If Brock thought that Giovanni was only speaking in hypotheticals when he mentioned wanting to train Misty, the former gym leader was sorely mistaken. Giovanni asked politely if she would accompany him and Brock that morning. She responded by soaking him with water and diving to the bottom of the pool.
Giovanni ordered his Nidoqueen to perform a powerful Surf attack, brought out her Master Ball, and asked less politely.
She was still yelling obscenities at him when he brought her out in the training arena a few moments later. Brock stood on the opposite side of the room from her, and his eyebrows lifted in a rare show of surprise at her language.
Giovanni ignored Misty’s tirade and called Lexi into the room to join them. Which of course she did immediately. He’d asked her to stand just outside the center door and wait for his call. It made him look in charge, which proved helpful when Misty was listing a number of unusual and painful things he could do with the pointy end of the Earth Badge.
“To this side, if you please,” Giovanni said, motioning to Brock’s side of the arena. Lexi nodded and walked over. Misty, meanwhile, seemed to have at least grown tired of insulting him but no doubt she still had plenty of energy left to defy him. Brock would have shared Giovanni’s theory behind Pokémon obedience by now, that it all came down to the number of times an order was followed successfully. The more times Misty listened to him, the more she’d be compelled to keep obeying him. The effect wouldn’t be as strong with only 55% Gyrados DNA, but it would be strong enough.
And knowing this, there was no way Misty would follow a single order no matter what he tried to bribe her with. So he’d have to find a way to force her hand. He turned to Brock. “You’ll be following Lexi’s lead today,” Giovanni said, nodding to his botonist/recruited battle partner. She gave a modest bow and stood just outside the boundary line on Brock’s side of the arena. “Your exercises will be fairly straightforward. Stone Edge, then Torment. Alternating on Lexi’s word. Do you understand?”
Brock nodded, seemingly disinterested.
Misty, on the other hand, looked quite distressed. “You know Torment now?”
“It’s a favorite move of mine,” Giovanni said before Brock could reply. “Blocking an opponent from using the same move repeatedly changes the game up. But it won’t be bothering you, as you’ll be alternating between two different moves as well.”
“In your dreams I will!” Misty snapped back.
“Charming. Now, if I may continue. When Brock uses Torment, on my cue, you’ll respond with Thunderbolt. When he uses Stone Edge, you will use Protect.”
“And if I–”
“If you don’t, you’re going to get pummeled with a move you’re highly vulnerable to, which will not only hurt you but cause severe emotional distress to your friend.” He glanced over at Brock, who had been impressively stoic about training ever since their initial session four months ago. Giovanni suspected that his motives were purely to rob his captor of the satisfaction of any emotional reaction.
But this time, his emotionless facade broke. He glanced back at Lexi, no doubt wondering what the consequences would be of refusing her. But in the end, he faced Misty on the arena, hands up and ready to battle.
Giovanni grinned. “Misty, use Thunderbolt,” he commanded.
She made no reaction. Giovanni waved for Lexi to begin.
“Brock, use Stone Edge!” Lexi’s voice rang out clearly. Brock swallowed hard but raised his iron-stone tail all the same, slamming it into the ground and sending juts of rock flying in Misty’s direction.
“Misty, Protect! Giovanni yelled.
With a cry of surprise, she threw her arms in front of her. An invisible barrier blocked the rush of rocks and sent them rolling uselessly to the ground.
“Well, listening to half your commands is better than zero,” Giovanni said grinning. “Let’s continue.” He signaled Lexi again.
“Brock, use Torment!” she called out.
Brock’s newest move came quite easily to him, a deep growl that agitated other Pokémon, deterring them from repeating their last move. Misty took the hit and at first, seemed to shrug it off. The next move, upon Giovanni’s command to use Thunderbolt, she again ignored him. But the continuous onslaught of the Torment attack made using only Protect more and more difficult.
And yet it continued. Misty refused to use Thunderbolt time and time again, only protecting herself out of necessity for a dozen rounds of battle. But as much as she tried to hide it, Giovanni spotted the telltale signs of her stubborn will cracking. More than just the Torment attack was getting to her now. With each successful use of Protect, her half-Pokémon mind reinforced the idea that Giovanni was her trainer. And the intense pressure of a Pokémon’s mindset to follow a trainer’s guidance couldn’t be ignored. Perhaps it didn’t invade her head as much as it did Brock’s, but the visible stress was written all over her face.
“Thunderbolt!” Giovanni commanded for the thirteenth time.
The smallest of sparks lit up Misty’s fingertips, but she made no further reaction.
“Impressive,” Giovanni said. “Let’s see how much longer you can keep that up. Now use Protect!”
“Brock, use Stone Edge!” Lexi called out.
Another attack blocked, another reminder of who she should be listening to.
“Thunderbolt!” he yelled again.
This time, electricity crackled around Misty’s arms, seeming to weigh them down. Her muscles shook with the effort of not releasing it. If she didn’t let it go soon, it was going to backfire on her, dealing massive damage. There was no way she could protect against her own attack.
“I said, Thunderbolt!” Giovanni yelled. “Do it now!”
On the opposite side of the arena, heartbreak filled Brock’s chest. He might have cheered on his friend’s defiance before, but now all he wanted was for her to stop. “Misty, you need to–” Brock began.
Misty gasped, and a spark flew from her shoulder to her forehead. Startled, she pulled back and lost her balance. Her arms flung forward. Without her full focus on restraining it, the thunderbolt went flying straight for Lexi. Giovanni leapt out of the way, but up against the back wall, Lexi had nowhere to leap to. Brock rose up, arms extending, taking the full force of the attack. It made an impressive crash, but in the end, that was all it did. Brock didn’t feel so much as a tingle. That was what happened when a ground type intercepted an electric attack.
Misty, apparently, needed to be reassured. “Oh my gosh, Brock, I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine!” He waved to reassure her. “You?”
“Y-yeah. I’m okay, too.” She glared at Giovanni. “What’s wrong with you? Someone could have gotten really hurt!”
Behind Brock, Lexi lowered her arms from where she’d thrown them up to block her face. Breathing heavily, she looked Brock up and down in shock.
“You…you took the attack for me,” she whispered.
Brock glanced over his shoulder and nodded. He hoped his expression conveyed that he in no way forgave her. But there was no reason for her to get needlessly hurt by an attack that had no effect on him.
“Nothing is wrong with me,” Giovanni replied to Misty’s question. “I’m merely a trainer giving simple instructions to the Pokémon under my care. You, for some reason, tried to hold in a dangerous electric attack. You’re lucky there wasn’t more damage done.”
Misty gritted her teeth, her body shaking with fury.
“Now. I’d like to continue, and if you follow directions, I assure you, no one will be at risk. Can you agree to that?”
Misty dropped her head. She was still shaking, but Brock suspected it was less from fury now. He knew a little too well what holding back tears looked like. Not that Misty would let that show. She quickly rubbed her arm across her eyes and raised her head.
“Fine,” she snapped. “Let’s just get the rest of this over with.”
Brock nodded and readied himself for his next attack. For the past several months, these training sessions had been his burden to bear alone. He couldn’t talk to Misty or Ash about it. He’d tried once. All they’d given him were those pained looks of pity. He detested those–the feeling of helplessness they gave him. He and his friends weren’t helpless. Eventually, they would make it out of here. Brock longed for some way to explain that it wasn’t pity he wanted. It was support. Someone to share the burden with. If only for a little bit.
Now, more than anything, Brock wished he could feel alone again.
As Grimsley’s tired brain pulled itself back to consciousness, he had the distinct impression he was resting his head on a pillow. No, a bunch of small pillows, each no bigger than his fist.
Also, the pillows smelled like barbecued pork.
Grimsley opened his eyes.
Fi’s friend, clad in an intimidating trenchcoat, narrowed his eyes in a way that would’ve sent the champion Alder running for cover. “I gave you that to eat, not bury your face in. But perhaps you’ve been merged with a Stunfisk and you’re doing both at once?”
Grimsley flicked his tail and righted himself in the tank quickly, grabbing two buns and shoving one in his mouth whole. He meant it as a show of bun-consuming dominance, but as the savory juices leaked into his mouth, his whole body relaxed. The spice blend was divine, just the right balance of heat and sweetness. He took slower bites out of the second one to savor it a bit more. Tricky when his empty stomach was demanding that he stuff his face.
“Oh, wow,” he sighed. “These are good!”
Fi’s friend raised an eyebrow. Pierce, that’s what she called him. This was getting awkward, and when things got awkward, Grimsley made it a point to change topics.
“Anyway…” he said, surveying the room until his eyes met Fi’s. She sat in a folding chair a few feet away from the tank, enjoying her own lunch on a stylish paper plate. Grimsley grinned. “So, Fi? How’s life treating you these days? Still have daddy issues?”
Pierce huffed at that, but Fi’s smirk told him she knew it was all in fun. Just like the old days had never left.
“Heh. Still flat broke?” she countered.
Grimsley finished his pork bun and reached for a third. “Touche. Touche. How’s your narcissistic mother doing? Is she still pretending to love you?”
“Wouldn’t know,” Fi said with a shrug. “I disowned her. How about your parents? Did they forgive you for squandering their entire fortune yet?”
Ouch. So she heard about that? Not that he let the sting show. If Grimsley ever lost his poker face, his life really was over. “Ah, I like to think that raising their darling son was their true fortune in life.”
Pierce coughed loudly. “I see you two, erm…know each other rather well already.”
“Hmm?” Fi glanced at Pierce like she’d almost forgotten he was there. “Oh. Yeah, sorry. We harassed each other a lot. Back before your time. His loser family wanted to do business with my loser family because ‘somebody’ was starting to damage their reputation with his bad habits. Isn’t that right, Grims?”
“How dare you!” Grimsley gasped. “All of my habits have excellent potential!”
“So you two were…close, then?” Pierce asked, somehow looking even more uncomfortable than he did before.
Grimsley needed to put a stop to this before the man made too many assumptions. “Sure. If by close you mean she was desperately clingy.”
“What? No, I wasn’t!” Fi said, face going red.
Finally Grimsley had the upper hand. “It was adorable. She’d cry every time I had to leave.”
“I did no–YOU are a liar!” She quickly shoveled the rest of the food in her mouth, the blush creeping down her neck. She met eyes with Pierce and brought her hand up to her cheek. Probably just now noticing how hot it was.
Grimsley couldn’t help but notice something as well. Besides Fi’s newfound strength and health, and her black-and-white haircut, her hands had claws on them. Now that’s interesting.
“Don’t you dare read anything into this, okay?” she muttered to Pierce. “We’re good friends, and that’s all. Never mind that Grim’s ten years older than me.”
“Um, eight and a half?” Grimsley reminded her. “I’m not that old.” He reached for another pork bun, but Pierce pulled the plate away from him and shoved a piece of onigiri in his hands instead.
Okay, I probably deserved that, Grimsley silently admitted. Maybe it was time to lay off the insult contest, at least for a little bit. He took a few bites, chewing slowly this time. The rice tasted like it had been sitting in the fridge for a bit, but his stomach made no complaints. After a few minutes of awkwardly silence munching, he turned back to Fi and cleared his throat. “I realize this is the Polteageist calling the kettle black here, but…you look different.”
“Oh, thanks! Had a little procedure done.” She spread her fingers. “You like the claws?”
They were exceptional, no doubt about it. He gave her a nod. “Not ideal for playing Black Jack, but they’ll do.”
Fi lowered her hand. “Looks like you went through a procedure yourself. Didn’t peg you for a water-type fanatic, though.”
“Excuse me!” Grimsley put his hand to his chest, mock-clutching an invisible string of pearls. “Sharpedo is a dark-type too, I’ll have you know.” He dropped the dramatic pose and crossed his arms. “Though truth be told, it wasn’t my first choice. It was just preferable to drowning.”
The last word escaped before he could stop it. He probably shouldn’t have that brought up. No, scratch the “probably.” He definitely shouldn’t have brought that up. Mentioning he had almost drowned was more or less begging for Fi to answer with, “Oh, really? Tell me more about that and everything that happened directly before it!” The tail did that, too, but the “nearly drowned” part really sealed the deal.
“Speaking of which,” Fi said, like she was reading his mind. “You, sir, owe me an explanation.”
Grimsley sighed. He wanted to argue. Except that did owe her. When someone used up two and half Pokémon med kits on him, not to mention fed him an impressively good lunch…
Grimsley popped the last bit of sticky rice into his mouth, chewing and swallowing slowly. “This will shock you, I know, but I got in over my head.”
“Uh-huh,” Fi said, unamused. “Was hoping for more specifics than that.”
“Hey, I’m getting there, all right?” Grimley crossed his arms. If he was going to confess his stupidity to his childhood friend, she could at least be patient while he did it. “I thought I could prove Giovanni’s merger operation had something shady happening on the side. So I went in under the pretense of getting a merger, snuck off to snag some evidence, and got caught almost immediately.”
“Geez.” Fi’s gaze darted to the side, like she was debating about telling him something. Or debating if he was lying. Probably the latter. “I mean, not that I don’t believe you, but that’s oddly, um…altruistic.”
Grimsley chuckled. “No, it wasn’t. I didn’t plan to stop him. I planned to blackmail him.”
“That sounds more like you. But why would Giovanni merge you with Sharpedo then toss you off a boat? I mean the man’s not an idiot—so I’ve heard.”
“Actually, the Sharpedo thing was my doing,” Grimsley answered, happy to reach a part of the story where he didn’t sound like he’d lost all common sense. “I got a dose of the serum and snuck off before I touched any stones. Giovanni’s goons didn’t know I’d stashed the Sharpedoite in my pocket.”
“So you nearly got yourself killed for some quick cash. Seriously, have you changed even a little bit in the past, what, decade?”
All right, so that didn’t sound as clever as I thought. Grimsley glanced down at the lukewarm water. “Much to my dismay, I’d say I’ve changed far more than I’d like. But in regards to your hypothetical personalities changes, no. Those aren’t happening.”
“Heh. Money-grubbing addict,” Fi teased.
Grimsley looked up, an equally playful smile on his own face. “Self-obsessed hothead,” he retorted.
Fi kicked at the water, splashing him in the face, which only made him laugh.
“Do you usually kick water at water Pokémon when you’re mad at them?” he asked. “I feel like we need a talk about how negative consequences are supposed to work. Not to mention temper control.”
Fi looked ready for a comeback, but then her expression shifted to something more thoughtful. “Hang on a sec. What percentage of Pokémon are you, anyway?”
“No idea,” Grimsley replied with a shrug. “About half, I suppose?”
“Whether you’re over or under makes a big difference,” Fi explained, reaching for her belt. Then, without further elaboration, she took off an Ultra Ball and readied it for a throw. “Heads-up!”
Grimsley barely got time to ask what she was doing before the Ultra Ball bounced off his forehead and landed with a plop in the water.
“What the heck was that?” he snapped, rubbing his sore noggin.
Fi looked thoroughly pleased with herself. “Under, then. Nice.”
“Wait a second.” Grimsley retrieved the half-sunken Ultra Ball and handed it back to her. “What exactly would have happened if I had been over half? Did you just try to capture me?” He realized as he said it that he didn’t particularly like the idea of handing the ball back now.
She shrugged off his concern as she shook the ball dry and returned it to her belt. “Relax. I would have released you if it had worked.”
“That’s beside the point!” He shook his head and sighed. What was his life coming to that he had to worry about someone tossing a Pokéball at him now? For a brief uncomfortable moment, he wondered if he’d have been better off staying unconscious on the beach a while longer.