gladion looks to his side.

"Anyway, I saw a pretty beaten up Nihilego around here and took care of it. I was hoping to see you before closing this Wormhole."

The blonde swears he will rip his head open for being so slow on the uptake, mostly because he is itching to go back home. "Then do it already!"

With a wave of his hand and a smile, Sun commands the Solgaleo to carry out its duty and with a flash, the Wormhole slowly closes up. Sun stumbles on his feet a little but Solgaleo is there to catch him, weakened as well.

The Pokémon lets out a small cry and sits down on its feet. Sun strokes its mane. "It closed the Wormhole with its own energy. It's growing fast." The boy wordlessly leans against Solgaleo for support. "We just closed the portal and I'm already tired. The Miss had to open a portal and close it. No wonder she didn't make it."

"I don't need an explanation." He puts his hands on his hips. "Not one so specific, at least."

"Hm." Sun gives Gladion a teasing smile, seeing through the grumpy façade. "No wonder the Miss didn't send you any help. Are you still upset about that day?"

The deadly god dedicates him two more seconds of his time with a deadpanned glare, then turns back to mount on his Yveltal and fly upwards. Sun, still peachy, calls Solgaleo into its Pokéball and hops on his Ho-Oh to follow his friend.

"You don't need to be such a prick about it! I'm just a concerned friend!" They stop their chase on the first floor and Gladion is still giving him his back. "What the heck does the Miss see in you?"

"What was that?"

"Nothing!" Sun walks closer to his friend and Gladion finally turns around, a hand over his fringe. "Stop giving me that face. Serious talk, are you still bothered about all that?"

Finally, releasing a sigh, Gladion shoves his hands into the pockets of his coat. He paces to the edge of the floating platform of earth. "I already talked about this with her."

"But you still look all angry and grumpy about it."

"Well, I don't really like somebody having to take the blows for me and literally collapse because of me."

"If it had been me you'd have been clapping your hands."

"I'd be doing that now if anything."

Sun puffs his cheeks in a way that reminds him of Lillie, and the notion makes his shoulders relax. He still refuses to look at Sun, though.

When the Daytime God gets over his little charade, he knits his eyebrows in his direction. "Is this some sort of pride issue? Is being pulled out of a fight for your own good that much of a big deal?"

That's when Gladion guesses Sun has totally misinterpreted everything.

"The fuck? No!" Gladion isn't one to swear that often but when he does, it's always in a fit of either confusion or anger. "It's irritating, but it's not like I wouldn't have done the same for any of you."

"Aw, Gladion. Be careful, you're starting to care about me."

If looks could kill, Sun would be ten feet below the ground now. At least Moon didn't take advantage of those rare moments of sincerity for a good joke's sake.

Sun catches the hint and drops the tease. "You must truly care for the Miss, then." His features melt into that of a soft smile. "She's really worried about you, too."

"She shouldn't be." He says defensively, the thought of Moon fretting over him again sending his heart on a frenzy. The notion of her having nightmares because of panic not sitting well within him. "I'm fine."

Behind Gladion, Articuno opens its beak. "Cu-noo, cu."

Sun has a finger tucked under his chin, looking at the bird. "I'm guessing the Miss sent this big boy after you. She's a bit impulsive, sometimes."

The god rubs under the bird's beak and it bats its wings in glee. The thought of this creature belonging to Moon hadn't occurred to him but of course, it makes sense. "She… shouldn't have."

"Sending an Articuno after you? You must have really worried her, even if it was for nothing. She doesn't like things going wrong, so any help she can give counts for her."

"Cu-no." The blue legendary agrees, apparently.

The current situation is starting to look like a joke's setting, so Gladion just nods in agreement and decides to change topics, much to Sun's chagrin.

"People in Celestic Town told me that Giratina was kidnapping people, and I guess it brought them here." A few seconds of thought ensued. "I'm guessing Nihilego was what caused Giratina to appear so suddenly."

Sun agrees immediately. "Could there be any villagers hiding around here? Maybe Giratina was just protecting them from the Ultra Beasts."

Gladion sighs, arms crossed as he overlooks the depths of the abyss. Sun crouches by his side, peering over as well.

"I guess it's not the first time I have seen legendaries react to Ultra Beasts like this. Giratina is just a guardian of this region, after all." One of his hands twitches. "We could scan the area just in case. This place is terrifying, more so for humans than us."

"Teamwork? You truly are flattering me today, Gladion."

The blond gives him a full-on glare. "And you are taking too many pleasures in being so casual, considering you almost pissed your pants the first time we met."

The sun's guardian is whining as Gladion jumps on his Yveltal. Articuno gets ready to help and the former couldn't be any happier about having a memento of Moon by his side.

"There's no need to be so mean!"

"Then get moving!"

Sun pouts at his friend as he hops on top of Ho-Oh, and with hushed orders, the god grumbles to himself with an annoyed expression.

"I bet you pissed your own when you met the Miss–"

A dark beam of energy flashes past Sun and he zips his mouth shut for the rest of the mission.

Chapter Text

Articuno is the one to greet her as she wakes up one evening. It nibbles on the edges of her dress and cheers when her eyes flutter open to the eternal moonlight in her lair.

It takes her a solid minute of groggy processing to catch on, and when she does, Moon bolts out of her bed, skipping the stones of her spring and dodging trees on the way to her pond.

The legendary creature flies above her, following the clamor of her heart as Moon's expression breaks into a progressive smile. She doesn't watch where she's going, she only sees the clearing getting closer and closer.

It's been two and a half weeks of sleepless nights and the thought of seeing him makes her stomach burst with Butterfree. Her lungs can't quite catch air and she is breathing way too quickly.

Moon is overjoyed.

When she stumbles into the field, nothing greets her. The silence of the pond wraps around her like a blanket of bitterness that, for a second, fools her. She thinks that maybe, Articuno just had not found Gladion.

Maybe she had just rushed over for no reason.

But then she hears steps, coming towards her lair. Familiar rhythm, known strength in the step and familiar voices filling the air faintly under the cover of the pond's water.

A hand on the handle to her cage. She holds her breath.

A stunning Lillie comes into the lair, hair pulled into her signature ponytail. Her Vulpix yips along and the blonde waves at her with a sheepish smile. Moon also greets her, beginning to build her everyday smile to hide her disappointment. She wouldn't dare make Lillie feel underappreciated for a stupid–

Familiar steps again.

Moon's eyes widen like saucers as Gladion comes from behind Lillie and when their eyes meet, time seems to stop.

Nothing exists: the water, the trees, the shocked blonde as she sees her brother run towards Moon and they meet halfway in an affectionate hug, Moon jumping on him with a beaming grin of her own.

Gladion lifts her in the air a little and she curls her arms around his neck. His arms wrap securely around her waist and a hand finds nestle in her unkempt tresses. Her warmth takes over him immediately, her tranquility and her light.

He has missed it so much he, for a moment, thought he wouldn't make it back from Giratina's lair to see her again.

He doesn't want to let her go again.

They eventually do part, however, as she presses her hands against his shoulders and smiles earnestly. "And here I was, thinking you would take an eternity to come back."

Gladion shares a private chuckle with her. "Sorry it took so long."

Shaking her head, she dismisses his worries with an easy smile. "Just got a bit silent around here," Moon tries to take lead off their secretly needed meeting, as if this was just another casual encounter, "but I'm happy to see you safe and sound."

As his eyes melt under her joking happy-to-see-you-again-mate smile, he notices things are floating on her hair, her shoulders and his, he discovers. "What– what are these?"

"Lillie taught me how to make little flower adornments in my hair. They just… sort of float around when I'm very altered."

Gladion smirks. His fingers press against the small of her back. "Oh? Did you miss me that much?"

Her expression turns into a short-lived frown before erupting into a fit of smiles and choked giggles. "Shut up, don't get cocky."

And they melt into peaceful silence again, not quite letting of of each other. Her fingers feel for the texture of his vest, just as his muse over the fabric of her dress. Her smile makes peace and giddyness spiral out of control within him.

Even he, who is nothing sort of romantic or so openly affectionate, can't help himself when he's around her. It's like his heart is falling right into place.

She mirrors his smile – affection, relief, a pinch of mischief, a balance of mirth, it's all there as he left it. Gladion forgets how to breathe momentarily, taking in everything he hasn't been able to reach all these days, wanting to pull her closer, to take her into his arms again–

"Ahem."

The duo sharply turn their eyes to see Lillie coughing into her hand. An innocent smile, corners twitching close to a smirk, adorns her face. "Sorry to break the mood. I was just hoping to have a proper meeting, you know."

When all her words catch him and he feels mortification, shame and embarrassment seep into his very being, he abruptly lets go of Moon and a set of small curses sips through his lips in his annoyance, shoving his hands into his pockets and strouting in Lillie's direction in a very Gladion-ish fashion.

Lillie nods with a smile and when she turns away from him, Gladion can tell that she's almost cackling to herself. She will never let him live this down, and will never hear the end of it. A thousand exaggerations of his face when he hugged her will chase him like a Minccino and a Skitty.

He hears steps beside him and Moon is looking at him with an understanding smile. "I like hugs. And I'm happy to see you as well."

Such is his relief to hear her speak that he audibly sighs. Her words are warm like honey, melting all of his worries away, and he truly has to wonder when she began having this cathartic effect in his life.

He suddenly remembers the souvenirs tucked in his bag and he prays to Arceus that all he brought is still in one piece.

Gladion stops walking. Lillie is at a reasonable distance to not see the exchange, so he rummages through his backpack (which is heavy and he just didn't want to discard in his haste to see her) and his fingertips feel familiar fabric.

He abruptly springs the casablancas out of their constraints and he is overcome with the brute need to just shove them into her chest and run away. Moon blinks at the gift, almost gawking, hands in front of her in surprise. She looks from the bouquet to him, questioning his actions and, most importantly, his reasons.

Giving her the ghost of a smile, he hands her the bunch of flowers, all wrapped in delicate white fabric. "It's my offer for protecting me from the dangers of Mount Coronet. A lady told me a certain goddess liked these flowers and that she'd shelter me from any harm."

His words shrink the more he speaks but the serious gratitude never fades from his eyes. The girl gives him a cheeky smile, aware of the many meanings behind his gift.

"My, Gladion," Moon smiles into her bouquet, hiding her healthy blush between the flush flowers. "it would seem as if you are worshipping me."

He doesn't have the heart to say he isn't bowing down to her with his offer, but maybe the smile he gives her as she counts the flowers is proof enough.

 

 


 

His enchantment and glee about coming back don't last that long.

"You taught Lillie how Pokémon battles work?"

His words are incredulous one day, something Moon hasn't heard in a long time from him. She looks at him from a side, hair tickling his shoulder in the process.

They are sitting closer than usual, his absence not out of her head just yet, just as the memory of loneliness without her makes him starve for her proximity.

Moon looks at him as if he has grown a second head. "I actually thought she knew how to battle. As you said, battles are a big part of Æther's tradition, right?"

Frowning a little, he looks at her pointedly. "You didn't answer my question."

Her eyes turn from mischievous to purely guilty. She has no need to say anything, Gladion already knows the truth. She clasps her hands in front of her and he sighs heavily.

"She just gave me a look with those big Sylveon eyes of hers! You can't deny those anything, I'm sure you know that." He wouldn't say it, but he silently agrees. His disapproval still shows in his factions. "Besides, she can handle herself just fine."

Arms crossed, he looks ahead to see a few Glaceon roaming about. Many times has he considered teaching Lillie how to defend herself without her actual powers, but either she rejected his help or their mother said that it was a ridiculous idea.

A goddess like his sister is too pure and perfect for her to taint her hands with brute practices like training, she would say. That Lillie is too innocent for all that brawling, she'd insist.

Lillie seeking Moon for help doesn't surprise him at this point. Going to visit Moon is already against the rules, so she is either deliberately sneaking out and disobeying their mother to piss her off or to drive him insane, because there is just no way Lusamine has not noticed their escapades.

Her not doing anything about it doesn't worry him. There's a lining within him that wants to think she just doesn't care anymore.

"Mother is just terribly controlling with what Lillie does. Her knowing how to make her little fox fight will land her an earful, that's for sure."

Moon suddenly moves a little to a side so she can look at him properly. The separation is minimal but he notices it regardless. "Listen, I only taught her the basics. If she goes ahead and learns more stuff on her own, that's on her."

"Can I be at ease and know you didn't encourage it?"

"I wouldn't be so sure about it." She smiles teasingly. "Lillie is a curious girl. She looked so serious when we met."

His crossed arms untangle from his chest and lie limply on his crossed legs. "What did you expect? Mother never spoke too fondly about the world outside Æther and the top part of the tower."

He carefully dodges the detail about her speaking rather… badly about Moon, something he remembers his mom used to do. He feels her shoulders tense, regardless.

Despite her very telling corporal language, Moon's eyes are clear and as neutral and charming as always. "Did she ever say anything about me?"

A question he should have seen coming. His answer comes like lightning. "Nothing I remember right now."

A hum from her. She doesn't seem satisfied by this answer, simply disbelieving. When her eyes open again, such feeling is replaced by plastic glee. "Glad to hear that. I wouldn't want to be in the naughty list of a woman as powerful as that."

Moon rises from her seat and laughs nervously. Tempted as he is to call her back to sit with him, he watches her go, saying nothing. A little Frillish is hovering towards the maiden of the lair and the girl carefully picks it up with a little smile.

His eyes scan the creature. It's pink with pink eyes and a pink smile drawn on it, almost too cute and too pink to not be creepy. Fins like silk wave with each of its twirls in front of Moon, who is clapping at the action for no apparent reason.

Her fingers, he notices, have small marks of treatment on them.

"Lillie also told me you have a pretty weird taste for Pokémon types."

Moon turns her head over her shoulder and the Frillish lets out a noise of questioning. Both stare at him with the same degree perplexion. Heads are tilted at the same time, a small "Frii-ii?" escaping the floating creature.

Seeing his eyes are on the Pokémon before her, Moon turns to the jellyfish creature and notion seems to dawn on her.

When she turns again, an adorable curl of her lips graces his spirit. "Lillie was also very surprised to see the many poison-types I have. Is it really that weird?"

"Considering I always see you around psychic-types and water-types, yeah, a little."

Frillish shakes its fins around and twirls again, then flies in front of its owner. "Frii."

Much to his surprise, Moon shares a small "Yes, I know, don't worry" with the Pokémon and takes out a little pill-sized berry. When the Frillish has eaten it, it lets out a little wail of pleasure and goes away.

The girl doesn't sit down again, just looks around as if she's looking for something. In her search, she still answers his silent questioning gaze as her eyes dart around. "That Frillish got stung with one of Mareanie's spikes some days ago, so I'm trying to cure it with some pills I made."

That explains a lot. His eyes still betray his surprise and they widen a little. The space by his side feels emptier and colder than earlier, he notices.

"So that's what you were using that poison for."

"What poison?"

"Lillie told me you were using poison to make some stuff, but she never specified what," he explains. "Just said you were really into poison-types and used poison for 'nifty stunts of alchemy', as she said you put it."

Moon shares an uncanny cute giggle with him that definitely doesn't make his heart squeeze. "She's not wrong. And neither are you. Poison has many kinds of applications, specially for medicine."

The expression he adopts is that of doubt and slight discomfort. "So you're using your Pokémon as experiments? I guess that's why you have so many of them?"

"Don't be ridiculous." She gives him a deadpan worth an award. "First off, no. They are like my children, my babies, the cutest creatures ever. Just look at the colors!"

He's definitely not jealous of how fondly she talks of probably some of the grossest Pokémon known to mankind. His eye twitches. Moon clears her throat and he hopes she hasn't noticed the gesture.

"Secondly." Her grin turns smug. "How is my preference for poisonous-types that weird? After all, you hold onto those artificial Pokémon of yours pretty tight."

Gladion's eyebrow twitches once more, but this time, it's out of surprise and suppressed irritation. Not at the clear tease in her voice, but rather how damn observant she has always been.

"What do you mean?" He tests the waters.

"I have a pair of eyes and a bit of instinct." Moon shrugs. "Silvally you said was a man-made Pokémon. Porygon is just too easy to guess, considering I'm a pretty good biologist." The curse he lets out at that detail makes her smile turn a little sweeter. "And you were the first one to show me a Ditto."

Much to his disdain, he can't say he doesn't remember that day. He had brought her a strange creature Sun had found in his lair and when it transformed back into a Ditto, Moon had stared in utter disbelief at the Pokémon.

Indeed, she is an excellent biologist, pharmacist and trainer. But she still didn't know what a Ditto was and he can die happily knowing that.

Gladion clears his throat. "Artificial Pokémon are still good Pokémon."

"Of course they are, don't be silly." Her light laughter still bubbles out of her throat and she is finally sitting down again. The filled space brings him immediate warmth again. "I might have actually given Lillie a Ditto, too."

A sideways glare. "You wouldn't dare."

Pure evil shows in her toothy grin. "That's something you will never find out."

And they lapse into silence smoothly. Her knees are tucked under her chin and he has an arm bent over one of his, his other slack on his limp leg. Stars twinkle above them and small Pokémon play in the pond, others are sleeping. The tickling comfort and urge to fall asleep right there and now creeps up his spine and settles in his head.

Her breathing evens out, and if he didn't know better, he'd say she has fallen asleep too.

From the corner of his shutting eyes, he can see her hands are twitching and playing with each other. Upon closer inspection, he finds her nails to be picking on some patches of skin, those he saw earlier that have marks.

The image is not only irritating, but worrying. Eyes closed, he lays a palm on top of her fidgeting hands. "Stop moving."

The girl sighs and his words have the desired effect, for she stills altogether. "It just– it stings. I'm waiting for the antidote to make effect."

"How did you even end up poisoning yourself?" His words reach him a second after he has said them and he opens one of his eyes wide. "Does it hurt?"

Moon grimaces as she itches to scratch again, biting her lip. "Not really. It was a very minor sting I got while healing a Corsola a bit ago. I took some antidote earlier, it should be a matter of minutes now."

"Just minutes?"

Moon nods. "I can't control how much time it's been since I took the medicine. But I won't be dying because of this."

The assurement is unnecessary but he silently thanks her for it. His hand remains on top of hers even after she has calmed down. Neither speak a word, though.

A small, soft sigh from his side. His fingers sneak between hers to grasp one of her injured hands, and he holds her digits up a little to inspect the damage. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"

Gladion holds her hand delicately, eyes looking over every inch of poisoned skin. "Only stings. It's hard to not try and scratch it off."

It's a lamenting thing for her to say. His thumb runs over the pricked skin with curiosity and softness. Her skin is soft under his calloused fingers and he feels the light marks of her nails' doing.

It'd be a shame for such nice skin to be damaged. He doesn't want her hands to be full of marks and bruises– even if he does think it's admirable she's strong enough to endure them. His brow is pinched in the middle, thumb gliding along her digits.

Air is knocked out of her lungs as he does the unimaginable. He gently takes her hand to him and presses a kiss on her knuckles, just as gentle as she had been with his eye scar that fateful day. A clear gesture of thistle she would have never expected from him.

Words stumble out of his mouth, at first, then roll effortlessly in a warm, low voice. "They say kisses make everything feel better, right?" A chuckle fans across her hand. "That is, if you believe Lillie's old fairytales, I guess."

And just as the contact comes, it goes.

Their entwined hands fall between them, his thumb still caressing her marks. Gently, a ghostly touch, barely there. Her heart pounds.

She can't quite say if she feels better, but she can't discern the pain through the angry beating of her erratic heart.

Warmth spreads through her cheeks, which he doesn't notice as he turns and closes his eyes, never letting go of her hand.

It takes him around ten minutes to stop moving, head pressed against the bark of the tree and she thanks Arceus his gentle ministrations have halted, or else she wouldn't make it out alive.

Her head falls on his shoulder, though, and then she buries her nose into the fabric of his coat. Scarlet blooms on her cheeks and she squeezes his hand tight.

She curses the staccato of her heartbeat. "You're so stupid…"

 


 

"Battle me."

"No."

"Battle me."

"No."

Lillie brings her hands to her hair and stifles in a groan. Moon stares, as impassive as ever, her Reuniclus bobbing up and down in the air beside her.

Gladion watches from the sapling by the pond. Moon had been looking after her recently evolved Toxapex and they had spent the evening mostly in silence. His side had been filled with stories from his time on Earth, and she had been listening patiently.

But then came Lillie, running to Moon and asking the aforementioned question.

They had been going on about it for minutes on end and Gladion just wanted it to stop.

"Lillie, what happened for you to want to battle so bad? You only have three Pokémon."

Moon whispers four but he pretends not to hear that. Lillie shakes her fists in frustration at how the other fellow goddess is dismissing her. "I just want to have some practice! How am I supposed to get good at battling without battling?"

Gladion sees right through the Lillipup eyes. The blond narrows his eyes at his sister. "Clearly not with my help, that's for sure."

Tactic ineffective, she turns to Moon again, who smiles easily at her. "C'mon Moon, it's for practice. I know you love battling!"

"I, in fact, don't."

Lillie grows frustrated at her defeat. Her answer is very true, and he knows this, but he can't help himself and ask about her refusal. "Would it be that bad to battle her? It doesn't need to be a full-on firecracker show."

"I don't think our levels are equal enough for her to learn much from me. Most Pokémon here could knock Vulpix out with one hit." She gestures at the many Pokémon around them, some evolved, some not yet.

The Life Goddess is fascinated. "Did you really train all Pokémon here?"

Moon nods. "Most of them. I gave you the ones who were easier to train." And weaker, but she doesn't say that. She redirects the topic with a thoughtful expression. "Maybe Hau could help you out with training."

Both siblings blink. "Hau?"

"Yes, one of the guards. He's usually on patrol before Sun and I fall asleep and wake up, making sure things run smoothly." A smile falls on her face, remembering her friend. "He's a real sweetheart. You'll love him."

Gladion's hand twitches. Hard. Lillie sees this and gives him a silent look. He's just so easy to read when he's altered like this.

Lillie takes a seat by her brother. "Is Hau a good trainer?"

The god glares at his sister from a side, wondering if she's looking out to torture him. The girl just smiles cutely at Moon, a smile too cute for his liking.

"Oh, totally!" Moon says. "He's slow with training because there aren't many people for him to battle with, so maybe you can help big time! He'll be delighted to have a new friend."

Gladion is no longer sure if he should be looking out for Hau being that much of a good friend or for his sister being too much of a good sport with this Hau guy. He has heard bits from Sun about Hau– a bright, happy-go-lucky boy with big dreams.

Protection isn't in Gladion's books when it comes to his sister, or at least, it has never been. Maybe time will show him what it feels like to have his sheltered sister see the light after so long.

"Do you think Hau will be around at this hour?" she asks, getting up again. Her Pokéballs rattle in her pouch as she rises up, eager to finally have a battle with someone.

"Hmm. Maybe." Her eyes dart from side to side, probably trying to remember Hau's schedule. "It's pretty early, so he must be somewhere in the halls. I wouldn't wait for much longer if I were you."

And that does the trick, for Lillie nods and zooms out of the lair like a Rapidash, leaving silence and a quiet breeze at her wake. Her enthusiasm makes Moon smile into her hand, and Reuniclus floats down to meet its trainer.

She turns for a second to look at Gladion, who is still staring off into the direction Lillie took. "I'm sorry if I awakened your sister complex," she teases, bringing Gladion back to attention. She is up now, cleaning some mud off her Pokémon. "I was just looking out for her."

The god grunts, gets up and puts his hands on his hips in disapproval. A frown sinks his expression into sour annoyance. "I don't even know this Hau guy, other than what Sun has told me about him."

"Oh, I can assure you he's a lovely guy."

"I know, you made that pretty clear." He swallows the lump in his throat down. Trying to keep his cool. Not show any emotion towards this harmless guy. "But it's not the same as meeting him face to face, you know."

She shakes her head, not looking at him. "You're saying it as if they were about to get married."

"I will hopefully meet this guy before that happens."

She chuckles again, mildly amused with his stubborn and brotherly protection. Something both knew Lillie didn't need, but would still provide.

His stare lingers on her, and his arms move to cross over his chest. His frown also prevails. "I didn't know you had met this guy, either."

Moon turns at this, now blinking in puzzlement. "I thought I told you, that's weird." Again, a few seconds of thought ensue before she lets the issue drop and continues pampering her Reuniclus. "In any case, he's a good guy, trust me. Lillie's in good hands."

But something still nags at him. He continues gazing at Moon intensely, as if she was the key to his irritation or the cause of his problem. The weight of his Pokémon within his coat's inner pockets feels heavier, somehow.

He needs to take tension off his body. "Moon."

"Hm?"

"Let's battle."

He sees her brows fall for a quick moment before it's all replaced with surprise, looking at him with wide eyes. "Gladion, I already said–"

"Again, it doesn't need to be the battle of the millennium." He takes out one of his Pokéballs, where Silvally rests. "Just some sparring. I'm sure it will be good for you to battle with somebody equally matched to you."

Her mouth curls at its corners. "Oh? Do you think you're that good?"

Her arrogance is all play pretend but he loves a good challenge from time to time. He mirrors her smirk with the same ego, albeit his is a bit truer. "There's only one way to find out, I think." Silvally's Pokéball is tossed up and down in waiting. "And I won't accept no for an answer."

Her shoulders perk up at his suggestive tone, full of determination and a little bit of something else she can't quite place. There's a thrill at the thought of battling him, so adamant and proud about his abilities.

Moon turns to her fellow Pokémon. "What do you say, Reuniclus? Are you up to the challenge? You have been mellow for a while."

It wiggles its limbs in agreement. "Ni-cluuu."

The girl turns to her challenger with a wide smirk. "Seems like my buddy here is dying to teach you a lesson." A vicious yet encouraging spark surfaces in her eyes, vibrant enough to make his body shudder in excitement. He has never seen her make such a face. "Ready?"

Gladion chuckles, almost a snicker. "I was born ready."

Silvally springs into battle, roaring as Reuniclus floats before Moon, who observes Silvally's crest with a 'o' shaped mouth. A dark tone coats the three spikes of the creature, making the girl smile knowingly.

"Dark-type, huh? You've come prepared."

Gladion gives her a smile twice as smug. "Just knew it would happen one day or another."

"I see." She smiles even wider, a hand on her hip. "Let's see what you got, Gladion."

The death harbinger shoots an arm forward. "Silvally, use Multi-Attack!"

But Moon is quick to shout back. "Reuniclus, use Focus Blast!"

The floating creature is much lighter and faster than the artificial being, watching as Reuniclus charges up a ball of power and throws it at its opponent. The whirl of light and power makes a noise resembling a comet as it prepares its landing on Silvally.

Gladion gulps, looking at the seemingly innocent girl who watches the scene with a big smile.

Well, fuck.

 


 

Neither Pokémon are defeated due to the trainers' prior agreement, but Gladion is very sure that if it weren't for those rules, Moon would have beaten his ass really bad.

When he calls Silvally back to its ball and Moon is tending Reuniclus' wounds, he stares at the serene woman with utter bewilderment. "So you can fight."

"Of course I can."

"But you held back," he wonders, almost a question he needs no answer for.

"Of course I did," she responds. Reuniclus lets out a noise of glee Gladion can't really understand. "We agreed this was just a spar. I didn't want Reuniclus to knock anybody out. Even if it could."

"Clu," the Pokémon agrees.

Which she could. By a big margin. Having seen how fierce she had behaved during the battle against Guzzlord, that big smile and passion in battle he had just seen was barely a trace of what she could truly do.

Just as he thought at the start: tranquil tactics, some risky moves here and there, and total trust with her Pokémon. A good trainer. Just as able as him, if not more.

"Heh." He lets himself hit the ground and his back falls on the plush grass. "You're a weird cookie, you know. You could have easily taken advantage of the situation. But you didn't."

"It was terribly naïve of you to think I wouldn't be prepared for this day, you know."

"You were the one who looked very surprised upon seeing Silvally with a dark-type disk."

Moon lets Reuniclus go and it squeals before shooting to the sky. Gladion watches it fly around, free. The view is blocked by a pouting Moon looking down at him from above. "I just thought you'd never ask! I thought Sun had scared you away."

He blinks at her incredulously. "You are pure evil, you know."

"Says you."

Unable to counter-attack her reply, he stays quiet. She still peers over him with a pout that is slowly turning into a teasing smile.

"You also need to tell me why Silvally is in that cute pink Pokéball that your sister seems to like so much–"

That's the last straw for him, and with a swift move of his body, he grabs her shoulders and tackles her to the ground to make her shut up and not embarrass him any further, and before she can even begin to question his sudden move, his hands travel to her sides and her eyes widen in fear.

His fingers wiggle, tickle her sides and Moon erupts into a fit of giggles that reels out a cackle of his own. Her feet pound against the grass and she tries to push him away but all is to no avail.

As her body vibrates violently under his, he moves his hands faster to torture her further. His guess about her had been completely by chance but boy hasn't he found a goldmine. "Will you ever shut up, huh? Will you?"

"S-Sto-ohop!" she chokes out, head thrown back as she laughs hysterically at him. Her laughter fills his ears like bells, the tingling noise sending goosebumps all over his body. Her cheeks are splashed with pink and he presses against her hands as she tries to shove him off.

Gladion smirks as the once serene and peaceful goddess thrashes and tosses under his hands. "Will you stop being such a tease, then? No jokes?"

His voice is completely drowned under the loud, hysterical noise of her laughter but she seems to hear him nonetheless, for she nods frantically as she shakes from side to side. "I-I promise! Ju-Just sto-op!"

"You just love making me all flustered, eh?" He tickles her harder. "Embarrassing me!"

"I-It's not– Arceus, Gladi–!" She squirms between fits of laughter.

"What is it?" He sticks his tongue out and he swears tears are falling down her cheeks. "Hmm? I can't hear you!"

Gladion is aware that he's just being mean and that tickling his fellow goddess neighbor is just a collateral effect of her being such a smart-ass.

"I-I won't, I pro-promis-ee!"

Her words dissolve into incoherent babbling before he stops his actions and lets her breathe, a frown decorating his clear expression. "That will teach you not to mess with me, you're just too reckless."

Moon pants and little pearls of spasmodic laughter spill over her lips. "I already said… I was sorry."

His lips form a thin, straight line. "Yeah, right, sure. You're a bad liar, Moon."

Her hands wobble to wipe some stray tears away from her cheeks and when the mist clears from her hysteria-stricken face, all that's left is surprise at how close he is to her. Gladion seems to notice as well, for his shoulders twitch and he blinks repeatedly.

She is dangerously close to him, or rather, he is leaning far too close for what is considered acceptable. He is in trouble, he knows. From the way her chest rises and falls to the halo of her hair, he's mystified.

The twinkle in her eyes, the individual eyelashes on her eyelids, the sheen spread over her lips, turning them pink and so inviting.

Oh no.

Her breathing goes from ragged and erratic to molten and tranquil underneath his body. He watches her swallow a gulp and blink repeatedly. "Am I?"

If it weren't for the fact that he was trying to keep himself stoic and collected, he would have lost track of his last words. How is it fair she can speak so clearly and he feels he can't utter a single comprehensible word without tying his throat into a knot?

Their breaths fall into a rhythm, a pattern of similarity. His eyes bore into hers, counting the small dots of black and the sparkles that the stars provide. He longs to touch her skin, to know how warm her cheeks could possibly feel under the cover of her angry flustered blush.

She is so close. Too close. But also too far. A need to close the distance blooms within him along with a spark that had not been there before.

Or maybe it had, but he just never noticed it.

Her eyes are fluttering close, shy teeth coming to bite on her lower lip. He wonders if she wants it just as bad as he suddenly wants it, too.

Gladion leans not even an inch closer. He hesitates.

"Guys!"

A door slams open and Gladion abruptly leaps away from Moon and crawls at least ten feet away from the flustered and disoriented goddess, who sits up to see Lillie running towards them without a clue of what had just happened.

Or rather, what had been about to happen. But it hadn't happened.

Moon cannot even put it into words, everything a blur, and before she can even wrap her head about it all, Lillie starts speaking. "Guys, Hau is like, the coolest guy ever! We fought for a while and he's so strong and talented!"

The blonde is only looking at Moon and Gladion can't thank Arceus enough for that, because his current state is anything but look-worthy, face a blushing mess and panting as if he had just ran a marathon.

The goddess smiles at Lillie, voice breathy. "Really?"

"Yes! He is like– Gladion?" She watches as the blonde begins to move and he's suddenly on his feet, brushing grass blades off his coat. "Gladion, where are you going? I just got–!"

Rushing past his sister, he can only manage out a stuttered and flustered response, "You can tell me later! See you!"

Lillie watches him go, blinking hard and for long at his sudden and disorderly departure. "Huh, that's strange." The blonde begins to turn towards her friend, smiling. "I guess something came up?"

But when she looks at her friend, Moon is lying on the grass, hands over her face to cover a crimson blush that has taken over her entire face and ears, groaning under her breath and kicking her feet in a very telling manner.

Not to mention the very obvious hint of his cologne that permeated everywhere around the girl, the very flustered girl.

"I interrupted something, didn't I?"

"Ughhhhh."

 

 

Chapter Text

Gladion does not even dare approach her lair for the following weeks. Mortification keeps him rooted in his office and the harsh pounding of his heart is what keeps him alive.

Lillie watches him from the doorway of his office. "Brother, you're just being a baby about this."

He about throws all his papers into the air and leans back into his leather chair. He pinches the bridge of his nose, clearly bothered by this. "You don't understand, Lillie."

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be here right now." Her shoulder leans on the wooden frame of his doors, expectant. "What even happened? Moon refuses to tell me and so do you."

He stretches his arms and cranes his neck around. His workload has been admittedly harsher than usual, both thanks to his mother and his ruthless working regime. And he partly believes it's because of Moon but he refuses to admit that. "That's because it's none of your business."

"It's been a long time since you last said that. I'm starting to think it might be my business when a friend and my brother aren't seeing each other anymore." The god looks at her for a pair of seconds, then sighs. His head is thrown back to look at the ceiling. "Did you two, I don't know, have a fight?"

Oh, Lillie knows this awkward self-imposed stupid distance hadn't been because of that. Moon doesn't blush over anything– in fact, Lillie has never seen her blush, she thinks.

"Lils, are you sure Moon didn't tell you anything?"

"Absolutely."

But by her tone, Gladion wants to believe she actually knows and that he will not be forced to tell her, because Arceus knows how insistent Lillie can be. If she asks for something, she will just kick her feet until she gets it.

Judging by her posture and the little frown of her eyebrows, she is there to stay. Gladion groans, then gives his chair a little spin, thoughtful. Giving her a look, he thinks carefully if he should tell her. His sister stares expectantly, knowing she almost has him where she wants him.

Then, Gladion groans.

"We almost kissed."

"I knew it!"

Cursing, he throws his weight back to the table and places his head on the mahogany desk, headbutting it repeatedly in search of patience. Little murmurs escape his mouth, some threatening, some not as much.

He should have seen it coming but he hadn't because Lillie butting into the subject had never come to mind. She has never been this nosy, but it appears she now has a reason to be so.

"I swear to Arceus Lillie if you tell anyone–"

The girl giggles against her mouth, almost a tease on its own. "I won't! I'm just surprised. I never thought of you to be a casanova."

Gladion looks up from his self-loathing corner to grumble. "It was an accident–"

The girl smiles it off, a smile too wide to be innocent. "Of course, an accident." If there is any time Gladion hates Lillie's new knack for teasing, it has to be now. "In all seriousness now, what exactly happened?"

"It just did. Don't ask me about it." The memory sparks a dim blush all over his cheeks. He buries his face between his arms again. "Ugh. I wanna vomit."

Lillie dismisses his statement and closes the double doors behind her. She treads to his desk and sits on one of the seats before it. "Don't be mean. And tell me what truly happened, don't be a coward about it now."

Green eyes peek from his paperwork and his crossed arms. "Why are you so nosy?"

"Just trying to help a pair of dumbos out." She beams as she says this.

Goddammit.

Where is he even supposed to begin? Can he describe how it had just been a spark, a fire, something that he had not expected to feel yet he had and now he is utterly embarrassed over it? Gladion, the God of Death himself, blushing because he is having thoughts and memories about his dear fellow goddess.

He gets out of his arm nest and leans back in his chair again. The seat creaks under his weight. "I was…" He is going to lose what little respect she has for him left. "tickling her and it just– it almost happened, okay? The position was just indecent."

Lillie's eyes widen as she hears him speak. "You were–"

"Say it again and I'll set these soul charms on fire."

His threat is terribly empty, so she takes the opportunity to smile even wider. "What prompted it, though? Were you two having a brawl?"

Gladion shakes his head, what little anger he felt diminishing slowly. "No, she just won a Pokémon battle."

"So she battled you!" The blonde exclaims, displeased and making a face to the wall to her right. Her arms cross tightly around her chest. "The audacity. She pushed me away so hard!"

"Lils, she gave you very logical reasons. She had a point."

"Says the one who ran away from his crush after almost kissing her."

A pencil is chucked her way and she dodges it almost barely. Its end is so sharp it makes a small mark on the wall behind her.

Gladion's left hand twitches as he watches the pencil hit the floor, and he gets up abruptly to grab a glass of water. "This is none of your business, Lils."

"But you haven't denied anything I said." She points an accusing finger at her brother, who doesn't seem to catch on. His back visibly tenses, however. "You do like her."

The tap filling his glass is the only thing that makes noise in the burgundy room. His back is to her. His coat is on a hanger now, giving view to his twitching shoulders and his shaking hand.

Out of habit, he grabs his wrist to stop that habit of his. "Again, none of your business."

That's all confirmation she needs, and the girl looks at her brother with affection. Elbow on the desk, she presses her cheek on her palm. "I should have known. You have always been so defensive of her."

Between gritted teeth, he speaks as he grabs his glass of water. "What sort of friend would I be if I didn't defend her from the stuff Mother said about her when we were little?"

The tease is easy for her, seeing her brother so shy and flustered about this matter. She lets it pass, though. Seeing the God of Death so thoughtful and messed up because of some childish drama is extremely entertaining. Gladion is just too collected and busy to have time for romance.

But it turns out romance is the only thing to get under his skin. Very few things rile him up this badly, one of them being Pokémon battles and the other being his family. Sometimes, it's about his job. And now it's about Moon.

"You're right. And I'm sorry I was so hesitant about her before getting to know her. It was… very judgemental of me."

Kindhearted as she is, Gladion has always known Lillie likes to follow her heart in matters like these. In this case, her first impressions had been severely misguided by Lusamine and her stories during their rocky upbringing.

"It's fine. I know Mother influenced you a lot in that department." Lillie nods solemnly. "And I know Moon holds no resentment for you whatsoever."

"Do you think she knows I was… a bit skeptical at first?"

"You weren't exactly friendly with her, you know."

"But that was–"

"I know, because of Mother, but Moon doesn't need to know Mother was going around spreading these stories about her." Gladion sighs. A pen has made its way into his hand and he is tapping it against the wooden surface. "I think something must be wrong between them."

The goddess tilts her head. "What do you mean?"

"Why would Mother spread those lies about Moon? Maybe there was a feud between them at some point. But Moon didn't tell me anything about that anyway…"

He stares off into the sea of papers before him and sits down on his chair once more. His body falls unceremoniously on the chair with a thud and he groans as his muscles groan in complaint.

Lillie watches his expression shift from thoughtfulness and very subtle adoration to pure irritation. It's mesmerizing. "You know, this is very cute."

Gladion gives her a sideways look. "Define cute."

"I don't know, I think it's… so unexpected for you to do all these things." She ignores his remark wisely. "I have never seen you move around for somebody like this, or fight for them, or go out of your way to get them flowers–"

He almost chokes with his water. "You saw that?"

"– After all, you have always acted a bit uncompromising with everything." Lille gives him a happy smile nonetheless. "I'm very proud of you, Brother."

He takes a sip of water to calm his sore throat, then stares at her for long. Lillie thinks he might be angry about her saying the truth, but he looks too calm to be hiding any sort of bitterness towards her.

"You know, Silvally evolved when we went to rescue you from that Nihilego. Don't say I haven't fought for anyone before."

Lillie smiles politely at him. "I didn't mean it like that. But I saw how you behaved when Moon was in that little coma after the battle against Guzzlord. Sun told me you went insane over Moon putting herself on the frontlines."

His hand curls into a fist, recalling the painful memory and scowling at the image burnt between his eyes. "How else was I supposed to react? She jumped out there and protected all I couldn't, at the time."

"And you have grown thanks to that," Lillie admits, reminiscing in how much he beat himself over the defeat. How he fought to get stronger. How he wanted to become strong enough to protect everyone.

"If I hadn't grown, then it would have been a problem."

They share a small chuckle, in her case more of a giggle. The latter is only interrupted by a sudden realization.

"Oh, you totally changed the topic in your favor!" Lillie puffs her cheeks in disapproval. "That's so very rude of you. I'm not going to let the subject with Moon drop, you know."

That is until a beep comes to his phone and Lusamine quickly informs him of things that need to be done, which Gladion nods to with conventional diligence. Lillie watches him grab his jacket and red gloves, face curling into stubborn and childish anger rather than actual irritation.

Gladion chuckles. "I think you'll have to wait, Lils. Work waits downstairs." He waves at her as he opens the doors open. "Don't stand there for too long or you'll grow branches and roots."

"You dummy," she mutters, then she speaks loud enough for him to hear across the hallway. "You better talk to Moon soon!"

Maybe going back to fight Giratina wouldn't be that bad, Gladion muses as he walks down the hallway, the memory of Moon, her face and the taste of her he never got haunting him.

 


 

As unexpected as it is, Gladion ends up needing more advice to confront Moon again and he resorts to the next best friend he has.

"Fancy seeing you here, Gladbag." A cheeky grin greets him and he is tempted to turn heel and bury himself in work again. "What brings you here?"

Where Moon's realm is full of silence and peaceful twilight, Sun's is all sunshine and colors. There are no limits imposed by bars or glass ceilings, but the endless blue sky painted into the air. Then there's a breeze and sand, soil and grass under Gladion's feet. A small river circles the land in a makeshift barrier, making the lair more of a floating island.

Sun is seated on top of a rock with his Rockruff eating from a pile of berries. Gladion already regrets coming here, seeing the twinkle in his friend's eyes. "Something tells me you already know what I'm here for."

The little knowing smile plastered on Sun's face widens considerably. "Oh? I detect major edge in your voice, Glad."

"Please stop it with the nicknames."

"Only when you stop glaring at me like that. It's not my fault you have so many love troubles lately."

The accusation stills him in place. His back tenses into a stiff rod. "Did Lillie tell you?"

"Nope, the Miss did. Sorta." Ah, that unconventional communication of theirs. "But it's good I'll have somebody to talk about this with."

Well, what a grave oversight, he thinks. His eyebrows pinch in disdain, he hates being thrown into this light but he steps deeper into Sun's realm regardless, taking a seat on a rock close to Sun's.

The other god watches his friend sigh so heavily it's as if he's carrying a rock twice his size on his shoulders. "Is it that bad?"

The blond looks at him as his back hits the surface of the stone. The warmth does little to calm his nerves, more used to the chill temperature in his counterpart's lair. "I'm here and you know what happened. That's how bad it is."

"It's not like I know the full details," Sun admits, prompting a small sideways look from his friend. "But she just has these memories that play over and over in her sleep. Giving you more details would just be an invasion of privacy."

Gladion fights to keep his blush at bay. "Those powers are invasive as they are on their own, spare me the rest."

"I only do it when I feel she's in a pinch, don't call me a delinquent."

"Whatever," he sighs, an expression of dismay soaking his eyes. "Is she okay?"

"You can go check on her yourself if you are so worried." Rockruff lets a small bark of attention and Sun leaps down to pick it up. "It's not like she's gonna bite you. Unless you're into that."

The growl Gladion lets out is unsightly. "Shut up, Sun."

It's not like Sun and him are best friends, but over time, Gladion likes to consider him more of an acquaintance instead of a friend, given their lack of things in common. It's to be expected that Sun disagrees with that perception, but he is constantly disagreeing with anything Gladion says, because 'he is too edgy to even know what a friend is'.

At least he has - or had - Moon to go against that point now.

The Daylight God chuckles and leaps onto the rock again with Rockruff under his arm. "It's just super fun to tease you like this. You don't get to see a flustered Gladion very often." He pets his Pokémon and then turns his full attention on the matter. "Are you here for advice?"

Truth be told, not even Gladion knows what he is there for. There came a moment when he just got sick of looking over tasks and he headed to the tower's attic to practice hand signs and get a bit into the language of soul charms.

But that didn't work. Books that spoke of moonlight and stars earned one of them to catch on fire, then another to be thrown across the library. His hand has calmed down by now but Sun's jokes will make it shake again.

So, what is he there for?

He starts speaking.

"I have no idea what even happened or why I thought it was okay to get that close. It's not like myself to be that… touchy. Why did I think it was a good idea to even try to kiss her?"

The hypothetical question lingers in the air. Sun tries to remember what Moon's memories had looked like. "But you didn't try, really, did you?"

Gladion sits up suddenly, almost scaring Rockruff off Sun's rock. "I didn't, but I'm convinced she knows I wanted to. She closed her eyes, she–" He interrupts himself as he notices his hand is shaking at the memory and grabs his wrist. "Arceus, this is bad."

Sun watches his friend unravel as he bathes in the memory of their failed kiss and the other god can't help but imagine how he will react if he ever gets to kiss her for real.

"Gladion, you're overreacting." The blond turns sharply to look at his friend, glaring. "Are you nervous because you almost kissed her or because you actually didn't get to?"

His back curves forward as he tries to control the spasming of his hand, throwing the memories of her to the basement of his conscious. "Obviously because we almost kissed."

Sun's gaze narrows. "So you didn't want to kiss her?"

"That's not my point."

"Ruff?"

"I agree." Sun pats his dog Pokémon and it nuzzles his hand in response. "Then what's the deal? It can happen to anybody, it was an innocent accident."

Oh, Gladion knows it hadn't been quite an accident. He had been the one to initiate contact, to tickle her, to get so close. He had begun to lean in before Lillie barged in and, if it hadn't been for that distraction, things would have ended pretty differently.

Sun watches pink spread all across Gladion's features and snickers. "So, not that much of an accident, I see." The other makes no attempt to deny it. "I should have known you had a thing for her. I have never seen you freak out so bad over somebody in my life."

He doesn't refuse that, either. He just covers his burning hot face with his hands and groans loudly, much to Sun's amusement.

"Why are you that embarrassed over it? It's pretty obvious you like her. I thought you'd be happy you guys almost kissed."

The blond uncovers his face and frowns at Sun, irritation painted on his eternal frown once more and it's like the sun has been covered with clouds. "I… don't want things to change between us."

Sun almost falls off his rock in his shock, seeing his friend sigh and contradict basically everything he seems to want. "What? Why not!?"

"Moon and I are completely different individuals." Sun murmurs bullshit and Gladion lets that pass. "And I'm not that much of an emotional lightweight. After all, my job is not easy on the heart. And I'm very busy. And we're fine as friends and comrades like this."

The black-haired boy lets two seconds pass, thinking that maybe Gladion will think about what he just said and take it back. But he doesn't, albeit the clear remorse weighing down his shoulders and knitting his brows into an ugly scowl.

"That sounds more like a list of excuses, not reasons." A glare pierces Sun through the soul but he shrugs it off. Gladion can't intimidate him that much anymore. "You're telling me you don't want to be with her but you are constantly on your knees for her? How dumb do you think I am?"

"It sounds ridiculous but I don't think it would work. We don't even have the same sleeping patterns." Which she had told him when they first met. A clear sign of trouble, he realizes.

"Then if you don't want to be with her," his voice is that of mockery and Gladion grits his teeth over it, "which I'm sure is a lie, then why are you still this flustered over it?"

"Because kissing her never crossed my mind," He covers his fringe with his hand, "and I can't stop thinking about it now."

And that's completely true, because while they had shared kisses in the past – one on the brow, one on her hand – it had all been platonic and a gesture of politeness, all product of chivalry his mother had shoved into his brain at a very young age.

Surely their kisses weren't conventionally platonic, but for him, it had been all a matter of care and they were gestures of respect towards their vulnerability.

But whatever had gone down between them that day had been so much different. Its intensity had been far from chivalrous, nothing innocent. Their eyes had connected in a way so twisted and delicious. Lips so teasing, her touch so inviting.

Gladion has never felt that fire. The gentle tickling of his heart, like a bomb set to explode. And he can't stop going over that little moment as his life depended on it.

Because he loves her and those reasons he is so holy-grailish about are crumbling at the thought of being with her. Hugging her, meeting her without stupid and fake reasons, being how he wants to be with her.

He hasn't realized Sun is now sitting right by him and staring hard at his face as it transitions from stressed pseudoheartbreak to utter softness. When he catches himself on the act, Gladion avoids his gaze.

"If you love the Miss so much," Gladion is about to deny it but Sun stops him with a pointed look. "Then you need to stop denying what you feel about her. Because it's obvious you like her, don't you?"

"I never denied it."

"But you are still flying away from your feelings as if they were going to stab you and leave you bleeding."

"That's an awfully graphic way to put it."

Sun grits his teeth at his stubborn friend. "But it's still true. Denying yourself and the Miss of being together–"

"Hypothetically."

"– hypothetically, is like rejecting her, if she feels the same." Which she very surely does, Sun thinks, but it's not his place to say. "So I will ask you one last time: you love the Miss, don't you?"

And he complained about Lillie being stubborn. Her love talk had been much more merciful than Sun's, but the latter is also closer to Moon. Gladion can't say he doesn't understand why Sun is so protective, maybe not only of the girl in question but also him, the Death God.

Hesitation, hesitation, and then, a sigh.

"I think you already know my answer."

Sun takes whatever he can get from that roundabout answer and chuckles at the now scarlet-faced god. "That's better."

"Please, shut up."

Sun could easily say Gladion has no say in what he can do when they are in his realm, but he cuts him some slack. It's not every day that the blond asks him for advice, as indirect as the request had been.

The god looks up. The sky is clear blue and some Seagull fly above their heads. A certain dry, salty scent floats in mid-air.

"The Miss is used to being lonely, so she won't be waiting for you." Such a statement comes abruptly, in the middle of a well-paced silence, and Gladion turns his eyes to his friend. "But the more you wait to visit her, the weirder it will be when you go see her again."

Gladion gives the advice a few twirls, bites the inner side of his cheek and bites his tongue as his first instinct is to reject the advice, to throw everything down an abyss.

"Sun."

"Hm?"

His eyes shrink in uncanny shyness. "Do you think… that maybe she wanted the kiss, too?"

The god lets out an exuberant laugh, carefree, but nothing like the melodic jingle of Moon's giggles even when the sentiment is the same.

"Oh, Gladbag," The nickname is chuckled, a tease, "if there's anyone in all of Æther Tower who wanted it, it was probably her."

A smile of relief, momentary relaxation.

Probably she had wanted just as much as him. Just probably, a careful adjective to not make early assumptions.

But it still tastes like victory.

 


 

When he finally turns up to her lair, it almost feels like nothing has happened. To him, these past two weeks without visiting are only a patch and run phase.

He walks in like nothing has happened, trying to fool himself into a fake state of calmness.

But then he actually sees her after two weeks and his heart beats fast again. He still wills himself to be calm and easy, waltz in like he always has and put his constant poker face so she cannot read into his frenzied feelings.

Her Reuniclus picks up his presence and turns around. "Cluu!" It dashes through the air to meet him and Moon turns around at this, eyes widening as he walks into the field.

Gladion had forgotten how the faux moonlight washed over her so gently, and how her eyes would widen every time she sees him. It's as if, like Sun had suggested, she hadn't expected him to come back.

His name is a sigh through her lips, and she gets up to meet him halfway. "It's been a long while, Gladion."

He had also forgotten how nice his name sounded when she said it so sweetly.

"Moon," he breathes, taking in the sight. Reuniclus bobs up and down around him, making him think that the Pokémon had for some reason missed him dearly.

Gladion reaches to pat the creature and he ends up with his hands full of goo. The Pokémon shrieks and the situation dawns on him with a relieving familiarity. Beside him, Moon bites back a smile and pries his hand off Reuniclus.

She shakes her head at him. Disbelief is all he hears from her. "You never learn, do you?"

The blond's eyes narrow in annoyance at the amusement, but whatever irritation he holds is rather short-lived. The moment she finishes appeasing the embarrassed creature, she hands him a handkerchief.

Ther fingers brush for a second but he thinks absolutely nothing of the contact.

"It's been a while since that day. Don't hold my forgetfulness against me."

A simple smile. "I won't."

The conversation ends there and it feels wrong, so, so wrong. It's tense and awkward, exactly like he never wanted it to be. She, however, is just as silent and calm as ever, pampering her Reuniclus with berries and cooing sweet words to it.

He doesn't know if her serene demeanor has always been this calm, or if it's him not wanting it to be that way. Because it feels weird for her to look like this when he feels like that.

"I've been busy lately."

He fills the silence with the worst topic imaginable. Moon's actions halt immediately. He's got her attention now.

"Things happened with a fleet of stray souls and I have been too frazzled to come by." His words are apologetic and a far-fetched exaggeration, for he doesn't want to admit that he had been scared of seeing her again.

She either chooses to believe him or genuinely buys it, nodding in understanding. "I figured. Lillie told me things were very busy up there."

Arceus isn't he thankful for having a sister so willing to cover his back. "Things got hectic. I wanted to drop by but I just didn't have time."

Moon nods again, her face no less satisfied than earlier. It feels, indeed, as if nothing had happened and maybe he was making things up. For a second, Reuniclus looks at its trainer and she nods, letting it set flight and leave their side.

"Lillie also told me you've been training a lot lately." Moon begins to walk away from him, but he stays rooted to his place. "Did anything else happen?"

Other than them almost kissing and her being so nonchalant about it right now? No. But he can't tell her that. "It's the usual training. She is just being more perceptive than usual, I guess."

Moon takes a seat right by his favorite tree. He is aware that his usual seat is available yet he doesn't want to get comfy in here yet. However, she is looking at him as if he was too far away.

He is too far away. But that's what's safe right now and that's how it will stay.

"I'm happy to know you're not overworking yourself to death, though." Her smile lingers. Gladion is acutely aware that Moon didn't smile that much when they met, yet he has gotten used to them as time has passed.

Her eyes fall close as if she has been working for a while. It is now that he wonders what she has been doing all this time. Has she been training her Pokémon, maybe brewing new potions? Has she battled someone who isn't him?

The latter is unlikely. Her distaste for the typical battles is very well known, and he's sure she would rather spend her time making potions before springing into a battle.

Is it because it's in her nature to do calm things, or does she have any other reason? He wants to think it's the former. It suddenly feels like he doesn't know her anymore, the distance between them unwanted, and the feeling sinks his heart like a stone in a river.

Not as bothered by the subtle tension between him, he walks confident strides towards her.

"Moon?" His voice is a whisper, questioning, hopeful.

When she opens her eyes, Gladion is staring down at her, crouching before her. His lips are drawn to a small smirk, almost unperceivable. A spark of rascality vibrates in his irises, daring and she can see small cuts scattered across his cheeks after days of constant battling.

She sighs almost dreamily, secretly happy he's close to her again. "Yes?"

"Let's have a battle."

Because that's the only – and the most efficient – way he knows to get rid of these unsaid words between them.

And judging by how she ends up accepting his request, she might actually feel the same.

Chapter Text

Gladion gets over his awkwardness through constant battling, the last resort he never thought would work but it does its magic very quickly. Days on end are spent with battles and bickering over who wins what. They stick to their agreement of never weakening each other's Pokémon – mostly at her request, sometimes at his – and it creates havoc between them after the battles are over.

One day, Lillie sits at the sidelines as they battle. The girl had insisted on watching so she could 'learn from the elder', which was meant to offend them both but only amused them greatly. They chalk it up to her being curious and allow her to watch at a prudent distance from the battlefield.

(And she's also very curious to see how they are handling themselves after that failed kiss, but that's something she will never admit)

Moon makes use of her Grimer and Gladion takes out his Porygon2. The match is not the most passionate one, nor the most difficult. They are constantly headbutting each other into whatever strategy they had planned and fighting for dominance in this play pretend tug-o-war.

Lillie watches, surprised, how Grimer lands a blow on Gladion's companion, tactfully deadly as to hurt but not knock the artificial being out. In the end, the blond is the defeated one and Moon takes her victory with the same impassive dry dignity as always.

She kneels down and gives her Grimer some berries and a potion to bring it back to full health. Her rival isn't pleased at all. "I still don't get it. How do you manage to not knock out my Pokémon? You aren't going easy on me, are you?"

Moon turns around in her sitting position to frown softly at him. "Don't be ridiculous. It'd be dangerous to go easy on you."

Lillie watches Gladion clasp his hands on his hips, watching his rival as she applies more potion on the toxic Pokémon. "How do you do it, then?"

The smile she gives him is knowing, almost smug but not quite because Moon is not arrogant like that. "Experience."

He still wishes he could wipe off that smile, though. As much as he is fond of Moon, he loathes losing these battles. Not because of his pride, but because he is striving to get stronger and stronger with each fight.

It's hard not to feel like he's taking steps back with each defeat, but he won't stop training. There are people he needs to protect, even if one of them is laughing evilly in a corner and the other is still smiling like that.

The smile is replaced with a quiet noise of surprise as her Grimer calls for her attention. Lillie takes this opportunity to talk to his brother in hopes of him dropping that hopelessly fake stern look of his, one that belies his anger and conveys a sea of hidden affection instead. Gladion is an open book that Lillie can read too easily.

"She won fair and square, you know."

Gladion only notices her presence now and he grumbles something under his breath, walking over to Lillie and falling right by her side under the shade of the sapling. He repeats himself like he has been doing for about a week now. "She's just lucky."

And a great trainer. "And a superb rival."

Fake-glaring at his sister, he hears her giggle and he sighs. As much as being defeated sucks, seeing Moon so happy over it also makes him secretly giddy. Her victories are always just a trace of relief and a certain pride in her slate gray eyes, but he can see the joy as clear as day.

It's all about looking in the right places.

"And you two seem to be holding up pretty well, right?"

The topic being brought up does bring some tension back to his sore muscles but it's not as bad as it used to be days ago. "It's not like there was any other option anyway."

The boy's eyes end up on the goddess again, almost by impulse. Maybe the stories about the goddess being a siren and singing to the dazzled sailors are actually true, for he watches her play with her Grimer and something warm flutters in his chest. There must be something in the air.

Lillie smirks cheekily. "You're losing your cool, brother."

Her incessant prodding into his feelings makes him equal parts uneasy, bashful and irritated. The latter shows prominently in his knit frown and the sister giggles slightly at that.

Moon is done with her Grimer and she sends it back with its friends. She is washing some muck off her hands on the pond as she addresses her friends. "Hey Lillie, have you been training with Hau lately?"

Lillie tells them about her training right away and Gladion listens carefully for a while before, while she is babbling on and on about Hau's accomplishments and how much he's helping her, Moon hears a cry in the sky.

Neither of the siblings notices the flying Pokémon before Moon is standing up to welcome it. At first, Gladion thinks it must be one of her own coming back for a patch-up, but he realizes that he hasn't seen any Fearows in her lair.

Lillie watches the bird land on Moon's arm and the girl takes a carefully wrapped paper into her hands. The blonde decides to tease her about it, and at the same time torment her observant brother. "What is that, Moon? A card from a secret admirer?"

But Gladion picks up something is wrong in the way Moon stiffens as she opens the letter, how she is quiet. She reads the message for a few seconds, unmoving. It almost looks like she is a statue in the way she stands so tall, yet so idle.

Before he can ask, Moon is grabbing a stone from the pond's border and wrapping the paper around it, then tossing the stone and letter to the pond with keen tension. "It was nothing." Her voice is breathy but when she turns around, nothing seems wrong and all signs of proverbial distress are long gone. "Just a small note. A task. Nothing worth worrying about."

Maybe he had been seeing things. His arms cross over his chest and Moon walks to sit down beside them to resume Lillie's earlier rambling. Serenity and tranquility have returned to her face, but he can register her eyes sometimes wandering around.

Something is in her mind.

Gladion can't help but wonder if the note could actually be from a secret admirer, and in the way Lillie looks at him sometimes, she knows he has fallen for the trap. When the brother catches her speaking very fondly about Hau, however, he strikes back with an easy smile. "One would say Hau has a new secret admirer too, huh?"

Lillie blushes at this so hard Moon thinks she might pass out and the field is filled with laughter.

 


 

Moon is one day awaken by Lapras swimming into her lake. She later assumes Reuniclus made it float into her lake just for the purpose of waking her up, which makes her think it must be pretty important.

So Moon walks to the meadow with a quickened pace, looking around only to find a few Budew and Roserade in a circle, looking at something on the grass. It's a rather large group, even some Cutiefly are hovering over the unknown object, letting out occasional buzzes of what Moon can distinguish as distress.

Hearing the maiden walk over, they make way for her to look at the subject in question.

Her worried expression turns into a deadpan.

Gladion lies before her, face first on the grass and limbs sprawled on the field as little Bulbasaur nip on the edges of his long black coat. His fringe is squished between his cheek and the verdant grass, making her believe he must have been exhausted beyond belief. It's unnatural for Gladion not to look after his delicate and impossible fringe.

Moon sighs and kneels down before him. She had even grabbed her handy flute in case some sleepless person needed her assistance. But no. All she got was the sleeping god on her lawn.

She pokes his cheek. He doesn't even budge. Something big falls on her pond and Lapras swims closer to the edge as Moon shakes off the water from the splash. Some residual water has also fallen on the sleeping God of Death but she pays it no mind.

"Praaas."

"I know, he's asleep." Her voice is hushed. She delicately removes the bangs off his face and the ground. "You shouldn't have woken me up for this. I thought it was urgent."

Reuniclus is perched on a branch above the sapling. "Cluu?"

"He's fine, he must have fallen asleep." Moon appreciates them worrying for the god while she was asleep but in her grogginess, she can only think it was a bit unnecessary. "You already know how he is…"

She trails off. Fingers trace the line of his hair. A little is starting to grow down the back of his neck no matter how much he insists on trimming it, but he will still want it cut to not have to bother with ponytails. His hair seems to shine under the pale moonlight, like liquid gold.

His skin is cold under her fingertips, softer than she had ever imagined. It's a kiss of snow under her hands, unimaginably cold. Has he always been this cold, this soft, and this calm when he's asleep?

A sweet smile curls her lips into adoration. "He's so dumb, sometimes."

And so cute, too. But her Pokémon don't need to know that.

Moon carefully holds his shoulders to flip him around so he can breathe properly. He is a bit heavier than she had anticipated but he still lies easily on her lap, head on her legs so she can inspect his body better.

There are no wounds, no cuts and nothing that gives any fight away. For a second, she had thought that he had been injured in a battle or at least hit by something bad.

He had probably just fallen asleep there in a whim. She sighs.

"Pra, praas."

"I'm not going to do that. He's just tired probably, no need to give him potions or whatever." Leave it to her Pokémon to make her think he had been poisoned. She absent-mindedly looks for poison bites. "He has no scratches, no way he has gotten hurt."

"Pras?"

"Yes, I'm certain." The Pokémon claps its thick fins and starts swimming off, satisfied.

The girl, however, is left a bit worried about her friend's state. He looks at peace but nothing says he is not injured somewhere.

And she cannot let anybody get hurt again.

Biting her lip, she beckons Reuniclus to come. "Check his wrists and ankles, just in case some angry Yungoos has given him a nasty bite."

Reuniclus is, at times, an excellent nurse. Moon rarely requires its help to attend injured Pokémon, but she has never taken care of a person before and she needs all assistance she can get.

As the creature gently lifts his sleeves, Moon puts her hands on each side of his face and presses gently. Pale blue light mixed with green plays with his hair and seeps into his skin, looking for any injuries around his body.

She bends down to see if there is any damage being discovered, but nothing comes up. Reuniclus, however, lets out an alarmed cry. "Cluu, cluu-nii!"

"On his arms?" The gooey arm lifts Gladion's sleeved limb and Moon finds a few wounds there, which have been poorly wrapped with bandages and are still bleeding. Reuniclus helps the bandages come undone with its powers and bite marks come to view. Crimson liquid bleeds profusely and soaks his sleeve.

Moon gasps at the gushing wounds and applies more pressure on his temples and cheeks. "Reuniclus, I need you to grab my pouch at the springs, can you do that?"

The creature bobs up and down in affirmation and zooms out of sight, leaving Moon alone with the god. The blood now falls on the grass and taints the green blades slowly. She focuses more magic on her hands and she focuses on his cuts and bite marks.

She can feel her power branching through his system and reaching his arms, where the blue and green mist tries to heal the little wounds and bruises. Her forehead falls on top of his, lips brushing with his platinum hair.

"You're such an idiot, coming here like this," she mumbles. Her voice is impossibly concerned, a whisper on deaf ears. "Stupid, stupid god."

What surprises her the most is how he is breathing steadily, his hands are not shaking and his body doesn't seem to be in pain. She wonders if he is used to the pain, or maybe he is not aware of his wounds at all. Judging by the bad work at wrapping himself up, she just thinks he is a dumbass.

His breathing is steady against her murmurs. His skin is just as soft, he is the same boy she has always known but there is a certain level of white noise that blocks perception out, focused on his body only.

This is an extremely draining practice but she can't look after herself when he could be in pain. Reuniclus comes back with her pouch and drops it by her side, but Moon doesn't notice the creature until it's looking at Gladion's arms and wailing. "Nii!"

"I know, shh!" she hisses as the creature insists on Moon stopping. A pant escapes her lips and blows against his hairline. "Are the wounds closing?"

"Cluu."

"Good," she breathes. "Check his breathing, and make sure the bandages are clean. I will need to put them around his arms later."

Reuniclus picks the bandages up quickly as she focuses on the healing process. It's almost over and she is hanging on, even as her magic flickers. It's too early for her to be doing this, she hasn't eaten anything and yet here she is, having to look after this impossibly complicated man.

Moon moves to his side. The wounds close completely and all that's left is dry blood staining his arms, which she quickly proceeds to clean with her handkerchief. Reuniclus brings her the dry and clean bandages and Moon wraps them correctly around his arm, rubbing some special oils on the surface.

"I thought you were a diligent god. Why would you even wrap them like–"

A wince escapes him and interrupts her mid-sentence. Her touch on his arms halts as his expression shrinks into pain and Moon is quickly pushing him to her lap again and cradling his head. "Calm down, it's fine, all is okay!"

It's all a hushed whisper to not wake him up any further. Her eyes inspect the actual damage and check if everything is closed properly. "At least you won't be bleeding anymore." Her fingers glide over the marks, dismay in her words. "You're so reckless. Who did this to you, Gladion?"

And why is he there, in her realm, when he should be resting and getting his wounds treated? He has always been so hellbent on safety, why is he the one being so careless?

Discarding that the wounds could be the source of pain, Moon grabs her flute and automatically begins to play the familiar song to calm him down, and his body stills once more after a minute.

His expression melts from coarse sandpaper into a relaxed sea. His breathing evening. His hands are not shaking anymore. Her eyes narrow and she beckons Reuniclus to get close. "Watch over his bite marks, in case any of them opens."

Then, a gentle hand is pressed on his forehead. Her eyes close as she focuses on him, diligently digging through the layers of his conscious. Usually, dreams are rather hard to understand or to find. Minds are different and each person has their own little world in their head. Sometimes it's more hectic, sometimes it's calmer and others, it's blissful or angry. In any of these cases, all of them have easy access.

What she finds within Gladion, instead, is a block. A block of nothingness, something complicated she can't quite reach. Like a thorny bush or a furious mess of metal spikes, Moon cannot access his mind completely.

Maybe she is tired, but it's fine. Her voice hums a small lullaby as she tries to fend off the nightmare plaguing him, whispering sweet nothings as the fog starts to clear up under her command.

He whispers out a name. Her name. "Moon…"

It sounds in pain. Afraid. Scared. His eyes remain closed, there is no way he has found out about her presence.

The nightmare begins to clear effortlessly as her powers come into play, and what settles in his mind instead is the pink fog of her blessing, a lightheaded hum of silence and peace. His chest rises and falls at a normal pace and, soon, his nightmare has begun to fade away very slowly.

If she weren't so tired, perhaps she would try to attack that dark spot of his mind, but before she can give it a try, troubled green eyes are beginning to open.

His green irises appear shaken up for a second, but her hands remain on his cheeks to tell him that everything is okay, that she is there. "It was just a nightmare, Gladion. Everything is fine now."

A few seconds pass and he processes her presence, the fact that he is no longer enshrouded in shadows and that she is there with him, that it's over, she's there and there is nothing to be afraid of with her by his side.

Gladion lets out a heavy sigh that lifts a heavy burden off his chest. Her fingers caress his cheeks still, coaxing his frown to relax.

"Is… is it really you?" Moon nods very carefully and at this, he breathes in, staggering to speak clearly. "Are you alright?"

There is a million things in his eyes that swim afloat with those words. Panic, more panic, but also relief, then fear. His eyes are wide, green, vibrating with emotion and leaving her speechless in a way she can't quite describe. It's a very raw sight, so much so Moon can't quite speak until her heart stops throbbing altogether.

When he asked if she was alright, it's as if he had been genuinely afraid.

"Tired, but I'm fine." Her assurance seems to brighten his spirit, for his eyes widen, then blink, and he is making a conscious effort to calm down his breathing and stop his hand from shaking. They exhale a simultaneous sigh. "Are you okay?"

His eyes fall closed, then blink open and next thing she knows, his hand is rising from the ground to cup her cheek, his eyes pained. It's as if the nightmare is still playing at the back of his head, creating an artificial need of proximity she leans against.

His thumb traces her cheekbone and her fingertips dig deeper into his skin, assuring him that she is not a dream, she is there.

Her forehead falls on top of his, brow relaxing after this long rollercoaster of emotions. Lying upside down like they are, Moon feels his breathing hit her hair, just as the frantic breathing turns into soft, peaceful sighing puffing in her ears.

"I'm okay," he assures her, "now that you are here with me."

 


 

Gladion later explains to her that it had all been a product of stray souls and their stinging abilities. A particularly vengeful spirit had attempted to take over his body after exorcising the physical body, and the fight had been especially ugly.

Moon is wrapping his other arm with a bandage as she hears his explanation. "So it tried to possess you?"

"Sort of. And when they can't do that, they resort to physical attacks, and the consequential stinging and biting." He shifts his shoulder for emphasis and winces as the sensitive area hurts in response. "They result in pretty heavy nightmares like what you saw."

"I didn't really see the nightmare," she explains tactfully. "I just knew you were in trouble and worked my way around it."

His head turns to her over his shoulder, her sitting behind him. He blinks as he finds no lie in her expression. Her eyes are collected and fixated on his back, almost too tense for the lack of eye contact not to be intentional. "Oh. I see." A second of silence. "Good."

Because she wouldn't want to know what happened in his head during those nightmares. Specifically, because she had starred in this one, and it had not been pretty. Creatures in the night gnawing in his head, prying their claws into her skin and making her scream so loudly he had been unable to move, unable to save her.

But she is safe and sound. With him. Where nothing can happen to her because he is strong enough to protect her. Because she is strong enough to protect herself. Everything is fine.

And Moon is strong enough to protect him this time around.

"I guess that explains all the bite marks on your arms too." Her hands stop working on his bandages, and as she stops to admire her work, Reuniclus throws her a berry she gladly begins to eat. A sigh draws itself out of her. "You scared me for a second, you know."

Gladion lets out a heavy sigh, raspy and disclosing unintendedly how tired he truly is. "The fight got out of control. They rarely get this bad."

"That's not even the problem! You would have been fine if you had applied something to the open wounds and bandaged them properly. What you did barely classifies as bandaging."

He gives her a deadpan look over his shoulder, dry and dull. "I know how to bandage myself just fine. They probably got undone when I crashed here."

Moon's stare is as dead as his. "Again, it was barely tied. But I guess you were a bit tired to do it properly, so I kind of understand why." As she finishes the berry, she traces the bandages carefully. "Does it hurt elsewhere?"

"Not particularly. My muscles are a bit sore, but that's all there is to it," he comments loosely. "And I'm a bit sleepy."

"That's normal." Instead of using further healing, Moon digs the heel of her palm against his back and reels a groan out of him as she kneads the muscle. "Next time you are hurt, you better inform me properly. You are lucky Lapras woke me up to come to see you, Arceus…"

Her words shake at the end because she realizes she had been so very close to losing him. Sure, maybe he wouldn't have died because he is a deity, but for some reason, as if he was only human, the brush with death hurts all the same. It had been a close call too real for her to not be tense now, to not wonder what would have happened but also avoid the image for her own sake.

Her hand stops kneading abruptly. Before he can ask, something soft lands on his back and arms creep around him. Her hands are entwined on his lower half and hold him close to her.

Her nose presses against his back, warm breathing spreading through his lungs and warming his heart with affection. "I don't take patients if they don't book an appointment. Or if they don't even tell me they are hurting."

A low chuckle erupts from his chest at her stubborn behavior, but he takes the hit nonetheless. Her body is a blanket on his back, soft and warm like a blessing. A primal need to reciprocate the gesture takes over him abruptly, and his hand hovers both of hers, he hesitates, and lets the hand fall limp.

Step by step.

"I promise to take that into account next time."

The smile he feels spread against his coat's back is reassuring enough for him to know she will take him in her arms no matter what.

Just as he would.

Chapter Text

"I'm scared of hurting Pokémon."

She starts the conversation like that. He is brushing his Silvally's fur when she speaks, so quietly he barely catches it. He asks for repetition. "What?"

Moon bends her legs under her chin, arms curled around her limbs. "I'm scared of hurting Pokémon. Even if it's any of my Pokémon going against somebody else's. I don't like seeing them in pain."

His eyes linger on her, processing the information and contrasting it with everything he has seen of her thus far. Reluctance to begin battles, a gentle hand with Pokémon, her curing more than hurting.

Gladion can't see her expression from where he is sitting, and she has her face turned to look at the pond. Whether she doesn't want to see his expression or is hiding herself, he's not sure.

The following silence asks for clarification. Moon sighs.

"Some years ago, the Mistress sent me on this mission on Earth to find a man and escort him back to Æther Tower. I don't know who he was, but there was a big battle with a very big Pokémon and everything went wrong." She pushes her knees closer to her body. "That beast attacked the man, and because of my negligence, my Primarina also fell into a deep, cursed slumber."

After such an enormous confession, Moon goes silent and so does he. Gladion has never been good at comforting people and she clearly is in distress. He doesn't know why she decided to tell him about this, but she did. And he's not sure what to say.

"We… are gods, but we cannot save everyone." He swallows thickly. "It's not your fault."

"My Pokémon was hurt because of me, Gladion." Her face lifts from her arms and knees and an earnest, pained look crosses her features. "I pushed Primarina too hard, too far. I just wanted to save that man and I couldn't keep anyone alive."

How can he say it's not her fault when she says it like that and he has too little context? Shifting closer, SIlvally hums at the sudden move and turns its head to Moon, whose head is buried in her arms again.

"The mission failed and I… Primarina is sleeping under the depths of the pond, and I'm working hard so I can find a cure." Her hands ball into fists, parts of her dress trapped between her fingers.

At some point in his life, Gladion had made of his continuous fight to become stronger almost a compulsion. Something impossible. Something that was never meant to be and something he would only achieve, if possible, without the metaphysical bonds of feelings chaining him down to mediocrity.

However, it wasn't until he met Moon that he began thinking differently. That she cradled his heart and shielded it from falling deeper into his own obsessions of obscurity and greed.

When he met Moon, he encountered a wall of dim colors, silence, and peaceful words. Wisdom, quiet smiles and tender hands for Pokémon and gods alike. Everything covered with the mask of a dispassionate expression. A cold, timid fire for a soul.

But then, he saw her fighting. Protecting what was at stake. The fire in her eyes had grown into something fierce, wildfire with searing passion. Almost a mirror of what he knows himself to be during battles like those.

Turns out that she is as strong as she is because she didn't want the same to happen again. With the same desire of protection as him.

Moon's face lifts from her own cradle as Gladion's hand caresses her hair gently, an action that used to calm him when he was a child. She blinks hesitantly as charcoal meets evergreen.

"So you don't want to hurt any other Pokémon, huh?"

Hence why she sent help his way when he had been in trouble. And why she didn't defeat Guzzlord, and instead sent it back home with its ass kicked. It's hard to believe such a talented trainer can have this fear, but part of him understands. The thought of Silvally being cursed like that makes his heart throb painfully.

Moon nods. Much to his surprise, her eyes are devoid of tears. "I'm sorry for telling you all of this. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. It doesn't bother me that much anymore but after what happened the other day, I…"

Her words are interrupted as the hand on her head presses her against his shoulder, muffling her voice against his jacket. "It's alright. I'm glad you told me. I used to think you just didn't like battling."

She is turning a little to fix the awkward position, but he grabs her ankle and yanks her between his legs, successfully cradling her with one of his arms around her back and the other bent under his head.

Unaffected, she doesn't even flinch at this, just rubs her cheek against his coat. Dim pink covers her cheeks. "I don't necessarily hate Pokémon battles. They just make me a bit uncomfortable."

"Does our 'no knockouts' rule make you uncomfortable too?"

Her head shakes. "Not really. Battles in general are not that enjoyable but I need to get over it at some point, right?"

A deep chuckle reverberates through his chest and his fingers run over her tresses gently. Her shoulders are no longer shaking, the haunting memory now gone from her mind as the scent of him takes over her system.

Him holding her like this would never tire her.

"You still win by a big margin, though," he murmurs. "Silvally doesn't like you that much anymore."

The girl breathes a small chuckle and peeps an eye open to see Silvally wailing softly. "Siil."

The girl looks fondly at the Pokémon and pats its back, earning her a satisfying growl from the beast. "You trained him well, though. Silvally has nothing to envy from Reuniclus."

Her compliment touches him in a way he can't quite explain, either because she's a great trainer, because of the failure she comes from or because it's her. "Really?"

A curt nod with a hum. "You and him have this very obvious love for each other. I have never seen somebody look after their Pokémon like you do." She is still looking at Silvally, so she fails to see his expression softening. "But I'm sure you know that better than anybody."

His arm tightens behind her and he tucks her closer to his chest. Moon reacts to this with a quiet gasp, seeing him smiling down at her. A smile so rare she can't even remember seeing something so beautiful on his face before.

"I never thought you, out of everyone, would say something so cheesy," He tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, flowers in her hair tickling his jaw and his fingers, "but so brilliant."

His words are soft but tease drops from each and every syllable, making her cross her arms in protest. "You just like embarrassing me, don't you?"

A smile curls into a smirk with her words. "Maybe I do."

"Hmph." Despite her evident irritation, she still tucks her head in the crook of his neck, curling against him as the haunting thoughts from earlier seem to disappear. "Thank you, Gladion."

He thinks that saying that she's welcome is very unneeded, so he doesn't say it. Instead, he watches her melt against his body and her body slowly gets rid of the tension.

"Everything will be okay," he murmurs, exhaustion catching up with him slowly. Maybe it's her presence, maybe it's the sheer weight of the situation, but he begins to melt with her. "I know you won't let it happen again."

And he falls asleep.

But she doesn't, tears of emotion trailing down her face that he never sees, or hears.

 


 

"Gladion, you're here early today," says his mother from her desk, only lifting her eyes momentarily to find her son with crossed arms and a prominent frown. Nothing new to her. "How did you sleep?"

The silence is filled only with the scribbling of her pen on some papers. Everything is calculated, clean and arbitrary. Her question has little to no meaning to him.

"I have a few things to ask, if you don't mind."

"Oh?" She places the pen on her desk and puts all her attention on him. "And what would that be?"

His eyes focus on the desk, anything but her face. He has looked into those eyes too many times to not know she will make a thousand judgments out of his eyes alone. How they tremble, how his lips purse in search of the right words.

"I have heard about a certain mission concerning the Goddess of Midnight. And… I would like to know about it."

Lusamine stares at him, unblinking. Her lips part in surprise, and then, a knowing smirk draws itself over her face. "Are you that concerned with her? I thought Lillie's gushing was merely an exaggeration."

She is quick to turn the situation around and he is too used to this to not notice. His frown only deepens. "That was not my question, Mother."

The smirk falters. She entwines her fingers under her chin, elbows on the white desk. She observes him for a little while, the twitch of his eyebrows and the slight shake of his hands. He's nervous.

And he's so easy to read.

"You mean the only mission on Earth she took part in, right?" She throws her head back, causing him to think that she is trying to remember. "That was a long time ago. Why ask that now?"

"She has expressed concern over the failed mission, and talked about a sleeping Primarina and… somebody dying."

Something akin to spite takes over her expression. "At her hands."

Whilst Gladion had expected his Mother to, indeed, be cross with Moon, he never thought it would be so evident. Part of him wanted to believe it was just a small tale that he maybe misinterpreted. "In any case, could you give me more details, if possible?"

Her eyes momentarily stale into a soft menacing, then turn back to their usual vibrant and professional hue. "Why are you making so many questions?"

A hand goes to his fringe, another to his pocket. "Just curiosity."

Lusamine thinks about his request with idle interest, then decides to tell him what he seeks. "She was tasked with bringing a certain person back to Æther Tower, but a monster attacked them on their way here. The man died during the attack, and so did the Primarina belonging to the goddess."

That's information he already knows about. "Yes, I heard about that bit. I was told Primarina was cursed, rather than dead."

"Well, considering the state the little one is in, it's safe to assume it's impossible to revert it to its prior state." Her son nods and she arches an eyebrow of suspicion. "Again, why the sudden concern? It was just a mission like any other."

"Moon is a far cry from incapable, so I was wondering why her Primarina remains dormant even after all these years." The hand on his fringe travels under his chin, curled into a fist of thought. "Maybe something could be done about that."

Only when he notices that his mother has gone silent, does he realize how personal his words had sounded, and he witnesses how his mother's expression becomes shadowed by an emotion he can't quite name, yet sends a slow shudder down his spine.

"Why is it I feel you are taking this personally, Gladion?"

A cold sentence is all it takes for Gladion to finally look at his mother in the eyes, where a small frown lies.

"The Goddess of Midnight has proven to be rather… useless when it comes to saving lives. Responsibilizing her with the care of Primarina would be a very foolish thing to do," explains the woman. Her hand has curled under the desk. "What changed for you to be so fierce about something that is not your business, Gladion?"

The familiar wording brings tension to his shoulders. He looks at her with twice the harshness, peering into her eyes like open eyes.

"Moon is a fellow goddess of this tower, like me, Lillie, and Sun." He mentions them by name now. "You asked me to be more cooperative, didn't you? I'm just being helpful."

But she doesn't seem to believe him. Moon also has these tendencies to be more skeptical than believing, yet she usually accompanies it with amusement and a smile. Lusamine's disbelief is both ice cold and burning.

Whereas Moon looks at him like he is worth taking care of, Lusamine just gives him the cold shoulder.

"Gladion, none of this is of your interest." Arms crossed, Lusamine leans back in her chair. Her fringe covers part of her eyes. "Moon has not told you everything. I believe the trauma dotted her memory with holes. She is not who she is making herself be seen. She is a selfish woman, Gladion."

Exactly lined up with the perception she had wanted him to believe when they were children, Lillie and him.

But he knows the truth now.

"Well, you haven't told me everything either, Mother," he accuses, causing his mother's upper lip to twitch. "At least I can argue she might have blocked the memory partially and can't tell me more. But you are hiding something from me."

A silent stand-off of glares and unsaid truths begins between them. She reads his expression, the stern and harsh look in his eyes, the upturn of his lips and the grimace that shows his teeth partially.

A chuckle breathes through her. "You must truly care for her, if you are like this."

His face softens a bit, just enough to betray the surprise he feels at the thought of Lusamine giving in to his wishes. The statement still makes him slightly flustered, after all this time. "I'm just being helpful. That's all."

A beautifully constructed lie. If he hadn't spent the evening sleeping by her side and cradling her to his chest, maybe it would be more believable.

But Lusamine's brow relaxes, suddenly, and she looks at him a degree sweeter than earlier, where all that was stern is now almost endearing. "Do you truly believe she is capable?"

"You saw what she did when Guzzlord threatened us." He doesn't need a single breath to say this, for his trust in her knows no bounds. "Believe me, she is the strongest trainer to be known in this realm."

Her nod is easy. A little smile, maybe a little too tense, but that's to be expected. She signals him to the stairs that lead to the attic. "You know where the books are. Pick as many as you want."

The uplift of his expression shows the relief in his features, still crowned by his trademark scowl. He rushes to the stairway with an uncanny hurry before his mother turns her chair to watch him go.

"Gladion."

He turns his head to see her mother staring at him thoroughly.

"Make sure to check all the papers I left for you a few minutes ago. And there are a few angry spirits looking for their departure at the entrance, don't make them wait for too long."

The bitter promise of such workload prompts a sigh out of him, but then an automatic nod.

The thought of freeing Moon of a heavy burden lifts his spirits harder than any hardcore session of soul cleansing.

In the office, Lusamine scribbles furiously.

 


 

Later that evening as Gladion is consumed by work and executions, a Fearow reaches Moon's lair again.

"Another letter?" Lillie laughs loudly. "Are you sure you don't have a secret affair somewhere we don't know?"

"..."

"... Moon? Is everything okay? Your face got a bit pale."

"Oh, no, it's nothing!"

Same rock wrapping. Same angry tossing to the pond. Same facial change into bliss.

"Keep on telling me about Hau. I haven't seen him in a while."

 


 

Gladion brings her a thick book from the library after long nights of him finessing the selection to just a book and some spare notes. He stumbles in and just puts the book on her lap, which feels heavy on her legs but apparently, not on his arms.

The girl looks at the book, then at him. "What is this for?"

The title Medicine in the Bush doesn't seem to spark suspicion within her, so he just sighs and sits down right by her side. A sigh escapes him and he falls haphazardly by her side. "I thought that maybe you would find that tome interesting." He coughs. "It's about medicine. And it has a lot of pages on Pokémon curses."

That is when she catches on, for she slams the book open and goes through the pages at a dastardly pace, so much so he is almost spooked out of his place at her eagerness. Her neck is craned forward and her eyes are reading like words are their food.

"Gladion, this is fantastic!" She exclaims. "Where did you find this?"

She stares at the open book with wide eyes and despite her attention being so focused, he can still appreciate the gratitude in her words. He chuckles, then sits upright. "At the library in the attic. Lillie got it from some travels she did some years ago. Maybe it will give you some information you didn't know before."

Her eyes shift to his. He is sitting there, content with his work. A pleased smile, almost a smirk, sits on his cheeks. He seems proud of himself, just as he should be.

A little smile of her own is directed at him. Her hands softly close the book and she leaves it at a decent distance. "It's an amazing gift. Thank you so much."

His eyes open to find her shifting in her seat, relaxing on the tree just as he is. He blinks in confusion. "Aren't you going to read it now?"

"Not now." She shakes her head, eyes closing. "I would rather spend time with you now that you're here."

He shouldn't blush a single bit over that sweet sentence, because both are aware of how much they enjoy each other's company: from quiet naps around the meadow to whispered talks about science and Pokémon battles.

But he still blushes a little and looks away as if she would see his flustered expression and mock him for it.

Unused as he is to shows of affection, he still fumbles with the notion of proximity and intimacy. No matter how much time they have spent together.

"Gladion." His name is a sweet whisper in her lips.

"Hm?"

A silence of shyness, doubt. Hesitation. "Why are you wearing those gloves today?"

Whatever air had been stacked in his lungs abruptly leaves his throat in a choked cough. His reaction is visceral enough for her to suspect even more about his suspiciously covered hands.

"The heck did that come from?"

Moon moves around so she's kneeling in front of him, and she snatches his wrist away from his crossed arms, pointing at the red glove. "You have been wearing these a lot lately. Last time I saw you with your hands bare was the day you almost died on me."

Good way to put it, he thinks, as exaggerated as it is.

"I just forgot to remove them after work." She stares at him, eyes unmoving. "What is it?"

The girl clicks her tongue loudly and her fingers creep to grab his gloved hand. Her fingertips taste the leather of the fabric. "Did anything happen?" Her words are tidbit softer now. "I don't think you forgetting about something so suddenly is normal. Especially knowing how uncomfortable these are."

So she remembers the feeling. One day, she had helped him fix a small rip in his gloves and the girl had worn them for about five minutes. The difference in their hand sizes is ridiculous: where his are a bit bigger and longer, Moon has small and delicate hands. Calloused at the ends. Soft palms. Warm touch.

He knows because each time she grabs his hand for whatever reason, as ridiculous as it might be, he retains the feeling with sharp exactitude. His eyebrow twitches, eyes widening as her frown turns even deeper. Not necessarily angrier. If anything, she almost looks cute like this.

His head turns away again sharply, face covered by his uneven bangs.

"Again, it's fine." He rasps out. "You can let go of my hand now."

But she doesn't let go and for some reason, he is thankful. Her fingertips tamper with the texture of the leather and they search for any cuts they can make out through the thick fabric.

The search is fruitless.

"Can I take them off?"

"No."

The pout she makes is adorable and it only almost, just almost, makes him give in. But not quite.

"If it was really nothing, you would let me take them off." Gladion grunts at her clever remark. "And you know I won't stop insisting. You always insist on keeping these things to yourself."

The situation is ridiculous, but his refusal to not let her take them off is beyond ridiculous. Why can't she just peel them off and be done with it? His rejection feels even worse because that means he must be hiding something and–

"Fine." His hand shakes once in her grip. "Just take them off. I got nothing to hide."

As Moon slowly and rather enthusiastically removes the clothing, the skin underneath reveals no signs of abuse. No prints of violence or any harm she can see in plain sight.

She even tries to lay the palm upside down on her lap, hoping the light might reveal something he could be hiding because she refuses to let him hide his pain from her, something he is keen on doing.

Nothing comes up, though.

A nervous laugh erupts past her throat. "I'm sorry. I guess there's nothing, actually." Her thumbs absent-mindedly touch his palm. "I was just scared of something happening again."

When she looks up, though, there is the faintest trace of turmoil in his lidded eyes. A little frown, soft yet noticeable. His other hand strategically hidden. As if something that doesn't show on the skin is troubling him.

Something she cannot see.

"I have been having pretty bad nightmares lately." A moment after that, he shakes his head. "No, it began happening after I came back from Sinnoh. More sparingly after that. But they are frequent lately, these days."

But they never happen when I'm with you, he wants to say.

As the guardian of dreams and slumber, Moon bites her lip. Everyone's dreams had to be good, they just had to be. The thought that she barely spared any energy on his end actually makes her heart fall, break and then bleed for him.

"I'm sorry," she whispers with utmost sincerity. "I should have watched after you too, I just assumed you–"

"That's not my point." Moon blinks as he dismisses the issue suddenly. "The problem is, my powers go a little out of control when those happen." Gladion grabs the glove on her lap delicately. "These are meant to control my powers."

The revelation leaves her stunned for various reasons. While she has always known Gladion is a very powerful god, she never thought he needed something to limit his powers. As far as she knew, only Lusamine used these gloves.

The lack of verbal response moves him to fill in the silence.

"Spirits tend to anger me a lot. I'm rather impatient, and sometimes they just don't want to stay put, and carbonizing them is not the way to do things when it comes to sealing and exorcism," he explains. "I use these so I don't do more harm than necessary."

Her eyes scan his pale naked hands. They do feel a bit warmer than usual. "Weren't you wearing them as well during the battle against Guzzlord?"

Fond smile. "I always thought you were observant, but not that observant."

"I just thought you had them on when you meant business and were about to burn all those Ultra Beasts to ashes," she confesses. "You looked very intimidating that day, can't lie."

With a shake of his head, he takes off his other glove with his teeth. "You know, the only reason I told you to make Pokémon battles easy on Pokémon is that Æther has its rules as well," a sigh, "and that's to never harm Pokémon unless they attack us directly."

In her small place in the facility, Moon had never been made aware of this rule. Admittedly, she has no reason to really engage in battles the way Gladion does. "But… you still didn't need to hold back, right?"

"Well, not really." His eyes drop to watch her caressing his palms. It's oddly relaxing. "But the thought of hurting another Pokémon for no reason doesn't sit well with me. Even if I'm supposed to destroy things."

"Destroy things?"

Sighing, Gladion sees her look at him now, head tilted just an inch. "Lillie has the powers of life, and I was born to destroy things. Exorcising bodies is probably the grossest parts of them all, but cleansing souls is not pretty either."

Moon breathes a chuckle. "Soul charms are pretty, though."

For once, the joke doesn't make him laugh. Her hands have never stopped touching his, and he stares at the gesture as if it's new to him, alien.

"Why weren't you scared of me the day we met?" Nothing more than an insecure murmur. It's as if he is afraid of her answer no matter how well they know each other, how well they compenetrate each other.

The topic is sensitive. She notices right away.

"I already told you," she begins with an amused smile. "You are not the most intimidating person here."

"Is Lillie more intimidating than me, then?"

"That's not a fair comparison."

"Still," his brows pinch in the middle, "you knew my job. You knew I was dangerous. But you still treated me as if I was another neighbor in your lawn."

A lack of exchange is what follows his heartfelt question. Her hands still caress his with delicacy, and he for a moment thinks she might not have heard him.

But then she giggles, a faint noise, shaking her head. "You're so silly sometimes, Gladion."

Moon feels his hand tense in her grasp and the giggle only gets louder. He can see the gentle and kind expression of fake mockery in her pinched eyebrows, how she shakes it off as if her thoughts were just that simple.

The girl is simple in that way, how she speaks without much regard of who might be listening and how she is bold and sometimes mean in the sense that she is honest. It's a philosophy he also practices, but his aim is more skewed than hers.

Eyes bright and kind, her hands opt to hold his firmly instead of caressing it. "You are not only a God of Death. It's not like you don't have a heart. We cleared that out from the get-go, that day." Gentle memories of chilly nights and shared stories play in his head. It's been a long time since then. "I have seen you be kind to your sister, to Sun once, and to me in so many occasions."

His first instinct is to shoot down her words, so he grabs a fistful of grass. "I am not an angel, Moon." As he lets go of the grass, all that remains are wilted pieces of crisp grass, and he sprays a bit of water in her direction. "I could hurt you."

In a swift move, she grabs his hand again. The moisture in her fingers fills his dry palms. "I know you won't. You know I will give you a beating if you hurt me. And you were wearing your gloves every time you came here to not hurt me lately, weren't you?"

Gladion holds his breath. Words are stuck in his chest, and she doesn't look like she's done.

Her lithe fingers lift his hand a little bit so she can glide her thumb along his long fingers. "Somebody who comes down to my chamber is a far cry from a devil. Really, nobody comes here other than you and Lillie. I couldn't even hold anything against you, even if I wanted." His fingers spread over hers on their own.

Then, she looks at him. "After all, you didn't attack my Reuniclus either. That's fairly kind to me." The smile she gives him is endearing, kind, thoughtful. "And I know you would never hurt me. I trust you."

And then, she presses a kiss on his ring finger and he swears his heart will explode right there, a thin sheen of sweat covering his forehead and a very telling blush spreading over his cheeks.

Her words finally halt and his teeth grind in frustration, for it's not fair that she can say things like that and for him to lose his stoic character just like that.

It's not fair.

She's not fair.

Moon has no time to sputter anything out before he grabs her hand and pushes her closer to where he can grab her chin forcefully and dedicate her a glare of outrageous embarrassment.

Her eyes widen at his sudden grip but he interrupts her again, just like he always does. "You just like embarrassing me, don't you?" He breathes out.

His words are an intoxicating blow of unspoken feelings against her face, causing her to shiver at his sudden proximity. "Gladion–"

"You are terrible," he blurts out with absolutely no bite to the punch. "The worst. I sometimes want to shove a fistful of grass down your throat, and maybe then you'll stop saying things like that."

Obviously not taking the bait, Moon snickers. "Not used to compliments, are we?"

And from sweet she goes to bickering and he swears she will drive him insane. "Shut up. You're despicable. And you talk too much."

"I'm not the most talkative person, you know."

"And neither I am but here you were, running your mouth."

"Yes, but here you are, listing a thousand ways you want to murder me in my sleep." Moon puffs her cheeks. "You make no sense, Gladion."

When her hand accidentally stumbles with his as she looks for support, the spell is broken. Proximity is noticed, their foreheads are almost brushing. She blinks herself out of the daze immediately and so does he, realization settling in as they see that they have gotten themselves into the same situation over again.

The same situation of awkward eye contact, delicious warm intimacy, and short breaths.

He watches as her shoulders shake and a few giggles spill out of her mouth, but he has no focus to really see what is going on anywhere around them. His arm instinctively curls around her waist as she hovers a few inches over him, straddling him.

Her cheeks are shy pink, eyes sincere and melting into his with an emotion he can't quite place. It has always been there, every time they meet like this, and he always wonders if it's the same burning lust he has been dealing with since that very troublesome day of whispered dares and unfinished business.

A gulp falls down her throat. He mimics her actions by instinct, and her hand cups his cheek.

"You're insufferable." He whispers, eyes revealing the complete opposite of that.

Her rosy, plump bottom lip is trapped between her teeth as his fingers dig into her back, caging her against him. "Am I?"

Their noses brush, his heart throbs for him to do something, to move, to find out the answer to all his questions his body seeks, all those secrets her body hides. The taste of her, to sink against her like he knows is right.

A sharp breath. A quiet gasp as he pulls her a bit closer, just enough for him to tilt his head a little, for her to part her lips, for their lips to almost brush–

"Guys! I have the best news ever!"

Gladion almost screams into his hands as Moon springs out of reach and gulps down a frustrated groan of her own. In her blissful ignorance, Lillie skips into the meadow with a sheet of paper in her hands and a few pencils, smiling.

"L-Lils!" he manages to exclaim, backing himself up against the tree as if it would help him escape. He instinctively has turned his head to the lake, fringe covering his deep red face. "What are you doing here?"

The maiden of the lair catches her breath at breakneck speed and flashes a polite smile that hides all that happened earlier. Even if her blush is too blatant to not be telling. "Yes! I thought you'd be asleep by now."

The girl beams, shaking the notes and pencils in her grip. "Mother told me about your little project and I have been– Gladion! Where are you–"

"I just remembered I– I have to go!" he stutters without even daring to look at Moon or else he would combust into flames. He almost trips on the grass in his escape, brushing all imaginary dust off his coat and speeding away from the girls. "See you! Sleep well!"

Lille, once more, just watches him go, very unaware of the flustered mess he truly looked like. "There he goes again, always in a hurry. And here I was thinking he wanted to help too!"

And as she turns, Lillie feels like she is going to have a meltdown, watching Moon's expression finally unveil itself; familiar blush, same covering of cheeks and same old Moon fidgeting as she lies on the grass and tries to keep the utter embarrassment at bay.

"Oh for Arceus' sake, you have to be kidding!"

"Ughhhh."

Chapter Text

"Moon, the sheet won't write itself no matter how much you glare at it."

"Be quiet, I'm trying to concentrate."

They sit in silence, at times sharing complacent looks of vigilance. Gladion and Moon had spent a decent amount of days working together to find a solution for Primarina's circumstances, sometimes with Lillie's aid, sometimes on their own.

The research was done mostly by Moon when the siblings left the lair or when any of them fell asleep around there. Lillie had done so more often than not lately, because as she put it, 'Mother is being ridiculously demanding lately'.

Moon and Lillie have known each other for a while now and never had Moon heard the girl speak of their mother with that level of spite. Maybe stress was finally starting to make a dent in their patience. And with that loss of patience and energy, Moon expected them to come less and less.

Gladion still sits by her side, reading through Lillie's notes diligently, because he is always there and the goddess often wonders where he takes the energy from.

Not to mention that she is nothing but over the almost kiss problem from a week prior.

Not to mention that he isn't over it either, sitting so close to her that he can feel each goosebump with every whispered word he hushes. Sparks in their eyes bursting when sharing ideas.

She is so close he could try to kiss her again. So, so close. Lingering moments of silence, unresolved tension that sparks molten shudders through his being whenever they meet eye to eye.

After a long time of shared tranquility, Moon throws the sheet into the air and falls forward, her head landing on the open volume.

Gladion regards her with a crooked smile. "You sure have unconventional means to study, Moon. Very avant-garde."

"I just don't get it!" she exclaims, sharply sitting up. "Look at this utter nonsense! I know this is respectable Earth science and all that, but everything is so…!"

Her hands gesture vaguely in the air. "Irrational?"

She doesn't directly agree but she shares a look of approval with him. "There is so much about too vague things! Friendship, affection, the bonds between a trainer and a Pokémon and I get it! But I don't understand how this is supposed to be helpful."

Her body flails again and she falls on top of the pages, slumped over like a Trubbish. "You are being overly dramatic. I'm sure we will find something of use in these notes. We have been doing some notable strides lately."

Her head turns from the book to him, blinking tiredly from the ground. "Lillie spent some time on Earth with a doctor, didn't she?" A nod from the boy. "Where did you go for your training?"

"Nowhere in particular. I just chose to wander around places for a while, but I stopped by almost every region at least once."

Gladion recalls his travels quite vividly. Moved by his father's disappearance, Lusamine had insisted he spent time training on Earth. He had been nothing else but a boy with very weak powers.

At least he can say the training had been useful, for he became strong enough to inherit his Mother's deadly abilities.

His eyes turn to Moon meaningfully. "Lillie knows what she is doing. She is nowhere as proficient in medicine as you are, but she has a perspective we do not possess."

Moon agrees with that, at least partially. The thought of admitting defeat doesn't fit right with her pride in her expertise, but she can only be glad Lillie can help them. Even if it's a human book's help and she is supposed to also be the goddess of medicine.

In her distress, it's almost as if her thoughts are bouncing everywhere, and all she can focus on is how Gladion is about to laugh at her tantrum and how frustrated this makes her feel.

A hand on her shoulder jerks her back into a sitting position. "I had never seen you this bothered about something."

"I'm just very lost right now." His fingers feel cool on her shoulders, a feeling she very gladly welcomes in her heated state. "I thought I was good enough to do this on my own. I have a lot of faith in my abilities and this feels like hitting a wall. Over and over. We've been going over this for days." Her head hits the log behind her. "I thought this would be a little bit easier. Maybe I let it get to my head."

Her shoulders have tensed during her talk and he presses into the muscle a little, causing a groan to bubble past her lips. "You are being too hard on yourself. It's not like your life depends on it."

"Of course it doesn't." Moon leans into his touch. "But you and Lillie are helping me so much. I can't let you down either."

If she is aware of what she has said, he doesn't know, for her eyes are closed and her body feels a bit looser now. It's still a very stupid thing to say, nonetheless.

"You are not going to disappoint us in any way. You are not doing this for us, but for Primarina and you." Her eyes flutter open and connect with his, attention all over her gaze. "And I know you will find a way around this issue. I have seen you cure more Pokémon than I could count. Not to mention you cured my wounds as well."

Resolution suddenly stirs in her irises with a blink of her eyes. She moves out of his hold suddenly, yanking the book on her lap now with a resolve he hadn't seen before. "You just want to see me burn this book, don't you?"

For a second he thinks she is serious until he realizes the corners of her lips are twitching. "Please don't. It took me a while to find it."

"Then help me compare Lillie's notes with some pages I found. Making the information load smaller might help us find more detailed information."

They get to work immediately, going over the many notes Lillie had taken during her internship and comparing them to the long chunks of information in the book. Moon finds that there is a wide repertoire of articles on metaphorical bonds, while Lillie's notes make heavy emphasis on berries and juices and other more tangible items.

The book also includes a lot of references to unknown foods and the application of soul charms for healing purposes, which are also met with many reports of failure and terrible results.

The information they gather is too different, too complex. Moon throws her hands into her hair one hour later and slumps sidewards. "I don't think I can read anymore."

Gladion is plenty irritated as well, notes softly landing on the ground as he pinches the bridge of his nose. "Yeah, this is a little… complicated."

"I have been looking over all of this for days now. I was hoping that investigating the matter with somebody else would help but we're just stuck."

He doesn't want to admit it, but he knows full well that she's right. There had been some moments of victory when they found pieces of relevant recipes that Moon had heard about, familiar recipes. Things that could help Primarina's particular case.

But instead, all they are stuck with is a wall they just keep on bumping into. Information falling short, disappointment, failed remedies.

If it frustrates him as a helper, he can't imagine how hard it must be for Moon to swallow.

"There must be something we are missing." Gladion insists as Moon goes over the notes again. "Where is Primarina?"

"Deep in the pond, I already told you. Her natural habitat." Papers are shuffled in her hands. Small cuts are embedded across her hands. "The curse forces her to be asleep."

"How do you know she's asleep, though?"

Moon gazes up the notes to look at him. "What do you mean?"

"Do you remember exactly what happened during the battle?" he questions. His mother's statement about her having partial amnesia comes to mind suddenly, and he sees her holding her head in her hands as if trying to remember.

Moon mulls over the subject for little over a minute. "I only remember this very big monster attacking us. Long arms, black body… and then my Primarina being thrown underwater. When I rescued her, there were long marks and she was deep asleep. Nothing would awaken her, neither of my best potions or my magic."

Gladion turns to look at her with interest. "What have you tried, exactly?"

"I thought Primarina was just knocked out, so I tried to bring her back to conscience. But it was as if she was sleeping too, so I tried berries with waking properties as well. Then, antidotes, anything."

Her words ring a bell in his head, and he turns to Lillie's notes, then the book. There is some page somewhere about Pokémon in specific that he can't seem to find now, and Moon watches him curiously as he madly digs through the sheets.

He halts his search at a certain place with drawings, charts, and lots of words. "What if Primarina is not knocked out?"

"What do you mean?" Her eyes shift from the book to him and seeing his so confident and focused gaze, she remembers that Gladion is actually incredibly smart.

"You said she is deeply asleep, right?" Moon nods hastily. "If Primarina is cursed as you say, maybe we could knock her–" He begins to point out, and Moon's expression flashes in recognition of this idea, cheeks flushing with color as inspiration radiates from her.

Her shoulders rise, a spark appears in her eyes and suddenly, a smile illuminates her skin as she pounces towards him. "That's it! You're a genius!"

She tackles him to the grass, the soft plush grass that tickles his neck as she smiles against his neck and curls her arms around him, making Gladion sigh in bliss but also wonder what had actually changed. She is shaking on top of him, squirming in enthusiasm as he wraps his arms around her too, albeit a bit hesitantly.

Moon starts speaking before he can fully hug her back. "I can knock Primarina out and maybe that will reset her status back to normal! I can bring her back to conscience and cure it!"

Her enthusiasm rings through him like a wave of warm stars and deep satisfaction, for she has figured it out even before he could say it.

But then, her eyes widen and a feeling akin to worry settles in her features. She springs out of his embrace and straddles him as her eyes flash to the pond, thoughtful. Gladion sits up, questions darting out of his eyes as they search for hers.

"But that's too dangerous!" she frets, teeth trapping her knuckles. "What if I end up hurting Primarina even more? Or maybe I will put her in pain and–!"

"Sh." A hand covers her mouth immediately. Her lips cease moving under his digits. "This is our best bet. We will continue searching for a solution if this doesn't work, but what do we have to lose right now?"

His fingers fall from her lips and all that is left behind his touch is a look of wonder and awe. "Do you trust me that much to think I can pull it off?"

"It's not rocket science either, Moon." he chuckles. "You just have to give Primarina a little push and shove. You know, like a Skitty throws a pencil to the floor. It's the exact same thing."

Moon blinks at him in complete silence. Her labored excited breathing halts.

For one second, Gladion thinks he actually does suck at making jokes, because he never makes use of them, and maybe she thinks he is making light of her situation, which he isn't–

And then, Moon starts laughing.

It's shy at first, hesitant. It begins with a trembling smile, then a shake of her shoulders until the trembling takes over her whole body and giggles burst from within her. True gee shows in her features, relief bathes her in a completely new light he has not seen before.

It's a familiar tune. It reaches his heart and makes it squeeze at the sight. Her hands grab tight into his shoulders as she doubles over, stricken by emotion and uncontrollable laughter. Gladion wants to laugh too, seeing her so happy and so free of burdens. He wants to hug her close and let her let it all out: the stress, the laughter, the tears.

The noise has been kept inside his mind for ages now, and now that he has the delight to hear it again, the memory from days before comes to mind.

He loves her so much his body can't fit in so much emotion within it. He is too small for the overflowing adoration he feels for her.

It comes to him he can't take their proximity anymore.

A hesitant hand rises to her neck, slowly interrupting her laughter as her eyes blink open from their mirth.

And then, his lips are on hers, her back meeting the grass at his intense impulse. He swallows the quiet gasp that erupts from within her and his body sinks against hers in need. He towers over her and doesn't let her escape; this is something that he has been needing for a long time coming.

He moves impatiently against her, hands digging into the grass under them and the skin of her neck. His heart is about to burst, the feeling of her all around him flooding his senses like a dam breaking down. His lips are pressed against hers– he waits for a sign, a move, expecting her to maybe shove him off but desperately hoping she won't.

The contact is only interrupted for a second wherein he presses his lips against her even deeper, at which she responds by finally closing her eyes and smiling against the kiss, fingers clasping on his shoulders and letting herself get lost into the intoxicating presence of him above her like this. Their lips glide together like it's meant to be – maybe because deep in their hearts, they know it is – and with each brush of their bodies and lips, sparks and butterflies burst within their bodies.

It's nothing innocent, nor is it teasing or violent. It's almost needy, desperate. Moon's mind becomes hazy, white lava filling her body under his touch as he drawls her name slowly, savoring each of the letters and syllables.

The kiss is broken before she can properly respond to it, but judging by his narrowed and bright gaze, he doesn't seem to mind. "You don't know what you do to me, sometimes." His words are light. A whisper. "You're impossible."

Heavy unsaid words linger in his passionate gaze, his cheeks blistered with deep crimson. His body doesn't shake, he doesn't stutter. The place he kissed burns in memory of his touch, she can almost feel his lips there even as seconds pass.

Moon brings her hand to his cheek slowly and cups his face tenderly. "Says the one who took about a month to try to kiss me again."

The lack of breath in her words doesn't go amiss. A coy smile has curled her lips and he just finds himself losing his patience once more at her teasing words, leaning forward until their foreheads are touching and their lips are only a sigh away.

"Shut up," he says as he sinks to connect their lips again, "just shut up."

 


 

The next days are spent between mazes of flowers, whispered nothings and chaste kisses. Pent up affection drives them to spend time close to one another, Moon being a bit more open about it than Gladion is.

But when Gladion plays with her hair, messes with the flowers on her tresses, falls asleep on her lap or lets her cure his wounds after a hard day, she knows nothing has changed.

Even if it has. By a little margin.

Moon wants to wait for Lillie to not be as busy so she can properly bring Primarina back to her lair.

They wait for the day with goodnight kisses and sung lullabies.

As he falls asleep curled around her, Gladion hears her whisper confessions into the air. He never says the three words back, but he hopes that by being there for her and showering her with exclusive affection, maybe he will get the point across.

 


 

"How are we going to do this, actually?" asks Lillie as Moon begins to descend into the pond, her robes soaked with the pristine water. "You're just going to get Primarina from down there?"

The girl nods once. "I know exactly where she is. This pond is deeper than what you might think." Gladion and Lillie nod from the edge, watching her test the waters with her hands. "I will be right back. Don't do anything. Just wait here."

And she disappears under the surface. The pond sinks deeper than an abyss, bubbles ascending from the depths. Many Pokémon of many colors greet her as she falls, shaking their fins in delight. Moon warps a bubble of air around her head with her hands and lets herself fall down the crevice.

The walls are made of gems with the colors of the rainbow. Moonlight streams from the surface and into the depths of the underwater chasm, twinkling the minerals with sparkles. Frillish float in pairs from one place to another, Mantine go up to the surface.

A familiar creature approaches Moon and swims around her. It nuzzles Moon's cheek and the girl holds onto its neck. "Hey there, I thought you'd never get here."

Milotic wails a greeting and takes her exactly where she needs to go. The route is not new, for Moon has come here many times before. Primarina is hidden in a tucked corner of an underwater cave, wrapped in a frozen bubble with a spell for good dreams and fortune. All brewed with love and care.

They arrive at the place in question quickly. "Mii!"

"Here we are." Moon floats off the creature and pats its cheek. "Give me one second. I have to fetch your friend there."

The goddess swims all the way into the cave and she is delighted to see the place is just as she left it. Charms to keep evil Pokémon at bay, pearls of all colors and a pair of Corsola guarding the place. They let the girl pass right through, crystals of blue colors illuminating the way.

The bubble is suspended in the water, hovering up and down with the currents within the cave. Primarina can be seen through the foggy surface, curled up into a sleeping position. The girl wipes the fog away from the bubble and cradles the little blossom to her chest. The Corsola are delighted and surprised to see their owner go.

She waves at them as she exits the cave. "I'll try to bring your friend back. Come visit me in a few days."

They cheer at her words as Moon hops on her Milotic and rides up to the surface. The rise is quicker than the descent had been, and in no time, she is springing out of the water and drying her clothes completely with one clean leap to the shore.

Gladion and Lillie look at her appear so suddenly, a bit taken aback. The bubble of ice in Moon's arms looks brighter out in the open. "I told you it would only take me a minute."

She sits down by them and the bubble is placed between the three of them. As expected, it doesn't react to the change of pressure. Moon sighs in relief.

"Why is it frozen like this?" Lillie taps the surface with her nails. It's not a perfect bubble, it has dents on the surface and the ends are rough. Clearly a result of a grief-stricken craft.

"I was scared of Ultra Beasts making it into the pond. It's a very low possibility, but it's better to be safe than sorry." Moon's hands hover over the bubble and it begins to melt immediately. "It will only take me a minute."

As promised, the bubble bursts into shards of water and ice and Primarina lands on Moon's arms. The creature makes no noise of recognition or gives any signs of being alive, but upon proper inspection, Moon finds a pulse.

Her heart beats so fast she can barely breathe. Her hands hold the creature carefully as if it's made of glass. The sight of its unresponsive state drives a myriad of memories down Moon's throat, causing her to choke a sob.

A dull throb is pulsating at the back of her head, hands starting to shake as the images of the battle that day begin to swim in, sip into her hands, her blood, her nails digging into her palms.

Lillie's hands are on her immediately. "Primarina will be okay. We are here with you, okay?"

Even Gladion is kneeling before her, a concerned frown on his angelic face. In her reverie, she hadn't noticed how close the two were to her, hands on her to chain her to reality, and not that day.

"Everything will be fine." Gladion's voice comes to her like a whisper, reassuring and calm like his sister's, but a bit sharper. "You can do this."

Her mind goes over the plan repeatedly as they comforted her. Primarina didn't move an inch during this exchange, and Moon interrupted it with a shaky plea.

"If the plan is to attack Primarina while she's like this," she fights the shudder and pushes it to her feet. "I cannot attack her in its current state. I just can't attack a weakened Pokémon like this."

Or any weak Pokémon in general, but that's not the issue. Gladion and Lillie trade looks with one another, not once doubting her request.

A nod. A quick sigh. "Do you want me to take care of that part?" Cold hands clasp around hers, calloused but tender all the same. She looks up to see Gladion giving her one of those heart-melting gazes.

(Often, he would follow it up with a caress of her cheek, then a kiss, then a smile– but the circumstances don't allow such treatment between them.)

Moon nods hastily. Her arms, however, clench around the unconscious Pokémon, betraying certain desperation that she is trying to shove down to not appear weak. "Please. I can't do this on my own."

The confession is a whimper from dry lips, panic racketing her very core. Lillie gently tries to pry Moon's hands off the creature so they can stand up. Primarina lies on the grass limply, breathing very carefully.

Moon is pushed away from her, Lillie's arms around her to help her walk while whispering consoling and loving words. However, a hand halts her walk along with Lillie's.

Gladion has taken Silvally out, who is looking at Moon in a questioning manner. The god walks to be in front of Moon and brushes his knuckles against her cheek. "Silvally will be gentle. It will do as little harm as possible."

Grateful for his effort as she is, Moon leans against his touch and closes her eyes. The image of a happy Primarina yipping and swimming around fills her heart with hope. "Thank you."

Lillie and Moon decide to hide behind a thick tree, far enough from the scene to not see anything but close enough to assist the scene quickly if needed. Moon sinks into the grass and her back is firmly pressed against the tree.

The blonde kneels by her. "Cover your ears. Don't open your eyes until I tell you to."

A brisk nod. Clenched teeth and concealed tears. Ears covered. Eyes closed. Lillie pats her shoulder and with a sign of her hand, Silvally launches its attack.

Moon feels the impact under her, the soil awakens with the impact and she shrinks in her position, murmuring apologies and curses. Everything is muffled outside her ears. Silence. Nothing seems to happen for long four seconds.

Lillie taps her arm and Moon opens her eyes. "Is it over?"

"Yes." Lillie is on her feet, offering her friend a hand. Moon takes it immediately, knees wobbly, and they slowly walk out from behind the tree. "Now is your turn."

When Moon is finally on the meadow, Silvally is gone and Gladion is kneeling by Primarina. Nothing seems to have changed other than the disrupted energies below her feet. All looks the same: no alarming wounds on Primarina or any damages to the field.

He had, indeed, been as gentle as promised.

The girl hurries to her Pokémon's side and cradles her to her chest. The siblings watch her carefully, sitting a little away from the two; far enough to give them privacy, but close enough for them to give quick help if needed.

Moon is inspecting the wounds with her fingers, quickly healing the small cuts that SIlvally had generated. Primarina is less stiff in her arms and her breathing is more shallow. She looks weaker now, but much like any other weakened Pokémon would.

Raising her hands, pink and blue energy shifts around Primarina as Moon begins to cure the innermost wounds. Her energy seeps deep into Primarina's blood, reaches her heart and purifies all Moon finds.

The wounds begin to close themselves quickly. Everything is going fine.

But then, it isn't.

Something within the creature pulls at her magic and makes Moon let out a gasp of effort, feeling an opposing energy within the Pokémon. It tugs at her and fights the particles of healing energy and bites at the healing connection between Primarina and Moon.

Gladion and Lillie notice her sudden struggle and they tense up, ready to assist Moon if she needs help. The girl is gasping for air now, losing control of her magic as something strong pulses within Primarina.

Doubling over, Moon coughs as she fights to keep the dark energy at bay. All she manages to stutter out is a "Something is wrong," before an orange and black mist begins to surround the sleeping creature.

Darkness creeps up her fingers, it begins to scratch down her brain in the shape of a pounding headache with images of a past she doesn't want to remember. The girl closes her eyes and places Primarina on the field, then commands her friends to step away from them, as they are walking closer to help Moon.

Her ears fill with white noise. A sign with her hands, a seal on the ground. Primarina begins to float. "Stay away! There is something within that I can't shake off!"

As Moon's magic tries to win over Primarina's body, Silvally and Vulpix have sprung out of their Pokéballs and some Pokémon are rushing towards the scene, sensing that their trainer is in deep pain.

Gladion does not obey her orders and instead gets up to look at the image better to find something disturbing within the Pokémon. His eyes widen as he finally identifies what it is that has been within Primarina this whole time, the orange and black smoke too familiar.

A stray angry spirit.

"Lillie!" Moon's energy pulses within Primarina and wakes wind throughout the realm. Gladion covers his face. "Take Moon away from here, this is not something she can heal!"

The sister speaks through the wind. "What are you talking about!?"

"Just do it!" His gloves slip on his hands firmly. This is one job he cannot screw up. "Take her away from here!"

Lillie opens her eyes to find out that she can barely see anything from where she is. A pink mist has covered her whole field of vision. The consuming light of darkness and white fight for power above her. She can distinctly see Moon's shape bent over the grass as she holds up the thread of energy, all to protect her Pokémon from this unknown force.

With all the strength she can muster, Lillie gets up and runs towards her friend, who doesn't notice her presence until she is being tackled away from the battlefield. The mist suddenly fades away and Lillie and Moon fall to the grass.

The weak goddess barely registers a hug from the blonde to keep them both glued to the ground. She doesn't notice Reuniclus coming to protect the duo from any possible harm, either, or how Gladion does hand sign after hand sign, throws fire after fire to erase the spirit away from the body.

A voice screams from within Primarina, but it's nothing like the innocent chant of the angelic creature Moon knows. Chaos is ensuing all around her, she can't see what is going on and her head is filled with so much noise and panic it's as if she is about to implode.

Gladion can feel Primarina's body reaching its limit, and he grimaces as he throws one last string of fire in its direction. "Hang on there, we're almost done!"

The imprisoned spirit releases a screech and the smoke abruptly evaporates. The orange-colored wisp wobbles in mid-air and shrieks as it looks for a new body to possess, only for Gladion to throw a rigid-looking paper that turns flaccid and light when it collides with the spirit.

The soul charm levitates downwards in silence. Primarina's body falls softly on the grass. The girls don't dare look up yet, as Gladion walks towards the falling charm and grabs it with his fist.

The spirit dies in his embers in a matter of seconds, and all Pokémon hold their breaths. Lillie slowly stirs in her position and looks behind her. "Is it over?"

Moon doesn't react yet. She is fully awake, she can feel the soil under her limbs and the noises of Pokémon hurrying to meet their trainer. Her legs won't move. Her body feels cold, so cold.

A warm hand lifts her to a certain blonde's lap, who presses a healing hand of her own against her head. Gladion calls Silvally into its ball, then hurries over to them. "Is she okay?"

Worry crumbles his voice. Lillie nods. "I don't know how much I can do, but I'm assuming she's just a little dazed. And tired."

Of course, she is tired. Moon has spent most of her energy fighting an angry spirit with all she had. It's a miracle she had not collapsed earlier, using extensive energy to heal Primarina and keep such evil dark at bay.

He couldn't be more proud of her, but also so angry at her for not managing her powers correctly. "I should have seen it sooner," he blames himself, holding her hand between both of his. "It was my job."

"No one would have expected it to need an exorcism, brother." Stern voice meets his complaint. "None of this is your fault."

Reuniclus and Toxapex come close. The psychic-type Pokémon hovers its hands over the girl, showering her with a green light. Toxapex just sits idly by Gladion, waiting for her to wake up.

"Of course it's not."

That voice does not belong to him, but to the goddess who is now wincing in pain. Lillie's healing halts altogether. Gladion's hold on her hand tightens and Reuniclus lets out a little "Cluu!" as its trainer opens her eyes slowly.

They flutter close again, but her voice keeps coming. "You saved my life, and Lillie's. And probably Primarina's." A shaky breath. "Don't you dare blame yourself for this. I'm just a bit dizzy."

A quick word is shared and Reuniclus flies to grab a list of sharply listed berries. Moon begins to sit up, Gladion and Lillie at her sides immediately. The girl holds her head with a hand and looks at the siblings with narrowed eyes. "Are you guys okay?"

Her eyes linger a little longer on Gladion's hands, which no longer have their gloves on. Somehow, the naked skin brings her secret joy. Lillie seems to be fine too, although a little frazzled by it all.

"Worry about yourself for now," orders Lillie with gentle, yet sharp words. "Give yourself a few seconds to breathe. You gave us a big scare!"

There is no time for her to say sorry before Gladion wraps her into a hug from the side, too quickly to not be impulsive but Arceus doesn't she love the contact right now. A shaky sigh blows against her neck, his hands shake a bit, goosebumps growing everywhere he touches.

"Everything is okay now." He says after a brief patient pause. Moon sees Lillie nod by her side. "You need to rest now."

But Moon shakes her head and at this, and he lets go of her. The goddess stumbles to get on her feet and she wobbles her way towards the limping Primarina, who has big bruises all over its skin.

Moon tries to call Primarina in a weak voice, which does not work. She falls on her knees, and tries again, voice cracking at the edges. Gladion and Lillie watch from afar with heavy hearts.

Reuniclus flashes into the scene with Moon's pouch and a small wooden mortar. Tears don't have the time to stream down Moon's cheeks, for she is focused on creating a potion to bring Primarina back from unconsciousness. She begins to create the elixir with deft quick hands. She grinds berries, tears leaves, adds bits of water. This is a routine thing for her to do yet the air is too tense, the Pokémon to treat is too special.

The process is the same; the feelings and purpose aren't.

Gladion watches as Moon finishes the potion, and she pours it into a small bottle. "It's done," she murmurs with shaky breathing. "This is it."

A second passes.

A spraying noise fills the air. Two sprays. One sigh. Another spray.

Nothing happens.

Absolutely nothing happens.

Moon doesn't move, staring at the creature helplessly as it lies on her lap, motionless.

Gladion looks to his side. In the end, not even he could help the situation. An ugly grimace of discomfort, sadness, and disappointment drowns his heart in bitter sorrow.

Lillie, far from shying away, reaches out for the girl. "Moon, I'm so–"

Suddenly, a beam of green light flashes from within Primarina and shoots up to the sky for brief seconds, leaving a puff of steam and sparkles behind. When the light settles and disappears, something heavy has fallen on Moon's hands, which she holds up like she once had, when the Pokémon was a very young baby.

"Priii!"

Primarina cries in Moon's hands as she holds the Pokémon up in the air. She flails her fins and wails and smiles at her trainer who seems like she is about to cry because her eyes fill with tears, tears of relief and then she is hugging the Pokémon to her chest, the head of the small creature buried in the crook of her neck.

The siblings have gathered around her when she opens her eyes again. "Priii-pri!"

She chuckles, tears still pooling in her shaky voice. "I know, I'm sorry it took me so long." The Pokémon tucks herself under Moon's chin, rubbing her cheek against the pale skin. Despite her size, she curls around the goddess in search of warmth and comfort. "I will get you back to shape in no time, I promise."

Lillie pets the reborn Pokémon from Moon's side. Gladion's arms come from behind her and his chest presses against her back, voice blowing in her ear. She blushes slightly at his proximity. "I told you it would work."

Her eyes flash with pretended irritation at him. "You smartass." She leans against him anyway. "Next time you push me away from the fight I will kick you out of Æther Tower."

His nose brushes her cheek. "As if. Should I remind you a certain goddess did this to me first?"

Moon is about to murmur a "Touché" when Primarina's shiny eyes turn into a little scowl and she shows Gladion her fin, only an inch away from his face.

Lillie erupts into laughter as the Pokémon growls and Gladion removes his arms from Moon. "I can't believe it. Only a few minutes of life and it already hates me."

Afraid of the insolent Pokémon showing her the same treatment, she pads a few steps away and sits, letting the previous moments of tension evaporate from her body.

"It must be a record, brother."

The Midnight Goddess has no time to notice their absence, as Primarina is lifting her fins to tell Moon to throw her into the air. Moon obliges happily and tosses her up with unprecedented ease. Gladion watches the show as he sits close to Lillie. The siblings follow Primarina with their eyes as she lands on Moon's waiting hands, who has a grin so big it barely fits in her face.

Maybe Primarina hates him but Gladion can't hate the Pokémon if she makes her smile like that.

"You know I have tamed almost every Pokémon in existence. A little Primarina will not be the one to defeat me, that's for sure," he grumbles. "But I won't throw a tantrum because of it. At least Moon is happy."

No matter how cute the little minx is. Or how she glares at him whenever he lays his eyes on the beaming goddess.

Lillie gives him a crooked smile. Jealousy doesn't fit right in his hard features, and she wants to call him out for his behavior. Instead, she watches the show with careful eyes, wondrous eyes.

"Then you better be ready for the Eclipse Gala," she murmurs, "because I think Moon wanted to bring Primarina to the dance. Well, she thought this whole ordeal would not end well, but she said that she would if things went according to plan."

His head whips to his sister, an eyebrow arched, ignoring everything but two little words. "Eclipse Gala?"

Lillie explains this briefly. The Eclipse Gala is an event where the Daytime and Midnight deities meet as the Sun and Moon meet in the skies of the Earth. It's one of the few times where Moon and Sun can actually meet, and both girls are excited for a meet-up– well, more so Lillie than Moon, but the former just wants to see them interact and for the four of them to meet.

It is going to be a beautiful night.

"Even Mother is going to come, as far as I know." Lillie nudges his side. "And you can have a romantic dance with you-know-who."

Moon doesn't seem to be listening to the conversation, so the teasing isn't as hard on his heart as it would've been with her eyes on him. "You know I'm not looking forward to all the socializing, right?"

Despite his grim statement, Lillie smiles. "I know. But you have to come or Mother will throw a tantrum worth a Rattata's praise. And you know that's not a good sight."

Gladion gulps thickly. Oh, he knows.

A creature wails in the misty air and the siblings turn their heads to see a Pokémon crossing the night sky, dimly illuminated by the stars in the firmament. Another Fearow with yet another letter is making its way to Moon, who only perks up in attention when Lillie speaks. "Oh, another letter?"

Primarina is only now left on the grass as the girl hesitantly walks to let the Fearow land on her arm. The rolled letter is dropped on her palm, and then she motions the Pokémon to leave.

Moon slowly rolls the paper open. Contents are read slowly, taken in with a grace that only she can pull off.

It wrinkles between her fingers, her shoulders twitch. The first thing Gladion thinks as she turns around is that something is off in her smile.

"I just– got a letter. I need to get ready for the gala, too." She murmurs. Moon walks closer to them, slowly, carefully. It's as if she is counting the steps, eyes glued to the grass. "And it's getting late. Maybe you should get going so I also get things ready here."

Eager as she is about the event, Lillie complies immediately. Quick words of gratitude are shared between them, emotional hugs and watery smiles from Moon, thanking her over and over for her help.

Lillie parts for the night and promises to come to see her before the gala night.

Gladion, however, stays around for a little longer. Primarina has gone to greet her old friends from the pond and Moon is staring off into the distance with a very calm posture. Just as quiet as always.

The grass crunches under his feet and when she looks up, he is towering over her with a concerned gaze. "Is everything okay?"

Moon nods gently. His palm cups her cheek with the exclusive tenderness only she would see, and the girl instinctively leans against it. It has always been like this, him giving her small breadcrumbs and her savoring every each of them, feeding on his care like a vagabond.

There is no world where she does not melt for him.

"Everything is okay. I'm just going to be busy." Her tone is lamenting and a bit more solemn than what he is used to. "I can't wait to dance with you at the gala, though."

Those sweet words alone make him smile. "I will make you dance until you are dizzy."

"Even if you don't like socializing?"

"Even if I don't like socializing."

An airy giggle escapes her and she laces her fingers with his, pushing them to where she can hold his hand. "I will see you at the gala. I will probably be very busy with preparations, but at least you will be able to sleep properly."

Gladion lets out a chuckle. "That will be great for my sleeping schedule." He is about to let go of her hand but her fingers twitch tight around his.

Almost as if she needs him there.

It's only a split second, nearly unnoticeable, and when she catches herself in the act, she lets go. "I will see you then." She says, stepping away, waving with a cheerful smile.

Gladion leaves the cage with a dazed smile, hands in his pockets.

Moon hasn't thrown the letter away this time. No chucking, no tossing, no rocks. She stares at it intently and Primarina approaches her in question, and so does Reuniclus.

Each of her hands pat each creature. Her next words are directed at Primarina in specific.

"We did our best to protect him." Primarina nods a little with a smile. "What a shame the Mistress cannot see that."

The words in the letter linger. The ink might be black, but the words written with it are just as dark and menacing.

Chapter Text

During one of these days of preparation for the Eclipse Gala, Gladion drops by Sun's house. He is expecting to see him as busy as Moon allegedly is, but the boy is lazing around as he usually is.

His expression, however, looks slightly perturbed. "Hey there, Gladbag. I haven't seen you in a minute."

The god chuckles in amusement, but the frown in his friend's face doesn't go amiss. He chalks it up to Sun being annoyed with him, for whatever reason. "I've been especially busy lately. I decided to come here for a bit just to unwind from paperwork."

Sun, far from making a joke out of it, nods quietly and stares ahead. His eyes are fixed on the horizon, staring ahead like there's something there that Gladion can't quite see.

"Hey," Sun's voice is quiet, "have you talked to the Miss lately?"

Gladion says that he hasn't, murmured with a rather quiet voice because the question comes out of nowhere, and he is easy to concern. Especially when it comes to his dear goddess. He just hasn't had time to check on her– and he never felt like he had to, really.

The Daytime God nods. "It's fine. I was just wondering."

But in his tone there's something missing, and Gladion senses something is being hidden that he can't know.

When he visits the cage that night, he is about to open the door only to see that there actually is no door. The knob has disappeared and the door hinges aren't there, either. It's a cage with no entrance, just bars on top of bars across more bars.

There are a few Pokémon meandering around the place. Bulbasaur are still blooming and a few Frillish float about. Everything is as quiet as usual, a backwater of silence and peace.

But Moon is nowhere to be found, nor is her Reuniclus, Toxapex or Primarina, those she was most often around with.

His calls do nothing to summon the goddess. His hands grab the bars, try to shake them out as if a door will be revealed.

Whispers, a loud call, and then a yell. Neither her Pokémon or the girl herself come to his side.

Maybe she is just busy, he thinks, as he leaves the cage.

Maybe, just maybe.

 


 

The hallway is full of people with big dresses and pretentious masks. Gowns as dark as the night, some pure as ice, others golden like the sun. Frizzy hair, tucked back tresses, make-up, bubbly beverages and lots of laughter.

He doesn't know where his mother or Lillie have gone. The latter he last saw dancing with Hau in some corner of the room, dress whiter than he has ever seen it and hair up in a bun. She looked radiant.

Gladion sits on a chair at a wall of the hall. There is too much noise and too many words being said for him to wrap his head around everything. Some people come to say hi, some others just disregard him as Lusamine's gone wrong little boy. He truly doesn't care about that, after all, he did comply and greet the most important guests. Hair combed – but still uneven – tie suffocating him and clothes too formal for his taste.

His eyes continue looking through the myriad of faces and he stumbles with everyone but the one person he is dying to see.

He is drinking a little glass of wine until somebody yanks him into the dancefloor and the glass shatters, drowned out by the crowd's own symphony.

Green meets green, one mischievous and the other more irritated than usual. "You could have been more graceful, Lils."

"And you could have been more social tonight." She gives him a dashing smile, one of those she offers to all guests, even when she doesn't like them. "But there you were, brooding like a Zoroark."

If she is hinting towards the coloring scheme of his suit (red on top of black on top of more red) he doesn't catch it. "I already told you I am not good at these things."

"But you could at least try," she chastises, clicking her tongue softly. "Moon would be so ashamed."

The bait is thrown with ease, yet the prey doesn't fall for it, at least not at first. The mention of her name causes him to survey the crowd once or twice, subtly enough for her not to notice.

They glide about the dancefloor. He changes topics. "I thought you were dancing with Hau."

"And I thought you were dancing, but you weren't." Gladion scowls at her, but any irritation he feels dissolves with the smile she gives him. "In all fairness, I haven't seen Moon around yet. Or Sun, for that matter."

Part of him wants to think maybe they will be presented as the big hit of the night, being the eclipse duo and all that– but something in his gut tells him that won't be the case.

Sun's frown and muttered words come to mind. "Have you gone visit Moon and Sun recently?"

Gladion guides her closer to the center of the dance ball. Her sigh is telling enough. "Not really. Mother has been giving so much work lately."

What a coincidence, because he has also been working a lot lately. Just enough for him to be tired and need a bed right after work is done.

From the corner of his eye, he sees white and orange, then golden, mint and black. It's a wisp of color, no more than a mirage, but it makes him try to dance closer to that spot regardless. Lillie follows his gaze and when she finds the jackpot, she gasps.

Sun and Moon are dancing slowly on the center of the dancefloor, their arms latched together as they spin in circular motions. Their eyes don't pry from each other, intense focus put on the other as they spin into colors of silence and unwanted attention.

Nobody is looking at them.

But Gladion can't look at anybody else than them, especially Moon.

Music is suddenly changed. Pairs start separating, Sun and Moon included. A knowing Lillie lets go of him, pushing him towards a walking goddess who crashes with him in the middle of her walk. Eyes lift up, gasps are shared. Charcoal meets vivid green.

Gladion mumbles her name and she whispers his. Her voice is the only thing he can hear, and as he offers his hand to her, Moon accepts it without a second thought.

Many things are happening too fast, too seamlessly. The night is starting to get better.

For once, Moon seems shy in his arms. Her hands feel too small in his and her eyes are not on him but on his shoes. Maybe this sort of waltz dance is not her forte, so he chuckles at her naïvety.

"You don't need to be shy." Her eyes flicker to his, and he smiles gently. "I thought I wouldn't see you tonight."

Moon places herself a bit closer to him. The moment her body brushes his, the world around them fades away and it's only her and him spinning slowly, eyes melting against his like the sweetest of chocolates.

"Me neither," she breathes. Her fingers curl around his.

Staring at her, she looks beautiful. A gown all in midnight blue with pastel pink at the bottom and jewels sprawled all over it, golden around her sleeves and mint on her back. Her hair is full of those flowers that Lillie created as accessories.

But the prettiest part of all is her eyes, her so kind and warm eyes, full of peace and the infinity of a galaxy. "You look beautiful," he whispers slowly. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to go see you. I would have loved to see you in that dress earlier."

In his delirium, in his drunken haze of marveling, he doesn't address the issue with the cage. She gives him an understanding look, just as always. "It's fine."

"I can visit you tomorrow if you'd like." He suggests, staring unabashedly at her. Almost in a daze, adoration bubbling in his throat.

Those eyes that had been offering him the world suddenly drift down to his shoes again, then manage to meet the wrinkles on his shirt. A gulp. "I won't be there tomorrow."

He blinks at this but shrugs it off as her being busy. A nervous weight heaves his words down to a wobble. "Then the day after tomorrow."

Her eyes turn even darker. More downcast. Something sinks in her gaze and his stomach suddenly feels heavy. "I won't be there that day, either."

Gladion is confused, utterly lost. He continues dancing with her around the hall as if only they exist, but there is a hole in her eyes that has sucked all light out of them. He doesn't like the sight, seeing her smile disappear.

Something has changed within her. And he isn't sure he wants to hear it.

Her hands threaten to unclasp from his but he keeps them there firmly. Her name is a trembling, questioning murmur from his lips.

Her voice comes just as shaky.

"Somebody is about to unleash a great danger upon Earth if I stay here, in Æther Tower, with you." The last part sounds clearer than the others, in his haze. "I have to leave. To keep Earth safe. To keep you safe."

Her words are quick, and so is her explanation. Something sharp and meticulous like what she would have said when they had first met. Curt. Polite. Enough to be civil. It's as if she is slipping away from his hands. Why does it feel like he will never see her again?

A rip opens itself within him and his heart falls right through it. "Moon, what are you talking about?" He lets go of one of her hands to cup her warm cheek. "Talk to me. What is going on?"

And she leans against it, berating herself because feelings and love and not knowing what she was doing are what got her to this point: to the point of no return, where she had counted her blessings for far too long.

"I can't be here with you anymore, Gladion," she repeats. Something in her voice breaks, and when her eyes meet his again, they are hazy with a sheen of pooled tears. "I have been far too selfish and loved you too much for far too long." Her head shakes, her shoulders tremble as she keeps the sobs bottled up. "I'm just a selfish woman. For loving you."

"She's a selfish woman, Gladion."

But before he can grasp the meaning of it all, before he can root her to the place and tell her he has realized what is going on, that he is so angry for allowing this to happen, before he can tell her that she needs to stay and that he loves her, Moon is moving away from his arms.

Hold on.

His mind moves twice as quick as his hands do. Her gown slips between the people in the dancefloor.

Wait. Come back.

Moving to where he cannot reach her. Disappearing into the crowd. Going towards the stairs that lead to the ceiling. Sun by her side.

Don't leave me.

Their shiny suits and dresses disappearing into the darkness of Æther Tower.

I still need you, I still love you.

And like that, she is gone.

 


 

"Miss, are you sure about this?"

She surveys the view with cold eyes, the only feeling she could muster at a moment as critical as this. Her chin is high and her morale is admittedly low, but she has not been debating over this for the last days for it to be undermined now. Under her, the round Earth floats bathed in lights and a blue sea. Dim stars dot the sky. Comets shoot amok across the Milky Way.

The view is beautiful, breathtaking. Moon has never seen anything as beautiful as that.

The height is, however, intimidating. "There is no other way around this. If I don't leave, the Mistress will…" Moon swallows her words in fear of being listened to. "You can remain here if you–"

"I said I would never leave you, even when day and night separated us, didn't I?" His question is rhetorical. Moon's eyes sink at him remembering the promise. "Don't say that nonsense. We will be fine."

Her eyes inspect the fall. It's illuminated by a whirlwind of constellations and golden winds. A blessing of Arceus. A path of redemption.

"The road of reincarnation," she murmurs. "This is the only way for us to leave. But I don't know what will happen." She takes one step towards the ledge. Her hands are crossed over her front. "I don't want this to be the last time I look at the stars."

And if she goes back and stays, hell will be unleashed upon Earth. The land she loves. The land she comes from, just like Sun. Seeing it be set ablaze by the wrath of a single woman is terrifying to think about.

Her immortality be damned, she cannot let her homeland be destroyed at the hands of a woman as wicked as Lusamine. And she knows that Sun can't fathom it either.

"If we jump down… we will go through reincarnation, right? All those tales I heard about are true?"

A light breeze plays with her hair and blows some flowers off her hair. "We're trading our material body to reincarnate our spirit into a new life. A gift from Arceus. That's what Kyogre told me anyway."

It makes sense, somehow, in a very twisted and complicated way. Sun is a far cry from a skeptical god, and this is an opportunity too good for them to miss it, no matter the circumstances behind them.

"Miss," Moon looks from the planet at their feet to her companion. Her brother in arms. "If we reincarnate, we should do it as something cool, yeah? And hang out every day, maybe as heroes. Something fitting of us both."

Moon certainly hasn't missed his aimless humor, but it makes her chuckle nonetheless. "We will be together every day. And we will catch many Pokémon, no matter where we land." She holds a small pink up to him. "Together forever."

A hand on the small of her back. An encouraging smile that doesn't reach his eyes, but she doesn't have the bravery to look into them anymore. "Deal." He grins. "I don't know how much this will take, but let's make the best out of our next lifetime, okay?"

A little laugh erupts from her chest. They are at freedom's doorstep. "For Gladion and Lillie. And Earth."

Her Primarina's ball stirs on her hip, along with Reuniclus, Corsola, Toxapex, Lapras, and Frillish. It will only take a step and a breath.

I'm sorry, GladionLillie, she thinks as her and Sun are about to take one final step, for leaving you behind.

But as they are about to fall, the door to the ceiling slams open and a scream snaps them out of their task. The gods' faces sink in utter panic as Lillie and Gladion storm in and catch up with them, faces equally scared but also furious.

Gladion walks over to her first. The lapels of his suit flap in the high wind of Æther Tower, moving his hair and showing his eye under the fringe. Ire and confusion pulsate in his irises, so much so she feels cold dread creep throughout her body.

"What in the world were you two about to do?" Gladion's scowl is deep, but more worry than anger shows up in his eyes. "Are you insane? You thought you could up and leave without any explanation?"

Lillie tries to appease him with a pleading look, standing close by. "Gladion…"

But he doesn't listen. "Why are you doing this? What is going on for you two to leave and again, why are you doing this!?"

Moon's eyes sink to her feet and are instead meet with his spasming hand that he is trying to grab to absolutely no avail. His whole being vibrates with anger, frustration. There is an ugly grimace that stretches his face into an emotional contortion.

Before Sun can interrupt him, Moon steps towards Gladion. Her eyes travel towards Lillie for a short second, and the girl's words freeze in her throat. A shudder runs up her spine.

"You don't want to hear this," she murmurs as she looks at both siblings. "Neither of you want to."

Gladion is tired of this charade. He is tired of being kept in the dark, of people keeping secrets for his sake. His frown deepens, a hand falls on his fringe to hide the fierce scowl embedded in his features.

"I don't care, Moon," he rasps out, almost hoarse. He is still a little out of breath after running up so many stairs so quickly. "I want to know. We need to know. Help us understand."

The Midnight Goddess turns to her counterpart and he nods in approval. Confidence in every bob of his head.

She sighs. Her arms hug herself as if to shield her body from the wind. "I killed your father."

At first, he thinks he has heard incorrectly. Lillie blinks. Time passes slowly as their expressions morph into wide eyes and frowns of confusion, and Moon proceeds to explain. Her body shakes with each word she speaks.

"Lusamine told me about this the day Primarina came back. I didn't remember who the man was that got killed in the failed mission but… I was told it was your father. And many things began to make sense after that."

Sun's hand is on her shoulder, but she disregards it.

Her arms curl around herself tighter. "When I came back from the mission, I was put into the cage. People stopped coming to my chamber, and those few who did ran away, terrified of me. They thought I would kill them." A bitter laugh escapes her lips. "The Mistress never liked me for obvious reasons. And she punished me for my mistake."

Silence sweeps over the ceiling of Æther Tower. Wisps of wind blow upwards and play with Moon's hair, but all she feels is the cold void of misery breaking her in two. She had killed Lillie and Gladion's father, a loved one of those she loves the most.

Irony is bitter when it's this pungent.

A sharp breath. Resignation. "You guys need to go back. Now that you know everything, you can go back to where you belong." She begins to turn around. "Lunala and Solgaleo will take our places, but as free spirits. And so will Palkia and Dialga. Nothing will go wrong like this."

But a hand is clasped on her shoulder, shaking in a familiar pace of stutters and unsteady breathing. A cold touch, firm and resolute. She turns her eyes to see Gladion glaring at her with an intensity that makes her freeze on the spot.

"Things will go wrong if you jump." A sob shakes his words. "The fact that you are leaving us behind is pretty major."

Sun interrupts him as he sees Moon shrink in guilt. "If we don't go, Lusamine will release a horde of Ultra Beasts on Earth. It will destroy the planet."

Moon gives him an incriminating look, because that is a truth that didn't need to see the light. Lillie and Gladion blink at a pace ten times slower than normal, words fail to take flight from their throats at such revelation. Their minds are blank, stumbling around the fact that their mother is (unsurprisingly) a villain.

"It can't be!" roars Lillie, yet hesitation drips from her words. "Mother loves Pokémon."

"Lusamine loves all Pokémon in Æther Tower. But the people of Earth are of no importance," explains Sun. His body is rigid, stiff, as if he is awaiting punishment. "And we can't take the risk of this being a bluff. It's too serious to be one."

They know he's right. Somewhere deep in their minds, they know Moon and Sun are correct. The appearance of Ultra Beasts in Æther and the few Gladion saw on Earth are too coincidental with what Sun and Moon had just explained.

Gladion's expression falls. It shatters like a teacup full of water, all adoration he felt for her spreading like hot lava.

"So that's it?" Gladion cries. "It's over?"

Moon braces herself for the emotional impact. The guilt, the sadness. When she meets his eyes, she swears to herself it will be the last time and that she will not break, regardless of what she sees in his irises.

However, as soon as she sees the distress and sorrow in his eyes, she loses all dignity and high ground. "All of this is my fault."

"Moon–"

"It is, Sun." Her words wobble in the middle. "I lost that battle, I killed their father, and I fell in love with my enemy's son." In her turmoil, Moon has no reason to be dishonest. "And I have to leave, alone or–"

"I said no."

His hand has shot out to grab her wrist, and she is met with pure fire that is burning the leaves off his green eyes. Resolve, a determination that she had only seen in her own eyes in the waters of her pond.

She had never seen a light so beautiful, yet so misguided.

Cold hands cup her cheeks. "Our father died during a battle far too big for you to complete. You were a rookie. You did your best, and our father is in the past now."

(And the future had always been her. Until now, it seems.)

His words leave tension in the air. Lillie looks at her brother with a forlorn expression, pained at the ruckus throbbing within him. There must be something they can do to help, something to not be separated again.

Lillie doesn't want this to be over yet.

The solution reaches Gladion far faster that it reaches her.

"I'm jumping with you."

The reaction doesn't make itself wait. Moon's mouth hangs open and so does Sun's, but the girl hurries to grab his hand and try to make him change his mind. "No way you are doing that! You cannot leave!"

"Oh, but you can? That's very unfair, don't you think?" He looks at her accusingly, shutting her up at once. "If you leave, I leave. I promised myself I would be strong enough for the people I love. If you jump, I'm jumping after you."

Moon frowns even deeper now, taking a step in his direction. "You have to stay in Æther. You have your sister, you have your mother–"

"If you jump," comes a feminine voice from their left. "Then I'm coming, too."

It is Sun now who turns in shock to look at the girl, who is walking towards the ledge in curiosity. "You too!?"

She peers over. "The way Mother treats us like slaves… it doesn't feel like we are her children. What is the purpose of staying here? Immortality means nothing when you can't enjoy it." At least her claims are a little bit stronger than Gladion's. "This is the road of reincarnation, right? You told me about this weeks ago."

Gladion's eyes narrow in suspicion. "It is. She also told me about it several times."

The jab hangs in the air but she doesn't bite into it. "I only planned this a few days ago. And in the plan, it was only me. You two need to stay here."

The girl attempts to walk away from Gladion again but he grabs her forearm once more, rooting her close to him. She almost trips against him, but he holds her firmly. He has never looked taller than this, disapproval and turmoil so vibrant it makes her hear hammer in trepidation.

From the corner of her eyes, she sees Sun and Lillie take a few steps back to give them a little bit of space. She has also seen in Sun's eyes that he has something to tell Lillie, as well.

The second they are alone, Gladion doesn't hesitate to push her to where he can cup her cheek, making her look up and stare her with a decision made a long time ago.

It screams firmness and toughness in so many ways she just is drawn to his eyes again.

"If you leave, I leave," he murmurs. "I swore to myself I would never let you get hurt again. Not after all you have done for me, all you were about to do for my sake." His hands shake on her face, a gulp falls through his throat as to keep fear at bay.

At a loss of words, Moon looks behind her, and then at Gladion. "You will lose your immortality, your powers, everything! You are safe in Æther. You will be safe here."

The wind of the ceiling of Æther Tower messes with her hair, but eyes so passionate about him and his safety are beautiful all the same.

"What's the worth of being here when all I will do is kill for a living and fill paperwork like a slave?" he questions her, eyes accusing but touch oh, so relieving. "I can't have that. Not anymore."

"It's what you did before we met."

"It's because of you that I don't want to have that life anymore, Moon." His hands fall to curl around her waist, pushing her to his chest effortlessly. "Because I love you. And I don't want you to go where I can't protect you. Where we don't watch each other's backs."

It is with those words that she breaks. All the resolution she has built for days on end crumbles to smithereens with those three words she has been dying to hear all along, even when she knew they had been in his heart for a long time.

Her arms reach for him and he brings her into his arms immediately. They will always have each other to lean on.

Gladion pushes her impossibly close, cheek on the crown of her head and his embrace tight because he doesn't know what the future has in store anymore. Whatever lies beyond this night, that's up to Arceus to decide.

"I just want you to be safe," she murmurs against his chest. "If I reincarnate, I will at least do so knowing you two are safe and sound."

"Lillie and I are not safe here. Come on, even you know it." She does. A part of her at least knows this is not a safe place. "If we reincarnate, I'm sure that we will meet again. It's impossible for me to be separated from you for a long time."

Her heart feels lighter at his small joke, at the little chuckle at the end of his sentence. "Still, please reconsider."

"Stop being so stubborn." He cups her chin gently and presses a chaste kiss on her lips, which he deepens into something more emotional as she grabs his shirt. "The four of us will reincarnate. We will be together again. And I will not accept no for an answer."

The familiar line brings her to blink some residual tears away and she smiles in encouragement at him. He doesn't let go of her, though, and his hand falls on hers as Lillie and Sun walk close to the pair.

Something seems to have changed in Lillie's eyes, in the same way that Gladion's are lighter and Lillie's are now a bit brighter. "We are ready."

Moon nods and she steps carefully to the edge of the ceiling. The fall looks high, but she hopes it will be quick and painless. "We have to jump down through this whirlwind. I don't know the details but… it should be quick."

Gladion is close behind her, his sister by his side. Sun walks next to Moon and he grabs her hand too, just as Lillie holds onto Gladion's. A sense of vertigo brews fear for the unknown within them.

But as long as they have faith in the future, they will be fine. Moon knows this, no matter the fall.

"We have to jump." She stutters out. Her feet move a bit closer to the vertiginous fall, the ends of her shoes peeking past the ledge. "We will be fine."

Sun turns to them with a hopeful smile. "To a better life?"

Lillie responds right back, taking the first step forward. It meets no ground, and she tips forward. "To a new life!"

And the four of them lean past the ledge and begin their descent. It is nowhere close to the peaceful fall into the depths of her pond back in her chamber, but it still fills her with so much more hope than any fake dreams or hopes she had fooled herself into believing.

Everything moves fast. The stars become but a blur of watercolors and farewells, Æther Tower observing them fall with severe silence. Earth gets closer to them and Moon only feels Sun and Gladion's hand latching onto hers.

Free falling as she is, she fails to notice Sun's hand disintegrating away from hers with a laugh from the boy, just as they enter the outer layers of planet Earth. A bubble of laughter erupts from Gladion and with another from his sister, she fades into the air with a big smile, wrapped in light.

His arms wrap around Moon as they fall down the sky. Tears stream down their faces, eager to meet their new lives on this new planet.

New opportunities. A new story. He can't wait to see her again.

"I will find you again, no matter how many years it takes me!" He screams as the wind from the fall overlaps his words. "Wait for me, okay?"

Their foreheads touch one final time, her legs beginning to fall apart. Sunlight hits her face. Salt from the clear warm ocean sprays on her face. "I will always wait for you, you stupid god."

Her laughter fills his ears and their lips connect for one last time, falling down the clear skies. A quiet I love you floats in the air as his smile begins to fade away, and soon enough, Moon finds herself alone again.

But she knows it won't be for long.

Before her body can touch the seawater, she disappears into the wind with a cheeky grin of hope.

Chapter Text

"Miss, Miss!"

A cheery voice comes from somewhere behind her. It echoes and comes in waves as conscience washes over her slowly.

Her fingers curl to find coarse sand under her fingers, the burning coast under her thighs and she takes in a deep inhale of humid, salty air. Her eyes blink awake after a long nap, and she sits up to stretch her arms upwards.

Looking back, the Courier is waving at her like mad, apparently wanting to show her something of interest for his profitable purposes. Moon frowns at him from the shore. Seafoam tickles her boots' soles.

"Could you be any louder? I was napping!"

The Courier looks at her with a teasing smile that she certainly has not missed. "C'mon! There's this super big eating contest in Konikoni Town, and I need that prize!"

Moon begrudgingly gets up and brushes sand off her green shorts, some off her shirt and then a lot of it from her purse. She can't be bothered with anything that got into her hair. "I'm going, I'm going!"

Stretching her legs as she walks forward, a Seagull coos in the distance. Moon turns her head to look over her shoulder, thoughtful. The sparkling sea moves softly with its bright foam.

Shaking the thought off, Moon skips after her friend and proceeds to criticize his life as much as she can. As it has always been.

 


 

"Do you believe in fairy tales?"

Moon turns from her place to look at her workmate, if she could even call him that. He is her boss, her investigation colleague, her partner in crime, a long-time friend.

His eyes are as stale as usual, professional, no spark of meaning she can discern after that odd question. Not making much fuss about it, she turns around and continues taking notes. "Don't be ridiculous. Fairy tales are for children, Mr. President."

A pushed exhale escapes him. "What about Pokémon folklore, then?"

He has made his way to her side now. She is surveying a patch of garden in Æther Paradise with plenty Corsola and Popplio in it, ticking berries off a list. If he approves of her work so far, he doesn't say.

She is half-listening to his question, and she gives it some thought, pen on her lip. "I suppose folklore is a little different."

Quiet noises fill the air between them, light and paused as always. Serene. No words needed after so many years of friendship. The harsh beating of her heart is another story, however, and as Gladion continues to stand there admiring her work, she grows slightly flustered.

"Which begs the question," she continues, taking him off guard, "why are you asking this? As far as I know, you aren't interested in those sorts of issues, Mr. President."

"I have told you many times that you don't need to call me that."

She moves to another aisle in the garden. "I'm being professional." He follows her.

He speaks with lukewarm amusement as he says the following, tease trailing after her. "Sometimes I think you just do it to mock me because I used to call you by your rank."

Moon shrugs, a smile hidden behind her notepad. "That's something you will never know." Another chuckle they share this time. "Besides, Head Pharmacist has a very nice ring to it. You could have kept using it for all I care."

Seeing the topic has heavily diverged, Gladion clears his throat. Cutiefly float in the air, pecking at berries from high up in the trees. "So, no fairy tales?"

"No fairy tales."

"But you do believe in mythology and folklore."

Finally, Moon puts her notepad down and looks at him straight on. As pleased as she is to see him around her workplace at random hours like these, his questions are being overly repetitive for them not to have importance.

"Okay, what's up with all this sudden interest? Did Lillie tell you one of those silly stories of hers again?" His eyes narrow in distaste, and then he sighs.

Hands on his hips, fake exasperation to conceal adoration for his sister. "She has, but that's not my point," he admits, earning him a giggle from his workmate as she resumes her duties absent-mindedly.

Her laughter always does a little something to him that confuses him greatly, either because it's a rare noise or because it's her noise.

"I have been having dreams lately," Gladion confesses, hands in his pockets where he fumbles with a pen. Moon peels her eyes off her notes and looks at him. "About gods and mythology and having a lot of legendary Pokémon."

The girl snickers without malice. "I think your ambition is getting into you." A little silence. A needed addition. "And your workaholic tendencies."

Of course. "That could be true."

She hears him sigh. Her eyes drift to look at him. In the light of Æther Paradise, he always looks so clean, pristine and angelic. Clear skin, serene eyes after a lifetime of pain, and golden hair, almost blinding. And to think that he used to wear those rags during his Team Skull days.

The worst part is that she knows he still has them deep in his closet, just for old days' sake.

Moon is eventually done with her notes and clips her pen to the pocket of her lab coat. Her notepad is still tucked in her arms as she walks up to him again.

He can tell she is severely tired after being corseted in her lab all morning, running medicines on the many Pokémon that had reached Æther Paradise after the increase of Ultra Beasts in recent days. She still walks with dignity and composure he wishes he could even imitate. If she sees his tiredness, her way of helping him go through it is by grabbing his arm in a demanding fashion.

"We're going to grab a bit of tea– scratch that, tea for me, coffee for you. And talk about that Sinnoh tech I told you about last week." She lists her ideas one by one and he nods as he falls into pace with her, arm now free. "Oh, I also have to tell you about the Courier. He's everywhere lately."

"Courier?" he asks incredulously, garnering him a pouty glare from his dear friend. "And here I was thinking I had it rough with my nickname. You have been friends for years, Moon."

And he knows the jab won't work. She gives him a gentle push towards the cafeteria.

"Oh, shut up."