I remember when I first met Blanche. One of the most nerve wracking moments of my life. She and Candela had been together for a couple years, just the two of them as leaders. I was already the leader of Instinct, but Willow had insisted the time wasn't right for me to join them. He's never really told me why, though I suspect it has something to do with my... unpredictable bond with Zapdos. Who knows. Willow's a smart guy, I trust his Instincts.
She looked at me the way a trainer looks at a crap Pidgey that they're about to transfer. Like I wasn't worth the effort of rolling her eyes. She was nineteen when I met her. I was twenty one. I had a legendary, and she didn't. For all intents and purposes, I was a far more advanced trainer than she was, but I still felt like a pebble in her path. Those green eyes cut straight through me. But there was something under the green. Like a darkness buried beneath the flesh of the earth. I saw it then. I still see it now.
"Hi I'm Spark," I said, rearranging Donglord in my arm as I held out my hand. She looked down at my hand, and refused to take it.
"She doesn't particularly like to be touched, Spark," Willow said anxiously, and Blanche looked even more annoyed that someone had spoken on her behalf. Her eyes fell to the Jolteon in my arms, and I saw the glimmer of a smile.
"That is a very nice Jolteon you have. Small, for his species. But he seems content. You have evolved a confident Pokemon," she said, and man... I beamed. No one had ever complimented Donglord. He's too small. His defenses won't last in battle. He'll never hold a gym for very long. Those were the types of things I heard. I knew he wasn't the cream of the crop as far as Jolteons were concerned, but he was my friend. The only Pokemon that had been with me longer than Fearow. Blanche specialized in evolution. And I couldn't have asked for a more flattering compliment.
"Thanks," I said, smiling as I rubbed his head. He yipped happily, sparks crawling around my gloves as I rustled his fur. "He's a good boy. Isn't that right, Donglord?" I asked, and he sent a small shock up my arm. It made a crackle, but of course his lightning never hurt me.
Blanche rolled her eyes and sighed. "Donglord? Are you serious? Professor, is this really a Team Leader or is it a joke?"
Her words hurt. But it wasn't like I had never heard them before.
"Blanche, don't be so stuck up," Candela said as she approached. "Not all leaders are robotic sociopaths like you," she said, and Blanche stuck out her upper lip in disgust. Candela smiled, holding her hand out to me. She had a friendly face, and she seemed much more warm than Blanche. "Hey. I'm Spark. Leader of Instinct," I said, glaring at Blanche. Candela giggled, shaking my hand. Her skin was hot to the touch, and I immediately liked her.
"Awesome. Now there are two of us to annoy her," Candela joked, throwing an arm over my shoulder and poking Blanche in the arm. Blanche winced, rubbing her arm where Candela had touched her. "Willow tells me you're a marvelous cook. I'm starving. How about you?" Candela asked, and I glanced at Blanche, feeling bad that Candela and I had seemed to hit it off so quickly, when Willow had insisted we all get along. She bent down and picked up her Vaporeon, turning to leave without another word.
"Yeah, sure," I said, watching the mysterious white haired leader of Mystic as she disappeared down the hall.
Fast forward six months. We all lived together at Opal Laboratory's dorms. Willow said it wouldn't be permanent, but that he needed us to get to know each other and work together harmoniously. It wasn't difficult... with Candela. She loved to train, she was fascinated by my work studying eggs, and her Flareon was an absolute joy to be around. She and Donglord became fast friends. Blanche on the other hand... made absolutely no efforts to spend time with either me or Candela. She just shut herself away in the lab, pouring herself into her research. Candela insisted she wasn't as bad as she seemed, that I just had to get to know her. But for six months I tried. I tried to talk to her, to get her to train with me. She refused every time. She always insisted she was too busy with research or some nonsense. Finally one night I was wandering the halls, bored as hell. Candela had gone into town, without Willow's knowledge, to hit the bar scene. She was cool. She invited me to go, but I didn't want to lie to the Professor. "Suit yourself," she had said, tossing a leather jacket over her bare shoulders as her red high heels clicked down the hall.
I found my way to the lab, and strolled in, Donglord on my heels. Blanche had her eye pressed to a microscope, and didn't even look at me as she spoke. "What do you want, Instinct?"
"Go be bored somewhere else."
"Come on, Willow says we have to get to know each other. I know Candela. Plenty. Honestly I know a little more than I care to at this point."
She grinned against her microscope, and I pointed at her with an exasperated laugh.
"Holy shit! She smiled! Donglord did you see that?!" I yelled, and she rolled her eyes as she sat back in her lab chair, though the grin didn't fade. Good lord she was pretty when she smiled.
"Spark, please, I'm in the middle of something very intensive and I'm not feeling particularly well so if you could just..."
I pulled a chair up next to hers and sat backwards in it, folding my arms over the back. "Whatcha workin on?" I asked, and Donglord jumped up in her lap. She hesitated, then rustled the fur at his neck. He jumped up and licked her cheek, earning a giggle. Oh Arceus. My heart fluttered when she laughed. I had had so little time with her, I couldn't believe how strange I felt around her. She made me nervous and flirty and angry, all at the same time.
"Really? You want to know about my research?" she asked.
"Of course I do. I specialize in hatching but I know evolution is just as complicated. It's cool," I said, and she stared for several moments. She had always been so dedicated to her research, how had I not thought to ask about it before? Maybe I could get her talking about something she cared about...
"Well, right now I'm studying cells from a Pokemon with no known evolutions. My Lapras, to be exact."
"Why would you do that, if it doesn't have any evolutions?"
She leaned forward in her chair, closer to me than she'd ever willingly been. Her green eyes lit up with excitement and I made a mental note to talk to her about her work more often.
"Well, that's exactly what I'm interested to learn. Why are some Pokemon capable of evolution, and others aren't? If I'm right, I believe that, at a molecular level, every Pokemon has the potential to evolve, even those without recorded evolutions."
I sat dumbfounded for a moment, as her words sank in.
"Blanche... do you realize what that could mean? If all Pokemon have the genetics to evolve? That could change everything we think we know. There may be hundreds or thousands of evolutions that have never happened because conditions weren't right. That could mean that we don't even know the half of the species out there..."
She beamed, nodding slowly. "Yes. That's exactly what it means."
My mouth hung open. Her research was way more advanced than mine. She was so smart, and so brave to attempt to change the way trainers see evolution. She didn't cease to surprise me.
"Wow that's... that's incredible..." I mumbled, and Jolteon jumped down from her lap, running circles around her chair. I laughed down at him, flicking a spark from my fingertips and landing it on his rear. He yelped and began furiously darting around the lab.
"He's hyper this evening. Restless. So am I. Come on Blanche, come train with us. Please?"
She was already shaking her head as she started to turn back to her microscope.
"Come on, I know I have the type advantage, but Donglord's defense isn't even that great. It would just be for fun. Your Vaporeon will kick our butts in a matter of minutes and then you can return to your research, I promise. Please, Blanche?" I caught her arm as she went to dismiss me. She froze, and her eyes looked down at my hand. I immediately pulled it back, terrified of what she'd do. "Sorry, I... didn't mean..."
"It's fine. Really..." she sighed, and I sat there staring, petrified. Had I set us back by reaching out for her?
"Alright. If I agree to spar with you, 'for fun,' as you say... then you'll leave me to my research?" she asked, and I jumped up, pumping a fist in the air. "Yes! Woo! I mean... uh. Yeah. You'll make quick work of Instinct, and then you can go back to being a Krabby," I said, and she actually punched my arm. I giggled at her as she grabbed her coat from the back of her chair. She reached into a mini fridge on the counter and snatched up a Red Bull.
"Want one?" she asked, and I held up a hand, which she tossed a can into. Holy shit this girl is cool. I hope this is the start of something. I just want to know her...
We made our way down to the Lab's training facilities, Donglord and Vaporeon trotting happily ahead of us. Blanche swiped her key card and switched on the lights, illuminating the massive mock gym.
"Let's get this over with, Instinct," she barked, Vaporeon hopping playfully next to her. "Gym or street rules? You decide," she said, throwing her jacket over the gym bench and beginning to unclip Pokeballs from her belt.
"Gym rules. One Pokemon each. Jolteon against Vaporeon. Unless you think you can't overcome the type advantage..." I teased, and she grinned, rolling up her sleeves as Vaporeon shook out its fins.
"You're on," she said, and I thought I saw her wince. She turned away from me, her hand on her hip as she bent slightly.
"You okay, Blanche?" I asked, and she turned quickly back around, chugging the last of her Red Bull and tossing it in the trash. "I'm fine. Let's do this. Vaporeon, go," she barked, Vaporeon jumping out in front of her and planting its feet as it trained its eyes on Donglord. I didn't have to tell him what to do, he was already sitting patiently at his place in the middle of the gym floor.
"Ladies first," I said, and a flash of anger shot across Blanche's eyes. Candela had warned me about being too blatant concerning Blanche's gender. While she didn't mind feminine pronouns, it would be "unwise" to push it any further. I knew that, and I still said it. So maybe I wanted to piss her off a little. Give her some motivation for the battle.
"Vaporeon! Aqua Tail!" she yelled, and Vaporeon sprang into action, darting toward Donglord. "Donglord, Swift Attack," I said lazily, and Donglord easily maneuvered around Vaporeon's tail, darting around it and shoulder-checking the water type, throwing it back several feet. Donglord yipped happily, pawing at the ground. Both Blanche and Vaporeon stood in shock.
"You forgot that Jolteon is one of the fastest Pokemon in the Dex... didn't you?"
"I didn't forget anything, Instinct. I have the stats of all one-hundred and fifty memorized. Vaporeon, Bubble!" she shouted, and Vaporeon sprayed bubbles out in every direction, probably hoping to catch Donglord no matter which direction he decided to dart.
"Donglord, Discharge," I said, purposefully picking at my fingernails while I half paid attention to the battle. The way Blanche's cheeks turned red when she was annoyed... I was enjoying it way too much.
Donglord's discharge attack wasn't even meant for Vaporeon, the spider web of electricity simply sprayed out in every direction, popping all the bubbles that lingered in the air.
"Everyone always underestimates Instinct..." I muttered, and Blanche seethed. "Well can you blame them? You don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of your enemies." I knew it was meant as an insult, but honestly, coming from her, it was more of a compliment. She seemed frightened of everyone.
"Heh. I don't have enemies. I just have trainers that I annoy until they want to battle," I said with a grin, and she growled in frustration.
"Vaporeon, enough of this. Surf attack!" Vaporeon crouched, ready for its strongest attack, but then its fins twitched, and it glanced back at Blanche. She clutched a hand to her stomach, a grimace on her face. "Vaporeon, don't disobey me, Surf Attack now!" she said, shaking off whatever was bothering her and straightening.
"Vaporeon isn't exactly an obedient one, is he? Donglord, while it's distracted... Thunder!" I shouted, knowing that if the attack landed, it would be a one-hit K.O. That strong of an attack, with the type advantage... and Blanche would be done for. Then maybe she'd show me an ounce of respect.
Donglord yipped at Vaporeon, who yipped back. To my complete shock, Donglord sat down, refusing to fight.
"Donglord, what the hell, attack! Now!" I ordered, and he laid down, resting his chin on the gym floor and whining. Something was wrong. "Stop. Stop the match!" I yelled, running forward and kneeling next to him, placing a hand on his back. "What's wrong, Bud?" I whispered, and he whined again.
Vaporeon yipped loudly, turning back toward Blanche. I looked up, just in time to see her doubling over, her hand clutched at her stomach, before she collapsed to the ground with a whimper.
"Blanche!" I yelled, running toward her as Vaporeon and Donglord did the same. "Blanche, are you okay?!" I asked urgently, reaching down to touch her shoulder but hesitating. "I... I'm fine," she said, clutching her stomach and whimpering again.
"No, you're not. You said you weren't feeling well. Why didn't you speak up earlier?" I urged, as her shoulders began to tremble.
"Because... I'm fine, it's really nothing to..." she yelped, and Vaporeon looked up at me, its face worried.
"It's not nothing. I'm taking you to the Professor," I said, ignoring her personal boundaries and scooping her up into my arms. She tried to protest, but her eyes watered as she winced against whatever pain was tearing at her.
I hurried through the halls, finding Willow still in his lab. "Professor!" I shouted, and he turned quickly, rushing to take Blanche into his arms. "Again?" he asked, and I stood, utterly confused.
He laid her down onto an exam table, hanging an IV drip bag on a hook and inserting a needle into the inside of her elbow. I noticed with a sickening lurch that she had quite a few scars there, from many more needles.
She laid back on the table, and soon her eyes rolled back in her head as she lost consciousness. Willow hovered over her, his hand moving her bangs from her face and stroking her cheek lovingly.
"Professor what's... what's wrong?" I asked, and he sighed, slowly pulling his gloves off.
"I assume Candela has told you... a small amount of what happened to Blanche when she was a child?" he asked. Candela had been very vague, but she had told me that Blanche was captured and experimented on by some very bad people.
"Yeah, kinda," I mumbled, watching as Willow flitted around the lab, looking for something. He found it in a drawer, snatching up a small foil packet.
"She would be furious if she knew I was telling you any of this but... you're starting to see some of the side effects. I need you to be able to recognize them. She needs people, more than she'll ever admit," he said, turning the foil packet in his hand.
"Their name was Cipher. They tried to imprint shadow corruption abilities into a living host."
"What? That's impossible!" I choked.
"Well... apparently it's not. They... ahem..." he cleared his throat as the words tugged at his heartstrings.
"They experimented on children," he said, wiping his mouth as he tried not to get choked up.
"Blanche?" I whispered.
"Yes. Blanche. Whatever they did to her, it... made her sterile. She has faced a lot of... physical and emotional trauma from that. But it didn't take. The corruption didn't take to her."
"Well of course it didn't. It's not possible, is it?"
The professor looked up at me, his eyes dark. That's when I knew.
"You're right Professor," Blanche said, and we both turned toward her quickly. "I am furious," she seethed, pulling her legs over the side of the table and yanking the IV needle from her skin, as if she would leave.
"Blanche, sit back, please, these symptoms were worse than I've seen them in a while, I don't think you..."
"How dare you!" she cried, tears brimming on the edges of her eyes. Willow's shoulders sank, and he averted his eyes. "What right do you have?! What right do you have to tell the Instinct any of this?!"
"Hey now, Blanche, he has a name," Willow said, and Blanche only seemed to get more angry.
"Yeah. So did I. Claire," she spat, and Willow winced. I had no idea what she was talking about, but the way she said that name... it was pure hatred.
"Blanche, stop. Please. I know you've refused before, but I really think you should take these..." he said, holding out the foil packet, which I finally realized was birth control. I suddenly felt like I was intruding on something very personal.
"Get those... chemicals away from me," she spat, smacking the packet out of his hand as she jumped down from the table, wincing as she went for her coat.
"Blanche, please. These symptoms you're experiencing... the pills will make them better. This has nothing to do with sex. They're just hormones. It will take away the pain..."
"I don't want to take it away!" she screamed, turning to face him as more tears spilled down her cheeks.
"If I take these... then I'm admitting that they made me this. That it was Cipher that determined who I am. Sometimes I feel female. Sometimes I don't. And if I take the pills then I'm admitting that my body has never been mine. They took everything about my body that was female and they butchered it. They destroyed it and then labeled it as a failure and now it's mine and I... don't know what to do with it..." her voice trailed off as she looked down at her hands, like they didn't belong to her. She shook as she buried her face in her hands, falling to her knees. I have never felt my heart break as it did that day.
"Blanche," I whispered, kneeling down next to her. I felt a deep well of sorrow for having been so careless about her gender before our battle.
She lifted her eyes, wiping her tears on her sleeve. "May I?" I asked, holding out my hand for hers. That was the first time I had ever asked permission to touch someone. To me, physical contact was just a natural form of comfort. It seemed so strange that anyone wouldn't feel that way, but Blanche was the first person I had ever met who didn't relate to others that way. I had a lot to learn.
To my surprise, she placed her hand in mine. "Whatever they did to you... you're right. It's none of my business. I know. Tell me to fuck off if you want, and I will. But here's what I know. They may have owned your body for however long... but they never owned your mind. That will always be yours. And your gender has nothing to do with what you are. It has everything to do with what you feel. And if you feel like a girl, or a boy, or both or neither... that's you. It always has been and it always will be. No matter what anybody says or does to you."
I cautiously caressed her cheek with my other hand. She seemed terrified, but she didn't pull away from my touch. She reached up, grasping my hand against her face, then holding both my hands in hers. She closed her eyes, one more tear falling, before she sighed.
"Thank you, Spark," she whispered, and I smiled. That was the first time she had called me by my name instead of calling me 'Instinct.'
She reached across the floor, taking the discarded packet of birth control. She stood, staring down at it as she wiped more tears from her cheeks.
"Blanche, I know none of us can possibly imagine what you're going through," Willow said, approaching and covering her hand with his, closing her fingers around the packet. "I only want to help you. You don't deserve to be in pain like this."
She nodded, and whispered weakly "Thank you, Professor."
He nodded, and gave me a reassuring look, though it was still filled with all sorts of worry.
"I'll walk you back down to the lab," I offered.
"I think it's best if you rest, Blanche," Willow protested, and I let out a small laugh. "If I take you to the dorms, are you just gonna sneak back to the lab later?" I asked, and Blanche smiled.
"The lab it is, then," I said, and Willow beamed at the two of us. He nodded, and departed back to his own research.
Blanche was quiet as we walked through the halls. I didn't really know what to say, and she obviously didn't either. I finally understood why she built up such high walls. She wasn't trying to keep people out. She was trying to keep herself in. And that was so much worse.
"You know, I think it's really cool what Vaporeon and Donglord did..." I said, and Blanche looked up at me, questioning.
"They knew something wasn't right. Vaporeon knew you weren't okay, and refused to continue. And Donglord wouldn't attack Vaporeon when he was distracted. A very noble gesture."
Blanche considered the words, then looked down at Vaporeon, who trotted next to her, his eyes watching her carefully, as if he were still worried for her. "Yes it was," she agreed, pulling a couple treats from her pocket and tossing one to each of the Pokemon. They caught them and ran ahead, happily nipping at each other.
We reached the lab doors, and Blanche turned toward me, awkwardly tucking her hair behind her ear.
"Can I keep you company while you do your research?" I asked, and she fidgeted. "You know, I think I'd really rather be alone right now. But thank you."
"Alright. Well whenever you're feeling better, we should have a rematch of that spar. See whose Eeveelution really is the best."
She patted her thigh, calling Vaporeon to her side.
"Yeah, right. Like we need more proof," she said, smiling down at Vaporeon and rubbing his head.
"Ooooh. Big talk, from the one who was losing before the forefeit. You think he's that good, maybe we should see how he fares against Fearow," I teased as she started backing into the doorway of the lab. She bit her lip and allowed Vaporeon to dart inside.
"Not falling for that, Spark. I know what 'Fearow' is. Candela's told me," she smiled, and I propped a hand on the door, so she couldn't close it.
"Hey," I said, and I could see her get instantly nervous at my tone.
"I'm sorry... about today. I know you probably didn't want me to know any of that about you. At least, not until you trusted me enough to tell me. But I promise... you can trust me. I'm your Instinct, remember?" I said, and she actually, genuinely smiled.
"You know... you're not... what you seem. You're much more... mature than I initially thought," she said, her eyes avoiding mine.
"Ugh. Don't call me that. 'Mature' is just another word for 'boring.' Give me time. I'll show you how immature I am," I said, and she turned, letting the door close. "Goodnight, Instinct," she called through the closed door.
I felt a shudder course through me. She made me feel all sorts of things I didn't understand yet. Some of it sexual, some just pure, sincere emotion. That scared me. Because when I let my emotions take over, so does something else. Something far more powerful, and far more dangerous.