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Silver Bird

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He sees her first through one-way glass, into a square chamber encased in steel. He stands beside his mother and watches as a robotic arm controlled by a masked scientist feeds a small disk into the side of the helmet, through a cross-shaped hole in the side. Something clicks; the arm retreats back into a panel in the wall.

The beast stiffens. It’s constrained, with iron latches at its shoulders and hips and a collar around its neck holding it still. Gladion thinks it looks like a noose. For three breathless seconds nothing moves — then, suddenly, red light floods the front of the metal helmet.

The adults barely have a moment to exclaim in relief before a tinny gurgle echoes out of the steel chamber. The beast’s head jerks back, and the red light flickers before going out. The side of its helmet starts sparking, then smoking. A scientist rushes to use the robotic arm and withdraw the cracked disk, ruined beyond repair.

The adults start discussing their latest failure, groveling before Gladion’s mother. He’s the only one who watches the constraints around the beast fall away into compartments on the floor. It staggers, then collapses stiffly to its elbows. Its sides heave, ribs standing out in sharp relief.

——

Later that night he comes back, not knowing why. The catwalk is still lit — who knows when scientists sleep — but the Null research hub is dark inside. Gladion tiptoes to the control panel next to the chamber’s window, throat dry. He just wants another look.

His eyes find the right button, followed by his fingers. He pauses, then presses it. Nothing visible happens to the glass, but knowing the one-way window is now two-way makes the back of his neck prickle.

He pads to the glass, eyes wide and searching. The chamber inside is dark; he watches its depths with bated breath.

A shape materializes out of the shadows in the form of the beast’s nightmarish helmet. It approaches the glass with stiff limbs, its body low to the ground. Green light glints from the darkness of the helmet’s eyeholes, like the eyes of one of the Persians in the conservation center at night.

Gladion sinks to his knees, trying to move as smoothly as possible. The beast jerks as he shifts. “No no,” he whispers without realizing. “It’s okay.”

The beast is close enough to fog the glass with its breath. The floor of the chamber is a couple of feet lower than the control room outside, and so their eyes meet at the same level. It stands still as a statue, waiting for who knows what. Sitting here, Gladion wonders if that two-way button has ever been pressed, if this glass has ever acted like a true window before; he wonders if the beast even know it was one, instead of just another wall.

Knowing his mother, and the other people who work down here, it probably didn’t.

They stare, he in pajamas and it in prison. His stomach drops for some reason.

The beast stumbles back suddenly, and Gladion has no time to be confused before a hand comes down on his shoulder and holds him there. Faba’s mouth says, “What are you doing out of bed at this hour, young man?” but his grimace says, You’re dead meat. Gladion wobbles to his feet as Faba switches the glass back and steers him out of the hub, holding him hard enough to bruise.

——

The talking-to he receives from his mother the next morning is minimal, but still leaves him with that clawing feeling in his gut. He sits on her bed and watches her move around her room, putting things away and sitting down to swipe on makeup.

“Sorry,” he says again, feeling like he’s supposed to.

His mother opens the mirrors of her vanity and replies, “Don’t be. I know you’re curious.”

“Faba was mad. He said you’d be mad.”

“Faba’s dramatic.” His mother starts brushing powder on her face. “Now tell me what you were there for.”

He has a history of telling her everything, which washes over the comparatively new walls he’s constructed around himself. “I just wanted to look at it again? Maybe the system takes time to work. I wanted to check.”

“Gladion, we have cameras and researchers for that. The president’s son doesn’t need to go wandering around at night, especially not in the research hubs and especially not near that hub. That’s not your job. Yet.”

“I could've been practicing to be the president,” he grumbles, but his excuse isn't convincing anyone.

“You’re so like your father.”

His stomach swoops, and he scrambles to change the subject, for her sake more than his. “When’s the next experiment happening? For the memory disks?”

His mother closes a makeup container with a clap. “It isn’t. That was the last one.”

“What?”

She turns in her chair to look at him. Her long, golden hair fans across her back. “The Type: Null project has been a failure for a long time, Gladion. We’ve poured resources into it ever since we knew Ultra Beasts existed, and that was before you were even born. We have nothing to show for it other than bad tests and three ugly animals. We’re shutting it down.”

Gladion rankles at the word “ugly.” He gets the feeling there’s another reason she wants to get rid of Pokemon made for killing Ultra Beasts, and it has to do with a worn stack of notes in her office she never lets anyone touch. “But what’ll happen to the Type: Nulls?”

“They’re too dangerous to keep, even with those helmet inhibitors.” She turns back to her vanity as if they discuss the weather. “They’ll be cryogenically frozen, and when we have the time for it, broken down. We have other projects we need to devote time and resources to.”

“‘Broken down’?” Gladion repeats.

“You know what I mean, Gladion,” she replies. “You’re not Lillie.”

She spruces herself up further as Gladion’s insides plummet to the floor. He suspected, but hearing it confirmed is another matter entirely. “If we made them,” he says slowly, “don’t we have a responsibility to . . . to keep them?”

A second ticks by before his mother says, “You’re young. You’ll learn. There are some things you have to let sink to keep the rest afloat.” She stands, closing her mirrors, and goes to sit beside him on the bed. “Sometimes you have to uproot ugly weeds to keep a healthy garden. Do you understand?”

That word again. Ugly. “Yes.”

Her knuckles brush his cheek tenderly. “No one wanted it to work more than I did. Project RKS was your father’s idea. It was he who funded the Type: Fulls and created them. He wanted us all to be safe.” She looks at the opposite wall. “Don’t tell your sister this, or anyone else. It’ll be our little secret.”

“Yes?”

“You know your father went into Ultra Space, don’t you? And . . . all that came back was the nebulous Pokemon and his notes on a flock of Ultra Beasts.”

“Yes,” Gladion says hollowly, glancing at the door.

“That’s not it entirely. What came back was the Pokemon, the notes, and a Type: Full. Unmasked.”

Gladion looks at her in surprise. He’s never seen one of the beasts without its helmet on before.

“Your father wanted to be the first one to see Ultra Space for himself, and he took one of them in a Pokeball with him for protection,” his mother continues solemnly. “About a half hour in, we lost communication with him. Suddenly three things tumbled back to us through the wormhole we created: the Pokemon we call Cosmog, your father’s notes, and an unmasked Type: Full. We already knew Type: Fulls were dangerous and unpredictable, and we don’t know how this one lost its mask. We still don’t know. But the second it got to its feet, it tried to attack us. It took every Pokemon in the room to subdue it and get another helmet on it.”

Gladion wants very badly to leave, or at least cover his ears, but instead he sits there numb. “A shield that can turn on those it protects isn’t a shield at all,” his mother says. “Your father had good intentions, but it didn’t work out. We have no other use for these beasts. For the good of the rest of this entire world, just three beings have to go away. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”

Gladion thinks of the eyes burning into his through the glass. “No.”

His mother smiles, and it doesn’t reach her eyes. No smile has reached her eyes at any point in Gladion’s memory. “Good. Stay away from the Null hub, all right? Be a good boy.”

“I will, Mother,” he replies, nodding.

Her hands reach up to stroke his hair, the same golden color as hers. “Everything will be all right,” she murmurs. She moves Gladion’s locks around from where he’d brushed them, changes his part back to the way she likes it. An odd look passes over her; Gladion knows what’s coming and cannot stop it, only brace for it.

“Soon, I’ll be able to find your father,” she assures, like nothing could be more possible. “When I bring him home, you can tell him all about how much you want to be president one day, just like him.”

Gladion swallows down his . . . disgust? His grief? Somehow they mix into an unnamed emotion, one that repels him from her, that grabs him by the hand and the heart and the neck and tries to drag him to anywhere that isn’t here. “Yes, Mother.”

She tilts her head so they see eye to eye; the feeling surges in intensity. “How does that sound?”

“Good. Mother.” He gazes back at her and hides a tremble. There’s something he should be saying, something in her that he needs to burn. But he just can’t find the words, or the courage.

She pats his cheek, and withdraws. “Run along now and get some breakfast.”

“I will,” he repeats, and makes his escape.

——-

He knows when the guards shift, and what hours of the night have the least amount of people. This has been a long time coming, and a product of too little agonized deliberation. All he has is a change of clothes, toiletries and electronics he thinks are important, and as much money as he could stuff into every pocket of his backpack. He doesn’t trust company credit cards - they might be tracked - and he already popped out the GPS tracker on his laptop and phone.

He’s certain the rage bubbling molten in his stomach can torch the walls.

He just has one last thing to collect.

The Null research hub is as deserted as it was when he snuck in over a month ago. He leaves the light off and hurries to the control panel, his pulse rushing hotly through his ears. The security cameras in every corner of the room are disabled in a routine maintenance check, not that it won’t be obvious who stole the goods anyway.

Gladion changes the mirror to two-way and peeks around into the chamber. The Type: Null stares back, frozen and foreboding. Its eyes burn from the darkness of the helmet. Gladion knows he can’t turn back now.

“Don’t worry,” he stammers. “I won’t let you get frozen.”

He unzips his backpack and stuffs as many files as he can into it from the shelf in the back. He goes back and presses a button labeled “SUBJUGATE”; a panel in the cell’s wall whirrs as it slides back, revealing an open Pokeball. The Type: Null disappears in a flash of red light, its bulk and stare vanished inside the ball.

Gladion presses a button that has never been touched, and isn’t supposed to be.

The panel closes, whirring is heard, and the ball reappears inside the control room in a chute beside Gladion.

Gladion nearly drops the Pokeball as a siren blares to life overhead, red and blue lights spinning. He races out onto the catwalk and sprints as he hears confused shouts and stamping feet all over the compound.

He knows this place from hide-and-seek with his sister; he knows exactly where to hole up until it’s safe to sneak out. He keeps the Pokeball in his hand the entire time.

———

The motel workers don’t particularly care who the edgy-looking kid is or why he rented a motel room for the next six months alone. Gladion knows kids as young as ten strike out on their own as Trainers, but it’s nevertheless a shock to be treated as such when he still feels the need to ask whether he can run to the bathroom.

Aether hasn’t filed a missing persons report and he hasn’t seen anything in the news implying he’s vanished, even now, when he made his escape over two days ago. It seems his mother doesn’t want to raise a fuss or bring attention to what the Foundation might be doing. She’s probably livid, enough to forego searching for her only son. Maybe she doesn’t care if he comes back. Maybe she thinks he’s ugly now too.

Even so he takes steps to reduce the likelihood of someone recognizing him, in case he runs into Aether employees; he knows they work directly on Alola as well. He got the idea for his new wardrobe from a couple of kids older than him who tried talking to him when he got off the boat he snuck out of Aether on. Their hair was dyed and they were covered in black-and-white clothing, and they waved their hands in his face often, which was annoying. It occurred to him later that they may have been trying to mug him, and he completely did not notice and walked away.

Everyone around him treated them like a nuisance, and he’d rather be treated like a nuisance than like That Escaped Kid From Aether. He went out and bought as many pairs of black and red clothing as he could find, in the edgiest looks possible. It’s more difficult than he imagined, since his mother has dressed him all his life, and there weren’t any other kids his age at Aether, so he isn’t sure what the fashion is. He bought gaudy makeup, intending to look up tutorials on how to make it look good — he doesn’t want to look like the punk teens who almost mugged him, who seemed like they just smudged charcoal around their eyes and settled on that. He isn’t going to dye or restyle his hair, no, not when he had it modeled after his father’s style and he doesn’t want to let go of that yet. He’ll make up for it with everything else.

The motel room isn’t so bad. It’s got a flatscreen and a bed, and he doesn’t need much (his old room had a much bigger flatscreen and was about the square acreage of this entire building, but as an official runaway, he is not about to be a picky child). He locks the door, draws the blinds. He refrains from connecting his devices to Wifi, paranoid they can still be tracked somehow, and decides to wait a few days for that.

He sits on the end of the bed, blowing out a breath. He reaches into his backpack and withdraws his real prize: the Pokeball.

Three Type: Nulls were created, differentiated by codenames G1, S2, and C3. His mother told him S2 was the most docile, and therefore best eligible for testing; it is S2 that he holds in his hand now. He tries not to think about G1 and C3.

He turns the Pokeball outward and clicks it open.

Red energy sparks to the middle of the room; the Type: Null manifests facing him, in the same position it had when he contained it first. Gladion’s heart jumps to his throat; the beast is much bigger up close. It’s taller than him; it seems to take up the entire room.

It lifts its head, and he can dimly see its eyes more clearly than ever within the helmet’s eyeholes. He barely has time to study them; the beast locks up stiff, its claws digging into the floor.

“Don’t be-“ A metallic shriek interrupts him, a noise he’s never heard anything make. The Type: Null stumbles back and its rump hits the wall; it jumps forward, panting breaths echoing from the depths of its helmet. Its claws scrabble at the floor as it breaks into a pitiful lumber, smashing into anything in its path as it flees Gladion.

Gladion jumps up onto the bed, yelling, “Wait, stop!” which does nothing to stop the beast’s mad scramble. The spikes on its helmet gouge deep scratches in the wallpaper as it stumbles along the walls; it rams into the desk holding the flatscreen and knocks it over with a deafening clatter. It sends the chair and little table in the middle of the room flying.

Four times it rampages in a circle around the motel room in panic, ignoring Gladion’s yells or indeed spurred on by them, until he remembers the Pokeball in his hand. The red light catches the Type: Null mid-stride, and then Gladion is alone.

He jumps off the bed and wobbles to the middle of the room, surveying the wreckage and waiting for his heart to stop pounding. Gouges mar the carpet and walls, and when he heaves the flatscreen back into its former position he finds it stomped on and cracked.

“That could not have gone worse.”

He sheepishly approaches the owners of the motel with a story that his Pokemon roughhoused a little too enthusiastically and offers to pay for the damages. The scratches through the carpet they cover with smaller rugs until the big one can be replaced, and he orders a new flatscreen online, connecting to Wifi out of necessity.

He’s grateful he had the mind to get the Type: Null back into the ball before it realized A) how breakable the walls are B) how squishy the human on the bed is. He knows how powerful the Type: Nulls were created to be — “essentially a lab-Arceus,” he overheard Faba boast at one point — and berates himself for not thinking of that. The last thing he needs is the Type: Null turning on him, or breaking right through the wall and rampaging around Alola.

A day later he tentatively releases the Type: Null again, bracing himself. Once again it locks up, trembling and snorting, and once again it springs into panic when Gladion tries to talk to it; he avoids much damage by sending it right back into the ball.

Not knowing where to turn, he pores over the files he stole from the Foundation, opening to a random page in the middle and scanning for information. A lot of words he has to look up, even with his expansive education, and symbols and codenames escape him entirely most of the time, but what he can glean is certainly more than he knew previously. The Type: Nulls are comprised from the DNA of over 150 Pokemon from every region in the world and every attack typing known to man. Type: Nulls were almost modeled after Mew instead of Arceus, but no one wanted another Mewtwo incident, so Arceus it was. All three Type: Nulls possess eggless ovaries that produce estrogen, but have no estrous cycle or reproductive capacity (most of this flies over Gladion’s head, but the gist, he figures, is that S2 is a girl).

He studies full-color pictures of all three, and understands the significance of their codenames: G1 has golden head feathers cascading down from under the helmet, S2 has silver, and C3 has copper. He can’t tell whether that was intentional or not, though knowing Faba it was (it’d be just like him to claim G1 for himself and boast about it).

He has no idea where G1 and C3 are being held, and doesn’t know whether the most disturbing detail he learned applies to them as well as S2.

S2 has never left her chamber.

Gladion leans back and stretches, checking the clock on the desk. He’s been reading these files for almost three hours. He turns and surveys the motel room. No wonder S2 freaked out when he released her; she’s never seen the outside world, nor interacted with a living creature. No human was ever allowed to enter her chamber, and she was never allowed to leave; the only relationships she had were with the robotic arms controlled from the outside that subdued and experimented on her. All she’s known are silver steel walls, and herself. Releasing her into a soft, wooden, carpeted room, with a strange shape and strange smells, as well as a human, must have been massively overstimulating and confusing for the beast.

He sighs, resting his chin in his hand and his elbow on the table. He’s only ten years old. He didn’t exactly predict that the creature he stole might not know a thing about the world. He’s not even sure how to get her comfortable with him.

He avoids looking at the scratches on the wall. One thing is for sure: he has his work cut out for him.

Another thing he’s sure of as well — he will not be referring to a numerical codename like she’s a computer program.

So he names her Silvia.

——-

The third time he lets Silvia out of the ball, he prepares. He hides all loose items and slides the flatscreen under the bed. He makes sure the doors and windows are locked, the blinds are drawn, and nothing too bright or gaudy is sticking out.

He has his laptop open on the bed beside him, and makes sure there’s space between the wall and his bed in case he needs to slide it to safety in a pinch. He sits up against his pillows so he’s noticeable, shoes on so his toes are protected.

Last night he looked up all sorts of articles and videos on how to get through to anxious Pokemon, then antisocial Pokemon, then dangerous Pokemon. Stuff like a cheery Wikihow on how to get a skittish Seviper to feel better around its owner aren’t exactly the material he thinks will help, but he ate it all up anyway. He wasted half an hour reading an irrelevant but grimly fascinating series of news articles about some psycho who hoarded Meowths and never let them leave her house, and was pretty heartened at the fact that apparently all Pokemon released from the house had been successfully rehabilitated and given to good homes. A related article about a similarly-isolated Ursaring who never responded to treatment, and attacked anything that moved until it had to be euthanized, immediately negated those good feelings. Who knows how a lab-Arceus will react to one untrained ten-year-old trying to rehabilitate it?

He sets his jaw. His father started this; he wants to finish it. His mother is wrong. It’s his responsibility to try.

Earlier today he went out and bought a big bag of bird Pokemon kibble, a generic kind. He read in the files that the Type: Nulls subsist on the same amount and type of food as the average Pidgeot, which he finds the strangest correlation. He bought two bowls and a little bed and pillow as well to put in the corner opposite from his bed, in case Silvia got to the point where she wanted to lie down. He emptied a heaping helping of kibble into the bowl, water in the other, and left it by the bed for her.

He takes a deep breath, placing his laptop on his lap. He lifts Silvia’s Pokeball, braces himself, and lets her out.

The second she’s out he drops the Pokeball by his side and stares at his laptop, almost idiotically pretending to type, as if it’s going to matter to her what he’s doing. He watches from his peripherals as she stiffens up as usual, turning clumsily to face him sitting on the bed. Slowly he makes eye contact with her, holds it for a few seconds, then turns back to his laptop.

No rampaging yet. Gladion starts surfing the web like nothing is wrong, scrolling through Chatoter and utterly ignoring his bestial roommate. He watches sidelong as she relaxes bit by bit, taking great shuddering inhales through her nose (he thinks) and watching him. She starts moving her head, looking around the room.

Gladion tries to imagine what this is like for her. He tries to imagine living in his room all his life and never leaving it or seeing anyone else, and then suddenly being thrust into the world. It just makes him sad, and angrier still.

Silvia’s front claws click as she takes a cautious step toward the desk. She creeps to it and sniffs it, then sniffs the wall next to it. Gladion puts on a news report about the environment that just came on his timeline with the sound off and watches her sniff her way around the room, taking the opportunity to study her. Her neck feathers look more gray than silver, and cramped from the helmet’s embrace around her throat. She appears to have a thin coat of fur around her shoulders down to her front claws, then nothing but bare black skin on her chest and hindquarters. The purple scales on her back legs look irregular. The odd fin that is her tail sags and flops limply to and fro as she walks.

She bumps her shoulder into the desk that usually holds the TV and staggers back, hissing at it. Gladion expected a growl; her overall body shape resembles a canine like a Houndoom or something similar. He frowns at the way she moves. She waddles, stiffly, and rocks from side to side in an uncomfortable fashion with every step, like someone put boots on a Skitty. He hopes she’s not in pain.

He gets distracted reading something for a while as Silvia explores. When he feels a tickling on his ankle, he has to suppress every reflex that tells him to jerk his foot away. He peeks over his laptop and sees Silvia standing at the edge of the bed, sniffing at him; as they lock eyes she stamps backwards and hisses.

Gladion clears his throat softly. She hisses again. “Hi,” he says, as lowly and calmly as possible. She crouches, and he stops breathing, expecting more panic.

Little by little she relaxes again, as Gladion forces himself to look at his laptop screen. She returns to sniffing his foot. With the tiniest of motions, Gladion wags his foot back and forth. Silvia flinches back and hisses, but sniffs him again, only to jump back when Gladion wiggles his foot again.

She glances up at his face, and he says, “Hi.”

Gladion is no expert, but being raised on Aether gave him some semblance of a scientific mind. If a creature has never interacted with anything in her life, how else to teach her about the world than to have set actions that she can learn to trigger? Sniffing the foot equals a wiggle. Eye contact equals a greeting. Humans don’t have to be scary.

Or Gladion is making a total fool of himself, and Silvia will realize how squishy he is and disembowel him. The thought’s crossed his mind more than once.

Silvia takes careful steps along the bed until her head is level with his shoulder. Gladion tells himself to remain calm. Her nightmarish mask of a helmet is less than two feet away from his face. He looks her in the eye, says, “Hi,” and returns to his laptop to type gibberish into the search bar. He can feel her breath on his shoulder as she sniffs him some more.

Eventually she backs up and wanders away, toward the food. She snorts at it with great interest, pacing back and forth in front of it, then reaches forward with one claw to paw at the bowls. Water and kibble scatter across the floor. Gladion winces, figuring it’s not the worst damage she could do, and kicks himself as he realizes that there’s no conceivable way for her to eat. How can she, with the helmet in the way? He has to hit the files again to find out how the scientists fed her. He really hopes it didn’t involve nutrient injections. He’s obviously a little short on syringes.

Silvia stiffly turns and waddles back toward the bed. Gladion does his best to look like he wasn’t staring. She stops near his shoulder again, her eyes boring a hole in the side of his head. He makes eye contact, says, “Hi,” once more, and goes back to his laptop.

When she doesn’t leave, he takes a deep breath and dares to straighten up, making sure to move slowly. A low hiss issues from Silvia’s throat and she leans back, but still she doesn’t leave. Gladion looks at her again and say, “Hi, Silvia.” She stares, but doesn’t move.

“My name is Gladion,” he says carefully, quietly. “I know you don’t understand me, but I’m not going to hurt you. You’re probably really confused, but that’s okay. I’m a friend.”

He hears a tiny clicking noise from inside the helmet, like a mouth being opened. “Silvia, is it okay if I stand up?” Gladion asks, easing shut his laptop and sliding it between the bed and the wall. “I’m going to stand up. I’m not going to hurt you.” He shimmies to the bottom of the bed so as to avoid the side where Silvia is; her eyes follow every move he makes. “I’m just standing up now, Silvia. That’s all. No need to panic.”

With alarm, he realizes he left her Pokeball on the bed. Figuring he can run to it in an emergency, he stands, facing Silvia so he can watch her reaction. She startles and hisses, apparently shocked he changed form by standing. “It’s okay,” Gladion croons. “This is what I normally look like. Honestly, you’re taller than I am. Everything’s fine.”

He waits until she relaxes a little, then turns and walks to the desk. He loiters there, not actually having a plan besides showing his new roommate that he’s allowed to walk without inciting a panic, then turns and walks back to the end of the bed and sits down. He purses his lips and pats his knees, the side of his body facing Silvia crawling with nerves. He hears her breathing, shuddery and scared. “It’s okay,” he murmurs again.

He hears her claws scraping against the carpet as she walks, around the corner of the bed and toward him. She doesn’t stop — for a moment Gladion’s afraid she’ll just keep going and squish his head against the wall with her helmet like a melon — until she’s terrifyingly close, her head level with his, staring directly at his face. Gladion squirms under such an intense and direct gaze. She nearly fills his field of vision.

He leans away a little, and Silvia leans closer. He swallows nervously, deciding to make eye contact, but keeping his head low so he won’t be perceived as threatening. This close to her, he can see that her irises are gray, unless the shadows cast upon her eyes by the helmet is deceiving him.

“Hi, Silvia.” He hears her breath catch momentarily, then resume. It echoes inside the metallic walls of her mask. If she lunged forward suddenly . . . “What’re you looking at?”

He smiles at her, and her eyes flick down to study his mouth moving. He returns the gesture in reverse, looking up at the odd hooked crest jutting out of the top of her helmet that nearly brushes his forehead. He can see the base of her feather shafts before they’re swallowed by the vise keeping her crest closed; they’re almost as thick as his finger, like the shafts of a Fearow he played with for a while in the conservation area. He wonders what the point is of keeping her crest closed. It’s not like her feathers can do any damage. Unless they can. Unless they produce poisonous dust or something. She is technically a Poison type, alongside her other types.

Gladion starts talking, not really sure what about, just to fill the weird silence, and to get her used to his voice. He coos to Silvia like he’s heard Aether employees talk to baby Pokemon, because he feels like that’s appropriate. Silvia stares as his face moves and he studies her in turn, looking down at her chest mantled by the biggest gray feathers he’s ever seen. Her breastbone sticks out in sharp relief against the short black fur covering her chest, and he frowns. Is she malnourished? She has technically gone several days without food.

Gladion has never encountered a Pokemon so socially awkward - Silvia seems content to stand there forever staring at his face from literally a foot away. “Hey . . . Silvia,” he starts, wondering if he’s pushing it too far too soon. “Watch my hand, okay? Watch it.”

He shifts his arm and slowly lifts his hand to shoulder level, as if he’s going to wave. Silvia’s head lowers, eyes locked upon it, and her chest bulges with a low hiss. He waits until the hiss subsides, then wiggles his fingers, keeping it up until the hiss that inspired subsides. “You’re fine,” he whispers. “Don’t worry. You’re fine. No one is going to hurt you.”

Moving so slowly his arm aches with it, Gladion extends his hand toward her helmet. Silvia watches it approach as though ensorcelled, her pupils dilated to tiny dots, the feathers on her neck shifting and flattening where the helmet allows. Gladion is so tense, and so expectant of a bad outcome, that when his fingers touch the cool, smooth surface of her helmet before her eyes, he almost jumps from the shock. Silvia is utterly still, barely breathing. Gladion taps her helmet slowly, then withdraws his hand. “See?”

Silvia seems to sag, as though relieved nothing bad happened. Exhaustion from anticipation. “There you go,” Gladion coos. “You did really good. Good girl.”

Silvia watches intently and tenses up again as Gladion lifts his hand once more. He murmurs reassurances to her, ever-wary, as he reaches for her shoulder this time; Silvia’s head lowers in jerky movements to stare at his arm, so close the metal touches the inside of his elbow. At least she can’t bite me. Mouth dry, Gladion barely breathes as he touches her shoulder, below the feathers splayed over it.

Her fur is short and wiry, and her skin is extremely taut over the muscle of her shoulder. She’s cool to the touch, like a reptile. She’s shaking very hard, harder than Gladion has ever felt anything tremble. He rubs his hand back and forth in gentle motions, dimly registering that this is the first time Silvia has ever touched another living creature. “Good girl. You’re just fine.”

Not wanting to send Silvia into cardiac arrest, he places his hand back on his knee and studies her. Being able to touch her is definitely good progress, and only on the third try too. He was worried they’d never get to this point, which would snowball into a myriad of other issues, like how to feed her.

Silvia’s claws, Gladion sees as he looks down, are clenched into the carpet so tight she looks like she’s taken root. He wonders if she has the reflex to leave things that make her uncomfortable, or if she doesn’t know she can yet, and is just standing here not knowing what to do. He decides to give her space, standing slowly and watching her to make sure she doesn’t suddenly lunge. They’re practically at eye level with each other. If this goes wrong, if he makes a wrong move, he’d be dead in a second.

He shakes off these uneasy thoughts. He has some reading to do.

——-

He spends the rest of the night at the desk reading through Silvia’s files. Silvia follows him wherever he goes, though from a distance, and doesn’t look away from him the entire time; she stands next to his chair at the desk and waddles after him when he goes to the bathroom, though the curtain hiding the toilet spooks her when he moves it, so she just hisses from a distance.

She appears to be coming around to the idea that Gladion won’t hurt her; if Gladion sits at the desk long enough, she hovers to watch what he’s doing, and even eases herself into a sitting position at one point next to him. The process looks painful in the feeble, slow way she does it, which worries Gladion. Silvia tolerates Gladion touching her twice more, both on her back along her spine. Her bones and muscles jut out of her body and her bare, dry skin is stiff to the touch, barely moving across her body, not like the loose, saggy skin of a canine like Arcanine closer to her size.

He pores over notes on her physiology, hoping for answers, and almost wishes he doesn’t find what he does.

He reads the same line over and over again, under a list titled “Flaws in execution,” then stares at Silvia’s body.

“You don’t have enough skin.”

Aether scientists, it seems, can’t play god like they seem to think they can. “You literally do not have enough skin on your body to move,” Gladion mutters, cheek in his hand and elbow on the table, gawping over the list of physical flaws Aether accidentally incorporated into the Type: Nulls.

Inefficient hearing. Low core temperature. Faulty immune response. Disconnected vertebrae at the base of the tail. In Faba’s handwriting, Gladion reads, “Considering the nature of the project, and the vastness of what I am attempting to accomplish, these side effects are minimal when compared to the successes we were able to-“

He cuts himself off, taking a deep breath to stave off the urge to crumple the file into a little ball, like he wishes he could do with Faba’s head. Apparently, not enough skin to move is a minimal side effect.

Gladion burns like nothing alive, and his skin has only ever been the same pale tone. He can’t count the amount of times the Alolan sun has baked him red. For days afterward his skin was tight and painful, and moving hurt.

Gladion, after getting Silvia’s attention so she can anticipate what he’s doing, gently pokes around her shoulder and armpit. Nothing is loose; her hide hugs her body like a wetsuit, like the plastic of an overfilled balloon. No wonder she waddles. No wonder she moves and sits so awkwardly and slowly. Gladion doubts she can stretch her limbs and torso to their full range of motion at all. It would pull at her entire body.

He slides his chair back and picks up Silvia’s fin-tail. He feels no resistance, no muscle pull. She doesn’t react in the least, other than to turn stiffly and watch his chair. Gladion shakes her tail, then pinches the blue flesh on the top. No reaction. It seems Silvia really can’t feel nor control her own tail. As far as she’s concerned, it’s loose, dead weight hanging off her hindquarters.

Gladion rubs her shoulder gently, then gets up and retrieves her Pokeball to put her back in for the night. He breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth, counting to ten until he doesn’t feel so pissed off. Only someone like Faba and the people who work for him would think debilitating physical flaws like these are minor oversights. How can Silvia experience life like he wants her to if she can barely move?

This is fine. He got to touch her multiple times today, and she seems to want to follow him around, even if it is just to study him. Progress like this is exponential.

He looks down at her Pokeball, rubbing his thumb over it, and wonders what kind of man his father was to order the creation of creatures such as these.

——-

The next morning Gladion orders a case of Pidgeot suet and an expensive blender with same-day delivery from PeliPackaging, the only local shipping company that accepts cash at the door along with online credit. He figures a high-quality item would be able to blend better than any other. He waits anxiously for the arrival of his purchases; he keeps Silvia in her ball, not knowing when the deliveryperson will arrive.

Apparently, the researchers fed Silvia with a purely liquid mixture; a tube would extend from the wall above Silvia’s head, and the food would flow down the chute and into Silvia’s mouth through a hole in the front of her helmet. Gladion doubts she even knows what solid food is, or how to chew. For now he can blend up suet and kibble for her and work on teaching her how to chew later.

While Gladion waits he researches Pokemon skin creams, figuring he can try managing Silvia’s skin problem by moistening and loosening it up. Steam loosens up skin, he knows, and he toys with the idea of getting a room steamer usually sold for owners of Salandits, but he can’t keep his whole room steamed for fear of damage to wallpaper that isn’t his. A lot of skin creams are species-specific, or type-specific, so Gladion has trouble finding a generic kind that could work for all types (he doesn’t want to get a cream that works for rock types, but is toxic to fairy types, not really knowing how Silvia’s biology works).

He researches bath salts with calming scents, sweaters designed to hug the chest and reduce anxiety, and even a collar with a bell that’s supposed to soothe. He saves a page on rubber claw-caps and spends over an hour watching videos on how to teach wild Pokemon Idem. He’s beginning to have trouble keeping track of it all, so he opens up a text document and jots down ideas he has:

-Teach Silvia Idem
-Teach Silvia commands (sit, come, eat)
-Talk louder for hearing problems
-Get lotion for skin problems
-Keep room clean for immune problems
-Keep room warm for temperature problems
-Need more hand soap

He jumps up when the deliverywoman knocks, and lugs his purchases inside and pays. It takes him a while to assemble the blender, and the noise it makes when he dumps two packages of suet, two handfuls of kibble, and a cup of water in there and turns it on does not sound healthy. In the end nothing breaks, and what he ends up with is a thick, chunky brown goop, which hopefully Silvia will find appetizing.

He gives Silvia a moment to get her bearings when he releases her from her ball, as she’s still tense and apparently stunned at her surroundings, judging by how she snorts and freezes up immediately. Gladion waves the blender cup full of goop in her direction, cooing, “Silviaaa. Doesn’t that smell good?”

It indeed seems to smell good, as Silvia zeroes in on it immediately with hearty snorts. She approaches Gladion with the most confidence he’s seen thus far from her. “I’m sorry it took me so long to feed you,” he says to her. “I didn’t know- whoa.” Silvia comes so close that her helmet almost slams him in the forehead, a front paw raised to swipe at the cup.

“Silvia, wait- Silvia!” he yelps, staggering back from her. She waddles after him undaunted, a clicking noise coming from her helmet. Gladion’s heart rate spikes from being cornered by a creature five times his size. “I’m going to give this to you if you stay still!”

Gladion gets a hand on her neck right below her helmet and holds her back as best he can, which turns out to be not very well; her strength is stunning, sending him right back into the wall. Only ducking prevents one of the spikes on her neck from stabbing him in the face. Honestly frightened of being crushed, Gladion raises the cup over her head and, as Silvia lifts her head to keep it in her view, holds her helmet still long enough to pour some slowly in the hole in the front. Wet smacking noises issue from the helmet, so Gladion found the right place, at least. Careful so she doesn’t try to jump up or knock into him, he feeds her in little intervals, resuming when she seems to be done gulping the last mouthful. She’s very messy — a lot of it oozes out of the bottom of her helmet and drips to the floor — but most of it seems to get to the right place.

Gladion backs away when the cup is empty, and goes to the sink to fill it with water and swish it around to get the last bits. Silvia bends down and sniffs the puddles she made on the carpet, then lifts her head and makes smacking noises, like she’s licking the inside of the helmet. “You’re a messy girl,” Gladion chides as he comes back, heart still pounding. “Thirsty?”

She downs the water in a similar sloppy and dangerous-to-squishy-Gladion fashion, and seems sated afterward. More exhausted than he thought he’d be, Gladion goes to the bed and sits down with a whoosh. The room smells like Pokemon food, his hands are gross, and, as he is discovering in this moment, Silvia is not housebroken.

“What am I going to do with you?” he demands. Silvia does not answer.

——-

Gladion’s days become routine. The second he wakes up, he lets Silvia out of her ball, and the breakfast scramble begins. No matter what he tries, feeding Silvia remains as hazardous as ever; she can’t seem to understand that he’ll feed her whether or not she freaks out about it, and so she pursues him with the cup as if he’s trying to steal it. Several times she’s driven the helmet into him, usually around head-height, and it feels like being hit with a baseball bat. He finds that standing on the bed as he feeds her is much safer than being on the floor with her, since she doesn’t seem to want to attempt going on the bed herself. The consequence is that he has to run his comforter to the laundromat twice a day to wash off suet stains, until he finally thinks of the bright idea to put one of her house-training pads under her mouth to catch the excess.

With that done, they’re both free to their own devices. Silvia is no longer afraid of the room and its colors, and hasn’t broken anything in a while, so Gladion puts most of the room’s amenities back in their own places. Gladion vacuums, dusts, or spends most of his time on the bed on his laptop, and Silvia likes to sniff around. Sometimes she lies down by the wall, descending in stiff and wobbly starts, and rests her head flat on the ground between her front legs. It’s a pose that strikes Gladion as uncomfortable, but seems to be the only way she can rest her head, considering the four spikes projecting from her neck. Stupid Faba and his stupid, pointless helmet design. Aesthetics, and not comfort, seemed to dominate the blueprint.

He considers it a little victory when he glances over at one point and realizes her eyes are closed and she’s napping, and that they’re at the point where she feels comfortable sleeping around him. He has yet to reach that point himself with her. At dinner Gladion feeds her again, with the same risky ritual, and then puts her back in her ball for bedtime.

She seems to dislike change; if an object is in a different place than it was the day previous, even by just a few inches, she’ll spend half an hour sniffing and hissing at it before she gets used to it again. She always sniffs Gladion for a while if he’s in different clothing. The first time it rained she backed into a corner and hissed at the rattling noise against the windows; Gladion had to sit nearby and talk until she got used to it. It’s the middle of hurricane season, and as the weeks go by she stops noticing thunder and rain altogether.

Now that Silvia’s discovered that touch is not only painless, but feels good, she seeks it out several times a day. Though the experience still seems to leave her confused, as she always goes extremely still and shakes a little bit, she approaches Gladion and stares expectantly until he rubs whatever part of her is nearest. Sometimes if he doesn’t react quick enough for her liking she’ll snort and puff, which leads to walking right into him helmet-first — this has led to several ripped shirts and bruises. The more time goes on, the longer she stays next to him receiving rubs and strokes. Gladion only ever waits for her to approach him, and never chases her down to pet her. He wants to keep contact a positive thing, and it seems the message is getting through.

He’s grateful, because it’s clear Silvia is a hands-on project. She needs assistance in doing almost everything: eating, standing after lying down for a while, relieving herself. Her helmet needs to be wiped down with a damp cloth after every meal, and she usually needs to be sponge-cleaned after going to the bathroom. She’s doing rather well when it comes to going on the training pad, but causes just as many accidents as successes.

PeliPackaging becomes his most-visited website; he orders an army of cleaning supplies, groceries, and toys he thinks she might like. The rope chew toy was an idiotic move, considering her helmet; the red rubber ball was a great success, as Silvia will trot around after it for hours, with breaks to huff and puff. She learns Gladion is a helpful figure, and will pace between him and the bed if she accidentally kicks it underneath, and makes a great deal of weird happy trills when he retrieves it.

He constantly discovers more quirks about Silvia that makes him wonder just what makes her up, like her reaction to the room’s lone mirror. Gladion set it on the floor against the wall instead of back on its hook, and the second Silvia saw it she became deeply spooked. She stood in one place and hissed at her own reflection for over fifteen minutes, weaving side to side on her front legs in a peculiar fashion that reminded Gladion of an antisocial Spearow back at Aether who had been abused by humans and taken to the conservation center — it only ever crouched, weaved, and hissed at those who tried to help it. “The more I see you,” Gladion told her, “the more I start thinking you’re just a big silver bird.”

Gladion went and stood behind Silvia so that his reflection appeared as well, and Silvia badly startled, even more shocked that there were two humans instead of one. “Do you not realize that’s you?” Gladion wondered. He went in front of the mirror and crouched, waving his hand in front of it and looking back at her. “It’s us, see?”

Silvia just continued to weave. Gladion found this curious, because he assumed all Pokemon species passed the MSR test, and were aware their reflection wasn’t another Pokemon. Silvia eventually began to approach, eyes locked on herself; when she was close enough to touch Gladion rested his hand on the side of her helmet. “See?” he said, gesturing between Silvia and her reflection. “See my hand? That’s you.”

A minute or so passed by of defensive weaving, then quite suddenly Silvia straightened up and calmed down, as if it had finally dawned on her. “There you go!” Gladion praised. “Good girl!”

He figured it was safe to leave the mirror there then, but found a new danger; Silvia swiftly became obsessed with her own reflection. She sat directly in front of it, the front of her helmet pressed against the glass, and uttered and sustained a strange low warble, for hours on end. “You sound like a Pidove,” Gladion called from the desk, where he sat on his laptop. “Are you a Pidove under there, Silvia?”

When she wouldn’t budge for dinner, or for anything, he started to get weirded out. He put her in her ball, slid the mirror under the bed, and released her again. She sniffed around the wall where the mirror had been, then lost interest.

Gladion figures it’s safe to reintroduce the flatscreen after this, hoping Silvia recognizes that images on flat panels aren’t actually windows into another room at this point. She watches him fiddle around with the wires to reconnect it from a short distance away, and jumps and hisses when a cooking show comes on. Gladion lowers the volume and coos gently to reassure her, until she calms down and learns to ignore the TV.

He keeps it on from then on, for background noise so Silvia can get used to more human voices than his own. Sometimes she sits by the bed as he watches cooking competitions, and he’ll rub her shoulders until she lies down and naps.

Gladion always loved Pokemon. He loves cuddling with them. Some long-term residents of the conservation area would follow him around, waiting for him to sit down so they could curl around him and snuggle, from Arboks to Emolgas to Noiverns. Gladion feels tempted to slide off the bed and sit beside Silvia on the floor, but has learned the hard way this is a bad idea. If Gladion goes on the floor, Silvia will become overexcited and try to stand over him, disregarding where her sharp claws or hard helmet hit him. He tried it once and had to scramble back onto the bed when she tried to jump on him. It’s frustrating, having to be so careful with a Pokemon that clearly wants touch, but doesn’t know boundaries.

He even has to be careful sitting at the desk or on the edge of his bed. Silvia once tried to put her head in his lap, a gesture he welcomed with glee — it warms him to receive her affectionate gestures. But the second she rested the helmet on his lap, he had to push her away. The helmet was unimaginably heavy, crushing his legs and pinching his skin. Silvia snorted and tried to put her head back on, but Gladion jumped up and walked away as soon as he could.

He scratched the tops of his thighs and tried to imagine constantly carrying such a hard weight around on his head. He rubbed his neck and shuddered at the thought.

——-

Gladion wrestles for a while with the question of which window to draw back the blinds on. He doesn’t want Silvia to start thinking this room is all there is. He doesn’t want the motel to be just another prison. But if he gives her glimpses of the outside world, he fears she’ll grow overwhelmed just like the first few days. Will the blue expanse of the ocean just confuse her, should he open the window by his bed? Would the sight of people and Pokemon walking by outside terrify her, should he open the two front windows by the door?

In the end he decides the ocean is a more static sight, and something Silvia will have to get used to sooner or later. As she reclines at the foot of the bed one day he reaches over and draws back the green curtain. Silvia snorts and stands up at the sound, looking over the edge of the bed to investigate — then she stops short. She inches forth. She approaches the window on stiff legs, taking in the eggshell-blue sky and frothing ocean outside.

Gladion murmurs, “It’s okay, Silvia. That’s outside.” His fingers are on the Pokeball beside him, ready to prevent a panicked rampage.

Silvia reaches the windowsill and stops, her whole body deathly still. The sunlight illuminates inside her helmet in a way Gladion has never seen before. Her eyes are bigger than he realized, and her pupils lighter. They’re the same gray as the feathers cascading down her neck.

Minutes tick by as Gladion waits for Silvia to become overwhelmed. When she moves, Gladion jumps, so tense is he in anticipation.

Silvia eases herself into a sitting position, and leans forward until the hook of her helmet rests on the windowsill. She grows still. Her body is relaxed.

Gladion watches her with a feeling he cannot describe, as if the overstimulation he expected her to endure bloomed inside him instead. He almost has to blink back tears.

Silvia watches the waves for a long time, until the sun begins to set to the west and the sky changes color. She snorts and lifts her head every time a Wingull or Pelipper wheels high overhead, but returns to resting on the windowsill when they soar out of sight. Sometimes, when Gladion glances over, he can see her eyes drifting shut. Maybe the sight of the waves calms her — maybe tomorrow he’ll crack the window, so she can smell the salty breeze and hear the rush and ebb.

The drapes are never drawn shut after that.

——

Silvia learns her own name easily enough — Gladion calls it every time something interesting happens. He maintains his ritual of saying, “Hi,” when she makes eye contact, which happens often, given her tendency to stare every time he so much as shifts in his chair. The both of them must be sick of that word at this point.

One day Gladion visits the town he saw the first day he came to Alola. He dresses in the most out-of-character clothing he can — a gray hoodie, black pants, and a godawful pair of red sneakers — and brushes his bangs over his eye. It’s idiotic and he can barely see, but he dares to think it makes him unrecognizable.

He uses the TV, turned off, as a mirror and practices his surliest glare. Everyone at Aether called him the biggest sweetheart, especially the ones working in conservation, which is where he spent most of his time. He was good with the Pokemon there and polite to everyone he met. He knows his big, expressive eyes and heart-shaped face make him look like a doll — his mother’s told him as much. Even with the angriest look he can muster, he still looks like a pouting, gangly kid.

He eyes the makeup he bought way back when, but decides against it. Even after living in this motel room for almost a month, he still hasn’t had the time to look up decent tutorials; all he’s done is research stuff for Silvia. She’s taken up almost every waking minute of his day. It surprises him how quickly he took to it.

He keeps his hands in his pockets and his back hunched the whole walk there, hands gripped on his money and Silvia’s Pokeball. It made him anxious leaving her ball at the motel room. He avoids eye contact with everyone he sees, a task much more difficult than he anticipated. For some reason, everyone seems to want to stop him and say hi, and ask who he is and where he’s going. It’s jarring, and annoying, and makes his heart race every time someone stops him, fearing recognition. But no, everyone just wants to wave their hands in a rainbow shape and say, “Alola.” Why “Alola”? No one went around spouting “Aether” back at home. He’s sure no one in Kanto runs around repeating “Kanto” like a Chatot.

He’s practically running by the time he gets to the library. Breathing a sigh of relief, he wanders around looking for any book he can find on teaching Pokemon Idem. Practically half the library is dedicated to information relevant to Trainers, and he has no trouble finding a good selection. He takes no less than fifteen books down to the desk, gets himself a library card, and lugs them all back to the motel.

He sets them down on the floor near the bed and releases Silvia. She looks around, unused to being in her ball during the daytime, and busies herself with thoroughly inspecting the books. Gladion sits on the end of the bed, picking up a thin, introductory book with a bright and colorful cover. It’s geared toward Trainers, and it shows — the words it features most are attack prompts. Not useful when Gladion is trying to teach Silvia “shower” instead of “tackle.”

There is a common theme: repetition. So Gladion sets out to be repetitive. Between perusing the books for the good bits and looking up videos and anecdotes on message boards for problem Pokemon, Gladion teaches Silvia Idem. He points, and labels; this is the window, this is the floor, this is the chair, this is your leg. Silvia, forever nosy, never averts her stare, and thus absorbs. Gladion has never spoken more in his entire life — he lies in bed at night, jaw sore, and chugs water to replace the spit he used up talking.

One concept he goes over every day is body parts. He pats her shoulders, then his own, and repeats, “Shoulders.” He does the same with all of her body in the hope that she’ll realize they’re much more alike than different.

The first few days feel absolutely hopeless, speaking to a Pokemon that can’t talk back, and every book he reads warns that this is normal. He knows it isn’t hopeless when one day he says offhand, “Silvia, you want food?” and she perks up at him. She starts when he stands suddenly in glee, a big grin on his face. “You did it!” he crows, prancing up to her; she lifts her feet high as she trots to meet him, imitating him instantly. He winces as one of her helmet’s spikes catches on his arm. She leans into his hands as he rubs her shoulders, her favorite spot to be touched.

He can’t wait for the day she’ll fully understand, “It’s okay.” And, “Silvia, please don’t pee on your bed.”

———

Gladion needs to run to the front office to deposit another payment for his stay, and figures Silvia will be safe enough out of her ball for the few minutes it takes to do so. “Silvia,” he says, getting her attention. “I’ll be right back, okay? I’m going out for a little bit.”

She watches him silently, expression absent due to the helmet. “You understand?” he prompts, hoping for a response of some kind.

None comes. “Okay, you’re going to be alone for a few minutes. I won’t be here. Don’t worry, all right? You’re going to be fine. I’ll be back in five minutes. Don’t break anything.” No acknowledgement. “Okay.”

Gladion closes the door behind him slowly, sticking his head in for as long as possible to watch Silvia. She just stands there. He closes the door and waits outside listening, in case he hears panic. All he hears is silence, so he forced himself to walk away. Realistically he needs to let Silvia be alone sometime in the future, but he didn’t anticipate how hard it would be.

Payment goes as usual, though the woman behind the desk cheerily asks where his parents live. Gladion says, “Out,” turns and leaves, and has to physically refrain from flinging himself off the nearest cliff when he realizes what he just said.

Shaking off the embarrassment of that encounter — it seems he hasn’t spoken to another human being in a long enough while to make him an awkward mess — he unlocks his door and lets himself in. “I’m home,” he calls, sighing a little.

Silvia, near the bed, spins at the sound of the door unlocking. Gladion barely has a moment to say, “Hi-“ before she breaks into a charge and rams her head into his chest, helmet-first.

Pain explodes in his stomach; he cries out and grips Silvia’s helmet, falling back against the wall. “Silvia!” he whimpers, arms shaking, trying to push her away. “Silvia, stop!”

She drives the helmet into him, crushing him against the wall. Whatever’s happening to his stomach is the worst pain he’s ever felt. “Silvia!” he yells, in vain, as she doesn’t react one bit.

Squaring his feet under him, Gladion shifts his weight to one foot and drives his knee into her chest. Hard.

She stumbles back, an alarmed wheeze hissing out of her helmet. Not far enough. Gladion lifts his foot and kicks her shoulder as hard as he can.

Silvia shrieks, stumbling backwards. She trips on her hind leg and falls heavily on her side, claws scrabbling at the ground. She heaves herself to her feet and retreats to the corner by the shower curtain, rump against the wall, feet planted far apart to brace herself. She hisses savagely, weaving from side to side and never taking her eyes off Gladion.

Gladion sinks to the floor, his knees too wobbly to support him. It feels like his guts have been ripped out. He presses his shaking hands to his stomach and watches Silvia, inching for the door in case she charges again. He glances down at his chest, expecting tons of blood — surely the pain he felt means he’s bleeding profusely — but finds only a rip in his gray hoodie and the white shirt he was wearing underneath. A thin, shallow cut mars his skin along the bottom of his ribs, and a bruise is forming. Otherwise he’s fine.

After what feels like an eternity he stands, his legs feeling like jelly. Silvia’s hiss rises in pitch, her ribs shaking from the force of it. Her limbs tremble. “Silvia,” Gladion says thickly, his voice alien to his own ears. Silvia snarls. “Silvia, it’s okay. I-I’m sorry.”

Silvia’s eyes are wild and scared. There is glass between them again.

Gladion reaches into his pocket for her Pokeball. “S-Silvia, return,” he stammers, and the Type: Null disappears.

He lies in bed for a while, trying to make sense of what happened. He holds one of the sink towels to his stomach until it stops bleeding, and he ordered bandaids to be delivered tomorrow.

Just thinking of a few hours ago makes his chest hurt. Silvia has learned that she likes contact. Contact makes her feel good. She doesn’t understand that her helmet can be deeply damaging if she’s not careful. She hasn’t made the connection yet that Gladion can feel the same things she can. “Stop” should’ve been one of the first things he taught her. He did her a disservice every time he elaborately dodged her helmet instead of standing firm and teaching her to be more careful with herself, because now it’s culminated into this.

He got complacent. This isn’t a Growlithe he can play with; this is a creature designed to kill aliens.

He crosses his arms over his face, wincing when it pulls at his stomach, and groans. He could’ve just undone every bit of progress he made with Silvia, and it’s all his fault.