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Old 04-26-2017, 02:59 AM
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Default Rough Skin

Rating: T for just a little swearing. Not at all much by my recent ficcing standards. But it would still be enough to get a film rated R, so...
Author's Notes: And so we finally have Butterfree's much-delayed birthday 'fic! I'll spare you the gory details about why it's so egregiously late, because now it's here and that's hopefully going to be more interesting for you to read than my nattering. For anybody else, this one-shot is about one of the characters from my fanfic, Salvage, and there's no real point reading this if you haven't read that, too.

Nate's favorite pokemon is garchomp, and this is why.

Rough Skin

Nate doesn't even remember how he found out about rec centers in the first place. There are plenty of them, all over the city, for people and pokémon who need to exercise. Nate didn't care about exercise, or pokémon neither, at first, but he did like that they were cool in the summer and warm in the winter and free.

There was food, too, lots of vending machines, and one place even had a machine that made soft-serve ice cream, little blobs of it to go in paper cups stacked up beside. Before he figured out how to get the food without paying Nate would save up coins he found in the street, and walking into the rec center with jingling pockets to buy a cup of sweet, cold ice cream was the best thing in the world.

And there were pokémon. There were battlefields for them, yes, for fights with trainers and without, but also rooms and rooms of special equipment and places for them to stay. Some of it was mixed in with human stuff, stacks of weights as big as cars, outsized tennis courts next to the ones for people. Some parts were just for pokémon: freezing rooms, burning rooms, rooms lined with special material that made them brain-dead where psychic-types could retreat from the noise of the city's many minds.

Watching battles was a good way to pass the time, and after a while Nate started to understand how they worked. He could tell whether a pokémon was strong or not and see which one would win a fight. Even when there wasn't anybody actually battling the rec centers kept TV's showing battle stations all day long. In time Nate knew all the commentators by name, had learned the terms for common strategies and a smattering of the competitive lingo. At some point he stopped going to the rec centers just to get away and instead because he wanted to watch television and see if any new pokémon had showed up to work out.

Nate saw pokémon on television and in real life, too, on the sidewalk or overhead, with trainers or without, lurking around in dumpsters and abandoned cardboard boxes. He'd never really gotten close to any, though. The wild ones you had to stay away from, especially if you were going to throw rocks at them like Aaron and his friends. The others had places to be, same as anybody, always rushing off. But the rec centers had whole floors with almost nothing but pokémon, and you could get right up close. Most of them didn't mind, and if they did, they made sure you knew about it. Pokémon were easy like that.

Most would even let him touch them, if he was careful about it. He got to pet growlithe and eevee, fluff feathers on pidgey and rub glossy oddish leaves between his fingers. Looking back he has to cringe because seriously, who does that shit? But the pokémon put up with it, for the most part; they probably didn't even think it was weird for a human child to be hanging around alone, no parents in sight, or that he had an insatiable desire to pet them. Humans were weird, and one way or another this one was obviously helpless--like seriously, what was he ever going to do that would hurt one of them?

That was how he got to know pokémon, then--getting all up in their personal space, watching them fight when he had nothing better to do on a rainy afternoon. It went on like that for a while, until he was, oh, seven or so, and he first saw the garchomp.

He's never seen a dragon before, not in person, certainly not at one of the rec centers. Trainers with that kind of pokémon usually went to a private club to work out with real, serious battlers. The garchomp towered over the rec center's other residents, mostly rattata and oddish and sandshrew kinds of pokémon, and Nate knew he has to touch it the moment he saw it buried in one of the sand pits.

Easy enough, in theory. The garchomp and its trainer came to the rec center once a month or so. They had a routine: come in, beat on some pokémon in the arena, and then the trainer went off to do normal human exercises and the garchomp went to the sand pits to nap. Or at least that's what Nate thought it was doing, burying itself until only its back fin showed. He could just reach out and touch it and then he could tell everyone that he got to touch a real live dragon. Except, of course, that he couldn't.

He stood on the edge of the pit stretching and straining, reaching towards the dark blue wedge poking up from the sand. It was just past the tips of his wiggling fingers. He balanced on the very edge of the pit's rim, shoes tilting and slipping, but still it was out of reach.

Nate didn't dare step onto the sand itself, vaguely aware that footsteps are what let underground pokémon know where to aim their attacks. He half-remembered nature documentaries with trapinch coming up to attack, grabbing with big big jaws and pulling down, down, suffocating their prey under sand while they ate it alive. Nate didn't think there were any trapinch in the rec center's sand pits, but he didn't know for sure. So he stayed off the sand and reached, reached as far as he could. He tried each time the garchomp showed up, thinking maybe now he'd stretch a little further, the garchomp would be a little closer to the edge, he might have grown a tiny bit since the last time.

He was almost there again, balanced so far out he was wobbling but still reaching, thinking this time he'd finally get it. Then something grabbed him from behind. "What are you--?"

Nate yelled and kicked and twisted around until he broke his captor's grasp, and icy cold horror settled in his gut when he found himself looking up at the garchomp's trainer. Oh, she was gonna be mad. Ain't nobody wanted some kid messing with their pokémon.

Nate shoved away from the woman and in one, two steps was free, ready to run. What stopped him was the noise, a dry crunch like someone walking on new-fallen snow. When he looked over Nate discovered it to be the sound of a garchomp rising from the sand pit, rising and rising until it stood at full height, rivulets of sand dribbling down its sides. It stepped out of the pit, knife-edge claws clicking on the tile and leaving tiny drifts of sand behind. It looked at Nate with eyes that seemed to glow from inside dark, shadowed sockets, then turned to its trainer and growled.

That was when Nate realized it was going to eat him.

He started to back up, only then realizing there was a wall behind him. The only way to the door was past the trainer and her garchomp. The two of them were engaged in half a conversation, the dragon's purring growls a strange counterpoint to its trainer's words.

It was run past them or across the sand pit. Nate weighed the options, trying to hold down the fear turning his palms sweaty inside balled-up fists. The sand was coarse and brown, not like nice pictures of the beach, and lumped and rumpled near the middle where the garchomp came up. It didn't look like much, but Nate thought of movie quicksand, of people sinking and struggling and vanishing without a trace. He remembered, too, the trapinch and their sudden crunching jaws. Even if, even if it wasn't bad, he couldn't go across it. If it slowed him down even just a little, if his feet sank in a tiny bit, the garchomp would get him. It was fast; he's seen it fight. It could turn and bite his head off lightning-fast, snap, one second and that's it.

The lady and the garchomp had finished talking and were looking back at him. Nate swallowed, heart beating high in his throat. He had to run, he knew he did, but his eyes kept going back to the garchomp towering right in front of him and his feet don't want to move.

"You wanted to pet Liana, didn't you?" the trainer said, and the garchomp stretched an arm towards him, single claw gleaming under the fluorescent lights. Nate dodged back and hit the wall. He didn't even notice the bruising pain in his shoulder, just pressed himself flat, trying to get away, every little bit away, from the garchomp's killing claw.

"Oh, no! No, it's okay," the trainer said. "See?" She reached over and took the garchomp's long, curved claw in her hand. The garchomp didn't react, let her wag its whole arm back and forth, but all the while its evil yellow eyes were on Nate.

And of course, of course it didn't attack the lady, how stupid did she think he was? It wouldn't attack its trainer, but if it got close enough to him, if he reached out to touch it, it'd have that claw through his chest in a second and cut him right in half like in old samurai movies, slash and your torso would fall over in the dust and blood would spray everywhere from your still-upright legs. The garchomp stared at him and stared at him and he woke it up and now it was mad.

"Fuck you stay away from me!" he snarled, feeling the rough bubbled concrete of the wall behind him with his fingers like he might find some crack to slip through. "Fuck off with your fucking dragon!"

Nate's heart was beating so loud he was sure the garchomp could hear it. It was a predator, it could probably hear heartbeats just normally to help it find prey under the sand. But it could definitely hear his then, so the dragon must know it's beating too fast, too fast, too loud. Nate felt it in his temples and shaking his whole body and was frightened it would skip, trip, wear itself out or just explode, and then he'd be dead. At least that would be better than getting eaten.

The garchomp and its trainer turned to one another, exchanged a quiet look. "I'm sorry," the trainer said. "We didn't mean to scare you. Liana, why don't--"

"I ain't scared!" The words were out before Nate even realized he was saying them. But they were true, anyway. He wasn't scared, he couldn't be. He wasn't scared, he wasn't scaredy, and he was not, he was not going to cry. His head was tight with anger on top of the painful pulses of his heart, because he wasn't scared, he was mad. He was mad at the stupid garchomp and its stupid trainer and all of this, all of it was just fucking stupid. "I ain't fucking scared! I ain't!"

"It's okay. Here, we'll just--" The garchomp let its arm fall back to its side. Nate could barely think over the drone of fury in his head, but he could tell they didn't believe him. They thought he was small, and weak, and that he couldn't do anything, couldn't even reach out and touch the dragon when it was standing right in front of him. Well, he could too. He'd show them. "I ain't scared!" he yelled again, and one step forward was all it took, he'd reached out and grabbed the garchomp's claw before he even realized what he was doing.

There was a moment of perfect silence where all Nate could hear was the rush of blood and his own breath in his ears. His fingers were curled around the garchomp's claw. They were stuck. Nate couldn't move at all, now that he'd come back to himself. He couldn't even be angry anymore. All he could do was listen to his pounding heart and wait for the garchomp's jaws to close on him.

The garchomp just stood there. Its claw didn't even shift in Nate's grip like it wanted to pull away or maybe plunge its arm forward into Nate's stomach. Slowly it came over him that he was actually doing it, he was actually touching the dragon, and at least so far he hadn't died.

He stared the garchomp straight in the face while his fingers crawled up its claw to the skin above. Nate watched all the while for any twitch that might be prelude to a strike, ready to duck away, but the dragon remains motionless. After a few seconds he forgot his vigilance anyway.

The garchomp's skin was hard, like it was wearing armor. Nate had thought the scales would feel slippery or glossy like smooth polished rock, but they were as rough and bumpy as the rec center's cindnerblock walls. They were tiny, too, and Nate stared at them hard, not even thinking of how close he was, marveling at how they locked one to another in row after perfect row. They were broad and jagged on one side and tapered to a single point on the other, and each had an itty bitty hook swept back towards the broad end of the scale. Nate ran his fingers across them, feeling tiny pricks as if from miniscule teeth.

He worked his way up the garchomp's arm, briefly rubbing the spikes sticking out of its shoulder--he was reaching over his head by that point. The spikes felt the same as the claw, cool and ridged like fingernails. The garchomp moved, and Nate froze, suddenly remembering exactly what kind of pokémon this was. The garchomp bent down, practically kneeling, and still its head was barely in reach when Nate stretched up to touch it. He ran his fingers along the side of the garchomp's neck, dipping into the gill depressions, feeling them out one by one. He gently brushed away a few grains of sand clinging in the curved slits and traced along their edges.

The gills were covered in the same tough, pebbly skin as everywhere else. Even when Nate rubbed the yellow blaze on the garchomp's nose, it was the same. The dragon was watching him the whole time, he could tell, but it seemed as placid as ever. There wasn't anything in the whole world to be afraid of when you were a dragon, Nate decided. This close up he could see the garchomp's eyes weren't yellow, but actually gold, layer on layer shimmering and sparkling with the faint motion of the dragon's breathing.

Maybe it was something in those eyes, terribly deep and constantly shifting, that made Nate give in to the impulse to squeeze one of the bulbous thingies growing on the sides of the garchomp's head. It wasn't squishy like he was expecting, but firm, like shaking somebody's hand. The garchomp pulled away with a growl, and Nate froze again. The garchomp rose half back to standing, almost twice Nate's height, and snorted so powerfully it blew Nate's hair in all directions.

"Liana doesn't like it when people touch those things," the trainer said, and Nate backed up a step, panic closing in over him again. He'd forgot the trainer was there, and she was right there, much too close. Nate reached to feel the wall behind him, making no sudden moves and trying to hold the garchomp's affronted yellow gaze. "Now, what do you say?" the lady went on.

Say? Say? Was there some magic charm that worked on dragons? Was that how people got them to obey, a special dragon language? Probably. But Nate didn't know anything about that. He just knew that if you made a garchomp angry, the best thing to do was run.

"Won't you apologize?" the trainer asked, and Nate hesitated in plotting his escape route. That was it? She wanted him to say sorry?

Immediately the impulse rose up in him that he wouldn't, he shouldn't have to, he didn't know the garchomp didn't like that and anyway it wasn't his fault, it should have stayed away if it didn't want to get touched. But somehow he couldn't say anything under the garchomp's stern gaze, or at least not anything like what he'd say to a teacher who tried to make him apologize like that. Instead he ducked his head and forced out a "sorry" so brief it was practically one syllable.

The garchomp and its trainer did that thing where they looked at each other like they were talking somehow, and the trainer laughed. "Well, I guess that'll do. You know what?" She was talking soft like she wanted to share a secret. "If I want to say sorry to Liana, I just rub around her neck right here. She loves that."

Nate wasn't even paying attention to the spot the trainer was scratching. "It's a girl dragon?" he blurted out, then felt stupid a second later.

"That's right," the lady said, smiling. She reached up, and the garchomp knelt down again, obliging. "It's pretty easy to tell with garchomp. You just look at the fin. See?" She pointed to the tall dorsal fin that had caused all this mess in the first place, jutting up so temptingly from the sand. "Male garchomp have a cut in the fin. If it's whole like this one, it's probably female."

Nate nodded, hard, and tried to burn it into his mind so he wouldn't be stupid like that again. Just look at the fin. Easy.

The trainer started to turn away, but the garchomp made a big rumbling noise, and the lady smiled. "Oh. I don't think Liana's going to let us get away without a few neck scratches. Will you help me?"

Again, he should have said no, he should have left. But the lady didn't even wait to see if he was going to join her. She started rubbing in the same spot as before, and the garchomp made a rumbly noise, low and steady like constantly churning sand. Nate stepped up and puts his hand on the opposite side of its--her--neck and scratched a little. The garchomp tilted her head away, exposing more of her neck to him, and he bore down harder. The garchomp stretched further, her growl rising in pitch. Nate smiled, he couldn't help it, and then he looked over at the garchomp's trainer and she was smiling back at him. He wiped his face blank and stuffed his hands in his pockets and thought again of leaving.

"Liana likes you, you know," the trainer said, and Nate reluctantly turned his attention back to her. "It's dangerous to pet a garchomp, usually. Their scales are sharp enough to take the skin right off your hand. They only make them smooth around people they trust. See?"

She tapped the side of the garchomp's neck, and something changed about the way the light hit the dragon's scales. They looked harder somehow, like metal. The trainer ran her fingers lightly along the garchomp's neck again. "Be careful. They're sharp.",

Nate put his hand out in wonder, and yes, the scales felt different, ridged up under his fingers so the pointed edges were out and the little hooks were raised. They flattened down again as he ran his fingers over them, and he glanced at the garchomp. She met his gaze with the same equanimity as ever, and he could swear she nodded, just slightly.

Nate let his hand fall to his side, and the garchomp rose to her full height, so his head only came up to her hip. She kept watching him, though, that solemn inscrutable look that now felt heavy with import. Nate flexed his fingers down by his side. They only made their scales smooth for people they liked. The garchomp liked him--she chose him. A dragon chose him. It felt like something out of a story, not something that could really happen. Even the garchomp didn't seem totally real, too big, scales glittering like gems and eyes shimmering endless gold.

"Here." The trainer shoved an energy bar under his nose, and Nate recoiled, brought back to himself by an ugly jolt of fear. "Are you hungry?" the trainer asked. "I've got spoils from the vending machine."

Nate hesitated, but decided it was safe enough. He snatched the treat away and chewed it down before the lady could change her mind.

"Liana and I come around here pretty often," the trainer said while Nate swallowed away the last of the energy bar, digging around in the corners of the wrapper for crumbs. "You're welcome to join us anytime. Have you ever battled with a pokémon? I'm sure Liana would be happy to let you try." The garchomp hummed what Nate assumed was an affirmative.

Battle with a pokémon? Like a trainer? With a dragon... Nate sucked the sticky residue off his fingers and thought. Yes, of course he would. Anybody would, which was the problem. She couldn't really mean he'd get to do that.

"We normally only come here on Thursdays, though." She must not have noticed how Nate's expression had gone shrewd, because she continued, "So maybe, I don't know, in the summer, when you're not in school...?" Nate let the question hang awkwardly in the air. "I mean, unless your parents..." the trainer said.

So Nate could never go back to that rec center ever again. He watched sometimes, on Thursdays, and saw the garchomp and her trainer go in to work out. He never went up to them or even went inside the building, but that was all right. What was important was the dragon chose him, she really did. He was special. And someday he would have his own dragon, and they would be the best team ever. It had to happen.

Sometimes he thought about that when he watched pokémon in the rec center, ones without trainers. Nate daydreamed about going up to one and asking it to join him, to go off on a trainer's journey. And then they would, and they'd be the best, the best ever. They'd go all the way to the League with a team of the best pokémon, including a garchomp, of course, and they'd win everything. He never got up the courage to ask, but that was all right. It would happen someday. A dragon chose him, and he was going to be a great trainer.

He got older, and it turned out it was easier to pass unnoticed when you were small and cute. The rec centers didn't seem to like strange preteens hanging around, for whatever reason. But that was okay. There were pokémon other places, too, and after all the dragon chose him.

He got old enough that even the slowest of the people he knew had left on their journeys, if they were going to go at all. The ones still left didn't talk about training anymore. They told him to shut up if he mentioned it. But that was okay. Someday they'd all see. The dragon chose him, not any of them.

He got older yet and there was no money and no work and not even school anymore, nothing left to do but wander the streets and piss people off, maybe make a few bucks from some guy who needed a thing delivered on the down low. But it would be all right. He saw the garchomp and felt the scales flatten under his fingers, and she turned to him and nodded and stared at him with endless golden eyes. Whatever else happened, whatever else the world tried to tell him, he would always have that. The dragon chose him, and that meant he was bound for something more.

It was stupid, actually, how old he was before he finally stopped believing that.

Last edited by Negrek; 05-14-2017 at 04:39 PM.
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Old 04-26-2017, 04:33 AM
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Default Re: Rough Skin

lol dragons R sweet
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Old 04-26-2017, 11:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by norblarchoop View Post
lol dragons R sweet
It is a truth universally acknowledged. :)
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Old 05-01-2017, 08:15 PM
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Default Re: Rough Skin

D'awww, tiny Nate. He sounds like the tiniest.

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Most of them didn't mind, and if they did, they made sure you knew about it. Pokémon were easy like that.
I take it he has some bad experiences with people getting angry with him (ostensibly) for things he didn't know made them mad, huh.

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it'd have that claw through his chest in a second and cut him right in half like in old samurai movies, slash and your torso would fall over in the dust and blood would spray everywhere from your still-upright legs
Nate, you've been watching some very inappropriate movies for a seven-year-old.

Quote:
Nate smiled, he couldn't help it, and then he looked over at the garchomp's trainer and she was smiling back at him. He wiped his face blank and stuffed his hands in his pockets and thought again of leaving.
Naaaate it's okay really

Quote:
"I mean, unless your parents..." the trainer said.

So Nate could never go back to that rec center ever again.
nooooooo

Quote:
It was stupid, actually, how old he was before he finally stopped believing that.
Naaaaaaaaate

It's just tragic to watch how he's so accustomed to people being mean and untrustworthy and out to get him that he just can't properly wrap his head around someone actually being kind and friendly to him. I guess that's part of why he takes her friendly little comment about Liana liking him so seriously, too - if the dragon likes him, it's not because the dragon is friendly and goofy and thinks he's a cute kid, it's something special and magical. (That and, you know, the part where he's a seven-year-old and dragons, and the part where he really really wants to be headed for something better.)

Anyway, that was wonderful and adorable and Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate. Thank you for the birthday present! :3
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Old 05-01-2017, 09:30 PM
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Default Re: Rough Skin

Yeah generally speaking, one shouldn't grab anyone or anything's "bulbous thingies".

Anyway that's gotta be the cutest garchomp in history, good grief. Thought the bit about those things being able to essentially turn off the cheese grater scales at will was a nice detail. A shame Nate only got to pet her once, the poor li'l shit.
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Old 05-03-2017, 02:09 AM
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Default Re: Rough Skin

Butterfree

Quote:
I take it he has some bad experiences with people getting angry with him (ostensibly) for things he didn't know made them mad, huh.
Oh, definitely. He generally views humans as unpredictable and scary.

Quote:
Nate, you've been watching some very inappropriate movies for a seven-year-old.
There is definitely nobody monitoring his media intake, heh.

Glad you liked this one (and that it was sufficiently Naaaate, I guess :P). Sorry it took so long to get out!

Sike Saner

Yes, Nate clearly needs to learn some basic etiquette (or just common sense). Don't try to squish anything that could be described as "bulbous," really.

I thought the scale thing came from one of garchomp's pokédex entries, but I guess I was wrong. That probably means it's supposed to be a characteristic of some totally different pokémon, oops. :P

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Old 05-09-2017, 05:11 PM
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Default Re: Rough Skin

Aw. Guess not everybody is destined to become an anime hero, even in Pokémon land.

Quote:
"Female garchomp have a cut in the fin, like this. With males it's usually whole."
Isn't it the other way around?
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Old 05-10-2017, 12:06 AM
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Default Re: Rough Skin

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Aw. Guess not everybody is destined to become an anime hero, even in Pokémon land.
Definitely not. Hopefully there's something else worthwhile to do with your life, eh?

Quote:
Isn't it the other way around?
omg, that's what I thought too? But then I looked it up while I was prepping this story, and apparently hallucinated that the females were the one with the cut. Buuut going and looking again, I had it right in the first place. argh.gif

Thanks, that's fixed. And thanks for commenting!
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Old 05-11-2017, 07:13 PM
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There's still an inconsistency...
Quote:
She pointed to the wide triangle cut at the base of the garchomp's big back fin.


I wonder if one of those movies Nate's seen had the basic plot of Pokémon Conquest.
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Old 05-14-2017, 04:43 PM
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Quote:
There's still an inconsistency...
ARGH.GIF, I could have sworn I fixed that when I made the other edits. Now it should be set.

Quote:
I wonder if one of those movies Nate's seen had the basic plot of Pokémon Conquest.
In broad strokes, I wouldn't be surprised. And I'm sure there are endless games that use similar mechanics--their world's probably come up with more variations on pokémon battling than ours could ever dream of.
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