Smooth Operator - Chapter 15 - grubbin (2024)

Chapter Text

Your Apartment, Nimbasa City. 04:45.

The sun has not yet risen, but Charjabug is already pissed off.

There are not many things that can anger this cubular tote bag of a pokémon. Not being lugged around Nimbasa without his consent, not being used as a flashlight, not being nearly trampled by thousands of Joltik, not even fighting a legendary pokémon. But missing breakfast? Missing breakfast is criminal.

So Charjabug, to reiterate, is incredibly pissed off.

Angry and awake, staring into the dusty dawn, Charjabug sits on the carpet of the living room next to Chandelure and Hydreigon. He begins to vibrate with this violent emotion. He feels the need to impart this to his companions, but is regrettably unable to do so.

Since it is impossible for pokémon of separate species to communicate through words, Charjabug cannot inform Chandelure and Hydreigon of his distress. All he can do is flop onto his side to wiggle and wail like a lamenting widow.

Hydreigon and Chandelure, accustomed to this behavior, wait until he tires himself out into a gasping, wheezing mess before flipping him upright again.

As Charjabug relaxes into the touch of Hydreigon’s prodding feathers, his stomach gurgles loudly. He stares at the dawn, at the blobs of grayish colors slinking beyond the foggy window pane, and sinks into a jittery half-doze.

What Charjabug is experiencing is a phenomenon called ‘boredom.’ Throughout his life, Charjabug has learned to rely on constant doting and special treatment from his trainer. Because his every waking hour consists of forehead kisses, sliced berries, plush blankets and sweet treats, he never learned how to have a single thought for himself.

Simply put, he is incredibly spoiled.

Spoiled Charjabug, usually lazy, becomes absolutely relentless when he does not get what he wants. In this case, what he wants is breakfast and his trainer’s attention; however, despite all his wiggling and squeaking, his trainer has not yet awoken.

That is because it is only four in the morning and you are deeply asleep. You are also cocooned in the arms of your partner in the living room, far from your alarm, and these obstacles only add to Charjabug’s distress.

You rest tucked atop the frowning man on a couch stuffed with blankets and pillows, curled together in a conglomerative pile of comfortable fuzziness and hugging limbs. Neither of you are waking, mostly because Charjabug’s squeaks are drowned out by the sheer force of the frowning man’s snores; he vaguely resembles a revving lawn mower.

Charjabug plants himself on the carpet. He braces his small, cube-shaped body into a readied position. He glares at the couch, its plush fuzziness just out of reach, and begins rolling sideways toward it as fast as his blob of a body will allow.

This is perhaps the fastest way a Charjabug can travel. Their bodies resemble that of segmented Wurmple, but because they lack the length and limbs of Wurmple, inching or wiggling forward is incredibly inefficient.

Rolling, however, allows Charjabug to reach speeds unheard of for his species. He rolls onto his back. Onto his side. Onto his stomach. Continues rolling until he slams hard into the side of the couch and gets stuck there.

For a solid six seconds, he screams.

Chandelure sighs a woozy, slow huff. She bobs above him and flips him onto his stomach with a fuzzy-feeling ghostly limb. Then she watches him make a fool of himself by attempting to climb up the side of the couch.

Charjabug writhes violently and smacks his tusks into the cushions. Chandelure waits exactly four seconds, then catches him when he falls backward onto his ass.

Charjabug lets out a shrieking noise of dismay and swoons.

Hydreigon snorts. Chandelure crackles a sparking chime. When she lifts Charjabug off the ground, he falls limp in her hold, staring at your sleeping face.

You have relaxed completely. Tufts of your hair are in disarray—something you would never allow if you were awake—and your shoulders are slouched as you hug yourself into your partner, buried up to your chin in a huge, fluffy blanket.

You breathe slowly. Your face smooths of shadows or wrinkles. In all Charjabug’s years as your companion, he has never seen you sleep so peacefully. He is briefly overjoyed for you, then this feeling is overruled by the fact that he is both bored and hungry.

He opens his jaw, and, in a pause between the frowning man’s next riveting snore, shrieks at the top of his cube-shaped lungs.

The frowning man jolts forward with a congested snort. You tumble off the side of the couch, slam your shoulder into the coffee table, and collapse bonelessly onto the carpet.

”Dear—?” The frowning man exclaims haltingly. “What,”

You groan, curling into yourself and gripping your aching arm. The frowning man whirls his head around him as though he has no idea where he is.

“Wha’ happened?” You mumble.

He stares down at you—you’re propping yourself up woozily, still half-asleep—and then flushes a brilliant crimson red as he takes in his current situation. Clearly he had not meant to fall asleep in your apartment.

Chandelure’s grip on Charjabug loosens. Charjabug slips from her grip and falls atop the coffee table with a loud, flopping smack.

Charjabug has finally succeeded. You are awake! With the joy of an oblivious idiot, he writhes around atop the coffee table so clumsily he flops over and promptly gets stuck on his side again.

You peel your eyes open to squint at him as he screams.

“You..” You mumble, voice slurred and gaze hazy with fatigue, “Why would you..?”

You have dropped your guard, forgetting momentarily about the other pokémon you have so gracefully taken in. Hydreigon, huge and bumbling, lunges forward and engulfs your entire head in their largest mouth.

Hydreigon has a ‘Timid’ nature. This means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. Pokémon are incredibly complex and powerful creatures whose personalities cannot be sorted into definitive categories. It is hardly feasible to grasp the complexities of a pokémon simply from its generalized traits.

Regardless, according to the scientific label bestowed upon them, Hydreigon has a tendency to let things happen to them without protest. They also believe affection means ‘eating,’ which is disastrously incorrect, though this has less to do with their nature and more to do with their tendency to bite things that they like.

Hydreigon makes a gurgling noise as they slobber all over your face.

At this moment, the frowning man steps in. He lunges over the side of the couch, hands hovering about you uselessly as he makes a series of oh, oh, oh noises.

Hydreigon cannot be stopped. They chew at you like a toddler in teething. Your arms bonk near their face but they, assuming you are reciprocating their act of affection, only continue to chew you happily with soggy, sloppy gums.

It is a simple concept: you feed them nutritious meals, they eat your face. Equivalent exchange.

The frowning man, petting his hands up and down Hydreigon’s damp snout, manages to coax them away with a series of loud, incessant shouting noises.

Hydreigon snorts and reluctantly flutters off. They have developed a fondness for the frowning man but do not enjoy his particular mode of volume. That is why they do not eat him most of the time. They privately fear that, if the frowning man shouted inside their mouth, their head would explode.

When Hydreigon moves away, you sit there, dazed, your shoulder bruised, your sweater crooked, and your head completely covered in gooey slobber. A huge glob trails down your soaked cheek as your partner fusses over you. He then realizes his frantic ministrations are utterly useless, so he rushes to your kitchen to grab a damp towel.

Charjabug watches this with an unimpressed, impatient huff, still sprawled sideways atop the coffee table.

Charjabug experiences ‘jealousy,’ at this moment. However, his brain is not very complex, so he surmises that the frowning man has gotten in the way of his usually peaceful morning with his trainer and that he must make another scene in order to garner more of your attention.

He wiggles and shrieks some more.

The frowning man returns with a towel just as you have finished flipping Charjabug upright.

“Oh,” you intone, taking it. “Thank you.”

The frowning man nods. Your hand leaves your pokémon in favor of using the towel to clean your face.

Charjabug grows irritated again, his small, pathetic body filled with a fuming, all-consuming rage as your partner crouches beside you. He begins to gently rub your bruised arm then press a hesitant kiss to your shoulder.

What Charjabug is most furious about is this: he has received zero forehead kisses and sliced berries due to the frowning man’s presence. Zero. Nada. Zilch. None.

Charjabug wiggles absurdly. He wonders, vibrating with emotion, why no one else reacts the way he does. Hydreigon drools and stares at a wall, letting this happen. Chandelure stares at a stack of photographs on a side table and clearly fantasizes about setting them on fire.

And you—you are watching your partner kiss your shoulder with a very strange look on your face, one that Charjabug’s never seen before. You look reverent, awed. You watch the frowning man tug the neckline of your sweater down to kiss your bare collarbone and twitch, redness spilling over your ears until you’re a fuzzy, disheveled Cherri Berry.

Charjabug is starving.

He squeaks loudly. You flinch. Your partner freezes, face buried into the crook of your neck. He colors, too, a much more vibrant, darker shade, as he glances at Charjabug as though he’s been caught doing something particularly unhinged.

Charjabug is just tired of everyone trying to eat his trainer. And he wants breakfast.

“Oh, you’re hungry,” You finally realize. Charjabug makes a series of excited squealing noises.

The frowning man leans away from you, stiffening. He scrubs a hand down his face like someone just coming to their senses, then stares gravely at your face with the air of someone watching a funeral procession.

You do not seem to notice his freakish gaze, standing and nodding to him with casual aplomb. “I’ll get you some coffee.”

You grab Charjabug who shrieks with glee at your movement’s implications. Hydreigon follows, feathers fluttering in anticipation.

The frowning man sits up in a single jolt, his legs folded nearly beneath him on the carpet. He dips his head in grave error. “I—apologize for falling asleep,”

“Not your fault.” You unhook an apron from the wall and tie it around your waist. “We both had a long day yesterday, and I should’ve known that would happen with that movie on.”

“It was a rather boring movie,” A warped, humored expression twists up the side of your partner’s face. His eyes follow you about the kitchen.

“Blame Emmet. That was his recommendation.” You huff with a sigh, pulling open the blinds to let dusty sunlight spill into the room. Charjaug affectionately bumps your jaw with his tusks. “And you should probably text him. I’m sure he’s wondering where you are.”

“..I bet he recommended it on purpose,” The frowning man mumbles behind you as he brings out his phone. You’ve started up the coffee machine with a series of beeps and low, boiling gurgles, so you do not seem to hear.

You clatter about with dishes and cabinets; Charjabug wiggles excitedly when you set him on the countertop and a huge glob of drool drags off of Hydreigon's largest head.

The kitchen is still. It is cozy and fluffy and warm, just the way Charjabug likes it. He settles, soothed, watching as Chandelure bobs down to bonk against the frowning man’s head, asking for pets.

The frowning man greets his companion with a warm glance, stroking his hand down the side of her orbular face. She chimes, giggling and wiggling beneath his touch.

The frowning man frowns. He glances toward you again; you are not paying attention, clinking mugs onto the counter. After another silent stare, he appears to make a decision.

He moves like a pokémon Ranger cornering a skittish Starly, standing and creeping over to your kitchen counter. You turn and place his coffee right in front of him the moment he slinks up to its tiled plateau, making him freeze—steam wafts from a veritable sugar shot swirling with intolerable amounts of cream and sweetener.

The frowning man stares down at his coffee. His frown does a distinctly dopey wobble.

“..Thank you,” He states at a somewhat normal volume. He stares at your back for a long time and then abruptly clears his throat.

You can only make a distracted humming noise in return, a fork in your mouth as you attempt to cut berries on a plate, make toast, and keep Hydreigon’s three heads out of the way at the same time. It is a task that requires incredible focus and dexterity.

Drool from one of Hydreigon’s littler heads nips at your arm, their small, fine teeth getting caught in the cords of your sweater. In your distraction, Charjabug takes a huge bite out of the toast you’re buttering.

You make a frustrated noise and the fork nearly slips out of your mouth.

The frowning man hesitantly sits down. You finish chopping berries, untangle Hydreigon’s littler head, then leave the pokémon to their leisure, briefly rinsing your arm under the sink’s faucet. Charjabug watches you grab your own coffee to cross around the counter.

Then like a graceful Swanna landing upon their perch, you sit onto your partner’s lap with no hesitation, sipping hot coffee over the rim of your mug.

Charjabug crunches through a berry bite that spatters juice all over the countertop. Hydreigon licks it up in seconds. Chandelure chimes, poking you affectionately with one of her limbs. The frowning man reflexively holds onto you, then seems to pause.

His hand slides to rest near your stomach then hovers there, not-quite touching you. His frown trembles as he stares pointedly at the adjacent wall.

He says your name. “..Perhaps you would rather sit on your own chair?”

“Ah.” You return, pausing mid-sip. “Alright.”

Face unreadable, you slink off his lap and sit into the chair next to him, adjusting your coffee mug in your hands.

The frowning man’s face warps all over the place. He appears incredibly regretful and disappointed, which completely contradicts his prior words. As you casually give Chandelure some pats, he stares at his sugar and cream with a splash of coffee but does nor drink it, which Charjabug thinks is a ridiculous waste of food.

Meanwhile, Hydreigon’s smaller head slinks over to drop a berry bit into the hole in Chandelure’s head. It explodes into a pillar of flame and ash that nearly burns a hole into your ceiling. Chandelure giggles happily and with a startled huff, your hand twitches back.

However, you nor the frowning man do not attempt to break the awkward silence.

Charjabug chews a huge bite of toast, observing you from his seat on the juice-splattered countertop. He huffs. You and your partner continue to sit there not talking to each other.

It’s a shame. You can both communicate freely but for some reason choose not to. If Charjabug were human, he would talk a lot. He would also sleep all day and act like a needy infant, so perhaps it is good he was born a pokémon and not a human.

“..Are you finished?” You ask the frowning man, gaze flickering toward his coffee.

He wordlessly nods and hands you his mug. You stand to put it in the sink alongside yours. After this robotic exchange, your partner averts his eyes and launches from his chair.

“I have to go to work,” He announces to the entire apartment.

“Oh,” You turn, your arm brushing against Charjabug’s side. “Alright. I’ll walk you to the door.”

Somehow emboldened, your partner whirls on his heel and crosses your apartment in four huge, swinging strides. He does not slow down enough for you to follow at his side.

You hurriedly pluck Charjabug up and settle him on your shoulder as you rush after him. Your partner pulls Chandelure into his ball, wrestles with his coat like a pro-boxer, and stiffens as you lean around him to open the door.

The frowning man opens his mouth. Closes it. He gulps like a Magikarp for a solid six seconds.

You raise your brows. Charjabug, squinting, waits in trepidation. The frowning man steps toward you. He carefully reaches up to touch your face the way one would hold a hearty baguette that they’ve chosen for a sandwich.

You blink expectantly but Ingo freezes. His hand goes ramrod stiff against your face, flat and motionless as a slab of stone. Thousands of thoughts unknown spiral behind his eyes in a single moment as he stares, unmoving, at your mouth.

“Is something wrong?” You ask him flatly. You’d been expecting a kiss on the cheek at the very least, in the same way Charjabug has been expecting one on the forehead for the past two hours.

“No, it’s—nothing.” The frowning man glances in fourteen different directions and lowers his hand from your face solemnly. “Perhaps I should go.”

“Of course,” you return, voice just as flat and toneless.

If one were to observe this conversation from an outside point of view, they would think you two distant acquaintances and not ‘secret lovers’ as the media so aptly named you. However, there is a twinging downturn of disappointment to your frown that Charjabug notices from his spot on your shoulder. You appear to have wanted a kiss.

The frowning man must also notice this. But he only swallows, pinkening, and takes a large step backwards out into the hall. “I will drop by the hotel later to say hello.”

You nod. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

Silence. You glance at the floor then fiddle with the bottom of your apron. Glance at Ingo again. “..I love you.”

Your partner flushes firetruck red. He sputters something completely unintelligible, spins around, and lunges into a ridiculous speed-walk. Charjabug watches him run away. His ears and neck glow a dark, steaming crimson until he promptly whirls around a corner, out of sight.

Charjabug has no idea what just happened, but he believes he has won in his one-sided vy for your attention versus the frowning man. He wiggles happily on your shoulder, but you only shuffle and let out a low, uncertain sigh.

“Excuse me!” You flinch as a microphone’s shoved under your nose. “You’re the Battle Hotel Boss, correct? Could I please ask you a few—”

A bumbling horde of reporters burst forth, incessant, their bulky cameras and microphones clunking together in a blobby array. Together they are one formless mass; you cringe backward as Danny throws a protective arm in front of you, blocking you from their eyes.

”Battle Hotel Boss!”

“Just a few questions—”

“Step away from the boss, please!” Danny hollers at the top of his lungs.

The journalists and news reporters have been relentless; you’re receiving requests for interviews by email or mail if not in person. They even follow you around when the brothers come over for lunch, snapping photographs from an unsubtle distance.

You can tell it’s been making Ingo anxious, and Emmet by proxy. You can only hope they’re not receiving the same treatment you are. Perhaps it’s the explanation for Ingo’s odd attitude this morning.

You banish the thought from your mind and busy yourself with the files in your hands, feigning indifference. Danny shields you from a flashing camera shutter.

You enjoy your job as a Battle Hotel Boss, but it is just that: a job. Some days you would rather laze about at home like a Muk sinking a pit into your couch. Today is one of those days. There are many other things you would rather do than organize files and manage account books.

So in addition to the endless amount of things you would rather not do, you have to spend the entire day dodging persistent reporters. This obviously decimates your already lacking patience.

They are everywhere, swarming the lobby like a flock of pecking Pidgey. Only Danny’s intimidating figure gets to back off, which means your café head has to follow you around as your bodyguard all morning.

You try to ignore the cameras flashing beyond his head and change positions every few minutes.

“Excuse me, please!”

”—a moment of your time!”

Ultimately you ban them from the lobby.

This hardly mitigates the problem—they’re no longer in your way, but now they’re in everyone else’s way outside, smushed up against the windows in their attempts to question you and take photographs of you through the glass.

They are an incessant, flashy background noise, and everytime you try to help a guest outside you’re accosted by a group of them like a horde of Combee buzzing about honey.

You think you understand Elesa and the twins’ ire now. You don’t mind the photos or the questions, but you do mind when it interferes with your guests' experience, and simultaneously, your job.

You need advice. Badly.

Luckily, your experienced celebrity friends arrive for lunch. They hardly make it through the doors, accosted by the crowds, so you escort them up the elevator to get them out of the reporter’s eyes.

“Arceus, that was insane,” Elesa complains, fanning her face the whole way up the elevator. “It’s even worse here than in Gear Station.”

“I was hardly able to get them outside,” You stride into your office on the hundredth floor, shoulders hiked in frustration as your friends follow at your heels. “They’ve been getting in the way of my guests and employees. And I can’t accept an interview in the middle of a workday.”

“Don’t accept one.” Emmet commands bluntly. “If you do, they will only get worse.”

“What do I do, then?” You ask him, turning around. Your face twists in clear disgruntlement. “I thought it would die down after a few days, but nothing’s changed.”

“I have no idea,” Emmet returns, just as exasperated. “Paparazzi has always been a problem.”

Silence. You glance at Ingo but he averts his eyes awkwardly.

“..Elesa?” You ask, tossing your thick clipboard onto your desk. It lands with a hearty thump. “How do I get them off our ass?”

“Language,” Ingo cuts in blandly, though it sounds like he shares the sentiment.

Elesa looks you in the eye, decisive. ”You’ll want to accept an interview.” She looks at you, then Ingo, her ice blue eyes sharp. “Together.”

You squint at her, folding your arms. “..Won’t that just exacerbate the problem?”

”If you’re clear with the public, they won’t ask questions. It’ll also quell their interest and excitement immediately,” Elesa informs you. She sighs and runs a hand through her bangs. “Trust me. It’ll be awkward, but the more awkward the better. You don’t want to be mysterious or secretive, as that’s what garners interest.”

“That’s right,” You realize, leaning against your desk. “There was hardly any press when you and Skyla got together.”

”That’s because we were clear with the public, just like I’ve recommended to you.” Elesa states. She props a hand on her hip with a confident, “We accepted an interview and laid out the facts. There’s a bit more involved with you two, since you’re technically ‘business competitors,’ but if you’re clear and concise with your answers, the hype should die down within a month.”

”Elesa is right. Yup,” Emmet confirms, toying with the brim of his hat. “If you are blunt, it will work out. Take an interview together. Be yourselves. It will be okay.”

That sounds fine with you, but—“Ingo?”

Ingo startles at your address. He appears to have been thinking deeply.

“..I believe we should go with Elesa’s suggestion.” He states finally, rubbing at his chin. “Good communication is imperative for a trip to go smoothly.” He sends a glance toward the massive pile of unopened letters on your desk. “However, where should we interview? I have received multiple offers, but we cannot board until we have a destination in mind..”

”Let me look at your offers,” Elesa holds out a pale hand. “I’ve interviewed everywhere under the sun, so I can tell you which news stations are trustworthy.”

You hum at her, gesturing toward the two-foot tower of envelopes. “Sounds good. You’d know better than I do.”

“Wait, all of these? So many..” Elesa huffs, crossing the room with a muttered curse. She starts sifting through the array immediately, mumbling names and squinting in focus. You and the twins watch her in anticipation.

“The Stunfisk? No.” Elesa discards letter after letter into a trash bin below. “Castelia Post—absolutely not, they’ll demolish you.”

You watch letters flutter away, plastered with fancy stamps and even fancier fonts. To the Esteemed Boss of the Battle Hotel. These news stations hardly even cared about you and your battle facility until you started to have a romantic life. There’s something incredibly ironic about that.

“Ah!” Elesa exclaims, bringing a letter close to your face. “Nimbasa News. This is a good one. They have this great interviewer, Yancy—“ Oh, that pink-haired woman you’d seen on the television. “—She’s delightful. I doubt she’ll be accusatory or rude.”

Elesa offers the letter to you and you pluck it gently from her hand. Ingo sidles close to peer over your shoulder as you fiddle with its envelope. It’s incredibly ornate like the rest, and when you tear it open you find that the letter’s been printed on fancy stock paper.

To the Esteemed Boss of the Battle Hotel,

This is Victor Pittman, CEO of Nimbasa News. We have reached out to you today to request your presence on our television special for a five-minute interview. We will compensate you for your time, and will provide a full report of the questions before..

You stop reading. It seems trustworthy enough. You look at Ingo as he continues to read, his brows furrowed deeply, his gaze shadowed by his cap. He notices your gaze and meets your eye.

”Is this alright?” You ask him.

Ingo glances back at the letter. Despite his declarations yesterday, you can tell the press still makes him uncomfortable. He audibly swallows. ”..I think it will be okay if we go together.”

You shift your weight. “I can answer most of the questions, if you’d like. And we can rehearse beforehand.”

Ingo wordlessly nods. He’s still a bit pale. Perhaps the crowd of journalists outside had overwhelmed him. You feel a deep frown pinch onto your face, suddenly wishing you could lock all those annoying reporters into a closet somewhere and throw away the key.

You banish the strange thought immediately—how unlike you.

“When we are there, we must not become uncoupled.” Ingo states gravely. “If you run into any bothersome reporters or cameras within the news station, please inform me immediately. I will ensure our tracks run smoothly. I am uncertain of how they will treat you, so I would appreciate it if you did not leave my side upon arrival.”

“Sure,” You agree. If sticking together is what eases his mind, you’re happy to comply.

Emmet huffs as though he’s experienced all this before; that wouldn’t surprise you. Elesa giggles in the silence. She reaches over to pinch her brother’s arm.

“You’re being overprotective again,” She jokes fondly. “Like a big ol’ Komala bear.”

Ingo stiffens like he’s been shocked, quickly stepping away from you. His frown pinches tightly together and he stares down at his feet, suddenly subdued and quiet.

You stare, taken aback by this reaction, but Ingo quickly reaches to adjust the brim of his hat and hides underneath it. Emmet and Elesa seem to think he’s embarrassed, chuckling together, but your gaze lingers on the pinched, trembling quality to his frown.

You pause, reaching toward him.

”So that’s the plan.” Elesa states. You twitch and drop your arm. “Thoughts? Questions? Concerns?”

”..I think we’re good for now.” You state.

Ingo clears his throat and rightens his hat on his head, all traces of that strange expression gone. “Yes, we are ready to roll! Thank you, Elesa!”

You have Danny deliver your lunches to your office to avoid the hubbub downstairs. Elesa rambles a story about the press over food while Ingo and Emmet tack on their own entertaining spiels. At the end you’re feeling much lighter, the Nimbasa News letter tucked safely in your pocket as you lead them to your office door.

Emmet and Elesa smile, clap your back, then head toward the elevator. Ingo, however, lingers in the doorway for a long moment. He waits until his siblings have turned around the hall, then opens his mouth.

You pause in anticipatory silence. Ingo closes his mouth again and shuffles in place. Suddenly impatient, you step forward.

“Could I have a hug?” You ask him suddenly.

His response is not what you’d expected.

“Is..that what you want?” He averts his eyes again.

“..Of course,” You return, puzzled. “That’s what I’m asking.”

“Do you feel pressured to ask that?” Ingo makes a gulping sound. “Do you feel—overwhelmed by me?”

“What?” You blink at him rapidly. “What are you talking about?”

“Elesa said that I was.” Ingo cuts himself off. Shakes his head, whirls around. Something inside you sinks down all one hundred floors. “No. Nevermind. I should depart.”

“Ingo.” You reach after him. “Ingo, wait. What’s—“

Your office door shuts on your face.

You and Ingo arrive at the Nimbasa News headquarters with an hour to spare and are immediately ushered into a small, private dressing room.

The door slams shut behind you, leaving you alone with your partner. You blink at him. He blinks at you. Then you both fumble to sit into the folding chairs next to a brightly lit vanity.

Awkward silence reigns. You have not been alone with Ingo since he’d rushed off two days ago. He’s been pointedly remaining closed-off, even when he routinely shows up with Emmet for lunch. And today he still refuses to meet your eye.

”Well.” Ingo clears his throat into his fist, staring at his reflection in the lightbulb-rimmed mirror. “You have Elesa’s notes..?”

You wordlessly pull out your folder from beneath your arm and spread its contents out onto the vanity’s small table.

Ingo leans in to look at it over your shoulder. The interview includes a series of questions, then two off-script questions at the end imparted at the discretion of the interviewer. Elesa had informed you that you should feel lucky there aren’t more.

“So,” you start, “we need to rehearse the answers to these questions. Elesa also wrote us some notes on how to appeal to our interviewer. If we’re able to make a good impression, the questions she asks off-script will likely be non-invasive..”

Ingo leans closer to you. It’s the closest he’s been since last week Monday and you stifle every emotion that threatens to rise along with it. You swallow a lump in your throat and point to the page. “I was thinking for this question we can talk about how we met. Keep it brief and simple.”

Ingo thinks for a moment, lips pursing. ”I met you because you worked at the hotel. Emmet and I visited to challenge the original boss.” He thinks to himself for a moment. “..Emmet and I decided to appoint you as the new boss because of your calm composure and strong work ethic.”

”That’s perfect.” You praise flatly. “Though, I think we should also make it clear that we weren’t friends yet then.”

”Oh—yes, to contradict those false rumors about your ‘biased promotion.’” Ingo plays with the brim of his cap, his countenance brightening. “Well, we did not visit the hotel again until quite a few weeks later. That should help our case.”

You smile to show you agree and Ingo finally meets your gaze. “You can tack that onto the end.”

Ingo’s eyes crinkle together. “I will.”

You stare at each other for a few moments.

You awkwardly clear your throat, looking back toward the page. “Okay, then I can answer this question..”

You map it out down to your facial expressions and wordless cues. Elesa’s scrawled list of stage directions meander down the sloping page of scripted questions.

“What’s this one say?” Ingo asks, pointing toward a section of Elesa’s loopy handwriting.

You squint at it. “She wants us to hold hands.”

Ingo’s finger stills over the words. “..On live television.”

”I suppose she thinks it’s a good way to appeal to the public.” You hum thoughtfully. “It’s a good idea. We’re both rather reserved, so we can ‘show the viewers affection through body language.’” That is literally what Elesa wrote, just below the ‘holding hands’ line.

Ingo’s hand falls back to his side.

You glance at him, then pause to stare fully. He’s pale as a sheet. Your heart leaps up into your throat.

”Do you not want to?” You ask quickly, suddenly terrified you’ve overstepped. “We—don’t have to. I know it’s a lot.” You clear your throat, averting your gaze. “With everyone watching and all.”

You sit there in silence for ten infinite seconds, glancing at him intermittently. Were you rude? Did you push too hard?

Ingo dips his head, frown pursed, the brim of his hat dipping over his eyes. “I think I can do it.” He mutters.

“Oh,” You return faux-casually, then hold back a gulping inhale of relief. “Do you..want to practice?”

You hold your hand toward him, palm-up, half expecting him to refuse. Ingo stares at your hand for a solid minute, long enough that you begin to lower it. Then he lunges forward and grabs it out of the air.

You twitch. Ingo flinches. His fingers squeeze around your numb hand, the fabric of your gloves creasing together. You open your mouth but quickly close it.

The clock ticks above your head, the room feeling strangely warm. Your arms dangle in a link between you.

Ingo turns his head away. You stare at the way his fingers begin to thread through yours.

The door slams open and he wrenches back.

“Good morning,” Announces a woman’s voice.

In struts a stranger with hair so red it burns your retinas. It’s cut into a sharp bob that shifts as she walks. She slams a massive cart onto the room’s side-table, next to the wide, lightbulb-framed mirror.

“I’m Mars,” She greets you flatly; a huge Purugly trots in at her heels, huffing and bumbling. When it sniffs, its long whiskers twitch. “I’m here to get you looking pretty for your big interview.”

“Mars is a very talented makeup artist from Sinnoh,” Ingo informs you unprompted. Then he turns to the artist to exclaim: “Hello again, miss. I am happy to see that you are well!”

”Same to you, Mr. Ingo.” Mars returns with a nod, her face unchanging. “It’s been a while.”

Purugly circles around her feet and then stretches out to lounge on the tiled floor. Mars pulls out a chair, sits in front of Ingo, and immediately gets to work.

You watch, awed, as she applies a strange pasty powder all over your partner’s face and rubs it in until it’s blended completely with his pale skin. Then there’s pink powder on his cheeks, a strange line painted onto his eyelids—it must be uncomfortable, but he sits there dutifully as though he’s done this all before.

“It’s all waterproof, so it won’t come off even if you sweat,” Mars informs him as she painstakingly brushes his stubby eyebrows. “I’ll stop by afterwards to take it off.”

Mars finishes by literally penciling in his eyebrows with what looks like a regular writing utensil. Ingo’s features appear much starker as though he’s been cast in a dramatic shadow.

You’re entranced, staring, until Mars whirls to you with a sharp look in her eyes. “Your turn.”

She reaches over and grabs you by the face. You can’t help your flinch.

The makeup artist hums, appearing pleased as she turns about your head in her hand. “..You have such a plain face. A blank canvas. I can do anything I want with you.”

”Uh,” You say. She forces your jaw shut then rubs something smooth and slightly damp onto both your cheeks.

”Close your eyes.” She orders. You do so without protest.

Mars applies a sticky, oily gloss to your lips and you resist the urge to press them together. You feel the brush tickle over your eyelids for a long near-unbearable moment, then a huff of air as Mars pulls back.

An itchy paste coats your cheek followed by a dusting of blush. She does one last pokey thing to your scrunching eyebrows, then leans away. “..You can open your eyes now.”

You flutter open your eyes, feeling the mascara on your lashes briefly stick and peel apart. Ingo watches you without saying anything—his wordless stare feels a bit awkward and thoroughly uncharacteristic. You try not to squirm uncomfortably in your seat.

“..Do I look strange?” You ask him. It is your first time wearing makeup, after all. You resist the urge to touch your itchy, powdered-dusted cheeks.

“No.” He says quickly. “No, not at all,” He makes an odd, swallowed sound, searching your face, and adds, very quietly, “I just..I do not think ‘plain’ is the right word to describe you.”

You stare at him. He has an unfamiliar, hazy look in his eye as he slowly reaches over to touch your face.

Then Mars slaps his hand out of the air, suddenly furious. “No! No touching! I worked hard on that!”

Ingo stiffens, floundering. “I—apologize!”

“Arceus, Mr. Ingo, the press wasn’t lying about you finding a partner.” Mars waves her brush wand near his face with a sharpening smile. “Should I add a bit more blush?”

It appears she doesn’t need to. Ingo flushes as dark as her powder case.

“You’re like newlyweds,” The makeup artist rolls her eyes as she packs up her things. She tosses the blush brush in her massive bag with casual aplomb, then offhandedly warns you, “Be careful out there. Or the world will eat you alive.”

After this foreboding sentence, she wiggles her manicured fingers around and makes a joking boooing noise like a Haunter. Then she sidles out the door, her Purugly trotting at her heels, and slams it shut behind her.

The lights of the vanity spark and fizzle. Ingo audibly swallows.

You glance over to find him paling again; it’s even more noticeable now that his face is covered with a paste a shade darker.

“..Ingo,” Your voice cuts through the heavy, still air. “Are you alright?”

Silence. Ingo sits stiffly, his hands clenched into fists on his lap. His lips are tightly pressed together as he turns his head away. You take this non-answer as a ‘no.’

“We’ll be okay.” You promise him flatly as his face is shadowed by the flourescent lights of the vanity. “I’ll be by your side the whole time.”

Ingo takes a deep breath, then releases it. You watch his hands curl and uncurl and try to calm your beating heart.

The camera beams at you. The couch cushions crinkle beneath you. You close your eyes and inhale a single grounding breath. The flat backdrop and perfectly dusted couches make you feel as though you’re in a strange unreality.

”Everyone almost done?” Calls one of the directors behind the set. “We’re at the five minute mark!”

Ingo’s still stiff at your side as another makeup artist does some final touch-ups to his cheeks. You hardly twitch as the brush lands on your face too, your gaze trained on that huge dark orb of a camera. You can almost see your small reflection in its curved, widening lens.

The artist moves away. There’s a low rumble of equipment, a burst of faint chatter beyond the brilliant lights on the set. Someone hooks a mic on a man standing a small ways away.

”Ready?” You whisper to your partner. Ingo twitches and does not respond.

You glance at him, at his arms limp at his sides, at his hands pressed flat into the couch cushions as though he’s bracing himself to launch out of them.

An employee rushes by with three water bottles and sets them onto a nearby table. When they move away, you set your hand down onto the couch then lightly tap your pinkie finger against Ingo’s.

“It’s okay,” You continue, voice falling even lower, “let’s just stick to the plan.”

After another long moment, Ingo’s pinke subtly taps back. Your shoulders release like a string unraveling.

One of the speakers crackles beyond you. “We’re on in five!”

A well-dressed, unfamiliar man sits down on a plush chair across from you. He is not Yancy.


Ingo twitches; his pinkie jumps over yours. You resist the urge to fully take his hand. The great, beaming light of the cameras sear over the set, sterile and strange as a hospital room.


The man directs a huge, off-putting smile toward the cameras. It’s nothing like Emmet’s—rather fake, off-putting. His teeth are much too white.

“Two—!” Ingo presses closer to your side.

”One!” A sharp clicking noise, a whirring buzz. “ And we’re live,”

The man in front of you opens his mouth, his grin never faltering. “Good morning Nimbasa! I’m here with the talk of the town: Subway Boss Ingo and the Battle Hotel Boss! They’ll be the stars on today’s show as they answer your many, many questions!”

His eyes swivel to you, large and beady. “So it’s true you both are dating?”

Ingo straightens beside you. “Yes.”

The camera whirs as the lens changes shape. You blink. Ingo does not elaborate. You tap him with your elbow but he’s utterly quiet.

“..Well?” The interviewer continues, leaning forward in exaggerated interest. “How did you two meet?”

Ingo’s jaw works around as he stares into middle distance. “Their hotel. We met at their hotel.” His mouth clicks shut audibly and he does not continue. You feel a large bead of sweat drag down your cheek.

”I was working as an elevator operator at the time,” You pick up hesitantly, “Ingo and Emmet arrived to challenge the prior Hotel Boss.”

”They were not upholding proper maintenance and had a terrible management style.” Ingo adds robotically, his tone completely flat. When you glance at him you find sweat beading on his neck. “Emmet and I initially intended to disband the establishment entirely.”

“You say your initial intention was to shut the Battle Hotel down.” The interviewer raises a brow. “What made you change your mind?”

Ingo remains completely silent, his eyes flickering and wavering.

You huff and smile awkwardly—a warped expression that pinches at the corners. You glance at Ingo again. “I suppose I made a good first impression?”

Despite your prompting, your partner continues to say nothing.

Regardless, you continue to move through the motions. You keep your tone level, your voice flat and unfaltering. The questions the interviewer asks are just as you’d rehearsed.

“And you two are very happy together?”

“Yes. We.” Ingo stares down at his lap, pale. “We’re,” His voice falters again and you pick up his sentence, feeling his arm press into yours hard enough to bruise.

“We’re very happy,” You say, meeting the interviewer’s eye. Ingo’s pinkie curls around yours. You pray that the cameras cannot see it.

”It’s truly the love story of the century,” The interviewer says, his voice bubbly and loud. “You fought off a legendary threat together and worked alongside each other to improve your respective Battle Facilities. How did that feel?”

Ingo opens his mouth and closes it. You glance at him again but he does not respond.

“Good. Good,” You answer for him. “I couldn’t have made it without my friends’ support.”

”..Is that so?” The interviewer says. His lips flatten out. Then he abruptly smiles again, making you twitch.

You’ve arrived at the off-script questions. Ingo’s pinkie curls over yours; he sits ramrod straight like a statue, still eerily silent. You take a small, subtle breath. Your interviewer is hard to read, but surely you’ve appealed to him by now—

He tilts his head at you. “I can’t help but notice you’ve been answering most of the questions.”

You pause, your muted smile faltering. “..Pardon?”

“You’ve been providing us with most of the details.” The interviewer reiterates, his smile unreadable. “I’m curious as to why, and many of our viewers feel the same.”

Your stomach bottoms out as he gestures to the huge, all-seeing eye of the camera; it fixates on you with a widening, shrinking lens. “The information you’ve provided us with is intriguing.” A low humming sound. “I wonder, has this relationship been going on longer than we are aware? Perhaps it has to do with your promotion at the hotel—”

“You are greatly misinformed, sir,” Ingo cuts in suddenly, his tone cutting. “Their promotion had nothing to do with—”

“Well, I’m sure you can see my confusion,” The interviewer returns easily. “You’ve hardly said a word, Mr. Ingo, and you’re quite nervous. Have they perhaps coerced you into hiding the truth?”

Your face pinches harshly. “That’s not—”

“I was not asking you, Battle Hotel Boss,” The man says mildly. Ingo twitches with a full-body spasm. “Mr. Ingo. I would like to hear your thoughts on—“

“That’s enough.”

You stiffen. Turn your head. Ingo’s jaw clenches so tightly together a vein twists up the side of his face, expression twisted with an unfamiliar rage. “Your line of questioning is invasive and rude, sir, when we have been nothing but clear about our journey along these tracks.”

“I just wish to—“

“I said that’s enough!” Ingo rockets out of the couch; there’s a clattering noise somewhere behind the camera, distant scrambling. Your partner’s voice only grows louder, his hands clenched into violently trembling fists, and you can only sit there mutely as he bellows: “I will not have you accusing my partner and their wonderful establishment on live television! We will not be accepting an interview here again, sir!”

He lunges down and grabs your arm, yanking you up and out of your chair. With one last furious frown, Ingo snarls, “Good day!”

He whirls around and pulls you off the set. The world rushes into a tunnel of color. His strides quicken until he’s too fast to keep up with, until his grip on your arm is aching, painful, until you’re choking, “Ingo. Ingo!”

Ingo whirls around and collapses into the hallway wall. “Ingo!” You hold onto his arms, hold him upright. Call his name again. His face is damp with a sheen of sweat, lax and wan. “INGO!” He does not respond. His eyes are wide and shrouded with a pale film.

You shake his arms, shout his name again.

He’s not breathing.

You pull him forward into your arms. He doesn’t hold you back, limp and trembling, shaking with small, wheezing gasps that sound as though they’re being squeezed out of him.

When you pull him with you he nearly falls. His attempts to walk have him stumbling as you bring him into a nearby dressing room. Someone in the hallway attempts to follow you with a concerned query; you shut the door on their face and lock it.

Ingo makes a low, weeping sound as your hands clutch and scramble up his back. You stumble to a cot at one end of the room, holding Ingo’s weight in one arm to slap and clear away hangers and stray coats. Ingo flops down onto the cot and falls slumped, coughing. His wheezes form strangled, muted words.

“Too—too bright,” He warbles, choking on each breath, curling over himself and burying his face in his hands. “Too bright—“

Bright. You rush around the room, frantic, knocking over a chair in your rush to turn off the overhead lights. The warm bulbs surrounding the vanity mirrors stay on, however, and there is no visible switch.

Ingo shakes with a groan, keeling forward on the cot as you whirl around the room like a lunatic. You yank a large costume sweater off a metal clothes rack and rush toward him.

“Ingo,” You flap out the coat. “Can you sit up for me?” You keep your voice low and coaxing despite the violent shake of your hands. “Ingo?”

You make a series of shushing noises as your arms wrap around him. Ingo buries his face into his arms, shaking with low, strangled sobs, sucking in air so fast you feel the brush of it, the stunted, distorted static of it. You bring him into you and in the same motion pull the coat over your heads.

Ingo shudders in the dim, flat darkness. His eyes light up his face. They are flitting, wide, and reddened, yet he does not cry, his whole body heaving as he struggles to breathe.

You hold the blanket down with your hands. He clutches onto you, his hands trembling into the front of your jacket. He tries to say something, gulping, popping air.

“Ingo,” You say quietly, “you need to breathe.”

Ingo shakes his head violently, ducking forward to press his forehead into your shoulder. With every strangled inhale he takes, his body shudders as though suffering a violent blow.

”It’s okay.” You murmur again. “It’s just us here. You’re safe.”

You feel utterly useless, only able to sit here as he fights a war with his own breath. “Let’s breathe together. Can you breathe with me?” His nose presses desperately into your collarbone as you gather yourself, closing your eyes with a tremulous breath. “Are you ready? Let’s begin.”

Ingo’s hands twist deeper into the fabric of your uniform as he makes a noise that makes your stomach twist. “ In,”

A short, wheezing breath, staccato and broken. You count to four in your mind, your voice remarkably flat and steady. “That’s good. That’s good. Ready? Out,”

A fat tear dribbles out of his eye, presses into your neck, drips down into your collar. Ingo exhales, his torso spasming and forehead clunking beneath your jaw. Your hands release the blanket to hold him.

“Yes, keep—breathing.” Your voice falters, breaking in two. Your hands rub up and down his back, carefully, softly, and you swallow harshly, forcing calm. “That’s good, love. That’s good. Just like that.”

In. You stroke a hand through his hair. He trembles. Out. The words spill from your lips like a metronome, ticking on repeat, slow and rhythmic. Ingo continues to breathe.

This continues for an infinite stretch. No one knocks on the locked door. Ingo’s unnatural, sucking breaths begin to even out. You shush him soothingly, smoothing down his hair.

“Is it okay if I hold you?” You ask him, a mere whisper.

Ingo twitches through a nod.

You pull him closer into your arms. The coat above your heads shifts; a sliver of golden light peers in under its fluffy edge. Ingo curls further into you, tucking his head against your chest and wrapping his arms around your torso to pull you partway into his lap, his legs strewn somewhere under yours.

The cot crinkles. You tuck some hair behind Ingo’s ear and gently kiss the top of his head, feeling the coat drift further sideways. Trying to be subtle, you take a short, grounding breath. You have to blink rapidly to force back the burning in your eyes.

Ingo lifts his arms. His hands climb up the fabric over your shoulders as he pulls you further into him and bonks his forehead into yours. You make a muffled noise of surprise as he wheezes and shakes. His hands curl into your jacket so tightly you briefly wonder if he’ll rip the sleeves off.

He does not. Eyes squeezed shut, he simply holds you close to him, pressed brow-to-brow and making small, scratchy sounds with each tremulous breath.

“Ingo?” You ask quietly. You reach up to touch his face and watch a tear balance on the tip of your finger before soaking into your glove.

“I’m—sorry,” He warbles wetly. “To derail over something so ridiculous—”

You take his face in your hands. “..Ingo.”

Ingo’s mouth gulps open nervously. “—I, I would understand if you don’t—”

“Ingo.” You repeat sternly, pushing him back.

Ingo shuts his mouth and opens his eyes. They’re big, red-rimmed, still watery. You watch another thin tear track into your thumb, feel his jaw tremble subtly beneath your numb palms.

You brush his tears away, searching his eyes. “Do you think you don’t deserve to be comforted?”

Part of the coat folds down over one of his eyes as he attempts to duck out of your hold. “It is a nuisance. An unscheduled detour. I should be able to remain composed in the event of an unplanned obstacle. As a Subway Boss—”

“Then,” You interrupt before he can spiral. “When you comfort Elesa, or Emmet. Or that time when you comforted me. Were we a nuisance to you?”

Ingo lurches forward, slapping his hands over yours, and the coat over your heads slips away completely, golden light creasing over the damp streaks of his face. “Of course not!”

He freezes, face close to yours, breathing frantic breaths. Your thumbs smooth softly over his cheekbones.

Twitching tremulously, he leans back. “I just,” He gulps in a breath and tries again. “I don’t want to bother you. I told you I would be better, I could be more confident, and—”

He exhales. “You’re always so confident. I wanted to be like you.”

“Ingo,” You don’t manage to hold back your ironic chuckle. “I’m not confident all the time.”

Ingo’s brow scrunches together, meeting your gaze. “But you’re always composed. You’re always—”

He cuts himself off as you take one of his hands. Slowly, gently, you place it right over your chest. You press it there, and when his fingers splay you fit yours between them. Beneath your fingertips, pressure thuds, dully bounding and thumping.

“Do you feel how fast my heart is beating?” You say quietly.

Ingo makes a little noise. Another tear crests off his face. He looks away from you with a staccato breath. You leave his hand on your chest as your thumb returns to brush against the flushed, damp skin of his cheeks as your other hand tuck back stray strands of his damp hair.

“..I’m just not good enough.” He states loudly, tremulously. “I need to be better. As your partner, as a Subway Boss, as,” He hiccups. “As your best friend.”

Has he been holding this in all this time? Is this why he refuses to meet your eye, refuses your every compliment, your every touch? It seems asinine from someone you adore so much. How could he dislike any part of himself when everything about him is so lovely?

“Ingo,” You murmur, cupping his face in your hands, “even if I could, I wouldn’t,” you press your forehead against his. “I wouldn’t change a single thing about you.”

Ingo inhales sharply. You slowly lean forward to kiss a wet streak beneath his eye, warm and salty. His hands shake upward to layer over yours. He dips his head, sniffling, another tear dribbling forth until you catch it with your thumb.

“Do you remember when you confessed to me on the roof?” You ask him. Red bleeds everywhere you touch and Ingo averts his gaze, trembling. Undeterred, you continue: “You told me all the things you loved about me. Can I do the same for you?”

“I—” He sounds choked-up. “I don’t think that’s necessary,”

“It is,” You return. “You believe you’re not good enough; you’re anything but.” You suck in a breath and declare: “Because I love you. I love everything about you.”

You’re flushing red, telltale sparks swooping over your nose—your confidence has faltered ever since you’d stared into those bright beaming cameras. But you tell him. You tell him everything.

You tell him how much you look forward to seeing him when he visits. How his smile makes your heart roil in your chest. How he makes you feel precious, how he makes the words ‘I love you’ more special than anything else in the world. You tell him how scared you were during the battle with Kyurem but when you woke up with him beside you, you felt okay. How stressful days feel easy and light when he’s there.

Then you tell him how you’d decided you’d loved him—how it’d been a slow, gradual thing, then a sudden shock—how perhaps you’d loved him from the moment you’d met, in that cozy, cramped elevator full of golden light, his gaze gentle, respectful, and safe. How you still feel this way. How you’ll feel this way forever.

He is your partner, but he is also your best friend. And that is the most precious thing.

By the end he’s as red as you are, tears falling faster, dragging through dried streaks on his face, and when you brush away his snot with your sleeve he makes a choked noise like he’s been punched in the stomach.

“I—I didn’t realize,” He croaks, voice muffled by your sleeve on his face.

“You didn’t realize what?” You ask him quietly, lowering your arm.

Ingo clears his throat shakily. “I thought I had to run these rails with purpose. To fulfill the expectations of you, of my family—to fulfill your confidence in me. but—“ He sniffles. “You love me regardless of whether I fail or succeed.”

You huff because that’s obvious, but he’s not finished.

“So do Emmet and Elesa. So does Drayden.” He straightens, brows creasing. “So do Iris and Leon and—“ He exhales heavily. “I—have been ridiculous.”

Your hand thumbs a tear off his face. “Don’t say that.”

”But it is true! Assuming you would not love me if I did not succeed at my endeavors is the same as doubting your love for me—!”

”You’re overthinking it, Ingo,” You laugh a little, a low, fond chuckle, and cup his cheek. “But that is also something I love about you.”

Ingo stares at you. Then he grapples for you and yanks you into his arms. You make a muffled noise as he squeezes you so hard your nose presses uncomfortably into his shoulder blade. Ingo sniffles loudly, burying his face in your neck.

“I’m so— so glad I met you,” He muffles into your shoulder.

You wrap your arms around him. When he pulls away just enough to meet your eye, all you can do is smile. “I’m glad, too.”

Ingo smiles back, that warped, wobbly grin that you adore. He rests his lips against your temple, but does not kiss you—he simply lingers there and breathes. A gentle promise, a gentle touch—a wordless, reverent, I love you.

“..You didn’t used to do that.” He murmurs into your skin. “You didn’t used to smile like that before.”

You hum as his hand threads distractedly through your hair. “I believe I have changed recently,” You admit quietly. “It’s easier to smile now.”

Ingo huffs to himself, disgruntled, resting his chin on your shoulder. “But I have not changed at all.”

”You have,” You return firmly, hands digging into the fabric of his coat. “When I first met you, you weren’t able to stand up to that reporter in Gear Station, remember? Yet today,” You feel your lips pull into a tremulous smile, remembering his harsh, flat tone and the way he’d yanked you out of the camera’s all-seeing eyes. “That was amazing, Ingo.”

Ingo’s stiff in your hold, his hand pressing at the nape of your neck. “I was rude,”

“You stood up for yourself, and for me.” You state flatly. “That is the furthest thing from rude.”

“But I still—”

He cuts himself off as you squeeze him tighter.

“Thank you.” You murmur, cupping the back of his neck.

Ingo shudders a little. “ don’t have to thank me.”

”I want to thank you.” You hum as he leans in to bump his forehead into yours, nudging closer, another one of his tears plopping off his face. “Will you let me?”

“Okay,” Ingo relents finally, his voice lowering until it’s a warbling whisper. He has a teary, wobbly smile on his face. “..You’re very welcome.”

It is a normal morning on a normal day. Clouds amble past the windows of your office, making their way across Nimbasa’s pointy skyline. You think you can spot Zekrom’s shadowy form streaking through it, but perhaps it’s just your imagination.

The media release went poorly, but not for you and Ingo. Nimbasa News received so much bad press your interviewer was fired on the spot. Additionally, the public’s opinion on you and Ingo has done a complete one-eighty. Now it’s like they’re completely entranced by your relationship.

A lot of people seem to be reading into you and your partner’s subtle exchanges too deeply. For instance, the gossip column you’re currently scanning has tallied the amount of times your arm brushed Ingo’s during your interview. And Yancy recently did an entire television special where she explained you and your partner’s unique brand of ‘Subtle Love.’

You don’t think any of this is particularly subtle.

Ingo paces outside of the open door into your office. He has not noticed you yet. He walks back and forth, back and forth, burning holes into the carpet.

You watch him turn toward your doorway, hesitate, then turn around again. There’s something large in one of his hands obscured by the ornate door frame that you can’t quite catch a glimpse of. You startle as he freezes in his tracks, hikes up his shoulders, and then whirls around again.

He jumps a foot in the air when he sees you standing there and quickly shoves something behind his back.

“Ingo,” You greet, keeping your face carefully flat. “..You can come in.”

Flushing, Ingo finally shuffles into your office. He’s sweating and huffing short, staccato breaths as though he’d run here—or perhaps all his pacing made him work up a sweat.

“Good morning!” He greets loudly, his back ramrod straight and arms still stubbornly tucked behind his back. One of his shoulders twitches upward until he forces it back down again.

“Good morning.” You return, tossing the gossip column into the trash can by the door. Charjabug chirps a happy greeting from where he droops atop your desk behind you. “You’re quite early today.”

Ingo shuffles in place. Then he does an odd squirming motion with his arms. You watch him look at the ceiling, at you, then back at the ceiling again. A strange red object pokes up from behind his flared coat collar.

You pause, uncertain. “Is something—”

A shroud of crimson explodes in front of your face.

You flinch, blinking rapidly, and your vision clears to a bushel of roses twice the size of your head. Ingo had shoved them toward you so quickly they’d spat large, lush petals all over your office’s carpet, their pungent, floral smell wafting into the room.

“This is for you.” His voice is monotonous, but his hands are shaking, crinkling into the plastic-wrapped stems as though he’s brandishing a weapon. You can’t see his face over the rose’s fat petals. “As a thank you! For yesterday!”

“Oh.” You take the flowers carefully. “..It’s nothing to thank me for.” You take the roses anyway, heat bleeding over your ears.

Ingo’s shoulders loosen as he smiles at you: a warped, wobbly thing. It makes your insides twist in a strange way and you struggle to keep an unphased expression on your face.

You clutch the flowers close to you and hesitate. ”..Would you like to sit down for a moment?”

“I apologize,” Ingo returns promptly, folding his arms behind his back. “I can only stop at this station for a brief moment lest my schedule experiences delays.”

”I see,” You return, trying not to sound too disappointed. “Well, thank you for stopping by.”

”Of course!” Ingo exclaims loudly. There are some tapping sounds from behind him in the hall; he stiffens and clears his throat into his fist in a measured motion. “Then I will be off. Please have a wonderful remainder of your day.”

He turns on his heel and starts for the door.


Ingo turns around at the sound of your voice. “Yes—?”

You step close to him, then even closer, the flowers pressing between you, then tilt your head up to look him in the eye with a certain weight.

Wordlessly, slowly, you reach up to tap at your lower lip in silent query.

Ingo stares at your face for a solid six seconds. Then he flushes twice as red as your roses.

“In—?” You click your mouth shut, flushing yourself.

Ingo slaps both hands over his bright red face. “I—I apologize! I really must be going! Goodbye—!”

He whirls around and sprints out your office, slamming the glass-paned door so hard it rockets off its hinges. Shockwaves reverberate through the thick glass in wobbly waves.

Ah, you think to yourself faintly, lowering your hand. Perhaps you were too forward. He's still acting rather reserved, but you’d hoped—

You feel your neck grow hot and adjust your cap with a halting huff. You need to stop acting like a forlorn lover. It’s ridiculous.

With one last shuddering sigh, you heft the flowers higher in your grip. Charjabug chitters at you on your desk as you give him a distracted pat.

You search the room for a suitable vase; you end up grabbing one of Janet’s odd historical pots and fill it with water from the water cooler. You plop the flowers into it and prop your hands on your hips, observing. It works well enough.

“These really are quite pretty, aren’t they?” You mumble to Charjabug, who returns the sentiment with a happy chirp. Then he sneezes loudly from the pollen and spatters snot onto your desk.

You ignore this. However, when you move to unwrap the roses from their plastic binding, an envelope slips out from beneath the ribbon, flips over the rim of the vase, then flops down on the desk next to Charjabug’s head.

Charjabug immediately begins chewing on it. You snatch it away before he can do any real damage. Some of his slobber wets your glove as you peel open the envelope’s top and hesitantly unfold the letter.

Your eyes trail over the paper. It’s streaked with curls of cursive that twirl through huge, ornate loops—handwriting that you immediately recognize as Ingo’s.

You read the letter.


I hope your day has been well. I wanted to spend more time with you today, but unfortunately my schedule contains many tasks that I cannot abandon less I divert from my tracks. Thus I will give you this gift and my regards.

I hope you enjoy the flowers and the phone charm. The charm was recently released in the merch booth at Gear Station and I believe it has an excellent design. I have one as well, so we will match.

Please take good care of yourself and remember to eat lunch. I will return to this station later to escort you home from work.

With love,


A phone charm? As you shift the envelope, something sags under its fold and plops down on top of your desk.

It is, in fact, a phone charm. It's some sort of subway car with a smiling face and stuck-on googly eyes that make it look absolutely ridiculous; it grins up at you from where it sits innocuously on your desktop.

You pick up and bring the phone charm close to your face. You look back at the flowers and incredibly formal letter. Back at the phone charm. The googly eyes wobble as you squint at it.

What the hell is this?

There’s a muted squeaking noise. When you look back at your desk, you find that Charjabug has swallowed Ingo’s letter in a single gulp.

Journalist Ahktar of The Nimbasa Daily lingers squeezed into a corner of the Battle Hotel’s bustling lobby.

The Battle Hotel, busy as usual,

He furiously scribbles this out.

The Battle Hotel continues to capture the public’s gaze with its mystery and intrigue.

Ahktar huffs, new sentences sprawling into the rest of his crammed-in notes.

Recent developments only add to its influence on the Nimbasa City community, where rumors of a ‘forbidden love’ circulate alongside praise for the Battle Facility Head’s participation in the ‘Neo Plasma’ incident that shook the region mere days prior.

The only facts released to the public are the following: The Battle Hotel Boss clearly helped subdue Neo Team Plasma and Unova Legendary ‘Kyurem.’ However, the boss themselves has not come forward to confirm or deny this. Many suspect they suffered an injury due to their participation, but this also has not been confirmed.

Most prominently, the Battle Hotel Boss’ relationship with Subway Boss Ingo has taken a forefront, making their heroic effort in the catastrophic region-wide event almost irrelevant in comparison.

There’s a clatter somewhere behind him as a bellhop with two-toned blue and pink hair rushes by with a luggage trolley.

Subway Boss Ingo and the Battle Hotel Boss recently came forward to clear up rumors about certain photograph taken moments after Neo Plasma leader Ghetsis’ quelling. They stated that they are, in fact, in a romantic relationship.

Though the Battle Facility heads have received much support post their Nimbasa News interview, some still accuse the bosses of fraudulent behavior. Deniers suspect that Gear Station and the Battle Hotel have intermixed work and personal relationships, and those who do not have sufficient backing protest due to a clear bias for Nimbasa’s long-time Subway celebrity.

Though it is difficult for the public to ignore the clear chemistry between the Battle Facility heads, even for those who do not support them.

Ahktar lifts his pen. At a loss, he watches a big blotch of ink spread across the last sentence on the page. Chemistry. He needs to document more occurrences of chemistry between Subway Boss Ingo and the Battle Hotel Boss. The incident on Nimbasa News wasn’t enough.

He thinks this with a driven determination, yet stands alone in the bustling crowd of the Battle Hotel with no hope of meeting the Battle Hotel Boss. He needs to see them. He needs to see them in action. Otherwise he’ll never finish this article that he’s been working on for the past six months.

He does not intend to be invasive like the writhing crowd of reporters outside. Ahktar only reports the facts. This makes him an incredibly unbiased and morally sound writer, but also horrible at meeting deadlines.

Yes, he’s toeing the line between getting fired and releasing an article that can spur on a region of millions. Right now he’s leaning toward the ‘getting fired’ side.

He really needs to finish this article.

There’s so much work that needs to be done he doesn’t even know where to start. Firstly, he has to rework the whole middle half of his article—then he has to report the grave errors of Nimbasa News, a grand controversy in the reporting community that should surely boost the drama factor—

“Oh! It’s the little journalist!”

Hands clap down on Ahktar’s shoulders with the force of a collapsing avalanche. He’s nearly shoved straight down into the ground. With a startled shriek, Ahktar yanks up his head to see the café manager, Danny, whose huge, burly arms frame either side of his face.

“You’re back!” The café manager squeals in glee. “Oh, good! Great! You can meet the boss!”

”I can?!” Ahktar exclaims, struck by the notion. He forgets his fear as he leans closer to the Battle Hotel employee, his grin splitting his face in two. “Are—are you sure? All the reporters outside—“

”You are here because we like you!” Danny exclaims. His eyes scrunch together. “You wouldn’t have gotten in otherwise.”

That sounds incredibly ominous. Ahktar, feeling a bead of sweat drag down his face, forces his smile upward and clutches his notebook close to his chest. Should he be thanking him? “Thank you?”

”No need to thank me!” Danny sends him a thumbs up as his pure-white teeth glitter under the lights overhead. “Let’s get you to the big boss!”

With a strange sense of deja-vu, Ahktar lets the hulking meatloaf of a man drag him through the loud, chattering lobby. Guests observe the writhing crowd of journalists and reporters through the windows with humored smiles. Employees serve drinks, tote carts of luggage, and amble about with dusters and mops.

The reverberation of a pokémon move rumbles from one of the battling floors overhead, but none are deterred as the impact reverberates through the hotel’s fortified walls and windows. An old woman gracefully sets a teacup into a rattling saucer, her Woobat snoozing on her lap. She sends Ahktar an amiable smile as he’s dragged by.

Danny, of course, begins giving him an unneeded tour. “—And this is the luggage storage closet, it’s got multiple locks but Susie’s Scoliopede usually guards it also so that it stays super safe—“

Ahktar can do nothing but smile tremulously as he’s pulled and yanked around like a pokétoy on a string. He is incredibly overwhelmed.

Another shockwave buoys beneath the floors. There’s a muffled explosion from somewhere outside. Ahktar turns his head to look, but a huge group of tourists obscures the view outside the windows.

”And this is the Employee of the Month Board! This month it’s Charles; he was complaining about it so much that we voted for him to shut him up. Don’t tell the boss I said that.”

“Um, so the boss—?” Ahktar reminds him.

Danny nods rapidly. “Of cou—“ Then he lights up as he spots something across the lobby.“—Oh, you should meet Nate and Rosa first! They’re the boss’ friends!”

Ahktar has no idea who Nate and Rosa are. He’s pulled over to two young children, clearly twin siblings, mingling by the elevator; the girl is having her Samurott pretend-stab her with its horn.

Ahktar watches the pokémon’s elongated tusk slot between the pre-teen’s arm and torso. The girl cries out melodramatically and keels over into her brother, who simply shoves her away without even looking at her. He sends Ahktar a soothing smile.

Danny opens his mouth and shouts a boisterous hello, which scares the girl out of her wits. “Boss’ friends! Meet the Little Reporter!”

‘Little Reporter’ is not Ahktar’s name. However, in the face of a man twice his size with a threat of getting physically thrown out hanging over his head, he does not attempt to correct him.

The twins immediately begin speaking at once. “Reporter? You’re a reporter?” “You must be trustworthy if Danny let you in.”

”Um, Thank you?” Ahktar’s pen drips uselessly over his notebook.

“I’m going to be the next champion,” proclaims the girl with the hair buns.

“Want to see my legendary pokémon?” Asks the fourteen-year old boy.

”Don’t overwhelm him,” Says another voice.

Ahktar turns and nearly jumps out of his skin. Familiar tanned skin, crystal blue eyes, and a trademark curly ponytail bob into view. He’d be a fool not to recognize her. “Hilda? Ex-Champion Hilda? Unova’s Savior?”

Hilda huffs, rolling her eyes, her battle-worn Serperior curling regally at her side. “The one and only.”

She’s wearing a hotel uniform. Why in Arceus’ name is she wearing a hotel uniform?

Ahktar leans forward, eager, his pen poised for scribbling. “Why are you here?! Do you work here?! Are you friends with the Battle Hotel Boss?! How did you two meet—?!”

”I work here, I’m friends with them, and I’m not telling you how we met.” The teen interrupts, clearly used to dealing with the press. She props her hand on her hip, looking disinterested. “Why are you here?”

Ahktar deflates. “I’m, ah, looking for your boss,”

“The Boss?” Hilda raises her brows. Then she shifts her weight with a sigh, her Serprior sniffing at the air disgruntled huff. “Well, if Danny let you in, surely you’re not like the rest of them.”

Why is Danny’s judgment the ultimatum? Ahktar, concerned, decides not to question this since it ultimately worked in his favor.

“The Little Reporter’s a good guy!” The café manager exclaims with a winning grin. He throws another thumbs-up into their crowded cluster. “He gave Charjabug a snack!”

The three kids suddenly relax. “Oh, that makes sense.” “Got it!” “Okay,”

Ahktar wobbles faintly. This is all because he fed half a cracker to that little square-shaped creature last time he was here? That’s the entry fee? Why?

Another blast reverberates beyond the distant windows, fog and smog billowing over the street in a hiss of steam. Ahktar turns toward the small red ottoman he remembers seeing that creature on all those months ago, but Charjabug is not there. All that remains of him is a small spattering of crumbs.

In Ahktar’s distraction, Serperior leans forward and gives him a hearty sniff. Ahktar flinches. The pokémon’s snout wrinkles in disgust; she leans back with another dissatisfied huff.

Ahktar shimmies in place, uncomfortable. None of them appear to notice.

“The boss is over there,” Hilda informs him, jerking her thumb over her shoulder. “I’ll take you to them.”

Ahktar immediately stops fidgeting.

Finally, he thinks giddily, finally! The subject of his research, the one who’s taken Nimbasa by storm, the Battle Facility Head who he’s been researching all this time—!

”A reporter, you say?” You don’t even look at him as you sign off a series of files on your four-inch thick clipboard.

Ahktar blinks. Your appearance is incredibly underwhelming and nothing like Ahktar imagined. He watches you make a humming noise and hand your papers to your at-the-ready employee.

You hum distractedly, tucking your pen into the breast pocket of your jacket. A small star-shaped pin glints over the brim of your hat. “If it’s nothing invasive, I don’t have a problem with it. Maybe it’ll get those groupies off our backs.”

”That’s the idea, boss!” Danny exclaims, hand squeezing Ahktar’s shoulder.

”Excellent job, Danny.” You praise offhandedly, your voice completely flat. Your half-lidded eyes trail toward Ahktar and he twitches under the weight of your gaze. “Your name?”

You’re the first person to ask for his name in this Arceus-forsaken place. He’d met you once, briefly before during Elesa’s incredible exhibition and you look the same as you did then: a proper posture, an expression of disinterest, a green, slobbery bug snoozing over your left shoulder.

You are plain. Utterly unremarkable. And he is completely entranced by you; you are so wonderfully ordinary and approachable despite your brilliant accomplishments.

“It’s Ahktar!” He stammers.

“Mr. Ahktar.” You shift your weight. Your bug shudders with a muted snore. “Well, you have some questions for me?”

Finally! Finally! Ahktar’s eyes go wide as he leans forward with an ecstatic jitter, his hair frizzing from his hysteria-induced stress. Finally he can ask you everything he’s been wondering, finally he can finish this article and bring some good news home to his wife—

He opens his mouth. An explosion reverberates outside on the street, blinking out electricity for a brief moment; then the entire lobby flickers back to life with a spark of light and an eruption of bright-red flames beyond the windows.

Ahktar shrieks. You huff. The woman who’d taken your clipboard sends the firestorm only a brief glance. She pushes up her glasses, adjusting the papers in her grip.

”It’s another illegal battle, Boss,” She informs you flatly.

“That’s too bad,” You mutter with the air of someone watching their groceries get scanned in a checkout line. “Do you think it has to do with Leon again?”

The tourists are now taking photos of the flames outside, laughing hysterically, safe behind the six-inch thick reinforced windows.

Your secretary squints at the roiling flames. “..He went back to Galar. It’s definitely someone else.”

You heft a huge sigh. “What a week.”

“Boss, it’s only Wednesday.”

You sigh again. Charjabug, now awake, starts chewing on your hair. Then you pull out your phone and dangling over your thumb is the ugliest, gaudiest phone charm Ahktar’s ever seen in his life.

It’s clearly supposed to be a smiling subway car, but the massive googly eyes stuck to its face make it rather terrifying. It somehow reminds him of when his wife picks out jarringly neon-colored kurta for him and— oh.

“Where did you get that?!” He lunges forward again, staring at the eye-meltingly fluorescent bobble. “Did Subway Boss Ingo give that to you?!”

“Oh, this?” You lift your phone higher with no change in your expression. Ahktar shudders; the googly eyes on the horrifying phone charm follow him, lolling lazily. “Yes, it’s from my partner—“

A car outside explodes into a billowing pyre of flame.

“—is this an interview question? I don’t particularly want to talk about my personal relationships right now.”

“No— no! It’s not!” Chemistry! This must be chemistry! Ahktar sucks in a huge inhale, pen moving fast over the page. “I was just wondering—!”

“Please don’t write that down,” You say in the same bored tone you say everything. Ahktar hastily scribbles over the poorly drawn rendition of the key charm he’d doodled in his notebook.

“I’m—!” He bows forward spastically, watching beads of his sweat streak down to speckle the deep red carpeting. “I'm so sorry! I'm not here for your relationship! I promise not to be rude or—!”

You huff, making him straighten up in fear, his shoulders hiking to his ears.

“There’s no need to be nervous.” Your lips pull slightly into what he thinks may be a smile. “Relax.”

As you say this, a scream rings in from outside. The fact that you are able to remain completely sane through all of this terrifies him further. You appear to sense his nerves but surmise he’s nervous for the completely wrong reason.

“Really, don’t worry. If Danny approves of you, I’m sure you’re a good person.”

Why are you so calm?! He thinks in horror. Then someone roars your name so loud it drowns out every burst of flame outside and all the chatter in the bustling lobby. Ahktar shrieks and nearly drops his notes.

Ahktar whirls toward the revolving doors; in steps the man who had beaten his Tympole into the ground with his pyromaniac Chandelure despite an overwhelming type-advantage. In steps Subway Boss Ingo, Battle Facility Head, Ghetsis-Slayer, and Single Battle Extraordinaire.

“Are you alright?!” Mr. Ingo bellows at the top of his lungs. His hat is slightly singed and he appears both disgruntled and utterly furious. “What in the world is going on outside?!”

“Illegal battle again,” You inform him. “And I’m fine. No one’s gotten hurt.” You surreptitiously glance toward the fire beyond the windows as though to say, so far.

“Oh.” Mr. Ingo skids to a stop at your side. “I—well. I’m glad you’re unharmed.”

Ahktar blinks. The moment the Battle Facility head steps within two feet of you he’s closed that two-foot distance, standing ramrod straight inches from your side with no other change in his body language. However, the moment you turn toward him he leads away to avoid colliding shoulders or touching you in any manner whatsoever.

It’s like watching two Magnemite try to fuse despite possessing opposite poles. You open your mouth to say something but are loudly interrupted.

”Who’s this?” Mr. Ingo starts, staring at Ahktar.

Ahktar stiffens. Mr. Ingo suddenly looks much more guarded. He does not seem to recognize him despite brutally crushing his dreams a few months ago. Ahktar’s unsure if he should feel offended by this.

“This is Mr. Ahktar,” you introduce blandly, gesturing to him with a casual hand. “He’s a reporter.”

Mr. Ingo’s face darkens further. His thin brows twist in a malignant glower that has Ahktar resisting a frantic step back.

You reach up and pat your partner on the arm, closing the strange, hovering distance between you. It’s a simple, brief touch but the man’s shoulders loosen at once.

Silence reigns despite the chaos beyond—you meet Mr. Ingo’s gaze with a wordless, unreadable expression. He pauses then exhales a shaking breath.

“He’s quite nice,” you promise him. “He’s not here about our relationship.”

“You aren’t?” Mr. Ingo asks Ahktar in surprise.

Ahktar nods rapidly. He is not here about your relationship, as interesting and weird as it seems to be. “I am writing an article about this hotel! My work includes a only brief factoid about your relationship as I follow the events of the hotel’s rise to success, including the overturn in management about a year and a half ago and the resulting strategies implemented by the new boss—”

”He talks a bit like you,” You mutter to Mr. Ingo behind your hand. Your partner pinches your arm.

”Fine.” The Subway Boss clears his throat loudly and speaks doubly as loud. “You may attach your car to our caboose.” Mr. Ingo’s glower twists into a veritable snarl. “I will not tolerate any double-edged questions or accusations toward me or my partner.”

Ahktar tries to dampen his intermittent trembles. Is he really pissed off or is that just his face? ”I—I don’t plan to accuse you of anything, sir!”

”Good.” Mr. Ingo turns away and strikes his pose, nearly smacking Ahktar in the arm. “Then, onward we roll! There are some passengers outside in dire need of our assistance!”

”Do try to stay close,” You inform Ahktar offhandedly, “If your clothes catch fire let me know; we have some spare uniforms in the back.”

Catch fire—? Ahktar doesn’t have a chance to think on this further as you and your partner immediately set off for the revolving doors. Ahktar squeaks and rushes to follow. “Wait, wait, we’re going out there?!”

As he says this, a scream rings out beyond the doors and a Salamence the size of a car hurtles forward alongside huge, cresting meteors that rocket down into the street. They explode into large flashes of light like collapsing stars.

Mr. Ingo starts forward at a rapid pace, his head trained toward the mess in a determination Ahktar can’t even begin to understand. “Of course, lest all of Nimbasa’s roadways be decommissioned!”

You hum in agreement, arms tucked behind your back as you follow quickly at his side. Charjabug chirps casually on your shoulder as you deadpan, “I’d rather the windows not break again.”

Mr. Ingo’s head dips in a sharp nod. “Yes, that was quite an ordeal last time.”

What happened last time? Ahktar thinks, terrified. He has to sprint to keep up with you and your partner’s swift strides.

After your group circles out the revolving glass doors, the smog clears to sparking, purple energy that slinks up and shatters every nearby light pole. Glass shards spatter into the street.

“What sort of pokémon is that?” You ask, squinting into the afternoon light.

“A Salamence,” Your partner returns swiftly, unhooking a pokéball from his belt. “They are dragon types not native to Unova. If you choose to battle with Hydreigon, do take care to avoid all Dragon-type attacks.”

“Right,” You return.

Ahktar vibrates in place. You’re going to battle! So far, the Battle Hotel Boss has not made an appearance on the battling field. They are known to possess a Charjabug, their few brief media appearances have not revealed any other members of their team.

And Mr. Ingo had said you have a Hydreigon.

Ahktar does a double take. You have a Hydreigon? Unova’s rarest pseudo-legendary—?!


“PISS OFF!” Shouts one of the trainers, a vein bulging above his brow. Smoke gusts around him as he throws out his hands. “Salamence! Draco Meteor again—!”

Ahktar shields his face with his arm, his coat and papers flapping as explosions hurtel down from above. There's a distant shout from the other trainer across the street but they’re impossible to see through the smoke; the Salamace’s trainer cackles maniacally in opposition. This clearly isn’t a consensual battle.

“What—what do we do?!” Ahktar exclaims. His ears ring with the aftermath of the blast as rippling energy crackles near his feet. “Ah—!” He backpedals with a muted shriek.

“We’ll have to take action,” you state blandly, your flat voice carrying over the wind. “Ingo, can you go make sure the other trainer is safe? I’ll deal with this one.”

Mr. Ingo braces himself with a determined nod, adjusting his cap. Flashing light reflects off his glass-gray eyes. “Of course.”

The Salamence’s trainer readies another attack. You reach into the pocket of your slacks. Mr. Ingo lunges into the street; you dig something out of your pocket. Ahktar vibrates with anticipation, taking in a gasping breath—

—and you pull out a bright-pink Heal Ball covered in glittery rainbow Poké Bean stickers.

Ahktar gawks. “Are you seriou—?”

Hydreigon emerges from the ball with a riveting roar.

Their wings cut through the smoke with buffeting gusts of wind, shrouding the bright light into hurtling, fuzzy streaks of darkness. They swoop through a cresting wave of flame, pulses of shadow warping through them as they clash with the twisting Salamence in a flash of electric light and black smog.

“Dragon Pulse!” You shout at the same time Mr. Ingo bellows, “HAXORUS! DRAGON CLAW!”

Ahktar’s seen many battles in his lifetime. From recordings to casual battles to professional exhibitions—not to mention the amount of times he’s watched Champion Leon’s matches on TV. Yet he’s certain he’s never seen anything like this before.

You’re clumsy. You’re hasty. You don’t know the names of any pokémon moves. Yet you’re loud, loud and confident, your commands sharp and precise, standing alongside Hydreigon as you direct their whirling shadows around Salamance’s wing.

As your arm cuts a sharp line into the air Hydreigon flings Salamence the same way; the massive dragon goes hurtling through a shroud of flames that twist away from the impact.

Ahktar gapes. Salamence’s thrown onto the street in a reverberating slam. You twist as hot air licks at your ankles, hold down the brim of your hat as you shout another command—


Though Akhtar has no idea what even happened in the first place.

Hydreigon and Salamence butt their heads together with bellowing cries. An eruption of concrete dust curls over the street as Mr. Ingo’s Haxorus uses Earthquake on another pokémon in the shroud. Ahktar holds onto a nearby street pole as you dart to the Subway Boss’ side; in synch you both exclaim,

“Dragon Pulse!” “Dragon Claw!”

Salamence dodges the attacks by flying high up in the air. Hydreigon and Haxorus pull back with hissing snarls.

With a wordless glance Ingo nods to you then ducks back into the dust cloud; you race up the sidewalk with Hydreigon swooping at your side. Your pokémon follows orders without a word as though reading your exact thoughts.

The Salamence sends a bright, warped beam searing down into the concrete, missing you by inches—the dragon rises higher as its trainer shrieks at you in indignation.

You skid to a stop a few feet in front of Ahktar. He goes bug-eyed as you tear a broken metal sign pole straight up out of the ground.

You throw out another pokéball, pole brandished in your other fist, and in a flash of white light, Charjabug goes hurtling through the sky. Hydreigon lets out a low rumble, bracing themselves. You hold the pole poised over your shoulder like a throwing spear.

“SPARK!” You bellow, stomping a foot into the ground. Ahktar can only stare as you fling the metal high into the air.

Charjabug’s light erupts with a crack as the rod smacks into the side of the hovering Salamence’s face. Shrieking with shock, it spasms, hurtles out of the sky, tumbles head over heels, then collapses down onto the concrete.

It does not get up again.

You straighten upright with a sigh. Charjabug wiggles on the ground with a giddy squeak. Hydreigon flutters closer to you, one of their smaller heads nudging you hesitantly as though asking for praise.

Salamence’s trainer stares at his partner with huge eyes, glancing between you and the rod you’d just thrown upwards to twenty yards. Then he’s immediately accosted by a policeman who starts yelling at him immediately; predictably, he starts shouting back.

A gaggle of onlookers begin cheering on the adjacent sidewalk.

Ahktar turns back to you. Hydreigon has sidled close so you can give them a series of scrubbing belly-rubs. They wiggle and yip happily. He watches, awed, as the massive dragon bumps their largest forehead against yours, nuzzling into your hair.

You scratch under their chin with a warm smile on your face, then murmur something to them that’s lost to the cheering crowd.

Once you’ve supplied your partners with ample pets, you turn to address the police officer. As soon as you do the furious trainer tries to punch the poor guy in the face.

Ahktar flinches. You lunge forward and stop his wrist mid-motion, stuttering, “Sir—”

“I’m not stopping!” The trainer roars, wrenching out of your grip. He’s wearing an odd all-black uniform with a crimson red ‘R’ plastered on the front. “That asshole owes us fifteen grand! When I get my hands on him—”

“Sir, you need to calm down,” The policeman next to you say placatingly, arms held forward, coaxing, “Just—”

“SHUT UP!” The man swings at you this time. Ahktar shrieks, flinching back, but you swiftly duck under his arm, shift on your heel, grab his shoulder, and fling him over to slam him down onto the concrete.

Ahktar sputters uselessly. You hold the offender face down and lock his hands behind his back, then lean over him with an unimpressed look on your face.

“Calm down.” You state again, your voice much lower. The man makes a strangled noise and abruptly stops resisting.

Ahktar stands there and trembles uselessly. That was the most terrifying, unconventional mode of battling that he’s ever seen. He stares bug-eyed as you continue to restrain the man while casually relaying the situation to the policeman, who immediately bends down with a pair of handcuffs.

Ahktar thinks he understands why you do not serve as the boss of the one-hundredth floor. You would be, simply put, completely unbeatable. He also thinks it’s illegal to suplex opposing trainers.

The trainer on the ground groans. Suplex. Is that what that was? You’d just flung a grown man three feet in the air after ripping a piece of metal out of solid concrete.

The Battle Hotel Boss—he writes in his notebook. Then he scrubs a hand over his face and smears a streak of pen ink down his chin. He has no idea how to report any of this. Even if he’s telling the truth, no one will take him seriously unless they see it for themselves.

You get up off the man as the police officer pulls him upright and locks him into handcuffs; Ahktar watches you pluck up Charjabug off the ground to casually situate him into the crook of your arm.

You return a snoozing Hydreigon back into their Heal Ball. Charjabug giggles at the scene on the street: Salamence drools happily as an officer feeds it berries to simultaneously lead it away. The onlookers are now taking photographs of the touching scene.

Then a dark shape flashes across the road; Ahktar blinks to see Mr. Ingo jogging out of the fog, sprinting toward you. He shouts your name.

“Are you alright?” He bumbles, hands hovering and fluttering near you. Ahktar watches your partner lean toward and away from you like a rocking chair with a strange sense of understanding.

“I’m fine,” You return easily, “you don’t have to worry.”

Mr. Ingo huffs an exasperated sigh, his hands falling back to his sides. “I always worry for you, de—”

He cuts himself off and stares at Ahktar as though just remembering he’s here. Ahktar flinches and stares back.

“Ingo?” you say next to him, voice faintly concerned.

Mr. Ingo clears his throat. “..I will inform Emmet that I will be staying at this station a bit longer,” He states gravely. He takes out his phone and along with it dangles a horrifically ugly subway-car phone charm—the exact same one you’d had on your phone earlier. The googly eyes on it wobble and stare at him.

Ahktar gasps, opening his mouth—

—then a scrambling, well-dressed man stumbles out of the ash, weeping and tripping over his ash-coated dress shoes. You flinch as he rockets into a bow just in front of you; Mr. Ingo stiffens in surprise and nearly drops his phone.

”Sir—?” You start.

“Thank you! Thank you!” The man sweats and bows profusely. He’s the other trainer, Ahktar presumes, based on his singed clothes and terrified desperation. “You’ve saved me! Thank you! I—I don’t have much to offer but—“

He shoves an entire handful of odd tickets into your hand. You scramble as a few slip from your fingers; Charjabug startles in the crook of your other arm.

“—These are free passes to my hotel! I own The Frillish in Undella City! You will have access to a rental home on the beach of Undella Bay with full amenities included and—just—” He rockets forward into another bow. “ Please don’t arrest me!”

Ingo blinks rapidly, a hand coming up to touch your elbow as you fumble to hold the bundle of crinkled papers. “This wasn’t your fault, sir,” He states professionally. “You were clearly attacked and coerced into a non-consensual battle. We are not handing you over to the police.”

“Oh thank Arceus,” The man breathes. He pats your hand again, where multiple tickets poke out between your shaking fingers. “Keep those. Thank you. When you come to Undella, show them to the front desk. I promise you will be satisfied. Thank you.”

You look a bit flummoxed. It’s the first proper expression Ahktar’s seen on your face. “Alright, sir. Just..perhaps you should see a paramedi—?”

“I’m fine!” The man yells, much too quickly. “I really must be going.” He skitters three steps back. “Farewell! Have a good day—!”

Then he’s off like a shot, dodging passerby and construction crew alike as they get to work fixing the mangled road. A few pedestrians have sent out their pokémon to help out; Ahktar watches a massive Seismitoad straighten up a sparking telephone pole.

”I suggest we let the police handle the rest,” Ingo advises, tucking his hands behind his back. You nod. Ahktar sends one last furtive glance toward the demolished pavement, then scrambles to follow you back indoors.

You stop inside the lobby but appear to struggle to tuck the tickets into your pocket. Your frown pinches as you watch your twitching fingers let a few tickets slip out and drift to the carpeted floor.

Charjabug wiggles and chirps at you soothingly, still tucked in your other arm. Mr. Ingo bends over to pick up the tickets for you without a word; you send him a wordless nod of thanks as you tuck the remainders into your pocket.

Ahktar’s gaze stays on your fingers, covered with gloved fabric, their twitches faint. Perhaps the rumors about you receiving an injury during your fight with Kyurem are true? Regardless, it’s impossible to know, and Ahktar refuses to report false facts.

He watches you lower your twitching hand to your side. Your unreadable expression hides any sign of discomfort. However, Subway Boss Ingo appears to pick up on something creasing into the flat canvas of your face. He glances at Ahktar but seems to make a decision.

His arms lift to wrap around you in an abrupt side-hug, finally closing the distance.

You startle but only briefly. With your free hand, you touch one of Mr. Ingo’s arms, then as they slide lower to rest around your waist turn your head to press a brief peck to Mr. Ingo’s cheek.

Ingo flushes Clefairy pink. Ahktar remembers when he and his wife were like this—it’s the early relationship stage. The averted touches, the hesitance, it all makes sense.

Charjabug begins chirping and squirming, wriggling furiously in your arms.

“Oh,” you say, realizing something with a snickering chuckle. “Are you jealous, Charjabug?”

Charjabug shrieks and writhes in confirmation. Ingo huffs a humored sound, his lips pulling up near the corners as he squeezes his arms tighter around your waist.

Ahktar lifts his pen to the page.

No one can deny the clear chemistry between the two. From matching keycharms to similar interests to incredible partnership in battle, the Battle Facility Heads could not make a better pair.

You lean over to drop a kiss onto Charjabug’s head as though he were a crying infant and his shrieks are immediately silenced. Ingo huffs a loud laugh.

And why shouldn’t they be a pair? The Battle Hotel Boss and Subway Boss Ingo are celebrities, yes, and they have devoted their lives to creating fun, safe spaces for the public, but they have their own lives and relationships just like anyone else.

All the while, the hotel bustles around you, guests and employees going about their days. A few curious stragglers watch you from afar. Your employees, however, only send the scene amused or exasperated smiles.

If we care so much about their commitment to their work, about their personal lives, then we should also consider their honest and earnest natures. Clearly there is no fraudulent activity occurring here. Only devotion and love. Nimbasa will survive, won’t it?

Then Ingo nudges his forehead into the side of your head, his upturned frown scrunched and wobbling. You lean into him and he buries his face into your hair as Charjabug chirps in between your arms. It’s like a painting of an embrace.

I think Nimbasa’s going to be just fine, Ahktar writes.

Then he scribbles over it, because now he’s just sounding ridiculous.

The Nimbasa Quad


Em: [img.png]

You blink as your screen’s engulfed with a photo of you and Ingo kissing beneath the mistletoe at Drayden’s house. You immediately save the image; Ingo sends a massive angry paragraph directed at his brother that you have no desire to read.

You: thank you thats a nice photograph

Ingo: Please don’t enable him.

Elesa: LOL

You: btw

You: i got free tickets for the frillish from that guy we saved yesterday

Elesa: The Frillish?! You have free tickets to the most luxurious resort hotel in Unova?! Are you f*cking joking?!

Ingo: Elesa please mind your language.

Elesa: No.

A thumbs-down bubble appears over the blob of Elesa’s text. It appears Ingo ‘disliked’ it.

Em: I think The Battle Hotel is better.

Elesa: Emmet you’ve never even been to The Frillish.

Ingo: I agree with Emmet.

Em: Ingo your bias is showing.

Ingo: Like you’re one to talk.

You: please dont fight in the group chat youre blowing up my phone

You nod to Danny as he passes by with a huge stack of plates. Hilda’s waving at you across the hall; you cross toward her in moments, your phone continuing to buzz.

Ingo: I do not think texting will make your phone explode.

Em: Ingo that was a figure of speech. Because their phone does a bunch of buzzing and chiming like it's blowing up.

Ingo: Oh, I see. That makes sense.

You attempt to sign a series of papers with one hand while typing a response with the other.

You: i am texting bevcause do u want to go with m e

Ingo: Typo?

Elesa: I think they’re asking us to come to The Frillish with them.

Ingo: That sounds wonderful! We should all go!

Em: Obviously.

You: skhj scool

Em: Ingo this is who you’re dating. Look at this. Look at the choice you made.

Elesa sends a laughing emoji. A massive response from Ingo engulfs the screen.

Ingo: You two, please stop teasing. I am sure they are currently multitasking. It is difficult to type and do other things simultaneously. We are all at work right now, and I would not be surprised if they are still swamped with the aftermath of yesterday’s illegal battle.

Elesa: Ugh, another one? That’s so dangerous.

Em: Was it cool?

Ingo: It was not ‘cool.’ A Salamence nearly set the hotel on fire.

Em: Awesome.

Ingo dislikes this text as well.

Elesa: Okay so we’re going to The Frillish this weekend. I can drive us to Undella in my convertible. Road trip!

She sends a bunch of sparkles and happy emojis, then a sticker of an Emolga lounging in a beach chair and wearing sunglasses engulfs your entire screen.

Elesa: Btw Nimbasa Quad Squad only.

Em: Okay good. Because if you bring Skyla and I have to fifth wheel again I will lose my mind.

Elesa dislikes Emmet’s text this time.

Em: Would you quit that.

You: hahja

Ingo likes your text.

Em: Ingo you are a simp.

Ingo: What is a ‘simp?’

Elesa: Okay this weekend it is! I will pick everyone up at around seven in the morning from Gear Station on Saturday! Don’t be late!

Em: Awesome bye.

Ingo: Why is no one answering me?

Undella’s hot.

It’s hotter than even the Desert Resort, which is a feat in itself. The smoothed-over roads crack into large, gaping crevices that release gusts of heat into the street like underwater geysers. Tourist traps packed with souvenirs wave their multicolored umbrellas along the sidewalks as Elesa pulls into a parking lot and puts her convertible into park.

”It’s hot,” you complain as you drag your luggage out of the trunk.

”Suck it up,” States Emmet ruthlessly, his face shrouded by a massive droopy sunhat. “This was your idea.”

Ingo and Elesa do not say a word, sweating profusely—Emolga is comatose on the latter’s shoulder. As you pull your luggage along the little pokémon makes a muted, suffering squeak.

The Frillish hotel sits on the edge of the beach, its ornate facade embedded with white coral and large seashells. Bellhops lead you inside but when you present your tickets to the front desk, the secretary informs you you have to walk even further.

”You have access to a rental house and a private beach,” She informs you flatly, typing at her keyboard; her uniform’s bright cyan and her name tag is shaped like a Wingull’s wing. The bags under her eyes are awfully dark, standing out when she sends you a long glance. “..You know the boss?”

”You could say that,” you respond vaguely. “How far’s the house?”

She shoves a couple flyers, tickets, and a set of room keys over the white marble desk. ”It’s about a ten minute walk from here.”

Emmet groans.

Undella’s hot. The sun bears down on you in a searing high-beam like the spotlights on that television set. Your baggage feels ten pounds heavier—mostly because Emmet nearly collapsed so you’re now carrying his luggage for him too.

Luckily, the further you walk the more scenic it gets, scenic enough for you to forget about the boiling heat. You cross onto a well-maintained boardwalk along the reed-framed waters, which sprawl into white sanded beaches as far as the eye can see.

When you arrive at The Frillish’s rental home complex, you realize you’ve scored quite the extravagant place.

The rental home sits beside two others on a private beach next to a veritable campus of restaurants, facilities, and even luxury spas. There are shuttles lined up to take you into town, a full bar alongside the beach, and when you open the door into your rental home you find it’s as big as the average family complex in wealthy Nimbasa suburbia.

“Arceus,” Elesa awes, her eyes wide as she drinks in the rental house’s fully furnished room. “What did you do for this guy again?”

”Ingo saved his life,” You inform her, mopping sweat off your brow and dropping both bags onto the hibiscus-patterned carpet. You nearly collapse to the floor as you cross under the air conditioning vent’s blessedly cool air.

Ingo huffs at you, adjusting his bag higher over his shoulder. ”You helped as well. I could not have succeeded without your assistance—” He finches as Emmet abruptly topples face-down on the couch. “Emmet, are you alright?”

Emmet muffles a long, disgruntled sigh into the couch cushions in response. The three of you stare at him for a moment.

”..I’ll get him some water,” You volunteer flatly.

Ingo and Elesa shuffle off to explore the other room as you rummage through the kitchen. It doesn’t take you long to find what you’re looking for—when you open the fridge you find a full pack of cool water bottles.

With a satisfied hum, you pull a few out and set them on the counter. You fill a small bowl of water for Emolga, who rushes to land onto the counter next to it with a fumbling splat.

Ingo and Elesa’s faint voices reverberate through the walls, though the former can clearly be heard as he says something about— “Comfortable,” and “Ask them—” but you’re not really listening. You grab a water bottle, cross the room, then crouch down next to Emmet, who’s turned over onto his back with one of his arms thrown over his heat-flushed face.

You peel his sweaty limb off his forehead and replace it with a cool water bottle. Emmet makes a noise at you, eyes shut as he reaches up to hold the bottle onto his face.

”Better?” You ask him.

”Mhm.” He returns, his breathing evening out. “I was hot. And also carsick.”

That’s a bad combo. You can sympathize. You’re briefly amazed that a man who spends all his time riding high-speed trains can get carsick, but decide not to say this aloud.

”Rest here for a bit,” You advise, patting his arm. “I’ll bring your luggage into the room.”

Emmet manages a grumbled ‘thank-you’ as you stand to grab the bags.

There’s a single room beside the cozy main foyer, its doorway marked with a seashell plate that reads ‘Sea you in the morning,’ in loopy font. It’s just the type of thing Elesa would like. As you nudge open the door with your foot, you find Ingo and Elesa hovering near two queen-sized beds next to another set of sliding glass doors to the beach.

Elesa’s fiddling with the floor-to-ceiling curtains, saying something offhandedly, but when she spots you she cuts herself off. “—Oh. Well, now we can ask.”

Ingo clears his throat and whirls around. You blink rapidly as he launches into a sudden explanation. “Hello! Elesa and I have explored the rest of the house! There is a furnished porch beyond the doors, a single bathroom with a bath and shower, but this is the only bedroom, so we’re working out sleeping arrangements—”

Which seems simple enough. Elesa’s clearly claimed the bed on the left, her bright yellow luggage sitting innocuously on the smoothed white sheets, and Ingo’s taken the bed on the right. You toss your stuff next to Ingo’s and fling Emmet’s things next to Elesa’s. The duffles smack dully onto the mattresses with two simultaneous thudding thumps.

Ingo goes completely silent, staring at you. You turn to stride out of the room again to grab the other water bottles off the kitchen counter.

When you return, the room’s still weirdly silent. Elesa’s turned her head away, shaking quietly, a hand pressed hard over her mouth.

“Don’t get dehydrated,” You tell them, setting the water bottles onto one of the nightstands. “Oh, I’m going to go check out the beach if you want to join.”

You leave the door open just a crack when you go and hear Elesa’s snickers slither through the door. You’re not entirely sure what she’s laughing about.

Emmet’s back on his feet when you emerge in the living room. He whirls around at your entrance with a brilliant smile.

You startle briefly. “Are you—?”

”Fine now!” Emmet cuts you off. “Thanks! You’re checking out the beach. I want to come with you.”

“Okay.” You agree easily.

“We should explore! We have the whole entire day!” Emmet exclaims. He’s right, it’s only mid-morning. “That secretary gave us two tickets to a marine show in town. There’s also a museum. We should also go swimming.”

“I want to go to a marine show!” Elesa shouts from the other room. She barrels out of the door with a flustered Ingo at her heels. “Where is it?! When?!”

“Soon! We should go! Plus we already have our swimsuits on!”

”Wait. Slow down,” Ingo cuts in, flushed.

“The boardwalk’s right outside,” You add, only spurring on Emmet and Elesa’s palpable enthusiasm. “I think I remember the way to the shuttles.”

”Let’s go! Let’s go!” Emmet cheers, grabbing your wrist and tugging you forward. You follow without protest. For someone who’d nearly keeled over mere moments ago he sure has a lot of energy.

“Emmet,” Starts Ingo, clearly still concerned, “Take it easy—“

Emmet practically launches out of the sliding doors, dragging you along with him. Your face scrunches as you exit the cool bubble of air conditioning and walk back into the veritable swamp of a morning.

Ingo latches onto your other hand and Elesa promptly clings onto his arm, then Emmet’s pulling all three of you onto the boardwalk in a ridiculous conga line.

“ALL ABOARD!” Emmet bellows. A few men and cyan blue polos point and stare, clearly recognizing him.

You sigh as you’re dragged along by your friend’s sweaty grip on your wrist. When you turn to look behind you, Ingo and Elesa appear close to laughter.

You nearly trip over a divot in the boardwalk.

”Eyes ahead!” Calls Emmet, and you whip your gaze to the front.

“The train is departing!” Yells Ingo behind you.

“Keep your limbs in the vehicle at all times!” Elesa crows, cupping her hand around her mouth.

Your footsteps thud into the smooth wood as the waves crash on the distant horizon. Emmet whirls his head around to stare at you expectantly, white light curling around his grinning face. You roll your eyes and tack on:

”Gooing up!”

Elesa hoots. Emmet cackles with laughter. You chug along in a line like a marching band until your footsteps thud together in-synch. The sun beams down in brilliant light that reflects off the rippling ocean like hundreds of miniature gemstones.

Then Emmet skids to an abrupt stop. You slam into his back, Ingo collides with you, and then Elesa crashes into him to form a squished, squirming mess of flailing limbs and crashing elbows.

”Em—!” You wrench your scrunched face out of his back, then squirm as one of Ingo’s arms bonks into your back. He erupts into a stream of unending apologies then tries to yank away, but Elesa’s pulled with him by the hair, squeaking in protest.

“I’m so sorry—” “Ingo stop apologizing it’s fine—” “—Stop moving! My hair is stuck in your lapel!”

It takes the three of you a solid minute to get untangled.

“Okay! I have re-routed our course!” Emmet exclaims, completely unfazed. He props his hands high on his hips. “Elesa and I will take tracks to the marine show. Then you and you,” He points to you and his twin brother, respectively. “Will go explore.”

“‘Explore?’” Ingo asks reluctantly.

“What I mean is you will have alone time. You can go on a date.” Emmet points a jabbing finger into your face and pokes the center of your forehead. “But you’re arriving at the beach by two to hang out with us. Got it?” He words this like it’s a threat.

“Okay.” You return with an air of disinterest. Emmet incessantly pokes your forehead until Ingo slaps his hand away with a loud smack!

The brothers stare at each other for a brief moment. Then they butt heads and begin shoving at each other’s shoulders, wrestling violently but pushing each other nowhere, expressions unchanged save for bulging veins in their brows.

“What a great start to a wonderful trip.” Elesa deadpans. She turns to you, her star-shaped sunglasses slipping down her nose. “Should we go see the marine show together instead—?”

“Wait. Wait,” Ingo shouts, lunging away from his brother. At the sudden lack of resistance, Emmet trips from his momentum and nearly falls flat on his face. Your partner grabs one of your arms and exclaims to the entire dock: “We’re going on a date!”

Silence. The words echo through the chattering of Wingull; quite a few passerby have stopped to stare. Ingo turns bright red, predictably. You begin flushing a bit yourself, but since Ingo’s the color of a firetruck no one seems to notice.

“Alright then,” Elesa says, laughing. “We’ll see you in four hours.”

“Ingo. You are the worst. I fell on my face.” Emmet snarks.

Ingo huffs indignantly, skin still flushed like a particularly bad sunburn. “You did not fall on your face, Emmet, do not be dramatic.”

“See you later,” you tack on politely.

With this odd goodbye Elesa and Emmet stride away down the boardwalk; the former easily matching the latter’s swinging strides with her long, lithe limbs.

Then you turn to find Ingo staring at you with his eyes wide and shiny. One of his sideburns is slicked sideways due to his impromptu wrestling match with Emmet and his frown crawls up one side of his face.

“We have four hours,” Ingo announces, his voice echoing through the salty open air. “Which is practically the entire day. Together.” He clears his throat loudly and appears to try and force his expression back into frowning neutrality. It does not work; his eyes are glittering, alive. “I have done some extensive research on the resort prior to our arrival and have come up with some suggestions as to what to do—“

He clears his throat again, cutting himself off, and sends you a fleeting glance. “..Though, I wish to get your input as well, of course.”

You read him easily. He clearly has some ideas in mind. You shrug casually and the motion makes him brighten; he brightens even more when you state, “I have no preferences.”

“Oh! Then,” Hastily, he rips a small parcel out of his pocket and flaps out the town map. “I would like to visit the history museum in the area first. Apparently there is a section on the cruise ships that used to run here about a decade ago, and they’ve recently added a new exhibit on the creation of the Marine Tube.” He looks at you in anticipation. “Does that sound acceptable?”

“Of course.”

Arceus help me, you think as he shakily grins and drops a casual kiss onto the top of your head. He could ask you to walk off a cliff and you’d do it with an agreeable smile on your face.

The day continues, and so does your absolute inability to refuse Ingo of anything. Rather like a Lillipup, he will find something he finds tasteful and rush to show it to you. Exhibits. Views. Odd shells on the beach. It turns out this also applies to his horrible taste in souvenirs.

”This would look lovely on you, dear,” He holds up a sequin-covered shirt with a cartoon Finizin on the front of it that looks vaguely like it was designed by an eight-year-old. “Doesn’t it get you in the vacation spirit?”

”..It sure does,” You return flatly. You glance around the tacky museum gift shop and clear your throat. “I don’t think I need any clothes, though. I came with a full suitcase—”

“We could buy matching vacation outfits!” Ingo exclaims excitedly as though you hadn’t even spoken. “I will pick one out for you!”

“Okay,” You agree without a second thought. Then your lips spasm together.

Ingo jitters with glee, his fist pumping up and down. It’s been a while since you’ve seen him so excited. “Stay here! I shall secure supplies and return to this station shortly!”

You have a feeling you are going to regret this.

On a normal afternoon on a normal day, you attempt to keep your humiliation off your face.

The outfit Ingo picked out for you includes a short-brimmed bucket hat with a floral flower pattern, a florescent pink rashguard, and a pair of swim trunks patterned like a touristy Alolan shirt. You are both matching down to your sequin-studded flip-flops that squeak obnoxiously with each step.

Quite a few people have stopped and stared at you on your traversal down the boardwalk. You walk alongside your partner, hand-in-hand; Ingo is also wearing a massive Lapras tube floatie he’d insisted you could both share when you ‘arrived at your destination.’ It bonks into your side every few minutes and nearly sends you sprawling off the side of the dock.

Somehow, Ingo does not notice the public’s incredulous gazes. Instead he glances at you every few seconds as though checking to see if you’re still wearing the exact same outfit as him. His mouth squiggles with joy each time he meets your eye and you have no choice but to smile back.

“Our outfits are wonderful,” He informs you brightly. “We are a two-car train.”

“Yep,” You say faintly.

The Lapras floatie bumps into your side. You would’ve been hip-checked into outer space by now if not for Ingo’s tight hold on your hand.

When you arrive at where Elesa and Emmet have set up camp, Emmet makes a loud, choking snorting sound that he disguises as a raucous cough. You feel your brow spasm together and force your face into pleasant neutrality.

“We have arrived at the beach!” Ingo exclaims, squeezing your hand with muted exhilaration. “All passengers please exit the vehicle!”

He steps down off the boardwalk and into the sand. His Lapras floatie makes a muted squeak.

“Ingo,” Elesa says with feeling. But it seems she, too, is reluctant to tell him. No longer this has gone on so long; it appears you are now guilty of perpetuating the cycle.

You glance at Ingo’s bright pink ensemble out of the corner of your eye. It's no wonder he wears the exact same uniform every day. He would scar everyone in the immediate vicinity otherwise. You have no idea how he’d grown up next to a world-renowned model yet developed an aesthetic sense this horrific.

But you do not say a word. You stand there in your ridiculous outfit as Ingo lets go of you and starts toward the water. Emmet sidles next to you with a grin so large it twists his eyes into wiggly crescents.

“I’m certain now.” Emmet whispers to you covertly. “You really are a huge softie. A massive pushover.”

“I am not.” You state, arms folded behind your back with your usual unreadable poise. This is only slightly dampened by your horrendous outfit.

”You are.” Emmet’s failing to hide his snickers. “Not just for your pokémon. But for Ingo.”

You glance away toward the stretching beach. “I am not a pushover for Ingo.”

”You avert your eyes when you lie,” Emmet states. “Ingo said so and he was right.”

You furiously pull the brim of your bucket hat lower over your face. Hasn’t he teased you enough?

”No.” Emmet states, as though reading your thoughts. “I am allowed to tease you as much as I want. You are verrry lucky to have me.” He pokes you in the side probingly. “ Someone had to delete that disgusting security footage of you two in the break room.”

You stiffen and stare at him. Emmet smiles back, crinkly closed-eyed, faux-amiable and fake-sweet. The realization hits you like a ton of bricks.

“Did you save that footage as blackmail?” you ask him faintly.

“I wouldn’t dare.” Emmet returns, that awful smile only getting wider. “I would neverrr blackmail my best friend and brother.”

You grab him by the collar and yank him down to your level, eyes huge and frown writhing into a snarl. “Delete it immediately.”

“Or what?” Emmet asks you casually as your hand shakes into a fist in the fabric of his Joltik-patterned sunshirt. “What are you going to do about it, Operator? We both know you can’t beat me in ba—AH! AH!”

You lift Emmet whole off the ground. Elesa turns around at his screams and she goes a bit bug-eyed as you grapple her brother into a fireman’s carry. Emmet flails and shrieks at the top of his lungs.

Your bucket hat falls off.

“I’ll delete it—I’LL DELETE IT!” He shouts, long limbs smacking around, “ARCEUS! INGO! ELESA! HELP! THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL ME—!”

You plant your heels in the sand. Elesa is already filming this on her Rotom phone, sputtering with laughter.

Ingo blinks, shifting his weight near the shoreline; the bright pink spandex of his rashguard shimmers as he glances at his writhing brother. ”I have a feeling they have a good reason to, Emmet.” He lifts his floatie higher around his waist. “They are not one to depart without a destination in mind.”

“NO!” Emmet’s expression must be terrified and desperate; not that you can see it yourself. “I am Emmet! You are wrong—!”

”I am going to throw your brother into the ocean, Ingo.” You inform your partner as Emmet shrieks and squirms over your shoulders. His fists pound into your arm and torso multiple times in quick succession. Despite his flailing, you do not budge.

Ingo glances at whatever expression is on your face, then nods. “Please conduct proper safety checks before departing!”

”Safety checks complete. All aboard,” You growl, kicking off your shoes and trudging toward the water like a Bibarel hauling a massive log.

Emmet’s arm smacks into the side of your head as he makes a horrible shrieking sound that rivals a squawking flock of Wingull nearby. “NO! NO! INGO! ELESA—!”

Elesa doubles over and wheezes with swallowed laughter somewhere behind you. You wade into the water up to your calves, foam lapping at your knees. Emmet’s pleas and cries for help are strangled into a squealing wheeze as you lug him off your shoulders, swing him into a bridal carry, and fling him about three feet in the air.

For a moment he is weightless, floating. Then his limbs sprawl about him and he lets out a long, high-pitched scream until he hits the water with a smacking splash.

You belatedly cover your face as you’re hit with a spattering spray of sea foam and have to blink some saltwater out of your eyes.

”Dear!” Ingo calls from the shore, hand cupped around his mouth. He seems unconcerned as his brother slowly floats prone to the surface of the water. “Please come over here. We will have to board this floatie together!”

Emmet ends up swiftly getting revenge. After you and Ingo haphazardly cram together atop the Lapras tube, he has an easy time flipping you over multiple times. Elesa joins you in the water but refuses to get her hair wet until Hydreigon’s playful Surf makes that wish a fool’s errand.

“Hydreigon is the only pokémon here who knows Surf.” Emmet states at one point. He rubs some dripping water off his face as he bobs in his stolen Lapras floatie, Eelektross swimming happy circles around him. “How is that possible. They are not even a water-type.” He slaps at the side of his floatie, then addresses you: “I have always wondered. Where does the water even come from.”

”It’s their slobber.” You return immediately. Hydreigon drools into the water next to you as though proving your point.

”I hate that answer.” Your friend states. You can hardly see him through the shroud of sopping wet hair stuck to your face and suddenly wish to shave your head like he and his twin did. It looks incredibly practical.

“Pokémon can do strange and wonderful things.” Ingo returns on your other side, shifting as he stands in the water, foam lapping at his chin. “Just yesterday, Chandelure fazed through a wall. She has been my partner for over two decades and I did not know she could do that.”

”Charjabug can eat just about anything and be fine,” You tack on, running your hand through your dripping hair. Pieces flop into your face regardless.

Elesa nods with a hum. “Zebstrika can run at the speed of sound. I only found this out when he shattered all my windows.”

“..This is starting to get less amazing and more concerning,” Emmet slaps the squeaky plastic of his floatie a few more times. Eelektross pokes her head out of a shifting wave with a happy gurgle; her trainer glances at her dully. “Do you think if Eelektross used Discharge right now he would kill us?”

“Yeah, uh, maybe we should change the subject,” Elesa says with a nervous laugh. “This is some sea-rious stuff.”

She yelps as Emmet flutter-kicks a huge wave of water into her face.

The pair immediately start a splash war as Ingo huffs noisily and sloshes out of the way.

Another wave pushes you sideways and you glance at Ingo as you paddle to stay in place. Unlike your partner, you have to tread water to keep your head above the surface, which is growing quickly tiring. You bob above another slow-moving tide with a frustrated breath and a geyser from Elesa’s flailing arm spatters up your nose.

Frustrated, you swim over to Ingo’s back and latch onto his shoulders. Your partner stiffens at the sudden touch. He hardly says a word, and, like that day in your office, turns his head away as redness creeps up his neck. He doesn’t run or push you away, though.

Instead, he treads through the water further away from his sibling’s squabble and into a peaceful, pulling tide, where schools of Finneon dance away from your feet in the clear water. It’s peaceful here. The matching patterns of your ridiculous swim trunks meld together beneath the surface as though you’re some strange four-legged creature.

Ingo reaches up and places a hand over your arms, fingers tracing down to your quivering hands locked over his chest. The wave pushes you closer into his back; you rest your chin on his shoulder, huffing a sigh as stinging saltwater dribbles off the side of your jaw.

“Ingo,” you mumble next to his ear, watching water make a slow trail down the side of his neck, “Does my touch make you uncomfortable?”

”Of course not,” Ingo returns immediately, likely sensing the gravity in your voice. “Why would you ever think that?”

You clasp your hands tighter together over his chest; you feel his hand brush over your wrist. He does not touch anywhere near your scars.

“You haven’t wanted to kiss me,” You mumble, voice growing lower. You tuck your forehead onto his shoulder, watch seawater swirl under your nose, lap up against his back. “..I was worried I’d done something to upset you.”

Ingo grows stiff and quiet. Your hands shake beneath his.

“..Do you dislike it?” Falling quieter until it’s a mere whisper, your voice takes on a vulnerable tone you hardly recognize. “..Kissing me.”

You could understand why. Your first kiss had been lackluster from an objective standpoint, and despite your enjoyment you’re uncertain if he’d felt the same. Then after that disastrous news experience perhaps he’s felt awkward kissing in any capacity—perhaps you’d overwhelmed him, perhaps you’d overstepped.

In the end, you still can’t understand it. Why he loves you so, why he returns your feelings. You’re inexperienced, overly polite, near-emotionless, and unendingly off-putting. Certainly not the sort of things someone would wish for in a partner.

Perhaps you’ve actually misread him. Perhaps he’s changed his mind. Perhaps he simply wishes to remain friends who wear matching clothes and hang out and that’s all—and you want to be fine with that, you want to, but the thought makes your heart roil inside of you like it’s ripping out of your chest.

You bury your face further into his shoulder, and the trembles quake up to your elbows, your shoulders, your torso, until you’re creating a series of ripples like a stone plopping into the still water.

Ingo’s still quiet, so quiet it’s obvious how your voice shakes, the same way the waves shuffle distantly on the blustery shore. You take a deep breath. “If..if you’ve changed your mind,”

”My dear,” Ingo says softly, fingers tapping at your arm, “I believe you have deeply misunderstood me.”

You pause, still shaking. Ingo’s thumb rubs up and down your wrist. He brings one of your hands close to his face and kisses the back of your palm; you twitch, your other hand curling into the fabric of his rash guard.

Ingo swallows harshly. “I have been holding myself back.”

You stiffen. “..What?”

Ingo’s neck and ears are about as pink as your matching rash guards. “I felt as though I was.” He swallows. “Kissing you. Much too often. Elesa brought it to my attention that overprotectiveness and clinginess are undesirable traits in a partner, so I wished to refrain from overwhelming you—”

She was probably only teasing and he clearly misinterpreted her. He turns his head away from yours though you can’t see his face regardless; his hand squeezes yours tightly, redness curling over his clenched knuckles.

“The feeling grew more intense after the..the incident at the news station, after you said those things to me. I have been..” He clears his throat. “I have been so distracted I can’t think about work. I can’t think about anything else but you. So I made excuses to visit you on multiple occasions, yet I couldn’t..”

“Oh,” You say faintly.

“I tried not to be ‘clingy.’ But I see my actions have had the opposite effect. I just—I cannot be imprudent as I fear I will offend you. I do not want to ruin things. If I act on my desires—”

”What,” Your hands tremulously curl into his shirt. “Are your desires?”

Ingo pauses. You stare beyond his head, where the waves lap shadows into the sand. Elesa and Emmet laugh somewhere beyond, their voices fading into the wind.

Your partner turns and you loosen your hold until he’s wrapped you in his arms, holding you afloat in the deep water. Pink and blue colors flash through the water; fins tickle the sides of your legs. Ingo brushes some damp hair away from your face.

“I want to kiss you,” He holds you close to him, thumb brushing away saltwater on your cheek. “Whenever I see you, I want to kiss you until you turn red.”

You stare at him. You feel as though your skin is boiling off.

“Ah—yes.” Ingo blinks a few times, bobbing in the water. “Red. Just like that.” His face warps into a strange, squiggly smile you’ve never seen before. “Does that sound acceptable?”

You duck your head out of his hold and dunk yourself into the water.

”Dear!” Ingo makes a croaking sound like a laugh as you squirm and splash out under his hold. “Where are you—“ His voice grows warped and muffled as you submerge under the surface. “Wai—!”

You attempt to swim away. there’s a muted, rumbling splashing sound, water rushing, shifting around you, then arms snake around your waist and lurch you up and out of the water.

You make an undignified, muffled shriek. Your ears clear into rushing air, into the sound of Ingo’s laughter. It’s loud, unabashed, and booming, and your heart’s thudding so hard you feel as though you’ve been captured in the unrelenting jaws of a Sharpedo.

Ingo grins up at you, his chin pressed into your bare stomach where your rashguard has ridden up to your chest. He holds you up by your waist, wobbling dangerously, and you frantically plant your hands on his shoulders in a useless attempt to keep him upright.

Ingo seems to realize his mistake the same time you do—he begins toppling backwards, unable to hold your weight. “Ah—ah, the train is derai—!”

Your vision explodes into eruptions of white and blue water. Strangely, once you are submerged, the pressure of water leaves your face, and you feel cool air gust against your cheeks. Ingo’s arms leave your waist.

You open your eyes.

Light streams down through the clear, reflective surface above your head. Scattering spots of Finneon brush by with flickering fins. You turn your gaze upward, seeing currents twist around the protective bubble of oxygen around your head, conjured by a school of Luvdisc that twirl and flit around you with warbling, muffled chirps, glowing with watery magic.

The water is shallow; your knees kick up white gusts of sand. You look to see Ingo floating across from you, his mouth open in awe. He flails through the water and reaches toward you to take your hands; when you meet each other’s wide eyes you both smile, two matching, wobbly grins.

You both reach for each other at the same time. The Luvdisc chitter happily, bumping against your sides, coaxing you closer. Ingo’s eyes soften, gray cut through with wavering streaks of blue, as he wraps his arms around your waist in a slow embrace.

The bubbles around your heads collide and pop.

You both lurch up to the surface at the same time, sputtering, coughing, wiping saltwater out of your squeezed-shut eyes. Ingo makes a choked laughing sound and blindly reaches out to yank you into his chest; the two of you sink back into the warm water, holding each other.

You’re huffing, chuckling, and through your squinting eyes you can see the blobby, pink forms of the Luvdisc flit near your feet as Ingo’s hand rubs away saltwater on your cheek, threads through your hair, cups the back of your head. Water drips off his thin lashes, drags down the side of his sharp nose.

He pulls your head in close to his and presses your foreheads together. You close your eyes.


Ingo lurches back with a splash. The Luvdisc scatter. You stumble to stand against the waves as you sink into the thick sand and find Emmet standing at the shoreline, a small figure in yellow with a huge, beaming grin.

“We got sandwiches and co*cktails!” He exclaims, hands cupped around his mouth.

“Okay!” You say, loud enough that your voice carries into the wind. “We’ll be right there!”

Ingo huffs and follows you as you begin to wade out of the water, kicking and sloshing up sand and foam. Then his hand snakes around your waist and stops you short at the shore.

You pause as he gently tugs your rash guard down over your stomach, which had ridden up again during your swim.

“Oh. Thank you,” You say faintly.

Ingo hums dismissively. He leans over you to press a kiss into the center of your forehead. It must taste salty, but he does not complain.

Then he ambles back onto the sand, over toward the towels and baskets of food Emmet and Elesa collected for lunch, greeting his siblings with an amiable shout.

You stare after him, skin tingling, waves lapping at your ankles. Your hand comes up to faintly touch the soaked fabric of your swim shirt. For some reason his simple gestures of kindness always leave you breathless.

Ingo turns to blink at you questioningly.

“Dear?” Water on his face glimmers like a gem. “Elesa got you a co*cktail. Would you like to try it?”

You step out from the warm waves, slosh through the hot sand. “Yes,” you return, agreeing ever-so easily. And the first thing you do is reach for his hand.

Surprisingly, you are a lightweight. With only one fruity co*cktail in your system, you have fallen asleep on the beach. Ingo should have predicted this after you’d passed out at the Delibird Day party after only two glasses of wine.

The sun lolls low at the end of the shoreline, orange stripes peeling over the waves where Elesa and Emmet kick a ball around with Eelektross, Hydreigon, and Emolga. How they still have the fuel to chug along like this, Ingo doesn’t know.

He’s slouching lazily, sitting propped against the Lapras floatie on a blanket in the warm, pale sand, his hand buried in your salt-crusted hair as you and Charjabug snooze next to him. He’s close to drifting off himself, watching the sun burn into the edge of the ocean, watching it split itself into wavering stripes of light.

When he isn’t watching his siblings or the sunset, he’s watching you. You’d discarded your damp rashguard before falling asleep, your bare skin haloed in gold sun, your face lax and smoothed of all shadows and wrinkles. Your hand curls into the fabric of his swim trunks; you tuck your forehead into the side of his hip and let out a low sigh.

Hydreigon waggles their tail and smacks the ball with a spray of sand. Emmet runs after it with a happy yell. Ingo tucks some half-damp hair behind your ear and your lashes twitch.

The sun splits into hundreds of searing stripes upon the water. Ingo watches as Elesa yelps, as Eelektross launches the ball high into the four-toned sky. Then he looks at you, at the way the sun traces up over your waist, the way its warm light curls under your tucked, soft chin.

He can’t keep his eyes off you. He’s been utterly off-track ever since you’d called him—

“Love,” You mumble, eyes fluttering halfway open, “What time ‘issit?”

—That. Ever since you called him that. Ever since you’d held him in that ridiculous dressing room, said that’s good, love, that’s good, kissed his cheeks, kissed away his tears. Held him in your arms as though it were completely natural to do.

“It’s—it’s evening.” He can’t help the way his voice shakes as you lazily push yourself upright, head lolling, glimmers of your irises peeking through each half-lidded blink. He pushes more hair away from your face. He watches your lips part with a soft breath. The sunset curls around you until you are a beam of golden warmth. Again, he resists the urge to kiss you. “We’ll head back to the house soon.”

You make a humming noise and crawl closer to him. Then you rest your head down on his shoulder.

“Ingo?” You say softly, clutching onto the end of his shirt.

His hand pauses near your ear. “Yes, dear?”

Your voice, revent and sleepy, carries over the distant sounds of the waves, over the whistling, humid wind, even over his sibling’s bright laughter. “I love you.”

And Ingo’s done for. He’s utterly done for. He shakes as he dips sideways to press a kiss into your briney hair. He picks a fleck of sand off your scalp, rubs away some streaky sunscreen on your jaw, and as you blink sleep crust out of your eyes and lift your head to smile at him he finds you to be the most lovely human being he’s ever, ever seen.

“I love you too.”

Your smile spreads further into a muted grin. Since you seem comfortable with his kisses, he leans over and presses his lips to yours. The kiss tastes like salt, like rosewater, like sweet alcohol—it tastes like you.

The Battle Hotel, Nimbasa. 14:50.

The lobby is on fire.

Aipom smiles happily, kicking his little legs from where he sits propped on a nearby secretary desk. At his side, Skitty lounges, her tail flickering every so often as sparks of flame lick at the dark red carpeting.

This fire is entirely their fault, yet neither will take accountability for their actions, instead watching their trainers—Operator Randy and Secretary Nancy—frantically try to put out the flames with disinterested, sniffing chitters.

“Good god,” Intones Secretary Janet, her glasses lopsided and sagging down her face. She’d been shoved by a journalist on her way in the doors only to walk in on a veritable hellscape of a lobby.

Aipom giggles and tickles Skitty’s side. Skitty lunges forward and slaps him across the face.

Danny, resident café manager, scrubs his hands over his head furiously, dislodging his hairnet. “What are we supposed to do if the boss comes back from their honeymoon to this?!”

“For the last time, the boss isn’t married.” Janet corrects listlessly. She attempts to fix her broken glasses. One of the lenses is completely shattered.

Floor Boss Junie rolls her eyes. “They might as well be. Yesterday I saw them and Ingo—“

“Shut up.” States Bellhop Charles, looking a little green. “Spare me the details or I will throw up all over you.”

Junie appears miffed by this evident threat, but she understands the sentiment. It can be nauseating to watch two usually reserved, fully-grown adults pine and swoon over each other as though they’d been ripped from a page of a shoujo manga.

She meets Charles’ eyes, and for the first time in their lives, the pair share a nod in disgusted solidarity.

Operator Randy begins batting at the fire with his arms. This does nothing but make him look like a crazed cult worshiper bowing at a bonfire.

”Help!” He yells.

Aipom giggles happily. The flames rage on.

Janet stares listlessly at the chaos around her. Journalists shout and thud against the adjacent windows. Secretary Nancy shrieks and dumps a glass of milk into the fire for some reason. “I don’t want this! I hate this!” She exclaims fearfully.

Growing desperate, Janet searches the room for Hilda, but their competent ex-Champion secretary hasn’t arrived yet. Someone else needs to put out the fire before they let in the crowds.

”I should make some more sandwiches,” Danny bumbles.

”Danny, just let out your Panpour,” Says Janet with a huge sigh. She’s seconds away from handing in her resignation letter. However, there is currently no one to hand that letter to. You, her boss, are somewhere in Undella lounging in a beach chair and sipping a nice fruity co*cktail with a paper umbrella in it. That’s what she imagines, anyway.

It’s a well deserved vacation, but Janet has no idea what to do and the lobby is still on fire. Plus, the crowd of guests and news reporters outside is so big it threatens to break through the windows.

Should she call you? No. She must resist. She turns her head and flatly watches Aipom and Skitty dance circles around the bonfire of flames. Nancy frantically dumps another glass of milk into it.

Then Danny's Panpour ambles forward and sends a huge wave of water gushing into the lobby, completely soaking the seared carpets. Randy collapses to his knees and clutches his head while Skitty and Aipom dance around him. Nancy swigs the last of her milk as though chugging straight whisky.

All the while, the crowd outside is only getting worse. Janet squints. “Why is this happening?”

“I think it’s because of that article!” Danny exclaims, his hands propped on his hips as he sends a self-satisfied smile toward the roiling mob.

“What article?” She snarls, growing impatient.

Danny grins over his shoulder. “The one by that little reporter who visited last week!”

“..What the hell did he say?” Charles manages distantly, staring gobsmacked at the crowd as it only continues to grow. It’s nearly thrice as big as it was last week, bumbling reporters and impatient guests scrambling over each other like a stunted gaggle of Falinks trying to form a disjointed line.

“I don’t know, but,” Janet grumbles begrudgingly, but there’s a glint of anticipation in her eyes. “I have a feeling we’re going to get pretty busy.”

“This is way above my paygrade,” Charles grumbles. Junie gives his arm a sympathetic pat.

Regardless, it’s just another day at the Battle Hotel. These employees have done this song and dance hundreds of times. They move like a well-oiled machine beneath the glittering gold lights, sweeping mops and dusters and pushing great glimmering luggage carts into an organized line. Chattering quietly, they brace themselves with a series of boisterous cheers and resounding shouts.

”Well,” Janet steps forward, rolling her shoulders back. “It’s time to face the music.”

“They’re really not back yet?” You ask, rubbing a towel over your damp hair.

Fresh from the shower, you feel nearly overheated, beads of water tickling near your chin. You and Ingo had left the beach first; it’s been about an hour, but Elesa and Emmet have not returned. The sun went down ages ago.

“It appears not.” Ingo, however, seems unconcerned, sending a single glance toward the darkness beyond the sunroom’s wide windows from where he sits reading on the couch. “They will be fine. The resort is quite safe.”

You hum, padding across the room. You use the end of the towel around your shoulders to mop the remaining water off your face then let it slip to rest around your neck like a scarf over your sweater.

Charjabug huffs a greeting at you from where he sits on Ingo’s lap, providing a good stand for your partner’s softcover book. The title reads The Structures of Locomotives in blocky font. Ingo appears quite invested; he doesn’t even react when you sit down right next to him and squeeze into his side like a Komala bear.

The towel slips lower down your front as you shift and lean your head onto Ingo’s shoulder. If the dampness of your hair bothers him, he doesn’t show it. He simply adjusts himself and continues reading, Charjabug’s soft snores filling the room.

You reach to adjust your towel but pause. With your head tucked on your partner’s shoulder, you can’t exactly see or feel where the towel is. You turn your head downward and abort the motion, dropping your hands palms-up on your lap.

The scars on your palms glare up at you, strange and blinding, contrasting sharply with the dark fabric of your sweatpants.

You watch the tips of your fingers twitch. You’ve grown used to their numbness—a harrowing thought. Now, as you stare, you’re aware of it again, feeling a tingly, fuzzy absence as your fingers curl together.

You wonder if your knuckles crack or creak. You wonder if the insides are as strange and warped as the skin lining your palms. With one shaking hand, you smooth unthinkingly over them, over their bunched reddened ridges and their stretched divots of mangled whiteness.

“..Are you seeing a doctor for those?” Ingo asks suddenly. You twitch, looking up to find his head trained toward your hands.

You quickly turn your palms face-down again. Smaller, shorter scars twist around your knuckles. The backs of your hands are tamer. Much less gruesome.

Your next breath shudders so you swallow it down. “..I have an appointment for when we get back.”

“I see.” Ingo returns. His gaze lingers for another moment, then he goes back to his book. “That’s good.”

You nod, head sinking further into his shoulder. You shuffle closer, closing your eyes and taking a grounding breath. Silence falls, the sounds of distant waves crashing and Ingo’s pages turning a pleasing background noise. You try to settle your thudding heart.


You shift your head. “..Yes?”

“How about we do something you like? To make you feel better.” Ingo slaps his book shut so swiftly you feel wind from it gust your face.

Charjabug snorts awake. As your partner shifts you’re forced to hold your own head upright.

“We can’t just do things I like.” Ingo sets The Structures of Locomotives on the coffee table; you squint open your eyes to find him sending you a weighted look. “I noticed you were extremely agreeable with our activities today. To an uncanny degree. You did not voice any of your own opinions.”

“..I like doing the things you like to do,” You mumble unthinkingly, closing your eyes again. “I like seeing you happy.”

Ingo sits there silently at a distance that feels leagues away from you. You attempt to lean your head against the couch cushion, but it’s a poor substitute. You make a grumbly noise, pawing for him. “Come back. You’re warm.”

“I want to dance with you.”

You snap awake, shooting upright. Ingo’s sitting there, half-turned toward you, hands on his lap and posture ramrod straight with a flat, no-nonsense expression on his face.

You gulp at him like a Magikarp. “You want to dance with me?”

Ingo nods gravely. “I’ve been practicing.”

Your eyes go huge. “You’ve been practicing?”

Ingo blinks at you a few times. You reluctantly lean back from where you’d lunged forward in your shock.

“..Yes.” He clears his throat into his fist as pink dusts over his cheeks and nose. “I practiced often. So that I would be a better dancing partner for you.”

“I see.” You say, averting your eyes in faux disinterest. When you sneak a glance at your partner you find a self-satisfied, wobbly smile on his face—the same one he wore in the water. Heat billows over your ears. “That’s..very kind of you.”

“Will you dance with me?”

Your face scrunches with roiling disbelief, with hundreds of fluttering sparking things, all caught up and tied tight in your chest cavity. “Here? With me?”

“Here.” He returns seriously. “With you.”

Your voice grows quieter. “..Right now?”

Ingo wordlessly brings out his phone as Charjabug squirms off his lap. In seconds, a low, lilting symphony spills from the device’s tinny speakers—it’s one of the songs you’d danced to at the Delibird Day party. You’d thought he’d agreed to dance out of obligation, as it clearly wasn’t something he felt comfortable doing. But now—

Ingo rises from the couch and steps in front of you. He has a soft smile on his face as he offers you his hand.

You simply stare at it, then up at his face. You remain motionless.

“Sometimes I do not understand you,” Ingo notes lightly. “Do you believe I would refuse to dance with you? That I would give up a chance to make you happy, as you so often make me?”

Your face twists into something that feels foreign. Like there’s a welling geyser in your forehead, bursting up under your chin that you’re trying to hold back.

“What sort of face is that?” Ingo says with a chuffing laugh. He moves his hand a bit closer, coaxing. “Please stand up so I can see you.”

Your scarred hand rises to rest carefully in his smooth one. His fingers close around yours, a distant pressure. He helps you to your feet.

But he does not start dancing. The music pangs and skips around you, but he simply stares, still holding your hand. Your face continues to purse beyond your control. Ingo’s other hand touches your jaw, to tilt your face upward so you meet his eyes.

“I’m trying to memorize this expression,” He says quietly, his thumb running along your cheek.

“Why?” You return haltingly.

Ingo continues to stare, his smiling face close to yours. “I’ve never seen you look so happy.”

Your face burns with a sudden shyness. Unprompted, Ingo’s hands move to curl around your waist.

“Are you ready?” He asks.

You take position on autopilot with a jerking nod. He leads you around the coffee table, to pace close around the living room. You stare at the sagging collar of his shirt, moving mindlessly, feeling lighter than air.

Ingo leads you in a circle; you let him. The music slows then quickens. Charjabug chirps happily as Ingo raises his arm to spin you, as you step forward to return to him again.

You lose yourself in the simple motions. Alone in this warm room, Ingo’s movements are much more fluid. His steps align with yours and he follows you with ease, then he paces with confidence when he takes the lead. Beyond his shoulder you see the dark ocean melt into a ink-black sky under the huge, beaming eye of the moon.

Soon the dance whittles down into nothing, into shuffling, into mere rocking back and forth—he simply wraps his arms around you and holds you close to him.

His heartbeat, too, has its own song. A song you love—a song you could listen to for hours. Thudding against your ear through the distant crashing of waves. It is a song uniquely his own.

“..Your box step has gotten much better.” You praise quietly, lifting your head off his chest. “I would say..”

You trail off at the look on his face.

Ingo’s not leaning down to kissing you, not proclaiming any grand declarations of love—he’s just looking at you, he’s been looking at you, and somehow this makes you incredibly nervous.


Ingo stares into your eyes as though watching light move deep within your iris, as though searching your gaze for his reflection in the same way the moon gazes down at the water. And when he looks at you like this your heart roils as though begging to be let out. Your ribcage closes in on itself. The heat of your body rushes to your face in an overwhelming wave.

You hide the shake in your voice with a huff. “..What is it?”

“Nothing,” Ingo says loudly, cupping your face.

“It doesn’t seem like nothing.”

“It’s nothing,” Ingo promises. A distant harp pangs a lazy tune through the staticy speakers of his phone. Ingo threads his hand into your hair. You can’t look away from his face, frozen, as he leans closer and hugs you into him.

His hand shifts, cradles the back of your head. His other arm squeezes you closer at the small of your back. The music slows, muted and muffled as though heard hundreds of miles underwater. Something in your chest buoys upward, warm and popping.

Ingo pulls away. He still has that look on his face. His hand slides to your cheek, thumb brushing beneath your eye.

“What is it?” You ask again, voice slightly hoarse. “You can tell me.”

Instead of telling you, he presses his forehead into yours and closes his eyes. You’re not dancing any longer. Ingo lightly kisses your cheek, the side of your nose, your hairline—still slightly damp—and then he buries his face into your shoulder.

“I’m never going to be able to hit the brakes.” He mumbles into your shirt.

“Pardon?” Your brow pinches as you’re squished further into him. Ingo hums, shakes his head, and then nuzzles into the side of your neck.

You hesitantly reach up to tap at his upper back. Charjabug, on the couch behind you, lets out a questioning gurgle.

Ingo’s breath ghosts the skin of your neck. He pauses there. Then he abruptly lurches upright, pushing you back by the shoulders and changing the subject. “It is time to take the tracks to bed!”

The waves crash faintly beyond the doors. You blink at him in a silent query. “..Shouldn’t we wait for Emmet and Elesa?”

“They appear to be running on a different schedule.” Your partner sends the dark horizon another glance. “They have a tendency to stay up late when we are on vacation. Last time we took a trip..” He shakes his head and huffs noisily. “I am certain they will return at some point, but for now, we should perform our routine maintenance and prepare to dock for the night.”

“..Okay,” You shift in place as he drops his arms. “I’ve already brushed my teeth. Are you alright if Charjabug sleeps with us?”

Ingo stares at you mutely for a solid six seconds, his arms halfway lowered to his sides. Then he appears to remember something. His eyes go huge as a squiggling, crimson-red fluster crests across his face.

You quickly grow worried again. “In—?”

“OF COURSE!” He bellows, so loud Charjabug squeaks and nearly falls off the couch. Your partner spasms in place and quickly clears his throat. “I—apologize for raising my voice. Of course he may. I will prepare to dock and meet you shortly!”

He turns on his heel and stiffly strides into the bedroom. You hear the bathroom door click shut once he’s inside.

You look over at Charjabug. Charjabug looks back at you.

“Bug,” Your pokémon informs you.

“What?” You return. You blink a few times, realizing. “Ah, you’re right. I forgot to wish Hydreigon and Chandelure goodnight.”

Charjabug sighs. Perhaps that was not what he was trying to tell you. Regardless, you pad over to the hovering Hydreigon and Chandelure.

Hydreigon snuggles and nuzzles into your cheek as you tuck them into a pile of blankets on the couch. When you give Chandelure a kiss on the head when she settles in next to them, you become suspiciously sleepy, but you decide to let this slide since it’s bedtime anyway.

You’re already nodding off the moment you bury yourself under the bed’s downy covers. Charjabug curls up on your pillow, just behind your head.

There are a few muted shuffling sounds, padding footsteps. The bed dips and creaks. A breath ghosts near your face; Ingo’s voice says your name.

You exhale a long breath. Ingo shuffles around. The covers shift.

He says your name again, and when you continue to not respond, he makes a disgruntled noise.

“‘Ngo,” You shuffle, mumbling sleepily. “Mm..sorry. Am I..too close?”

Another long pause. You reluctantly peel open your heavy eyes to two bright lights beaming in spotty darkness. Ingo’s glowing eyes flicker as he looks away from your half-lidded gaze.

“No.” He turns his head into the pillow, mumbling, “I wanted you closer.”

Oh, you think woozily. You scoot the slightest bit closer. Charjabug makes a disgruntled groaning noise and wiggles so his side presses near your head again.

“I can..lay right here.” You murmur. “Is this good?”

Ingo’s hand slides around your lower back. “This is good.”

His hands tremble. You reach around him, laying your arm around his waist and exhaling a contented sigh. Ingo carefully squeezes you. Your forehead tucks into his chest as you feel his other arm snake under you, curling around your shoulders.

“..This okay?” You ask again, voice slow and quiet.

Ingo makes a humming noise in assent. You wiggle closer until you’ve buried your face into the warm fabric of his shirt, numb hands curling into his back. He exhales a shaking breath and presses a kiss into the top of your head.

You wake to hushed whispers and giggling. Light streams in from the windows, cresting directly into your eyes. You squint them shut with a disgruntled huff, trying to hide your face back into the warm thing engulfing every inch of you. Hydreigon, perhaps. You tuck your face back into the soft fabric around them, feeling their breath rise and fall beneath your cheek. The giggles continue.

There’s a small snapping sound like the click of a camera shutter. A muted, high-pitched, Emmet, shh! Until the noises scatter into silence.

Hydreigon shifts, their arm squeezing around your shoulder blade. Hydreigon does not have arms. You peel your eyes open to Ingo’s head resting mere inches above your face.

Sleepy and calm, your eyes flutter shut and you reverently snuggle closer to tap the top of your head into the bottom of his chin. You feel his arms subconsciously squeeze around you as he shakes with a low snore.

A snort. With an exasperated huff you squint open your eyes and turn your head.

Emmet and Elesa’s faces hover a mere foot above you. “Comfortable?” Emmet asks you humorously.

You make a grumbly noise and turn to shut your eyes again.

At the sound of Emmet’s voice, Ingo shifts onto his back. One of his arms slides out from around you as he blearily blinks toward the noise. You try to doze off again, but hate how he’s moved away, so retaliate by wrapping yourself into his side like an Octillery and exhaling a long, drawn-out breath into the side of his chest.

“What are you two doing,” Ingo states at his normal volume. Which is a barreling boom you feel reverberate through your entire body. Ingo’s siblings giggle and you can only mumble dejectedly as the last vestiges of sleepiness leave you. So much for sleeping in.

“Please stop taking pictures,” He continues, just as loud. “You are not paparazzi,”

“It’s like documenting a rare species,” Elesa jokes.

“I’ll send them to you later, Ingo,” Emmet promises.

“I do not want them. Take tracks elsewhere.”

“You’re no fun,” Elesa complains. “Hurry up and get out of bed. We want to get breakfast.”

There are some muffled chattering sounds as Emmet and Elesa squabble about something, then shuffling feet, then a slamming door.

It’s quiet for a moment. Quiet enough you nearly drift off again.

“Dear?” Ingo calls. You feel the bed dip as he turns back toward you. He pokes your cheek. “..Are you awake?”

You make a muffled hum of assent. You feel a beam of sunlight warm your back from the floor-to ceiling windows across the room. Ingo’s hand toys with the blanket pooled over your waist, then his thumb rubs into the bare skin on your hip where your shirt’s ridden up. You squeeze your arm closer around him and bury your face in his chest.

“It’s time to get up,” he coaxes above your head. He lightly squeezes your hip. “Dear,”

You mumble something incomprehensible.

“We have a full schedule today.” Ingo continues. “It will be lots of fun. But we cannot depart if you have not released your brakes.”

You want to stay here. You want to stay here forever in this warm room, this soft bed with smooth sheets, with his arm wrapped around you. Clean, warm, safe. You nudge your head into him, curling toward him with a low sigh.

“Love,” Ingo murmurs.

You pause. Lift your head blearily. As you do, lips press into your forehead and breath slides to your cheek. The kisses continue down the side of your face. You blink, and another lands below your eye. You blink again, and another presses against your parted lips.

You make some sort of muffled noise. Ingo smushes your face into his as though folding clay. His hands paw at your face, your temples, fold and grab at the back of your head, and kisses you so long you forget to breathe, hands gripping and pulling at his shirt. You gasp when he pulls away, dizzy, blinking rapidly.

You refocus on his face, his eyes half-lidded, his mouth closing in on yours again. I want to kiss you until you turn red.

His hand cups your jaw. It runs down your side, rests on your waist. All the skin he touches feels hot, as though the brush of his fingers have set every inch of you aflame. You’re lightheaded, boiling alive, quivering and feeling faint.

“In—“ You can’t even say his name. Your hands shake, twisted into his shirt. Not once have you let go of him, not once have his eyes left your flaming face.

He leans forward, up, over you, casting you in shadow, his arms caged around your head. Golden light casts around him in a single blinding streak. He looks awed, eyes wide, drinking you in. “..You’re blushing so much.”

You try to say, you surprised me, but all that comes out of your lips is a strangled croak; he muffles the sound when he kisses you again. It sucks all the breath out of your lungs as his lips press away, up your jawbone, onto your cheek.

“I like it when you make faces like this,” He murmurs into your skin. You distantly wonder how unreadable you must usually be if a simple blush garners this much of a reaction.

“Ingo,” you manage, pushing him back, “don’t we have to get up—?”

You wheeze a stunted breath as Ingo all but collapses on top of you. Your hands grapple to grip at his back. “In— ugh —Ingo,”

Ingo huffs a long, contented exhale, cheek pressing into your chest. He is all but crushing you with his body. “Ingo,” you call again; it comes out much less stern than you’d like as your shaking fingers curl into the fabric of his shirt.

“I want to keep waking up next to you,” Ingo murmurs.

Your chest collapses a little.

“I, ah,” Your voice is a strangled whisper. You blink rapidly at the ceiling with a stunted inhale. “Sure.”

Ingo lifts himself off your chest. He pulls himself further over you. He has a hazy look in his eyes as he leans in and says, “I also want to kiss you again.”

Your whole face scrunches into an absolutely humiliating expression, warped and hot and trembling. If he kisses you again you're going to lose your mind —his lips brush your nose, and, frantic, you grab his arms, lurch forward, flip him, and slam him down into the mattress with an audible thud.

Ingo stares up at you, the sheets splayed under his head like the crater of a miniature explosion. You stare back, pinning his shoulders down beneath your hands.

“I’m—I’m sorry, I—“ You cut yourself off. For some reason Ingo’s frown warps into that weird, dopey grin.

“What?” You ask scathingly, back haunching like a Delcatty’s.

He calls your name, a playful note to his tone, then wordlessly taps at his lower lip, a mimicry of you just a few days prior.

Your face is boiling off.

There’s an impatient knock on the door, then Emmet’s voice, loud and jarring as an electric shock. “Hello! What is taking so long!”

You throw yourself off of Ingo, scrambling. Your partner, with a similar urgency, swings upright like a body emerging from a coffin. He nearly falls off the bed in his hurry.

The two of you scramble around the room for your clothes as Emmet knocks on the door again. “Hellooo!”

“BUG!” Charjabug squeaks as he’s unceremoniously jolted awake. You gather him in one arm as you attempt to button your shirt with the other. Ingo helps you fix a stubborn button near your collar; once you situate your pokémon on your shoulder you wrap his hibiscus-print tie around his neck, tie it, and adjust it to a comfortable length.

Ingo dips down to press a quick kiss to your temple and flattens down your hair with his hands.

“INGO!” Emmet calls again through the door.

“We are almost ready to depart, Emmet, if you would wait just one second!” Ingo returns, loud and frustrated. You sigh and hurriedly slip on your shoes.

When you both barrel out of the bedroom, Emmet and Elesa are wearing the exact same outfits they were wearing the day before. This is the first thing that strikes you as suspicious.

The second is the bright-red lipstick mark on Emmet’s face. The third is the massive necklace of pearls Elesa’s wearing that she was absolutely not wearing the day before. The fourth, and perhaps most prominent thing, is that they both smell like they’d run a marathon for twelve hours straight and then bathed in a twenty-ton vat of pure vodka.

Ingo squints, also unnerved. “..Emmet, what is that mark on your face?”

“You’rrre wearing a new tie,” Emmet attempts to divert the topic. He blinks rapidly, hazily, then makes a muted gulping noise—his face is a suspicious shade of green under the smudged lipstick mark.

“I’ve owned this tie for years.” Ingo does a double take. “Emmet, are you hungover?”

“Of course not.” Emmet denies, rubbing the lipstick off his face. It does not budge; it must be waterproof. “I am Emmet. The things I do, the things I say, always the same. I would never do something as ridiculous as drink too much alcohol.”

“..We may have gotten a bit tipsy yesterday,” Elesa admits carefully. You suddenly notice she’s also wearing a pair of black-out sunglasses indoors alongside those massive pearls. What the hell happened last night?

Ingo glances between them rapidly, expression suddenly grave. His next words mirror your exact thoughts—“What happened.”—without the cuss word, of course.

“Nothing.” Emmet says quickly.

“Nothing happened.” Elesa confirms with similar urgency. She averts her eyes as you attempt to meet her gaze, her face twitching as your brows climb up to your hairline. “We just, ah, had a lot of delicious mimosas. We couldn’t sleep a drink.” She laughs awkwardly. Was that a pun on ‘wink?’ “Can we go get breakfast now?”

“..Fine.” Ingo states. He does not sound convinced.

You take a shuttle to The Fillish’s main campus and get free breakfast from a café in the central lobby. The coffee’s not as good as Danny’s, but you won’t complain.

Settling at a large table near the entrance with your friends at your side, you watch Emmet sort his fruits into sections by color with amused eyes. You end up having to tuck Charjabug back in his ball as he continuously attempts to eat the decorative placemats alongside his breakfast.

“I think the cantaloupe should go after the Pecha berries,” Ingo’s saying, pointing at his twin’s plate. “Pink goes between red and orange.”

”That is simply false.” Emmet returns flatly, spearing one with his fork. “Pink goes at the end of the rainbow after purple.”

“But you have the watermelon here,” Ingo motions to the group of cubed watermelons. “And the honeydew here. So it should go red, pink, orange, yellow. Like a sunset.”

“I think yellow should go first,” Elesa states as she grabs a slice of pineapple off of Emmet’s plate and pops it in her mouth.

“Why,” Emmet states.

”Yellow is my favorite color.”

Emmet’s face completely flattens out.

Ingo’s frown twists upward in amusem*nt. ”Oh, if that’s the logic we are using, then we should put purple first. I love purple.”

”Green is nice,” You tack on.

”Then it’s settled.” Elesa smiles. “Yellow, green, purple.”

”I hate all of you. This makes no sense.” Emmet states. In his distraction, you steal a cube of watermelon from his plate with your fork.

Emmet swats at your hand. Elesa laughs brightly. Your heart warms with a strange buoying pop, like you’d sucked in a sudden rush of clear air. For a moment you forget the strange numbness tickling at the tips of your fingers and the pit inside you lightens.

You see why people like vacationing so much. Here in this warm place with your best friends by your side, it’s easier to forget.

“Subway Boss Ingo!” Ingo twitches next to you and his head whirls around. You pause mid-bite through your crisp, sweet watermelon and turn to find a familiar man bounding across the hotel lobby.

He greets you as well, but clearly doesn’t remember your name as he simply calls you: “Battle Hotel Boss! Hello there!”

”Who’s ‘thish?” Elesa asks, mouth full of buttery croissant.

”I am the owner of this fine hotel!” The owner of The Frillish boasts, placing a hand over his chest. His fingers glint with many thick silver rings and his nice suit is noticeably less seared than it was last time. “It’s a pleasure to see you again!”

”The pleasure is ours,” Ingo intones politely. “Thank you for the tickets. We arrived yesterday morning and have been very impressed by your accommodations.”

“Wonderful! I’m so happy to hear it!” The man rubs his hands together in anticipation. “Well, tell me more! How are you enjoying your stay?”

You clear your throat, drawing the man’s attention. You’ve been impressed by the sheer magnitude of The Frillish’s main campus but have concerns about the number of employees on-site. It’s as though, despite the hotel’s opulence, the owner is keeping every facility deliberately understaffed.

As a result, his employees are overworked and visibly exhausted. You wish to inform him of this, Hotel Boss to Hotel Boss. However, before you can say anything, Emmet opens his mouth.

“The casino was lame,” He states bluntly. Then he burps.

You turn to stare at him. Ingo turns to stare at him. Elesa makes a muffled groaning noise as she drags her hands down her face.

“The.” The owner of The Frillish Hotel trembles. He goes as white as a sheet. “The casino?”

The revolving doors explode inward.

You turn just as high-pitched scream reverberates through the entire lobby. Next to you, Ingo goes stiff as a rock. The hotel owner slowly turns around as a series of uniformed trainers step through the empty frame of the shattered glass doors; they continue to creak around and revolve until one of them crumples inward with a shriek of metal.

One of the black-clad men in front of the throng adjusts his dark cap. There’s a familiar bright red ‘R’ on the front of his shirt.

“This is Team Rocket,” He drawls. “We’re here to liquidate your assets.”

The owner of The Frillish Hotel shrieks at the top of his lungs.

The next moment flashes in a huge eruption of light. An Electrode rolls through a barreling cloud of a Wheezing’s purplish poison; employees and guests alike yelp and duck out of the way. Another series of screams ring about the lobby alongside a billowing gust of flame.

The hotel boss scrambles forward, shouting furiously, but the grunts are unstoppable. They begin yanking paintings down off walls as their pokémon destroy whatever they don’t touch.

“Emmet.” Ingo states immediately, setting down his cup with a muted clink.

Emmet’s shoulders twitch. You and Ingo look at him expectantly. Elesa, next to him, turns her gaze upward with an audible gulp.

“..So.” Emmet clears his throat, averting his scrunching eyes. “You remember how Elesa and I came home late and hungover—?”

“Emmet got sickeningly drunk and beat all the mobsters at the hotel casino,” Elesa erupts. “He won every single battle, but I think he pissed them off.”

“Really,” You say conversationally, sipping your coffee. A stray pokémon move flings over your head and slashes a curtain into two fluttering pieces of shredding fabric and crashing metal rods.

”I guess they followed me here,” Emmet says, chuckling nervously.

Ingo presses a dazed hand into his forehead. “I..cannot even begin to impart my disappointment.”

“Ugh, now you sound like Uncle Drayden,” Emmet groans.

“What were you thinking?! The mafia? Team Rocket?!” Ingo throws his arms around uselessly. “When we had so many near misses with Team Plasma—“

“Perhaps we should have this conversation later,” You suggest blandly, setting your coffee cup back into its saucer. “I don’t think these ‘Team Rocket’ fellows are here for a friendly chat.”

“Stop! Stop!” The hotel owner is shrieking behind you. A Team Rocket grunt has begun looting a nearby display case. It topples over with a riveting crash and spits out a pile of nice silver plates.

You watch mildly as a Wheezing dissolves a nice carpet with a sneeze of acid snot. The hotel owner stands next to it, begging and flailing, then he turns and his teary gaze lands on your group, still sitting around and enjoying your breakfast.

His eyes widen. His face reddens. Then he glares, his searing gaze digging into someone just behind you. You blink as the man stomps through a spattering of scattered glass shards, utterly furious.

“You!” He bellows, jabbing a finger into Emmet’s face. Emmet grins sheepishly, his cheery expression creasing the ridiculous kiss mark on his cheek. “This is all your fault! I owe Team Rocket a fortune and you’ve led them right to me!”

”My bad,” Emmet states with no intonation whatsoever. He sucks the rest of his iced espresso through his straw and makes a loud, obnoxious slurping noise.

A Team Rocket grunt lifts up a clearly expensive vase and smashes it against a wall.

“It’s over!” The owner shrieks wildly, scrubbing his hands through his hair, “They’re going to ruin my hotel! They’re going to ruin me!”

“Sorry, sir,” You say calmly, standing from the table with a sideways glance. “Though you should probably call someone if you’re being threatened by mobsters. Maybe the police—?”

“Get out!” Bellows the owner, face red as a Tamato berry and visibly steaming. Your friends, startled, stand quickly alongside you as he begins pulling and shoving all of you toward the doors. “Get out get out get out!”

You stumble outside alongside Elesa who steadies herself by grabbing onto your arm. At this moment, a frantic bellboy rolls up to the hotel owner’s side, his cart piled with your bags.

The hotel owner flings your luggage onto the sidewalk with one final indignant screech, then rushes back inside the hotel, ducking frantically as a move shatters the windows. He needs more fortified glass—amateur mistake.

“Emmet, you’ve gone and gotten me banned,” You grumble frustratedly, lifting and swinging your duffle bag over your shoulder. You brace yourself against a gust of wind as you pull Hydreigon’s pokéball from your pocket. A few grunts nearby point at your group; they appear to recognize Emmet easily.

“Who cares!” Emmet yells as Archeops whizzes past his head in a flash of bright feathers. “We were staying here for free!”

“I still haven't gotten to go to the spa,” Elesa complains. “Then there was this other place I wanted to go that I’m forgetting..”

“And I wished to spend more time with you,” Ingo says to you at your side. “I enjoy chugging along my usual schedule, but I don’t get to cross tracks with you as often.”

The grunts send out a Golbat and a Houndoom, predictably. Fire crests through the air until Arceops buries the pair in hurtling chunks of rubble; the grunts curse and yell for backup.

“Yes,” You agree solemnly, flinging out Hydreigon’s pokéball. Your next words are nearly drowned out as a wave of water engulfs a writhing Raticate and flings it back into the street. The move crashes against a building in an eruption of misty spray. “I wanted to spend more time with you too.”

Emmet gags. Elesa laughs. Ingo makes a humming noise as he ponders, the side of his face alight with Chandelure’s purple light.

“Do you have any other breaks during the day?” He asks as Chandelure hurtles a fireball into a hissing Ekans’ face. “I will continue to walk you home in the evenings, but I wish to see you in the mornings, too..”

“You could drop by my apartment in the morning to walk with me?” You suggest, snapping your fingers. Hydreigon directs a flamethrower into a screaming crowd of grunts. “Or I could walk to you.”

“But our apartments are in opposite directions.”

“Yes, it would be easier if they were close by..”

Ingo seems to realize something then, his whole face splitting into a Politoed-like grin. He whirls to grin at you as Hydreigon’s flames erupt like a collapsing star just behind his head.

“Then it appears we have arrived at a similar conclusion!” He announces, wide-eyed as he grabs you by the arm. The whistling wind from the shuddering shockwave whistles in a reverberating wave. “Move in with me!”

“What?” You utter.

“What.” Says Emmet behind you.

Archeops uses Rock Blast with a riveting shriek.

“Ingo,” You manage as Emolga shocks a group of soaking mobsters into submission with a crackling flash. “Isn’t that a bit fast?” He was worried about being too ‘clingy’ a mere day ago.

“Oh—it, it is a bit fast,” Ingo stutters, coming to his senses. He lets go of you to release Chandelure, who spirals forth in a flash of purple light. “I apologize for my discourteous behavior. If you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to—”

“Oh, no, I’m quite comfortable with it,” you accidentally interrupt, Hydreigon’s next move exploding into sparks of flame. “I was only worried you’d—”

“Can you two please focus on the fact that we are being chased by mobsters?!” Elesa exclaims furiously. A nearby car explodes. “My luggage is going to get wet!”

“I do not think your priorities are in order either, Elesa.” Emmet states flatly. He sends you an unreadable side-eye. “I am Emmet. Moving in with Ingo also means moving in with me.”

“I know,” You return easily; Hydreigon flits back to your side with a roar. “I do hope you won’t get hammered and lure mobsters to our apartment.”

Emmet sniffs. “Our apartment?”

“I’ll be moving in with you, won’t I?” You shift as Hydreigon’s tail swings to smack a Wheezing in the face. “That means it’s mine too.”

Emmet holds his hat down on his head as he ducks beneath a crack of electricity. “You are not allowed to change the wallpaper.”

You huff, tipping to the side as you guide Hydreigon through another Flamethrower. “The Joltik-themed wallpaper in the kitchen? Of course not. That would be a travesty.”

“Are you being sarcastic? You’re being sarcastic.”

“FOCUS, PLEASE!” Ingo bellows. Chandelure’s Shadow Ball erupts into pulses of warping energy, cutting a perfectly spherical crater into the sidewalk. One of the grunts stumbles and falls face-first into it.

Undella is incredibly hot. Chandelure and Hydreigon’s fire-type moves prove to be extra effective. You’re surrounded by licking flames that race up the sides of the street, licking at your heels as you run through the streets.

You cross under colorful awnings, under umbrellas that cast shadow spots away from the sun. Then as you turn the corner Emmet shrieks your name. “WAI—!”

You skid to a stop as a grunt appears out of thin air. He lunges at you, cackling maniacally. You sidestep his punch, and, in a practiced motion, grab his shoulders, lift him upward, then swing him over your shoulder to slam him flat onto his back.

He coughs, choking, the wind knocked out of his lungs. When he grapples for your ankles Emolga shocks him into submission with a shrieking cry.

He twitches, then goes limp. The flames surrounding you crackle.

A hand latches onto your arm. You find Elesa grinning at you twinkly-eyed as though you’ve suddenly become the champion of the region by mobster harassment alone. “That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“It was a team effort,” You return blandly, dusting off your ridiculous floral-print board shorts. You just flung a man in a bathing suit and flip-flops. This vacation could not get any stranger.

”Mol!” Emolga chirps next to you, sounding pleased.

”They’re still after us,” Ingo intones hurriedly, glancing somewhere behind you. “We need to depart at once.”

Undella is hot. It’s even hotter when you’re running full speed, surrounded by hellfire, and framed on all sides by tarmac and concrete. Once you escape the tourism district you arrive in the suburban wonderland of southeast Lacunosa, coming across the sprawling concrete jungle where Elesa had conveniently parked her car.

“House rules,” Emmet starts abruptly, jogging at your side, “You are not allowed to open the closet at the end of the hall. Don’t ask why. Also. My toothbrush always goes to the left of the sink. If you touch it—“

Ingo huffs an explosive sigh, glaring at his brother over your head. His next stride is a swinging lunge. “Emmet, they will not use your bathroom. They will use mine. That should not be a concern.”

“I’m just letting them know—“

“We can figure out the logistics later,” Elesa emphasizes, struggling to rip her keys out of her skirt pocket while simultaneously lugging her hulking bag. You take it for her, swinging it over your other shoulder, both duffles slamming uncomfortably into your shoulders as you run.

“Let’s get out of here!” Ingo shouts at the top of his lungs. A few of the Mafia goons chasing you obviously hear, because they start frantically squawking and shouting much louder. A few shatter the windows of nearby cars to start hijacking them.

Filled with a sudden urgency, you toss the luggage into Elesa’s trunk and slam it closed with a bang! Hydreigon dutifully returns to their ball with a halting huff.

“Get in get in get in!” Elesa exclaims, looking way too excited about this. “It’s like a PokéStar Studios car chase!”

“I said that too loudly, didn’t I,” Ingo realizes, wrenching open the car door.

You glance at him, stunned. “You’re self-aware?”

Piling into the car in a flailing, sweating mound of limbs, you’re shoved into the backseat alongside Ingo by a frantic Emmet, who then clambers into the passenger seat as Galvantula decides to break out of her ball. She chirps in greeting as Elesa shoves her key into its slot and turns it.

“Did you really have to piss off the mafia?” You say to Emmet over the shoulder of his seat. “We didn’t even get to go to the Marine Tube.”

Emmet inhales, but Elesa barrels over him. “The Marine Tube! That’s what I was forgetting!” She lets out an egregious string of cuss words that have Ingo yelling at her in seconds; she drowns him out by revving the engine of her car.

“The Marine Tube is apparently the highlight of Undella,” You mumble dejectedly as Elesa yanks the car out of park. The car rocks and shifts backward. “..I heard it’s an amazing date spot.”

“We can go next time,” Ingo promises you, tugging you back into your seat. “Your seatbelt, dear. Please check safety before we depart.”

“Next time, then,” You say as you buckle in. “Though you may have to wear a disguise.”

“A disguise?” Ingo blinks at you, puzzled. “Why?”

“The mafia goons are after Emmet—they’ll probably have wanted posters of him all over the city.”

Ingo continues to squint at you incredulously. You tilt your head toward him, face flat. “..Ingo, you look just like him. He’s your identical twin.”

Ingo absorbs this, then pales rapidly. Elesa’s heel slams on the gas and the car shoots forward; Emmet lets out a strangled shriek. The car rocks off a side ledge and lands onto the road in a delayed, reverberating thump!

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!” Emmet bellows, gripping onto the car door.

“LOOK BEHIND US!” Elesa yells, yanking on the wheel.

Ingo, careening to the side, hardly has to project his voice as he whirls to shout into the wind. “Elesa this is incredibly reckless— oh my word,”

The car sputters forward. You turn to look. There are four, sleek-black cars on your tail and a series of black-suited figures leaning from their windows, pokéballs in hand.

Ingo turns forward again. “Drive.”

Elesa doesn’t have to be told twice.

The car screeches forward as she slams her heel into the gas pedal. Your head goes flying back into the headrest from the momentum and you squint as rushing air rips tears from your eyes.

There’s a crackling sound as a stray jolt of Galvantula’s electricity somehow switches on the radio. “—news today!”

”GO GO GO!” Emmet shouts.

Yancy’s voice fills the air as Elesa swerves around a Ferrothorn’s Spikes aiming for her squealing tires. “This just in! Team Rocket ex-mafia Giovanni, recently released from captivity, has bought the five-star hotel The Frillish in Unova’s Undella City! Does he intend to make up for his prior actions in Kanto—?”

“THEY’RE FOLLOWING US! FASTER! FASTER!” Emmet roars, slapping frantically at the dash.

Elesa yanks at the wheel as the car hurtles around a bend. “I’m trying—!”

“—Driftveil’s excavation team came across a piece of Origin Ore, which, according to Gym Leader Clay, is said to originate from ancient times—“

The two of them scream as a crack of lightning spirals above the open roof, shrouding your vision in bright white sparks. The radio crackles in and out again as Ingo shouts and grabs onto your arm. Your seatbelt constricts over your chest like a vice.

“—Champion Iris was seen attending one of Roxie’s concerts wearing an oddly familiar red cap—“

The car sputters through dirt and scrambles back onto the road, a wave of water erupting alongside the passenger doors, misting your face with cool, clean air. You watch a black car skid out as the dirt beneath its tires turns to sloshing mud.

”—and Ex-Champion Hilda has returned to Unova, proclaiming her allegiance with the famous Battle Hotel—“

Emmet’s Glavantuala spit sticky webs at a pursuer from her clunky perch atop her trainer’s shoulder and head; the film sticks onto their window, lodges into their windshield wipers, and sends them turning frantically into a fence with a crumpling shriek of metal.

Elesa screams. You turn your head back to front. The car barrels toward a herd of Deerling clustered in the center of the road.

“Just what is going on in Nimbasa—?”

Hydreigon leaps out of their pokéball. You reach for them and and bellow their name. The world erupts into a huge flash of light like a sun descending, like a meteor colliding with a star, then the darkness swallows all as Hydreigon’s shadowy tendrils lift the car whole off the ground.

You blink away sparks in your eyes as the horizon shifts before you. The mafia cars skid to a screeching halt and swerve to avoid the Deerling in the road, but your convertible flies right over them.

For a moment you’re floating, weightless, then Hydreigon lets go and the car begins hurtling back down toward the ground.

Your ears pop through the air and clear to your friend’s frantic screams. The convertible slams back into the pavement. Your body rockets with the impact as you regurgitate a choked cough.

The sky shifts. You watch Elesa’s leg bump up and down and then the car screeches forward to barrel down the road.

Hydreigon crows a happy cry and latches onto the back as Elesa, still shrieking frantically, presses hard on the gas.

“WE’RE GOOD! WE’RE GOOD!” Ingo bellows frantically, slapping at her headrest, “SLOW DOWN!”

Then Emmet’s laughing at the top of his lungs, then Elesa’s screaming melds into a victorious howl, and you’re slumping back into your seat with a sigh so loud it gusts all the air from your body. Ingo holds tight to your numb hand. Galvantula chitters as Emmet throws his arms in the air.

“Where should we go?!” Elesa shouts over the wind.

“Where else!” Emmet returns jovially, his fingers splaying into the sky. “Let’s go home!”

You blink wind from your eyes as the convertible tips over the top of a rolling hill. A familiar ferris wheel spins along the horizon, framed by great, streaky buildings jutting tall from the ground. Cold air peels your gums away from your teeth in a huge, undoubtedly ridiculous grin. You feel giddy, weightless, the rumbling from the road hiking up into your shoulders.

”Well, this is Yancy here, reporting live from the studio! As the sun rises on this beautiful day, I’d just like to say—“

Ingo squeezes your hand as you laugh into the wind. That was certainly a short vacation, but you can’t say you’re disappointed.

After all, there’s no place like home.

”—good morning, Nimbasa!”

The clock ticks.

It’s incessantly loud where you sit at your desk on the one-hundredth floor. You watch clouds amble their way across a bright blue horizon. It’s a day like any other—busy, fast, yet somehow unremarkable.

Your hand fiddles with a pen but you do not lift it from where it sits on a scattered pile of unsigned files. Your gaze lingers on the city skyline, the way it cuts through the hazy shroud of the desert in the distance. It is a view so comforting and familiar.

Here, you sit amongst the clouds, hundreds of miles off the ground, your feet shrouded in their cool mist, their sharp, prickling bits of ice.

You exhale. The clouds meander past you in huge, slow-moving whorls. The coldness sinks inside of you, first tingling, then going numb.

Your fingers loosen and the pen slips from your grip. It rolls away from you, down the sloping sheets of paper, then lingers at the edge of the scuffled mahogany desk. You glance at it for a moment. Then your gaze flits to your shaking hands until you quickly look away.

Above ground, you’re hovering in silence. Your chair creaks as you shift. Another minute passes—a series of plucking clicks.

With a sudden madness, you lunge up out of your chair. You suck in a few quick breaths. You stare at the stretching horizon, you watch your faint reflection stare back in the glass, your big red eyes glaring back at you, hovering motionless in the stillness.

The clock ticks.

You can’t take this anymore.

It is a normal morning on a normal day when your world crashes down all around you. When you stare at a silver screen slashed through with nerves like great bolts of lightning, your hand twitching under pads of wires and jolting electrical pulses, and your eyes, wide, unseeing, staring at a blue horizon stretching somewhere beyond.

The world moves about as normal. People go about their days, the subway trains rumble beneath the earth, the cars honk, and your neighbors pull open their shutters to the sun. And you burn, you burn up from your fingertips up your throat to your eyes, every inch of you set aflame.

You are burning. You are burning alive.

“Boss, where are you going—?”

It’s a sterile smell. You’ve always hated hospitals, so you made it quick, booked an appointment right at dawn. Your doctor was a slight woman with big, nervous eyes who could hardly smile at you when she told you your diagnosis. Your hands twitched through another electrical pulse.


How to ignore an injury: pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s easy to do because it’s so numb. But you can only spend so long pretending something isn’t there. It is as incessant as a clock, as a cloud, as an itchy, speckling sandstorm. The world turns, the blinds click open, the sun barrels through. Time moves on with little care, almost violent in its inevitability.

Your hands twitch.

The world continues to move on this normal morning on this normal day. As you stumble out of the revolving doors, Janet’s frantic voice calling your name, you’re sucked into a huge crowd of roaring voices and flashing cameras.

You shove your way through. Their faces meld into a great, shouting shadow of flapping mouths and bright eruptions of light and sound. You are a stone in an avalanche, a boulder tumbling alongside hundreds of others. When you tilt your head up the clouds meander so peacefully above.

The reporters follow you until you begin to run.

You sprint past a rickety bike tied to a telephone pole. Past a bus with a Wheezing bobbing close to its side. Past a fallen colorful banner, the only remains of the Kalosian circus, past a café with Burmy chirping and hanging from its sides.

The crowd does not part for you as you dart around them. Strangers curse as you stumble past, shoulders colliding with shoulders. The sun sinks in an unbearable, wavering shroud of boiling heat. You feel sweat crest down your face, each breath heaving and gulping, your heels thudding into the searing concrete.

The snow has melted into dark lumps of ice and huge, murky puddles that slosh up and darken the edges of your slacks. The ground grabs at you. Each shadow twists up your ankles like a vice.

You slow to a stop and stumble into the side of a scratchy brick wall. Everything turned out alright. You’re happier than you’ve ever been. You’re healthy, you’re happy, you’re okay. You’re home. So why is this happening to you?

What is happening to you?

You gulp in another breath, shuffle forward, then continue to run. You run because you’re a failure. Because you’re a liar and a fake and you’ve lied enough to even convince yourself.

This is the third doctor you’ve gone to, and all they ever do is apologize.

I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.

You pretend you’re not listening as you stare at one of the strange, colorful medical diagrams on the wall. The drawing is very intricate: a big, veiny eye cut into cubes, its wide blue pupil watching you in vague disinterest. In your mind you are running through a busy city street.

We can try more stimulation, but I don’t recommend it. They’re too damaged to recover.

You feel something sink low in your stomach and carefully swallow. They put little plastic things on your fingers. Then some electric pads. Then a cream that feels like nothing.

You may gain some mobility, but you won’t feel anything for the rest of your life.

Wraps and squeezing bands. Odd rods that shock you a little. The eye on the wall watches you imploringly, blue and unblinking. The electric lines twist around you as your feet thud into the concrete.

The nerves are gone. There’s nothing we can do.

I’ll make another appointment, you think. You’ve already gone to two. I have an appointment for when I get back. You’ll go back and they’ll tell you the same thing again. Your hands twist around the doors of Gear Station and you burst through them, dizzy, feeling faint as your vision twists down each smooth step.

I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.

The blinds open. The blue eye blinks on the wall.

I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.

A bell bongs above your head. Crowds rush through the tunnels in great chattering waves. It is a normal morning on a normal day. The clouds, misty and cold, amble past your feet and you blink back the tears in your eyes.

It’s a sinking feeling, your ribcage stretched thin, your mouth dry as ash, sucking in stuttering breaths. Your limbs twitch and falter with every step as though you’re being ripped apart. Signs flash like great meteors flying past you and you stumble through the crowd, down a staircase that never seems to end.

You squeeze through passengers and stomp over crooked tiles, bursting through the horde with a gasp, searching through every streak of movement. Your loud breaths are swallowed by the squealing of brakes and clanking whistling of a train on the tracks. You grasp at a cold railing and pull yourself along.

The tunnel descends into a deeper type of darkness. Letters run over your head: Single Line One.

Shadows flatten and meld into the floor. You reach another tunnel that breaks into white, fluorescent light. Patterned, colored tiles race along high ceilings.

You feel as though you’re hovering an inch above the ground, breathing heavily, collapsing into the side of the wall.

Someone grabs you and holds you upright.

“—ear? Dear?”

You open your mouth dazedly, blinking fast. Ingo’s face shrouds your vision, a blurry depot agent hovering curiously beyond his shoulder. You feel your partner’s hands clasp around your arms, his touch faint as though felt through a film. He’s saying: “—What are you doing here?”

What are you doing here? It is a simple issue. It is hardly a problem. It is something personal and hardly substantial at all. Yet it’s somehow soul crushing, so achingly prominent you can hardly speak.

“Sorry. I’m—” You glup another wheezing breath, swallowing down the lump in your throat. Sweat drags down your face; you must look like a mess. “It’s not an—an emergency. I’m not sure why I,”

You gulp in another breath, dizzy and winded and half-slumped into the wall. Ingo’s frown deepens. He turns to his agent but does not let go of you. “..I’ll return shortly, Cameron. Watch the station for me.”

Depot Agent Cameron nods. She sends you another brief glance but Ingo is already pulling you away.

Tiles click. A bell bongs above your head. Doors puff open with a suctiony rush of air, then you’re tugged into a long, stretching hall with blurry metal walls, your reflection bobbing in an infinite stretch of grayness.

You’re hot. Boiling. Once he pulls you into the break room you yank your hat off your head, rip off your gloves and toss them onto a random desk. His hands rest on your shoulders, guide you near a chair, but you don’t sit down, breathing heavily.

You run a hand through your snarly hair and simply try to get your wheezing inhales under control. Ingo’s hand lingers on your back, rubbing circles there.

“..What did they say?” He asks you flatly, his gaze grave. “The doctor.”

Right. You’d told him you had your appointment today. You open your mouth but hesitate.

You could lie again. Go to someone else, wait for better news.

You close your eyes. You know they will just tell you the same things. The truth sinks inside of you, nauseating and thick like poisonous sludge, and the clock ticks above your head.

“It’s..chronic.” You open your eyes slowly, another bead of sweat dragging down your face. “The nerves are dead.”

Ingo stares at you, brows twisting together. Then he grapples for you and pulls you into his arms.

He holds you for hundreds of uncomfortable ticks. Your eyes loll through slow blinks, your lungs suck in humid, heavy air. You feel Ingo’s hand cradle the back of your head, brush against your sweat-soaked hair, and, with a sudden searing burn in your chest, you push away from him.

Ingo lets you go without protest as you take an unsteady step back. You feel his eyes on you as you shove your arms down to your sides and stare at the floor.

“..Where?” Ingo murmurs at a significantly lower volume. He steps forward, reaching for you, then takes one of your gloveless hands. “How much?” How much is gone?

You exhale a tremulous breath. Ingo’s thumbs press into your scarred palms until you take one hand away.

“Here..” You guide his hand from the tip of your middle finger to the base of your wrist. His thumb trails along the scarred skin there, but you can’t feel it. “To here.”

Ingo’s silent for a moment, staring down at the scars. Then he lifts your limp hand to his lips and kisses your fingertips.

“Ingo, I—” You suck in a startled breath. “I can’t feel that.”

“Oh,” He appears undeterred, turning your hand around to press another kiss onto the rough back of your palm. “Did you feel that?”

“No,” The word shakes.

Yet he continues. Kisses trail down the side of your knuckles, slow and careful. “Here?”

“No I—can’t..” Your voice crumples, fading out.

“What about here,” He leans down to drop a kiss into the center of your palm. Eyes burning, you shake your head.

The kisses halt at the tattered, thick bands of scarring lacing the base of your palm. Ingo presses a kiss into the center of your wrist, right above the faded blue veins. You feel the warmth, the touch. “Here?” He asks once more, voice quieter than you’ve ever heard it.

Rendered mute, you can only nod. Ingo presses another kiss to your pulsepoint. This one lingers.

Your hands tremble in his grip—you can hardly think, each touch gentle and purposeful and overwhelming. “Ingo, will you—will you come here?”

He must hear the shake in your voice as he immediately pauses. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just..” You’re so tired. So tired, in fact, your eyes flutter shut during your next slow breath. The inevitability of your injury is unbearable. Your lack of feeling, your lack of touch, your mobility shaky at best, utterly permanent.

You’d been trying to ignore it with the hope it would eventually get better. You lied and kept trying, kept searching. Now, the truth settles with an aching finality. You are so smothered beneath the weight of it that you can hardly stand.

Ingo must tell, as he simply holds you again, his hands drifting over your spine, curling into the small of your back. He peppers your forehead and hairline with kisses every so often, which sometimes linger in presses of warmth.

“I lied.” You blurt. You feel Ingo stiffen. “I—I made appointments before. This is the third doctor I’ve gone to. I thought they might say something different. I thought—”

Ingo shushes you, stroking his hand through your hair. His voice sounds low and solemn. “It’s okay. I understand. You don’t have to explain.”

His hands curl around one of yours. You want to feel the skin of his palms. You want to hold his hands in a desperate grip, squeezing in silent conversation. Three little pulses like an I love you. If your hands worked—

If your hands worked you could—

It occurs to you then. You will never again feel the brush of Hydreigon’s feathers against your palms. Charjabug’s warm, smooth skin sparking against your fingertips. A coffee mug’s familiar ceramic. Charles’ playful high-fives. Soft blankets, prickly fabrics—you will never know their touch. And you will never again feel the warmth of Ingo’s hands in yours.

Ingo cups your face, saying your name, but you are unable to speak. The clock ticks above you as you stare at the floor. You feel his hands flit about you. His form shifts and fidgets desperately. He turns and says something into his walkie-talkie, but it all sounds like static.

You stare down at your hands and try to imagine papers flitting through your fingertips, a tingly brushing like stiff feathers, but fail to conjure the feeling. You’ve already forgotten it.

Your thumb twitches. The clock ticks. Nothing else happens. Your wrists only tremble when you will them to move.

Dear, whispers a faint, foggy sound. Darkness shrouds your vision when Ingo drapes his coat over your head.

He’s leading you somewhere now. You hear Emmet’s voice drift through the walkie-talkie as though hundreds of miles away. There are suddenly resounding cacophonies of muffled voices. Shadows shifting, brushing around you on all sides. Then Ingo’s arm squeezes over your shoulder; he pulls you close into his side with a strenuous breath and you blindly follow him onward beneath the darkness.

You take a step onto something huffing and rumbling. Air gusts beneath the bottom of the coat, thick and warm. Ingo’s arm locks around your shoulders as he holds you to his chest for an inordinate amount of time—the world shifting and drifting and turning around you. You feel his heartbeat thrum beneath your cheek, loud and pulsing through many layers of fabric. His sound. His song.

Then he pulls you forward, and you walk, walk, and walk to step down somewhere.

Keep going, love, says the faint voice. You keep going. Ingo’s arm never leaves your shoulders; his coat never leaves your head. You watch the gum-speckled sidewalk pass in strange, gray flashes beneath your moving feet. We’re almost there.

You watch your legs step up a carpeted staircase. Shuffle along shiny tiles. Step onto a patterned stretch of carpet that seems to go on and on. Then you pause at the base of a familiar train-shaped welcome mat.

Ingo muffles a curse as he fiddles with something, metal clanking and klinking around. There’s a noise like something slotting into place. A turning shift, a wooden creak.

“We’ve arrived,” Ingo states, and his voice, so achingly loud, cuts through every one of your senses.

You feel as though you’re blinking awake, yet all you can see is shifting, dark fabric and faint light that peeks through the tightly-woven threads. You feel a hand curl around your shoulder, then Ingo’s voice sounds again: “We are at my apartment. Will you step forward?”

You step forward.

”Bravo!” Ingo exclaims, though it’s hardly a thing worthy of praise. His genuine delight makes you dizzy. He asks, “Once more?”

Another step, another. You follow him into his apartment, stumbling only slightly on a ridge in the doorframe. There’s a clunk and click behind you as Ingo shuts the door.

You reach out blindly but do not feel it when Ingo takes your hands; his fingers slide to curl around your wrists and you settle with a furtive tremor.

”I’m right here.” He promises at a much more tolerable volume. “Come with me. Let’s sit down.”

He leads you to the big, sprawling couch, plush and soft. As you lower yourself into it, wonder if any of Emmet’s Joltiks are hiding amongst the cushions. This strange, distant thought somehow grounds you just as much as the touch around your wrists, tingling and pulsing with warmth.

“Ingo?” You say, voice gravelly and haggard.

Ingo’s fingers twitch around your wrists. You hear him exhale a shaking, relieved breath as the blanket slides along your head. “Yes?”

“I..apologize. I lost my composure.”

Ingo’s thumbs press into your skin like a reminder, but you continue, voice slow, halting, the coat sliding lower and lower down your face.

“I’ll have to apologize to Janet too when I get back.” You try to ignore the way Ingo stiffens. The sleeve of the coat flops over your shoulder. You watch the blurry form of his face come into view. “I’ve been a terrible boss—“

“No,” Ingo states. “Please stop that.” His hands come up to tug the coat down, subjecting the rest of you to the low light. His face clears in your vision: pursed and frustrated. “You don’t have to be perfect all the time, remember? Wasn’t it you who taught me that?”

You shake your head. “I’m..I’m keeping you. You need to go back to work,” You turn away from him but his arms wrap around you, locking you into an awkward side-hug. He gently rests his head on your shoulder, hair tickling your neck.

You stiffen, staring at his hat and gloves discarded on the low table. The clock ticks. Ingo’s coat falls completely away to pool over your lap. He says your name.

”I want to hold you,” He says carefully, fingers fiddling over the top of your shoulder. “Can that?”

The clock ticks. You bite down hard on your lower lip hard enough to hurt. You stare at your hands, shaking, the way they tremble desperately into the fabric of his discarded coat, strange and useless.

Your vision warps.

“Dear?” Ingo’s voice wavers, worried. “Dea—?”

A huge, hot tear crests down your face. Ingo makes a noise like he’s been punched in the gut. With a crackled, aching sound, you curl your arms up and around your face. Your hands spasm with you.

“Dear,” He warbles again. One of his hands closes around your shaking, shielding wrist. He pulls it away and you don’t resist, but you still won’t look at him, eyes blinking rapidly as a steady stream of tears trickle down your face. They trace the bridge of your nose, run crookedly down your jaw. Your whole body is shaking.

Ingo says your name. His hand cups your cheek, thumbs away the dampness gathered there. He says your name again. You slowly turn your head to look at him, hot with humiliation. When you meet his eye he exhales a little sigh.

Your eyes scrunch together. Ingo holds your face in both hands, saying things you can’t comprehend—his face soft, his lips moving, his thumbs brushing beneath your eyes. Your face hurts, throbbing from how hard you try to hold it back.

“I’m here. I’m here.” He shushes you quietly. “Just breathe. Let it out.” You make a little weepy sound. His face twitches until he flattens it out with a warpled, tremulous smile. “Yes, just breathe. Just like that,” A brief kiss to your forehead. “You are doing so well. So well,”

He doesn’t ask you why you’re crying. You don’t think you could give him a coherent answer if he did. His hands drift down your face, tuck back your hair, his lips press into the crown of your head, beneath your eyes. And each time he pulls back he murmurs your name, as though coaxing you awake as the sun sinks below the windows.

Ingo tremulously kisses your cheek. The world is soft. Your weeping has trickled into a quiet stream. Shimmering specks of dust drift around him, and, trembling, you reach up to touch his face.

Your hand starts near the side of his head, drifts near his cheekbone, cups the edge of his jaw. Your numb fingers find dull pressure when Ingo presses his face into your palm.

“Are you alright?” He asks you finally. He kisses the ruined skin of your hand.

You mumble in assent. You think about apologizing, but apologizing isn’t quite right.

“Thank you,” you murmur. “I..”

“It’s okay,” Ingo returns, quieter. “Sometimes the train derails without warning. I understand.”

He tips his head forward and presses his forehead against yours. You close your eyes and breathe for a moment.

“When this happens,” Ingo starts, “I don’t want you to shove it down. I don’t want you to hide it. I’ve told you this before, and I will say it as many times as I need to until you understand.”

You dip your head lower but Ingo dips his head with you.

”I don’t want you to feel bad,” He says, much quieter. “I used to hide it too. Once, I panicked before one of the most important conferences of my career. I hid how scared I was. Then I did it again when we were on Nimbasa News. But you taught me how to open up and be more honest with the ones I trust. I could not be more grateful for you.”

A tear slopes down your cheek as you sniffle, still silent.

Ingo fills the ticking, heavy air with his voice. “You do not need to doubt yourself either. Frankly, you’ve performed above and beyond what’s expected of a recently promoted employee.” His thumb rubs at your cheek, brushing away your tears. “A small bump on the tracks is nothing against all you’ve accomplished. In a mere year, no less.”

You glance away, trying to hide your head into the cushion of the couch. Ingo doesn’t let you get that far.

“So tomorrow—“ He makes a shushing noise as you hiccup and gently thumbs away another tear. “We will set a course to your hotel and try again. You have a bit of a squeaky wheel, but I’m certain you can work through it. You have your employees to rely on, don’t you? And your friends. And me, of course.” He leans closer to smile at you. “I will always be here for you. No matter what.”

You nudge your face into his hand, closing your eyes. The pain in your chest does not dissipate, but you feel more stable, his presence a comforting bubble of warmth.

With him supporting you, perhaps you can weather it. Perhaps the sharp sting will someday fade into an old ache, into something dull like a distant memory.

He presses a kiss into your temple, his breath lingering over your skin.

“You’re always so kind to me,” you mumble.

“Of course.” Ingo huffs as though this should be obvious. “You are my partner and my best friend. Then before you were those things, you were an acquaintance whom I admired dearly. This kindness is the bare minimum of what you deserve.”

Your hand comes up to touch the one on your cheek. Ingo turns his palm and you watch his fingers thread through yours. When your trembling fingers recuperate the hold, you bring your folded hands closer against your face. The warmth of his hand seeps into your skin.

You inhale, exhale. Hold his hand there, lean into it. Close your eyes.

“When..when you move into my home, I will make sure,” Ingo takes a halting breath. “I will make sure there is a fresh cup of coffee waiting for you when you wake up every morning. It will be made just the way you like it.”

You look at him, lowering your clasped hands. He turns his head away, gaze trained down at the floor.

“..How did you know I like exactly two spoonfuls of sugar?” He shakes his head, pulling his hand out of yours. “No. Nevermind.” Shakes his head again, then looks you right in the eye—his gaze feels determined, weighted. “Tell me how you like your coffee. Exactly how you like it. Then tell me everything about you, so I may continue to be kind.”

You let out a watery laugh. “You’re going to spoil me.”

“I think you deserve to be a bit spoiled.” Ingo notes. He kisses your forehead then your cheek, two pecks in quick succession. “Like this,” Another short one to your lips, “and this.”

He takes your head in both hands and his lips pepper everywhere. “And this and this and this.”

You feel sleepy and pliant as you let him have his way with you. Soon his kisses slide down your neck and he fumbles to unzip your jacket; soon you forget to grieve over the way your hands shake to touch him, soon your fingers jump and flutter over his cheeks in a way that feels hesitant and tender.

The couch creaks. Ingo pushes you down until he leans over you, his tie brushing against your chest, and he leans lower to let his kisses dart about the edge of your shirt collar. You crane your head as they push up under your chin.

You stare up at the ceiling as he buries his face into the crook of your neck to press his kisses there. “I usually just put a bit of milk in it.”

Ingo pauses. He pulls away from where he’d been practically suctioning onto your skin. “What?”

“My coffee,” you say, running a quivering hand through his short hair. “A splash of milk. That’s all.”

“What else?” Ingo exclaims, pushing himself up above you to meet your eye, “What else, is there more?”

You cup his face. “Well, you already know my favorite color.” Your hand slides down his cheek, brushes the edge of his jaw. “You know I like to dance. I love my pokémon..” You huff a short chuckle. “That’s practically all there is to know about me.”

“No. There’s more.” Ingo leans down closer, his voice at the precipice of a whisper. “I know there’s more.”

You hum, smiling; his nose brushes near yours. “I suppose you’ll have to find out on your own.”

Your hand slides to the nape of his neck and tugs him down closer until his mouth brushes yours. “I like your kisses, though,” You murmur, smiling helplessly. “Is that a good place to start?”

Ingo wordlessly smashes his face into yours and doesn’t let up until he has to take a breath.

Home, Nimbasa City. 05:00.

Early morning procedures are as follows—

Your alarm goes off in a warm, cozy room and you grumble, shifting, until it’s blessedly shut off. Hydreigon makes a muffled noise somewhere beyond you and a hand comes up to pinch lightly at your cheek.

“Dear,” comes Ingo’s voice, gravelly with sleep. “It’s time to leave the station.”

You only mumble in response, wrapping yourself into him like a stubborn Komala bear. You squeeze him so hard he pats frantically at your back in protest, wheezing a strangled breath. “Dear, please—“

You snuggle into his nightshirt with a contented sigh. Ingo tries and fails to yank himself out of your unrelenting grip. He grumbles miserably. Changing tactics, he sucks in a huge breath.

“EMMET!” He hollers at the top of his lungs.

“Ingo!” Comes Emmet’s muffled voice from the hall.

“Car three is in need of maintenance!” Your partner bellows.

Bright white high beams cut through low light as Emmet stomps into the room and throws open all the blinds. You groan, shrinking back with squinting eyes, then Emmet’s yanking you off his brother by the collar of your flannel pajamas.

Charjabug squeals from his spot on your pillow as you blink awake woozily. Ingo sighs. Emmet releases his grip and you unceremoniously flop face-first back onto the bed, immediately dozing off again.

“Ingo do the thing,” Emmet intones through your next muffled snore.

Ingo opens his mouth. “ALL ABOAARD!”

You’re forced out of bed like a sleeping Spheal rolled out of comfortably warm waters. You mumble and complain the entire time you’re getting dressed.

Uniform jacket and slacks neatly pressed. Check. Charjabug perched on your shoulder, buzzing a low, happy tone. Check. Collar buttoned, pants ironed in place— check, check, check. It’s a blustery morning mid-spring so you pull a scarf out of your closet and tuck its soft folds around your neck.

You emerge from your bedroom with a sigh. “Good morning.”

“Good morning!” Ingo and Emmet shout in-synch.

When you stride into the kitchen, Ingo plucks a Joltik off the back of your jacket and sets it gently onto the counter. It bounds away with a happy chirp. Then he sidles around you to turn the coffee machine on.

You get started on breakfast: three plates of eggs and toast and a full heaping bowl of chopped berries. Ingo almost trips over Drillbur and Emmet’s Durant crawls up the side of your leg as Emmet attempts to corral all the other pokémon into the living room. You shove away one of Hydreigon’s heads as they try to eat Ingo’s entire portion.

“Thanks!” Emmet exclaims when you slide him his share. He’s comically tucked his napkin into the collar of his shirt and it puffs out like a fancy cravat.

You drop the huge bowl of sliced berries into the massive crowd of pokémon and briefly observe the sheer chaos that follows. Then you turn around and stride toward one of the side tables.

You fiddle with the record player Ingo got you for your birthday, turning it on and carefully lowering its diamond-tipped arm. On the table beside it is the gift you’d gotten him for Delibird Day: a toy Litwik alongside a hand-painted frame displaying a photo of you and him, wrapped in holiday tinsel, tucked into each other's sides in the hotel lobby. You lean down and blow the dust off of it as the first low pangs of Piano Sonata fill the room.

The house shines, crisp and almost impeccably neat, save for this vertible clutter of photographs crammed all over the side table. Next to your record player is another photo, one Emmet took of you and Ingo smooching in the Marine Tube—situated front and center on the table, to Ingo’s constant horror and humiliation.

There’s another black and white photo of you leaping into his arms off Kyurem’s back. Another with you, Nate, and Rosa. A picture of a large group beneath a Delibird Day tree. One with you and Emmet and Ingo, all three of you in Castelia City holding Castelia cones, one with Elesa beneath a glittering, ornate stage. Then there’s a big photo of a huge group of people standing in front of an innocuous elevator in an average-looking hotel.

There are more and more photographs, but if you took the time to describe them all you’d take up a whole novel. You don’t have a moment to spare—you’re on a schedule, and a tight one at that.

“Hurry up and eat your breakfast!” Emmet commands behind you.

You quickly turn and join him at the counter. Ingo places your coffee in front of you—with a splash of milk, just the way you like it—and presses a peck to your temple before he sits down as well.

Early morning procedures are as follows. Ingo forgets his tie in his room every morning so you might retrieve it and tie it for him. You know by now this is his excuse to get a kiss or a hug, though dutifully play along each morning as he and his brother wait for you by the door.

”I think I left it on your nightstand!” Ingo calls to you as you search your room.

You squint at your nightstand but it’s without a familiar blue tie. So, without much thought, you open the nightstand drawer—

—to find a tie clip, allergy medication, an extra pair of gloves, and an odd velvety box.

You blink, hand curled around the knob. This is not your nightstand. You are on Ingo’s side of the bed. You inhale sharply through your nose, then exhale just as fast, staring into the drawer. For some reason you cannot bring yourself to shut it, eyes barreling into the little red box.

There’s some shuffling and shouting from the foyer, the thudding of shoes. The twins are clearly in a rush and you still need to grab Ingo’s tie. But your body won’t listen to you—your hand lifts and settles and plucks the box out of the little drawer.

This is not following early morning procedures, your head reminds you.

You open the box.

“Hey!” shouts Emmet from the hall, “Did you find it yet? The train is departing—!”

Oh, you think, staring—your entire body fizzles and crumpled inward as though you’re coming undone. You carefully, reverently close the little box, then place it, trembling, back into the drawer where it was. You force your face into an expression of perfect nonchalance, then push it shut.

Right, you think—okay. Then your lips split into a huge, tremulous grin. You slap your hand over your mouth to hide it.

You hear Ingo call your name outside. He knocks way too hard on the door of his own room. Bang-bang-bang! “Are you ready to depart?”

“Yes!” You call back, pushing it all down and blinking it away—but this does nothing to hide your hot face as something thrums and shudders inside your heart. You stumble as you grab an innocuous blue stream of fabric from your nightstand and hurry out of the room.

As per usual, you find the twins waiting for you by the door.

“You forgot your tie,” You tell Ingo in a halting stammer, quickly striding up to him and wrapping it around his neck. You move to finish the knot, then his arms wrap around you and he crushes you into a hug.

“Do that later.” Emmet scolds, slapping his brother so hard on the back you feel it too. “We’re already off schedule this morning.”

“Sorry,” you mumble half-heartedly into Ingo’s warm collarbone. You try to scooch away but it doesn’t do much—Ingo’s the one who doesn’t seem to want to let go of you, this time.

“Ingo.” Emmet warns.

Ingo huffs, backs up, and stands there dutifully as you finish tying his tie for him. Then, as per usual, he presses a kiss to the center of your forehead and smooths down your hair.

“You’ve gained a few gray hairs,” Ingo informs you, tucking some stray strands behind your ear.

“So have you,” You say jokingly. “Though it seems more like you’re losing them.” Your eyes flit pointedly to his slightly receding hairline. Ingo huffs and pinches your cheek.

“We’re identical twins,” Emmet states to Ingo, snagging your uniform hat off the foyer side table, “Shouldn’t we be losing hair at the exact same rate. Why have you lost more hair than me.”

“It’s the stress of dealing with you,” Ingo quips immediately, pulling his own uniform hat off the hook.

“Yes,” You agree, showing Emmet the top of your head, “Look how many gray hairs you’ve given me.”

Emmet slams your hat onto your head so hard you nearly bow over onto the floor.

“EMMET!” Ingo bellows, grappling for you, his voice shaking the entire apartment.

“I am Emmet.” Emmet ignores Ingo as your partner helps you straighten up. “I bet I got Drayden’s superior genes.”

Ingo huffs noisily, hands leaving your shoulders. “We have the same genes.”

Emmet puffs up his chest as Galvantuala clambers up his back to hook herself onto his shoulders like a backpack. “Then I am just the superior twin.”


”I have more hair than you and I make better casserole,” Emmet barrels over him, turning to you—you are always the Mankey in the middle. “You agree with me. You agree with me, right?”

”Elesa is the superior sibling.” You deadpan listlessly, hat crooked on your head. “Argument over. Let’s go before we’re late.”

You ignore the twins’ protests of “—Completely outside of the choice parameters—” and, “—totally unfair!” as you snag your coat off the hook and swing open the door.

The walk to work is the same old song and dance. Ingo and Emmet frame you on either side, their swinging speed walk coaxing you faster as you dodge passerby and pokémon alike. You all duck under a particularly low hanging banner on the corner of 8th and 10th then whirl around a corner just as Emmet’s phone rings.

It’s Elesa. He immediately puts her on speakerphone.

“I’ll meet you all at the hotel this afternoon!” She exclaims over the phone. “Burgh and Skyla are coming too! It’s the Battle Hotel’s third anniversary, after all!”

Turning onto 10th means watching out for a bus overflowing with passengers who get off around this time. Charjabug squeaks in tune with screeching brakes as cars barrel by across the intersection. Emmet yaps with Elesa until she makes a bad pun, then he promptly hangs up on her.

The elegant, grandiose Battle Hotel comes into view with its gold painted pillars, sloped windows, and curling arches. You step beneath the pristine jade awning and stride through the revolving glass doors. A chorus of greetings spill through the lobby at your entrance; you smile and wave.

“Well, here’s your stop,” Ingo states next to you.

Your partner steps forward, pushes the brim of your hat back, then curls over you to press a soft, chaste kiss to your forehead. You grab him gently by the face and pull him down to press a not-so-chaste kiss to his lips.

Ingo freezes as you pull back. He blinks at least ten times, then his entire face flushes firetruck red as though he hasn’t been dating you for almost two years.

“I love you,” You state, “have a good day.”

“Okay,” Ingo regurgitates, then jolts forward to hug you in a tight, firm hold. He blinks some more as he pulls away, his ears still a startling crimson. “I love you. Too.”

You pat his arms as a smile curls across your face and you don’t try to hold it back. Ingo returns the expression, his grin wobbling.

You shift forward and hug him one more time, burying your face in his collarbone, that bubbly feeling from before welling in you as you remember that box in his drawer. He holds you back just as tightly.

“Don’t get too nervous,” You murmur teasingly, propping your chin up on his chest.

“If you keep dropping things, ask Mrs. Janet for help.” He returns with a wobbly smile.

You both simultaneously pinch each other’s cheeks.

Emmet gags harshly. “Oh my God.”

Then, in a sudden roll-reversal, he grabs the collar of Ingo’s coat and basically drags him off of you. “We’re leaving, yup! Bye!”

You huff a laugh and recover quickly. Ingo, not so much. He tries to lunge away from Emmet, his eyes big and shocked, face still visibly flushed, but is yanked back by his brother’s grip on his collar.

One of his hands manages to grasp the fabric of your sleeve but he’s quickly dragged away again, yelling loudly in protest. “Emmet—!”

“Bye,” You intone to them, waving. “I’ll see you both this afternoon.”

“Stop talking!” Emmet interrupts, snarling melodramatically. He stops dragging Ingo just to jab a finger at your face, his smile huge and wide. “Your best-friend status has been revoked! You’re gross!”

“EMMET!” Ingo bellows, appalled. Emmet just complains about something unintelligible and keeps walking, loud and whiny. Ingo tries to yank away again but his shoes skid uselessly on the carpeting; he’s pulled further and further away. “Emmet, stop—let go of me—!”

You wave and keep waving until long after they're gone, until their shouting and bickering fades into the crowds outside the revolving glass doors. Then your composure cracks as you twitch with a bout of muffled laughter.

“Excuse me?” A demure, lithe woman tilts her head to you with a smile, her hand resting on the back of a short teen with eerily familiar dark eyes. “I’m here to drop off my daughter. She’s shadowing Janet today.”

“Ah, yes.” You swallow down your laughter to tuck your hands behind your back as Charjabug chirps a greeting on your shoulder. “You must be Janet’s wife and daughter.” A smile pulls across your face. “Welcome to the Battle Hotel.”

The hotel shifts and works like a well-oiled machine, janitors bustling about the lobby, bellhops bumbling about. You pass along Janet’s daughter to her with an amiable smile. Then you nod to nearby guests as low, quiet music slinks along the halls. Canon in D Minor.

You smile at Hilda over her desk as you pass. She beams back, and her smile’s mirrored by all three of her visiting friends. N tips his head, Cheren sends you a wave, and Bianca pushes the sides of her grin up near the corners with her fingertips. Briefly, you do the same.

The big chandeliers above your head sparkle onto the stretching red carpet like big, crystalized stars. Pale morning light pools into the creases of your jacket. You snag your morning coffee off the café counter, cross through the hall, then stride toward the break room to drop off some of your things.

You open the door to find Junie hosting some sort of high school lesson.

The room’s furniture has been arranged like a classroom, the whiteboard near the furthest wall surrounded by lined-up chairs and long tables. Junie’s still rambling as you absorb the scene.

Nancy has fallen asleep at her ‘desk,’ drooling over one of her folded arms. Randy is writing down everything Junie says in rapt attention. Danny is placing a piece of bread on a sandwich nearly two feet tall; it threatens to tumble over like a Jenga tower.

”So that’s how you seduce a rich mafia boss,” Junie finishes flatly. She’s gesturing toward the break room white board with a spatula. “Any questions?”

The kitchen tool smacks a huge diagram she’d drawn on the board that has a picture of Team Rocket leader Giovanni taped into the center of it. Next to the slightly crumpled print-out are a collection of recommended soap operas. There are a series of bizarre titles listed, such as The Mafia’s Babysitter and My Slice of Crime Life.

You squint. Randy spots you and shrieks. The noise wakes Nancy, who sleepily turns to look at you then snorts fully awake. When Danny finally notices you he nearly falls out of his chair but his massive sandwich tower miraculously does not topple over. A small waving flag has been stuck onto the top.

Junie glares at you, slapping her spatula on the board. “Boss get out. This meeting is for Single and Ready to Mingle club members only.”

Should you ask? You’re not going to ask. “..Alright. Don’t get too distracted.”

You close the door to a varying array of sharp salutes.

Danny follows you out into the lobby, his massive sandwich in hand, and when you refuse to eat it he deflates like an Air Balloon. You’ve just turned the corner when you’re confronted by a group of familiar, colorful characters lingering next to an ornate pillar.

“Hey!” Elesa claps you on the back. “Anything going on for the third anniversary?”

“There are discounts on everything in the café,” You inform her flatly.

Elesa grins brilliantly. “Awesome!”

“Hi there!” Skyla greets next to her. “Happy third anniversary to the hotel! Oh, Burgh came along too.” She jerks her thumb toward the man standing behind her. “He wants to try the Single Battle challenge again.”

“I’m bugging out over it!” Burgh exclaims. Elesa snickers into her hand.

“Really now,” You hum distractedly. Then you pause, glancing toward the green-clad, grinning gym leader pointedly. “..Burgh. No explosives.”

Burgh shrinks in disappointment. Skyla opens her mouth but you barrel over her. “No cannons, either.”

Elesa laughs loudly as Skyla pouts her lower lip. “Not even one—?”

“What about a cannon-confetti machine?” Danny pleads next to you. Burgh lightens up, grinning. “Oooh, yes, that sounds absolutely avant-garde!”

You rub a hand down your face. Arceus, it’s like you’re dealing with children.

The hotel’s busy as usual. Susie’s posturing flirtatiously next to Alejandra, who’s trying to do a regular maintenance check, her head buried in a fuse box. Kumo and that Nimbasa Daily reporter are cheering over one of Champion Leon’s matches on the TV.

As you wave farewell to the gym leaders and move toward your elevator, you turn to spot Charles ambling across the room toward you, his pants hanging ridiculously low and his Scraffy trotting happily at his side.

“Files,” Charles states, shoving a four-inch-thick clipboard into your hand.

“Damn,” You intone.

“If it’s boring just let me know.” Your friend jabs a thumb into his chest. His Scraffy looks up at him curiously then cutely mimics the motion. “I’ll help you out as your big brother.”

”I’m literally older than you,” You inform him flatly.

Charles slaps you on the arm unnecessarily hard then stomps away. His Scraffy nearly trips as she scrambles to follow at his heels.

There’s much to do on a day like today, when guests come in waves and fill every spare spot on the carpet. You move up and down, press button after button, gravity shifting and golden lights glowing beneath your fingertips. The doors open and close, open and close. Charjabug buzzes a low, happy tone on your shoulder.

You step back out into the lobby and meet eyes with a familiar glass-gray.

“Hello! We’re back!” Waves Emmet with a grin.

You distractedly check your watch. “Is it lunchtime already?”

Ingo frowns heavily next to his brother. “Dear, have you not eaten yet? I keep telling you that you must remember to refuel—“

Emmet shoves a take-out fried bun into your mouth. He’d clearly expected this.

“Thansh’ besh-frend,” You slur, voice muffled.

“You are such a problem,” Emmet returns flatly. You manage to take the bun from his hands and a spatter of crumbs explodes onto the floor. Randy runs by with the broom and sweeps it up within moments.

You huff a noiseless laugh, but Ingo and Emmet refuse to let you back in the elevator before you’ve finished your lunch. You swallow the last bite just as a familiar pair of siblings bound into the lobby.

Rosa’s jabbing her finger into Nate’s face. “I’ll beat you soon enough, that’s a promise!”

Nate huffs. “Even if you do, I was Champion first!”

“I was Champion before either of you! So I win!” Crows Iris, squeezing herself between them. Then she spots you and breaks into a ecstatic grin. Drayden, following behind them, lets out a long-suffering sigh.

The teens scramble over to you and the twins with chattering smiles. Hydreigon bursts out of his ball to greet them, and Iris throws herself into your partner’s feathers with a gleeful shout. You crouch down to let Rosa give Charjabug some pats where he sits on your shoulder.

“By the way,” Nate cuts in with a casual smile. “Kyurem’s on the roof. You can say hi to them after.”

You straighten only to drag a hand down your face. “Nate, how many times have I told you to stop landing Kyurem on the roof? I’ve started getting complaints—”

”Battle time! Battle time!” Iris and Rosa cheer. Hydreigon, wanting to join in, makes a snotty gurgling noise.

“I apologize for the rukus. I will ensure they do not cause trouble,” Drayden promises you, towering over the children in his care. “It has been a while since I’ve spent time with my daughter. She’s growing so quickly..”

“Tell me about it.” You return as you watch Hydreigon lunge over to consume Nate’s face. The fact that the boy has grown a full four inches means nothing to the six-foot-tall dragon-type.

Drayden takes your words literally. “She’s already talking about dating. She’s only seventeen. Where did she get such ideas? I’m afraid—“

“Hey! What’s taking so long!” Iris props her hands on her hips, making her red dress flare. Her costume hotel cap has been pinned neatly between her twintails. “We’re ready for our triple battle!”

“Who in Arceus’ name authorized that?” You say flatly.

“You did,” Nate returns cheekily, Hydreigon’s slobber coating his cheeks.

“C’mon!” Rosa exclaims, bouncing on her heels.

There’s much to do on a day like today. You’re a very busy person, after all. There are many people in your life you’ve grown to care for and they’re all in this hotel that you’ve poured all your love into. A home away from home. A place full of endless smiles and laughter.

“Well, I’ve got to go,” You say to Emmet and Ingo.

“Yup!” Emmet grins brightly. He smacks you on the back, way too hard. “Don’t let us keep you!”

Ingo nods. A warped grin rises to his face, creasing into his eyes. “We will be here when you return.”

His smile is like a sliver of sunrise. Behind him you can see the hotel’s great foyer cutting a warm red crease into the chaotic world. Something settles within you, obvious but overwhelming in its weight, and your heart thumps with pressure, tingly bright and filled to the bursting.

“I love you,” you say to him warmly.

“I love you too,” he returns. Then Iris latches to your wrist at the same time Rosa drags you by the arm.

You laugh as you’re manhandled into your own elevator, which dings and opens its brassy, shiny doors. You are home, you think, and this is a home you’ve chosen—full of all those who’ve touched your heart, full of all the hearts you’ve touched in turn.

You love this place, how it changes every moment, never finite, never stagnant, fluctuating endlessly with all the people you’ve ever met whose lives are as vibrant and distinctive as your own. The passerby on the street, the visitors and guests, even the legendary pokémon that cut holes in the sky. Then there’s you at the center of it all, at the center of your world.

Your legs have carried you here, you have shaped this concrete foundation with your bare hands, and your soul has settled on each and every stone. Perhaps you will live on forever in this home of your creation.

But it’s just a hotel. You’re being ridiculous.

“Alright,” You say, Charjabug chirping greetings to the two children attached to your arms. “Where to—?”

A crowd rushes into the elevator, nearly barreling you over. Iris and Rosa let go of you with two laughing shouts.

“Boss!” Calls Charles, “Can you get me to floor six?”

Janet slides in, her daughter trotting at her heels. “Boss, we need to look at these files together—“

Drayden huffs as he’s crammed into a corner. The children throw their arms in the air and chant, “Ninety-five! Ninety-five!”

Behind Janet bumbles Charles, behind Chalres smiles Junie, and there are way too many people in this elevator. Regardless, you close the gate, tuck one hand behind your back, then press buttons for floors six, ninety-five, and one-hundred.

The elevator dips and shudders. You tuck your hands behind your back. You feel gravity buoy beneath you as your guests cheer then a smile rises to your face, unbidden.

Just before the doors close, you see your employees and friends waving at you, the Battle Hotel lobby shrouded in golden light.

You straighten with a grin. “Goooing up!”

Smooth Operator - Chapter 15 - grubbin (2024)
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