Lala bounded after the mysterious pokémon. She knew a lot about the forest she lived in, and recognized most types of pokémon, but that one had been new. New and exciting and so very, very pretty.
It took her two days to realize that the pokémon belonged to a trainer. They were only passing through, but still, her curiosity did not wane. All of the trained pokémon were ones she hadn't seen before, and after a little while, she realized that they were foreign. Their trainer talked with a strange accent and even the pokémon themselves sounded off.
On the fourth day, the pokémon noticed her. "Why have you been following us?!" it shrilled in demand, and Lala tumbled out of the bush she'd been hiding in. The pink and purple pokémon's teammate, some sort of yellow rodent, squeaked and hid behind it.
"What kind of pokémon are you?" Lala asked.
"Trained pokémon!" the yellow thing said.
"I was not asking you. I was asking the beautiful creature with the fluff," she snapped.
The pretty pokémon blinked its big, red eyes, and then slowly flushed. "Me? This isn't fluff, not like yours..."
"May I touch it?" Lala asked. The fluffy pokémon nodded, despite the yellow one's frown. Lala hopped over, landed lightly beside them, and ran her paws over the pink ruff around its chest. It wasn't cottony, or like fur, but almost like the down on baby pidove. She wanted to bury her face in it. That close, she could tell that the pokémon was female, too.
"Do you live in this forest?" she asked.
"Yes. All my life. I'm something akin to a reigning queen," Lala replied with a grin. It was mostly true; she was definitely one of the stronger pokémon in the forest. But rarely did she use the power against her neighbors.
"You could show our trainer how to get out!" she said happily and the whimsicott's enthusiasm seeped out of her. The pink pokémon, undeterred, chattered on. "He's been lost for days, it's so frustrating! None of us are very wilderness-y pokémon, and it's not as if we're from this region, and a guide is just what we've been needing!"
"What do I stand to gain by aiding a bunch of trained strangers?" Lala pouted, inching her face closer to the other's fluff.
"You'd be doing us a great kindness."
Lala didn't do kindness. But she loved the texture of the downy fur in her paws. She wondered how it'd mix with her own. "Your trainer would not pose a threat to me?"
"Of course not! He's a very kind soul and listens to us. If I tell him not to battle or capture you, then he won't."
"If only all human trainers were so amenable. Very well, I shall guide you through the forest. What direction are you heading, or attempting to?"
The two trained pokémon exchanged a look. "Um, I think he wanted to head north?" the yellow thing guessed.
Despite her better judgment, Lala followed them back to their trainer. She refused to meet him, instead sticking to the shadows and trees, but persuaded the attractive pokémon to act as their go-between.
She spent five days leading them, even helping to point out food sources along the way, and she saw that the human boy actually wasn't so terrible. She knew humans varied as much as pokémon could, but so many trainers in the forest were young and brash and rude. This one treated his team with warmth and respect. Novel.
At the end of their journey, Lala was not surprised when the plump pokémon asked her to come with them. "It would be wonderful to gain a teammate as kind as you are."
Kind. She snorted. "I am not fit to be your teammate. You and your team will be fine without me," she scoffed.
"Do you not like trainers?"
"Do not ask me questions you don't want the answer to. You seem very fond of the gangly human."
"I am. He's my trainer. You would understand if—"
"It would behoove you not to finish that statement," she cut in.
The trained pokémon opposite her jumped at the interruption, then eased into a smile. "...Thank you for your help. I won't forget it, or you. Or your dashing fluff. I wish you all the best."
She reached over and pressed her beak-like snout to her cheek. She smelled very nice. And then she left, with her trainer and her team and her own future with them.
Lala made sure she was not called kind again for a very long time.
Chapter Thirty-Eight: Mister Snivy Whiplash's Wonderful Journey Of Growing
Ree started crying when she had to fight with Unika to get her in her little knitted tube. "It's the fucking hormones!" she snarled at Harper, who started in with concern, and her tone scared Unika further, so she began crying, too. The two wailed hopelessly together, feeding off of each other's noise, and Harper couldn't soothe either.
That was how they passed their first night without Lala.
"How did you sleep?" Whippy asked with a yawn and a stretch.
Harper looked ruffled. She twitched a bit at his question. "Not as well as you, it seems. How did Trainer sleep?"
"She didn't squirm so much, I guess." They both turned to watch as Ree sleepily stumbled through her morning routine. Her breath fogged in the cold morning air. "She was very warm, it was nice."
"The longer we travel together, the more I thank Tornadus I am not a reptilian pokémon," Harper said.
Ree tripped over the strap of her backpack and swore loudly. She woke Unika, but mercifully, the tynamo seemed calmer in the morning light. Harper hopped off to tend to her, or whatever it was she did—Whippy wasn't entirely sure, but it reminded him a little of how the light-haired guard had taken care of Ree. Parental, probably, though he didn't have much knowledge to compare to it. The humans had always taken care of him, not his mother.
With Lala gone, things were quieter. A little awkward. He usually chatted with her when they traveled, or tried to keep up with her, or helped her bait wild pokémon. Harper was so much more serious, and always stuck closer to Ree and Unika. The cold weather slowed everything down further. His scarf got caught on the bare branches, and, while wearing his booties made his trainer happy, they were difficult to run and climb in.
The next day, they woke up under half a foot of snow.
Whippy had never seen so much in one place, and evidently neither had Unika. Ree was less pleased by it all. "It's too fuckin' cold!" she screamed out the tent opening. She slapped it shut again with a huff. Whippy and Uni shared a look and he shrugged.
"Humans are weird," he said and dove into a higher drift. It felt almost painfully cold against his scales, but so smooth, and he was still fairly warm from sleeping with his trainer. It wasn't like swimming, since it was solid, but like gliding. He couldn't help but slither through it with glee.
"You're weird!" Unika squeaked when he popped up underneath her.
"How am I weird?" he asked with a squint.
"Weirdweirdweird! But that's okay, since I'm the hero. Not you."
"What are you talking about?" Whippy asked. He used his tail as leverage to get up to her level, balancing on top of the snow's crust, and she shied away from him with what he figured was a smirk. Her mouth was weird. All of her was weird.
He was about to tell her such when Harper fell awkwardly into the snow between them. While she struggled to get on top like him, Unika giggled and somersaulted around her. "Whippy, you will worry Trainer if you are in the snow too long. Please be mindful of your health," Harper said curtly.
"I'll be fine," he grumbled.
"Unika, would you like to come help Trainer?"
"With what?" the tynamo suspiciously asked. Ree's incoherent shout filtered over to them, muffled by the tent.
"Her phone has run out of power and she would appreciate help charging it again."
"But I don't like that collar."
"It would be helpful to Trainer."
"If she doesn't make me take that gross medicine, I'll do it for her."
"Medicine is helping!" Whippy interrupted.
"Shush," Harper told him. She broke free of the snow and, very carefully, stepped onto a thicker section of its crust. It held. "Unika, Lala is gone now, which means it is only three of us left. We are together, a team. We help one another, but most vital is helping our trainer. You are the only electric pokémon. You are the only one who can help her in this way."
Uni preened with the attention. Whippy glared at her. "I'll be her hero! I can do that, at least, right?"
"Right," Harper confirmed with a beaky smile. "And I will fly with you later tonight again if you do not fight when taking your medicine."
She drooped in the air. "But it tastes like sour bile and dust."
"It makes you feel better, does it not?"
"Well... yes, but..."
"Do not argue. In the next human town, we can ask Trainer for more of those sweets you liked."
Sparkly-eyed at the idea, Unika zoomed off to help Ree. Whippy shivered in the snow. His heat was fading, and fast, but he didn't want to go back in the tent while Unika was the savior of Ree's phone. On some level, he knew his jealousy was irrational. But mostly, he pouted.
"Do not antagonize her," Harper snapped at him.
"Don't blame me! I can hardly understand her conversations half the time."
"She is excitable, not speaking another tongue. And she is younger than you, so just... bear with her. Please. We have to be a unified front for Trainer."
"She can rely on us individually. I do the battling and you do the bird stuff and Uni does the electricity stuff," he huffed. He crossed his arms and curled his tail around himself.
Harper sighed. "Please go back into the tent. You are not made for colder climes."
"No," he said stubbornly.
"Trainer will not embrace you if you are as cold as the air around you."
"I'm not going back in there with them right now. I-I'm going to keep exploring."
"You are acting like a child."
"And you're acting like a—a big dumb serious thing!" With that remark, he scampered off into the snowy forest. She squawked after him, but she wasn't there to babysit him. She wasn't even there to babysit Unika, but she was, and he could tell Ree was grateful for that.
Whippy found a hollow in a snowbank beneath a tree and curled up in it. It wasn't fair. With Lala, the clever one, gone, he was supposed to be the valuable starter again. It wasn't as if his trainer's behavior had changed, aside from crying over Lala and in her frustration with the weather. He was used to her varying moods. And she still slept with him closest.
He wasn't sure how long before he heard the crunching of boots in snow. The servine looked up at his trainer sadly. Harper was perched on one shoulder, too tall for her frame, and Unika floated over the other. "Mister, you can't run off in the cold weather like that. You forgot your scarf and booties."
He hadn't forgot.
Something must've shown on his face, because Ree sighed in a weary sort of way. She bent down, scooped him up, and shoved him inside her coat. He felt her jump and shiver as their skin came in contact. "You miss Lala, too, huh?"
"Not really," he grumbled, poking his snout up over her collar.
"Worth a shot. Uni, wanna go back to the tent with Harper? We'll pack up and head out soon."
"Okay!" she squealed and slid off of her shoulder like she was on an invisible slide. Harper flapped off after her.
Ree pulled off her hat and pushed it onto Whippy's face. He scrambled within the confines of her coat to get it on him right, which was difficult enough with his horn. "Harper's too responsible sometimes for the both of us, huh?"
"I guess," he mumbled.
"Someone's gotta be, I suppose. Lately I've been tearing my hair out just trying to get Unika to behave and not freeze my toes off at night. ...We should really get a fire pokémon." Ree didn't follow them back to camp, but began to meander along in the dead forest, marching awkwardly through the thick snow. "A fire pokémon would be so goddamn useful. Start fires, keep us warm, take care of annoying ice pokémon... Just like an electric pokémon's super useful. Uni's important, y'know?"
He growled wordlessly into the fleece lining of her jacket. He was starting to warm up again since her body had absorbed his coldness. Didn't mean he was going to move any time soon, though.
"Whippy, this is a team. I'm thinking I'm going to start pushing for double battles again, so you three can get used to each other without Lala around. And because I've been sort of shit at team-building exercises that don't involve guns lately. Maybe a triple battle? Wait, fuck, no, that's a terrible idea."
"Three on three?" he asked. That sounded like a small-scale war. That sounded fun.
"Yeah. We haven't had one of those yet, but seems like it would be a hassle... Double battles for now." Ree chuckled and rubbed at her reddened nose. "I can already tell I'm listening better to you. Maybe that's all the brainpower I had to devote to figuring out Lala's schemes. Do you notice?"
"Didn't get that one. Of course I couldn't keep it up."
"That's okay, it's fun anyway!" he declared and nuzzled up underneath her chin. She scratched along his jaw with another little laugh.
"Maybe I can share some of that new brainpower with Unika. Does she seem to be doing alright?"
"Maybe," he replied, mood dashed again.
"We just have to get her into the habit of wearing her little sock thing. And you, too, mister. Winter clothes are meant to be worn. I did not spend a shitload just to have fancy lining for my backpack."
"Jackster's trainer made mine!"
"That one I got. And Harry did not make your booties, so there."
"They get hooked on my claws!" he whined against her throat, doing his best pathetic voice.
"Then evolve, and you'll outgrow everything but the scarf. You better not outgrow the scarf."
"I'll make sure not to outgrow the scarf!" He rather liked it, anyway. Maybe it'd get caught on fewer things when it wasn't wrapped around him so many times. "But I'll get big and strong for you anyway!"
"Yeah, yeah, you'll be a serperior soon enough. ...Wish you could've met Bo, really met him. You two would've had a heyday together." Ree took a deep, shaky breath, and continued, "Please try to get along with the rest of the team while I figure out what's going on. It'll all get tossed out the window once we get another teammate, and don't worry, I'll be having this conversation with Uni, too. But I need all that extra brainpower to keep working on understanding you, remember, not keeping you all from doing your own thing."
"...Fine." He didn't even do anything wrong, and he was still getting scolded. It felt unfair, but what could he say otherwise?
"Oh, fucking hell."
"What is it?"
"I forgot to send Kev a fruit basket before we left."
He laughed despite his mood and nuzzled her again. "You're funny sometimes."
"Your face is," Ree grumbled back. "But let's get back to the other two now. Time to start productive training shit and see if I can't get a decent connection on my phone. What sort of site even sells fruit baskets?"
"You have to zap it! That's what you're supposed to be doing!" Whippy yowled and lashed his tail. Unika cowered back, though from him or the wild watchog, he wasn't sure. He didn't have the patience to figure out which. When the wild pokémon lunged at her, he caught it in the side with a tackle, and they went tumbling. Unika sparked and fled. "You're supposed to battle it! Get back—oof!"
It didn't take him long to beat, even if it knocked the wind out of him. As he held his ribs, he glared up at Harper, perched in a tree. She returned his look with a severe, disappointed one of her own. She was better at it than he. "You are too harsh with her."
"We're supposed to be training!" he hissed back and thumped his tail on the snow behind him again. He was starting to cool down, which meant he'd have to return to Ree and warm back up. It really ruined whatever training schedule she'd been hoping for, and that made him feel guilty, which made him push himself harder, which made it all that much worse.
The distant sound of their trainer retching floated over on the chill breeze. Harper sighed. "She has been doing that more and more often as of late. I do not think it is the weather."
"We're stressing her out. She told me so," Whippy petulantly replied, almost hoping for a rise out of her.
Instead, she just cocked her head and sighed again. "I thought as much. It worries me."
"Well—good. But she wants us to battle more, and get stronger, and we can't get stronger if Uni runs off, crying, every time we fight anything bigger than she is! And everything is bigger than she is!"
"She will grow when she evolves."
"She has to get stronger to do that!"
"She will not benefit from you throwing her headfirst into battles she is outmatched in," Harper snapped.
"She won't fight tranquill."
"I will find pidove for her. Perhaps there will be water pokémon at some point. We were near the coast before, in the human town, were we not?" she mused, ruffled feathers smoothed again. He wished he could calm himself that easily. He was still annoyed by it all.
"Pokémon get stronger by fighting others. Even baby pokémon know that."
"She is young, but she is not a child."
"Then she's just being stupid."
"She is not. She is inexperienced, and her mental thorns are not making it easier."
"She's not head-injured," he said, tail still swishing, "she's poisoned in the mind. That's what makes her weird."
"She is not poisoned! She has—" Harper squawked out something that was a little too birdy for him to fully understand. He didn't want to argue it, especially not with her, but he knew Unika had something in her mind that made her act so erratically. He had seen it before in another snivy that wasn't allowed to become a starter.
"It's called a mental illness." Ree's voice startled them both. She picked her way carefully into the clearing, cradling a shivering, crying Unika in the space above her gloves.
"No! It's not! Notnotnot!" the tynamo sobbed. Whippy felt something that was not fully guilt nor pity grip him.
"There's nothing wrong with her," Ree added, uncharacteristically seriously. Uni nodded furiously. "It just means she needs our help, because we're a team, and it means she needs to keep taking her medicine. I... can't make her stop crying." She held her aloft to Harper, who guided her up onto the branch she was on. The bird whispered soothing nothings to her.
Ree sniffed snottily and gestured to Whippy before she turned and left again. He climbed a tree to jump onto her shoulders and it took her a couple moments to unzip her coat and let him in. They hardly made it any farther before she collapsed in a snow drift, her entire frame shuddering with silent sobs.
Whippy started; he had assumed it was because of the cold at first. "What's wrong? Ree, why are you crying? Are you hurt? Sick?"
It took her some time to gasp out, "C-Calm down, boy." He fell silent and pressed into her, forcing his own worries down, too. He wasn't sure if it was snot or tears dripping down onto his scales, but he didn't want to move to check. She turned and blew her nose into her glove, then made a face and wiped it in the snow. "Gross..."
"Are you okay?" he repeated quietly.
"I don't know how to handle Uni. You've probably noticed."
He had. She was not exactly shy about hiding her issues, either, though he also thought she was doing an admirable job at trying. Better than he was doing.
"She gets so worked up if you mention anything about it, so I've been trying to avoid it. Not sure if that's good or not, but I'd appreciate it if you did, too. That is what you two were arguing about, right?"
"I was trying to teach her to battle."
"That got a little garbled. I think my ears are stuffed from all the crying. Point is, mister, Uni's part of the team, and she's a little young and, well, just little. But she's okay. We'll be okay with her." Ree shifted in the snow bank and drew her hood up over her hat. "I don't like this wind. Definitely need a fuckin' fire pokémon at some point. I don't know if pokémon have terms for their shit, but people call her thing bipolar disorder. All it means is that sometimes she's really excited and happy, and other times she's sad. That's it. She's okay."
"I was just trying to teach her to battle better," he said again.
"Who's the trainer here?"
"That's just mean, dude. I'll toss you out on your ass into that snow if you're not careful."
"...Harper said she'd help her battle pidove," he admitted, and it felt like a fault. He was the starter; he was supposed to be next in line. And he'd tried. With Lala it had been a little different, since she was older and stronger and probably smarter, and also so forceful with her plans. Not that he hadn't been jealous, but Ree had been content with it (usually) so that helped.
"An advantage would do her good. You know what else would do her good? If you two didn't fucking kidnap her away from me. I'm trying to get you all to listen to me in battle, not raise another little hellion. She's young and naïve, so I have the chance to act like a trainer!"
"You are the best trainer."
"You are a filthy liar."
"You're good at it!" Whippy loyally insisted. Ree snorted. That was definitely snot on his scales.
"The sunlight today is almost shot, so let's start again tomorrow. Together and all that jazz. Pidove hunting, great."
With a groan, she managed to get upright and keep him in her coat. They made it back to camp, where Harper and Unika were already situated, poking at the fire as if hoping it'd rekindle itself. A fire pokémon would be an interesting teammate, but he was skeptical. He never had good run-ins with them.
"Unika, please sit with Trainer. I would like to speak to Whippy alone," Harper said, scooting the tynamo off the log she was hovering over.
"But! But I wanna sit with you!"
"Only for a little while. I will be back."
"If you sit with Ree you get to decide what food we have tonight," Whippy offered. Unika bobbed happily in the air at that. Their food supplies were limited at best, but they could still have variety within that. Little things.
He followed Harper off a little ways in the darkening forest, in spite of the betrayed look Ree gave them both for leaving her alone with medicine duty, and only then did the nerves set in. If she just wanted to chew him out for Unika again—
"I would like to apologize," Harper interrupted his train of thought. She settled in on a low branch and inclined her head to him. "I am sorry for losing my temper earlier."
"That was losing your temper?" he asked before he could stop himself.
She spared him a look. "I pride myself on certain things. Regardless, my opinion remains the same: you are too quick to lose your patience with Unika. As I said before—"
"You're right. Sorry. I'll try harder next time." He did not go out into the spooky forest to get a lecture. Again.
Harper shifted uncomfortably. That was odd. "I... also wished to ask you if you thought there was anything odd about Trainer's behavior recently."
"Uh, no? She's just worried about Lala and Unika, pretty sure," he replied, confused.
"She is distancing herself from me. I am not certain why, but I do not notice the same thing happening with you two. Please, keep watch over her for me."
And with that, it clicked into place for him. He couldn't handle Unika, but he could handle Ree. Harper was the opposite. "I think she's worried she'll hurt Unika's feelings. Again, I mean. If you could keep an eye on her, like you've been doing, I bet it'd help," he told her.
"Of course I will." She seemed to catch on, but still sounded awkward when she asked, "And will you continue to maintain your attentions on Trainer?"
"Of course! I'm the starter, after all!" he said and puffed out his chest.
"Yes, you are," Harper said, amusement in her voice. Just with that, a lot of the tension bled out of the scene. They'd been trying a little too hard covering all their bases, when it was perfectly acceptable to rely on each other to handle certain things. He really ought to figure out the teamwork thing. Maybe they could skip those awkward first steps with the next team member that way.
A human scream rent the night air. It was impossible to tell who was moving first, but Whippy took the lead. They hadn't been far from camp, and they could pick up more noises almost immediately: the crunching of snow, Unika's panicked squealing, and a steady stream of swearing from Ree—that cut off abruptly.
Unika shrieked just as Whippy skidded into the clearing where their camp was. The tynamo, still flashing with static, was being held aloft by a psychic hold. Ree was standing off a little ways, with another, shorter human behind her, one hand fisted in her hair. Something flapped around their heads. He was about to jump at them, but he noticed the glint of a blade at her throat and another pokémon, white and blue and waist-high to them, standing guard between them.
"These are your pokémon?" the other person, male but young, asked with a grin in his voice. "Got any more, pretty girl?"
"Fuck off!" Ree growled back.
"Don't be so mean, I just need a donation or two. Three, looks like. And maybe if you're especially nice I won't make this snow red, 'kay?"
He couldn't attack—not with a knife, not with two pokémon there—but he had to do something. "Don't attack her! She's going to have a baby!"
Whippy had mostly hoped to cause some sort of distraction or maybe give the pokémon second thoughts. He did not expect the white and blue pokémon to turn and punch the boy in the back of the knee with a snarl. The boy crumpled and Ree twisted and leapt at him. She had him pinned to the ground, punching, and Harper pelted at the other flying pokémon above them. Unika was dropped.
"You fucking ass, don't you dare try to steal my pokémon again!" Ree yelled. Whippy jumped to her side, but he didn't particularly want her to stop if she was okay with it. The other pokémon had bent over, crouched onto all fours, and trembled.
"Stop it—ow—please st—"
She was not letting him get in a word edgewise. His hands flailed uselessly, unable to push her off. Whippy was sure there was blood on the snow, so at least he had gotten his wish, but he was a little glad Ree didn't have her bat nearby.
"Bleeding!" the boy choked out. Ree froze. He hadn't been trying to throw her off; his hands clamped down on a cut just over her collarbone.
"Ree!" He glanced over to make sure the knife wasn't near them, and then circled around to her other side. There was a slice right through her coat and part of her neck, blood seeping into her clothing, smeared over his hands and part of her face.
He and his trainer were thrown off by a psychic blast and he crouched over her as soon as he was on his feet again. Harper landed with a heavy thump in front of them, staggered to the side, and Ree dragged her over before she fell over completely. The brunette cast a terrified glance over to where Unika floated.
"Stop it," the boy said thickly, rubbing at the blood on his own face. A woobat flapped down from the dark night and landed on his head. "Ow, holy shit. Get—put the tynamo down." Unika was released and she dropped in the air, but remained hovering over the snow.
"Whippy, can you get her?" Ree whispered.
He nodded, and carefully slithered out a vine to reach over to her. The green was dark against the white all around them, but the thief didn't care. Unika was still a little static-y but he yanked her back to them without incident.
"We have to—I think you broke my nose, wow—we have to get you bandaged up," the boy said and crawled over to his own bag, dropped when he'd fallen. He rummaged around in it and pulled out a roll of gauze and a wad of cotton. Ree stared at him, incredulous. Whippy was going to smack him in his broken nose if he got any closer.
"What the fuck. Don't come near me. Stop!" Ree scooted back but soon found her back against a tree. As the boy approached, Whippy jumped up to defend his trainer, but he was lifted easily into the air and set down by the white and blue pokémon, who hadn't moved. Harper screeched but got similar treatment.
"I think it's shallow, but you should get it covered."
"You were just attacking me!"
"I wasn't going to!"
"You were going to steal my pokémon!"
"You're fucking insane!" she yelled as he finally pinned her arms well enough to start wrapping the bandages haphazardly around her neck. The woobat kept Whippy and Harper pinned in the snow, and it felt like little knives in his belly, but all he could think of was how terrified his trainer looked.
"Do something!" Harper shouted, near panicking as well.
He was about to reply when he realized she hadn't been speaking to him. The white and blue pokémon, still hunched over, ears pinned back against its skull, looked nearly as scared as Ree did. But it wasn't being targeted by the woobat.
"Why are you doing this," Ree shakily demanded.
"I don't want you bleeding to death."
Still straddling her lap, the boy paused in his medical attention to bring his face close to hers. "I hadn't realized how cute you are before. And I'm not going to hurt a girl, even accidentally."
The expression on his trainer's face would have been comedic in other circumstances.
"And there! It should hold for now, but you should probably change the bandages. Eventually. Whenever you're supposed to do that sort of stuff." He leaned back, beaming, and released her arms from where he'd kept them down with his knees. At once, she shoved him off and dove for her pokémon. She huddled over them like a protective mother—and then seemed to realize one of the pokémon under her was not her own.
"Keep your pokémon off of mine. And away." She grabbed it by the scruff of its neck and tossed it at him. He didn't try to catch it.
"I have potions for your pokémon. Your tynamo," he offered.
"You are actually insane."
"And you're surprisingly calm about forced medical attention."
"I'm used to it." Ree glanced around and Whippy knew she was looking for Sophia IV.
"Are you really...?" he asked curiously.
"Why the fuck does it matter to a poacher—thief—whatever the hell you are?! Just get the fuck away from me and my team before I break your neck next!" she snarled.
The woobat landed on his shoulder and frowned at them. "I'm not a poacher. Maybe a thief, but only a little bit. My name is Tyron," the boy said happily.
"I am giving you to the count of five."
"I'm going, I'm going! I just want to apologize. I don't normally attack girls, and I've never—I didn't know you were pregnant. I'm sorry. And, as an apology, how about a brand new pokémon!" Tyron exclaimed.
Ree and Whippy both gaped at him.
He gestured to the white and blue pokémon, now standing again, at his side. "I was going to sell her in Black City, but I'd rather earn some good karma with the Lord for almost messing up big time. And honestly, your team seems a little unbalanced, especially for this neck of the woods. So you can have her! Free of charge!"
"Why should I take a pokémon from a thief," Ree spat, eyes on the pokémon in question. She remained impassive, not reacting to the discussion they were having about her future.
"I've only had her for a little while, and I caught her in the wild! I'm only an opportunist, nothing hardcore," Tyron said, hands up defensively. "Her pokéball hasn't been registered, but it'll show you that she was a wild catch. She's a strong pokémon, and as you noticed, not exactly my best friend."
"Trainer," Harper started, but Ree squished her against her chest to quiet her.
"What kind of pokémon is she?"
Tyron raised an eyebrow. "A mienfoo. Fighting type. How new are you to training...?"
"Ree, you can't be thinking about this," Whippy hissed at her.
"All of your potions, any blankets you might have, and that pokémon."
"You can't be serious!"
"Alright," the boy said with another bright smile. He held out his backpack. "Her pokéball is in there, bottom right pocket. You can have it all, it's mostly just travel supplies, anyway."
"Trying to freeze to death?" Ree challenged, but nudged her servine until he grabbed it with a vine. It was unexpectedly heavy.
"Worried about me?" Tyron asked, starry-eyed.
She made a disgusted sound. "Get the fuck out of my sight."
"Be careful out here! You don't know what sort of assholes roam around." With a self-depreciating chuckle, he dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a pokéball. He released a golden pokémon with a long mustache and spoons and vanished.
The woods were silent again. Ree waited two heartbeats, eyes on the new pokémon, but nothing happened. Then, she pushed Whippy and Harper off of her, made it a couple of steps, and threw up again. "Fuuuuuuuck. Did we just steal a pokémon?"
"From a thief," Whippy helpfully corrected.
"She was not stolen. The question is what to do with her," Harper said as she hopped over to where Unika floated. "Whippy, please help Trainer find supplies to heal Unika. She does not look severely injured."
"She was knocked unconscious from asphyxiation. There should be no unrelated injuries," the mienfoo said tonelessly, making Whippy jump when she spoke.
Ree swore again at the sound of her voice, too. "You! You... You were his pokémon. Shit. Whippy, harpy, interrogation mode!"
He snapped to attention, but Harper remained by Unika. Ree stumbled over, plopped down behind him, and dug through the backpack. She tossed a potion to Harper, but the tranquill fumbled with it in confusion, until she sprayed Unika herself. The tynamo snapped awake with a squeak. "Stranger! Gold bad purrloin human! Trainertrainertrainer—you're back," Uni said in surprise when she spied Harper and Whippy. "And... Who is that?"
"That is what we're trying to figure out," Harper replied.
"Uni, sweetie, we're going to play a game called taser," Ree said and the tranquill snapped her beak at her for it. "We were just saddled with an unknown agent! How else are we gonna figure shit out?"
"You shouldn't have taken her," Whippy said, tail swishing.
"Do you have a trained name?" Harper asked.
"No," the mienfoo answered, voice still oddly hollow.
"How long were you with the thief boy?"
"What's a fortnight?" Whippy asked Ree.
"I'm supposed to be the one asking the questions here!" she retorted. Harper extended a wing towards the mienfoo as an invitation.
"I wanna ask questions! The hero should always be the one to—"
"Hush, Uni. We are making sure if the pokémon is a danger or not."
"I am not a danger to you," the mienfoo said.
"How are we supposed to know that?!" Whippy demanded.
"Why do I bother?" Ree groused. She set her chin in her hand with a huff.
"She did attack her trainer when she learned Trainer was pregnant," Harper said cautiously.
"He was not my trainer."
"Were you stolen?"
"Then who is your trainer?"
The mienfoo pointed at Ree. Whippy bared his teeth at her and Unika giggled.
"What were your circumstances prior to finding us here tonight?" Harper asked evenly.
"I was captured for a specific purpose. I was to be sold to a trainer within the next few days."
"What was that purpose?"
"To..." For the first time, the mienfoo faltered. She fidgeted, her tail quivering, betraying her nervousness. "There were specific pokémon I have great advantage against. I was used against them."
"You won?" Unika asked in an awed whisper.
"Yes. That is why I was to be sold."
"I like her!" Before Harper could stop her, she zoomed over and snuggled up right against her cheek, to her shock and confusion. "She won! She had a job and she won, so she's almost a hero, too!"
"We win battles all the time!" Harper called, and there was a betrayed tone in her voice that Whippy snorted back a laugh at. She glowered at him. "Unika, get away from the fighter—"
"New teammate, new teammate!" she chanted, ignoring her.
It was made even funnier by the fact that the mienfoo did not know how to handle her. She looked uncomfortable and more than a little dismayed as she stood stock-still while Unika rubbed all against her with excited little squeaks. Her white fur stood on end from the static electricity. He burst out into actual laughter at the image.
"Trainer-trainer, new teammate!" Unika said, hope in her eyes and voice.
"Decided everything for me again?" Ree asked dryly. "Are we keeping her?"
"Glad to know who's in charge."
"Is the tynamo really in charge?" the mienfoo asked in an alarmed whisper. Whippy all but cackled, rolling on his back, and Harper hid her face in her wing.
"I'm going to bed now. With Sophia. If anything else tries to murder me in my sleep, just send the newbie after it. Maybe it means I'll wake up with that much less of a moral quandary." Ree stood, dusting snow off of her pants, and opened her arms for Whippy to jump into them. He did, still snickering, but made sure to keep an eye on the other pokémon as they passed.
He fell asleep with his trainer spooned around him, warm and strangely uncaring about the mienfoo. If Ree wasn't worried, he shouldn't be, either.
He woke the next morning to Ree's swearing. He hated that the panic response took him a couple moments; he was too used to her sudden cursing fits. "Ree, are you—"
"I thought you left!" Ree accused, pointing at the mienfoo. "Shit, did you spend the entire night outside? I thought you'd run! Why the hell didn't you run?"
The fighter was sitting in front of the carcasses of two pokémon, a tranquill and a basculin. Harper narrowed her eyes at the bird's body but didn't say anything.
"You are my trainer. I would not flee from you." She gestured in the smallest possible way to the two dead pokémon. "I have brought you meat. I do not know if you prefer fish or bird or other meat."
Ree rubbed at her temples. Her cheeks and nose were already reddening from exposure to the cool morning air. "Look, the asshole you were with last night? Don't know if he could understand you or not. I sure as shit can't. I'm still working on my pokémon with that—my, uh, other pokémon... Point is, I can't understand you! Nod your head for yes and shake your head for no. Y'know, like people do."
The mienfoo nodded solemnly. In fact, it seemed like she preferred not to speak if at all possible. Ree (miraculously patiently, but he suspected she felt guilty for accidentally leaving the other outside the tent all night) explained that killing wild pokémon of what was currently in their team was against the rules if they could help it, but she appreciated the thought. And, honestly, so did he. It meant he didn't have to venture out in the snow for a little while longer.
While Ree disappeared back into the tent to get dressed, Harper and Whippy watched over the mienfoo with some suspicion. She merely sat perfectly still, eyes closed, as if meditating. Maybe she was. He didn't know much about mienfoo, or fighting pokémon.
"Wanted a fuckin' fire pokémon next..." Ree grumbled as she reemerged, still missing most of her travel gear but significantly more bundled up. The bandage around her neck seemed more innocent in the sunlight. "Okay, so! I, uh, am not actually one hundred percent sure how well this is gonna work out. But the team is already broken as hell, and I'd feel even shittier leaving you out here to fend for yourself, so we'll do a trial run until we get to the next town. Sound good?"
The mienfoo nodded.
Ree ran a hand through her short hair. "Don't know a thing about your species or fighting pokémon, so bear with me if I trip over my own feet. You'll get used to it. Uh, I'm Ree, that's Whippy, that's Harper, and that's Unika. Uni for short. Whippy's my starter, and Unika's the youngest, and I guess you're the newest, for now."
"You are serious about this, Trainer?" Harper asked quietly.
"We needed another teammate. Who am I to complain when one is dropped into our laps? Hey, think we can use Uni as a spark thing to start a fire?"
"We are not trying!"
"I know, I know." Unika hadn't even woken up yet, still snoring softly under Harper's wing. Ree poked at the remains of the fire from last night. "Ugh, need more kindling. Wouldn't even bother if we didn't have to cook..."
The mienfoo wordlessly pointed to a neat stack of twigs and bark pieces on the other side of the corpses.
"You're shitting me."
She shook her head.
"What was that kid keeping you around for? Some sort of butler?"
She shook her head again.
"Uh, well, I dunno then. This is nice and all, but you don't have to do it all the time. If you don't want to. Won't complain if you do. So, you're a girl?"
"Of course." Ree twisted so she could dig one of her books out of her bag. Her eyes lingered on the boy's backpack. "You're going to need a name."
Names meant getting attached. Whippy felt vaguely apprehensive. The new pokémon hadn't been exactly hostile to them, and in fact was quite helpful, but she was eerily impassive and he didn't like thieves. It was also one thing to talk about getting a new teammate and actually getting one, doubly so since it was so abruptly. They still had other issues to work out.
Just as he was about to voice those concerns, Ree exclaimed, "Marcella!"
He smacked his leafy tail against his face. Harper glared at him.
But he had to admit, he felt a little better about the situation when he caught sight of the tiny, shy smile on the mienfoo. Marcella nodded.
Grinning, Ree picked up her pokéball and dug out her pokédex to register her officially. "Aaaand, there, mienfoo. Hey, you're supposedly from around here. Are you from around here?"
She shook her head, but after a beat of uncertainty.
"And says here you're... Wait." Ree squinted at the little machine, then to Marcella, and then back to the screen. Curious, Whippy slithered up over her shoulder to look. He couldn't read the text, but the picture next to it was definitely a mienfoo... except for the colors. Whippy joined Ree in looking between the picture of the cream and pink pokémon to the white and blue one in front of them. "Holy fucking hell," Ree breathed.
Marcella fidgeted and shook her head again, without there being a question.
"You can speak, too," Harper reminded pointedly.
"You're shiny?!" Whippy squealed. He'd never seen one up close before. At the lab, the professors had always talked about them, and how everyone liked them.
"I... no," Marcella said quietly, ears pinned back. She cowered under their collective stare.
"Did that little shithead give me a goddamn shiny mienfoo?!" Ree demanded with a cackle.
"No," she repeated, voice even fainter.
"We are definitely keeping you! Maya's going to shit a brick!"
Marcella looked around, distressed, and grabbed Ree's water bottle. She bit the top off while Ree excitedly started dialing on her phone. Whippy tugged on her sleeve as the white pokémon dumped out all of her water over her. She then grabbed a handful of snow, scrubbing at the thick fur on her arm, and by then, Ree's attention was back on her.
The blue melted off into the snow, revealing rosy pink underneath.
"I'm not a special coloration," Marcella said in embarrassment, shivering as the water began to freeze in her fur.
"I want to dye the snow!" Unika shouted, jarring Ree out of her shock. The tynamo attempted to dive into the blue snow, but Marcella caught her out of the air, accidentally leaving blue smears on her. Unika sparked and squeaked in delight and began rubbing herself all over the uncomfortable-looking mienfoo.
Ree groaned and flopped onto the ground in her dismay. Whippy curled sympathetically over her throat, mindful of her bandages. She didn't smell like new blood, at least. They ended up with two half-dyed pokémon, looking like the most bizarre fake camouflage, since she decided it was healthier to avoid taking baths in the cold weather. Unika was more than happy about that. Harper less so, since she was the next target for blue. Once the indignation wore off that she did not have a shiny pokémon, Ree kept herself cheerful by singing some sort of weird song about blueness, and anything that kept her happy kept Whippy happy.
Next Chapter: A new teammate, for better or for worse, even if the rest of the team isn't quite sure what to make of her just yet. Marcella seems straightforward enough, but her circumstances can't be ignored—especially when her past comes back into focus faster than anyone could have anticipated. Ree and her team are suddenly, violently dunked into the dark underbelly of Unovan training. Some things can't just be left behind so easily. At least they have a guide.