The first two jobs were simple. Stealing a book from the Malie Library. Blocking a road, scaring off whoever tried to pass. Easily done, and lucratively paid.
It was Plumeria, as always, who wanted him to push for more. She'd picked up on the hidden link between the two jobs, the dimensional research lab. There was something big involved, or Lusamine thought there was, and big meant expensive.
So when she met him for the third job – again simple, tracking down a Slowpoke tail trader – he did something he hadn't done for years: asked a question to the face of authority.
"Who are you?"
She frowned, her face etched with distaste. She was sitting neatly in the chair in the motel room, her limbs drawn together like a Lurantis, hands folded in her lap as if she would be disgusted to touch anything around her. "Must you know?"
"Hey, it ain't me." He raised his hands. "But it's for the team, y'know? Gotta know what the risks are." Risk wasn't really a factor Guzma usually concerned himself with; that was something Plumeria had said. It felt weird repeating it, but Lusamine didn't seem to notice.
She nodded. "Then let me put you at ease. I am the President of the Aether Foundation. There will be no trouble, I will ensure it."
Hell. That was big, even Guzma knew that.
"So what's with us?" You're a big shot. We're just losers, you have to know that. So what's the deal?
Lusamine pursed her lips. For a long moment she sat, scrutinising him. Then, with great care, she pronounced: "You are a very strong trainer."
Guzma froze, blindsided. I'm strong. I'm strong. She gets it! She says I'm STRONG!
He smiled at her for a moment, unguarded. She gave him the smallest tilting of the lips in return. She knew she'd gotten her way.
It was an unpleasant day when Hala was visited by Kukui and Burnet. Pepper and Noni were out on an errand, proving themselves as enthusiastic about their training as they had about the team. He'd even overheard them trying to come up with sumo puns. It almost made him smile. Damn kids.
However, it left him nobody to hang around with. He avoided Kukui like the plague, especially because he was chatting to Hala, and instead ended up drifting towards where the Professor was telling Hau about the Ultra Beasts on the steps to the house. He sat down on the porch at a safe distance, and tried not to look like he was listening.
"I've seen that one!" Hau exclaimed, pointing at a diagram in Burnet's file. Guzma gave it a quick glance and saw it was the girl-like jellyfish one that had possessed him. He shivered and looked away. "But what are all these?"
"These are the others," Burnet explained. "There are actually multiple types of Ultra Beast, which we believe the Aether Foundation already knew of. The data I was sent by their current administrator, Wicke, indicates they identified somewhere between five and nine types. She hopes I can find a way to send them home."
"You know, this one kind of looks like the old President," Hau remarked, pointing at a picture of a long, thin Ultra Beast in white. Guzma leaned over to look, and had to agree. "Hey, and that one looks like Lillie! I guess she did mention her mom dressed her. And—" Hau stopped suddenly, and then said brightly, "that's why she changed clothes!"
But his finger was still on a different picture, and Guzma knew what he'd been about to say.
"You wear the same clothes every time I see you," she declared once, surprising him. They'd already gone over the new Pokémon-selling deal and he'd been ready to leave.
He shrugged defensively. "It's all I've got."
"Hm." She pursed her lips again. "That's no good. I'm going to buy you some better clothes. More fitting ones."
When the clothes arrived, he was pretty sure he knew what she'd meant. His old ratty T-shirt and jeans were nothing compared to the slick black jacket with the Team Skull logo. It felt good to be out of the clothes he'd left home in, as well.
When he'd worn the getup in front of the grunts, they'd taken a shine to it. Over the next week they put together outfits of their own, and even found skull hairclips for Plumeria to add to her outfit. She changed her makeup to fit, too. Black and white, their colours.
Looking back, Lusamine had made them a team more than anyone else. Money, style, purpose. He'd never wanted the gang, but he'd enjoyed it. It had benefits. And if it meant he could prove to her that he was strong... He'd have done anything.
The Ultra Beast Hau had been about to comment on had white spikes on top, like hair. Long limbs in black and white. It looked like Guzma.
The realisation was like lead in his stomach. He'd already realised she only cared about her beasts. But with this...
She'd never cared about him. He was the replacement child, to dress up and push around. He'd run away from one controlling parent and straight into a new one.
He felt sick. He pressed his nails hard into his arm, trying to focus his anger on something he could fight, but Lusamine was gone. She'd passed out in Ultra Space and he'd carried her out of it and watched her sail away to be healed, and everyone hoped she'd get better and repair her mistakes and then there was him, still judged and resented for doing what she'd told him.
Stupid, stupid Guzma. Running around after the first adult to praise him. He broke the skin and began to bleed. What was wrong with him?
"Um," Hau's voice sounded distantly. "Tutu?" he called.
Hala turned, excused himself from Kukui's conversation, and approached. "Guzma," he said in a calm, level voice. "What's wrong?"
"I can't believe he's crying," Hau whispered.
That snapped him out of it. He couldn't cry in front of Hala, in front of Kukui! He jumped to his feet and strode inside, slamming the bedroom door behind him. He rubbed angrily at the bleeding marks on his arm and threw his head back against the wall, where it collided with a satisfying sting. He let out a wordless noise of frustration. Then another, louder, grabbing at his hair. Then, at the top of his lungs:
"Aughhh! Guzma, what is wrong with you?"
You're weak, Guzma! You're useless! Why can't you ever win, even once? What's the point of all this effort when you can't make something of yourself?
Hala opened the door to see him pushed against the wall, pale as a sheet, teeth clenched, pulling his hair out.
Waste of space!
"Guzma!" he snapped, pulling the younger man's arms away from his head. "Guzma, calm down!"
"Get off!" Guzma fought, thrashing to no avail. "Get off, old man! You don't get it!"
Hala didn't move except to widen his stance, allowing Guzma to hit him ineffectively. "It's alright," he said.
"Don't be stupid! You're lying!"
"It's alright, Guzma."
"Why aren't you angry? Why don't you hate me?"
"It's okay. You're okay."
"Stupid, stupid..." but his voice cracked, and he fell silent. Slowly, he stopped struggling. The tension drained from his limbs and Hala let him down onto the nearest bed, where he sat, shoulders hunched, head hanging.
Hala sat down next to him. After a long silence, he spoke. "Now, can you tell me what that was about?"
Guzma's expression was still tight with fury, but it was directed inwards. After a long moment, he said quietly, "Okay."
It started with a late night snack, and a question.
"Why do you have a Poisonium crystal?"
Plumeria lowered her grilled cheese, surprised. They were the only ones still downstairs, eating and working on battle strategies. Each grunt had their own favourite Pokémon, and they needed to be paired up so they had the best chance of winning against whoever picked a fight with them – or more likely, whomever they picked a fight with. Guzma was sitting on the countertop, dropping crumbs onto his lap, while Plumeria was at the table, eating with one hand, writing with the other.
But now she put her food down. After a moment, her pencil, too. She met his gaze. Plumeria's stare was pretty much the only one Guzma could meet without feeling uncomfortable.
"Why do you have a Dawn Stone?" she asked.
He pulled a face. "Answer the question."
And she picked up the pencil again and started making notes on the top page.
Guzma hated it when she did this, it made him look stupid and two steps behind, but he also knew she only did it when she didn't want to explain. Thinking about it, she'd been the same way when he'd asked about her panic attacks. Why does anyone have them?
He'd told her about his team. The last day he'd spent at home. That was the one story they'd shared, their origins, their parents. He'd helped her get revenge on hers.
"Because I'm gonna get her back," he said aloud. Plumeria looked up. "I'm gonna get them all back. I'll go home one day. My old man will try to hit me and I'll hit him back, and then I'll get my old Pokéballs and I'll walk out again. And then I'll give Snorunt the stone."
It was almost a surprise to him as he said it. He'd never planned that, not consciously. But as he said it, he knew it had to be done. He wouldn't let them live forever trapped on top of the cabinet.
"But I still don't get it," he added, and a scowl creased his face.
"We all have unfinished business," she said. She moved a crumb along her plate with a fingernail. "You and your parents. Taro and his brother. Daisy and Pepper and their mom. I don't know what the others are here for, but they ran away from home for a reason. All of us did."
"To get strong."
She had taken a bite, and she shook her head as she chewed. After swallowing, she said, "That's why you did it. You know I did it to be free. Be myself." She paused, pursing her lips. "That's why the Poisonium. It's like a mascot. A reminder of who I want to be."
There was a long silence. Guzma kicked his heels against the cupboard door. Plumeria had picked up her pencil and was looking at the paper again, but she wasn't writing.
She wants to leave, he realised.
That was what bothered him. The idea that she would, one day, be someone else. The implication that she couldn't do that here, with them. She couldn't stay. Not forever.
Hell, he didn't want to either, did he? He wanted to go home. He wanted to face down the old man once more. The one battle he'd never won. Not to beat him down, not to prove that he was strong after all...but to reclaim what was rightfully his. He wasn't sure he'd ever battle with those guys again, but he wanted them with him. His friends.
"This isn't going to last forever, is it?" he said quietly.
It was one of those things you could only say at 1AM. The house was quiet. The world beyond the kitchen light's yellow glow was dark and sleeping. Plumeria and Guzma were the only people in the universe, and what happened didn't have to matter any more than a dream would.
"No," she agreed, her voice just as soft. She said it sadly, but with acceptance. Her eyes found his. "What will you do afterwards?"
He sighed. His hand found Golisopod's ball, a habit, a ritual of comfort. He wasn't alone. He wasn't weak. Smooth and cool, it was better than any hug he'd ever had.
Kukui hadn't come back for two months.
Guzma was pretty sure that Hala visited him. They worked together a lot, something about Pokémon and habitats and the mountain, the secret grove nobody was allowed into. But they always did it at Kukui's lab. Maybe the old man was lonely, now that his assistant had gone. Maybe he'd been avoiding Guzma.
That was probably just wishful thinking. Few people avoided him anymore. Even Hau treated him like one of the family, laughing off his moods, doing nice things for him. Guzma still didn't think he was like that all the way down, but he had come to accept that Hau's cheer was part of who he was. It wasn't fake, not like his dad.
Kukui was waiting for an answer to his question.
"No," Guzma said. "No, I haven't been back. I won't."
Kukui nodded. "Your mom would like to visit."
He wrinkled his nose. He ran his thumb over Golisopod's Pokéball. "She can. If she wants."
"She said she understands. They belonged to you."
Guzma thought of the six Pokémon who were finally safe, out on the island Hala had shown him. Pelago. Incineroar and the others, they were happy. Snorunt, too, though she'd be a Snorunt forever now. He'd given away the Dawn Stone, to that kid who had stopped Lusamine and the Ultra Beasts. Had stopped his team, had come all the way to Shady House to fight him and take a Buginium. Without that kid, Guzma probably would have carried on forever as the boss of a lowlife gang. Some part of him had been grateful, even back then.
That kid was the champion, now.
"I'm apologising too," Kukui said. "For all the fighting, back in the day."
Guzma shrugged. It had been his fault, really. They'd grown up neighbours, and Kukui had gone his own way, ignoring the trials and the training and all of that. He'd been happy in his lazy lifestyle, contributing nothing, being an embarrassment to himself and others – so Guzma's father had said. Everything Guzma couldn't be, but wanted to.
Kukui got what he wanted out of life. He was a professor now. Respected, despite his weirdness.
When Guzma didn't speak, Kukui leaned back on the sofa. He'd come straight in and sat down with Guzma despite not being invited, but it wasn't Guzma's house, so he couldn't tell him to leave.
Some contrite part of him wanted to break the silence.
"I think I'm going to leave here," he said.
Kukui raised his head. "Why?"
He wasn't sure.
"I can't stay forever."
"Sure you could. You're not the only one who stays here, are you? Hala opens his house to everyone."
"I have to find Plumeria."
Guzma glared at him. "My friend." Then, embarrassed at having said it, he added, "Hala gave me a Z-Ring for her. She deserves it."
This was stupid. Of course Kukui didn't understand. Why would he? He had the perfect life, friends and respect and even a marriage, a place of his own, a career, as many Pokémon as he could handle.
"I'll ask around," he said. "I think Molayne on Ula'ula recently took a girl in. Pink hair."
Guzma grunted. That could be any one of the Skull girls. Some of them had quit, probably, had gone back to normal life and tried to make it work. Pepper had heard from Taro. He was out on Poni putting the Team Skull days behind him. Far away from his brother.
"What about after that?" Kukui said.
He didn't know.
Kukui smiled. "How about challenging the Champion?"
The room was probably the fanciest Guzma had ever seen, and he'd spent enough time around Lusamine that that was no mean feat. Four doors, each with an insignia above it. He already thought he knew the deal.
Far left. Orange fist. That's the old man. Rock, Olivia from Akala. Purple splodge? Is that meant to be Nanu? And what the hell is that last one? Poni doesn't have a kahuna, does it?
Kukui said he'd gathered the strongest trainers. That was why he'd sent Guzma, because Guzma could give them a run for their money. The realisation that Kukui thought he was strong was one that Guzma didn't know how to deal with, and he'd put it aside. But it also meant everyone here would be strong too. Nearly as strong as he was.
He folded his arms, considering his options. He didn't want to see Hala, not yet. He definitely didn't want to see Nanu. Olivia was going to be tricky; she stood a good chance of beating him, and he did not want to fail at the first battle. It would have to be the mystery door.
Striding towards it as if he held no fear, he felt the reassuring weight of Golisopod in his hand. They could face anything together, head on.
The door opened. He walked forwards until he could see the person on the platform.
His breath caught in his throat.
"My name is Kahili," she said. "A few years ago, I was the champion of the island challenge..."
Her words faded out. All he could hear was his heart thumping in every inch of his body. Nothing else existed.
"Have a look at my fantastic flying-type team!"
She took a stance, frowning threateningly, and Guzma felt himself tense, every nerve jittering. His legs bent.
Kahili swung the golf club, and a thousand indistinguishable memories of pain crammed themselves into Guzma's head all at once, and he let out a strangled roar and ran for her. Before she could react he was on her, wrestling the club from her grip and throwing it across the room, pushing her down, tears streaming down his face. "Not this time!" he was shouting, "Not this time, old man!"
Kahili reached out and smacked the circular floor marking behind her with her Z-Bracelet, which came to life with white glare. Guzma dragged her back, shaking her roughly. "Who's weak? Am I still weak? Am I?"
The doors at the other end of the room burst open, and Hala was there, with Olivia and Acerola behind him. Guzma didn't notice they were there until Hala was lifting him bodily away from Kahili, pulling him into a bear hug, shouting his name. "Guzma! Calm down! Calm down!"
Kicking and yelling, the words didn't even scratch the surface of Guzma's distress, and for several seconds the two physically grappled for control. Then Hala managed to pull the Pokéball from his belt, releasing a Machamp who immediately took over. Guzma kept struggling, but now in vain, and Hala pointed them to the portal. Machamp strode forwards and the two vanished back into the lobby room, leaving only silence.
The other two had attended to Kahili, who was back on her feet, though looking shaken. Hala approached her. "I'm very, very sorry," he said. "I had no idea he would react like that. What happened?"
Kahili shook her head, pale lips pressed tightly together. "We didn't even battle," she explained tearfully. "He looked terrified when he came in and I thought, well, it's his first time, he's nervous. But when I challenged him, he ran straight at me and tackled me. Shouting something about his old man."
A cold sweat broke out over Hala's skin. Old man? That was him, wasn't it? Had he done something to make Guzma react in this way?
He rubbed his brow. He couldn't discount it as a possibility. "You didn't fight? He didn't send any Pokémon out?"
Kahili shook her head.
I thought he'd lost. I could have handled that.
"I'm very sorry. I'll go and talk to him."
Guzma was at the entrance of the lobby, sitting on the floor with his back to the sealed door. His arms were wrapped around his knees, and he was staring into space. Machamp was crouched nearby, keeping an eye on him.
"Guzma," Hala said when he arrived.
No response. He was rocking gently, back and forth. His fists were red and raw from where he had lashed out at the Machamp.
Hala heaved a sigh and sat down opposite, legs crossed. "I need to know what happened. Why did you attack Kahili?"
It was several minutes before Guzma replied. "It's stupid," he said dully.
"I expect it's not."
"It is!" he shouted suddenly, arms tightening around himself. "It was pathetic! Stupid, stupid—"
He raised a hand, but wasn't able to bring it down on himself as the Machamp reached out, lightning-quick, and stopped the blow.
Guzma let out a frustrated yowl, as the Machamp said "Ma!" in reprimand.
"What happened, Guzma?" Hala pressed.
"She was going to hit me!" he shouted, burying his face in his shoulder. Machamp cautiously let his hand go, and he fisted his hair. "She was – I thought she was – she was like him."
Him. Not you.
It was someone else.
Hala took a deep breath. Held it. Exhaled.
Guzma's arm dropped. He glared at Hala, face haggard, eyes sunken, red blotches on his cheeks from the unconscious tears.
"The old man," he said bitterly. "He liked golf. He liked using golf clubs when—" his breath hitched, and he stopped.
Ah, Hala thought, his heart sinking. He'd wondered. With someone like Guzma, you had to wonder. Issues like those didn't come from nowhere.
He laid a hand on Guzma's shoulder. "I'm sorry I didn't realise it before."
"Don't be stupid! How could you know? You don't know anything, why are you sorry? It's his fault, his fault and mine. You have nothing to do with this!"
"I'm your mentor. I encouraged you to come here. This is my fault."
"You're not my mentor! You're just a nosy old man!"
"Then it's doubly my fault."
"Shut up! Just shut up!"
"Okay." Hala stepped back, giving him space. "If you want to leave, just let me know."
Snow was still falling when they left the hall, but dawn was breaking. Guzma, shivering and withdrawn, followed Hala down the mountain into the Pokémon Centre. Hala waved him to a seat while he used the PC, and then went to the cafe. He returned with a mug and a small plate.
"Here," he said, placing them on the table and sitting down. "Something to warm you up."
Guzma raised his eyes to observe the gift. Tapu cocoa and a lava cookie. "Why?" he asked in a bleak tone.
"An apology, like I said," Hala replied, this time without a trace of that irritating, knowing smile. "I got you into that situation. You had flashbacks, didn't you?"
Guzma nodded sullenly. He reached out and placed a hand around the mug. It burned his hand, and he kept it there.
"The old man," Hala continued levelly. "Your father?"
He nodded again. Hala sighed.
"That's what I was afraid of."
He'd met Guzma's father. A friendly man, always smiling and chatting, good with kids. It had been his idea for Guzma to become a Pokémon trainer. And to do the island challenge. And to become a captain.
The day Guzma had run away... Hala had realised it then. He hadn't looked closely enough at the boy, at what was underneath his tough veneer. It was painfully obvious – the same day Ilima was announced as Hala's captain, he disappeared. The two had been fierce rivals, and yet Guzma had never won in those encounters. Both of them battled with everything they had, but when Ilima lost, he was graceful. Guzma had been a bad loser every time; surly, angry, sometimes violent. But never blaming anyone but himself.
Retrospect was a cruel light.
"I'm sorry." The words felt small, insubstantial. He grimaced, repeated them with as much sincerity as he could muster. "I'm sorry. I should have done more when you were young, when I was your mentor."
"Did he hit you?"
Guzma nodded, his frown deepening. His hand tightened on the mug.
"With golf clubs?" Hala carefully kept his voice level.
"So when you saw Kahili..."
She was going to hit me.
"...you thought it was going to happen again."
Reluctantly, Guzma nodded again. "Stupid," he muttered.
"It makes sense," Hala disagreed neutrally. "Did he insult you?"
He stared at the table. "Yes."
"Call you weak?"
"Yes." His voice was growing smaller.
"Did he control your Pokémon career?"
"Hmm. What about your mother? Did she get involved?"
"No." Almost a whisper.
"Did he hit or yell at her?"
"Did she know it was happening?"
Barely audible, he replied: "...Yes."
In the long silence that followed, Guzma relinquished his grip on the cooling mug of cocoa in favour of crumbling the lava cookie into dust. The way it ground and gave between his fingers was satisfying, somehow. He could almost pretend he was strong.
Stupid. You're weak.
Hala's voice was soft as he asked the next question. "Do you like being a trainer?"
An almost incredulous frown passed over Guzma's face and he nodded.
"Good. I'm glad." A hesitation, before: "Do you think you're a good trainer?"
Guzma began to nod, then stopped. Shook his head. Shrugged.
"Do you love your Pokémon?"
A delayed nod.
"Even the ones who aren't strong in battle?"
This time, a definite nod. That had been easily predicted; nobody who truly only cared about strength would catch and raise a Wimpod.
"I think that makes you a good trainer."
Guzma gave a faint hmph.
"You cannot have strength without a strong bond. You have that."
He supposed that was true. He'd seen it in Gladion, with the weird Pokémon he called his best friend. He'd seen it in Plumeria, with her Crobat. The Machamp today, doing what was needed without Hala even having to ask. Ilima and Smeargle, living in harmony. Most glaring of all was Hau, who played with his Pokémon like they were his siblings, always laughing.
Maybe he would have been like that, if Hala had raised him. It was hard to imagine.
"Do you think Gladion is strong?"
Guzma wrinkled his nose. He'd beaten down that kid enough times to know he wasn't, not really. He only battled because it was the only thing he knew how to do.
"I ask because Lusamine is his mother."
No, not Gladion. But now that he thought about it, Plumeria. She was amazing: smart, strong, and yet nice underneath all of it. Even though she'd been raised in a loveless home, alone and unwanted, she'd found a family. Guzma admired her more than anyone else in the world.
Slowly, he nodded.
Plumeria's parents said nobody would ever love her the way she was. That she was better off not being born. That's all wrong. Parents don't know jack. Why do I still believe mine?
Because you ARE weak. Aren't you?
There was only one way to prove that to himself. He clenched his fists, letting the anger build up. All the hatred, all the frustration, from losing everything, being beaten down, running away and then doing it all again with someone else, ending up back where he started, going home again like a failure, working himself up for the league and then falling at the first hurdle.
What is wrong with you?
You're meant to be the most hated trainer, who beats you down and beats you down and never lets up. You can't do that if you can't win!
The Skull kids would be rooting for him. Plumeria, with her wry smile that told him he'd never live it down if he gave up now.
Hau would be cheering him on too.
He leapt to his feet and let out a strong, heartfelt roar. It felt good. Then he smacked his hands down on the table, rattling the crockery. "Alright, old man!" he declared. "Get back in your room because I'm coming. I'm going to be the champion!"
Hala recovered instantly from his surprise, grinning and rising himself. "You think you can beat me, young man?"
"I know I can!" Guzma shouted back, pointing at Hala's face. "I'm the strongest bug user in all of Alola!"
Plumeria lounged on a sofa all to herself, her long hair falling over the arm and almost to the floor. On the table before her were scattered pages from a notebook, pens, pencils and Pokéballs. She closed her eyes, enjoying the breeze from the huge windows at the back of the room. Things were so quiet here, in Hala's house. So peaceful.
She opened one eye and glared disapprovingly at Guzma, on the sofa opposite, who was balling up another sheet of paper. He tossed it to the floor with more force than necessary, kicked the leg of the table, and scowled at the now-blank notebook on his lap.
"Do you have to be so loud?" she asked.
Guzma didn't reply, concentrating. She stretched lazily and rolled onto her side. "It's a dumb question, really. I've known you for what, three years? You're always loud."
Guzma was scribbling something.
"I liked that. All your feelings are so obvious."
He threw the notebook down and snapped, "I'm trying to think!"
Involuntarily, her smirk widened. "Still stuck on the champ?"
"It's not fair, damn it! She gets to challenge everyone who shows up, and she gets stronger and stronger, and then when I finally get back to her, she's changed her goddamn team! And Olivia won't stop making jokes about how obsessed I am and Kahili's not scared of me anymore so she never stops talking and—"
"She's not? That's good."
He ignored her. "Ghost kid just dances around grinning like Hau, non-stop."
"And then there's Hala."
Guzma shot her a glare, throwing himself back against the seat. "I'm supposed to be hated! Feared! I'm the one who beats you down and—"
"Never lets up, I know, I know." She rolled over again to stare at the sun-bathed ceiling. "Even if you say that," she mused, "you've still got the last bit, haven't you? Not giving up."
She glanced at him for his response, but he wasn't listening. He was scribbling on his notebook again, devising strategies, movesets, combos...
She smiled to herself. He'd never admit it, but he was having the time of his life.
[AN: Obviously we don't see Guzma challenge the league in the postgame but I figured y'all would accept one last minor deviation from canon, for the sake of seeing our boy have a happy ending. If you feel like indulging me, I love reviews and I'd also like to know which mini-chapter was your favourite! That's all for now. Thanks for reading Wimp, aka Guzma Did Nothing Wrong- uh, I mean, Guzma Did Everything Wrong But We Should Love And Forgive Him.]