"I told you about strawberry fields
You know the place where nothing is real
Well here's another place you can go
Where everything flows"

-"Glass Onion" from The White Album by The Beatles.

The air crackled softly as another pebble fell to the ground. Fifth miss in a row. Circ didn't realize he'd been counting, it just happened in the back of his mind. Luckily, he had another pebble near enough by that he didn't have to get up to grab. He rolled it around in his hand for a moment before chucking it into the air. Once it reached its peak, he lobbed a shock its way. "Finally," he mumbled once the electricity connected. The pebble fell smoldering to the ground, and he reached for another.

When his paw met grass, he looked over to see the pile depleted. He groaned, rolling up to sit. Of the thirteen pebbles he'd strewn about, three of them had any scorch marks. He picked up the nearest one (the one that fell on his face after he missed it completely) to roll it around in his paw.

Today was supposed to be happy. It was his first watch. He should've felt excited. But he was guilty. How much had Ampaw sacrificed? Just so Circ could spit in his face with all those escape attempts. Every attempt, another chu (usually Ampaw) had to risk their life to bring him back. For nothing. He shuffled over to pick up the nearest pebble he'd actually managed to hit. It burnt a little but wasn't unbearable.

He felt like he'd swallowed ten of those smoldering rocks. But they weren't cooling down like the one in his paw; they burned hotter as time went on.

He'd been in one place for too long; Volt told him he didn't need to really patrol, just being ready in the area was enough, but he needed to move. Walk. Stretch, he couldn't stay still. Since no particular direction seemed better than any other, he went forward.

Half a step into his walk, he heard a shout off in the distance. A pichu's. Further north, distressed, urgent. How had it gotten by without his notice?

Didn't matter; Circ pivoted and dashed towards it. The cry didn't sound too far off. "Don't worry! I'm coming!" Hopefully that would comfort the pichu.

Another cry. Same direction, slightly louder. He picked up his pace. Approaching, he started to pick up a scent; familiar, but more importantly, its source was close. Jumping straight through a bush into a small clearing, he saw it. "Sparks?"

Sparks looked over, panic mixing with fury. "No! Get away!"

Circ ignored him for a moment, glancing around the clearing. Other than Sparks, it looked empty. It didn't feel empty, though. The air was tense, reeked of earth in a way unusual for the forest. Then the ground rumbled.

A blur of black and silver burst out from beneath Sparks, tossing him to the side. Once the blur landed, its eyes shot to Circ.

Drilbur, some forgotten half of his mind echoed. "Leave him alone," Circ growled, raising his tail to pick up static. Wait, static wouldn't help at all. This was a ground type. He could try physical attacks, but he didn't have a lot of experience with those and a drilbur definitely would.

"No!" Sparks shouted, "Not him! You're fighting me!" The moment Circ gawked at Sparks, the drilbur dove underground.

Circ dashed over to Sparks. "You idiot!" Before the pichu could even squirm in protest, Circ had his jaws clenched on his nape and shot southward. Helping Voltail out at the nursery gave Circ plenty of experience carrying pichu like this. Unfortunately, Sparks was a bit heavier and much less cooperative.

"Let me go!" He flailed around with every bit of vigor his bruised body could manage. Their fight couldn't have been long, but he'd already sustained a number of bad hits.

Despite the squirming, Circ managed to hold tight. He couldn't let himself slow down; he could feel the ground quaking beneath his paws. It was getting stronger. Closer. He wasn't fast enough carrying Sparks, he'd need another out. Then, he saw it.

A low branch. Just low enough he might be able to reach it; just close enough he might be able to make it. The ground rumbled more. He tried to run faster, but Sparks continued to make that very difficult. As the branch got closer, so did the drilbur. Step for step, he felt it shaking the earth beneath his paws. Closer. Closer. It was right beneath him. The branch was just barely out of reach.

Out of pure desperation, he leapt for the branch right as the drilbur burst from the ground beneath him. Its attack barely grazed his hindpaws. He reached out both paws. One grabbed thin air, the other a bundle of leaves. The leaves gave way almost immediately but gave him just enough time to grab the branch itself with his other paw. He clawed his way up while the branch bent beneath their weight, struggling to stay out of the drilbur's reach.

He finally made it to the tree's center, pulling himself on top of the branch just in time to avoid a swipe at his tail. While he struggled to gasp in air, he noticed Sparks had stopped struggling. The pichu had grown very still, only a few tremors. In one fluid motion, Sparks spun around to clinch Circ with all four paws. The shift in weight forced Circ to hold himself up with the tree's bark. "Please don't fall, please don't fall, please don't fall…" Sparks begged.

Circ stared down at him, one eye half-shut in confusion. "Oh," it clicked, and he got a wry grin. "Not a fan of heights?" Sparks shook his head, keeping his face buried in Circ's fur. Circ let out a sigh of relief. This would at least make Sparks cooperate.

"Oy!" the drilbur shouted up. "Get down 'ere ye cracklin' cowa'ds! Think ye c'n jus' step on my turf'n scram? I oughta dig yous some new holes!"

Sparks muffle-shouted something back while Circ tried to blink those sounds into making sense. He'd only ever talked to chu; deciphering another pokémon's speech was difficult to say the least. Eventually, though, he managed. "I'm sorry, I just came here to bring him back home."

The drilbur chuckled. "Aw, wassa matta'? Come 'ere to pick a fait'n can'even finish 't w'thout big'un comin' to save yer hide?"

"I'll gladly take you on!" Sparks shouted down with his eyes buried in Circ's chest.

"Shut up, let me do the talking," Circ grumbled. Sparks swatted at him. Clenching his teeth, Circ leaned off the branch just enough to let Sparks feel the gravity. "Wanna take a tumble?" Sparks froze, shaking his head. "Good." Circ righted himself and looked back down. "Please just let us go, I promise we won't mess with your… ground again."

"Why'on'tcha scurry down'n talk wit' yer paws, huh?" the drilbur scowled.

Circ sighed. Why can't you just talk normal? "Please, I don't want to fight. I just want to take him home."

The drilbur crossed his claws over each other and walked over to sit against the tree. "Ah c'n wait," he spat.

Circ rubbed his temple with the paw not holding onto the tree bark. He had to think. There had to be something he could barter with, but what would a ground type want? "Er, you like rocks?" He could only hope that question wouldn't offend.

It did not, apparently. In fact, the drilbur found it very funny. What began as a stifled chuckle progressed into a hearty laugh into rolling around in the grass. "Thassa best ye c'n do?" He kept laughing until he had to gasp for air, then laughed some more. "Ye got a rock collection're somthin' ye wanted to show me?"

Sparks had begun to chuckle, too, but another lean shut him up. "S-sort of," Circ admitted. The drilbur laughed even harder. Circ considered dissolving into the bark beside him. Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to manage the feat.

"Y'know what?" the drilbur wheezed, "Sure, why not?" Circ brightened up, a bit of hope. "Show me whatcha got, I wanna see."

As much as he wanted to believe, Circ had to doubt a little bit. It seemed far too easy. "Y-you're not just saying that?"

The drilbur cocked an eye upward. "Swear'n the soil, get down 'ere." Circ couldn't be sure, but that at least sounded serious enough.

When he went to climb down, however, he realized a problem. "Sparks, can you move to my back?" Sparks didn't move. "I can't climb with you on my stomach." No movement. Circ looked down angrily, about to offer another threat when he saw the pleading eyes. He grumbled beneath his breath and rolled his eyes, opting for another way down. He headed to the other end of the branch, letting it bend down until he had to hang down from his forepaws, dropping when he was just barely off the ground.

Sparks leapt off him to lay on the ground, practically hugging it. Circ, however, watched the drilbur, the air familiarly tense. The drilbur remained silent, matching Circ's gaze. They glared each other down. Watching. Waiting. Then, the drilbur snapped his jaw forward, and Circ jumped back.

The drilbur was laughing again. So was Sparks. At Circ. They seemed to make up quite well in no time at all. Circ grumbled, and the drilbur finally contained himself enough to say, "Name's Dig."

Circ glared back at him for a moment before reciprocating. "Mine's Circ." He extended his hand for a shake. Dig squinted at the paw, looking it over to see it didn't hold anything, reminding Circ handshakes were a human thing. "Just thought you'd smell it, get familiar with my scent."

If Dig doubted him, he didn't press it—but he didn't smell Circ's paw, either. "Well!" Dig clapped his claws together. "Where's this little collection of yours?" His grin stretched the limitations of his mouth, and Sparks's did the same.

Circ twisted his lip, turning south. He really didn't want to do this but had clearly trapped himself. It was this or a fight. "Come on," he beckoned with a paw and headed forward, Sparks and Dig following in step behind.

The whole way there, Circ pushed the nubbins of his paws against each other, starting from one end to the other and back. What kind of pikachu collects rocks? Both Dig and Sparks clearly thought it immensely funny, they'd no doubt make fun of him for it. It wasn't even a real collection! A lie just to embarrass himself—now that was something else. He wished he'd come up with a better cover.

They finally stepped into the clearing with his pebbles strewn about. "Here it is," he mumbled with a half-hearted gesture.

Dig glanced around as if carefully inspecting the assortment of tiny rocks. He bent down to pick one up, glancing it over before popping his eyes open. "Wow-this!" He held it up to Circ. "D'you've any idea what this is?" Circ gave an unenthusiastic shrug and a forced smile. Dig's smile somehow grew even further. "Issa rock! Just a stupid rock!" Once again, Sparks and Dig erupted into laughter while Circ stood there fuming. "Aw, c'mon, play along!"

"All right!" Circ forced through grinding teeth. "You'll let us go? No fight?"

Dig rolled his eyes, crossing his claws. "Fine, but," he looked over to Sparks, "Let's finish some time, eh?"

Sparks beamed up with determination. "Absolutely!" He hopped onto his hindlegs. "I'll take you on! Easy!"

"Oh, we'll see 'bout that!" Dig chuckled, turning his back to them. "See ya!" He waved a claw their way before diving underground.

Finally gone. It felt like a breath of fresh air, but he wasn't done yet. "Sparks, what were you thinking?" He stood over the pichu, arms crossed, getting a sneer in response.

"I was thinking I wanted to fight!" Sparks stepped closer, craning his neck back.

Circ rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "That was a ground! You didn't stand a chance!" Sparks's confidence wavered, gaining a hint of fury. "Electricity doesn't hurt grounds! And they do way more damage to us than normal! You were asking to lose!"

Sparks crossed his arms, pouting at the ground. "I could've beat him! I could've!"

No point arguing that, Sparks clearly wasn't listening and Circ was already way out of patience. "There are plenty of chu willing to train with you in the colony!"

Sparks blew a raspberry. "They're all either weaker than me or won't actually fight me! All because I—" he suddenly lowered his voice, "just because I haven't evolved yet."

Circ just wanted to go home. He was sick of this conversation already; frustrated from having to save Sparks of all pokémon. "Just get stronger and you'll—"

Sparks swat at Circ's cheek. "I am strong!"

Circ ground his teeth together. "I'm sure you are." He could feel his muscles tensing, electricity charging. "But you can't ever leave the colony like that."

Sparks pressed a paw into Circ's face. "You did. You did all the time."

Circ pulled his right paw back and launched it forward, slamming it square into Sparks's nose. Sparks tumbled back, clutching his nose and all Circ's anger had vanished by the time the pichu hit the ground. "I'm so sorry!" he shouted, jumping down to try and help.

Sparks shocked the help away. "You… you—you!" His eyes were wet with tears.

"I'm so—"

"You jerk!" Sparks screamed. "You just yank me out of a fight so you can win! Let someone else wear me down then take the credit!" He hopped onto his paws, one still clutching his nose. "You're not stronger than me! You just got lucky! I'm better than you!" He pushed right past Circ to the colony.

Circ turned around. "S-Sparks!" He'd begun to cry as well. "Sparks, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." He could barely manage to speak. His throat felt so tight he could hardly breath. The coals in his stomach had lit fire. He burned with regret. "S-Sparks, please," he blubbered, eyes so soaked he could barely see. "I-I-Sparks, I—"

"Shut up!" The blur of yellow looked like it had turned around. "You," Sparks sounded surprised, "You hit me, and you start crying?" A voice crack betrayed he also cried. "How weak can you be?"

The words stung, felt true. He was weak. Of course he was. Obvious as day. "You're right." He sat back, holding his head in his paws. Another apology wouldn't help. He had to make this up to Sparks somehow. "Let's have a real fight." He let the offer hang silently before going on. "We'll wait until you get better, then have a real match. Equal footing. Then you can show everyone how strong you really are." He wiped his eyes to try and gauge Sparks's response. "Sound good?"

Sparks eyes were wide, but quickly narrowed as a grin creased its way across his mouth. "I'll show everyone I'm better than you."

Better than a sobbing mess, couldn't be that hard. Still, he had to at least pretend to put up a fight. "You'll have a chance, sure." He forced his own wry grin. "Let me know when you're ready." The smile hurt, but he managed to hold it until Sparks turned his back.

He watched the pichu proudly jaunt back to the colony, feeling himself sink down into the grass. Once Sparks disappeared behind a tree, Circ let himself fall back on the grass.

He felt awful. His eyes burned. His stomach smoldered. What had he done? How could he just hit a pichu like that? Just like… he shook his head. He didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to admit it. "I'll never do that again," he promised to the air.

That feeling, he knew it well. Facing off against someone stronger; someone who knew they were stronger; someone he knew was stronger; not having a chance. Forced to do what they asked but putting up worthless rebellions in return with the pointless hope he had a chance. Feeling that raw difference in power over and over again until he fainted. Feeling loss. Feeling pain. Despair. He knew that feeling well. And he'd just imposed it on someone else.

"Short Circuit!" The shout ripped him out of his thoughts. He shot up to see Bolt running his way. "I saw Sparks, that must've been quite the—" he stopped once he got close enough to look Circ over. "Did you fight at all?"

Circ shrugged, staying on his hindpaws even though Bolt was on all fours. Neither seemed to want to change posture. "I just talked the drilbur out of it."

Bolt's face scrunched up in befuddlement. "What?" He blinked a few times, eyes reexamining Circ as if in search of a punchline. "But Sparks was hurt really bad. Looked like he'd—oh!" Realization streaked across his face. "I get it," he rolled his eyes with a knowing smirk. "Sparks is a pawful. It must've taken a lot to get him to come along." It was Circ's turn to look on confusion. "That was you, right? You had to discipline—"

"No!" Circ screamed loud enough to make Bolt flinch back. "I-it wasn't," his breath went ragged, "I just—they were fighting when I got there! I-I didn't even hit him!" It was a lie, but he prayed Bolt would believe it.

"Hey, it's all right!" Bolt's head was tilted, concern plastered on his face. "I get it, he got hurt from his own fight. Still, there would've been nothing wrong with discipling—" Circ glared at him in disgust, making it very clear finishing that thought was a bad idea. "A-anyway," Bolt looked along the ground, eyes bouncing between all the pebbles, "You did a rescue, so I'm here to take over. Go tell Volt what happened."

Circ nodded, biting his lip. "Thanks." He headed off, a new lump in his throat forming: telling Volt. Lying to Bolt was bad enough, he couldn't do the same to Volt. Slumping down onto all fours, his mind sunk back down into guilt. He could barely pay attention where he was going. Didn't really need to. Colony was South, and he'd been to Volt's burrow plenty of times before. In no time at all, he poked his head into the burrow.

Empty. He groaned and started pulling his head out when, "Circ?" Voltail's voice made him jump, but he narrowly avoided bonking his head against the entrance of the burrow. He spun around to face her. "Why're you here?"

Shock fading, his eyes fell back into despair. That is, until Voltail's looked on worriedly. He immediately plastered on a smile. "I'm fine! Just looking for Volt because I have to tell him I rescued Sparks is all."

She narrowed her eyes. He exaggerated his pseudo-smile more. Before he had a chance to react, she had him by the ear, dragging him into her burrow. She nearly tossed him against the wall and sat back, her arms crossed. "You're telling me what's wrong."

"What? But nothing—" Her leer cut off his attempt to revive the imitation of a smile. He slunk into the wall, avoiding her gaze. Yet, he could still feel it. He didn't have a choice. The guilt that once smoldered turned into water in his throat. After a few attempts to swallow, it started pouring from his eyes. "I," a sob cut him off. He couldn't tell her. Her leer prodded him again. He didn't have a choice. He had to choke out the words, "I hit Sparks."

Silence. He didn't dare look up at Voltail to see the ire he knew was there. "So?" Shocked by the question, he looked up at Voltail to see the ire was not there. "He ran away, so you disciplined him." She stated it so matter of fact. Like it was exactly what he should've done. Completely normal.

Circ had to look at her in horror. "What? No, I," he shook his head. "It wasn't even discipline. I," guilt grabbed hold of his throat again. "I hit him because he made me mad. When I told him he couldn't run away like that, he said I used to and-and," she placed a paw on his shoulder. It let him know he didn't need to finish.

She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into a quick hug before sitting down right next to him, an arm staying slung around his shoulder while the other dabbed at his damp eyes. "It's all right." He tensed up, clearly disagreeing, but unable to voice as much. "He was arguing with you. He needed to learn his lesson."

He slowly shook his head. It didn't feel right. It had to be wrong. What he did was wrong.

She picked up his forepaw with both of hers, massaging it lightly. "What about when you ran away? You got disciplined, right?"

He froze. Every muscle in his body tensed. It took him an eon to shakily nod his head. "I did, yeah." Guilt and fear coalesced into a miasma of boiling water in the back of his throat. He'd put so many lives at risk. Risked Ampaw's. Considering the alternative of getting eaten by a predator, discipline was immensely merciful. Still, doubt gnawed at this supposed certainty. "But I don't know why I did it."

She leaned closer, letting her cheek rub against his. The resulting static tickled a little. "It's all right." While he very much disagreed, having her so close relaxed him anyway. "I've never really disciplined any pichu before. You should talk to your dad about it, he'll—" Jerking away, he looked at her in horrified disgust. She held up her paws; whether in defense, to calm him down, or a mix of both, he wasn't sure. "What? He'll know what it's like, and he's your dad. You should be able to talk to him about something like this."

After a few moments of words sticking in his throat, he let himself lean back up against her while twisting his paws over each other. "I… but I need to tell Volt what happened."

Her paw lightly kneaded his at his shoulder. "Don't worry, I can do that." While she held a comforting smile, he held back an angry glare. That excuse worked better in his head. Her paw pat him on the back as she rolled forward onto all fours. "Come on, let's go. I'll talk to my dad, and you go talk to yours."

"B-but what if," his mind raced for another excuse, "what if Dad's not home?"

She just chuckled. "Then rest up a bit. You need it. He'll be back eventually." Her paw yanked at his until he matched her posture. "Come on, let's go." She left the burrow and he followed, dragging his paws all the way. She waited for him to get all the way out before giving him a prolonged nuzzle. "It'll be all right."

As much as he wanted to argue the point, he just nodded. The nuzzle'd put a sheepish smile on his face that made it much harder to disagree. Seeing him content, she went off and left towards Volt. The lingering glee from the nuzzle made it much easier for Circ to start towards his own burrow. His mind joyfully lingered on that while he jaunted over to his home. Finding the burrow empty, he happily curled up and let the memory of the nuzzle put him to sleep.

Even in memories, even in dreams, Voltail relaxed him.

"I told you about the walrus and me, man
You know that we're as close as can be, man"

A bundle of nuts and berries bounced lightly down the ground into the burrow. Circ's ears twitched at the noise just loud enough to tug him out of his light nap. Still, he only peaked an eye open long enough to see Ampaw follow behind the pile of food. Just about to let his eye droop closed again, Voltail's suggestion rang in his ears. It kept him awake, but he stubbornly kept his eyes shut while Ampaw quietly munched on a few berries left from the last gathering.

Circ didn't want to do this. He wanted to just slip back into slumber and forget about it all. He wanted to act like nothing had ever happened. Yet, when he tried to tell himself nobody would know, Voltail's piercing glare reminded him otherwise. He'd made a promise. It just so happened that he really did not want to fulfill this promise. Coincidentally, he also really did not want to incite Voltail's wrath.

"Short Circuit?" Ampaw's voice was barely a whisper. He must have noticed Circ's internal debate. Cursing himself, he rolled over to face Ampaw, sitting up to rub the sleep out of his eyes. "Oh, sorry! Did I wake you?"

Circ shook his head. "I," he faked a yawn to cut himself off. Ampaw tilted his head. Squeezing his paws, Circ struggled to bring his eyes to the ground beneath him. That would be close enough to eye contact for this. "During my watch," he really didn't want to admit it, "I heard a pichu," especially not to Ampaw, "and when I went to go save him," his tongue felt heavy while his mind raced. He couldn't say it. He couldn't admit it. "It was a ground." His lungs let out a shallow relief. "But I only know shock-based attacks. I didn't have a chance." He looked up to meet Ampaw's eyes. "How do I fight a ground?"

Head tilted in confusion, Ampaw met Circ's gaze with a concern before brightening with a smile. "Oh, that's nothing to be embarrassed about. I can show you some attacks for an enemy like that!"

Circ managed half a relieved sigh. "Thanks!" Shaking off the rest of his nap, he rolled onto his forepaws. "Where should we go?"

Ampaw's smile started to grow. "Oh, already? I thought you might be tired, but," he started towards the burrow's exit, "here, there's this place a bit North I used to love for practice. Come on!" He'd already eagerly scurried out of the burrow, and Circ was about to follow when his head popped back in. "It's a bit of a walk, so you should grab a bit to eat."

Then, Ampaw was gone again. Circ hurriedly grabbed the nearest bundle of berries and scarfed them down before trying to catch up to his dad. By the time Circ had gotten out of the burrow, Ampaw was nearly to the edge of the colony. Their burrow was on the outer rim, but still, Circ had to sprint to catch up. "Wait!"

Ampaw paused briefly to look back—grin beaming ear to ear—and beckoned Circ with one paw, "Come on!" before dashing further into the forest. Circ could only run behind, wondering what had Ampaw so excited. Even though the trees weren't particularly dense, Circ could barely keep track of Ampaw as he chased him through the forest. Some irony at having to chase Ampaw Northward tickled the edge of his thoughts, but he didn't have time to think about it.

Just barely, Circ started gaining on him until Ampaw suddenly darted to the right: behind a tree and out of sight. Circ got to the tree, looking right to see nothing but a few stray flying and bug types hopping and scooting on the trees respectively. "Dad?" Circ shifted to his hindpaws to get a better look around, but nothing came of it. Just more grass. Trees.

This posture only made it more devastating when Ampaw tackled him from behind, sending them both tumbling over each other. "Gotcha!" Circ panicked for a moment, trying to wrest himself free before Ampaw's laughter made the shock wear off.

"Yep," Circ began to chuckle himself. "You got me." Sufficiently victorious, Ampaw released Circ and stood over him on his hindpaws. Circ pushed his paws beneath him and turned around, staying on all fours to let his dad tower over him. "That the move you wanted to show me?"

Ampaw rolled his eyes. "No." Suddenly, a wry twist took over his grin and he turned on his heels, "This is!" spinning around to slam his tail into Circ just hard enough to send him rolling across the grass.

Jarring as it was, it didn't hurt much all. The ground hurt more. He leapt up in case of a follow up, but it never came. Ampaw stared at him like he'd already answered Circ's question. "That was it?" Circ finally asked. "That didn't hurt at all."

Ampaw rolled his eyes. "Duh. I was just showing it to you, not using it." They both stared as if the other was being ridiculous. "Were you gonna try it yourself?" Ampaw flared his tail up with a menacing grin. "Or should I demonstrate some more?"

Circ blinked. "No, I think I got it." No way it was this simple. He felt like an idiot trying it. It must have been some stupid prank from his dad, but he'd have to fall for it to confirm. With blood rushing to his cheeks, he walked over to Ampaw, turned around, and swung his tail as hard as he could.

Ampaw's head didn't twitch. He stayed completely still until he burst out laughing, all but confirming this "lesson" was a thinly veiled ruse. "Awww, that was adorable," Ampaw cooed, elongating every syllable like he was talking to a hatchling. "Wag your tail like that, and it'll lower its defenses at least!"

Circ decided this was enough. "Ha ha." He turned around to glare at his amused father. "I need an attack, not tail whip."

Ampaw's laughter dimmed to a giggle, and he tilted his head. "Tail whip? Is that what you call it?"

Circ kept glaring. "It's not what I call it, it's what it's called. Y'know, tail whip." Ampaw's continued confusion suggested he did not in fact know. "The user wags its tail cutely, making the foe less wary. The targets defense…" he trailed off, looking for a word he knew existed. When it came, though, it only brought more questions. It was a human word, and he couldn't think of a word that meant the same thing. "Er, like you said. It lowers their defense."

Confusion gave way to bewilderment and drew a few more snickers out of Ampaw. "You kids come up with the silliest things." He shook his head. "Did you make that up with your friends when you were a pichu?"

Circ didn't respond for a moment, still stuck on that word. "No, I didn't make it up. I… don't remember where I heard of it." The more he thought of it, the less it made sense. Baring his back to his opponent just to catch them off guard? Maybe if he could dodge the incoming attack. More importantly, though, he had no idea where the idea had come from. It was so certain an idea cemented in his mind, yet it seemed to come from nowhere.

"Circ? You there?" Ampaw prodded his patch.

Circ pushed the paw away with his own. "Yeah, just thinking." He shook his head. It didn't make sense; the technique—if it could even be called as much—or how he knew about it. "Was this all a joke, then? Brought me all the way out here to wag my tail?" He tried to smile, but some lingering frustration pulled it taught.

Ampaw looked even more confused. "No?" He stared at Circ, waiting for a punchline. None came. "C'mere," he beckoned, walking over to the nearest tree. "Watch." He squared up in front of the tree, braced himself on his forepaws to spin around and slam his tail into it. Bark flew off the tree, some even coming so far that Circ had to guard his face.

He looked on in awe when the dust settled until it clicked in his head. "Oh, slam!" Just like tail whip, he suddenly knew exactly what this was. "The foe is slammed with a long tail, vines," he spun his paw for the several unnamed examples, "to inflict damage." Ampaw gave him that same bewildered look.

Circ shared in the confusion. The info felt obvious, like he was reciting from a… book. How could he recite from a book? Could he read? When? "Circ, just," Ampaw sounded concerned, "tense up your tail and throw your whole body into it, okay?" Circ nodded, trying to push reading out of his mind, but it persisted nonetheless. It fought tooth and claw to take root in his head, and he was inclined to let it, but he needed to focus on the move.

He walked next to Ampaw, who cleared out of the way, and did his best to mimic the movement. He dug his forepaws into the ground, braced his tail, and finally spun around to slam it into the tree. His balance needed some work. While Ampaw had stopped on contact and swiftly brought his paws to the grass, Circ scraped his tail across the bark and rolled along the ground.

Ampaw helped him up before he had a chance to reorient himself. "Are you all right?"

Circ nodded his spinning head. The jeer or laughter he expected never came, and he only saw concern when Ampaw's head stopped swirling. "Is the… did I do it?" He shut his eyes in hopes the dizzying surroundings would leave him.

Ampaw ruffled fur with the paw holding him up. "Not a bad start." His tone suggested the opposite. "Oh!" Circ's vision cleared just enough to see the idea on his father's face. "Maybe you'll have better luck using it in a battle!" Circ gasped. It wasn't a bad idea, battle often helped pull techniques chu struggled with out, but the thought of fighting his dad sent a chill down his spine. "Circ? What's wrong?"

Ampaw's probing yanked him out of his worries, and Circ spoke before his mind could catch up. "Yeah, sure." Ampaw still looked concerned, but he didn't press.

Instead, he made his way to the opposite end of the clearing. "A simple spar, all right? You can tap out whenever you like," Ampaw explained, emphasizing the last part. He eyed Circ with concern.

Circ nodded along, he'd heard the explanation thousands of times, but he couldn't help trembling slightly. The real reason he was supposed to talk to Ampaw replayed in his mind: a pikachu hurting a pichu. He grit his teeth. It was a spar. A simple spar. "Ready," he said.

Ampaw didn't look convinced, but all questions left his expression when they locked eyes. The chirps of bugs and squawks of birds faded while they stared each other down. Circ leaned back on his hindpaws to invite Ampaw to come for him. It was easier to channel electricity upright, but that would be worthless in a fight between chu.

It worked. Ampaw ran forward, and Circ immediately launched a bolt between them. It didn't come close to hitting Ampaw but blocked his vision just long enough for Circ to dart to the side. Ampaw barreled through where the strike hit, leaving his side completely open. Circ pounced forward and threw his tail at Ampaw just as he turned towards him.

The strike landed true, but Circ stumbled on his landing. The hit knocked Ampaw back, but he quickly made up the distance and bashed his tail into the already unstable Circ.

While he rolled across the ground, Circ lost control of his breath. He was gasping for air that wasn't there. He sucked in more and more but nothing was there. It wasn't enough. He got up just in time for a volt soaked fist to strike his cheek and send him careening away.

That stinging sensation shot through him, crackled through his skull. It felt familiar. Ampaw had struck him so many times before. He'd been holding back before, though, that much was obvious now. This hit broke him apart like none had before. The gap between their strength never felt so real. He'd never felt so small.

Vince slammed into a tree, lungs empty of air. He knew from the beginning this fight was a failure waiting to happen, but he was too desperate to quit. He had so much to lose. He had to make it back. Back… he had to make it back home. When he looked up, Ampaw hadn't closed the distance between them. "Short Circuit? You okay?"

A rage lit up inside him. The same name. The name he couldn't escape. The name he'd even called himself. "I'm not Short Circuit!" he screamed. "I'm not a pichu!" All this anger he couldn't source filled him, horror its only friend. The electricity of that strike still pulsed through him. He was no match for Ampaw. He knew it when this fight started, but he couldn't give up. He had to win. He couldn't win, but he had to.

Electricity surged through and around him as he pulled all he could from himself and his surroundings. Ampaw halted his cautious approach in an instant, terror in his eyes. Vince filled himself with the charge and launched forward. Just holding this much hurt, but he needed it to work.

Ampaw dodged to the right, but Vince followed step for step and slammed into the pikachu. He locked his arms around Ampaw and shot all he could into him at once while they tumbled across the forest floor. It wasn't enough. He knew it wouldn't be. Ampaw was still squirming, and Vince felt shocks. He couldn't tell if they were his own or Ampaw's, but it didn't matter. If he had any chance at finishing this, it was now. He charged his electricity again, the crackling drowning out Ampaw's cries to stop. Vince felt his charge, the static around him, Ampaw's charge and used all of it to send a shock flying up.

A bolt of lightning came to meet them, coursing through the pair. Any bit that went into Vince, he shot into Ampaw. He had to win. He couldn't lose. He couldn't go back to the colony. He had to go home. He needed—there was someone—something—home! He had to go home! Whatever little time this stunt bought him, he needed it, so he got off Ampaw and turned around. Where was the orb? He looked around for it, knew he brought it, but he couldn't see it anywhere.

Circ barely felt the paw grabbing his heel. He couldn't remember where he was. Scorch marks. Electricity and scorch marks covered him. There was a paw holding his heel. He turned around to see Ampaw beaten and battered with tears streaming down his face. "P-please!" he wheezed. "Please don't go. I'm sorry, I—" he broke down in sobs before he could finish.

It took Circ a second to catch up to what his eyes told him. "D-Dad!" He ran forward to help his father up, but Ampaw flinched away. Circ immediately stood back. What did he do? Why was his dad afraid of him? "What… happened?" He tried to think back. Slam. The spar. They were fighting, and he… got scared. Terrified. He couldn't remember ever feeling so hopelessly horrified in his life. That feeling engulfed his memory and left emptiness behind.

Now, he stood over his scorched and sputtering father. "I'm sorry, please stay, please! Please don't go! I—I won't call you that! You're not a pichu! Please!"

Circ could barely understand the sniveling rant. "D-Dad? It's okay. I'm here. It's me, Short Circuit." He risked rubbing a paw on his father's head. Ampaw flinched away at first, but threw himself on Circ. Now, it was Circ's turn to struggle breathing; Ampaw embraced him as tightly as possible with every limb he had—including his tail. Circ stumbled back a few steps before falling. While tears soaked his chest, he couldn't get past his confusion. "What happened?"

Ampaw didn't relent in his embrace. It even strengthened, tightening in tandem with every sob. "I thought I lost you," he whimpered. Circ could barely hear him. "You hit me, you wouldn't stop, you were gonna run," his ramblings went on, but Circ couldn't listen.

Circ's blood ran cold. He'd reduced his father to a scorched, sniveling mess. He'd taken this spar and broken his father. The tears on his chest burned a hole through his gut. Air must have left the atmosphere. No matter how much Circ tried to gasp it in, his lungs stayed empty. The image of his broken father burned into his memory. He could have killed him. He was a monster.

Tears burned out of Circ's eyes while he wrest himself free of Ampaw's grip. "Circ?" Ampaw nearly shouted.

While his eyes radiated desperation, Circ's glistened with regret and guilt. Circ matched Ampaw's every shamble forward with a step back. "I-I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't—wasn't," his back hit a tree. He tried to push past it, but only managed to press his back into the bark. His forepaws held his head up while he remembered hitting Sparks. Earlier that same day.

"Circ," Ampaw whispered with a trembling paw to his son's side. "It's okay. What's wrong?"

Circ shook his head. "I hurt you. Sparks, and I—you could've," he couldn't bring himself to finish. Sobs took over, and Ampaw wrapped his arms around him. The hug burnt him to the core. He'd nearly killed Ampaw, and now the same pikachu was trying to comfort him. "It's not okay. I don't know why, what—I'm sorry." Every word took more effort than lifting a mountain.

Ampaw leaned up against the tree next to him with an arm around his back. It felt casual. Far too casual for what Circ had just done to him. Then, he laughed. "See how the other half lives?" Circ must have lost his mind. How could Ampaw laugh at this? At what he'd done? "Voltail told me about Sparks."

Circ's already labored breathing stopped. He didn't think he could anymore. "It's not fun, is it?" Ampaw continued. Circ could barely shake his head. "It's worse when it's your own son." Circ risked a glance at Ampaw. The pikachu was smiling: a smile soaked in sorrow. "But you have to teach them. If they won't listen, it's all you can do."

Circ shook his head. Maybe he was just defiantly holding onto his guilt, or couldn't accept justifying his brutality, but it felt wrong. "No." His face hardened. "It's not right."

Ampaw pulled him weakly into a nuzzle. "What else can you do?"

Circ fell silent. He didn't know. He didn't have a better answer, but he knew what he'd done was wrong. "There's a better way." It was hard to tell if the declaration was for Ampaw or himself. He needed it to be true.

Ampaw squeezed him tighter in retaliation, seeming disinterested in arguing further. "Let's go home. Get some rest." Circ nodded and stood up. After a few steps, he looked back to see Ampaw hadn't moved, a wry smile pulling at his cheeks. He tried to stand, but contorted his face into exaggerated sorrow and crumpled to the ground. "Owowow, ouch!" he wailed. "I can't move! I—son, please! You'll have to carry me!"

For a moment, Circ didn't know how to respond. His mouth decided for him, and a chuckle giggled its way into a laugh. His head shook while he went over to hoist Ampaw up onto his back. Ampaw squeezed at his sides to make it even harder for Circ to catch his breath. "Comfy?" Circ grunted.

Ampaw hummed in agreement while he nuzzled Circ with just enough charge to hurt. Circ rolled his eyes and marched back home. While his body strained beneath the weight of Ampaw, his mind strained to find a better way. He had a fight coming up soon, after all.