The Lucario in this story is not the one that teams up with the player character. This is the other one.

As always, thank you for reading.

Subtlety of Care

Lucario had always held the highest respect for Korrina's grandfather, better known to the public as the Mega Evolution guru. For as long as Lucario could remember, the guru had been a guiding force in the lives of his granddaughter and her Pokemon. Lucario never questioned their mentor's judgment . . . until today. Upon hearing his idea for the day's training, Lucario can't help wondering if the old man has abruptly lost all his sense and gone insane.

The four members of Korrina's team, currently assembled side-by-side in a line, exchange glances with each other. Lucario can see from their faces that the others probably share his opinion. How could the old man possibly suggest that one of them spar against Korrina? And no, not a Pokemon commanded by Korrina, but Korrina herself. What pure madness is this?

"There's no need to look so perplexed," the old man tells them. "I know this idea must sound strange to you, since you're all accustomed to fighting Pokemon and not humans, but I assure you this exercise is for your benefit. Facing off against one of you will allow your trainer to know what it feels like to be in battle. It'll help her connect with you and command you more effectively in the future."

Lucario feels sick. Korrina won't learn anything about battles by being in one. She'll only get hurt. Surely she must realize this. But no, one look at the girl's untroubled face tells Lucario that she has no worries about her grandfather's plan.

"A volunteer?" the guru asks.

Once again the four Pokemon all look at each other, seeking guidance from their teammates. Lucario doubts any of them would dare go up against their trainer. It shocks him out of his senses when Hawlucha steps forward.

The old man nods approvingly. "That's the spirit."

"What are you doing?" Machoke blurts out.

Hawlucha glances back at him. "I'm not sure about this idea," she admits, "but if he says this will make our team stronger, then I'll do it. I want to do whatever it takes to make us the best."

To Lucario's regret, neither Machoke nor anyone else raises any more objections. Moments later, Hawlucha is set up on one side of the floor while Korrina stands on the other. The girl is dressed in a skirt and short-sleeved shirt that will do nothing to protect her. She's not even wearing her roller skating gear because she thinks they'll make her clumsy in the heat of battle. Does she not realize how much a helmet and a set of wheels could actually help her? She practically lives in her skates; they could never inhibit her.

"Don't hold back, okay?" Korrina tells Hawlucha. "Fight me as if I were just another Pokemon."

Hawlucha nods. Lucario wants to scream at both of them for being such fools.

A word from the old man starts the mock match. Hawlucha charges at Korrina, who hastily falls to her knees to duck an attacking claw. Hawlucha keeps swiping at her, the Pokemon's body flowing gracefully from attack into attack. Although Korrina dodges each move, she does so with clear ineptness. The way she scrambles over the floor seriously limits her flexibility and range of movement. She doesn't have the chance to do anything but evade.

Lucario notices that, despite Korrina telling her not to hold back, Hawlucha is moving slower than she's able to. In addition, she's not making huge leaps and attacking from above like she usually does. At least she's got that much discretion, but watching her lunge toward Korrina still puts Lucario's heart in his throat. He scoots a little closer to Mienfoo, who is watching the match with a surprising calmness. Perhaps some of that peace can rub off on him.

The battle must seem like lightning to Korrina, but her Pokemon follow the action easily with their well-trained eyes. Lucario sees the moment of Korrina's downfall seconds before it happens. The girl twists her body away from Hawlucha but doesn't move fast or far enough. White claws slash her arm, causing her to let out a short but sharp scream.

"Korrina!" Hawlucha cries, freezing on the spot. Korrina is curled on her side on the cold floor, groaning and clutching her arm. Thin rivers of blood run down her skin.

The guru's lips press together into a hard line, but he shows no other sign of distress. Despite the injured human and four frightened Pokemon around him, he keeps his composure perfectly as he exits the room. Moments later he returns carrying a medical kit. Lucario looks away as the old man attends to Korrina. The sight of stark red on her arm is more than he can bear.

Hawlucha suddenly notices a bit of blood staining her claws. She hisses, shocked. Korrina responds in a voice that's slightly strained, but still sounds just like her own. "Hawlucha, don't worry. It's not your fault. You only did as you were told. Besides, I'm fine. This is just a scratch. It looks worse than it actually is. I'm being patched up this very instant."

"Your Pokemon all look so petrified," the old man remarks. "Have they never seen you bleed before?"

There's a pause as Korrina considers this. "No, I guess they haven't."

"I thought so. I can't remember any incidents either. Well, now they've seen it."

And now that he has, Lucario will never forget it. His whole body is shaking. His vision is blurring right before his eyes. The guru is saying something to the team about the relative fragility of human skin compared to the average Pokemon's, but Lucario can barely hear it due to being so lightheaded. Before he knows what's happening, his legs have given out and he's collapsed.

The last thing he registers before blacking out is the old man's voice, which is still in that remarkably level tone. "Korrina, it appears your Pokemon has fainted. I guess he's sensitive to the sight of blood."

(Segment Break)

Consciousness trickles back into Lucario's mind. He isn't too happy about it, to be honest. He's too tired and dizzy to deal with being awake. It'd be much easier to continue sleeping.

"Lucario?" Korrina says.

His eyes snap open. He finds her concerned face hovering above him. The faces of a couple of his teammates are there, too. With reluctance Lucario sits up, even though his trainer tells him to stay put. He doesn't want to be on his back in front of everyone. It both relieves and depresses him to find a linen bandage wrapped around Korrina's upper arm.

Just then, Hawlucha enters the tower, her claws clean. She must've been sent outside to wash in the nearby river. Based on the fact that she's only just returned, Lucario figures he was unconscious for no more than a few minutes. Upon seeing him awake, Hawlucha cracks a smile and goes to him. "Hey, Lucario, you're back! You know, I was thinking about passing out too, but after seeing how uncool you looked doing it, I decided to hold off. Thanks for sparing me that humiliation."

He rolls his eyes, but he knows it's a good thing that he and Hawlucha appear able to joke around like normal. It means they're recovering from their earlier panic.

Although the old man seems the least perturbed out of everyone in the room, he comments to his granddaughter that they shouldn't be in a hurry to set up any more Pokemon-human matches. So it turns out he hasn't gone crazy after all, Lucario thinks. At least not completely.

Even after he's returned to his Poke Ball, the memory of Korrina's injury remains fresh in Lucario's mind. He can't rest properly with that image so clear. For the rest of the day he's distracted by visions of blood on delicate skin and the cloth bandage that concealed the wound. That night, when Korrina unexpectedly brings him out of his ball, he is once again confronted by the sight of that bandage.

"Are you okay?" Korrina asks. They're standing in her bedroom. The night is dark outside her windows. "You kind of alarmed me this morning when you passed out."

Her tone is mild, but his temper is ignited. How can she possibly be alarmed by seeing her Pokemon faint? It's not like she hasn't witnessed that before, whenever a sufficiently tough challenger came to the gym. He, on the other hand, had never seen anything so horrifying as the red streams on her arm. Before he can stop himself, he bursts into a rant.

"How could you have been so careless?" His anger has set him on fire. "How could you have let anyone, even your grandfather, talk you into a facing off against a Pokemon? That's not the way it's supposed to be! You're a human. You're weak and fragile and your skin and bones break far too easily! You can't endure being scratched or tackled. You can't even fend off a wild Pidgey without having a Pokemon to fight for you. You should never fight one of us by yourself! Just look at your arm and see how badly that went. That's why some Pokemon live with humans. We . . . we're supposed to protect you."

Korrina remained calm and silent throughout this tirade, which made Lucario feel more and more like a lunatic by comparison as he went on. By the time he's finished, his words no longer have any heat behind them. He stares at his trainer, who's standing there patiently without any sign of being disturbed by this flash of fury.

She knows what he said. She may not understand his exact words, since the language of Pokemon is unintelligible to humans, but she understands how he feels. All of a sudden, he can't recall why he was yelling at her a moment ago. Embarrassment washes over him in one swift wave. This girl has been his truest companion for all their lives. No one knows his heart and mind as well as she does. He steps forward, taking one of her hands in both his own, and presses his nose into her palm.

"Hey," Korrina says softly. "Don't worry about me. It's just a scratch. It's hardly anything. I'm fine."

He doesn't move. Eventually Korrina starts repeating her assurances, her gentle voice seeming to wrap around him like a blanket. She really is fine, he knows, but his reaction felt like it was out of his control. He cares so much about her; it drove him mad to see her even a little bit hurt.

Maybe he was wrong earlier, when he said humans were weak. Perhaps they're strong in their own, more subtle, way. Lucario tends to think of himself as the one protecting Korrina, but it occurs to him now that she might have been taking more care of him than he'd realized.