Hahaha, it hurts! It just hurts!
What hurts? Too much to keep track off, frankly. He just aches all over, from head to toe; from the migraine of having barely slept to the pain of having walked and biked for days and days; from the dark thoughts he tries to keep buried from the outside world and the hazards on the ground that he stumbles over when he starts to overthink things.
Despite how many times he’s been curb-stomped to the ground, how many times he’s flown in the air after the shockwave a move can make, and how much all of these hurt afterwards, he’s kept rising to his feet over and over again. He’s lost to his rival ten times already, he’ll never shine as bright as his brother or the friend he spent his childhood with, unbeatable as they are and ordinary as he is. He’s nothing special, nothing shiny, just nothing.
Portraits of Lee decorating the living room and countless discussions between his own family aside, there’s a lot of other things that tell him he’s the inferior product. A lot of other little, tiny things – of details, even – that ache to think about, that pinch his heart to the point of being slightly nauseous.
Everyone on his team has fainted, aside from Dubwool who’s courageously fighting the hail with him. He regrets having ever taken his first partner, his most loyal one, away in some PC box out of the sheer mass of his insecurities, of that constant will to improve despite nothing good ever coming from that. He hangs onto its Ball as firmly as he can, the strength of it making him afraid he’ll make it shatter if he clenches it too strongly.
He’s actually surprised he feels this strong to begin with. After trekking for days, fighting everything he could, trying to find new members to reinforce his team, it’s surprising he can still think of himself as strong enough to do that. If it wasn’t for the pain bolting in his chest, he wouldn’t be clenching that ball as if his life depended on it.
And what a pain it is! It started with the missed Psycho Cut of a wild Gallade, whom Corviknight had narrowly the assault of shortly before getting taken down itself, hitting right into the left side of his chest and most likely at least making some internal damage in there. That was around two days ago, if he isn’t wrong, and it’s shown no sign of hurting less anytime soon.
It bruised rapidly, or so he thinks compared to those he’d often get when he was younger (and also not unlike the ones Lee got during the Eternatus incident, on second thought…). Pressing a hand against it too strongly makes him yelp in pain while his skin keeps worsening in colour around where he got it. He was lucky for it not to have bled on the spot, but that doesn’t make anything much better: it still hurts a ton and he still has trouble breathing because of it. If it’s not getting better after a couple days, when will it do so?
At times, black dots appear all over his vision, for some reason, and he starts swaying and staggering until Dubwool catches him back with its fur. He used to apologize verbally, the first times that’d happen; but he’s found himself having less and less breath to give his excuses with. Sentences became a couple words, words some syllable.
It doesn’t help that he’s constantly lightheaded and easily gets dizzy. If he moves a little too rapidly, his vision goes for a swim and may not come back. If it wasn’t for Dubwool fending off the Sneasels that take interest in them at times, he’d have been a goner for sure. He has the feeling this is all related to his injury, to that toxic-looking bruise that’s festering under his miserable layers, but doesn’t see exactly how. Well, that’s not entirely true: he can easily suppose it’s because that injury makes it harder to breathe, so much harder, because of the pain it fires up in him every time he tries to speak and breathe.
The city is in sight. Wyndon’s lights and tower are in view, and he finally feels some relief, Dubwool seemingly bleating in agreement. However, right as he charges his legs to rush there, he trips over some ice, his damp sole gliding for a split second, losing his balance and falling again. Dubwool doesn’t have the time to react properly and stop him, so he falls right on his chest from all of his height, a sickening thumb resonating with his fall. The air gets propelled out of his lungs in one fell swoop, dizzying him even further.
He has no time to lose, especially not what he’s that close to the city, so he tries getting up on his arms. The pain that has been dully brushing against his ribs is now acting in an even fuller swing, the black dots not leaving his line of sight, almost preventing him from breathing altogether. He could stop to take a taxi, but what if he’s to pass out before it even comes? No, no, he has no time to lose…
His legs have endured a beating of their own before, decorated with scratches and bruises from the rocks he didn’t see coming and the claws of the local wildlife, tired of pushing on themselves to make him keep going. As a result, he has to use Dubwool as a support, failing to rise up once or twice before managing to finally regain a footing and continue his route to Wyndon. He’ll be there soon, he’ll be able to know what’s wrong and to finally give himself actual rest. Arceus, doesn’t that sound amazing?
He suddenly coughs violently, not even having the time to say anything or even put a hand in front of his mouth. He’s left gasping for air, unable to really make oxygen enter his chest anymore, especially once he sees what has just gotten out of his system, spread on the snow like an unremovable stain on an immaculate carpet. This is it: he has to go forward now or he’ll never see the light of day again.
With tremendous efforts, he makes it to Wyndon, out of breath; legs shaking in instability and arms tired of holding a hand against an injury that most likely doesn’t get any better from getting pressed. He’s still coughing, even if it hurts him even more to do so, and he’d just like to laugh it all off. He’d have done that if the pain wouldn’t get even more excruciating from such a gesture alone. The Centre is very much near now, and he can get there if his chest doesn’t give up on him too. Still, there’s another sight that makes him stop for a few seconds, and a shiver goes down his spine.
In the distance is his childhood best friend, his journey companion, his (former?) rival, waving at him vigorously. She’s smiling, grinning even, as he runs towards him. It’s only when she notices the hand clutching the hurtful part of his abdomen that Gloria drops the smile and immediately worries. It’s kind of hard to say for sure when most of his vision is blurry from the tears that are flooding it by the second.
D-dammit, he doesn’t want to worry her of all people!
“Hop, are you alright?” She asks, voice hesitant, in a tone he hasn’t heard in a little while.
“Y-yeah, I… I should be… real soon…!” He’s breathless and speaking hurts even further; yet tries smiling, only for his face to follow his chest.
“You’re sure about that? You look like you’re in pain!”
“It’s nothing…! I pro –”
Before he can pronounce his false oath, he starts coughing again, despite all his best efforts not to. The thing building up in his airways gets out anyway, no matter what he wants, and his vision starts swimming again. He’s afraid he’ll blackout before he can reach the Centre, so he should quickly stop that conversation and…
“Let me see.”
He stares at her for a millisecond, eyes squinting. He was just about to grab a tissue and clean the inside of his palm.
“Hop,” her voice strengthens, reminiscent of the Champion who’s beaten his until then undefeatable brother. “Please, Hop, let me see. It really doesn’t sound right.”
He reluctantly gives her his hand, the black dots dancing around them like will-o-wisps. She doesn’t respond to it, her reaction instead cementing itself in silence. That is, until she finds what words she wants to put on it. It drops in a glacial, no-nonsense tone, raw and undignified:
“…I’m calling for help.”
Before he could interrupt her attempt at doing so, the quick move he tried to pull off to do so makes itself felt and he collapses on his knees, the pain in his chest unbearably intense. It’s like he’s been kicked in the abdomen, and then someone was twisting something inside of it. Breathing is becoming impossible, or at least barely, from how painful it is to inhale and exhale, from how difficult it is to simply focus on that with such a hazy mind. He wants to cry, but that sounds like choking himself even further…
Gloria seems to be over with her call rapidly, as she next kneels down to his level, her warm hands on his cold shoulders, then on his forehead. Her touch is delicate, as if she’s stroking crystal, while he’s busy not strangling himself with whatever’s happening inside of him at the moment. She gives him soft words of reassurance, shelters him with her arms from the rest of the world, tells him he doesn’t have to lie or suffer anymore. He likes that. He wishes his arms could do the same for her, but she simply is so much stronger than he is, and there is nothing he can do about it. Maybe, one day, he’ll be able to pay her out…
“Don’t worry, you’ll feel better soon,” is the last thing he hears before his vision fades to black.
Gloria wishes she could have been waiting with Dubwool by her side, both so she wouldn’t be alone and because it’s her best friend’s closest partner; but, naturally, that’s not possible in a hospital, so she instead fumbles with its Ball.
She tried calling Leon and Sonia earlier to warn them about what had happened, but neither of them responded. If she’s to assume, she’d say Leon is busy with managing the Battle Tower and Sonia is head-deep into her studies, may have had a sleepless night and is now snoring over her desk, left unable to be awaken by her phone (which she most likely put on Plane Mode anyway…). She’ll have to wait for them to pick them back up and call her back, then. Ah, that sort of stuff happens. Plus, they can’t have known.
They really can’t guess what happened.
She can’t quite put back the pieces, at the moment, because of how little she knows about the sequence of events that brought Hop to Wyndon, on a fairly sunny day with cold air, with most of his party fainted, an exhausted Dubwool and, most of all, a couple broken ribs. If Hop can communicate with Dubwool, then she really can’t, even if she’s never wished that much in her life that she could understand bleating. She hadn’t even considered the question until today!
What worries her the most is the blood he was spitting when he was trying to talk to her. Is that a symptom of broken ribs? She can’t remember having ever broken such a bone in her life, or known someone who did. Truth be otold, there may have been that one time where that could have happened, but she never got to know why. A few years ago, the neighbours suddenly went to Wyndon for a week, taking Hop with them, and Mum just kept saying that things would be back to normal soon. She didn’t lie, but the sketchiness of it all makes her suspicious… It doesn’t help that, that year, the Gym Challenge finals got postponed.
Still, there’s something inside of her that just knows something’s gone terribly wrong. She can’t exactly pinpoint how, or why, or if it’s even possible that such a feeling could be right. All she knows is that she’s having an awful impression of it all and that her heart is beating in overdrive. Winding out is not exactly the easiest thing to do when she’s stuck in a waiting room, having to choose between pacing indefinitely or sit on a chair and play around with her fingers or her phone.
She’s tempted to go outside to wait for the news to be given to her, absolutely; but she’s afraid that, if she does so, the doctors will have nobody to give it to if she’s still outside by then. That’d be underestimating how much she wants to see him, to know what exactly happened and how she, as a Champion and as a friend worthy of such name, can fix things. That’s part of her missions as Leon’s successor, right?
Set on staying here until someone gets out of the operation room, the bright red light of the “In Use” sign sitting over the doorframe whose direction she regularly glances at still shining over the daylight pouring through the windows, Gloria settles on studying her surroundings yet again. The walls are still white and pristine, with barely any spot or stain to be noticed. The floor is covered by a layer of grey linoleum, as boring to comment on as it’s functional. If she can guess such a room is regularly cleaned, she can also tell there’s been a couple stretchers that have wheeled through it to the operation room today already. The lines and stains left by these, unlike the walls, are still visible.
The room is empty and, aside from her unnerved breathing and impatient footsteps, silent. The soundproof walls make it so she can’t hear a thing, even if she puts her ear against the wall, morbidly curious, trying to keep herself from dipping into some seriously messed-up thoughts that have been trying to assault her mind ever since Hop started showing signs he wasn’t as fine as he’d have liked her to believe.
In a way, it’s funny that he’s doing exactly the same thing as his brother. They both said “I’m fine, don’t worry” at times where they knew they weren’t. Still, she doesn’t think that Hop did that on purpose, now that he’s tried freeing himself from Leon’s shadow. It’s more of a thing that she sees herself doing… As hypocritical as that may be, and as much as she dislikes knowing he purposefully lied to her thinking it’d be the right thing to do for her sake, she can understand it. She can understand it and that has to be why she hates it so much…
Gloria’s back hits the wall as she glides down to her feet, crouching with her forearms on her knees. Time’s too long and she’s getting nauseous from the anxiety that keeps piling in her throat and chest, heart throbbing. Trying not to cry is already a behemoth task in itself, so she focuses on that, only for her thoughts to change back to what could be happening and questions she can’t have an answer to.
She snaps back to reality when the red light turns off and the door finally opens, revealing a gurney getting wheeled to the other side of the room and a surgeon, still wearing his stained scrubs, walking up to her. She stands back up, rising herself on stiff and yet trembling legs, and lies back against the wall, gulping. Her mind rings and burns with a thousand questions; but her voice can’t catch up, not even a whisper exiting her mouth. The man gives her a tired, yet soft smile back:
“Your friend will be fine. Absolutely is the brother of the former Champion, his fighting spirit showed in the OR…”
She has to retain herself from hugging the man right in front of her and give him a waterfall of thanks. Instead, she remembers for a split second she’s the current Champion, shakes her head and keeps the waterworks from unfolding for a little while longer:
“Thank you so much, doctor.”
There is a silent horror seeping in her veins from being here. Everything about the room is eerie: the slow, somewhat regular beeps of a monitor; the oxygen mask sitting there, accompanying an otherwise soothing breath; the abnormal serenity of the air around her, the whiteness of a room that reminds her of the snow and the smell of antibiotics.
She remembers waiting in a lobby with Hop decorated like that in Hammerlocke, his hand clutching hers while he tried not to bit his thumb or cry in stress, the both of them tired and battered yet the lucky party of the fight against Eternatus. She remembers the horrified yet relieved look on his face as they discovered in what state his brother was. She remembers the words that got out of his mouth, how he found it so creepy to have Lee lying there, almost lifeless.
Surely there is some irony to be found about Hop now playing that role.
It hurts to be there, to see the time standing still yet again, as she waits for him to wake up. A part of her does like him to be resting after the nightmare he must have endured to end up like that. With the injuries he’s sustained, it’s only normal he doesn’t wake up immediately. She’s trying to combine that with the effect of sleeping gas, but as a girl who’s never had a surgery, it’s hard for her to estimate such a thing. She’s got to wait and…
She’s about to drift off when she realizes Hop’s head is now turned towards her, the faintest smirk on his lips. He looks beyond tired, exhausted by the experience and the trauma of the surgery, pale all around, but he’s still here, safe. The light press she feels on her hands makes her realize she’s been holding his all along. That’d be embarrassing if she wasn’t trying to get her priorities straight.
“Hop, you’re awake!” That’s beyond obvious, what’s the point of saying aloud like that? Maybe it’s just from the sheer happiness of this being a fact…
His voice is weak, low and raspy, barely more hearable than a whisper; quite the opposite of the roaring tone he’d usually speak in. Still, that’s his voice, that’s him being able to breathe yet again, and it’s more than enough for now. Of course, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish deeply for his recovery to happen soon; that’s just settling down for a sustainable goal for now. Better not rush things in, for she has a feeling that may have happened to her good old friend over here…
“How are you?” She asks, keeping her own voice down.
“Better than gone, I suppose.”
Hop inhales deeply, wincing slightly when he does. A slow hand strokes the left side of his chest, trying to calm something down.
“A-again… Thanks for… y’know… saving me…”
“That was nothing. We have to look out for each other, don’t we?”
The mood sinks with his smile, dragging her heart with it.
“Sorry for… that…”
Gloria doesn’t reply immediately, letting a silence settle itself, uncomfortable and thick.
“You’re having problems breathing, right?”
“No wonder you do, with what you got for yourself… How did you even go for that long with these injuries?”
“I wanted to… make sure my… team would be safe.”
“The good news is that they’re safe, now. Dubwool seemed really worried about you when I found you two!”
“He’s such a great ’on, right…?”
“He sure is.” She clears her throat. “Anyway. I meant to ask you to be easier on yourself from now on. It was really heart-breaking to see you like that struggling to even breathe.”
“Sorry for being such a klutz… Got hit by a Gallade… Slipped on some ice…”
“…and pierced your lung.”
“So, as I said: don’t do that again, okay? You deserve a lot more than dragging yourself like that, Hop.”
He looks aside.
“Of course I do! What am I to you, a liar?”
He almost laughs until his pain catches back to him, causing the fit to immediately stops in its tracks.
“’t wasn’t what I meant…!”
“I guessed so.”
It’s to Gloria’s turn to look aside and feel something burn inside of her, scratching her chin with her finger.
“I meant to say, you’re amazing, Hop. I don’t want to see you go like you almost did. What’s a Champion without her rival?”
“That’s right, not the same person! You matter very much to so many people! So, please, can you take care of yourself?”
Hop still doesn’t reply. He looks like he’s lost his words somewhere along the way.
“Not for anyone either. For yourself. I… I hope you’ll one day understand how important you are.”
She can understand she’s being confusing and emotional. Trying to pull strings together is harder than usual.
“I’ll try that, then…”
The two of them settle in a comfortable silence. She’ll have to ask him when he’s better what happened to him in case such a disaster is to happen again (which she really hopes it doesn’t). For now, he’ll recover, and she’ll be by his side as he does so. Too bad for her Battle Tower scores and public interventions, some things just matter more than clout and fighting experience.
You know, once she’s sure they’ll be safe and sound, she can tell what’s truly on her mind and heart. It seems like he still doesn’t have a clue as to what’s hiding under the rocks…
Busting through the door, not even waiting for a yes or a no, Leon enters the room his baby brother is stuck in. Soon, however, his intense concern turns into a sort of awkwardness and utter surprise when he realizes he’s facing his brother and his best friend sleeping against next each other, their hands fiddled together.
Before he can mellow out and smile at the sudden sight of safety and softness, Sonia’s voice comes from behind his shoulder.
“Let them sleep instead of screaming like that, you big idiot.”
He has to agree with her, so his shoulders untenses as he lets her enter and closes the door behind them.