Japanese names, game-'verse with some anime canon thrown in for good measure, and not a canon character in sight. Whee.
Might as well post this now, while I'm too exhausted to chicken out... =P
Killing Him with Kindness
Takahashi Shin'ichi was perfectly obedient and ridiculously eager to please, and in many ways the best assistant anyone could hope for. Getting him to answer questions honestly, however, was one of the toughest challenges Murimoto Suzume had ever faced.
He followed orders without question and stayed out of the way when he wasn't needed, but that didn't make him easy to deal with. Any question about his well-being was inevitably answered with a soft, awkward "I'm fine," followed immediately by an attempt to change the subject.
"Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine, senpai."
"You must be hungry, do you want anything?"
"I'm fine, senpai."
"That's a nasty bruise, would you like me to -"
"I'm fine, senpai."
Questions about Shin'ichi's past were even more awkward, and after a few tries Suzume decided that it was better not to ask. He would stammer out answers, but he always looked so miserable doing it that Suzume's curiosity couldn't win over her desire to keep him as safe and happy as possible. Caring about everyone she worked with would have driven her insane, but it was impossible not to care about Shin'ichi; someone that young and small and scared needed all the help he could get to survive in Rocket-dan.
And he was young, and small, and scared. Only fifteen and short enough to not look it, and so skinny that she could almost count his ribs from across the room when he undressed for bed... those things could be explained away and ignored, but the fear? Seeing him jump when spoken to, listening to him trip over his words in an attempt to apologize even when he was not at fault, those things were painful.
Realizing that he did not trust kindness was the most painful thing of all.
Shin'ichi seemed to view kindness as an attempt to manipulate him, as though he couldn't accept anything without expecting something to be asked of him in return. He always did what was asked of him and never talked back, but the idea of being in debt to someone seemed to terrify him. Suzume didn't know how to help him and she couldn't stand to see him upset, so she stopped going out of her way to be kind; maybe it was the lazy way out, but in some twisted way it made him happier.
Her partner, on the other hand, had no problem treating Shin'ichi the way he was used to being treated. Kindness did not come naturally to Tsubame Cerise, and he seemed intent on making sure that Shin'ichi did not learn that there were people who didn't want to manipulate him - it was less than two months before Suzume started hearing rumors about what the two of them got up to in the showers, and she knew Tsubame well enough to guess that it wasn't by mutual consent.
"It's just like HQ to give us damaged goods, isn't it?" Tsubame commented one day, in passing, without the slightest attempt to make sure that Shin'ichi didn't hear. Suzume wasn't sure what upset her more, Tsubame's insensitivity or the fact that Shin'ichi seemed too used to it to care.
But she got used to it too, after a while. She didn't stop worrying, but she got used to it, stopped asking him questions and stopped trying to make sure that he was fine. He wasn't fine, ever, but he seemed better when he was left alone, and though it went against every caring instinct in her body, Suzume let him cope in his own way. If he didn't know how to react to kindness, what else could she do?
So she fussed over Tsubame and over her Pokemon, and she left Shin'ichi alone, hoping he would come to her but having little faith in it when he seemed fine with the physical, manipulative "love" he could get from Tsubame. The arrangement started to feel normal to her, even though it bothered her - and then Shin'ichi decided to do something unexpected.
He came to her, of his own free will, while she was grooming her Kyuukon - the first time in a week when she'd been able to sit down without having work in front of her. She had planned to make the most of her free afternoon, but talking to Shin'ichi was not work, at least not the kind she was absolutely sick of.
"Yes?" She set down Kyuukon's brush, but kept her hand on the Fire-type's back, gently reminding her that Shin'ichi was not a threat. Not that Kyuukon seemed to need reminding. She sniffed at Shin'ichi a few times and then curled up against Suzume's legs to take a nap, seemingly satisfied that the scrawny teenager wasn't going to attack her mistress.
"You... you were born in - in Jouto, right?" Shin'ichi seemed nervous, constantly looking around the room and at everything but Suzume, shifting his weight from foot to foot and fiddling with something in his hands. Suzume might have taken it personally if she hadn't noticed that he was like this with everyone; as it was, it only made her wish that she knew how to help him. "I - I found this in the Game Corner, and... I thought that maybe you would - would know what she is." He held out a Love Love Ball, briefly glancing up at her face but not quite making eye contact.
"Sit down," Suzume urged as she took it, patting the couch beside her. Shin'ichi hesitated for a moment before complying; she wondered if he had thought it was an order, and had to shake that thought away to concentrate on the task at hand. "Is it safe to let her out inside?"
Shin'ichi nodded, now staring down at his lap. "She's small, and... and she's very friendly. I - I've been feeding her, because she seemed - she seemed hungry, and she - she - I think she likes me..." He glanced up at Suzume through his bangs. "Was - was that... wrong?"
"If her owner could just forget about her like that, there's nothing wrong with taking her in." There was no way of knowing how long the poor thing had been lying in the Game Corner, forgotten; it wasn't as though any proper Rocket-dan agent would be morally opposed to stealing, but this wasn't even that. She expanded the girly Monster Ball and let out the creature within, and watched, amused, as a little purple Pokemon made a beeline for Shin'ichi and plopped herself down in his lap.
"She's a Muma," Suzume said. "A Ghost-type. I hope you were planning on keeping her - she seems quite attached to you."
"I - I can keep her?"
"Of course. Just tell Tsubame that I said to take it up with me if he objects."
"Thank you so much, senpai!"
Suzume had never seen Shin'ichi so honestly, genuinely happy, and Muma looked delighted as well, snuggling up against her new master and cooing softly to herself. But it didn't last nearly long enough; before she had even handed back Muma's Monster Ball, Shin'ichi's smile had faded, and he stared down at his lap with his head bowed, face half-obscured by his too-long bangs.
Shin'ichi sat frozen and silent for almost a minute before he finally shrugged. "I - I don't want to be in - in debt to you. I can't... I can't repay you for this, but..."
Muma blinked up at him with a soft, questioning "Mu?", but her presence didn't seem to be enough to cheer him up. Suzume felt stupid for not realizing that this might happen, for not thinking that one good conversation wouldn't be enough to slip past the issues Shin'ichi had with trust and kindness. Of course it wasn't enough! She didn't think she could ever give enough, not here, not when everyone around her would do their best to reinforce what Shin'ichi thought he knew - but that was no excuse not to try.
"Look at me, Shin'ichi," she said, and she waited until he did. It took a moment, but he finally looked up at her, frightened and uncertain. "I can't speak for the others here, but I will always ask you directly if I need something from you. When I do things for you I do them because I want to, not because I want you to have to do something in return. So don't worry about paying me back. If I wanted something in exchange, I would have asked for it. Got it?"
When Shin'ichi was done thinking that over, his response was the second genuine smile Suzume had ever seen him give. "You're weird, senpai!" he said, getting to his feet and holding his new Muma close. "B-but - thank you! I - I really appreciate it!"
He hurried off, and she smiled until he was out of the room but she didn't feel particularly happy. Maybe she'd made some progress in getting him to open up and not treat even the smallest gestures of kindness like blackmail attempts, but the more time she spent with him the more problems he seemed to reveal.
If she was weird, God only knew what Shin'ichi considered normal, and short of a miracle Suzume didn't know how to find out. But getting him to accept this seemed fairly miraculous itself... so maybe, just maybe, she had a chance.
And maybe Shin'ichi did, too.