Con Brio: A FireRed Randomized Nuzlocke

Chapter 4

The flames licked hungrily at the air, ravenously devouring the house without mercy. Sirens screeched their earsplitting noises from far away, the lights flashing vibrantly in the night. Tortured sobs of heart wrenching pain were coming from her friend, embraced in the quiet but equally effected grandfather Oak.

Eleven year old Clover could little comprehend the scene before her. She was only able to watch in baffled silence, holding her crying mother.

She understood what had happened. But, she really didn't want to.

This night would change their lives forever.

"C'mere, baby." Her mother cooed with a fragile expression, trembling arms taking in her child, as if to protect her from the world.

It was a little belated, but Clover began to cry, too.


Aidan felt his heart quiver as he stared down the impressive building. It was huge! He figured it had to be for the rumored onix on Brock's team, but the thought of an onix didn't make his panic any less. He tried to swallow but he had a hard lump in his throat. "A-Are you guys sure you want to do this? We can always train in the woods for a while longer…" He looked to his pokemon, hopefully.

"Pickles." Said the wooper helpfully, fidgeting and moving around, smiles as ever.

That's one yes… He thought, crossing his fingers, grimmly.

The cleffa gave him a cocky grin- one he really did not like. Didn't Fae know they were going into a rock gym, where she would be pretty useless? But if she didn't know, he most certainly wasn't going to tell her, because she'd just get offended and probably try to take on the entire gym herself. "Don't worry, Master Aidan! I'll protect you!"

He shook his head. How does she always answer so wrong? He wondered in a strange concoction of befuddlement and awestruck.

"I… I can do this!" The one pokemon he thought would for sure be on his side, Elliot, cheered, having a burst of courage.

"I'm ready to slice and dice a bitch, just give me the order, Aidan guy." the ever so eloquent skitty purred, licking her paw.

Aidan was fairly confident he was going to break down sometime in the battle. He had two cutesy normal types who really couldn't do much, a shellder that could take a hit but not anything else, and the one pokemon who could actually dish out some fierce water gun had a limited vocabulary of pickled products.

Aidan wondered if he could push ahead his breakdown, because he was really feeling it. His only distraction from the badge was the vague job Verde offered him. He had no money, no items, no nothing, really. He'd be happy to have a distraction before the gym battle- he was so not looking forward to that- if it weren't a job from Verde. He was almost as terrified of what lay ahead in store for him in the job, just as he was scared of the battle looming in the distance.


The job was everything Aidan had never thought it would be.

Maid Cafe. Aidan still couldn't believe- he was relieved, but shocked, still. He wasn't smuggling bodies. He wasn't shooting at politicians. He hadn't had to carry strange mysterious bags on his person from point a to point b. He had not had to outrun the police or distract them and the best part was the job was even completely legal-

"Just what kind of life do you think I lead?" Verde snorted, giving the trainer an unimpressed look.

He struggled for words, surprised. "Sorry- did I really say that out loud?"

"Yes, you dork. Now, are you going to take the job? Even short jobs like this won't last long in Pewter."

Aidan nodded vigorously. "Of course! It's the only way I can think of saving up for the gym- thank you so-"

A giggle almost maniacal and dark stopped him short- Verde was grinning widely and from the three and a half weeks they had known each other, Aidan was completely sure it was at his expense. "Don't thank me just yet, little maid."

Aidan didn't think he liked it when Verde laughed like that.

Aidan hadn't ever had a job- his mother always told him he wasn't going to do well in one. But, this once, Aidan wanted to think his mother was wrong.

Sure, Verde was batshit horrifying- the first day, he actually started to cry. He had to excuse himself to the bathroom- he was glad he didn't have to act like a guy yet. For almost all of his journey so far, he had been in the wilds, with only Verde's company for a part of it, and she knew his real identity already. And he hadn't really interacted with anyone in the two cities, aside from Nurse Joys who he didn't really have to worry about.

It was a bit of a bad habit, but Aidan cried a bit too easily for his own liking. However, in this job, it seemed to add to his 'moe' appeal. He had heard of the term discussing anime with people online at home, but he still had no clue what it actually meant.

Aidan, or rather, Evie, apparently did pretty well with the customers, thanks to Verde's work.

Somehow, Verde managed to fix the mess that had been his hair- he did a crappy job of it right before leaving home, and after a month of little care, had grown crappier- into something pretty cute. Then, Verde did make-up saying there was a lot to be fixed- Aidan wanted to be offended, but with how little care he had given his appearance in the wild, he bit his tongue knowing Verde was probably right.

It was like looking at someone else in the mirror- Aidan had been mystified and almost touched, before Verde slammed the eevee ears on his head and put him in a maid costume with an eevee tail attached and told him to bark.

Considering this was Aidan's first time at the job, he only started out cleaning tables and writing down orders during the downtime, giving the more experienced workers a break.

Verde was always shouting at him, ordering him to do it better, or scrub harder, but the place seemed to run smoothly under her care. It wasn't fun being called a mongrel or asked rhetorical questions like 'were you raised in a barn?' (and far worse, but Aidan didn't care to recount those) but she always apologized and treated him to food when work was done, after seeing how upset it made Aidan the first day.

And, it wasn't all bad. All sorts of people came in to the place, but the regulars were mostly miners. He had been a tad creeped out at first- they were mostly men and at least ten years older than him, but they were very friendly. They tipped well, and they even stopped a customer that was potentially danger for one of the staff- Chany, the chansey maid who liked to say cheesy stuff like "I'll heal you with my love!" and stuff like that. She was very nice- apparently a herbal medicine student of the area, too. She was interested in toxins especially.

The other staff members, however, were not so nice. Maybe it was because Verde was attentive to him in general, as they were… Were they friends? Aidan didn't really know, but they got along well. Amy the ampardos maid hadn't spoken a word to him, and Free the butterfree maid just outright disliked Aidan.

Aidan wasn't so unused to bullying- when he went to public school in Viridian, he was bullied some, although not usually physically.

Free talked about him when he was in hearing distance and stuff. Aidan didn't like it, but he knew that he had earned some of the stuff she said about him. He was clumsy- he had broken four glasses and completely dropped two dishes, and plenty enough, he messed up an order, especially at the beginning. He got flustered sometimes with the customers when they tried to make conversation with him- he was constantly nervous.

But on the second week, Verde let him bring Skittles with him, once figuring out about the problem. It helped in most situations, but there was still one time the trainer just kind of… lost his nerve.

Aidan had been jotting down the orders of a married miner duo- they were quite awesome, really. Their names were Miria and Isaac, and they always making conversation with him, while also letting him not really say anything. And the one time- the only time they ever asked him a question, he got frazzled.

"Where are you from, Miss Evie-chan?" Miria had asked, with that grin she always wore- the couple were never not smiling or laughing.

He sputtered, trying to think he if should lie or not. They wouldn't be able to figure out he was being looked for, could they? He and Verde had checked out the town upon arrival, searching for posters and notifications of themselves, but found nothing. Their trek in the forest had done the magic trick for them, really.

But, what if someone was listening and figured it out? Or an officer with the information still in their head found out? Aidan wasn't normally very paranoid, but he also really wasn't in his element.

Pewter was a new place- he had never been there. It was different than going to Viridian because he was used to it. And he had only ever lived in Pallet- there were never faces you didn't know. There weren't very many people. It was the definition of peaceful.

So many people, everywhere, the cityfolk never sleeping, Pewter was like a living creature that had gobbled him up. It was no Celadon, he guessed, but it was many times bigger than Pallet, and his brain started to short circuit from all the stress. His pokemon were mostly watching television for hours in their room at the Center and he had felt uneased everyday at the work without them after a month of constant companionship. Aidan felt weak and exposed without their presence and protection. And that didn't even bring up the upcoming gym challenge- that was a stress bomb all on its own.

Everything was just so stressful, and Aidan needed air. "Pall- I can't- I-I don't want- can-"

"Master Evie is very shy. She is from the Viridian outskirts- please don't mind this." Verde said in a polite manner to the customers when noticing the severe stuttering that was Aidan.

Aidan didn't usually get worked up- heck, almost never. Pallet Town was like sitting under warm sun beams- it was relaxing just being there, and there was never a whole lot of pressure to do anything. No animosity stained the people- everyone was well meaning and there was never any surprises. Everyone around him was been like family, and he didn't have to worry about screwing up or being alone- simply put, he was home in Pallet Town.

Compared to that, Pewter City was like a manically charged monster devouring him little by little, day by day.

The cafe at that moment felt like it was closing in on him, the throat of the monster swallowing him alive. "I- I'm gonna go on my break, Verde!" He squeaked, before rushing out the door and throwing something over his shoulder about his break.

If his head hadn't been so fuzzy, he would've realized that not only did he leave his boss in a situation, but he was walking around the city in maid cosplay. He would've been embarrassed or mortified, but he couldn't think anything much till he found himself at the edge of town, gasping for breath. Had he run? He couldn't remember.

He kind of just collapsed to his knees- he felt better, but instantly regretted it, realizing what he had just done. He had not only run out on customers, but on his job, and Verde. Verde was going to kill him.

He was so happy his work stopped after the week ended- instead of money, Verde was going to stock him up with supplies for the trip through Mount Moon and enough to fight Brock. Only five more days for him to get through.

He sighed- he was exhausted, and he wanted to hear the clam and the pink pudge fight, and get exasperated with the silly wooper- who, coincidentally, really loved pickles. He wanted to have strangely enlightening and fun and soothing conversations with the skitty. He was missing Pallet Town, but he had been mistaken about it being his home.

Those four, cutesy, crazy pokemon were his home, he realized. They were what he woke up to, dreamed about, laughed with, and slept with. They were now his protection and his charges- it was a different type of home, but a home nonetheless.

Aidan shot up with renewed energy- he was going to use his tips at the end of the week to buy pickled treats and all sorts of goodies for his pokemon after the gym battle. They were probably going to rent bad movies and eat ice cream, and it may have been small, but Aidan was excited about it.

He could get through this.


As expected, Verde was furious. The couple were gone- but she had done a great job entertaining them, apparently.

The rest of the week went especially well, somehow. Aidan was pretty proud of Skittles- she had been apparently acting as a impromptu leader for his pokemon, finding things that he would need to work on with them, cheering them up, and occasionally ripping them away from the television. Fae had been pumping them up with excitement for the battle ahead and even tried to help Aidan cook dinner- she actually made it a bit more difficult, but the thought was appreciated a lot. Pickles had been learning new words thanks to Skittles, and Elliot and Fae had gotten massively infatuated with Hoennese dramas.

He had thought it many times, that Skittles would make a much better therapist rather than a battle mon'. He was grateful to have her- she always knew exactly what to do, and made him relax just by being there- but he couldn't help but think it.

For the rest of the week, with Skittles' encouragement at home, the trainer even managed to talk to the regulars a lot- it was even kind of fun once he was relaxed. Even with Free's attitude multiplying. Verde had been beyond furious, probably, but she was concerned for him through it all, which was nice.

On his last day, Miria and Isaac gave him their number, to call them if he ever needed anything. As well as Chany, who had been like a older sister the during the time, teaching Aidan what and how. And some of the miners crowd even cried- they may have looked menacing, but they were some of the nicest people he ever met.


Verde treated him to ice cream after the long day and they talked about the battle ahead.

"The only one able to even deal damage is that weird wooper of yours, y'know." She stated bluntly, looking far more normal in her skirt and shirt then Aidan did in his maid outfit in public, but he was almost proud to wear it now. It was embarrassing and mortifying, but he had actually grown kind of fond of the thing. Horrifyingly enough.

Skittles napped in his lap, snoring quietly. How cute. Aidan thought with a small smile. Through the strange two weeks he had, he really felt like he and his pokemon got closer- as did they, too, after being holed up in the room for most hours of the day. He walked them around town after work everyday, but they were close to their limit- or rather, he was. They were getting way too into those Hoennese dramas- even Pickles! He had to force them to go on walks now.

"Pickles isn't weird. And I know- two of my pokemon can't even battle, Elliot can only get hit, and I doubt he can take too much- Pickles has water gun and that's about the extent of my offense. I'm actually kind of terrified." Aidan confessed, putting his head in his hands. One stress ended and another started- he liked training and traveling better in almost every way, although he had a bed, which was much nicer than a sleeping bag and the ground.

Verde snorted. "Yeah, he's as normal as you are."

"I'm not weird." Aidan grumbled, feeling worn out from the long day.

"Sure, sure. Whatever you want." She laughed lightly, which was a much better alternative to her evil one.

Aidan didn't say anything for a moment, enjoying the setting sun. "Anyway… since you have a scary strong team, do you have any advice?"

A serious look found itself on Verde's face. "Don't you dare do it half way. There is no running in a gym battle, Aidan. You fight til the end- smart as you can, and harder than hard. You lead that team like your fucking life is on the line."

Aidan was now sitting up, stunned by the overwhelming answer. "Y… Yes ma'am." He hadn't really expected a reply of that magnitude, but the fierceness and wariness in her eyes suggested a lot behind those words.

A small beat of silence overtook them for a moment.

She groaned. "I'm not a ma'am, I'm not that old yet!"

"Are you going to come watch?" Aidan asked, purposefully changing the subject before she went on a long rant about her age again.

She nodded. "Wouldn't miss it for the world, kid."

"Verde?"

She gave him a slight smile. "Yeah?"

Aidan couldn't help but think that without the job or support, he really wouldn't have been able to even consider taking on the gym. And while Verde was a little strange, she was one of his few precious friends. The words laid thick on his tongue and he could barely force them out, a little emotional. "Thank you. For everything. I really mean-"

Verde put a hand on his mouth, with a amused look. "I know you are, Aidan. But don't be such a sap, it's gross." She kept her hand on his mouth for a moment, sighing. She looked left, then right, and then back at Aidan. "I, uh… You have a place here, dork. If you ever need it."

"Now who's sappy?" He chuckled a little, turning his attention to his ice cream after Verde retreated to her previous position.

"What are you talking about?... I didn't say a word." She said with a smirk, stealing the rest of Aidan's cone.


The gym trainer had been a easy defeat with Pickles- he was pumped with the promise of pickles in his future.

"You were totally awesome, Pickles!" Aidan said, snatching the pokemon into his arms. Pickles was their only offense- but he was doing well. Very well. Two of Pickles' water guns had taken down a geodude- the rock type had gotten in a tackle, but it barely fazed the wooper. Pickles had even used it for a close ranged attack without an order to do so- the little guy was well suited to battling.

"Pickles relish?" The pokemon murmured, his black little eyes looking straight into Aidan's with the most emotional look he had seen on the wooper, besides the time he had called Pickles a wooper.

He couldn't help but smile at the strange sentence and the look together. "Er… Are you hungry, buddy? Or is that not it?"

Pickles may have been a good battler, but he had few words outside of pickled products, for some reason. During their almost month and a half together, Aidan had gotten better at conversing with him. However, Skittles still had him beat by a long shot. Fae was tempered at everything in general, but had recently gotten along better with Elliot. The two were totally enchanted with the drama specials- and he could use it to get them to be civil to each other- it would've been a blessing in disguise had it not been so hard to get them to sleep.

The aquatic creature shook his head, his funny little pink things brushing against Aidan's exposed arms. "Pickles… relly? Relly awesause?"

The trainer's smile widened into a grin, amused and happy to be of service. "Yeah, little guy. You were awesome! Like-"

His face completely dropped when he realized his mistake- but for once, it seemed to have gone over the pokemon's head. Aidan sighed in relief, a mini catastrophe avoided. Every time they went in for a check-up at the center (Aidan went three times in the last couple days, nervous if any abnormalities were present in his pokemon before the battle) the nurse Joy always referred to Pickles as a wooper or cute nicknames that were supposed to be soothing- Aidan had to keep Pickles from using his new slam attack on the nurse. Several times. He had bruises to prove it.

"Pickles very awesause! Eye-dam yummy?" The wooper shook its head again. "Eye-dam… hap… happy?"

Aidan wasn't sure to if he wanted to cry because Pickles was just so adorable, or how much it made his heart ache. From Skittles' or from Pickles' own mouth, Aidan was starting to piece together a really unhappy picture of Pickles' past. Really, really unpleasant and unhappy. He honestly wasn't sure how the little guy was a little ball of sunshine almost all the time.

Aidan needed to pick up a book on the subject- Skittles had recommended one for him, when he confronted Aidan on the about it. One Mr. Pokemon and Prof. Elm's Guide to Young Pokemon Mental Care. It was a Johtoian book, so it would be more difficult to find, but well worth it.

"Yeah, b-Pickles. Very happy. Are you up for another battle Pickles? A big one? If not, we can go to the room and come back tomorrow."

Aidan had picked up some psychology books on babies, but with the growth speeds of both mentally and physically were hard to compare. Most pokemon were almost able to protect themselves as little children, and depending on the type, a little more independent from the mothers. There were just so many different factors playing and stuff- it amazed Aidan, while also baffling him sometimes. It was really interesting- but it just made him more confused all the same. Does this apply to him? Does it not? Does his faster mental growth as a pokemon also apply to emotion? What if its stunted? So in the end, he only came out with more questions, really.

The wooper gave him a big, honest smile, nodding. "Pickles go!"

To be honest, despite having the big stamp on the Pewter Gym card stating his win against the gym trainer, Aidan only felt more nervous, not less. It was a trainer's job to know what to do- but he had never fought a gym leader before- it scared him. He didn't know what to do. He could see the gigantic onix, being so strong that Pickles couldn't even dent it. It could possibly wipe out Elliot in a single hit, if Pickles needed a break and some handy potion healing. Aidan was scared he would fail his pokemon. So many things could go wrong, that trying to be optimistic about it seemed impossible, or even perverse.

"Are you just going to stand there forever, or did I waste my time taking off?"

Aidan flinched out of his thoughts, seeing a wild Verde before him, and Pickles now pulling on his arm sleeve, trying to get his attention. He gave his friend a weak grimace that was supposed to be a smile. "H-Hi, Verde. Haven't really decided-"

"Get your ass in gear, Aidan. What have you been doing, taking and traveling with these creatures under your care? Training them for nothing? Living a con act?" She snarled, suddenly pulling him a bit off the ground with a fierce grip on his collar. "Well, Aidan?" She spat. "What?!"

"N-no, b-but he has an onix! Everyone is so tiny, a-and-"

"Those," Verde said in a quiet, more venomous tone, "are the words of cowards. You came here knowing that, correct? So what? Do you not have confidence in your pokemon, in the confidence they've placed in you? Are you going to run with your fucking tail between your legs, Aidan?"

He realised he had started to think they couldn't defeat it. But he had seen Gary's name and countless more scratched into the walls- it wasn't like it was impossible. They had been training, for ages, working up money just for this moment. It wasn't fair for him to cower when they hadn't even tried to fight yet. "You're right." Aidan whispered, swallowing. His throat was dry.

"You go lead that team to victory, kiddo."

The next few minutes were a bit blurry. Someone told him he needed to choose three pokemon- which he already knew from looking it up, and he was pretty sure it was the gym leader talking to him. And without realizing it, he was in the challenger's box with his three pokemon behind it, and Verde holding Fae's locked ball.

"Pickles!" Pickles chirped, prancing around his feet, waiting for the referee. Pickles hadn't been deterred at all, by the thought of a big battle, Aidan reminded himself. Skittles and Elliot had both agreed, and even pushed him into the challenger box, all eager and grins. They were going to win. They had to. There was no time like the present, right?

"Go!"

Pickles tottered onto the field across from a geodude- however, this one looking more skilled and empowered than the ones previous. The thought brought back Aidan's fears- but he forced himself to swallow them down, and pretend. He was going to pretend that his trembles and wide eyes and hoarse voice were because he was very, very excited. That's how people changed themselves. Faking it til they made it. Or at least, that's what he always heard. "Water gun, Pickles!"

"Go right through it, Geodude! Show it your strong tackle attack!"

Brock, the gym leader, seemed to constantly smile so far. Aidan hoped maybe the battle would change his game face, or at the very least, that the gym leader didn't have room to be cocky. "Feint to the side, Pickles!"

And the two small pokemon were off, the geodude launching itself with a mysterious force through the water gun. However, at the last second, the wooper side stepped and avoided most of the damage. When he could get a clear view of the pokemon, it was obviously a lot more tired than it had been, but it probably still had a good and decent two thirds of health on the accurate pokedex reading. "Keep it up, Pickles!"

"Defense curl and tackle, Geodude!"

The rock pokemon was pulling off a strange combination of defense curl and tackle at once- it was like a slow motion cannon ball, or a incomplete recreation of the move roll out. The constant water gun attack seemed to be wearing it out a lot, but the speed it was traveling at was still dangerous.

When the geodude seemed on its last move, Brock shouted out, "Launch yourself off the rock for greater velocity!"

Pickles was still doing alright, but not great. His water stream wasn't as strong and he looked a little winded- Aidan knew he needed to wrap it up quick, and that if the geodude's offense connected, that the wooper wasn't going to stay steady too much longer. "Jump over it, Pickles!" The small blue amphibian barely managed to jump above the geodude- who sped out of bounds, into the wall. Aidan hadn't afforded much of a look after that, but it looked like it had fainted in exhaustion.

"Now is the time for switch outs!"

"Come back, Pickles!"

Said pokemon trotted back with a worn, but happy expression. "Pickles… Pickles awesauce, Eye-dam?"

The trainer grinned, petting the pokemon gently on the head for a moment. "Absolutely, Pickles. You did super awesome." The wooper fell on his butt, now catching his composure. Aidan turned his attention from one blue companion to the other, seeing the shellder trembling in his shell, but with a brave face. "You ready, Elliot? You won't have to stall but for a moment or two- I promise."

"I-I was b-born ready, Aidan." Elliot sputtered, tongue shuddering in his movement.

He pat the shellder on his back. "You got this buddy, I promise you."

"D-don't h-h-have to t-tell me t-t-twice!"

His stuttering had gotten worse, but Aidan could only feel proud of his pokemon- his terrified clam, now trying to be brave for his trainer, for the wooper who could confidently attack for them in their drolls and his skitty, always trying to better himself, or better his companions. It was a bit of a ragtag team for the field, but Aidan didn't think he would ever forget the moment. Fae wasn't there, which was a little sad, but it felt more honest, without her brave- or stupid, because he was never really sure- leading of the team with unbridled spirit.

The trainer and the three of them there- none of them were particularly brave, but no one was running away even from what lied ahead- that was what made Aidan proud. He had felt scared, but he was there, with them, and they were already half way there! Aidan almost felt confident they could win this, with the last round.

That confidence, however, would not stay much longer.

"Go!"

"Onix!"

"Elliot!"

The first part of the battle was just painful- Aidan was healing up Pickles, with the shellder valiantly standing strong against the powerful onix's attacks- Elliot could only take two thwacks of the gigantic tail, but that was long enough for Pickles to be up and running like new.

"Come back, Elliot, and go, Pickles! Water gun!"

Elliot came running back- not damaged in anyway a potion or a center couldn't quickly fix, but scared plenty none the less. Aidan wanted to give the pokemon props, but the pressing battle was at hand.

"Pickles, try a water gun right in on its horn!"

Pickles was strongly tackled a long distance back into Aidan's wobbily grasp- who was now at a cross road. Pickles could finish the onix off- it was beginning to look ragged and tired, and only one or two more attacks would finish it off. Elliot, however, was in no shape to go back to the fight. The onix would take him out with one more attack and Aidan had no time to go about healing him- he only had a potion or two, which would have to be spent on Pickles, anyway.

"Woman up, motherfucker. I got this." Skittles marched up to him, realising his internal strife.

"You aren't built for this, Skittles! Y-"

The skitty wasn't trembling, nor was she wavering in her voice, She seemed strong and prepared to take on anything, and it would be alright. But Aidan could tell she was scared from the look she gave him. I can't do this, he thought. I won't. He wanted to be persuaded by the confidence she was trying to feed him, but he couldn't. Aidan had never seen her scared before. He didn't like the omen descending in his gut- he prayed for a miracle. He thought up every legend and religion he could think of and prayed for a moment. He officially recalled Pickles by announcing it out loud.

"I'm gonna go mcfucking wild, Aidan guy. Don't you dare try to stop me. You know what needs to happen."

"Skittles! We'll think of something!"

"Life isn't all cherries, Aidan! There is no running in a official battle, and, well- sometimes you just have to do it!"

He immediately set to work spraying potions and murmuring what was hopefully comforting words to his other two pokemon on the field. He ignored the bad, unmoving feeling in his gut as the potion quickly began to work and the nimble skitty seemed to deftly dodge hits again and again.

"I'm recalling my pokemon and sending out Pickles!" Aidan wanted to cry he was so thankful- the skitty was on her way back and Pickles, freshly renewed was hopping back to the field and -fuck!

The small cat soared in the air after a sickening crunch! in a symphony of grotesque sounds he had never heard before, with a soft mewl afterwards.

Aidan lurched forward to catch Skittles' airborne body, which landed limply in his arms. Her normally warm body felt… wrong. Wrong as anything had ever possibly ever been, her form in a completely unnatural position, growing dead with an apathetic cold seeping into her. Her broken body vibrated in a perversion of a purr as she coughed, small specks of blood flying out of her mouth. "Aida… n…" Skittles gasped, trying to nuzzle into his chest with her last ounce of strength. He could feel her grow lifeless and limp in his arms.

She had just been talking to him, hadn't she? The liar. Aidan could feel tears drop from his cheeks unwillingly- he hadn't even quite processed it and they were already leaking out of his eyes.

Someone else's hands were trying to move his hands- he knew they were trying to put her back into her pokeball, but irrational as it was, he wanted to keep her warm with his body as long as possible. He didn't want her to go. He really didn't want her to go.

"Does the challenger wish to continue the battle? If so, they must send out their next pokemon on field within the next thirty seconds."

Whoever- in the farthest corner of his mind, he knew it was Verde, but he was so foggy he couldn't sense it- had been trying to take Skittles from his arms succeeded and he slowly stood up- and found himself in the challenger's box, looking at Pickles who was still smiling. He was still smiling, but tears were dripping down his cheeks. The trainer- who, still kind of felt emotionless at the moment- rubbed the wooper's eyes and looked at him.

"Pickles. Will you go?" Aidan asked, feeling all of the early rampant emotions drained from his body, leaving a husk that only owned his appearance and his voice.

The pokemon nodded. "Pickles… go."

The onix didn't have much of a chance of beating the wooper at full health, now nursing battle wounds of the heart. A full river of water launched out of the small Pickles' mouth and washed over the large rock snake- which was returned. Aidan didn't know how much later it was, only that he was staring at Skittles' murderer until a red light enveloped it and only left its space.

He returned Elliot without saying anything- they were probably going to talk about it later. But that was later so he put his attention to the next pokemon on his list- Pickles. Who didn't look so good.

He ran to the stumbling wooper, who should've been at full health and shouldn't have sustained any damage- until he saw a small purple spike embedded in the wooper's foot. Immediately, he looked up to see a lot of children that looked similar to Brock on the catwalk- who he guessed were Brock's siblings. They were yelling something about being mean to onix.

He was angry.

Very very angry.

An unstable, dangerous kind of angry.

Quickly, he rummaged through his bag- he couldn't lose two today, he couldn't even handle having lost one- and there it was. The last potion. One that could've maybe saved some of what happened in the gym- but then again, it was going to save something now.

Aidan quickly sprayed it all over the wooper's body, glad for his amphibian skin that would easily soak it up. His pokedex read that Pickles' health went from three points to twenty three- that would let them get to the pokecenter. He was sure of it.

He stormed his way out, with Brock at the front, trying to give him a badge or something- he couldn't think straight. All he could do was scream at the gym leader- Aidan had called back Skittles. He had. And then- it was Brock's ordering the onix that killed her. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair.

"Life isn't all cherries!" He wanted to cry just at hearing her voice pop up in his memory.

But instead, he tried to gather all his hate and energy- it was Brock's onix that had killed Skittles, and it was his horrible, terrible siblings' toxic spikes that had almost taken Pickles away too. "What the fuck is wrong with you?!" His voice was broken and raw, and he think it was the loudest he had ever, ever screamed- it would even be heard to the cafe, he reckoned.

Brock was a murderer. But it was legal. But he was a killer. Aidan hoped the gym leader knew that- it probably wasn't his first time, and maybe it happened a lot and maybe he felt bad about it- but Aidan didn't think he was capable of ever forgiving the man who had happened to be the cause of what almost killed Pickles and he damn sure was never going to forgive the cause of what killed Skittles.

He knew he just mostly needed someone to blame.

It was pathetic.

But, all the same, he still needed a scapegoat for it.


He had spent two days outside of the ICU. Pickles wasn't in intensive care anymore, but they were still flushing the poisons out of him and making sure his sensitive skin wasn't badly damaged.

Aidan went in as long as visitors were allowed, and camped out in the hall waiting, unable to sleep, and unable to stop worrying.

He could still feel Skittles final breath leaving her, all the wrongs of the little pieces of bone in her.

Aidan wasn't going to let Pickles go due to any part in his negligence; it wasn't even really a choice of his to make. He just couldn't stop worrying about the wooper, and three hours of visiting time wasn't going to make the little guy feel not lonely. Pickles even fought and finished the battle after Skittles died- everything for the team was not going alright.

Aidan had been with Elliot a lot in the passing two days. They talked about Skittles a lot- or, Elliot had. Aidan didn't think- couldn't think straight at all, really- he could take it, telling Fae. Sure, she and Elliot weren't as close to her as Pickles, but they were very much team mates. They were family. Kinda.

Elliot had been a bit hysterical at first. But seeing something in his somber, tensed trainer either calmed him down or shut him up- Aidan wanted to apologize about all his one word responses, but he wasn't going to be able to even form a coherent sentence til Pickles was out of the danger zone. Elliot babbled on about- well, a lot of things, in his trainer's silence.

"Aidan, what's your favorite color?" The shellder tried, forcing his body under his trainer's limp arm.

"Mm."

"Aidan, are you okay?"

"Mm."

Elliot sighed, blowing some air out. It made his tongue wiggle- it always made Aidan laugh before. This time, however, Aidan didn't even seem to notice at all.

"Aidan, do you think I'll be way cooler and tougher when I evolve into a cloyster?" The pokemon tried again, mostly doing it now for his own amusement. The shellder was worried about Pickles too, but the storm had passed. The nurse Joy had said everything was going smoothly, and it was mostly rest and flushing the wooper's fluids for now. Aidan was still in shock from Skittles' death, Elliot hypothesised- and almost losing Pickles only made it worse.

"Mm."

Elliot had been sad about the skitty, he really had. Skittles was a ray of sunshine- albeit, foul mouthed. Probably the wisest member of the entire team, trainer included. While maybe not battle material, the pokemon had the strangest way of making everything feel at ease, like any situation they found themselves in calm. Everyone liked her, and she made everything less boring with her little jokes, or her funny speech in general.

But, as the shellder knew from personal experience that the show must go on. And the first step of that was repairing Aidan- which would be a heavy task, he knew. They needed Pickles to be healed, and for Fae to beat up their trainer to his senses. Then, they could keep on going like they had.

"You're clumsy and slow and dumb, not necessarily in that order, and you're stupid." Elliot wasn't actually angry, but he was a little lost at what to do in the situation. He felt useless- he was angry with himself. He was the first pokemon Aidan had ever caught- wasn't that supposed to count for something? Anything? Aidan was supposed to be smiles and warm and kind and lazy and kind of like the feeling of fresh laundered clothes all cozy around you.

Elliot hadn't actually felt that experience more than a few times, during their stay at the Pewter City pokecenter, but it had been very nice. Everyone jumped in the pile after Aidan put the towels and his spare clothes in the basket from the metal contraption, and Aidan was usually too tired to do anything but smile and laugh.

It was strange- Skittles missing felt like a black hole in their small family- or really, it was going to be, when things got back to normal. But without Aidan's gentle encouragement and his almost helpless, if not naive pleasantness he constantly radiated, it felt like there was no sunshine to peak through their dark time.

"I know…"

The shellder wanted to ram its semi-metaphorical head into the wall. "You only hear that one?!"

"I-I'm s-sorry I failed as a.. as your…" The words died in the trainer's throat, as they did anytime he tried to form a sentence of three words or longer.

Elliot had to force the memory away from his thoughts- just watching and hearing it had been sickening enough. Somehow, for a clam, he had good hearing- the snap of the cracking teeny tiny bones- the confident limber moves of the feline stopping mid action, suddenly being tossed with such force, her small frame could only be compared to a broken rag doll.

She had been scared- terrified. The fear stench on her had been enough to overcome his own- but each step of her's had a steady paw, and her whimsical cat smile stilled, completely unflinching as she stepped up to the plate. With words of stone, she had talked her way into doing what had needed to be done- Elliot's shell was weak from being tossed around- he couldn't take another one. Pickles was so physically exhausted from being the driving force of their team for such an intense battle- the only things that were gong to repair is ragged health would've been sleep or a potion to pick him up. They had no time.

Elliot had been blown away by her steel resolve. He was built for defense and he still was scared of getting hurt- and the pokemon who had received little to no training, who had been constant support for everyone else- she sacrificed herself, knowing everything to come. Elliot knew he couldn't be a pebble to the mountain that she was- but he was going to damn well try, because someone had to pick up the pieces, and he was absolutely certain it was what she wanted.

"B… But I screwed…" Aidan murmured, eyes half lidded. The shellder was almost sure that his trainer was falling asleep- two days straight worrying with little food and no sleep was probably taking its toll.

"No, Aidan." As much as Elliot was sure as large part was his fault for not being tougher, stronger, or courageous enough, he knew what happened was the cruelty of reality. Things didn't always go as they should. But he wasn't going to make Skittles' death sound like a petty mistake on anyone's part- it wasn't. "Skittles was our hero when we needed her most, and then she vanished. This was of her own choice and we… we… we can't belittle that, okay?"

A soft rhythm of quiet breathing alerted the shellder that his trainer was sleeping. Finally.

With what little ability in his body type that he owned, the shellder somehow managed to get the young boy's body laid down- both were probably bruised from the effort, and the sleeping one had been so dead tired he hadn't even woken up.

Elliot shimmied under Aidan's arm and nuzzled into the boy's core- Fae or Skittles were always stealing the spot, and the shellder was kind of glad he could have time with his trainer. The circumstances were terrible- but Elliot was able to be supportive of Aidan, even if it didn't quite work, and he was happy with his small first step.

Elliot knew he absolutely was never going to be as naturally graceful or witty as Skittles. He wouldn't ever be capable of Fae's reckless honestly that pushed Aidan forward. He was never going to know just what to say to make things better, or to get a smile out of someone like Pickles could- but he was a shield, both as a shellder and as Aidan's first pokemon, it felt like the spot he needed to be in. Mentally or physically, Elliot wanted to protect his trainer and his friends. Maybe he wasn't strong, or smart, or good at anything but taking hits- but when it mattered, he was going to help, too. This, he promised. Maybe not in the near future- he had no illusions about his courage, or lack thereof. But, someday he would be absolutely dependable, too.

Skittles wasn't just a hero in her selfless actions. She was a hero, probably, in the daily eyes of the team as well. But, Elliot didn't want to mourn her too long- she was so amazing, but they couldn't be sad forever, until they forgot how to be happy. They needed to continue to survive and find new amazing family members and damn the danger.

But for now… Elliot was content with a warm nap, right against his doozing trainer.


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