Jane lounged in her camping chair, nearly dozing. Her grip on her fishing rod was loose, and she might have lost it already if Froslass hadn’t been keeping an eye on it. She wasn’t losing any fish, at least, on this slowest of fishing days.
She had earned this relaxation. Jane had come a long way, and the crowd of Pokémon surrounding her had borne witness to her progress. Not so long ago, the thought of napping outdoors in shorts, sandals, and a tank top, legs and arms taking in the gentle sun, a thin seam of midriff peeking out between the pieces, would have been terrifying. She feared for her life, then, with Team Rocket still livid over her defection. Before that, she feared herself, and what becoming herself would mean. But now, with Arcanine (“Growly” to her) and Cacturne napping vigilantly behind her, Sylveon curled up at her feet, Froslass and Chimecho on her lap, and Joltik enjoying the view from atop her head, she never felt so free.
Having Jessie with her helped, of course. They, too, had gone through a lot in the past year, and looked forward to this relaxation. Their shorts were longer than Jane’s, combined with a crop top and well-worn sneakers. Where Jane’s lavender hair had grown long in the pair’s journey together, now reaching the middle of her back, Jessie’s ruby-red swash stayed at its signature imposing length and dramatic style by the sheer force of Jessie’s will. Jessie, too, was surrounded by a well-loved menagerie. Their Seviper curled around their chair, chin on the ground to detect visitors, with Dustox perched playfully on her serpentine head. Jessie propped their feet on their Hippowdon’s back as the beast slumbered. Pumpkaboo sat next to them, drinking iced tea from a cup with a long straw. A few meters away, Gyarados waited eagerly next to the water, waiting for word that the fishing was over and she could have a swim without terrifying the local wildlife, and Meowth kept an eye on the dragon-fish. Only their Wobbuffet remained ensconced in his Pokéball, due to his determined racket, but he could release himself if he decided he needed to.
Jane twitched, and Chimecho sensed she didn’t enjoy the dream she was having. Chimecho stroked her cheek and sent her pleasant psychic waves, but her nightmare was more effectively interrupted by her fishing rod jabbing her in the groin. Froslass struggled to keep hold on the jerking rod until Jane grasped it, reeling in the water Pokémon that had finally taken the hook.
This fish’s fins were in tatters, with holes and loose fin rays throughout. Its body was pitted and scarred, almost skeletal in appearance. Its deep-set eyes communicated first shock, then annoyance, and finally, resignation as it swung on Jane’s line, coming to a halt in front of her.
“Hello,” she greeted as she took the line and removed the fish from it. Froslass, Chimecho, and Joltik stared in rapt attention.
“Feebas,” the fish muttered weakly, lying in Jane’s hand without protest. Jane heard through the syllables to the creature’s meaning, “Get on with it.”
“What do you mean, Feebas?” Jane asked, suddenly struck with creeping horror.
“I’m ugly, weak, useless,” Feebas repeated in harsh tones, “Say it and throw me back. Or leave me here. Whatever.”
Sylveon woke and reached her feelers over to the pitiful fish, lifting it off of its side. Froslass filled with pity. Jane weighed her thoughts. Froslass spoke first:
“Jane helped me feel beautiful. Maybe she can help you.”
Feebas raised a fishy eyebrow. Sylveon piped up next.
“Just being around Jane made me feel pretty, and then my body caught up with the two of us, and I became Sylveon.”
Feebas looked astonished.
“None of us look the way we did when we started,” Jane explained, “except Joltik here.” She scratched behind the tiny creature’s head, and the electric arachnid closed her many eyes and tilted her head in contentment. “I had a lot of work to do before I could feel beautiful.”
“But…” Feebas protested, “you’re…”
“I had to learn a lot about myself, to get here,” Jane continued, gesturing at her body. “I did a lot of worrying and a lot of thinking. I was scared. I didn’t know what would happen, if I would still have friends.” She turned to look at Jessie, still asleep in their chair. “Or family. But I figured out…I didn’t have any other choice. I had to be me…or I would be no one.” Chimecho hugged her tightly, and Growly and Cacturne got up from behind her to nuzzle her arms and gently drape their cactus-limbs over her. The lot were silent, but for the occasional contented purr from Sylveon or noise of concern from Chimecho, for a few minutes.
Jane spoke again, asking Feebas, “You’ve never felt beautiful, have you?”
Feebas was silent, eyes welling up, before turning her head and covering her eyes with her pectoral fins. “…never.”
“I remember what that feels like.” Jane leaned back, lost in thoughts until Chimecho and Cacturne squeezed her back to reality. She ran her fingers through Growly’s mane and continued. “I don’t want anyone else to feel like that. I helped Froslass here keep that feeling away and become the beautiful little femme she is.” Froslass gave a little twirl and a coy smile.
Feebas looked up at Jane, hope welling in her eyes.
“I can help you too, if you want.”
Feebas burst into tears and leapt from Jane’s hand onto her chest, holding her shirt with her fins. Jane gently petted Feebas’s fin, and looked over at Jessie. Jessie was still fast asleep, and Wobbuffet was in their lap struggling to keep hold of their fishing rod as he fought with something big. As Jane decided exactly how to wake Jessie, the Corsola on the other end of the line climbed onto a rock and, in loud annoyance, yanked hard, pulling Wobbuffet into the river. Corsola launched a jet of water at Wobbuffet and gaped in shock as Wobbuffet’s Mirror Coat returned that attack in full. In a huff, Corsola threw the line and swam away, and Wobbuffet dutifully recovered the fishing pole. While Wobbuffet shook himself dry, Jane woke Jessie with a tap to the shoulder.
“I’m heading into town to take care of a few things. I’ll be in touch.”
“Huh, what…oh,” Jessie mumbled as they woke. “Take Meowth with you. He wanted a few things.”
“Sure,” Jane responded, waving to Meowth and waiting for him to walk over. Jessie hefted Wobbuffet into their lap and went over his superficial injuries with a clean cloth, offering some lemonade to help the healing process along. As Jane collected her fishing gear into an organized pile, Jessie put their rod away and waved to Gyarados to go ahead and start frolicking. With a great splash, the giant fish-serpent launched itself into the water and began rolling in the current, sending the area’s assorted Goldeens, Whiscashes, and Corphishes into panicked disarray. Jessie began unwrapping sandwiches and bricks of Pokémon food while Jane returned her Pokémon to their Pokéballs and she and Meowth started on their walk. Dustox was sure to wave goodbye before approaching the food.
“So what are we doing, anyway?” Meowth inquired.
“Pampering ourselves,” Jane answered, rubbing Feebas just above the eye until the little fish hummed with contentment.
“About time!” Meowth admonished. “All that food was nice, but what I really need is a good backrub.”
“As it happens,” Jane answered quizzically, “we’re starting with massages.”
Jane lay on a massage table wearing only a towel over her buttocks and a second towel she could lift to cover her breasts later on. Her menagerie was all around her on similar tables, with Feebas and Meowth on either side of her. The Pokémon received their massages from Chanseys and Jigglypuffs, the creatures’ small, pointed hands working adroitly into their accumulated knots and soreness. The Chansey assigned to Cacturne even managed to work between the cactus Pokémon’s spines. Jane’s masseuse was human, and her hands were similarly expert.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this relaxed,” Meowth slurred out between strokes. “Why don’t we do this more often?”
“That,” Jane squeezed out, “was a tremendous oversight on my part.”
Feebas spoke to her Jigglypuff masseuse, “Mmmmm, how do you find the right spots?”
Jigglypuff responded, eyebrow raised and hands a flurry of activity, “Feebas, you’re a bundle of nerves wrapped in more nerves with a light dusting of more nerves. All the spots that don’t make you poop the blankets are the right spots.”
Sylveon’s feelers provided Feebas a reassuring touch as the fish tried to process both Jigglypuff’s words and his practiced pressure.
An hour or so later, Jane returned her friends to their Pokéballs to keep them from staggering the way she and Meowth did, paid the massage parlor a hefty sum, and carried Feebas out.
“I feel nice,” Feebas explained, “like I can feel all of my bones, only it’s not terrible. Is there a word for that?”
“Freedom,” Meowth answered, struggling to walk a straight line.
“The beginning,” Jane responded with playful ominousness. “Now, it’s time to rest off the post-massage at the salon. You’re going to love this.”
Most of Jane’s Pokémon had gone through this ritual at least once before, but for Feebas, the beauty parlor was wholly new. Jane released her team and the parlor attendants got them situated for their manicures and pedicures, within the limits of their anatomy. They all sat in chairs of varying sizes with their hands, feet, and or paws in the customary soaks. Cacturne insisted on having all of his spines done, and so was taken to a private room for a full-body soak, and Chimecho and Feebas instead had shallow baths set up on tables near the others. A short while later, the aestheticians reappeared to rub, file, and trim, as needed. Joltik refused this step, insisting on keeping her claws sharp for hanging on to things. The lot of them failed to notice the woman with long, dark hair watching them from the waiting area, hiding herself behind a newspaper periodically, because they focused their attention on the tattered fish among them. Feebas could scarcely stay upright in her bath from the massage-induced looseness and warmth. “I feel so…cared for,” she described.
“Isn’t it the loveliest feeling?” Froslass asked.
“Living in a school is…surprisingly lonely, compared to this.” Feebas answered, fighting off the beginnings of tears. “You all…want me to feel good. I don’t…have that, where I come from. We’re there, but we’re not there. I don’t feel like I matter, there. But here, I feel…like I don’t have to be strong all the time, to keep everyone alive. With you, I can relax.”
Feebas was pretty sure Sylveon was in another room, but Sylveon’s feelers and Chimecho’s tail found her all the same, and provided a warm, empathic embrace. Joltik kept a respectful distance from Feebas’s bath, wary of sparks, and Growly smiled at her from across the room. “Here, I feel…cared for.”
Froslass smiled at her, sharing the unspoken truth, this is what Jane does for us.
The aestheticians produced color palettes. The human and Pokémon all chose their nail colors: Meowth red, Growly white, Chimecho pink, Cacturne black, Sylveon baby blue, Froslass deep purple, Joltik green, and Jane lavender. Feebas stared at the palette in executive paralysis, Meowth and Froslass taking turns helping her weigh the virtues of different options, eventually deciding on fuchsia. Getting to work without delay, the aestheticians carefully applied their colors, using base coats, topcoats, and their own secret tricks for making nail polish stick to creatures like Chimecho and Froslass that didn’t have nails. They didn’t start on Feebas right away, leaving her to wonder.
“They have something special planned for you,” Jane revealed.
Once they had finished with a few other members of Jane’s retinue, the aestheticians returned their attention to Feebas. Removing her from her bath, they applied special lotion to her fins and body, “to help your skin heal,” that felt like cold rubbing alcohol at first. But as they rubbed it in, it began to feel warm and soothing, and Feebas closed her eyes and let the feeling rush over her. They paid special attention to the holes in her fins, gently rubbing the edges. With this done, they applied the fuchsia paint to the ends of her fin rays, sealing it against future wear with their proprietary methods.
Feebas was only beginning to appreciate her new tips when the group of eight rotated to the makeup stations. While the previous employees took a well-earned break, a new set of aestheticians began asking the Pokémon questions about how they wanted to look, and what sorts of occasions they might get themselves into over the next day. Growly and Sylveon requested light trims and other hair care; Cacturne described a dramatic makeup experiment; Chimecho and Joltik asked for subtle, cute looks; Froslass went for something icy and regal; Meowth asked for “detailing”; and Jane addressed Feebas’s next bout of decision paralysis by requesting “the best, natural version of us, that matches the nails.”
Feebas watched in the mirror as the aesthetician improbably applied blush, eyeshadow, and even mascara in ways that her scaly flesh shouldn’t have allowed, and used makeup to cover the healing faults and pits in her skin. Lipstick enhanced the color and prominence of her mouth. The last touch was a heart-shaped fish scale, affixed above and behind her right eye. Even in the harsh station lights, she was in awe at the difference. Her mud-brown skin gleamed, and its fissures and openings no longer marred her view. Accented with blue and pink eyeshadow and red blush, relaxed and rested after an easy day, her eyes no longer carried their black circles. She was used to seeing a tired, harried, constantly injured apparition in the mirror, but this vision was colorful, happy, and healthy. She scarcely recognized the fish she saw, and had to keep checking her own slowly healing, fuchsia-tipped fins to be sure it was her. Quickly, the fish in the mirror became familiar, and the memories of pitted skin and torn fins seemed to belong to someone else.
“It sure is,” Growly barked.
“I watched Jane find herself, and I saw how she helped Sylveon and Froslass find themselves,” Chimecho revealed. “Someone like Jane…doesn’t go through all of that without paying it forward.”
“I’ve never felt so…so…beautiful,” Feebas choked out before she began openly sobbing, and immediately, seven Pokémon and a human were upon her, hugging tightly, sharing in this moment that they had put all day into giving her. “Thank you.”
The aestheticians finished their work, and Jane produced a thick wad of bills for them. “Keep the change, and thanks for taking us on short notice,” she offered. Instead of returning her team to their Pokéballs for the walk home, she left them out, to let them feel the sunlight on their newly-painted faces and to show the public what they had chosen. Cacturne’s jack-o-lantern makeup and black spines turned a few heads. The dark-haired woman who had been watching them followed them out, and got their attention two blocks away.
“Hey you!” she shouted.
The crowd of Pokémon and their trainer stopped and turned around, hackles raised, some gathering energy for attacks. Jane got a good look at her, noticing her layered haircut, red highlights, slanted eyes, and light complexion. She wore a high-necked crop top that elongated her features, purple with thin horizontal stripes, and matching elbow-length gloves and heels. Her belt was a pattern of large hexagons similar to Seviper scales, holding up a set of black slacks. Jane was sure she recognized her, but hadn’t had time to figure out from where before she continued.
“I saw what you did for Feebas.”
Jane and her retinue all looked equally puzzled, with a hint of fear on Feebas as well.
“I’d like to help.”
“What did you have in mind?” Jane asked, her wariness prodding her team to keep their claws and built-up energy ready.
“A battle. Feebas versus one of mine. I’ll show you my team first, and you can pick.” The woman released five Pokémon: Cyndaquil, Makuhita, Emolga, Onix, and Deino. All of them looked fairly young, within the limits of Jane’s ability to tell, and all of them kept their eyes squinted, except for the eyeless Deino. Despite her entire team’s youth, the woman had the bearing of an experienced trainer, as though she had brought out new Pokémon just for this occasion.
“What do you think, Feebas?” Jane asked the small fish in her arms. “Do you want to do this?”
Feebas thought to herself for a bit, then answered, “I feel like I could take on Kyogre right now. I will fight.” She leapt from Jane’s arms and hopped closer to the stranger. She shouted, “Feebas!” The dark-haired stranger understood.
“Cyndaquil, you’re up.”
The tiny, shrew-like Pokémon bounced forward, and with a clenching motion, released flames from openings on its back. Jane told her team to stand down with a hand motion. Cyndaquil attacked first, charging at Feebas with its head down. Feebas was too slow to dodge the blow, but caught herself and stayed upright. With a similar leap, she lunged at Cyndaquil and bashed it with her bony head. Cyndaquil coughed an ember at Feebas, but the lotion and makeup meant Feebas felt the heat even less than her watery nature already allowed. She lunged again, connecting once more and making Cyndaquil dizzy. The stranger commanded Cyndaquil to gain some distance, and the Pokémon obliged, scampering unsteadily for a few meters and releasing another ineffective ember. Adjusting the scale decoration she had received, she concentrated and leapt into the air, slamming into the fiery shrew with unexpected force. As the blow connected and Cyndaquil fainted, she began to glow. The stranger wasted no time in returning her defeated Cyndaquil to its Pokéball. Looking down at her newly radiant form, Feebas gasped in astonishment as she began to evolve.
Still formed of transformative white light, Feebas elongated, changing from a tiny fish to a massive, car-sized serpent. Long scaly tassels emerged from her face, two curling upwards like giant eyebrows, two others draping over the sides of her head like long hair. Her fins absorbed into her body and reappeared as a fan-like tail. As the light died down to reveal her new colors, she saw that her rear half was covered in prismatic blue and pink scales, while her front half was bare yellow skin. Her tassels were the same fuchsia shade she had selected at the beauty parlor, and her beautiful makeup remained in place. Her decorative scale now sat above her right eye, at the base of her tassels. Lifting off of the ground, she curled around herself, taking in every inch in a levitating dance. She spoke, and the people and Pokémon nearby understood the meaning in her repetition of her new name, “Milotic.”
She flew in circles around Jane, around Jane’s Pokémon, around the stranger and her Pokémon, in spirals into the sky, repeating the phrase over and over. She descended and rushed up to Jane as the stranger approached her, her Pokémon following.
“It takes two things to make Feebas evolve,” the stranger began explaining. “First, she needs to feel beautiful. Second, she needs to take that confidence and use it to win a battle.”
“But,” Milotic asked, “How did you know? How did you…know…I was me?”
The stranger answered, “I listened to you in the beauty parlor. I’ve seen Pokémon like you before, and humans, too. You don’t know what you want yet, but you know you don’t have it, you know what it feels like to get closer, and you never want to feel like you’re getting farther away. You’ve felt like you had to hide any awareness of these desires that you did gain, to protect yourself, for the good of the people and Pokémon you care about, for all sorts of reasons. But once everything lines up…you emerge, and everything before that is like a bad dream you’ll never, ever let yourself have again.”
The stranger’s Makuhita walked up to Jane and tugged gently on her shorts to get her attention. When he had it, he pointed at her head, where Joltik continued to enjoy the view from above. Jane lowered herself to the ground, and Joltik leapt onto Makuhita’s outstretched hand. With a smile, Makuhita began to pet the tiny lightning bug. Froslass and Sylveon climbed onto Onix’s back, Cacturne guided the blind Deino toward a nearby fountain for watery frolics, and Emolga flew playful circles around Chimecho. Milotic rolled around with Growly the Arcanine, sometimes lifting the huge dog into the air, but she also kept listening to the dark-haired stranger who had helped her become herself. Only Meowth refused to play, devoting all of his attention to the unfolding conversation.
“It sounds familiar,” the stranger continued, “doesn’t it?”
Jane didn’t answer.
“I know because…that was my life, too.” She stepped closer to Jane, close enough that they could feel each other’s breath. Jane’s skin vibrated in anticipation. She felt the stranger’s nerves falter for a moment before she spoke again, hints of that nervousness still there no matter how confident her choice of next words: “I want to buy you dinner.”
“I-I’d like that,” Jane stammered as she blushed furiously.
“My favorite noodle place is just up the street. It’s a bit small, though.”
“Understood. Chimecho, Froslass, go tell Jessie what we’ve been up to so they don’t worry. The rest of you, return.” Four Pokémon rested inside their Pokéballs and two more levitated toward the forest. Meowth followed Froslass and Chimecho, giving Jane a sly, unsubtle wink. The stranger restored her four to stasis as well, leaving only Milotic active.
“I’m Lucy, by the way. My fans call me the Pike Queen, but I won’t make you call me that…unless you want to.”
The two walked in silence for a little while.
“I’ve never met anyone else who was trans,” Jane admitted.
“I figured,” Lucy answered, “But I have, and that friendship meant a lot to me. So I thought, I should pay this forward.”
Jane smiled at her, seeing for the first time the kindness behind her ambition.
“Besides,” Lucy continued, “we still have to figure out which of us is going to train Milotic.”
“I get the feeling we’re going to be buying each other a lot of dinners,” Jane mused aloud.
“So many,” Lucy responded as she opened the restaurant door, a gleam in her eye. “There might even be sleepovers.”
For more of Jane and Jessie, visit Alyssa’s Fiction.