After practically bathing him in a mix of revives and full heals, Fi moved Grimsley to the now unused tank in the center of their makeshift lab. It was a bit of a struggle. Not physically–Grim’s thin body was uncomfortably light–but mentally. The fear of losing her old childhood buddy like she had just lost the hybrid was a lot to process. Plus she couldn’t get over her gut instinct that said dumping people in water tanks was bad for their health. But, in the end, she managed. Now she just needed to wait.
Waiting sucked. Even when news was relatively good. All the readouts insisted that Grimsley’s vitals were stable, and he was probably breathing better under the water than he would be out of it. Still, Fi struggled to watch him without pacing. Finally, after two and a half hours of getting up, sitting down, and checking the charts just one more time, Grimsley’s eyes slowly fluttered open. Relief flooded through her. Not that she would show it. Instead she approached the tank, arms crossed and all business.
“Grimsley of the Unova Elite Four,” she said by way of a greeting.
He gave the smallest of nods in acknowledgment but mostly turned his attention to the tank, laying his hand against the glass as if to test its strength.
He didn’t recognize her. She’d wondered if he would but couldn’t say she was shocked or hurt that he didn’t. The last time she’d seen him she was six, frail, and a slave to her mother’s whims. She’d grown so much since then. And she’d gotten so much stronger, too.
Grimsley, on the other hand, looked only mildly better than when she’d dragged his unconscious behind from the water. Now that he’d woken up, his skin had a bit more color to it, but his movements were shaky and disoriented. Not used to his new form, maybe? Or just trying to decide if she, an apparent stranger, was a friend or enemy.
“Nothing to say?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. Thank you, I suppose, if you’re the one who rescued me. Less of a thank you if you plan on keeping me here against my will.”
“And have to deal with your snarky behind every day? No thank you,” When he made no reply to that, she added with a smirk, “Unless you actually want to stick around and catch up. It’s been a while.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Am I…supposed to know you?”
In reply, Fi made a flourish with her hands the same way he did for her as a kid and mimicked that signature line of his that always put a smile on her face: “Wanna see a card trick?”
Grimsley’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Fi-fiora?”
“Fi,” she corrected. Without snapping at him. Not like he had any way to know she’d renamed herself. “I go by Fi now.”
He nodded in acknowledgment, while his stomach growled louder than an Ursaring.
“Geeze,” Fi said, crossing her arms. “When was the last time you ate?” She didn’t expect him to answer honestly. Grimsley admitted problems the same way she did. That was to say, he didn’t.
“Ah. You mean something besides seaweed?” he said casually. “Probably two days ago.”
“Seriously?” She glanced over his face, devoid of its usual sarcastic smirk. He was serious. “How are you still so bad at taking care of yourself?” The question begged for a transition to full-on interrogation. What was he even doing out here with zero supplies? Why the Sharpedo merger? And what Pokémon had he so stupidly messed with to get his injuries? None of them were answers she could demand without being a pretty lousy friend. Fi groaned and shook her head. “Forget it.”
She glanced over her shoulder to Pierce, who had been standing by silently the whole time. Now Fi saw his brow furrowed with as many questions for her as she had for Grimsly. Questions she didn’t feel obligated to answer right this second over her other friend’s growling stomach.
“Pierce, you mind getting us some lunch?”
His mouth twitched. “Not at all. What would you like? I could whip up some sushi.”
“Pierce!” Fi snapped. Deserved, maybe. But still rude.
Grimsley just chuckled. “Heh. Your friend has a dark sense of humor. I approve.”
“I think there’s some pork buns in the fridge. You want me to make ’em?” Fi offered. Too late. Pierce was already moving off, grumbling “I’ve got it.”
Fi sighed. Was she a terrible friend for not wanting to bring up every single memory of her crappy childhood with Pierce? No. Her past was her business. But with Grimsly now stranded here in their camp… She should tell Pierce the whole story. At the very least so he’d stop feeling left out.
She turned back to the tank. Grimsley’s eyes were looking pretty heavy. Being part Pokémon meant potions worked at only part proficiency. At least, that was sure how she’d felt after the run-in with Guzma’s massive shield bug.
Explanations would have to wait just a little longer.
“Get some rest,” she ordered.
To her relief, Grimsley didn’t argue. Didn’t even have a snarky comeback. Instead, he nodded with a weak smile, closed his eyes and slipped back under the water’s surface with an audible sigh of relief.
The dreams came almost the instant Grimsley shut his eyes. Well, less like dreams and more like memories. Now that he’d seen Fi in person, his brain was drudging up everything it could recall. Their families had many more visits together after that first one. And the adults were more than happy to let them socialize with each other. Aka, stay out of the way.
Fi was older in this memory now…nine, maybe ten. Old enough to see her Pokémon license on the horizon. Not quite old enough to see that her mother would never allow it. Grimsley had taught her to play a few card games like Poker and Black Jack, both of which she’d been beating him at more often than not lately.
“Man, you stink at this,” she declared as he revealed his cards. A pair of fours. Right after he’d pushed in the last of the plastic-wrapped peppermints they’d been using as poker chips.
Grimsley huffed. He really thought he could bluff his way through his hand, but Fi was having none of it. Not that he’d tell her so. “Nah,” he said with a shrug. “I was going easy on you. Seeing as how you’re only a kid and all.”
Her face went instantly sour. It was kind adorable. “Oh, yeah? Well, this kid just got a royal flush.” She laid her cards out for him to see, and there it was–the ace, king, queen, jack, and ten of diamonds all staring him in the face.
“Wha–?” Grimsley stuttered. Then he glanced at his own hand. His cards had been atrocious; the two fours were still his best cards. But he also had some random cards in there, including the seven of clubs, the five of spades…and the ten of diamonds. He turned on Fi. “Hey, that’s impossible!”
“Not if you know how to cheat,” she said with a grin. Then, with a flourish, she pulled another ace of diamonds out from her sleeve and waved it in Grimsley’s face, giggling. Same back design as the deck they were using, too. Nice.
“Okay, you just copied one of my tricks,” he said, waving the card away.
“True,” she admitted. She set the duplicate cards aside and helped him gather up the rest of the deck. “Except I didn’t get caught.”
Ouch. That was a low blow. She’d been getting better and better at those lately. Still, he’d be lying if he didn’t admit to being impressed. She’d learned to mimic his slight of hand remarkably quick. “It’s cute, sure, but if you did that at a casino, they’d kick you right out.”
Fi blew a piece of hair out of her face. “And you’ve been to a casino?”
“A few times, yes!” Grimsley shuffled the cards before slipping them back into the box, but his movements slowed as his mind wandered. His face, no doubt, was getting one of those sappy, far-off dreamy expressions. He couldn’t resist it. “It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s so much possibility inside those places. If a person gets lucky enough, they can do anything.”
Fi shifted around, looking uncomfortable, which didn’t really surprise him. He must have sounded completely entranced…and by a place that her parents had surely lectured her about. His parents gave him the same lecture. Only the desperate frequented the tables, and the last thing she’d want was a desperate friend.
Grimsley didn’t have the heart to tell her that the damage was done. He didn’t think he could stop going if he tried. But that was okay, he told himself, because one day he was going to win it all, walk away from his parents’ slack-jawed faces, and make it to the top of the Pokémon battle stage without one Poke-cent of their all-strings-attached inheritance.
And even if he lost, the games had given him something he never got at home. Adrenaline. Excitement. The tantalizing whiff of a better future.
“Yeah. Earth to Grimsley?” Fi said, waving her hand in front of his face. The sudden movement startled him, and the bridge he was attempting to make failed mid-shuffle. The cards scattered everywhere. Fi giggled.
“And if a person isn’t lucky, they end up living in a cardboard box begging for scraps.”
He huffed at that. Bet her mom told her that one. Since when did she repeat anything her mother said? But for now, she was helping him to pick up the mess of cards he’d made on the floor, so he opted not to argue.
“You should get a real job,” Fi said, handing him the cards she’d gathered. “Just in case you’re not lucky.”
“Thanks for the tip,” he said, finally getting the cards back in their box.
Fi’s eyes lit up. “Oo, you should go on a Pokémon journey! That way we can battle someday!”
“Hmm…not a bad idea, kid,” Grimsley said. And it wasn’t. Pokémon were the only things outside a casino that brought him any excitement. And his parents didn’t give him a dirty look when he trained them. If nothing else, it was an excellent backup plan. “Of course, don’t think I’ll go easy on you,” he told Fi with a wink.
“No way!” she laughed. “Me and my team are gonna kick your butt! And all the gym leader’s butts, too!”
“And what about the champion?” Grimsley asked.
Fi replied with the widest grin she’d ever given him. “You’re looking at her!”