Hurt and Comfort

BY : Mizor4
Category: +M through R > Pokemon
Dragon prints: 1300
Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

A/N: Nothing explicit in the first chapter if that's why you're here ;)

Bright yellow tape with the words "Keep Out" repeated across the length cordoned off every entrance to what Team Skull had once called Po Town, really an abandoned industrial complex they had taken over. That was until the league went in and broke them up a few days ago. Despite the yellow tape, Kael couldn't find anyone actually watching or guarding Po Town, so he ducked underneath and wandered in.

From the reputation Team Skull had as petty thieves, they likely didn't have anything worth looting to attract scavengers, especially after the League had swept through. There shouldn't be any Team Skull left skulking around either. He hoped. The weak dawn sunlight had little effect on the gloomy feel of the complex, boxy undecorated concrete buildings covered in the grime of neglect. The entire place could have been abandoned for years instead of two days from the look of things.

He snapped a few pictures of the sad exterior buildings, a metal trash barrel that bore sooty black stains and filled with ash. His main objective remained inside, however, and Kael picked the largest structure to explore first. A few stories came out since the raid, but no one to his knowledge had any pictures of how Team Skull members actually lived, just a few distant shots from behind the outer walls.

The metal exterior door whined in its hinges but opened easily enough, unlocked. Inside looked just as depressing as out. A few remnants of the thin carpet that originally covered the interior floor remained in some of the corners, but most had been torn out to leave bare concrete, chipped here and there. Shoe prints layered the pervasive haze of dirt, a musty smell heavy in the air. The silence felt even more oppressive inside, his footsteps echoing through the empty halls as if to remind him he wasn't welcome.

Signs of more heavy use started appearing on the third floor. Some of the large rooms had been converted into common areas, usually with a rickety table that didn't stand level and a few ratty couches that had more questionable looking stains than clean sections. Empty beer bottles and other miscellaneous trash collected in corners, the scent of stale liquor sharp and nauseating.

Kael moved through each room, documenting, capturing the filth as well as the occasional graffiti, most deriding the League or Alolan public, but a few quite striking murals as well, one particularly skilled painting of a Salazzle provocatively wrapped around a person dressed in Team Skull colors. He took more than one picture of this. Someone clearly talented spent a lot of time on it.

Discarded clothing and grungy mattresses lay on the floor of some of the smaller rooms, once offices, but there didn't seem to be any real organization to any of it. Sometimes two or three pallets fit jammed together into a small office the size of a closet. Others had a single bed in one larger room but otherwise no more lavish than any other.

A few more floors up, Kael came across what first appeared to be a large storeroom. A number of open wooden crates lay piled around the perimeter, none with any of their contents remaining. The gray scale tone of Team Skull colors and grime started to grow a bit tiresome, if keeping a consistent theme. One corner of the room contained some kind of red and black fur costume heaped in an irreverent pile. It would add some much needed contrast to his pictures, and he knelt low to frame the sad pile of vibrant maroon mixed among black and charcoal. The camera’s flash lit up the room, and the pile of furs twitched, then leapt impossibly quick.

Kael stumbled, almost sprawling onto his back, his arms curling protectively around his camera instead of helping to balance. A low, murderous growl echoed through the large room, not terribly loud, but stark in the otherwise near silence, only broken by the harsh ringing of metal chain.

The Zoroark snarled, fangs bared, crouched low, long vicious claws held ready to strike. One of its eyes remained shut behind matted fur and dried blood, the other startlingly blue, glassy and wild. It strained, and Kael likely would have left Po Town a mauled shred of rags in the best case scenario had a thick metal collar around Zoroark's neck not attached to a bar bolted into the concrete wall behind it.

He breathed hard, heart pounding, willing Zoroark's restraint to hold. Aside from fear, most of his thoughts framed the picture, Zoroark, frozen mid lunge towards him, spittle dripping from it angular muzzle, nostrils flaring, sucking air even harder than he did. A beautiful shot, but his hands shook too hard to take it. How had the League missed this?

Zoroark wilted, still spitting, but the chain jingled with the release of tension. Zoroark's long blood red claws slipped on the concrete, and it barely caught itself on wide forepaws, tipped by equally red claws, but these had been worn and chipped. Thick black fur billowed up around its neck, almost but not quite hiding the matted, discolored fur around the metal collar.

Zoroark's nose bobbed with the effort of keeping its one good eye focused, chin dipping towards the ground before snapping back to glare at Kael. Two days since the raid, two days without food or water – at least.

"I can help you." He tried to keep his voice calm, hoping that might help ease the incensed pokemon. Everyone learned the basics in school but he never had aspirations of becoming a trainer, never had to face down an at least somewhat wild pokemon. After carefully placing his camera out of harm's way, he dug through his backpack for a bottle of water.

Unfortunately he didn't have anything that might serve as a bowl or even a cup. Keeping his arms spread in hopefully a non-threatening manner, his movements slow and obvious, Kael approached, bottle in one hand. Zoroark watched, still growling if with somewhat less ferocity, a low warning which Kael foolishly ignored. Its head tilted to keep its one good eye, gleaming metallic blue in the dim light, locked on him.

He stopped just out of reach, he hoped, of those large claws and unscrewed the flimsy plastic cap. "Thirsty? It's just water." Kael tipped the bottle to spill a small trickle as proof. Zoroark rushed forward, jerked to a halt by the chain only a few inches short of him. Metal clinked.

"Don't grip it too hard. It will spill." Kael held out the bottle, expecting Zoroark to destroy the plastic and lose half of the water he brought, but Zoroark took the plastic bottle with reverent care, only a few drops falling to the ground from a trembling grip.

More of the water ended up trickling from Zoroark's lips, down its chest, the small bottle clearly not made with pokemon in mind, but Zoroark managed to pour most of it into its throat, nearly choking more than once in a rush to drink.

"Careful, you'll make yourself sick." His words fell on deaf ears, and Zoroark only slowed when the bottle dropped to the floor, empty. Zoroark retreated a step to bend down and lick a few stray drops from its dusty fur.

A sturdy padlock hung from the side of the metal collar around Zoroark's neck. A key could be anywhere in the large complex, if one remained here at all. He stood, Zoroark's attention back on the bottle, its narrow tongue searching for the last few drops it could reach clinging to the inside of the plastic bottle.

He quickly explored the room, shifting discarded box lids and pallets until he found a crowbar near one of the wooden crates. No key, but hopefully the chain had a similar build quality to the other Team Skull remnants.

Zoroark drew itself up and backed towards the corner when it noticed the heavy tool in Kael's hand. Once again he stopped short, holding his hands up in a peaceful gesture.

"I'm not with Team Skull. If you trust me, I'll trust you." He gestured to the crowbar. "I might be able to free you with this." The two of them stood, staring at each other for a long time. Zoroark's eye drifted between him and the crowbar and back again a number of times. Finally, it nodded, though finished backing away from where its chain connected to the wall, putting as much wary distance between them as the restraint allowed.

Kael didn't feel any more confident than Zoroark looked. If it decided to attack, the chain could trap him just as well as it held Zoroark, not that the pokemon needed any help. Even as thin and haggard as Zoroark looked, Kael doubted he'd put up much of a fight, crowbar or not.

The chain coupled to the bar leaving no room to wedge the crowbar into, but the bar itself didn't look particularly sturdy, even slightly bowed from Zoroark's obvious attempts to escape. Kael threaded the crowbar between the wall and bar. It wouldn't give him the best leverage, but there was no great option he could see. He pulled, putting enough tension to hold the crowbar in place, then threw his weight away from the wall. It didn't break, didn't really budge noticeably, but the metal groaned.

The crowbar slipped, almost sending him tumbling backwards, but a sharp squeal left the metal loose in its fixture. One more heave caused something to snap, a piece of metal clattering across concrete, and the bar holding the chain jut from the wall at an angle, the bottom no longer attached. Kael slid the chain down and free, almost losing a finger when Zoroark darted away, chain whipping in its wake.

The loose end skittered wildly across the concrete floor, jangling merrily. Kael could have let Zoroark go, having done his good deed. How long would a pokemon last with a ten feet of metal around its neck?

"I have food!"

The metallic ringing rasped to a halt. Zoroark turned, nearly already out of the room, one paw on the door frame.

Kael started collecting his camera and pack after digging out an energy bar. "It's not much." He stripped off the wrapping.

Zoroark didn't approach him but didn't flee either, its eye sharp and posture ready to spring, either to run or to kill Kael for the small amount of food in his pack. Zoroark snatched the energy bar and danced back before eating the entire thing in three quick bites, mouthful of fangs gleaming.

"If you want to come with me, I can help get that chain off of you." The bolt cutters in his car should do the trick. Zoroark took a step away, growling.

"I'm not Team Skull and I'm not a trainer. You can leave anytime you want, can't stay with me forever. I have more food where I live." A bath wouldn't hurt the poor thing either. He didn't envy having a wet Zoroark in his home, but if it had to happen – well he'd deal with it then. Zoroark collected the metal chain in its paws in an unsteady grip. It looked pensive.

"You can follow if you want." It took a great deal of willpower, and maybe stupidity, for Kael to walk past the pokemon, and the hair on the back of his neck stood, his stomach tightening at the feel of Zoroark's sharp gaze on him, but it drifted away from his approach. He didn't look back, but glanced from the corner of his eyes when turning into one of the stairwells. Zoroark followed, if at a slight distance.

It took a while to make it down the winding staircase and outside towards the exit where he parked. Kael walked slowly so Zoroark could keep up, shoulders hunched wearily with the weight of the chain and likely malnourishment. He tried not to stare and hadn't realized just how hard Zoroark struggled by the time they reached his car. The backs of its long claws scraped the ground with each step, each breath a dry rasping heave. Maybe he should have walked more slowly, or offered to help with the chain.

Kael opened the trunk and pulled out the bolt cutters he brought in case he needed a more creative way into Po Town. "I can remove that collar with these. You should probably lie down so I can get a better angle."

Zoroark appraised him in silence for a long time, it's blue gaze intent on the thick blades meant to shear metal. It swayed on its feet, knees looking about ready to give out. Zoroark dropped its one-eyed glare to the ground, growling to itself.

Kael spoke in a tone he hoped sounded soothing. "I freed you from inside, didn't I?"

The chain fell from Zoroark's weak paws, clattering to the packed dirt ground. Zoroark didn't look up and dropped onto all fours, half carried by the momentum of the metal. Then Zoroark prostrated itself before Kael, lowering onto its belly, chipped and worn claws scratching at the hard dirt.

Kael knelt at its side and reached to inspect the lock more closely, also getting a closer look at Zoroark's neck. Dried blood made an unsanitary mess of the fur beneath the metal collar where Zoroark struggled against it. Hopefully it looked worse than it actually was, or he might have to try explaining this to a pokemon center's nurse, and that would bring all manner of difficult questions.

Zoroark growled, showing its teeth in warning, but didn't have the strength to lift its chin. Its one good eye watched Kael with an expression he could only guess at. The lock didn't appear particularly impressive. It should be quick work.

He brought the bolt cutters to the shackle and worked the stubby jaws around the steel, trying not to touch Zoroark out of fear of its reaction. He could make out the tensed definition of the muscles along its shoulders and back. Only now did he consider just how close the blades came to Zoroark's throat. One slip – Kael tried not to think about that and carefully squeezed with both hands, feeling for any hint of the blades slipping. Zoroark whined, tendons in the back of its paws straining, but remained unnaturally still. Kael wasn't even sure it breathed aside from the small high pitched noise.

"Almost got it," he said through grit teeth, his own arms shaking more from holding everything still than the force he applied to the lock. The lock resisted at first, but once the blades bit into the shackle, they didn't stop until the metal parted in a dull clink.

Zoroark remained still, letting Kael work the broken lock free of the collar, and once removed, the metal band fell away under its own weight. A renewed vigor let Zoroark scramble away from both chain and Kael, its large claws feeling at its throat. Zoroark panted, one-eyed gaze wild a moment before settling onto Kael. He thought it might run off into the nearby forest, but it didn't.

"You're free for real, now. You can go, or if you need a few days, I can get you food and a place to sleep until you recover. No chains." He tried a smile. Zoroark eyed the treeline as if weighing its options, still breathing hard, though whatever adrenaline or willpower holding it up seemed to fade quickly, its posture growing more into a crouch, one hand nearly on the ground, ready to catch itself.

"I don't carry pokeballs or anything. It's a bit of a trip, but you can lie down in the back." Kael had never driven around a pokemon before. He opened the door, but Zoroark didn't move. "Um, you do want to come with me, right? I could call for someone a bit better prepared to treat those wounds if you prefer." Honestly, that should be his course of action regardless. He had no idea why he felt the need to put his own life at risk, and potentially bring down the League's ire on himself, but he had never saved anyone before. Pride and a bit of sense of personal responsibility for this creature's welfare stopped him from placing the call.

Kael thought he might have to carry the thing to his car. Zoroark eventually stumbled forward, both trying to shy away from Kael and inspect the car's interior before all but collapsing through the open door. The soft ripping noise likely came from Zoroark's claws sinking into the cloth interior, helping drag itself in. Kael sighed and tried not to care about whatever damage Zoroark managed.

He closed the door and put the bolt cutters, as well as deciding not to leave the chain laying on the side of the road, into the trunk before dropping into the driver's seat. The emaciated Zoroark lay still across the back seat, eyes closed, hopefully asleep rather than dead. Its chest moved, breath hissing through flared red-furred nostrils. They left Po Town.

The thought of an already unhappy pokemon waking in a panic kept Kael's foot steady, breaking and accelerating with care, but Zoroark never made a noise. An uneventful two hours later, Kael pulled into the driveway of his small home. A tall wooden fence enclosed his property, but the neighboring houses weren't far from his, and anyone on the second floor could easily see over. Hopefully no one watched.

"Zoroark? You awake?" He turned. Zoroark lay, one arm dangling onto the floor, a small spot of drool spreading from where its muzzle lay slightly parted on the seat. Its claws hadn't done too much damage from what he could see. Small miracles.

He spoke a little more loudly. "Zoroark?"

Zoroark's blue eye snapped open, and it jerked upright. For a brief moment, Kael thought it might attack again, but Zoroark took a deep breath and settled, looking about blearily.

"It's probably best if we get inside quickly. Can you walk?" At least he managed to get the chain off. That definitely wouldn't have looked good in anyone watched.

Zoroark nodded, and Kael opened the door, hesitantly offering a shoulder. To his surprise, Zoroark accepted, leaning heavily upon him. Its breath grew ragged simply from standing, and the two of them shuffled inside. Kael led Zoroark into the kitchen.

"There's food in the refrigerator-" he started to explain, but Zoroark all but threw him aside in a quick lunge towards where he pointed and tore open the door to rifle through what little food he had, a few days since he visited the grocery store. One person only ate so much, and apparently not as much as a starved Zoroark.

The one time he tried to interject, Zoroark snarled at him like he encroached on its kill, so Kael sat at the table and watched a pokemon ransack his kitchen, leaving only a bag of lettuce untouched. Naturally, Zoroark threw up most of what it ate onto the floor next to the fridge, fumbled the tap on to guzzled water for a minute straight, then passed out on the vinyl kitchen floor.

If this was what training pokemon involved, Kael felt far more confident in his life choices. He sighed and began to clean up, careful to avoid the slumbering monster sprawled in a red and gray fur mess on his once spotless floor.

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