Chapter 62: Trust

It’s worse than she imagined it would be.

There’s the storm itself, first and foremost. The world strobes between dark and light as constant, varying, often overlapping booms and rumbles of thunder pound at her ears. Powerful gusts of winds whip at her hair and clothes. Basic communication is difficult, and even keeping track of where they are quickly becomes an issue as the street signs are hard to make out, assuming they’re still even standing. The rain is still fairly light, but it reduces visibility even further, and gives cold teeth to the wind.

But the storm alone would be bearable. What’s made Vermilion into a waking nightmare are the pokemon.

“Tony,” Red shouts soon after they leave the building. “I’m using psychic senses to see if there are pokemon around so we can avoid them! I need you and Leaf to keep an eye out for any Dark pokemon, okay?”

“Me?” the man yells, like there’s anyone else around. “But I can barely see anything!”

“Neither can I!” Leaf shouts out, irritated at him and knowing she shouldn’t be. “But we still need your help! Watch the sides, and I’ll keep looking behind us!”

“Sides! Okay!” He turns his head rapidly left and right as they walk as Leaf brings up the rear and constantly looks behind her to make sure they aren’t being followed. Her hair is mostly restrained by her bike helmet, but wet strands of it keep getting blown loose to poke at her eyes. She considers putting her goggles on, but the rain would quickly make them useless.

Raff and Scamp walk beside her, their bodies occasionally twitching and shivering in ways that have nothing to do with the rain and wind. She feels guilty for subjecting them to this, but if they can help her save other pokemon… and people… She doesn’t need them for that though, does she? She saved her new nidorino by putting herself at risk, and Red’s pikachu…

No, that’s the Pressure, I got lucky to save Nidorino with only light burns, if it had turned toward me… She knows better than that, he wouldn’t have died if it got burned a little before she captured it, it’s sad to think of it getting more hurt but it could have been healed if that happened. She knew the stormbringer’s aura would make it hard to fight, would be distracting, but this is more than that. It’s not just that guilt is adjusting the priority of her values, it’s so overpowering it makes her stupid in the pursuit of themshe can’t actually save more pokemon if she gets herself killed trying, and she needs to keep that in mind, even when the feeling is hard to think through. Especially then.

So resolved, she walks about another minute before she sees the first one.

It’s a ponyta, lying dead in the street not a block away from the clothing store. There’s no question it’s dead: something has cut it so deep in front of its forelegs that it looks nearly chopped in half. Its mane no longer glows, orange hair lying limp and darkened by the rain that spreads and dilutes the pool of blood it’s laying in. The whole tableau is at the edge of one of the few remaining street lights, visible even between the lightning strikes.

The sight of it cracks something in Leaf’s heart. She steps toward it before she can help herself, hand fumbling for a potion and revive capsule, it looks dead but it might not be, she has to capture it at least and check, she has to do something to save it, save it, I have to save it…

“Leaf!”

She turns to see Red and Tony, staring back at her from the end of the sidewalk. She’s surprised for a moment that he even noticed she’d stopped, but of course his powers would tell him.

Leaf looks back at the ponyta. His powers would be able to tell if it was alive. Red wouldn’t have just ignored it if it were alive.

Would he?

No. No, Red’s a good person, he has trauma about pokemon but he wouldn’t just let it die. Even if that’s not true, at the very least he’d capture it for his own sake. If he’s ignoring it it’s because it’s dead.

Leaf closes her eyes. Takes a deep breath. Forces her feet to keep moving.

Red calls out a warning for some pokemon that seem to be fighting up ahead, and they take a detour… where they encounter a doduo lying in the middle of the street, both necks bent at unnatural angles to twist to either side of its round feathery body. There’s another after that, the burnt body of something small, maybe a nidoran or a rattata. And when they turn back toward the hospital, she spots a pidgey that flew into a building and broke its neck.

She can’t tell when she starts to cry, the rain disguising her tears even from herself.

Keep going, just keep going, there’s nothing you can do for them, just keep moving…

But even while she follows her own advice, part of her hates herself for not even checking to make sure the pokemon are really dead. For not doing enough to save them. Isn’t that why she became a trainer? To help people and pokemon? Isn’t that how she justifies capturing them in the first place?

No, she can’t blame herself for this. The real blame lies in the stormgod. Zapdos.

The hate that fills her is alien, burning her chest as she wipes at her face. She’d never hated anything so much in her life, let alone a pokemon. How many times had she sagely repeated, “No sense getting mad at a minccino for being a minccino” to herself, a reminder that all creatures follow their nature, and can’t be blamed for being what they are?

But this… the sheer destruction, the madness and pain and death that sweeps all it touches and drives them into madness and pain and death, it’s as close to real “evil” as anything a pokemon does that she can think of. Maybe it makes as much sense as calling a regular storm evil…

But you can’t kill a storm.

She drives the thought away, horrified by it, but also resigned. Can’t kill a god, either.

Not yet.

She turns to Red every so often to see how he’s managing. She knows that before the voyage using his powers like this would quickly be overwhelming, and from what she felt of them earlier he’s pretty close to his limit already. But… he seems mostly fine. Maybe his “psydar” really is just that much less costly to use. What impresses her more is that he even manages to concentrate on it through not just the distractions of the storm, but whatever the Pressure is making him feel, which she’s pretty sure is fear.

Until they see their first humans.

Leaf nearly walks into Tony, who has stopped because he nearly walked into Red. They all stare when they see what he’s looking at. It’s a pair, one adult and one child. They’re lying on the pavement trampled and torn up and just as clearly dead as the ponyta had been, but Red still stares and doesn’t move as the rain pours down and the wind blows his hair beneath his helmet.

Leaf swallows down the sob that’s rising in her at the sight. It’s her turn. She walks over to Red and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Red…” She doesn’t know what to say, other than the obvious. “We have to go!”

He looks at her, face twisting in grief and fear, but then he takes her hand. His skin is warm, and she realizes that hers are just freezing from the wind and rain. “There are people,” he says. “In the buildings we’re passing.”

She understands. Shouldn’t they be checking on them? What if they end up like these two? “No pokemon with them?” He shakes his head. “Then they’re probably safer inside,” she says, hoping it’s true.

Red closes his eyes, breathes deep, nods, and keeps moving. Leaf watches him for a moment, waiting for Tony to move past her. She remembers what it felt like, inside, and feels a surge of care for him. He’s trying so hard to do what’s right, even when he doesn’t know.

He always tries so hard…

She feels a sudden warmth toward him, and on its tail comes the flash of feeling she’d sensed when their thoughts were joined. The regard he has for her.

She didn’t know how to respond to that, at the time, and doesn’t now. But she wishes she’d reacted to it at all, instead of ignoring it and just hammering him about his views on pokemon until he left. She’d felt bad about that, been tempted to chase him, but she was still struggling too much against what she had felt in his thoughts, was worried she would make things worse.

Now her guilt over that seems to grow and grow. They could die here, either or both of them, and she’d been so unfair to him on the cruise… he tried so hard to understand her and let her understand him… she’s a horrible friend, she’s not used to having them for so long, of course she’d screw it up eventually…

It’s the shift that makes her notice it. The way her attention stops automatically drifting toward the guilt of not helping pokemon enough, to guilt over how she’s not a good enough friend. The severe switch, from constantly checking their pokemon to ensure they’re holding up okay to constantly checking Red to make sure he is, is enough to make her frown at herself. It feels wrong, and—

—and it’s distracting her from looking for Dark pokemon! She looks around, wildly at first, then lets out a breath, her guilt at being a bad friend surging up again before she shifts her attention away. That’s what she has to do, the Pressure somehow changed what it was affecting, but the solution is the same, just keep her thoughts on what’s important…

They walk through the storm and see more bodies, pokemon and human. At one point there’s another huge ongoing rumble that wasn’t thunder, and Leaf feels the ground tremble. She wonders if another building fell, or if there’s some pokemon beneath them causing quakes. How far down does the Pressure go? The idea of a rampaging onix beneath the city is terrifying, not just for its potential surfacing, but for the infrastructure damage it might cause. Vermilion is a coastal city though, the water table must be near the surface… And rising with the rain.

A chill that has nothing to do with the storm suddenly goes through her. If the water table rises enough to force the underground pokemon up, or those in the sewers…

“Pokemon in one of the buildings to our left,” Red shouts over the wind and thunder, snapping her out of her dark thoughts. They’re passing by a building with its door smashed in. “Keep an eye on it! Don’t sense any humans inside!”

“Is the pokemon hurt?” Leaf shouts back.

“Can’t tell! Just getting instant impressions!”

Worry goes through her as she remembers the bird pokemon bleeding from the broken glass inside them. “Red, we have to check!”

“What? Why?!” Tony yells.

“Leaf, it’s rampaging in there,” Red says, ignoring the man to look at her. “I can sense it moving around, fast! It’s not worth the risk!”

“If there was a human in there, you’d risk facing it to save them!” She stares into his eyes, willing him to understand. “Because you’re a good person! I have to be willing to risk facing it to save it too! It’s just as much a victim of Zapdos as the people here!”

Red stares back at her, then curses. “Do you have a plan?”

She nods and heads for the building, hand going to her pocket to pull out ear plugs. Joy’s voice would be mostly useless in the pouring rain, howling wind, and constant thunder, but hopefully inside… “You stay out here! Watch for the next wave!” She turns to her pokemon and points to the ground. “Guard!”

“Wait!” Tony shouts. “We might as well get out of the rain!”

“Too dangerous! I’m going to be using an area of effect attack!”

“A what?”

Leaf shakes her head and goes inside before he can argue. The man is turning out to be more of a hassle than she’d imagined, and she wishes he’d just stayed behind.

Leaf steps carefully through the broken door of the restaurant and summons Joy, the sound of the storm twice as muffled now that she’s mostly inside. It’s nice to be out of the cold, and she takes a moment to rest from the wind and rain as she looks around. A line of chaos extends from the doorway past the tables, upending them and the chairs, and her eyes jump to the claw marks on the floor, the gnaw marks on the chair legs. She takes a moment to study them, knowing she needs to hurry but not wanting to rush into anything. Raticate. Got to be. The sound of something crashing around inside the house makes Leaf start moving faster, worried the pokemon will hurt itself, if it hasn’t already.

She finds a door with its bottom half chewed open, and turns the handle to open the kitchen. It’s been torn apart, food scattered everywhere. The raticate is still there, digging through a cabinet. It turns a food stained mouth toward them as Leaf closes the door, then races straight for Joy, huge teeth open.

“Sing!” Leaf yells from behind her pokemon, and the wigglytuff’s voice fills the room, muffled and warped through her earplugs. The raticate stumbles, then falls limp and rolls to a stop. Leaf’s heart is in her throat as she watches it a moment while she pulls a pokeball free, then aims, locks, throws.

The ball absorbs it, then falls and rolls to a stop. She steps quickly over to pick it up, then withdraws Joy and takes her earplugs out as she makes her way back toward the front and out the building, wincing as the storm hits her again.

Red and Tony are watching both ends of the street, but Red turns to her with clear relief when she comes out. Tony just looks stressed and scared and impatient.

“Okay?” Red asks, voice raised over the rain.

“Yes! Thank you!”

They set off again, and Leaf feels better about things for a while, knowing that she took time to save a pokemon that might have gotten hurt or hurt someone else. She watches for Dark pokemon as best she can as they move from one block to another, trying not to focus on the bodies they see, human and pokemon alike, as Red continues to help them avoid pokemon wandering around the city.

But little by little she feels the Pressure erode at her thoughts again, start to bend them. It’s been a while since Red called out anything. Are there pokemon around them that he’s ignoring, now, to make better time?

No, she shouldn’t think that way… gods, why is she so suspicious of him, she’s such a terrible friend…

…but he wouldn’t be lying or anything, he’d just be… staying quiet. And she’s been in his head. She knows how easy it would be, to make that calculation, to not put him (or her, especially her) at risk just to save a pokemon.

And now Leaf worries they’re passing a dozen pokemon who are bleeding and broken just out of sight, and she’s just walking by them and not doing anything because she doesn’t want to make things awkward

“Stop!” she yells.

Tony lets out a small scream and looks wildly around, hunkering down, but Red just scans their surroundings for whatever Dark pokemon she might have seen, then turns curiously to her, hand going up to shield his face from the rain as it shifts to blow into his face.

Leaf walks up to him, turning him away from the wind. “Red…” How is she going to put this? She needs to get rid of these thoughts, to make it clear to herself that they’re not worth worrying about. “I want you to know, I trust you!”

Red stares at her, rain trailing down his face. “I… I trust you too, Leaf!”

“I know you care about me!” she continues, cheeks burning against the cold. “And I know how hard you try to do what’s right! I trust you to tell me if there are pokemon around us who I could save! So I’m not going to let the Pressure distract me with those thoughts! I need you to know that, that I’m sorry for what I said before, and that I trust you! Completely!”

Red keeps staring at her, and thunder crashes overhead, making them all flinch. “Are you two seriously doing this now?” Tony asks. “Here?”

“Shut up!” Leaf snaps at him, then turns back to Red, willing him to understand, to get it…

His face is a stew of emotions that are hard to read in the inconsistent light, and she’s aware of how close they are. She wonders if she should step back, but then his hands are on hers.

“Leaf… I swear to you, I’ll let you know if there’s a pokemon still alive around us! I… care about you, and I trust you too!”

Relief, overwhelming and cleansing. She doesn’t know if he understood, she can’t know if he really will or not, but he still said what she needed to hear.

Leaf realizes suddenly how easy it is to trust someone, when you know everything about them. When you know that they’re going to act a certain way, you trust them to act that way. But that’s not the deepest form of trust. Real trust requires uncertainty. It requires situations where the person might make choices that you’ll never know, might even make choices that appear to be wrong, but which you’ll accept anyway because you trust that they had a good reason.

She has to trust him as a choice, rather than wait for certainty. Or the Pressure would eat her up inside.

Leaf smiles briefly, and lets him go. His hands leave hers a moment later. “Okay! Let’s go!”

Red nods, gaze lingering on her face, and then he turns and starts to walk again. Leaf takes up the rear again, watching their surroundings, her thoughts still bending toward worry of being a bad trainer, or bad friend, before she forcibly remembers what Red told her, his words to remember her trust in him, and his for her.

A block later he stops to let her know there’s a pokemon a street down that’s staying still, and they detour to find a doduo sprawled on the ground with a broken leg. Next to it is a rattata that was clearly pecked to death, and is still being pecked, one head and then the other diving down into its body. Leaf feels her gorge rise and has to turn away, eyes closed and mouth open to let the rain wash the bile from her mouth, and when she turns back Red has already captured it, and she gratefully follows him back to their original route so they can move on.

When Red next stops them, it’s because he senses pokemon in one of the nearby apartment buildings. They walk around it until they find the side with broken glass all over the street, and Leaf has to fight down sudden nausea. The apartment building is twelve stories high, tall enough that it got hit by the wave of flying pokemon, and the ground is littered with dead birds and bugs who crashed into windows. She assumes they’re all dead, anyway, because Red is ignoring them as he triangulates by moving from side to side.

“This is one!” he says, pointing up to a broken window on the fourth floor. Leaf averts her gaze from the ground and counts windows until she knows which apartment the pokemon is in.

“One?”

“Yeah! Two more!” He quickly points them out, on the seventh and ninth floors. There are other broken windows too, but Red says no pokemon are in those. Maybe they flew away after. Or maybe they died from their injuries.

Leaf pushes the thought away as they make their way to the lobby, finally getting out of the wind and rain. Leaf lets her pokemon shake themselves dry, and withdraws them to reduce their Pressure exposure.

Red does the same, then wipes his wet hair from his face. “I’m going to check on the people here, see if they’re okay or want to come with us. Maybe one will be okay with Tony staying with them.”

“Hey,” Tony says. “This is no shelter. What if more pokemon get in?”

Red regards the man with some expression Leaf can’t read. “You can keep traveling with us, but I thought you were getting irritated at our detours? We’re rolling the dice each time we stop, and we’re going to keep doing that.”

Tony shifts his weight. “Right. Well, this place does seem solid enough.”

“Good.” He turns to Leaf. “Will you be okay on your own?”

She nods. “Go make sure the people are okay. I’ve got this.”

Leaf goes to the third floor, counting doors until she reaches the one the first pokemon was in. She presses her ear against the wood, but doesn’t hear anything but the storm outside. When she tests the handle, she finds it locked, and feels a sudden hesitation. It feels wrong to break the person’s door… but there are only two outcomes here. Either the pokemon dies in there from whatever injury it sustained going through the window (unacceptable) or it survives and attacks the homeowner when they return after the storm. She has to do it.

Part of her knows there are other possibilities, that it might survive but be too injured to attack whoever lives here, or that it might leave through the window when the storm ends. But she has no way to calculate those risks, and she’s here and has to do something.

Leaf summons Joy into the hallway, but not for singing. It’s possible the sound of the storm through the window will interfere too much with her singing for it to be effective. Instead she summons Raff too, then points to the door handle and tells her wigglytuff, “Pound.”

The round pokemon inhales, muscles shifting beneath its soft pelt. Its forelimbs, normally the vague shape and consistency of marshmallow flippers, stretch and thicken, and it slams one into the doorknob like a coiled spring of flesh, hard enough to shatter the wood around it before the limb compresses back to its shorter form.

Leaf quickly shoves the door open and steps behind Joy in case something comes out, but there’s only an empty front hall. The sound of the storm is louder, and she raises her voice to say, “Raff, Scout, Subdue!”

Her ivysaur moves into the dark apartment, muscles tense, and within moments a shape leaps out of the shadows at him, the hallway light revealing it to be a noctowl. Raff immediately sends sleep powder out from between his fronds in response.

The noctowl bats a wing forward, blowing the powder back down the entry hall and slamming Raff against the wall with a sudden burst of wind. Leaf ducks behind Joy and holds her breath, and watches as her pokemon tilts back from the gust of wind, then rocks forward and falls onto its face, body relaxing back into softness as Joy bounces gently, fast asleep.

Instead of following up on the attack, the noctowl hits the ground on its side and scrambles to get back up. One of its wings is broken and bleeding. Leaf rushes forward, ball in hand, gets the ping, and throws. The noctowl prepares to flap again, but is sucked into the ball before it can.

Leaf lets out her pent up breath as she half-collapses against a couch. That was close. She’d almost fallen prey to her own sleep powder, all because she was in such a rush to save the pokemon she didn’t put her air mask on despite being about to use spores. Though it’s not as distracting as before, the Pressure is clearly still affecting her decisions.

She checks Raff to make sure he’s okay, then withdraws him and wakes Joy before pulling her back into her ball too. Then she puts her new Noctowl into her bag, since both her belts are full, now, and after a moment’s thought puts the raticate she caught in her bag too so there’s a spot empty on her belts.

It’s getting kind of full. She’ll have to start tossing things soon if she catches more pokemon.

Leaf puts her air mask on now, then goes to check the next apartment she’d marked, going up another three flights of stairs, then counts the doors to find the right apartment. This one has its lights on, and Leaf watches with tensed muscles as Raff cautiously walks into a living room that looks like it’s been thoroughly trashed, a trail of blood on the carpet. After walking past the corner of the hallway, he ejects sleep powder at something out of sight.

Leaf twitches, a command on her lips, but nothing happens. Raff is focused on whatever he sprayed, alert and ready, but… not like he’s expecting combat.

Leaf hurries past Joy and enters the living room to see a bloody fearow, covered in deep stab wounds and lying still in a small crimson pool. Raff’s thin coating of sleep spores covers it… and the large kitchen knife in its chest.

Leaf almost raises a pokeball to capture it anyway, just in case, but just stares in grief and self-recrimination… and confusion. Her mind is interpreting what she’s seeing in a certain way that doesn’t make sense, and she knows it doesn’t make sense. There’s no way it flew into the kitchen and impaled itself on multiple knives, only one of which stuck in it. And if the other wounds are all from glass… then where’s the glass? She hears the outside storm, but not through any broken windows here: from behind her.

She turns to see the erratic trail of blood and claw marks and feathers leading to one of the bedrooms. Her heart is pounding for some reason, feet moving automatically to follow it… turns into a brightly painted room… sees…

…her knees give out, eyes shut, but still seeing…

…the crib, bloody…

…the woman, covered in deep gouges and scratches…

…the storm roaring outside the broken window, drowning out her groan of grief and defeat.

For the second time tonight, Leaf’s stomach heaves out its contents, her hand scrambling at her facemask to push it up in time, which only brings the smell to her. This time she empties herself before she’s able to crawl back, push herself up, get out and away. She doesn’t stop until she’s out in the hallway again, shaking and crying as she slides back to the floor, head in her hands.

“I’m sorry,” she tells them, voice hoarse as tears start to fall. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

The storm rages outside, the smell of blood and worse contending with it. Leaf usually loves the smell of rain, the faint scent of ozone before, the clean minerally smell during, and the wet earthy smells that comes after.

But this storm’s ozone is sharp enough to burn her nostrils, and its rain carries with it the smell of dirty asphalt and oppressive dampness. The engine of destruction that Zapdos weaves around itself is one of nothing but pain and misery and death.

Raff eventually walks over to her and nuzzles his head against her side. She wraps her arms around his neck, carefully pressing her cheek to his leathery forehead as one hand brushes his frond.

What finally gets her up is the thought that Red didn’t sense people in this apartment. They’d already been dead when they arrived… but the fearow had been alive. It had finished bleeding out while she was making her way upstairs or catching the noctowl. Leaf would have only been too late by a few minutes at most, and there’s one more pokemon still in the building. It might be dying as she just sits here and wallows.

Leaf pats Raff and pushes herself up, then withdraws her pokemon and makes her way out of the apartment, feeling numb. As she does so she wonders if anyone else lives here, would come home to find… this. Her stomach clenches, making her put a hand on the wall, but there’s nothing left to come up, and after a moment she starts walking again.

By the time she reaches the stairs she’s moving quickly again, intent on saving the last pokemon if she can. When she reaches the apartment on the seventh floor, she stops herself. She has to think, to make sure she’s not rushing or forgetting something because of the Pressure and what just happened…

She turns from that memory, and busies herself summoning Raff and Joy again before she puts her face mask on and reviews her strategy. Joy smashes the lock, she opens the door, Raff goes in to subdue… Still seems like her best plan. She wishes she had pokemon more effective against Flying types… but no, they’d all hurt them far too much… Raff is safest, even if he’s at risk…

She bites her lower lip, remembering the way the noctowl blew his spores away. If it hadn’t been injured, he may have gotten seriously hurt. Why is she putting him at so much risk just for wild pokemon?

What, so I’m going to value his life over the pokemon’s just because he’s mine? I’m just like everyone else if I do that.

Shame burns in her chest, and she orders Joy to smash the lock, then leans around her and opens the door. “Raff, Scout, Subdue,” she calls out over the heightened sound of the storm.

The ivysaur goes in once again, and like last time reaches the living room before spraying sleep powder at something. Leaf hurries inside and sees a pidgey lying on the ground. Leaf’s heart sinks, thinking she may have been too late again: it didn’t try to fight back at all, and it looks pretty battered, like it bounced around the walls and ceiling in here after crashing through the glass.

She quickly captures it anyway, then goes to turn on a light so she can find the ball more easily when it rolls away. As soon as she flips the switch up, the buzzing of wings behind Leaf makes her turn to see something red and blue and yellow streaking toward her.

It hits her backpack, the shock of the blow absorbed enough that it only sends her sprawling into the wall. She just barely manages to avoid braining herself against the wall by slapping her arms against it, and quickly turns to see Raff and Joy attacking the ledian that hit her. It dodges Joy’s leap and Raff’s sharp leaves, and the buzz of its wings suddenly grows overbearingly loud. Leaf flinches back, hands clapping over her ears as it feels like her ear canals are being invaded by sharp stabbing worms.

The contending noise of the storm combined with her earplugs manages to keep it from being too harmful, but it also keeps Leaf from being able to shout out commands to her pokemon, who are struggling against the attack. The ledian is too fast for her to get a lock on it, and Crimson’s mobility would be more hampered by the small room,but there’s one pokemon she has that may be able to catch it.

A sudden burst of guilt stays her hand as she grabs her beedrill’s pokeball. It might kill the ledian, she can’t…

The red bug rockets into Joy’s face, and her pokemon cries out in pain as blood starts to spread over her downy fur.

Joy!” Leaf stares in horror as she sees one of the wigglytuff’s big, beautiful eyes is ruined, and then she’s withdrawing her pokemon before its keening noises of pain can rend at her heart any more. The ledian dives at Leaf again, but dodges out of the way as Raff’s vines swing at it.

“Go, Beedrill!” Leaf yells, fury and pain pulsing through her as her pokemon materializes. “Twin Needle!”

The ledian zips around the small room, but Beedrill cuts the corner as a a burst of wind cuts one of Beedrill’s wings and spins it around. As it falls, however, one long, sharp claw stabs at the ledian and pins it to the wall, dragging it down as Leaf’s pokemon falls to the carpet.

Oh shit oh shit it’s going to die “Back!” Leaf calls out, but her pokemon doesn’t listen, still stabbing at the Ledian, and Leaf stares in useless horror for the space of a panicked breath before she remembers Raff and yells “Sleep Powder!”

The blue spores spread over the two bugs, and their frenzied movements slow, then stop. Leaf is already moving forward to pull Beedrill’s arm out of the ledian’s chest, pokeball ready in the other hand to capture it. It pings, and she tosses it in a careful underhand to make sure her shaking hand doesn’t miss.

Once it’s caught, she collapses back into the couch behind her, breathing hard and fogging her face mask. She feels wrung out, emotions still rising up and crashing against each other, bursting all over her insides like splashes of paint.

Joy. How bad was her wound? Too serious for a potion, probably, but… maybe the pokemon centers could heal it… it was hard to see how badly damaged the eye was, there was so much blood…

Leaf feels light headed for a moment, and abruptly sits up, worried she breathed in some sleep powder accidentally. But no, she’s not sleepy. Oh good. Just shock.

Her hands are still trembling as she returns her sleeping beedrill, then Raff. She stands, then abruptly sits back down, knees weak. Maybe she’ll just… sit here a moment. And heal her pokemon. Yeah.

The storm blows the occasional mist of rain through the window and onto her face as she brings Beedrill back out and sprays his wing, then uses an awakening potion on him. Once he’s buzzing back to consciousness, she withdraws him, then brings Raff out and checks him over for injuries. Seeing none, she sprays potion into his ears for the ledian’s attack, which makes him shake his head and raise a forepaw to rub at them. She smiles and pets his head, then looks out into the blackness of the storm as lightning flashes and thunder roars.

She wonders how the others are doing, out there. She wishes she never came to this place, and feels ashamed of her cowardice before she dismisses that as just another Pressure induced feeling. Whether it’s true or not, it’s easier to act brave if she thinks it is. She can make time for regret later, if she needs to.

Leaf collects the ledian and pidgey’s balls, then goes back to the lobby. She expects Red or Tony to be there, but it’s empty. She goes to the bathroom to wash her mouth out, shuddering as the memory returns. When she enters the lobby again, Red and Tony still aren’t around.

She hears something outside.

Leaf turns toward the front door, wary. What now…

It comes again, the cry of some pokemon. Leaf feels apprehension trickle down her spine, and quickly goes back to the stairs, gaze staying on the front doors as best she can.

She rushes up the stairs, pokes her head out into the hall of apartments and yells, “Red!” She doesn’t see him, and goes to the next floor, doing the same thing, then the next. She’s about to run up to the fifth when she notices a door that’s slightly open.

It’s the door to the apartment where she caught the noctowl.

She’s sure she closed it. Maybe the wind blew it open… she did break the lock, after all… but no, the door handle was intact.

Leaf walks to the apartment, frowning. When she pushes the door open to look inside, she sees Tony standing in the trashed living room and quickly covering a container box, which he then withdraws into its ball.

“What are you doing, Tony?” Leaf asks, voice barely audible over the storm. She has a brief but powerful flash back to Mt. Moon, and rage quickly joins her incredulity.

“Nothing.” Tony doesn’t look at her, and starts walking toward the door. She moves automatically to stand in his way.

“Are you fucking kidding me? Nothing? That’s all you have to say?” Leaf glares up at him, anger burning through her chest as she thinks of the woman and child lying dead upstairs. “After we’ve been trying to keep you safe, you parasite, you utter p-”

Pain explodes through her face, and she’s knocked to the ground in a sprawl, her bag holding her up. She lies in a daze for a moment, listening to his feet pounding down the hallway as she tries to reorient herself. He’d just… Swords of Justice that hurt…

Her hand grabs for a potion, but then she stops and forces herself to her feet, still reeling from the blow as she chases the man downstairs just in time to hear Red shouting at him to stop.

Her friend is in the lobby, staring at the exit as Leaf tries to run past him, stopping as he grabs her arm. “Red, he’s a thief! We have to stop him, he was stealing from the apartments!” Every word sends new pain throbbing through her face, but she barely notices as she tugs at his hand.

Red gapes at her. “Are you… Leaf, your face! He hit you?”

Yes! Now let me go! We have to stop him!”

He unclips a potion from his bag and sprays the pulsing ache in her jaw. The pain quickly fades under the cool layer of liquid, but he still doesn’t let her go. “What are you going to do if you catch him?”

The question brings her up short. What would she do? Use her pokemon to incapacitate him? She’s not a police officer, he’s not an immediate threat and none would respond to a call like this… Shit, I should have taken his picture with my phone… Out in the storm it would be almost impossible. “I can’t just let him get away with stealing their things!” Especially since she’s the one who broke open their doors…

But no, that was worth it. Property damage and theft aren’t as important as saving lives. She feels shame welling up inside her again. Why is she even pushing this when there are still pokemon out there that need help?

“I know it sucks, Leaf, but you can’t go outside, there are pokemon moving around out there!”

Her frustration and shame are pushed aside by the infectious fear in his voice, and she looks at the darkness on the other side of the glass doors. “How many?”

“Not a lot, yet, but enough that I don’t think we should leave. I think another wave is arriving!”

Another wave. Dread fills her as she imagines all the pokemon out there who are going to wind up dead or are already dying as they stampede across the city together.

The urge fills her to stamp and scream, to curl up and cry. There are too many, she’s just one person, she can’t save them all, but she has to try—

Think through this, think! You can’t save them if you’re dead! She could have died already even while being careful, that ledian… “Red, before we came in, your power didn’t see any rooms with two pokemon in it, right?”

“No, none!”

“Then I think your psydar can’t see bug pokemon. I found a ledian in the highest apartment along with a pidgey it had beaten unconscious.”

Red’s eyes widen, and he unclips a ball. “Go, Spinarak!” His pokemon appears a moment later, and he closes his eyes. “…Shit, you’re right. Even expecting it, there’s barely any trace of a mind to be picked up. I have to concentrate to… Oh, shit! Leaf, there are bugs in this wave! Some are climbing the building!”

What?” Leaf thinks of the apartments whose doors she left open. “Are they breaking windows to get in, or just getting into the ones already open?”

“There are just two, and none are inside yet, but…!” Red rubs at his eyes, tears leaving tracks on his cheeks. “I can’t… Leaf we have to get out of here!” he suddenly screams, voice ragged. “We’re surrounded!

Leaf feels fear claw up her throat as he scrambles for his abra’s pokeball, imagination painting an image of pokemon converging on the building and crawling through all the windows in a living flood to slaughter the inhabitants like… like…

“Go, Bill!”

Red’s abra appears, and Leaf snaps out of the mental image of the dead woman and baby upstairs. Red’s going to teleport… he’s going to just leave, all those pokemon are hurting and he—

No, wait, he can’t, they’re inside still and there are no open windows, Red should know he can’t teleport in here, why is he…

Leaf notices her confusion a moment later, and grabs Red’s hand as he reaches for his abra. His eyes are too wide, his body shaking… Pressure.

He struggles against her, and without pausing to think she draws him into a hug, her arms keeping his against his body. He suddenly goes still. “It’s okay,” she whispers, eyes closed as she feels his heart beating madly against her chest. She has to help him, the way he helped her. “I’m with you. Breathe, Red.”

It’s like hugging a mannequin at first, but Red slowly thaws against her. She feels his muscles relax beneath his damp shirt, and his breath comes in a deep, staggered inhale before he lets it out in a rush. He does it again, and when she feels his hands grip the back of her shirt, she relaxes a little.

“Thanks,” he says, voice low. “I think… it’s getting worse.”

“I know.” She’s been feeling it more often and intensely too, despite her earlier protections. “Zapdos is getting closer.”

“Or the constant exposure and other stressors… Leaf, the people living here didn’t want to leave. Some were too terrified to even open the door! I tried to get them to go out into the halls, away from windows, maybe group together… most didn’t want to. I only convinced a few when I felt the pokemon arriving outside. If the bugs start getting in or roaming the halls…”

“It’s okay, Red, you made some of them easier to defend.” She tries to think of the best way to keep so many people in so many different places safe. “How many apartments have people still in them?”

“Um. Let me… seven,” he says, voice choked even as his breathing becomes more steady.

“Okay. And what’s the highest one?”

“The… the eighth floor.”

“How high did you get?”

“Sixth.”

“Okay. So we need to go make sure they’re all safe, right? Let’s go to the fifth floor so you can sense the ones above, and I’ll try to convince them while you monitor for invaders.”

He nods, and she takes a moment to draw strength from him too before she lets him go. His face is red as he pulls away and withdraws his abra, and she pretends not to notice, since hers is probably flushed too.

They rush up to the fifth floor as Leaf tries to plan for what they may be facing. Most bugs that could fly would have been in the initial wave, but those nearby that are most plentiful that crawl include things like wurmple and spinarak. Pretty weak overall, though if an ariados shows up it could be trouble.

“We really should have caught some Rock pokemon!” Red yells as he runs up the stairs ahead of her.

Leaf grins briefly, glad he’s on the same page. “Can’t use Charmeleon or Crimson indoors either!” Which doesn’t leave them with many pokemon that have advantages against bugs. Her ledyba and venonat should be okay…

When they reach the fifth floor hallway, a group of five people are there, sitting on the floor or leaning against walls. “You’re back,” one says, an older woman in a wheelchair. “Is everything alright?”

Red shakes his head. “Pokemon are all around the building. Some may try to get in. Can some of you go to your neighbors and let them know? They wouldn’t come out before, but now maybe they will.”

Everyone stares at him, and Leaf steps forward. “Please, their lives are in danger. One of your neighbors just a couple floors up… she was killed along with her baby by a fearow that flew in.” She swallows, and sees shock and horror on a couple of the faces in front of her, stunned disbelief or blank fear on the others.

Red is staring at her in horror too, but she sees him put it aside to try again. He points to a young man. “You, there’s a couple in 205. Please go and let them know.” He points to an older woman. “There’s a man in, uh, 317 I think? He wouldn’t open the door, just yell through it and come back up if he doesn’t answer. You have to go now, I need to psychically check to see if any pokemon are getting in!”

The tenants he singled out look at him a moment longer, then start to move to the stairs together. Red looks relieved, and quickly sends the others to more apartments until it’s just Leaf, Red and the woman in the wheelchair.

“Elevator’s still in service, if you need me to get somewhere,” she says.

“Maybe later,” Red says. He leans against the wall and closes his eyes, then quickly opens them and looks at Leaf. He looks embarrassed, but also scared. “Could you… it’s getting really bad.”

Leaf understands immediately. He’s been using his powers too much today, and now he can’t even rely on the psydar anymore. She takes his hand and squeezes it. “I’m right here.”

Red nods, and squeezes her hand back, then closes his eyes. Within a minute the strain of constant fear on his face shifts to one of grief. “Five pokemon around the building,” he eventually says, voice tight. “None inside yet…”

Another minute passes, and Red’s lips clamp down on a sob. Leaf’s heart aches as she sees him screw his face up against the grief, wishing she could do more to help him. The door to the stairs opens, and one of the tenants returns with an older couple. Leaf is just turning back to Red when he gasps, eyes flying open.

“Fourth floor… that way!” he points through the floor, and Leaf checks the door above it. 508. So probably 408? “Something just got in, and there’s a person there! Hurry!”

Leaf is already running for the stairs, taking them two at a time as her breath whistles in her ears. When she arrives at the floor, there’s a door open and a young woman running toward her, face twisted in fear. Behind her, an ariados is racing in pursuit, forehead stinger extended.

The sight of a person in danger helps Leaf fight down her worry about hurting the ariados, and she grabs her pidgeotto’s ball. “Go, Crimson!” Her pokemon appears mid-air near the ceiling, and Leaf points. “Gust!”

The ariados grips the floor, hunkering down against the powerful blast of wind to keep from being blown away, and Leaf quickly runs forward with an empty ball and catches it.

It takes a minute to calm the woman down and get her upstairs, and by then Red is already racing away toward the staircase on the other side. “Stay with them!” he yells, and Leaf has to fret nervously in place for a few minutes until he comes back with one of the tenants he sent in tow, along with another one, a young woman with a pokebelt around her waist, three balls clipped to it.

“It was a weepinbell,” Red tells Leaf. “It used its vines to climb up. Leaf, this is Audrey. She’s a Coordinator.”

“Hi,” Audrey says, hands twisted together in front of her. “I didn’t realize… so many people were…”

“It’s fine,” Red says. “You’re here now, you can help protect your neighbors, right?”

Audrey closes her eyes, then nods jerkily. “I can stay here and… yeah.”

“Good. Thank you.” He turns back to Leaf. “There are pokemon approaching 611 and three pokemon all grouped up and approaching 704, and there are people in both. The three aren’t bugs, but I think they’re flying types, because they’re not always sticking to the wall, and their movements are weird. We have to go warn them in case one or all of them try to go in. Let’s start with—”

“No, I’ve got better AoE, I’ll take 704,” Leaf says. “In the time it takes for us to get to one it may be too late for the other.”

Red hesitates, but he knows she’s right, and soon they’re heading for the stairs as she considers the unlikelihood of these coincidences. Two for two with occupied apartments so far, and possibly four for four… they must be attracted to the windows with their lights on. And she’s pretty sure she left the lights on in the apartments with the fearow and ledian…

“Be careful, Leaf,” Red says as he opens the door to the sixth floor, and she nods as she keeps going up one more flight. She’s jogging down the hall when she hears a scream, and adrenaline surges through her as she unclips her ledyba’s ball. Three pokemon, probably flying types, but slower than most to be this far into the storm and moving oddly… might be some hoppip or…?

She summons Ledyba and Raff, throwing their balls ahead and catching them as she reaches 704 and tries to open it. No luck. She steps back and points. “Tackle!” she tells both her pokemon, and they smash into it together, above and below, breaking it off its hinges and revealing…

…six pronged limbs that rotate and spin three grey orbs around in mid-air, each with a staring eye that locks on to her and her two pokemon.

Leaf stares in shock for a moment, then dives back and out of the way as the magneton starts to glow. “Dodge!” she yells to her pokemon as she hits the ground, but a moment later a blinding flash of electricity snaps through the air around them, blackening the walls and ceiling. Raff jerks and twitches, then sags, smoke rising from burns along his body, and Ledyba falls out of the air, her carapace cracked and blackened, innards exposed.

Leaf screams, vision tunneling, and then she’s scrambling up as she reaches for their pokeballs, withdrawing them as the magneton floats out of the doorway. She runs, terror like burnt iron in her nose and mouth as tears blur her vision.

There’s nothing on her belts that can stop a magneton, and she’s pretty positive she just lost one pokemon, maybe even… no, she can’t think that right now. She just has to run.

But the person in the apartment, and the ones upstairs…

She expects to be fried by another flash of electricity at any second, but hits the lever of the stairs’ door and keeps moving, leaping down the first flight and landing on hands and feet before pushing back up so she can race down to the floor below. “Red!” Magneton are Electric/Steel, but they have no Fighting or Ground types between them… “RED! MAGNETON!”

Her voice must echo down the stairs even if her words don’t, because when she opens the door he’s already walking toward her. There’s an elderly man behind him. “Leaf, what’s—”

“Magneton! Upstairs! We need Charmeleon!”

Red groans in frustration, covering his eyes briefly. “Of course… but the building, it might catch fire!”

“I think it’s going to anyway, it killed…” Her chest heaves, words dying in her throat, and she rubs at her face. “It attacked the tenant, and my pokemon, it may have set the hall on fire, I didn’t check… Red the people on the floor above—”

He’s already moving, yelling “Go downstairs!” to the tenant behind him as he runs past her and up the stairs, and she follows, thighs aching from going up and down so much. “We need a plan, Charmeleon can’t take a hit from a magneton!”

He’s right, but… they have nothing that really can

No, that’s not true. She could heal Raff, he’s surely still alive (of course he is, he has to be) she could heal him and then make him take another hit (like the monstrous trainer that she is), or Joy could take one (sure, losing an eye wasn’t bad enough), but she’s just guessing, she has no idea how powerful that mageton is, poor Ledyba was too weak to act as a measuring stick.

Just the thought of her sacrifice being treated that way makes Leaf feel sick with shame, but she has to think about this carefully or she might lose more of them. I can’t choose between them… I can’t!

“Raff or Joy…” Leaf stops herself. She doesn’t have to choose… she can just summon Scamp, who probably can’t take a hit, and have him act as a distraction… Just a rattata, Scamp’s just a rattata would she rather lose him or Raff or Joy…

Self-disgust makes Leaf stumble and sag against the wall. Red notices and turns around. “Are you okay?”

“No,” she moans, crying again, dammit all how often is she going to cry tonight, “I’m a horrible person, Red, I… I…”

“Stop that! You’re not a horrible person, whatever trade you thought about making makes sense and it’s just the Pressure making you hate yourself for it!” He grips her shoulders and squeezes, eyes on hers. “Leaf, I’m going to use my oddish to tank a hit. It can probably take one. You don’t need to use one of your pokemon, just be ready to catch it.”

Leaf stares at Red, gratitude and guilt warring. “I can’t let you—”

“Not your decision, I’m just telling you how it is. You care about your pokemon way more than I do mine, and I know you care about my pokemon more than I do mine too, but we don’t have time to let your guilt overwhelm you while we do this, and we need to do this now, because the guy in that apartment is still alive, but he’s fading fast. Are you ready?”

She knows she should say no, that she should insist that she use her own pokemon to distract the magneton from Charmeleon. But his words make sense, and she’s almost dizzy with gratitude for them.

No. If they’re going to do this, she won’t force him to make decisions she doesn’t find palatable.

“I’m going to bring Scamp out,” she says. He’s fast, not faster than electricity but maybe fast enough to get behind the magneton if with a Quick Attack…

Red hesitates, then nods. They summon their pokemon at the door to the apartment hallway, and Red looks through the window. “It’s there, floating in the hallway. It’s… electrocuting things. Randomly I think, but half the lights in the hall are out, and small fires are spreading.”

“Shit.” Leaf wipes sweat from her forehead, then rubs it on her pants to dry her palm and grips an empty pokeball. What else can they do, there has to be something else, some edge…

“Ready?”

“Y-yeah…”

“Okay, going in three… tw—”

“Wait!” She takes a deep breath, then lets it out. Their argument on the boat… she doesn’t think she was wrong, but she regrets so much of how it went, now, how she approached it with him, and she knows part of making that up to him is saying this, now. She can’t hold anything back out of worry for potential risk while much greater risk of harm is imminent. “Red, use your sakki on Charmeleon.”

He stares at her, a mix of apprehension and calculation on his face, and then nods. “Three, two, one!”

He opens the door and goes right, while she goes left. The magneton hasn’t spotted them yet, its tongs charging for another bolt that lights up the hallway and sets an apartment door on fire, and then Charmeleon flings a blob of fire at the magneton, hitting it on the back of one orb.

It immediately discharges electricity in a burst around it, spinning wildly through the air, it’s in pain, what are they doing—

“Scamp, Quick Attack!” her traitorous voice yells, heart breaking as she sends her pokemon to its doom.

“Oddish, Absorb!” Red’s voice is distant, gaze unfocused as Charmeleon flings more fire at the magneton, trying to hit its weaving form… and succeeding, until the point of contact, where electric current seems to shimmer over the magneton’s body and the flaming oil soon falls off.

It turns to them at last, eyes drawn to the two pokemon approaching it, and Leaf closes her eyes as electricity flashes out again, then again. When she opens them, both Scamp and Red’s oddish are down.

“It has a Light Screen!” Leaf yells, and summons Pineco, not letting herself have time to analyse or justify the choice. It’s just the next pokemon that might actually help in the battle which she’d mind losing the least. “Tackle!”

Her pokemon bunches itself up, then launches forward. Electricity hits it mid-air, but it completes its arc and knocks the magneton into a mid-air spin.

The heat from the smoldering fires finally set off the building’s alarm, and water starts pouring down in the hallway, making the fight immediately more dangerous. Luckily Charmeleon is out of the splash zone for now, but what is he doing, Red isn’t giving any new commands…

She turns and sees his pokemon isn’t preparing another fling of its tail, but holding its mouth wide open. It looks like a ball of fire is forming in it, but it glows an odd color, like it’s shimmering with light just barely on the visible spectrum.

“Be ready,” Red says over the sound of the alarm, voice harsh with something like a barely contained rage, and then the glowing orb shoots out in a stream of plasma, hitting the magneton and slamming it against the wall. One of its prongs and a patch of metal along half of one orb is melted, and it strikes the ground with a clunk before it starts to hover in fits and jerks to get back up, spinning wildly.

Leaf is waiting for it, ultra ball pointed until she hears the ping. The feeling that comes over her as she captures it is a bitter one, almost alien to her. Not worth it. It was something she had to do, part of her duty to do, but tonight it’s a bitter duty.

Even more so if Pineco and Scamp are dead. She quickly withdraws them to check later, as they have no time to rest or recover from the fight. Absurdly some part of Leaf takes a moment to bemoan that she’s going to get soaked again for the second time tonight while indoors, then moves toward the room the magneton came from, where the fires have been thankfully already quenched.

Red stops her with a hand on her shoulder. “He’s dead!” Red yells over the alarm, voice choked with the rage that’s twisting his features. “We have to get the others out, these sprinklers may not stop the fire!”

Leaf sees that he’s right: it’s spreading along the walls and ceiling faster than the sprinklers can catch it. Red withdraws his pokemon, and they run for the stairs. “I’ll get the people upstairs!” Red says, and dashes up before she can respond. He knows where they are, at least.

She goes to the crowd at the fifth floor, who look like they’re on the verge of panicking. “Everyone! We have to be ready to leave the building! Red and I will take you to the nearby hospital shelter if the fire spreads!”

“But our homes,” one woman says, barely audible as she clutches at the man beside her. “We can’t just—”

“Get your ass in gear, Emi,” the old lady in the wheelchair snaps as she rolls toward the stairs. “Someone help me down the stairs, the elevators won’t be working with the alarm on!”

That seems to get people moving, and Leaf goes with them as the crowd hurries to the lobby. Audrey pushes her way to her as they go down the stairs, and she looks utterly terrified.

“Leaf… I can’t go to the shelter, I… I’m afraid of crowds! It’s why I didn’t join the city’s defense!”

Leaf doesn’t laugh, because people are dead and dying and it’s no one’s fault what they’re afraid of and she knows that the Pressure is amplifying the woman’s fears beyond what’s reasonable, so she doesn’t laugh, either in incredulity or scorn, but she does feel a tiny little ember of resentment that after everything Red and her have done tonight, the one other trainer they’ve met so far would of course be so… difficult.

She takes a deep breath as they reach the lobby, trying to organize her thoughts. Some people stop at floors instead of continuing down, probably going to their apartments to grab something. She doesn’t try to stop them; they need to wait for Red anyway, and she can barely keep herself from running up after him as she waits with everyone by the front door.

Only then does she turn to the older trainer, looking up to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry, Audrey, I wish we had more time to get to know each other, so I could understand your… your journey, your life, what you’re like when all this shit isn’t going on. I wish I had some idea of what the right thing to say is to help you. Since I don’t know what that is, all I can say is that I think there’s a version of you that you wish you were more like, and you have to be that version of you tonight. And it’s going to be hard, and you’ll screw up and maybe even people will die, but more will if you don’t do this, you might if you don’t do this, and when you look back on tonight you’ll know that you were able to do it, and that will make it easier next time. Does that make sense?”

Audrey nods, breathing hard like she’s trying not to cry. She’s edged away from her neighbors, being closest to the door. “I think so.”

“Okay. Great. You can freak out and cry and scream yourself hoarse tomorrow, maybe you don’t even leave your home for a month after this is all over,” woops her apartment is probably going to be on fire soon, please ignore that, “but for tonight you’re borrowing all the courage you’ll have in that time and using it here and now. Do you understand?”

She nods again. “Yeah. Borrowing courage. Yeah, okay.”

“Okay.” Leaf rubs her face as they all wait, worry growing with every passing minute, but soon Red comes downstairs with the last tenants in the building, who look shocked at the dozen or so others all standing around in worried clumps. As they all wait together to see if they’ll need to leave and for the others to come back, Leaf brings Raff out, unable to take the worry that he might be dead anymore. The flash noise of his summoning draws startled gasps from people, but she doesn’t even look at them, quickly spraying her pokemon with different medicines until he can stand and blink around him. Something eases in her chest, and she tears up as she rubs his head between the ears. From his sluggish response he’ll need more extensive healing than she can give right now.

She withdraws him, and almost summons Joy but stops herself, knowing she won’t be able to diagnose her injury and not wanting to put the pokemon in any unnecessary pain or use a potion in a way that might harm more than help. Eventually she turns to Red to take her mind off her worry. His face is drawn and haggard, and she approaches him. “Hey. You okay?”

Red shakes his head. “Fine.” He doesn’t seem to notice the contradictory signals there. “More pokemon in the building,” he tells her after a moment’s hesitation. “I promised I’d tell you, but… Leaf, you can’t go get them now, with the fire spreading.”

Leaf stares at him, stomach churning. “How fast? Some people went back to their apartments…” One of them comes down the stairs at that moment, coughing hard.

“Fast. Sprinklers are keeping it from spreading everywhere at once, but it’s on three floors now, and one of the stairwells is filled with smoke. If the other is too…”

She nods, gaze down. The pokemon are going to die, then, and there’s nothing she’ll do about it. She has to make her peace with what kind of trainer she is, especially after what she did with Scamp and Pineco.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you.”

“No.” She takes his hand and squeezes it. “I’m glad you did.”

“Hey!” someone yells out. “We going or what? Tom said the fire’s spreading, so what the hell are we waiting for?!”

“We’re missing someone!” another voice yells. “I don’t see the guy in the green shirt…”

“Well that’s his choice, but we don’t want to be here when the roof comes down!”

Red closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. His face twitches, but a moment later he opens his eyes. “No pokemon outside the building now, not that I could see.”

Leaf frowns. “And the person inside?”

“In their apartment.” Red sounds so tired, voice flat and dull. “I don’t know why, but the floor above us was on fire by the time we came down. The sprinklers will help but that guy was right, if it spreads into the apartments, some of the roof might start to come down. Fire spreads fast. We have no water pokemon and can’t vent the stairs… there’s nothing we can do for them.”

She nods, feeling sick but knowing that Red feels even worse, and turns to the crowd. They can’t save everyone, have already failed to save everyone, and certainly can’t save people from themselves. She just wishes she’d known, she would have tried to stop them… How many more lives are her mistakes going to cost, tonight? A single moment of apathy and distraction, and she’d just let someone walk away to their death.

Some part of her knows that’s not fair, that others could have stopped the man. But blaming any of them would feel like admitting she’s not in control at all and she’s already feeling perilously close to empty on willpower.

She clears her throat, wiping at her face, then calls out in a slightly wavering voice, “Everyone! We’re heading out! Stay between Red, Audrey and me! Watch around us for pokemon! Don’t panic, but remember, if you have to run, we’re going to the nearby hospital! Get ready, the wind and rain are going to be strong!”

Red leaves first with his nidoran and bellsprout beside him, and the building tenants start walking out too. Leaf follows them with Ruby and Alice on one side, the venonat and buneary visibly unhappy with the soaking they receive once outside. Audrey summons a poliwhirl and takes the other side of the rear, her pokemon very lively as it waddles energetically beside her.

Leaf sees the coordinator’s pokemon, and rush of self-loathing fills her. She closes her eyes and grits her teeth against the cry of frustrated anger that wants to spill forth. She hadn’t checked what Audrey’s pokemon were. Neither had Red. They’d had a water pokemon available the whole time, and now…

She turns and sees multiple windows of the apartment building glow with fire as the crowd starts walking onto the street. Leaf quickly turns away, feeling like she’s leaving a part of herself behind in the growing blaze.

Leaf keeps her eyes moving for Dark and Bug pokemon and just follows the crowd, misery increasing as she remembers how unpleasant being outside in an intense storm like this is like. The constant thunder quickly starts to give her a headache, and she realizes she’s tired, so tired she could just curl up in a corner and cover her face and sleep.

Surely the storm must be over soon… surely…

They’re just a block away from the hospital when there’s a roar that drowns out even the rain and wind for a moment, and everyone freezes in place. Leaf is worried at first that they’re all scared, but then realizes Red must have stopped.

“Watch behind us!” she yells at the people close to her, then pushes through to Red. “What was that, Red?”

“Sounded like a nidoqueen or king!” There’s a crashing sound, and they start moving again, quicker. Leaf stays up front for now, eyes searching the streets for a sign and finally spotting one. Hope thrums in her chest. Soon they see the spotlights surrounding the hospital campus, and then the lights from the buildings themselves become visible in the downpour.

And then Red’s head whips around, and he stops moving. Leaf turns to look, and down the street to the right of their intersection, she vaguely sees the shape of something large moving in the rain and the dark.

Lightning flashes overhead, and she realizes what she’s seeing.

It’s a nidoqueen, and this time Leaf is close enough to feel the tremor in the ground as it stomps its foot, the rumbling that isn’t thunder and the crack that isn’t lightning accompanying the collapse of the building’s corner.

She’s also close enough to hear the screams.

“Oh gods,” Leaf whispers, and turns to see Red frozen in place, whole body twitching like he’s going to run away, or like he senses something painful. “Red, what is it? Red! Are they—”

“Get them to the hospital!” Red yells, and starts running toward the nidoqueen. His pokemon follow as fast as they can.

Leaf stares after him, heart in her throat, then turns to the shocked crowd. “Audrey! Up front, now!” Leaf is already bouncing from foot to foot with impatience, wanting to throttle Red for doing this to her while hoping desperately that he’s okay. Audrey shows up what feels like a minute later but is surely only a few seconds. “Listen, Audrey, the hospital is right there, don’t you dare let anyone die on the way! You need to be a hero tonight, this is your chance, now go!” She looks at everyone. “Go, now!

Audrey seems to snap out of her shock and nods, then breaks into a jog, and the crowd starts moving after her.

Leaf doesn’t wait to see if they keep pace or not; she just turns to the nidoqueen and runs after Red, trusting him to have good reason for whatever the hell he’s doing and determined not to let him die alone.