I'm calling the PC Luna here because Moon is a stupid name.
Hau had always loved pokemon for as long as he could remember.
The litten, rowlet, and popplio were like a second family to him. When you need to give pokemon out every year, you have to keep a good stock. Hala oversaw their care himself to make sure they were always in perfect condition, as befitting the sacred creatures. He always brought Hau along, even before he could walk. "One day you'll have to do this yourself, after all!" he boomed, his face as radiant as the sun.
Hau had just smiled, not understanding what he really meant, and watched the pokemon run and play until they flopped down in the sun to sleep, endlessly fascinated by their movements. "Look at him," the villagers would all croon every time he fed one. "He'll be such a great trainer when he grows up!" Sometimes the pokemon would get sick, so Hau read about medicines and treatment. Hala beamed with pride whenever he helped – he was always able to calm the pained creatures down and give them the medicine even when they fought everyone else. He was a natural, they said.
On his birthday, Hala gave him more pokemon books – about battling. "Oh, I just know you'll be great!" the neighbors told him when he visited, beaming. "You're Hala's kid, after all!" Truth be told, Hau liked the ecology books better. But Hau loved pokemon and pokemon loved battling, so Hau learned how to battle.
When he was 10 the kids at school boasted of adventuring in the tall grass and catching pokemon with their bare hands. "No way!" Hau said, before they reached for their pocket and released a yungoos or grubbin or pikipek. Sometimes Hau would notice the way those pokemon flinched away from their owners, the patchiness of the yungoos' fur, the chips in the pikipeks' beaks, and remembered what his books had said about that. "Hey, be careful," he would say. "You need to treat it better..." The kids would go beet-red and yell that if he couldn't even catch one himself he couldn't tell them how to do it.
So he begged Hala.
"Oh heavens no, don't go in the grass!" he said, shocked. Hau's lip trembled and he prepared to protest when Hala continued. "But perhaps it is time… a future kahuna should start early, after all!" He led Hau into the square for a choosing ceremony of his own. He knew all the pokemon individually, of course, and it was hard to choose just one after they all jumped into his arms. He felt like he was on top of the world.
And so for the next year, he turned theory into practice. The first time he fought with Rowlet, he flinched with every hit, cried over his scrapes, and groomed his coat until it was pristine again. Hala shook his head. It was good to care, but he had to have more faith in his pokemon, he said.
Battling was harder than he thought, harder than the manuals and the matches on TV had made it seem. It didn't feel right to stay back while Rowlet got hurt. But Rowlet didn't seem to mind, always jumping into his arms and trilling triumphantly after battle, even when he woke up after a loss. Hau still liked feeding and playing with him better.
"You've got such a great bond with your pokemon," they said.
"You're so talented," they said.
"You'll be the greatest trainer ever!" they said. "You'll even beat Hala one day!"
He smiled crookedly at that. His grandfather was the strongest trainer he knew. They might as well have asked him to beat Leaf. The thought But what if I can't bubbled in his brain, but he told himself it would be fine. It was just like in the battles – he had to have faith in himself too. He was a kahuna's grandson, after all.
When he was 11, Hau received an unexpected gift: a foreigner from across the ocean was to join him in his island challenge. Luna was her name. They could journey together and keep each other sharp, the professor said. That sounded nice. It would be good to have some company, good to battle against another trainer that wasn't Hala.
Maybe he didn't have to be the greatest trainer ever. Maybe if he could just beat her, that would be enough. And she was just a foreigner, so how hard could it be?
He realized what he was thinking, and felt sick. That was selfish. No – it didn't matter if he lost as long as everyone had fun. That was what his grandfather always said.
(But it would matter if he lost against Hala, wouldn't it?)
He missed Luna's choosing ceremony. When he caught up to her, a litten was crawling by her side. Hau just grinned and said that was cool. Type advantages didn't determine everything, everyone always said. And Rowlet was the best! He'd show everyone how great he was when he won even at a disadvantage!
He didn't win.
But he almost did! He almost won! Luna was an open book and he could see all her attacks coming. It was exhilarating how Rowlet moved in perfect sync with him, dodging and striking with his voice. He was sure he would have won if her litten hadn't connected with that lucky Ember attack at the last minute. He'd win next time.
Afterward, Hala pulled him aside, gave him a secret smile, and released one of the pokeballs on his belt.
The pichu! Hau's face lit up in delight. Hala got the egg recently, and it had just hatched. The yellow rodent was even more adorable than Hau could have imagined.
"You new friend will be in for surprise at the festival tomorrow," Hala said with a wink. Hau laughed as he hugged the pichu, careful to avoid its sparking cheeks. This was perfect. He'd go all-out next time and win for sure!
He didn't win. He knew he wouldn't win the moment Luna sent out her first pokemon: a yungoos. She had gotten new friends too. Little Pichu just couldn't compete.
But Tapu Koko crowed approval, so it must have been alright. Maybe he didn't need to beat Luna.
Luna rushed ahead to Ilima's trial as soon as the tauros got out of the way. Hau didn't understand how she could be so impatient; she hadn't even met all the pokemon yet! Hau had played with the pokemon in the city when he was younger – the pokemon slept in the carefully-maintained grass patches at night, but they wandered freely in the streets.
Now that he was a trainer, of course, things were different. Wild pokemon didn't want to cuddle and eat with trainers. Well, unless…
"Hey, d'you wanna join my team?" Hau said when a pikipek jumped out at him. He chucked the ball at the startled creature – a flawless throw, he was sure! The ball rocked once, twice…
...and the pokemon broke out.
"Oh," Hau said miserably. "...It's okay, I understand." It wouldn't be right for him to force it to come along. But flying beats fighting– No. No. He had to let them choose. Pichu gave the bird a shock, and it retreated back into the green.
After training he took his team out for malasadas, and let them play together for the rest of the afternoon. He knew he had to move on eventually, but it wouldn't hurt to wait until tomorrow, would it?
Kukui chided him for his tardiness the next morning; Luna had already passed Ilima's trial with flying colors. "It's not a race!" Hau said, and laughed. Kukui smiled at him, but weakly.
The trial was harder than anything he'd done before. Pichu evolved in the intensity of the battle, but it wasn't enough. Pikachu fainted, and the totem pokemon still stood.
"Your foe's weak! Get 'em, Rowlet!"
By rights, Rowlet should have lost too. Hau saw him get smacked to the ground just like Pikachu had been – but somehow, he got up again, fiery determination in his eyes. He stood firm against the next attack too, even though the sound of the impact made Hau wince. Bright leaves flew from his plumage, cutting into his opponent, and then it was over.
Ilima came to give him the crystal, but he couldn't pay attention. "Are you okay?!" he asked Rowlet. The pokemon brushed him away with a wing as if to say "I'm fine," but the sentiment was undercut as he immediately toppled over.
"No!" Hau screamed, hugging Rowlet close. Was he going to die?! Hala said pokemon battles were safe!
"Don't worry, Hau." Ilima spoke calmly and smiled brightly. "I've seen this happen before. When a pokemon feels its trainer's desire to win, it can push its body to the limit! Rowlet just didn't want to disappoint you! He'll be fine once we get him to a pokemon cent–" Hau was away before he could finish.
"Don't ever do that again!" Hau sobbed when Rowlet reawakened. "I was so worried! What if you really got hurt?" Rowlet flinched away, and that just made Hau cry harder. "I'm sorry! I just… You don't have to do that for me, okay?"
And so Rowlet didn't, even when they fought Luna again. Hau beat three of hers this time – she threw her pokemon into his attacks without batting an eye – but they just kept coming.
"Seriously?" she scoffed. "You haven't caught any new pokemon since last time? Are you even trying?"
"You can't rush these things!" Hau said defensively. "I gotta make sure all my pokemon are happy!" An awful thought crossed his head and the words spilled out before he could stop himself – "Do you even care if your pokemon are happy, Luna?!" The anger tasted like acid on his tongue. He immediately stepped back and covered his mouth like he had said a curse.
Luna rolled her eyes and left before he could apologize.
Hau held his head and groaned. Why was he getting so upset? This wasn't like him. Battles were supposed to be fun, and they were fun, but…
"Are you okay, Hau?" Lillie's soft voice made Hau look up. Oh no, now she was worried too… "I can heal your pokemon, if that would help…"
Hau nodded and handed over the balls. Wait, he should say something. "Uh, yeah, I'm fine, I just…" Was he really fine? "…I don't know."
Lillie made a sympathetic noise as she applied the medicine. "You seemed so happy when you started out, Hau. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, my pokemon are happy, and I'm learning new things, but…" He hesitated before suddenly blurting out, "Am I a bad trainer, Lillie?"
Lillie looked at him with a horrified expression and shook her head firmly. "N-No, of course not! Why would you…?"
"But can I ever beat my gramps at this rate?" So talented… greatest trainer ever… the next kahuna… But the moment another kid came along, he couldn't hold a candle to her.
"You mean for the grand trial?" Lillie tilted her head in confusion.
"No, that's not his real team but… oh noooo, what if I can't even beat that?" Hau clutched his head. "I'm supposed to be the next kahuna, but how can I do that if I can't win?"
Lillie went quiet for a moment. He heard her shuffling awkwardly, but he didn't see her face. Eventually she said, very quietly, "Do you… want to be kahuna?"
"Of course I do!" he said automatically, a bit too loudly. Lillie looked away.
She was running her fingers through her hair, clutching the braids tightly – Hau had never seen her so tense. "I… I know I'm not a pokemon trainer, so maybe it's not my place to say this, but, um… I think, maybe… that is to say…"
She frowned and looked up again, but didn't look him in the eye. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to… That's what I think."
She made her excuses and left after that. Weird.
But the grand trial wouldn't go away no matter how much he wanted it to, so he decided to stop feeling sorry for himself and get back to Iki Town. Maybe if he was fast enough he could even get there before…
He did beat Hala's trial, at least. He was sure he would've died of shame if he hadn't. He knew his grandfather went easy on him, but that was okay. If he could beat the island trials, he must have been doing something right. But he could have done without Hala going on and on about Luna this and Luna that, what a great battle they had, she was so talented…
Hala, to his credit, noticed Hau's discomfort and gave him some sage advice about not comparing himself to others. He laughed it off.
It was time to look on the bright side of things. He was going to see a new island! He was so excited to meet all the new pokemon. He'd grown up with all the pokemon of Melemele, but now it was time to make new friends and see new things. He'd always wanted to play with a stufful, or maybe a fomantis!
Luna seemed willing to look on the bright side too. He muttered an apology to her and she seemed to take it well, smiling serenely. Although she smiled serenely at everything, so it was hard to tell…
He lost in Paniola Town, but that was okay, because he knew he'd lose. He seemed to take it better than Luna, all things considered: she huffed and glowered at him as if she was the one who had lost.
"C'mon, Luna, lighten up a little!" he said, laughing (it was only a little forced). "The island challenge is supposed to be fun! You don't have to take this so seriously!"
"No, but maybe you do," Luna said bluntly. "I'd like a real challenge sometime."
"O-Oh, yeah, definitely! I'll beat you one day, Luna, just you wait!" He was grinning so hard his face hurt.
"It's, uh, I just need a little time to catch up, that's all!" He laughed again. "We can't all be as talented as you!"
Luna cocked her head. "But Hala and Professor Can't-Wear-A-Shirt said you were talented too."
Hau tried to laugh, but it turned into a cough. "Aha, yeah, see, that means I'll get there someday, right! But, like, not right now. Haha..."
Luna just sighed. "Right. Well, have fun. I'm gonna search for a shiny."
"A shiny pokemon?!" Hau gasped. "You'll be at it for weeks!"
She smirked at that. "I've my ways."
The ranch helped take his mind off of things, at least. He had always wanted to visit a real ranch, and Paniola didn't disappoint. He was amazed to see so many huge pokemon in one place, all working together to help humans. The locals were really nice, too; they showed him a miltank being milked (gross, but cool) and mudbray galloping around the pasture (cool, but kind of scary). He pet a tauros, and was amazed by how soft and furry it was; books and TV never mentioned that. He wouldn't trade Iki Town for the world, but… he kind of wished he could have grown up here.
One pasture was open to trainers, and the ranchers invited him to battle. He had just finished when he heard a roar from the far end. A tauros.
"Hey hey, what's going on?" Hau said, walking over. The tauros was backed into a corner of the pasture, trapped between the fence on one side and a pond on the other. He roared and thrashed his head aggressively at the ranchers clustered around.
"Be careful, kid, this one's feisty!" a rancher said. "We're keeping him here until Mallow comes back with the mistress."
"The… mistress?" Hau asked absently, staring at the pokemon. Hala had dealt with ornery tauros before, but this one seemed different. It didn't look aggressive, more like… scared? Its eyes were flicking around instead of focusing on anything, and its tails were flailing erratically, not the controlled pattern used to signal an attack. "I think something's bothering it. Is it hurt, or something?"
"Nah, he's fine. Don't worry, he just needs time to get used to the ranch."
Hau stepped forward. The tauros tensed and stared at him suddenly. Slowly, he reached his hand out, thinking back to how Hala had calmed down the tauros that always menaced the town. He had to be gentle, but firm. If he could just talk to it…
Something grabbed him roughly by the collar of his shirt and yanked him back, choking his cry of alarm. His legs collapsed under him and he fell to the ground. "Woah, kid, keep your distance!" a voice said.
Hau looked up as a pale, green-haired girl helped him to his feet – the same one who greeted them when they first landed. "Oh hey! You're Mallow, right? I've been looking for you!"
"What, did y'think I was trapped by that rampaging tauros?" She laughed, but her face was grave. "Seriously, kid, that's dangerous. Let me handle this!"
"It's not really rampaging," Hau said, brushing off his shorts. Ugh, it was so muddy here…
"Well it won't be after this, anyway!" Mallow chirped. "C'mere, girl!"
Hau noticed for the first time that she had brought a miltank with her. The ranchers moved back as it waddled confidently towards the tauros. "Here she is… the mistress of the ranch!" a rancher explained. "One roar from this miltank and even the most ornery tauros is instantly as quiet as a little litten!"
She mooed. The tauros mooed back. She mooed again, and the tauros responded by headbutting her.
"Mooorrrrrrrr!" the tauros roared.
"Huh, guess not."
But it still wasn't charging, Hau noticed. If anything it was moving away from them, its back legs banging frustratedly against the stones by the pond. It kept kicking up mud…
A sigh. "Well, they do say the stronger the tauros is, the harder it is to control. Maybe if he burns off a bit of excess energy, it'll be a bit easier to bring him to heel…"
Mud. Of course, it was next to a pond, the ground was wetter here. No wonder it was so cranky; tauros needed firm ground to walk on. Hau would hate sitting in the mud too. But then why…
"Oh, I know. Hey, kid!" Mallow's voice made him jump. "You're a trainer, right? Why don't you battle him?"
"What?!" Hau screeched. The tauros rumbled. "You're just gonna smack him around until he does what you say? You can't do that! That's… that's mean!"
"It's fine! Pokemon battle all the time in the wild!"
"But you don't have to! It's just sad because it's all muddy and gross over here!" Hau looked around at the confused faces, and something else clicked. "And look at how many of you there are! Wouldn't you be scared if a bunch of pokemon penned you in like this?"
The ranchers looked to each other. "But if we let it go, it'll start fighting the others," the oldest one said, but then his brow furrowed. "Uh… won't it?"
"No, that's not how it works!" Hau said. "My gramps told me tauros need space. They always calm down if you let them walk it off. If you lock them up they just get angrier!" He grimaced. "You, uh… you know that, right?" The ranchers looked down and mumbled to themselves. "Just step back a bit, okay?"
They did, and the tauros took a tentative step forward.
"It's okay," Hau said softly, reaching his hand out. "This way."
Slowly, the tauros moved out of its spot and back to the main pasture. Hau gave it a reassuring pat on the head when it reached him, just like he always did to the tauros back home. Its tails still twitched a little, but its moo was far more content than before. It trotted past him to the feeding trough.
"Whew!" Hau breathed. "That was pretty intense, huh! I've never done that without my gramps, but I think I did a pretty good job!" He scratched the back of his head and turned to the ranchers, grinning.
They looked at him like he had just brought Lunala down from the heavens.
"Hey, don't look at me like that, it's not like I did anything special!" Hau laughed.
The ranchers mumbled awkward thanks and pressed something into his hands as payment before excusing themselves. Hau just shrugged, but someone tapped him on the shoulder when he tried to leave.
"Hey." It was Mallow again. "It's… Hau, right?"
"Yeah, that's me!" Hau nodded enthusiastically.
"Great! I have to say, uh…" She laughed awkwardly and looked away. "You really did save us a lot of trouble back there. We always just battled the pokemon when they got like that, but we gotta remember there are ways that are less… mean, I guess you could say!"
"Yeah, of course!" Hau said. "But I really gotta get better at battling too. Everyone wants me to be a great trainer, but I'm… not there yet, haha."
Mallow grabbed him by the shoulders, her face suddenly somber. "You're already a great trainer, Hau. Listen. I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen anyone do what you just did. I think you have a real talent for this."
Hau pulled away.
"Heh, well, people say I have talent for battling too…"
"Sure, sure," Mallow said, not seeming to get his meaning. "If that's what you want to do, you should do that. But I just mean, there's more to pokemon than that! There's so much you can do. I really think you should give this a try."
Hau smiled. "Sure. Maybe I'll come back here after I've finished my island challenge." He'd like that.
But right now, the sun hung low in the sky. Hau would have gladly spent the rest of the afternoon here, but something nagged at him to get a move on. It would be cool if he could get to the next trial before Luna, for once…
"You. Battle me."
A trainer ambushed him just as he reached the pokemon center at the end of the next route.
"Aren't you hot in that?" Hau quipped. The boy was wearing an oversized black hoodie that contrasted awfully with his too-light skin and hair. He just glared and threw a pokeball.
A golbat. Pikachu should have been able to handle it, but she was already weakened from the trek. After they traded blows, Pikachu fainted, but the golbat did not. Hau hoped he could finish it off with Dartrix, but he couldn't react fast enough. Dartrix fell to a wing attack, Hau's shout coming just a second too late.
And that was it. He was finished. Because he didn't have any other pokemon. Because no other pokemon had wanted to join him.
At… at least he was close to a pokemon center. It was no big deal. He'd get better.
His hands shook as he handed over the reward money. The boy tore it from him greedily. Hau swallowed.
The boy looked down at him with disgust. "Are you even taking this seriously?"
"Why does everyone always say that?!" Hau snapped. "Of course I'm taking this seriously! I have to!" His fists clenched. "But if I'm so talented, maybe I can take it at my own pace, huh?!"
The boy grimaced. "Oh, you're one of those. Hate to burst your bubble, kid, but you don't have the talent God gave a rattata."
"You're just like Luna!" Hau's face felt hot, like he was burning. "You just want me to be what you want!" He had to calm down. "What about what I want, huh?!" He had to get away.
The boy just scoffed and turned away. Hau didn't care. He'd feel better when he left.
He just wanted to escape.
"I'm only doing this to make my gramps happy, you know! Because a great trainer like him deserves someone who can make him proud! So… so…!"
The words tumbled out of him before he knew what he was saying. His voice choked and sputtered as something pricked at his eyes. Was he crying? Just because he lost a battle? That was so pathetic, he was so pathetic, why was he doing this, he couldn't cry, he was Hala's grandson, he was a great trainer, he was…
"What… did you say?"
Hau looked up, slowly. The blond boy looked like a different person now: he stared at him in abject pain and horror, his aloof smirk falling to slack-jawed shock.
Oh no, he really messed up now. "I… I'm sorry," Hau muttered, sniffling. "I shouldn't have dumped that on you. You didn't come here to hear my life story, haha…" The boy didn't move. Hau forced a smile. "I just… that was immature of me, I know. I'm fine now."
Hau yelped as the boy lunged forward and grabbed him by the shoulders. "You're not fine!" His voice cracked into a high-pitched whine, much like Hau's had earlier. "Don't ever say you're fine when you're not! Because it doesn't help! You'll just hurt yourself and everyone…!" He wasn't staring at Hau anymore – more like staring through him. His eyes were wet and glistening. Then, just as abruptly as he had lunged forward, he stepped back, clutching his face and breathing heavily.
Hau just stared stupidly. "Uh… are you okay?"
The boy shuddered, took a deep breath, and dropped his hand. His expression had returned to his usual glower, but it didn't seem directed at Hau this time.
Eventually, he spoke. "What did your grandfather do to you?" The words were hissed through gritted teeth, his eyes flaring with righteous fury.
"What?!" Hau squawked. "Nothing! He loves me, I know that, I'm just worried I can't… be as good as him. You know?"
The boy screwed his eyes shut and shook his head violently. When he opened his eyes again, they pinned Hau down with a fiery glare. "You may think that, but… Listen. Don't ever let adults tell you what you should do. Children… are not tools to be used, and dressed up, and discarded. If he really loves you"–his voice choked there, like he was spitting up broken glass–"he'll understand that."
Footsteps clopped on the path behind them. The boy turned his attention to the newcomer before Hau could respond.
It was Luna, as it turned out. So he had beaten her to something after all, for all the good that had done. The boy – Gladion, apparently, why hadn't he introduced himself earlier? – seemed to pretend the last few minutes hadn't happened, and Hau was more than willing to play along. They battled and Luna won, of course, even when Gladion pulled out a weird pokemon Hau had never seen before. Throughout the whole thing, Luna just smiled that thin, serene smile, even when her pokemon fell to blows that made Hau wince.
Hau may have been imagining it, but just for a second, her face reminded him of something he had seen in his storybooks as a child: the pictures of Lunala laying waste to the islands. A face without mercy.
Was that what a great trainer looked like?
For the first time Hau wondered if, perhaps, that wasn't what he wanted after all.
Olivia was a great trainer, Hau supposed. He didn't beat her the first time, or the second. But that was okay. He didn't have to be perfect. Luna was annoyed by how late he was, but she forgot about it pretty quickly amidst the majesty of Aether Paradise.
When they landed in Ula'ula, Hau's only thought was to explore the new city. But…
"Hey, wait just a minute, you two! I've got a great idea!" Professor Kukui was grinning confidently, hands on his hips. "It's been a while since you two've battled, yeah? Let's have a match right now to see how far you've come! Woo!" He pumped his fist in the air for emphasis. "You've got new Z-crystals, so I can't wait to see what moves you'll–"
The world stopped. Kukui blinked at him, taken aback. Luna just stared at him curiously. He felt his cheeks flush, but there was no turning back now.
"What do you mean, Hau?" Kukui asked slowly.
"I mean…" His voice came out as a pitiful mumble. He coughed and drew himself up. "I mean I don't wanna battle."
Kukui's face fell. "Oh, c'mon, Hau, you know you need practice! You wanna be a great trainer, don't you?"
Hau's eyes flicked away. He couldn't speak.
"…Oh. Oh, Hau, you're not thinking of…" Hau swallowed. "Hau, I know it's been tough for you, but you can't give up now! I know you'll get better if you keep at it. And Luna wants to take this journey with you, isn't that right, Luna?"
"Eh." Luna shrugged.
Kukui's jaw dropped. "Wh… wha…" he sputtered.
Luna smiled politely. "Professor, Hau's a sweetie, but as a rival, he sucks."
Hau winced. "Geez, Luna, you don't have to put it like that…"
"But it's true," Luna said with characteristic bluntness. "Hau's clearly been trying to get out of battling this whole time. If wants to do something else, just… let him."
"Luna, you're being very rude!" Kukui huffed before turning to Hau. "Don't listen to her, Hau! I know you've got talent–"
Hau cut him off. "Please don't lie to me about that anymore. I'm a big boy now, I don't need to be told I'm special."
Kukui's eyes widened. "It's no lie, Hau! I'm a professor, I know talent when I see it!"
Hau sighed. "No… Luna has talent. But I…" The corner of his mouth twitched up, despite himself. "I have it on good authority that I don't have the talent the gods gave a rattata."
Kukui walked over and knelt down to Hau's level, taking off his ridiculous lab goggles. Hau had never seen him so serious. "Hau… you're being too hard on yourself. I know you're going through a rough patch right now. There were times during my own challenge when I wanted to quit. But you have to keep trying. It's worth it, trust me. Even if you don't like it at first…"
"Oh, no, I do like it. The island challenge, I mean." Hau swept his arm across the beautiful city around them. "I'm seeing all these cool places, and meeting new people, and making friends with pokemon, just like I'm supposed to! It's just the battling part I don't like so much."
Kukui just looked baffled, then shook his head slowly. "Oh, Hau… Please think of your poor old grandfather."
Hau looked down.
"He believes in you so much, you know. And after his son… your father… left like that, he felt so empty." He paused. "You just need more time to get used to battling, that's all. Please don't… do anything rash. Don't put your poor old man through that again…"
Hau swallowed. "I…"
Everyone looked up.
Lille had been silent the whole conversation, seemingly blending in with the surroundings, but now her quiet voice was unmistakable. When she saw everyone's eyes on her, she froze up and buried her face in her hat. "I… I'm sorry, I didn't mean to… I'm not a pokemon trainer, so I shouldn't tell you what to do, it's just…" She glanced around. "I'm sorry. I'm upset. I'll go. I'm sorry."
"N-No, Lillie, wait," Hau said as she turned to leave. "It's okay. I want to hear what you have to say."
"In fact… maybe your perspective is actually what we need right now, Lillie!" Kukui said, a smile crossing his face once more.
Lillie blushed from all the attention, and took a moment to compose herself before speaking. She was clutching at her braids again, Hau noticed. No, not just clutching at them – clawing, like she wanted to tear them off.
"Professor Kukui…" she said eventually. "I know you mean well, and I'm not trying to criticize you, but I think… it's… not nice of you to make Hau do something, just because it's what his family wants." She looked up, and smiled hesitantly. "You should give him a chance to do what he wants… That's what I think, anyway."
Later, Hau would understand exactly why she felt that way. Later, he would kick himself for not seeing it sooner, for thinking he was the only one with an overbearing family, for making Lillie show him the way out when he couldn't do the same for her. But right then, he was just overwhelmed with relief.
Later, Hau would say, "I'm sorry," as his pokemon fell at Hala's feet. He really did try his best, honestly. But Hala couldn't go easy on his grandson, this time – not here, at the very end.
"I'm the one who should be sorry." Hala pinched his nose and sighed. "I should have seen it, but I was blinded by my own arrogance. I pushed your father too much, too. That's why he left. I should have known it would happen again."
"It won't!" Hau said immediately. "I won't leave you, Grampa. I promise. I just… won't be kahuna, I guess."
"…My arrogance again…" Hala sighed. "The tapu choose the kahunas, not humans. Usually the title is passed from parent to child, but not always. Not when it isn't meant to be."
Hau rushed forward and hugged him, burying his tears in his great coat. He felt his grandfather's arms wrap around him, and they stayed like that for a while, not saying anything. Finally, he said, "Mallow says I'm really good at handling pokemon. I was thinking maybe… I could try working at the ranch? Just to see what it's like?"
Hala smiled down at him. "Of course. And if that doesn't work… you can find something else. I'll always love you, no matter what. I promise."
Years later, Hau was watching Dartix preen himself in their garden. He had never evolved – nobody was willing to answer his questions about how, exactly, the bird was supposed to turn into a ghost type when he evolved, and he didn't want to find out. Dartix didn't seem to either.
Footsteps approached, and Hau knew before looking up that it was Ilima. Dartrix trilled and fluttered to a higher perch.
"Hey, Hau," Ilima said. "I've got a favor I'd like to ask you."
Hau had a feeling he knew what he was going to ask, but forced himself to play it cool. "Sure, go ahead!"
"Well, my twentieth birthday's coming up soon, which as you know means I can't be captain anymore." He laughed when he saw Hau's face, and returned it with a grin of his own. "Okay, you've already figured it out – yeah, your gramps and I think you should be the next captain." Ilima paced around with practiced nonchalance and – yes, he was clearly hiding something behind his back…! "It's hard to find someone who's good captain material. Most teenagers think it just means more battles, but it's a lot more than that. You really have to understand how pokemon work in their natural environment, get them to trust you… it's kind of like caring for a whole ecosystem, sometimes. And of course…" He swept his hand out with a flourish to reveal a pokemon egg, inlaid in a padded box. "You need to raise a totem pokemon."
Hau took it reverently. "It's a lot more work than raising a pokemon for a championship. You have to feed it a special diet, give it a lot of space, train it to act on its own…" Ilima winked. "But if Mallow's to be trusted, I think my baby yungoos will be in good hands. Although I'm sure you can get another egg if you want the trial to be different, being a breeder prodigy and all!"
Hau nodded. "Thank you… thank you so much! I won't let you down!" Hau looked down at the egg again. He could feel the warmth inside, the life just waiting to spring free. "I really think I can do this."