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[One-Shot] Mute

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Negrek, Jan 9, 2019.

  1. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Author's Notes: This was my gift exchange gift, a fic for AmericanPi. She gave a lot of fun prompts, some of which were musical pieces. The one I picked for this story was Strauss' "De Fiedermaus" Overture. Listening to it I got the image of a big pokémon orchestra, a super energetic conductor, and pokémon dancers as accompaniment, so that's what inspired the ending scene. It's also the song Swablu listens to on the radio. I don't write a lot of fics involving canon characters, and I think this might actually be the first one set in Unova that I've ever published, so it was fun in a lot of ways. Hope you enjoy!

    Mute

    Driftveil City was gray in wintertime, its boat-sails lowered and stored, skeletal masts clustered thick around the docks, their wings clipped. The sky was the same color as the fossilized piles of slush along the street, and the wind stirred desultory whirls of snowflakes down empty sidewalks. Even the pennants on the lampposts, snapping and straining in the wind, were dull and washed-out in the pre-dawn light.

    Pidgeot soared above it all, his crest a splash of color in the murk. He swept down to the boardwalk along the harbor, landing heavily on a metal railing.

    "Come on, lazybeak," Falkner said once his jogging had finally caught him up to his friend. "You know you get grumpy if you don't get the chance to stretch your wings before a fight. Keep moving."

    Pidgeot was fluffed nearly spherical, eyes reproachful and beak disappearing into his chest-feathers. Those feathers swayed and rippled in the cold wind, lightly snow-dusted already.

    "I know. It's early for me, too. But I'm moving, right? Come on, join me." The silent hotels along the street were booked solid with people who'd come halfway around the world to watch him and the other gym leaders battle. Any later in the day the sight of a pidgeot overhead would bring them all swarming, paparazzi and selfie-hounds and mega-fans, and neither he nor Pidgeot would get any peace.

    Pidgeot fluffed again, shaking off snowflakes, and gripped the railing under him all the tighter. His narrowed eyes dared Falkner to dislodge him. He wasn't moving from this spot, not until the sun came up and the bitter wind ceased.

    Falkner grinned and took a couple of broad, tiptoeing steps forward, his hands raised. "Okay," he said. "If that's how you want to be, we can--"

    "Mister?"

    Falkner froze, then turned slowly, finding behind him a child so bundled it was nearly as round as Pidgeot. "Yes?" Falkner said.

    "You're the famous bird master, aren't you? From Johto?"

    Falkner gave a mental sigh of exasperation and glanced back to Pidgeot, whose narrow gaze now seemed smug. He must have seen the child coming but hadn't seen fit to warn his trainer. "Yes," Falkner said.

    Mittened hands gestured vaguely towards the street. "My pokémon..."

    Falkner's heart lurched. It was too early for this, for examining some sick or injured bird, someone suffering. But he had to go, of course. He might be the only one who could help. "Show me," Falkner said, and the child scampered off down the road, boots crunching in old snowpack.

    Falkner turned his head briefly, just to be sure Pidgeot was indeed rising from his perch, broad wings beating against the cold air. He'd follow.

    It couldn't be an emergency, Falkner told himself as he kept one pace behind the child. No trainer would come to a gym leader instead of a pokémon center if it was something serious. Probably just a pokémon who didn't like the food their trainer was buying, who was missing home, something along those lines. Still it took all his early-morning self-control not to snap at the child to go faster.

    They made for a trainer hotel up the street, small and shabby-looking between high-rises that had sprung up to house World Tournament spectators. It would be packed, too, and expensive despite the shabbiness. At least it was warm in the lobby, Falkner taking a moment to stamp snow off his boots. Pidgeot landed behind him in a whirl of backbeats, then paused to shake himself off, vibrating from head down to tail-tip, scattering droplets from every quivering feather.

    "Well, you got what you wanted," Falkner murmured to his partner. "We're out of the cold."

    Pidgeot ignored him and started after the child, head bobbing as he went, and squeezed himself through a hotel room's small doorway. Inside Falkner found the child shedding hat and boots and mittens, unwinding an apparently endless scarf.

    "Saw you were going to be battling here this week," the child said. With the outerwear shucked it proved to be a young girl, frowning to herself while she crammed discarded clothing onto the narrow bed. "I had to come down here, to ask you, but--always so many people around after your battles--Here--" She grabbed a pokéball from the belt coiled on the battered desk and released a small blue bird. "It's my swablu. She won't sing!"

    Falkner frowned and leaned forward, holding his hands out together. The swablu hesitated for a moment, eyes alert and wary, then hopped into them. Falkner brought her up to eye level, running his thumbs down the pokémon's sides, feeling where the cotton-fluff wings met her body. The swablu weighed hardly anything at all, her tiny body warm against Falkner's fingers.

    Pidgeot pushed in around Falkner's side. He stood at least a head taller than the child, and the swablu was smaller than even one of his taloned feet. Bite-sized. She pressed herself against Falkner's hands, trying to shrink away from Pidgeot's gaze, so he could feel her pulse racing under the thin layer of feathers.

    "Don't mind him, he just wants to get a look at you," Falkner said. He shifted to put his shoulder between Pidgeot and the swablu, and Pidgeot gave him a reproachful look.

    The child was at his elbow, babbling away. "The nurses say there's nothing wrong, but she's quiet all the time! Swablu are supposed to love singing, but she won't. I don't know what's wrong!"

    The bird did appear healthy. "Can you try to sing for me?" Falkner asked.

    The swablu considered him for a few seconds, then opened her beak and produced a string of high, clear notes. Nothing out of the ordinary. Falkner raised an eyebrow at the girl.

    "She can sing, but she won't," she said in the exasperated tone of someone who thought he hadn't been listening at all. "And she watches other birds singing and acts all sad. Sometimes she even goes over and tries to fight them!"

    "Mmm." The swablu was looking up at him with bright black-button eyes. "Well, I agree with the nurses. She seems perfectly healthy to me. Beautiful plumage, especially for her age."

    The swablu fluffed herself up and fussed with her wings, looking smug. Her trainer beamed. Yes, well. That was the buttering-up part. No one was going to like what came next. "The singing, though." Falkner brought the swablu back up to eye level. "Is there a reason you don't want to sing?"

    The swablu made a half-hearted chirp, not meeting his gaze. "Do you miss home?" Falkner asked. "Do you feel tired? Lonely?" Vaguely negative noises, maybe a bit annoyed. "If there's anything you want to say, you could tell Pidgeot, if you would be more comfortable. Or my xatu." Xatu tended to put pokémon more at ease than Pidgeot.

    The swablu gave another half-hearted chirp and turned aside, looking away out over his fingers. Didn't want to talk about it.

    "Any ideas?" Falkner asked Pidgeot. The big bird leaned in, immediately bringing the swablu out of her funk with a nervous glance and ruffle of her feathers. Pidgeot clucked a couple of harsh syllables at her, and her burbled reply sounded as dismissive to Falkner as the one she'd given him. Pidgeot settled back on his talons and gave a muffled grunt before digging at one wing with his beak. No idea.

    "Well," Falkner said, "If I had to guess, I'd say your swablu was stressed. Sometimes pokémon that haven't been on the road before don't really know what they're getting into when they choose a trainer. She might be better off returning to her home, at least for a little while. Taking a break--"

    "What?" the girl said, and the swablu took off from Falkner's hands with a couple quick fans of her cotton-puff wings, drifting over to her trainer. "Are you saying it's my fault?"

    Yes, it was definitely too early for this sort of thing. Especially since Falkner had to be ready for his first match at nine, a match against Jasmine, of all people. "No, it's nobody's fault. I'm not trying to say that you're a bad trainer or anything of the sort. Sometimes partnerships don't work out, and it's nobody's fault. But if your swablu isn't singing because she's unhappy, then maybe the best thing to do would be to take her back--"

    "That's stupid!" the girl snapped, face starting to flush. "I thought you were supposed to be the master of bird pokémon! That's the best you can come up with? She won't sing because she misses home?" The swablu chirped derisively.

    Far too early. Falkner resisted the urge to rub his eyes. Next to him Pidgeot made a gruff noise that shut the swablu up, at least. "That's the first thing that comes to mind, yes. I know it's hard to hear, but these things happen. If you want, I can spend more time with your swablu later to see if I pick up on anything else, but that's all I can think of for now."

    The girl was actually glaring at him, nostrils flaring and face darkened with anger. "No," she said tightly. "No, I think we're fine." Her swablu whistled agreement, then shrank back against her trainer's side, anticipating Pidgeot's displeasure.

    "Very well," Falkner said tightly. "Best of luck to both of you, then. We have to be getting to the stadium soon. Pidgeot." The big bird warbled something low and absolutely did toss the swablu a glare before following Falkner from the room.

    Back outside it was biting cold, and damp, and Falkner drew his coat up tighter as the wind came sweeping through. "Some days I really hate being a gym leader," he muttered to Pidgeot, who nudged his trainer's shoulder with his beak.

    Falkner turned back towards the bay. "Come on, lazybeak. We weren't done with your exercise."

    --​

    "Swablu won't sing, huh?" Janine asked, pushing through the doors and out to snowy cold. "Like a grimer gone off her garbage."

    "Something like that," Falkner said. It was hard to hear Janine over all the clamor, people packed in close, trying to get a clear look at the gym leaders despite the cordons separating the challengers' area from the public. Janine didn't appear to notice the crowd, but Crobat, flitting in circles overhead, was scowling the way he always did when things got too loud for his sensitive ears. "It's a pretty classic sign of stress. Cessation of usual habits, withdrawal, aggressive behavior--she mentioned the swablu attacks other birds who are singing, sometimes."

    "But she said no, huh?"

    "But she said no. No, it definitely had to be something else. Like she didn't come to me because I'm supposedly an expert and then reject everything I said."

    "Hmm." Crobat got one blast of winter wind and came zooming down, tucking himself into the loose loop of Janine's scarf, upside-down so the slender blades of his wings stuck out to frame her head. Pidgeot made a laughing chirp at him, and the bat's eyes appeared briefly below the scarf, glaring, before retreating again into the warmth. "That's too bad. It would be nice if it was easy, but I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually."

    "Figure it out! I already figured it out," Falkner said. "The problem is she wouldn't listen. It wasn't what she wanted to hear."

    "Hmm," Janine said again. Falkner was content to follow her, doing his best to ignore the fans trying to get his attention. The crush had already thinned dramatically; Janine had some strange intuition about crowds that let her find little side-streets and redoubts where she could lose them without even thinking about it. "Well, something about it must still be bothering you, if you're complaining about it to me now."

    "What's bothering me is I couldn't help at all. She didn't believe me, she won't do what I suggested, so her swablu isn't going to get better. What's the point of being a gym leader if people are going to ask for your advice and then just ignore it anyway?"

    Janine inclined her head. "My dad always says when you have a tough problem, sometimes you can't face it head on. You gotta sneak up on it. And how do you do that?" She put a finger to her lips, a shushing gesture, then broke into a grin.

    "A ninja aphorism for every occasion, your dad," Falkner said, but he couldn't help but smile back.

    "Like I said, you'll figure it out," Janine replied. "You don't have any matches until tomorrow afternoon, right? Want to do lunch? I'll be free."

    "Sure. And good luck against Blaine."

    "Heh. You know I've got that one in the bag," Janine said. "Catch you later, then."

    The next moment she was gone. Janine had a way of taking one step and being somehow out of sight, some ninja disappearing trick. Falkner tucked himself deeper into his coat. People were still milling around on the street behind him, excited over whoever was coming out of the stadium now, maybe another gym leader, maybe even an Elite. Falkner didn't care to find out, or to elbow his way through people who'd be excited anew to see him. "Let's fly," he said to Pidgeot, and the bird considered for only a moment before crouching, letting Falkner up onto his back.

    It wouldn't be a long flight, with the cold air even colder up high, the wind strong and biting. Pidgeot was warm under his top layer of feathers, where Falkner had his hands dug in, holding fast, but that barely cut the winter chill. He'd need real flying gear if he wanted to make more than a quick hop.

    There were people below looking up, pointing, but with a few wingbeats they all fell away, the city's lights gliding past below, lamps and windows glowing halos through more of that spitty-drifting snow. It was like the clouds weren't sure whether they wanted to put in the effort for a proper storm.

    Pidgeot was headed for the bay, maybe hoping for a fish. Falkner didn't care where he went, so long as it was somewhere away from all the people, somewhere he could clear his head.

    Down below the sailboats still bobbed at anchor, waiting for the cold winds to pass. Here and there the round domes of frillish and jellicent protruded above the waves, drifting silently. With sunset creeping up the western horizon the swanna had begun to dance for a watching entourage of ducklett.

    That was the usual routine, anyway. Today the flock was in disarray, ducklett quacking and swanna cruising menacingly after something, long necks stuck straight out, now and again swiping with powerful wings.

    And what had gotten them so agitated? "Of course," Falkner muttered, heart seizing in his chest.

    Pidgeot dove without waiting for Falkner's signal, flew straight through the agitated flock, the wind of his passage ruffling waves and knocking ducklett aide. With a bank and a swoop Pidgeot cut the swablu off from the angry birds around her, sweeping out a clear circle of air.

    The swablu chirped and threw herself forward, trying to get at the lead swanna, who arched his neck and hissed. Pidgeot put himself between the two birds, fanning and buffeting with his wings to drive the swablu back.

    She went reluctantly, still yelling at the swanna, flitting up and down in an attempt to see around Pidgeot's bulk. The larger bird kept pushing her towards the shore. Falkner scanned the shoreline and, sure enough, there was the young trainer, running up and down and shouting something lost to the winter winds.

    Falkner was expecting her to run off after the swablu finally gave up and went floating over to her, but she waited, the swablu cupped in her hands, while Pidgeot landed and Falkner dismounted. She didn't exactly look thrilled, lower lip jutting defiantly, but she stayed.

    "Do you want me to take another look at your swablu?" Falkner asked.

    "Not here," the girl said. "And not if you're going to not even try again."

    Falkner had to grit his teeth to stop himself from commenting on that. He pried them apart only when he felt certain what would come out. "Very well. Lead the way."

    --​

    The girl sat on the narrow bed in her hotel room, watching Falkner and Pidgeot warily. She'd found a classical music channel on the little clock-radio by the bed, and the swablu was now pressed right up against the speaker, obscuring the time and listening avidly to something dramatic and skirling with violin.

    "I see she doesn't have a problem appreciating music," Falkner said.

    "She loves music!" the trainer said. "That's what I don't understand. She can sing and she loves music, but she won't. And then sometimes it's like she gets mad..."

    "Like with the swanna out there."

    "Right!" The trainer pressed her palms together, squeezing her hands between her knees. "I don't get it, though. Usually she attacks pokémon that are singing, but swanna don't even do that, really. They just dance around in the evening."

    "I don't suppose you have anything to say for yourself?" Falkner asked the swablu. She gave him a brief, dark stare and then stuck her beak in the air, fussing with her wings and closing her eyes.

    "I wish you would just tell me what was wrong," her trainer said with a sigh, which got no response.

    "It's dangerous for her to go out with you if she attacks other pokémon like that. It could have been a real bad scene with those swanna if I hadn't been there."

    "I know that!" the girl snapped.

    Falkner stopped himself just short of saying that if she knew that, then she should also know that the best thing would to be to stop bringing the swablu along with her, for everyone's safety. Instead he forced himself to think. What could possibly be going on here besides an unhappy pokémon acting out for attention? "She's always been like this?"

    The girl nodded slowly. "I mean, we haven't been together long. I've only been training for almost four months now. It wasn't something I noticed at first, but no, she's never really sung."

    Falkner nodded and went over to kneel beside the nightstand so his face was on a level with the swablu. "Why did you attack those swanna?" he asked.

    The swablu fluffed out her cotton wings so her face practically disappeared into them and gave a sullen chirp. "Were you jealous?" Falkner guessed. "Did you wish you could dance like that, too?"

    This time the chirp was loud and sharply negative. Okay. "So it was something else," Falkner said. When the swablu didn't respond, he pressed. "Can you tell me what that was?"

    Apparently not. Well, there was no way Falkner could help if she wouldn't tell him what was wrong. "Can you tell Pidgeot? Maybe he can help me understand what you mean."

    Swablu peered out at Pidgeot, who stood quietly at Falkner's side, watching. She emerged halfway from the fluff and whistled a rapid string of notes.

    Pidgeot raised his wings slightly, chattering back at her. The conversation went back and forth, Pidgeot seeming bewildered, the swablu's chirps growing increasingly hostile, until finally she disappeared into her fluff again, sulking, still pressed up against the side of the radio.

    Pidgeot shifted on his talons and sneezed, and glanced away when Falkner gave him a meaningful look. The bird raised his wings again and clapped them once, clearly meaning I don't know.

    The swablu's trainer, meanwhile, had been sitting forward on the edge of the bed, watching the whole exchange and chewing on her lip. Falkner could tell she already had the gist of what had happened, but she gave him an anxious look anyway.

    "I don't know," Falkner said. The trainer slumped back, looking sadly over at her swablu. "I'm sorry. Pidgeot doesn't seem to understand what's going on either."

    "Well, then what am I supposed to do?" the trainer asked. The swablu had retreated even farther under her wings and resembled a small, lost cumulus.

    Falkner bit his tongue before he could say anything too biting. "I don't know. I don't think we're going to be able to do anything unless Swablu is able to tell us what's wrong."

    The bird's beak emerged enough to emit a brief, angry chirp, then retreated again. The girl kicked her heels, her feet not reaching the floor even on the hotel's low bed. "I thought you were supposed to know everything there was to know about bird pokémon."

    Falkner's false smile felt thin and tight. "That would be nice, wouldn't it?"

    --​

    The restaurant was Crobat's choice, and Falkner has a strong suspicion the bat had picked it simply because it had chairs tall enough for him to hang from. He was doing so now, giving passing customers hostile upside-down glances when they went by Janine and Falkner's table.

    "You were great, though," Falkner said. "The way you had Crobat use wind to control Rapidash's flames--you'll have to help me teach that to Pidgeot. It seems like it almost makes battling fire-types too easy."

    "I told you it would be a piece of cake," Janine said, grinning. "Blaine's an old friend of my dad's. I know all his tricks already."

    "Still, it was a great battle."

    Janine made a dismissive gesture with her chopsticks. "Thanks. But what about you? Did you make any progress on your swablu problem?"

    "Not really." Falkner leaned back in his chair, grimacing with his tea held forgotten in his hands. "Something's up, obviously, but I can't figure out what. She won't tell me what. Or Pidgeot. Not anything he can understand, anyhow."

    "My dad says everything is simple if you look at it from the right angle," Janine said. "If something seems tricky, you must need to change your point of view."

    "I think I'm getting a sense of why your dad decided to become a ninja instead of a nuclear physicist."

    Janine laughed. "Stop. I mean it. Maybe this is such a puzzler because you're asking the wrong question."

    "What do you mean?"

    "I mean, like... So what if the swablu doesn't like singing? Is that a crime?"

    "It's like grimer and garbage, isn't it? Like you said. If a pokémon stops doing something it normally does, that's one of the best signs that it isn't feeling well, physically or mentally."

    "And singing is something a swablu normally does?"

    "Yes, of course."

    "Mmm." Janine had a distant look in her eyes, and she took a moment to continue. "Think about if the swablu was human, though. If you said, 'Oh, all humans like pokémon, this one doesn't, there must be something wrong with her,' that would be weird, wouldn't it?"

    "It's not the same thing at all. Swablu do like to sing. It's more like if a human stopped eating."

    "Well," Janine says, "I'm sure you'll figure it out."

    "If you mean I'm going to drive myself crazy thinking about it, then sure."

    "Don't be so pessimistic. You haven't let a bird problem get the better of you yet!" Janine clacked her chopsticks at him. "Anyhow, did we agree that you were picking up the check for this one?"

    "I don't know why I put up with you sometimes," Falkner said, but he was smiling as he waved the waiter over.

    --​

    Falkner's own room, in the hotel attached to the stadium, made him feel tiny and dingy both. It was crammed full of furniture so elegant that he was afraid to actually use it in case he messed it up somehow. The huge and squashy bed was the kind you could fall into, and possibly drown in, but Falkner was feeling too restless to try it. He wasn't sure whether he was truly anxious about the swablu problem or whether he was anxious about his next match and trying to distract himself.

    "But she can sing. It's obviously not a physical problem," Falkner mused to the room, and to his pokémon, whichever of them were listening. Xatu always looks like she was, while Pidgeot was preening, drawing one feather at a time through his beak.

    "Why attack other pokémon over it, though? She says it isn't jealousy, but what else could it be?"

    Since Falkner wasn't taking advantage of the bed, Dodrio had claimed it for himself, tail-feathers overflowing one side and lanky legs the other. The middle head, Two, was clearly asleep, but One made encouraging noises, eyes following Falkner as he went over to the window.

    "I don't get it, and apparently she can't even explain it to other pokémon. Or maybe she's just afraid of Pidgeot."

    The big bird huffed and stretched out a wing, working steadily down his primaries. Outside yellow streetlamps cast the fallen snow in dirty colors.

    "So what is it? Why can't she just say what's wrong?" Falkner drummed his fingers on the windowsill. "Well, maybe she doesn't understand, either. But if she's unhappy, why...?"

    Three let out a few morose caws. It was all pointless anyway. Falkner might as well give up on trying to figure it out. One began scolding Three--or suggesting opportunities for improvement. One wouldn't like Falkner framing things so negatively. Falkner stared absently out the window, lost in thought.

    "And she likes music!" he said. "It's not like Janine said, it's not like she just doesn't enjoy it and is tired of people bothering her about it, it's--"

    Pidgeot made some kind of muffled noise into his feathers. "What? That's not right?" Falkner asked. "She likes music. You saw how she was hanging out with that radio."

    Pidgeot made an annoyed noise and folded his wing back against his side. He whistled a couple notes, then tipped his head towards Falkner.

    "No, sorry," Falkner said after a moment. "I don't understand."

    With an immense groan, as if unable to believe that Falkner was making him do this, Pidgeot spread his wings and fluttered over to a side table where Falkner had carefully set his phone, afraid of scratching the elaborate finish. Pidgeot clearly had no such reservations, talons squeaking on the glass tabletop as he alighted, cramped and awkward even in a room this large. He stabbed at the phone with his beak until it began to emit its usual four-note jingle.

    "Ringtone?"

    Pidgeot gave him a look like "I can't believe you think you're the one in charge when you're this stupid." He jabbed his beak at the phone, then at Falkner.

    "Phone. My phone. Call? Calling. No." Pidgeot swept a wing at him, then spread both wings wide. He repeated the process, an opening sort of gesture. "Me, uh, wide? A lot of me? And the phone?"

    Pidgeot screeched and beat his wings, which Falkner didn't think meant anything except exasperation. "Sorry, you know I'm not very good at this. Something to do with me?"

    Pidgeot screeched again and took off alarmingly, so Falkner had to duck as the bird went past in a whirl of feathers. Pidgeot tried to alight, but his claws kept slipping from the narrow windowsill. He hunched over awkwardly and rapped his beak against the glass.

    Falkner came forward cautiously, trying to see out the window again. Pidgeot had to keep scrambling to stay upright, and he was obstructing the view. It was quiet outside with no battles going on in the stadium. Pidgeot twisted his head around and tapped insistently on the glass, in the general neighborhood of a couple of trainers walking down the street, their purrloin bounding along beside them.

    "Trainers? Do you want to tell me something about Swablu's trainer?"

    Pidgeot screeched in annoyance and almost fell off the windowsill trying to make a negative gesture with his wing. It took him awhile to right himself, but Falkner hardly noticed, deep in thought. "So like me and like them, but not trainers. Do you just mean people?"

    Pidgeot's chirp was encouraging, and he jabbed towards Falkner with his beak again. "Okay, so just me. Person. People, person, person like me. Oh, did you mean human?"

    This time Pidgeot's screech was delighted. He was getting warmer. "Human ringtone? No, okay. Human, human... I was saying she liked music. Human music?" Pidgeot crowed and beat his wings, and from the bed One cheered him on, while Three grumbled that it probably didn't matter anyway and Two blinked around sleepily. "She doesn't like music, she likes human music? I still don't understand what you mean."

    There was something there, though. Something that felt just out of his reach, but the glimmer of an idea nonetheless. "Okay, you troublemaker," Falkner said to Pidgeot, who was prancing around enjoying compliments from One, "I hope you're ready for another trip out in the cold."

    --​

    "All right, one more time," Falkner said. He was leaning against the boardwalk's railing, tapping a conductor's baton against one of its columns. "When I do this"--he pointed the baton at a swanna floating in front of him, then moved it left--"you do...?"

    The swanna rose in a graceful bourreé, wings held up in a halo around her head, webbed feet barely skimming the surface of the water. The flock behind gave a few appreciative quacks. One of the other swanna provided a bit of constructive criticism, and the dancer wheeled on him, hissing. A flurry of ruffled wings and jabbing necks ensued.

    "Okay, right, mostly. When the pointer goes left, you go left," Falkner said hastily over the honking commotion. "Now you try." He pointed at a flock of pidove Pidgeot had found and gotten settled in a neat gray line along the rail. With the baton pointed at them they let out an uncertain, warbling coo on no particular note. Waving the baton at One or Two made the respective head sing a note, but Falkner had never gotten Three to do anything but complain. A kind of squiggly flourish made Xatu's low hum escalate to a theremin wail. "Yeah, good, you just... good," Falkner said. "I think we're ready. We just need to wait for the others to get back."

    That had better be soon. Falkner was afraid the swanna contingent would fall apart completely if nothing distracted them from their squabbling. Turning to scan the streets he was relieved to see Pidgeot headed back, Janine so far behind that she was hard to make out, but following for sure.

    A tremor of apprehension went through the pidove when Pidgeot winged down, settling himself on the railing beside Falkner and uncomfortably close to them. They cooed and shifted their feet, rustling wings like they thought they had pressing business elsewhere, but when Pidgeot looked over at them they huddled closer and settled for muttering amongst themselves.

    "I'm guessing this means you got your bird problem worked out?" Janine asked, jogging up to join him.

    "I hope so," Falkner said. "We're just waiting on the bird in question, and then we'll find out."

    "So what's going on here?" Janine asked, waving at the array of pokémon. "Group therapy? Or, what, a choir?"

    "Close," Falkner said, tipping the baton at her in a small salute. "Let's wait and see. I think our quiet swablu should be getting here soon."

    He wouldn't have had time to explain anyway, with the commotion Staraptor caused when she thudded down next to Pidgeot. The pidove were loud in their displeasure, the swanna were still circling and shooting each other dirty looks, and then the young trainer was there, breath coming in huge white clouds, with a chilled- and grumpy-looking swablu in her mittened hands.

    "Ah, there you are," Falkner said. "Can you guess what we've got going on here?" He gestured to the assembled birds.

    The swablu regarded him cynically and chirped a negative. Falkner grinned and waggled the baton at her. "Watch."

    A gesture and the pidove gave another nervous coo-chorus. One and Two hummed together. Staraptor and Pidgeot screeched as melodiously as they could. "Well, I don't really know how to use this thing," Falkner said, "but you get the--hey!"

    The swablu lunged from her trainer's hands, grabbing the baton and sweeping over to land on the railing where Falkner had just been leaning. She wrestled with the baton, which was longer than she was, and accidentally set off a couple of pidove and sent a swanna gracefully pirouetting straight into a ducklett.

    After struggling a bit, chirping a furious, breathless cascade all the while, the swablu finally figured out how to wield the baton and set up a wavering beat. A couple of birds hesitantly took their cues. Something like music began to arise.

    "What's she doing?" her trainer asked quietly.

    "Bird pokémon generally sing alone. When they get together they usually compete to be heard instead of working together," Falkner said. "They don't have things like choirs or symphonies the way humans do, but that's the kind of music your swablu likes. I figured she was going after other birds because she wanted them to try one of her ideas, to sing together. She got angry when she couldn't make them understand, they got angry when she got angry... you know. But listening to a trainer for commands is something pokémon know how to do, so when I put it that way, they understood better."

    "So she didn't want to sing because she didn't want to sing," the trainer said, watching the swablu hopping around, exhorting one of the ducklett. "But she still wanted to make music."

    "That's one way to put it, I guess."

    The trainer was silent, watching as the swanna finally got together with the rest of the group, beginning to catch the beat and match it with their steps. A couple of early risers had stopped along the boardwalk, taking in the spectacle. The swablu sat at the center of it all, carefully sweeping the baton, swaying gently with the beat.

    "Thank you," the trainer said. "Thank you. I--she looks really happy. I never would have thought of that."

    "It took me a while," Falkner said. "But I was lucky I had help." He grinned at Janine.

    "And what did I say? You figured it out," she said, elbowing him in the ribs.

    "I did, I did. But your dad's advice wasn't helpful at all."

    "Well, you probably just didn't understand it well enough. You're not a ninja, after all."

    "Jerk." Falkner watched the impromptu concert, which by now was starting to develop some actual harmony as the swablu got a feel for the baton and the other birds warmed to their roles. The beginnings of a swooping, dramatic melody began to emerge. Falkner felt like he'd heard it somewhere before. "You were definitely right about one thing, though. Most swablu might be meant to sing. But this one, I think this one was always meant to conduct."
     
  2. Namohysip

    Namohysip Dragon Enthusiast

    Now this was a nice little thing! I’m not usually one for slice of life fics, but between Curious and some one-shots like these, it’s really starting to grow on me. I think it’s just the charm of Pokémon and the many ways you can build upon it, either by being true to the canon or subversive. And in this case, I really like how this work kept to the general tone of Pokémon as a whole, while still telling what felt like a strangely deep story about a Swablu that wanted to conduct.


    I thought you did really well at building up to the reveal; I think I figured out what was going on for sure by the time Pidgeot was trying to mime out what Swablu was trying to say. At first, I thought we were just looking at a Swablu that didn’t like birdsong and preferred human music—which was true, but Pidgeot’s demonstration afterward was what added that extra layer of realization.


    Which leads me to my next point—and my natural bias—is that I really, really liked how, despite the fact that they didn’t have any true lines of dialogue, I still felt a lot of character from the Pokémon involved in this oneshot. They’re ultra-intelligent animals, with their own personalities, interests, and quirks, and that’s arguably one of my favorite interpretations of Pokémon. But that’s just on a personal taste side for me.


    While the Pokémon felt alive and Janine and Falkner had fleshed out personalities, I unfortunately can’t say the same thing for the trainer attached to Swablu. Despite the fact that she’s the trainer of the most important Pokémon of the oneshot, she felt… too flat for what I felt should have been a more important character. As Swablu’s caretaker (and Swablu indeed seemed to like being around her, despite her shared ignorance with Falkner on what the problem was) I felt like she should have had more depth. I felt that I got a tiny bit of it at the last scene, but that was all. I guess I could have done to have more done with her.


    Overall, though, I definitely liked this story. The world was illustrated well, the environment and (cold) setting had, at times, made me feel like I was right alongside Falkner during his walks and flights, and best of all, I could see Pidgeot painstakingly explain to Falkner what Swablu had been trying to express. I know nothing about the music this was based on, but even without the prompt, I thought this story as a standalone made me feel nice and cozy against the frigid air of Mute’s backdrop.
     
  3. WishIhadaManafi5

    WishIhadaManafi5 Still miss you, Lorne. Staff Member

    Wonderful story!

    Got a good laugh out of this line:

    Pidgeot was fluffed nearly spherical, eyes reproachful and beak disappearing into his chest-feathers. Those feathers swayed and rippled in the cold wind, lightly snow-dusted already.

    I could picture Pidgeot being fluffed that way.
     
  4. AmericanPi

    AmericanPi Write on

    Hi! Just thought I'd leave some slightly more detailed feedback now that I'm rereading this for my birthday haha.

    Like I said before, I really, really enjoyed this. Looking back at my Gift Exchange form I realized that I didn't even include Falkner and Janine in it as a preferred gift (not because I don't like them - but because I had already received gifts on them), and I immensely enjoyed this piece despite that. Falkner, Janine, and the Pokémon characters felt very alive, and like I said before I love the idea of an older, wiser Falkner who's still the passionate bird nerd we know and love. Also, I loved how the piece had a romantic-era feel to it with its descriptions of winter at Driftveil City, but didn't drag on like some Romantic pieces. I think it's amazing how you covered several prompts in this piece - "Romanticism", "On wings of song", Vivaldi's "Winter", and Strauss Jr.'s "Die Fledermaus".

    I have to agree with Namohysip, though, in that I feel that Swablu's Trainer felt a little flat. She simply seemed like another stubborn and naive young Trainer who needs to understand how to relate to her Pokémon. That's why I think it would've been interesting if Swablu's Trainer ended up being Kahili or another canon character - we can see how that canon character used to be impatient and naive but thanks to receiving Falkner's help eventually became the older and wiser trainer we know and love. Hmm, maybe Swablu's Trainer can be Lisia! It could fit considering the fuzzy timeframe of ORAS, and Lisia does use an Altaria.

    I still really like this piece, though, so thank you for writing it! As a side note, I find it really interesting how you chose to base the piece on "Die Fledermaus". Not saying that's a bad thing, but the overture's composer, Johann Strauss Jr., is someone who I feel is somewhat underrated so it's cool that you chose that piece specifically as opposed to one by a more talked-about composer.

    Thanks again!
     

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