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In Ghostly Fashion

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Rin woke abruptly, propelled up from a dream as if from beneath deep water. It was bright. Rin squinted, blinked grainy eyes. The world took shape around her.

The lamp was on. She was on the couch, laptop slid over to rest against the back cushions. Her phone on the coffee table beside her glowed 12:37 AM.

Oh. Right. She'd lain down to watch a couple episodes of Alolan Detective Laki after she'd finished cleaning the kitchen. Just a break to rest her back after all that scrubbing. Just for a few minutes.

Rin groaned, and yawned, and closed her eyes again. It felt like gravity had increased since she'd started her nap. Nothing would be more comfortable than to settle back onto the throw pillow, now pleasantly warm and dented from her face, and go straight back to sleep. But it was basically Tuesday now, she only had three more days to get everything ready, and tomorrow she had to go settle everything up at school. She should get up, she should tackle the bathroom tonight, at the very least.

Rin forced watery eyes open again, her eyelids like tombstone slabs. Okay, compromise. There wasn't much point in trying to get more work done, not as late as it was. But at least she could drag herself over to bed and put on her pajamas and brush her teeth before she passed out again. Her mouth tasted like death, and at least making it to bed would make her feel something like a responsible adult.

Shuffling blearily towards the bedroom, Rin paused and squinted at something lying in her path. It looked like a crumpled tissue, but... colorful. Too small to be a wayward shirt. She reached down to pick it up, curiosity starting to push back the fog of fatigue. The rest evaporated when she recognized what she was holding. Rough dirty-yellow fabric, huge black-thread eyes, trailing ears...

"Sairi!" Rin yelled to the apartment at large.

Something gusted over by one of the bookshelves. A Masked Royal bobblehead bobbled and a DVD toppled down with a plasticky smack. Was that a dark tendril of something retreating behind a row of books?

Rin hurriedly averted her eyes, focusing on the discarded costume in her hand. She sighed and smoothed the patchwork fabric, looking into the costume's hopeful inanimate face. She laid it on the coffee table just in case, feeling obliquely sad.

And tired again. Rin stood a couple minutes, trying to convince herself to get more work done now she was properly awake, but no. She'd had enough.

rin7: Sairi ditched his disguise. There's a naked horrorterror running around my apartment.
daresDevils: oh shit. nude mimikyu
daresDevils: so are you gonna like get your soul sucked out through your eyeballs now
rin7: Nah, not by Sairi.
rin7: He's done this before, but it's been a long time. Starts messing with the costume if he feels anxious.
daresDevils: ah stress-induced nudity then
daresDevils: been there
rin7: Remind me why I keep talking to you, again?

Rin's to-do list soon pushed aside her worry over Sairi. No one in their right mind would keep a mimikyu without a stash of interesting fabric, thread and buttons and everything necessary to keep a ghost content. Not unless they fancied their own clothes or bits of furniture getting ripped apart to serve for repairs or a mimikyu's fashion upgrade. Sairi's own pile of scraps had been raided—it looked like he was keeping out of trouble for now.

After taking care of her work at the university Rin had to sit with Fala and reassure the lurantis that all her bonsai had been packed, along with everything necessary for their care. Rin went through the list while Fala fretted and made tiny adjustments to her trees, hissing and clicking to herself while she worked.

"All right, now for the root rakes," Rin said, rummaging in the box of horticultural supplies. "Big and... little. What else? We have the grow light, right?"

Fala muttered to herself and stirred the packed items with a scythe, and Rin glanced over at movement near the coffee table. Sairi was scooting around its edge in a new disguise—brown this time. Rin smiled and pretended not to notice.

"I think we've got everything," she said. "Are you feeling good about this? Did we miss anything?"

Fala hissed and clacked her mandibles, shearing off the tiniest tuft of moss creeping out of her birch's container. Everything was squared away, apparently, and two days early at that. Rin was a bit envious of how proactive Fala had been in gathering everything. Her own to-do list was enormous for the amount of time she had left.

"Can you pick out anything else you want to take to Bryss'?" she asked the lurantis. "I've still got to clean the bathroom and do laundry."

Fala chattered an affirmative and waved Rin off. So, the bathroom, then. But first...

Sairi was lurking shyly under the table, too nervous to come closer. "Hi, there," Rin said, kneeling in front of the mimikyu. "What a cute new disguise. I didn't know you wanted to be an eevee."

Sairi trilled and shuffled back and forth in nervous delight. Rin slowly reached out, and when Sairi didn't back away, rubbed the furry white fabric the mimikyu had used to make the eevee's ruff. "I didn't realize we had any of this stuff left. It's nice, isn't it? I bet it's comfy."

Sairi warbled and raised dark tendrils, reaching out for Rin. Rin picked him up and held him loose in her arms while he burbled happily. "All of your disguises are very cute," she said. "You know I like you just the same whatever you're wearing, right? Even if you don't have any disguise at all."

Sairi trilled but went very still when Rin said, "I'm not going away because I don't like you, Sairi. I like you a lot, and I'm going to miss you while I'm gone. I'm leaving because I have to, because I need to finish my degree, and I can't take pokémon with me. Do you understand?"

She'd explained before, multiple times, or at least she'd tried to. But Sairi squealed and struggled, and Rin set him back down so he could scurry off, wailing, into some dark corner or other. "It's going to be okay!" Rin called after him, to no response. A couple hours later she found the eevee costume discarded in one of Fala's empty pots, stitches half unpicked and rent as though by angry claws.

daresDevils: hey how's packing
daresDevils: I got time after work want me to come over?
rin7: That's okay. I think I have everything under control, and you're only going to freak the mons out at this point.
daresDevils: how's sairi?
rin7: Not great.
daresDevils: poor little guy
daresDevils: I got all his favorite snacks on tap it's gonna be life of luxury for him over here
rin7: I know. I think he'll be okay once he's settled in with you, but he's too afraid to want to try.
rin7: Fala's doing okay. We got all the plant stuff boxed up and ready to go today.
daresDevils: ah good
daresDevils: let's be real it's not the ghost that's gonna get me
daresDevils: more like I'm going to accidentally knock over an adorable tiny tree and get disemboweled by a leaf blade
rin7: Okay, realistically, yeah.

One day to go. Rin had to pack her own things now and systematically erase her presence from the apartment, turn her home into a non-threatening hotel for whoever would be renting it out while she was gone. Then there were last-minute e-mails from her supervisor and the other students on the trip, emergency changes of plan, oops-I-forgot-to-mentions. "Friendly reminder, grab some sunscreen at least SPF 50 if you don't want to go home with a new melanoma friend."

Rin groaned and had to close the laptop after that. Another trip to the drugstore, and she'd been there just a couple hours ago after realizing she didn't have any toothpaste she'd be able to get through security.

Fala watched all the activity from her favorite perch up near the skylight, restlessly cleaning her antennae and blades. Eventually she must have decided Rin's anxiety was too much and gone for a flight in the sun; Rin didn't see her leave. And it was well past noon before she realized she hadn't seen Sairi all day.

The scrap pile was ransacked, thread, twigs, and embroidery patches strewn on nearby carpet. That was another thing: she'd need to get more supplies so Bryss wouldn't have to worry about Sairi destroying her apartment. Or, no. Bryss could handle that. She could take Sairi to pick some stuff out, even; that might be a good way for the two of them to bond. Rin probably should have tried that earlier, had the three of them go out together or something. It wasn't like Sairi didn't know Bryss, but maybe it would have helped.

Too late for that now. Rin forced herself to stop ruminating, to not think about everything else she had to do, and simply write the idea down to remember for later. "Sairi?" she called, setting the pen aside.

No response, not even furtive rustling. The mimikyu had to be around somewhere—with another disguise? Or hiding precisely because he hadn't constructed a new one yet?

She couldn't worry about him right now. She needed to go to the drugstore, she needed to double-check the name on her boarding pass and the terminal she'd be leaving from, she needed to vacuum the bedroom and upload more photos to IslandStay.

The day passed at a frantic pace. Rin's to-do list dwindled, as much from her giving up on things as actually getting them done. Her suitcases were full, open on the floor and surrounded by items she still needed to cram in somehow. Fala had been in and out, but Rin thought she seemed excited as much as agitated, maybe thinking of the bigger windows in Bryss' apartment, which she'd seen a couple times.

Sairi, though, stayed out of sight, and Rin began to worry. What if he wouldn't come out tomorrow—just completely refused to go with Bryss? There were other places he could stay, they'd gone over them together, but this apartment wasn't one of them. Rin imagined updating her IslandStay page to read "Warning: actively haunted" and sighed. "Sairi?" she called. "Sairi, can you come out?"

Nothing again. He wouldn't have gone out; he didn't like roaming the way Fala did. Rin thought of putting Ghost Eraser on the television to tempt him out of hiding, but all the connectors for the TV were snarled up with the other cords in the front pocket of her suitcase.

"Are you working on another costume?" Rin went on in an indoor-yelling voice. "I'm excited to see it. But you need to finish it before Bryss gets here tomorrow, okay? Or wear one of your others. I need you to be ready to go on time. It's going to make things really hard for Bryss if she has to try and track you down after I'm gone."

Ah. Was that a flicker of motion near the kitchen? Rin kept watch from the corner of her eye—forget letting Sairi know she'd seen, it wasn't wise to turn your full attention to an unmasked mimikyu who wasn't ready for it.

"There's still time if you want to stay at a hotel or something. You just have to let me know soon, okay? I'm leaving early tomorrow, so there won't be a lot of time."

More flickering in the shadows. He was definitely over there. Rin tried to be content with confirmation that he was still around, but thoughts of the mimikyu nagged at her. Was she going to need to get a pokéball for him? She didn't think he'd forgive her for that, but if he wouldn't go with Bryss, or anywhere else, what was the alternative? Never mind if anyone would want to rent a place with a moody mimikyu in it, how was she supposed to feel about Sairi in here alone with people he didn't know? Or no one?

Maybe Fala could talk to him about things. Mark down another thing she should have tried earlier. Rin wrestled with the stuck zipper on her suitcase, trying to navigate around a bulging bit of clothing while she leaned as much weight on the top as she could. It felt like it took half an hour before she was able to slump back, panting and sweating, with the hateful thing fully closed in front of her. Best not to contemplate how soon she'd need to open it up again.

"Sairi?" she called again, and this time there wasn't so much as a twitch. He was still around, though. She was sure of it. "Will you come out?" It was past ten, and after a day of errands, Rin was ready to crash. Except, of course, that she'd never be able to sleep with Sairi on her mind.

When there was still no answer, Rin rubbed her face and said, "Sairi, what do you want me to do? You know I can't take you with me."

There was some small noise—a squeak, maybe? Some faint cry of dismay. "You know that," Rin said. "I told you—I told you a hundred times. The weavile don't let any outside pokémon into their territory. If I tried to bring anyone with me, I'd be in danger—everyone would be in danger. The whole class. I can't do that to them."

An argumentative chatter rose. It sounded like it was coming from under the couch. "And I can't just not go," Rin plowed on. "This is for my degree, Sairi. I need to do this research so I can finish my thesis, so I can get a job, so I can"—this was always hard. Pokémon tended to have a rather abstract understanding of careers, and Sairi didn't even understand needing money to eat because he didn't need to eat, at least not anything you could buy—"so I can live, Sairi. I need to get a job so I can live, and so I can keep a place for the three of us, and so I have money to buy you pokébeans. You don't want to have to go without pokébeans, do you?" Rin decided Sairi's angry squeal was probably him saying he'd gladly forego pokébeans if she would stay, which, fair enough.

There was scrabbling, definitely under the couch. Still the mimikyu didn't emerge. "It's three months, Sairi!" Rin said. "Not even the whole summer! I'll be back before you know it, I promise."

More scuffling, interspersed with whimpering in the mimikyu's strange, hollow voice. "I'll miss you, too," Rin said. Sairi muttered and wailed and scuttled. "Of course I will. But we're both going to get through this, okay? And I know you'll have fun with Bryss. She's really looking forward to—"

Sairi's whining rose to a shriek. The apartment's shadows came to life, cupboards banging and lights flicking on and off. The television thundered words in some unclean language, and Rin had to brace herself against a chair. The world churned and gusted around her, the dance of light and shadow creating false movement everywhere. Rin shut her eyes hard, ears full of ominous chanting and unsettling electrical pops, and shouted, "Sairi!"

Everything stopped dead. In the quiet, it was plain to hear the mimikyu sniffling. Rin stood with eyes still closed, feeling sad and angry and tired all at once, a headache building behind her temples. She tried to drive it back by massaging the bridge of her nose. Deep breath now. She managed to exhale most of her anger, but still her chest felt tight.

"I'm sorry, Sairi," she said. "I've been very busy, but I should have paid more attention to you when I knew you were worried."

The mimikyu's whimpers continued. Rin knelt in front of the couch, trying to look at the dark beneath, but not into it. "Is there something you want me to do, Sairi? Is there anything that will make you feel better about this?"

The mimikyu's sniffles trailed off, stopped. Obscure rustling, claws on carpet. Something shuffled out from under the couch, slinking miserably beneath a ragged fabric tangle, big hunks of cloth stitched haphazardly together with no clear goal.

"Were you making another disguise?" Rin asked, gently smoothing a crumpled corner of fabric. Sairi babbled sadly. "Would that help, then?" Rin asked. "Should we make a new one for you together?"

The mimikyu trilled and sheepishly shrank away, sliding half back under the couch but clearly excited, spectral limbs scuttling. "All right," Rin said, and smiled despite her fatigue. "What are we going to make?"

rin7: Hey, guess what.
daresDevils: wow you're up late
daresDevils: what?
rin7: I've been working on a little something with Sairi.
rin7: I think you're going to like it! Get ready for a surprise tomorrow. ;)
daresDevils: well upgrade my nervousness about having your adorable demonbeast occupy my home to pants-shitting terror I guess
daresDevils: see you soon nerd

Rin was ready at the door by the time Bryss knocked, her coat, absurd in the Alolan heat, bundled in her arms. Bryss immediately crushed her in an expansive hello-hug, but Rin was used to these by now and able to extract an arm and snake it around to give Bryss a reciprocal squeeze.

"Looks like you're all packed," Bryss said cheerfully, keeping Rin in a casual one-armed grip. "I would say we should get a move on, but we have something like four hours, so—oh, hey, Fala."

Bryss had to let go of Rin to grab the box of wire and fertilizer the lurantis shoved into her arms. "They say you should be at the airport three hours ahead of an international flight," Rin said while Fala picked up her box of plants. The humans had to scramble apart to let the lurantis pass.

"Uh-huh. Keys?" Bryss asked. Rin passed them over, then swung her coat up on top of the box of plant things. Bryss pretended to strain under the extra weight. "So that's one down," she said. Outside Fala had climbed into the passenger seat of the car and, with delicate manipulations of her scythes, primly buckled her seatbelt. "Where's—?"

Rin nodded down the hall, where a small bit of disguise poked out around a corner. "Hey, Sairi," Bryss said after a raised-eyebrow glance at Rin. "Ready to go?"

The mimikyu warbled nervously and scooted out into the open. He glided forward but stopped well short of Bryss, drifting slightly back and forth, nervous. Rin watched Bryss' face and grinned to see her eyes widen. "Oh my god, is that—is he supposed to be disguised as you?"

Sairi trilled and bounced, and Rin laughed at Bryss' expression. "He wanted a costume he knew you'd like. Looking to start things off on the right foot, you know," Rin said, unable to control her smirk. "I made a suggestion."

"Oh, I like it, all right," Bryss said, and Sairi squeaked. More bouncing, and then he swooped out towards the car, Rin's stitched-on face lolling and jouncing the whole way.

"Oh my god, people are going to think I'm a serial killer," Bryss whispered to Rin, hiking her burden higher. "Like the people in my building don't think I'm weird enough."

"Embrace your identity," Rin said with a smile, rolling her luggage outside.

"You'd better make it back okay," Bryss went on while Rin pulled the front door closed. "If your expedition gets lost I don't want to have to explain to investigators why the ghost is wearing my missing girlfriend's face."

"I'll do my best." Ahead, Sairi was hopping circles around the car while Fala tapped an impatient rhythm on the dashboard. "Just thought you might enjoy seeing my smiling face while we can't be together."

"Awww, of course. Every day. And Sairi's a cute little undead menace, you know? We'll have a good time." Bryss shared a smile with Rin. "But first things first, huh? Let's get you to that airport."