A disgruntled Plumeria wriggled underneath the weight of a half-full garbage bag slung across her soldier as she dipped to grab trash from her Salazzle's claws. Every once in awhile, the slender lizard would chirp in annoyance at the amount of broken glass she was forced to dodge, but Plum's presence kept the mood light, despite both female's annoyance with being the sole after-party maids.
Plums decided to take a break, slinging the trash from off her shoulder to seat herself on top of a rickety wood bench, her Pokemon followed suit, its gentle stare unblinking as it settled on its trainer's lap. For a moment she stroked the creature's flank, staring blankly at Po Towns's road and a pair of passing grunts. The two seemed cheerful, chattering with bright smiles. It lifted Plumeria's mood a little, to see her 'siblings' awake early and delighted, beaming in the blinding sunlight.
Sometimes, Plumeria could be a grade-a hardass, but when it came to her family, nothing meant more. She hadn't planned to go off on Guzma for hosting an initiation party, however, it irked her that he had been the one to introduce a new sister, and not herself. It was a point of pride for Plumeria, to be the first smiling face the newcomers got to see, and Guzma had ruined that opportunity for her a couple times. After their brief talk that night, Guzma and Plumeria had taken a stroll around the mansion, checking on Grunts and making sure everyone was enjoying the party. The boss was gloating about their new sister the entire walk, mentioning how coy she'd been, explaining the newbie's battle with Grunt J over and over again like a proud father. His eyes would gleam every time the mention of her entered their conversation.
All the hype had Plumeria eager to meet the new girl, so she sat waiting patiently on the bench, using their awaited introduction as an excuse to take a break from cleaning. When Plumeria caught sight of the unfamiliar girl walking timidly out of the mansion doors, she felt her stomach jolt.
The newbie appeared to be younger than herself, possibly eighteen, but her petite size and docile features made it difficult to pinpoint an exact age. Plumeria noted that the newbie fit her outfit cumbersomely, the straps of her Skull Tank-top slipping down freckled shoulders with innocence, uncurtaining her prominent collarbones and a Joltik nestled in the crook of her neck. This girl was not your average Team Skull grunt; She had a soft, delicate air that instinctively made Plumeria feel... protective.
"P-plumeria?" the new girl glanced around until she caught Plums's stare, eyeing the Team Skull admin with nervous inquisition.
Plumeria hopped off the bench, feet landing squarely on a patch of dirt in front of the girl. "That's right, kid. Whata 'bout you?"
Keaka was frightened by the formidable woman standing before her, hands on hips, leaning down to personally invade her space. Compared to Guzma, Plumeria's appearance was eccentric, flashy; Her hair was coupled into four ponytails of fluorescently-dyed gold and rouge streams, her piercing lemon-yellow eyes ringed with thick eyeliner and white highlight. Much of Plumeria's skin was showing, allowing Keaka to see a familiar pink tattoo adorning her lower abdomen.
"We're glad you joined, Keaka," the woman smiled, standing up straight and crossing her arms.
Keaka nodded, "Boss said you had a... job for me? Is there something I can help with?"
"Right to the point I see, alright. Well," Plumeria surveyed the surrounding Team Skull grounds that were cluttered in strewn garbage. Keaka felt her spirits plummet, taking a wild guess as to what the woman wanted from her. Keaka had never been good at cleaning.
"Well," she hummed, "The boss mentioned you were a bit shy, is that right?"
Caught off guard, Keaka stammered out, "Guzma thinks I'm shy?"
Plumeria lifted a thin eyebrow, continuing, "Yeah. Says you really don't start conversation much. You're part of a family now, you got to get know your brothers and sisters. What do you say we go and chat with some, hm?"
Anything but cleaning. Keaka agreed, feeling less intimidated by Plumeria's slight smile.
"A lot of our siblings like to battle. Boss says you needed coin. Win a couple battles and you'll have some good money in your pocket."
After most Pokemon battles, the winning trainer receives compensation for their work and their pokemon's effort- usually a decent sum of money. Keaka had remembered the first time her brother came home with a pouch full of coin, his reward for winning against the neighbor boy. The next day, a group of Team Skull grunts had him clutching concrete as they ripped the prize from his puny fists, leaving him jammed into the sidewalk, sobbing. When he came home next, his shirt was torn and stained with dried blood, his face was speared by chunks of concrete and sticky with burning tears. Keaka held him on the couch for hours that night, overflowing with hatred for thugs who hurt children for cheap thrills.
The memory made her flinch. If it came down to it, Keaka would do the same, and there was no denying it. She would do anything for her brother, for his cure. Her hopes were now holding on to the idea that maybe Team Skull was above attacking children though, and that she could make the money in less morally degrading ways.
Plumeria interrupted Keaka's regretful thoughts, "Think you and your new Pokemon can handle a few battles?"
"Yeah," she felt Joltik wiggle out from hiding beneath her hair, followed by his chirping agreeance.
"Good. Follow me."
"Call me Plums, or big sis if you want."
"Yes, big sis."
Guzma had ordered his grunts to leave his throne room for the evening. They weren't irritating him, but their insistent arguments over who had bigger biceps made it hard to concentrate on anything, especially his early morning reflections.
Finally alone, he cracked his neck and stretched his fingers, running a hand to hold back the mess of wavy hair in his face. His computer sat open in front of him on pedestal, an illuminated screen staring blankly and shedding light on his shadowy under eyes. A curiosity had been fighting with him all night, keeping him from getting a wink of sleep: Who was the new girl, really? He had a theory- that maybe she worked for his rival, Kukui, and was spying on Guzma, but it didn't fit. Perhaps the boss was just paranoid.
There were very few girls like Keaka in Ula'ula, fair skinned and peppered with freckles. Guzma figured she must burn often under the scorching Alola sun. It reminded him briefly of a memory he tried to bury, a memory of his father's friend, a redhead with a fiery temper and hairline trigger to contest his own. The ginger would visit Guzma's childhood home, often with a beat-red tan line that he scratched relentlessly until it peeled and scabbed, always making him aggressively hostile- like a sick animal lashing out in defense. But Keaka wasn't like his fathers' friends, she was the exact opposite: quiet, polite, curious. He had to remind himself of that.
Unsure, his fingers dangled uncontrollably restless above the keyboard of his computer, waiting for his mind to send a command to them. They were eager spiders hovering over un-searchable questions that could never be answered by simply exploring the internet. Why did he feel the need to invade the new girl's privacy so badly? To know every detail about her? What was so gut-wrenchingly interesting about her? It wasn't his place to know yet, but the self defeat made things more difficult to cope with. In time, he would find out, but Guzma was not known to be a patient man.
"Hey, grunts! You still out there?" the boss called from his throne, eyeing the door, awaiting the definite reply.
"Yeah...," two muffled voices responded. Guzma smirked.
"I've got a secret mission for ya both, c'mere."
Keaka's first battle ended horribly. Joltik had fainted within the first five minutes into a match with a female grunt she now knew as Dahlia- or Grunt Dal. Joltik had looked back at Keaka proudly before the battle began, a determined glow in his four beaded eyes, but they'd both underestimated the strength of Grunt Dal's toxic Grimer. It took all of Keaka's own strength not to burst into tears when Joltik screeched a tiny call for help before falling limp. She'd never liked Pokemon battles. She had a reason now.
"And Guzma told me you had serious skill. Guess not." Plumeria shouldered Keaka roughly, handing the distraught newbie some medicine for her fallen Joltik. Keaka took it graciously and scurried to the spider, mindlessly forgetting about the battlegrounds until it was far too late. As she positioned herself beside Joltik, scooping him up into her palms, she felt a sharp pain in her crouched knee.
"Ow- what the-," she stumbled, steadying herself with the ground using her unoccupied hand.
"HEY! What are you doing? Are you crazy- get out of there!" Plumeria's instructions were too late.
It began to burn. The underside of her hand was sizzling, the pain cutting daggers into her soft flesh like melted butter. Joltik was covered in the same searing syrup, and it coated her skin like liquid flame. Acid. Grimer had used acid. That's what knocked her Pokemon out. Keaka had fallen into a puddle of acid, and was crouched there, dumbfounded by her own stupidity as the goo burned away every part of her it touched.
It was Plumeria to wrench her away from the splash of caustic muck, heaving Keaka's stunned body away from harm. A clicking noise registered in the girl's ear as a Pokeball activating, watching numbly as Plums secured Joltik into the red and white orb.
"Are you stupid? More importantly, are you okay?!" the exotic-haired woman squatted in front of Keaka, yanking her wrists towards her for inspection. The new girl's' eyes widened as her hands were flipped over, revealing the raw, bubbling flesh of her palms.
"Dahlia, go get the boss, now!" Plumeria authorized, pointing an unsteady finger at the doors to Team Skull's mansion. She was shaking.
Honestly, Keaka had no idea how bad her own condition was because the liquid had completely paralyzed her nerves; She felt none of the burning meat that she smelled, but the terrorized look in Plumeria's eyes gave her a good reason to panic, and panicking was Keaka's field of expertise.
"I didn't mean to-," her words tumbled out in bubbles of hysteria, of tears forming under her unblinking eyelids. Sounds faded and her vision flickered as a familiar feeling engulfed the young girl- her body was shutting itself down, knocking Keaka out for its own benefits.
Before the shadowy comatose seized her, Keaka was able to worry about one more thing: How was she going to help her brother now?
When Keaka woke, it was darker than it had been in her dreams. For a moment she wondered if she was blind until her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, taking in odd shapes outlined in the total shadow. A prickle of discomfort turned into a full-blown explosion of pins and needles as she tried to rise from her horizontal position. A mewl of defeat escaped her lips, and she fell onto her back, clutching her throbbing wrist. In a comforting way, Keaka reminded herself that she'd been through worse pain.
Guzma heard the girl shift, then collapse back down onto the bed with a short whimper followed by labored breaths. She was finally awake.
"Hey, don't move too much, kid. You'll seriously hurt yourself," the boss stood and pulled a lamp string in the corner of his rooms, and a flood of orange light decorated the new girl's folded figure wrapped his bed sheets. If she were there under different circumstances, he probably would've enjoyed the view.
"How am I?" she asked pitifully, rolling over to make eye contact with Guzma.
"Damn. Pain really wakes ya up fast, huh? You'll be fine, kid. Plumeria has suffered her own fair share of chemical burns. She fixed ya up, but ya still need rest, so if move off that bed I'll have to tie ya down, got it?"
She nodded briskly, a sort of shock filling her gaze. The new girl appeared small and helpless clutching his gigantic mattress- well, she was small and helpless, but he shamefully found it adorable. Despite wanting to curl up next to the wounded girl, Guzma turned away, tapping his foot and trying to clear more of the inappropriate feelings that circulated in his head.
"Thank you, again." she whispered shakily, catching Guzma off guard. Fuck, that delicate voice was cute.
"Yeah, no problem," he grumbled, staring holes into his throne room wall.
"I used to hate you people- Team Skull, I mean, but you have all been... nice to me. Even though I'm a total screw-up..."
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. If the new girl knew what was going through Guzma's head, she might not think that he was so nice. Her fucking voice was milotic, albeit weak and powerless, but he found himself loving it.
"So... thank you, Guzma." Hearing her say his name in that whimpering tone he so adored was more or less a tipping point. On eager heels, he swiveled around to face her.
"You're stupid. Ya know that? Stumblin' right into a puddle of acid like a dumb little kid! You shouldn't even be here! You don't belong here, and you sure as hell don't belong in my bed. Too bad Plumeria has a big fuckin' heart, or else I would've kicked you out the second you pulled that stupid shit. Team Skull isn't right for you. Why the hell did you even join?" Guzma wasn't angry at her, he was frustrated with himself. It didn't help that the girl began to tear up, causing the boss's words to come back full force and smack him in the face.
He was right. Keaka wasn't 'Keaka,' she was Kona. She didn't belong in Team Skull. She belonged at home with her brother, watching him come home with Pokemon battle stories to tell and small gifts to give her. It hadn't been Guzma's words to make the flow of tears start up once again, it had been the thought of her baby brother, alone in a bed, sick and dying while she was being "a dumb little kid." A dreadful feeling of helplessness tugged the salty water from her eyes, but she held it back at the feeling of someone sitting down beside her on the bed.
A hand gripped her shoulder and she glanced up to see the apologetic gaze of the man who had just viciously scolded her.
"Fuck. I didn't mean-... Ah, fuck. I didn't mean all of that. It's just that... ever since you showed up like a stupid lost puppy, I haven't been able to get my mind off of ya. You're not like the rest of us 'ere, I guess, and I... like that." Even in the dingy lamp glow, Keaka could clearly see the burning red tint spreading across the boss's whole face. She was shocked, small mouth gaping open, staring innocently up at him. "Fuck, forget what I just said. Repeat any of it outside of this room and I'll-,"
"You like me?" she blurted, unable to hold back the question. Guzma's lip quivering silence and glowing red face was her answer even before he spoke. It was his turn to be flustered.
"Does it even matter? You're too good of a person to be with someone like-," he didn't want to finish his own statement.
To Keaka's knowledge, nobody had ever liked her before. She was the poor girl that lived in a shack with her brother, left by her abusive father to rot in a pathetic dump. She'd never been anything to anyone else except a big sister, an insignificant stain in the corner of everyone's life. For a moment she wondered if maybe that's why she felt at home with Team Skull. Keaka had gone from washing dishes and doing laundry to being the center of attention in an infamous gang of thieves, and the boss had his eye out for her. Some kind of twisted Cinderella story.
Looking up at Guzma, Keaka felt her heart skip a beat. His grey eyes were searching her face for some kind of response, one she didn't know if she'd be able to give him. Sure, he was attractive: Tall and tan, built with broad shoulders and a thin waist she would kill to see more of, topped off with a nice jawline and ridiculously feathery, white hair. But was she really going to let his kind of thing happen?
So much had been moving fast over the span of a couple days, she didn't think one more thing could make her life much worse.
"You're good too. You've been good to me. The people here like you. I'm not above you in any way," she gulped back the hitch in her voice.
"It's just the pain talking."
She'd completely forgotten about her hands, wrapped in gauze. She shook her head. "I can't even feel it right now."
"What are you saying then?" he questioned.
Keaka didn't know. Was she losing her mind? "W-what kind of way do you like me?"
"You don't want to know."