Hop sits cross legged in the field in the center of campus, a book propped in his lap. He’s open to the very end, despite having only just received it, looking over the definitions there.
Wow. I feel illiterate.
He’s nervous but excited. He feels stupid a lot and he was expecting to feel stupid in this class, but that was part of the reason he wanted to take it! He said to Gloria it would be a break for him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to be studying.
Hop certainly didn’t come off as the studious type and he still needed to look up a lot of stuff up when it came to math and history, but he doesn’t mind reading. He rather likes it, actually.
He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and tightens his little ponytail. Corviknight sits next to him, eyes closing as the breeze ran across his feathers.
Hop glances up when he sees a familiar form walking in his direction. Not wanting to draw too much attention to Gloria, Hop doesn’t shout her name out. Instead he starts waving his arms like mad, because that definitely won’t draw just as much attention.
Hop really had started taking classes here. Gloria had half expected for it to be a passing thought; something that was wishful thinking but was never acted out on.
But then again, Hop was never anyone to half ass something. So she really shouldn’t have been surprised when Hop had messaged her his class schedule; Hop is ever enthusiastic and energetic, always running to whatever new and exciting thing strikes his fancy.
Their schedules don’t look like they’ll match any, but it seems like Hop is adapting to campus life, because he’s sitting on a bench right in the middle of the turf, blending in with all the other college students pretty easily, if it wasn’t for that unmistakable purple hair of his that catches her eye. The two make eye contact and he starts enthusiastically waving at her now.
...at least he’s trying to be a little more subtle about it, not making any noise.
With a huffed sigh of a laugh, Gloria walks over towards her friend, sneakers squeaking on the grass as she crosses over to him, ignoring the interested gaze of others that follow as she walks by. Beaming at Hop, she signs.
[ Studying hard? Which class is that for? ]
Hop beams up at her. Gloria is a distraction he will welcome any time!
“It’s actually something that I got interested in because of a researcher friend of mine! We met online through a group email and she’s super funny, but anyways anyways! It’s what she researches, so I thought it’d be interesting to see what it’s all about. And get this okay, get this, it’s about evolution, right? But not normal evolution. Like evolution a Pokémon turning into a totally different Pokémon! Wait, no, that sounds the same, uh...”
He isn’t signing but he sure is moving his hands around a lot. “Okay! It’s like if a Rockruff, that Alolan Pokémon, if it evolved into a Boltund! But like, over a really long period of time. Like, after generations of still evolving into Lycanroc! Because, I mean, it makes sense to think all Pokémon just came to be, right? But there’s evidence behind this, too! So I wanted to see what evidence has been found so far. And then I can understand what my friend is saying.”
“It’s a huge change of pace for me, haha. I don’t know much about this stuff at all,” he says, sheepishly.
“But that's what I wanted! I feel the same way about my type classification class, but that’s—! I’m actually really excited about that one! I’ve been curious about it for a long time, and you can only ever find so much in library books and online!”
Insert double fist pumping. Pinchurin crawls into his bag to steal jelly beans.
[ So...divergent evolution? ]
Gloria took a theory class that had a study on that once. It was interesting for sure, but nothing that she could wrap her head around for too long—it definitely seems right up Hop’s alley. She tilts her head thoughtfully before signing again.
[ That's not the only class you’re taking, right? I’m pretty sure you picked at least one more. Are you getting along with your classmates? Or do I have to beat some of them up. ]
She’d be happy to do that. It’s been a while since she threw down with any of her peers that weren’t Bede. Gloria gives a wry grin before reaching to ruffle Hop’s hair. What a dork.
After going off to her about that second class, Hop answers her second question. “I’m not having any problems! Haha, I mean, no one can really be rude if they haven’t spoken to me.”
He doesn’t seem bitter or anything, he just...really hasn’t tried to get to know anyone yet! It wasn’t like when he was a kid and could just run up to anyone and declare them friends after one conversation.
“I think probably going to some sort of gathering would make it easier, maybe. But sitting outside like this will give me a possibly to talk to people about their Pokémon!”
Pinchurin spits out a jellybean it doesn’t like. Corviknight eats it off the ground. It seems they get along. Hop laughs and lightly slaps her hand away. He knows better than to ruffle her back.
[ Ahh, they’re all probably too sleep deprived to notice how cool you are right away. I give it a week or two before you make friends with everyone. ]
That’s as about as encouraging as she’s going to get. Gloria pulls her hand away with a laugh as Hop protests, the sound ringing from her throat. It cuts abruptly short after a second—people are starting to stare. Gloria shifts on her feet before continuing.
[ Anyway. Studying like that is no good for making friends, though. Have you actually talked to anyone on campus yet? ]
Hop smiles, cheeks puffed out like he might laugh. A Gloria compliment...and a Gloria laugh! A platonic arrow right in the heart.
“Not really, aside from the Professors,” he admits before adding, “ other Professors” with a wink and finger guns. Corviknight hits him with his wing, it accidentally or intentionally is hard to tell.
“How do you make friends with someone without challenging them to a Pokémon battle?” He’s only half joking.
Pinchurin spikes up in excitement at the word battle, just barely not stabbing Hop. It had been...a long time since Hop had tried to battle with another trainer.
[ Well, you could look around and maybe see someone who looks like they’d be fun to talk to, ] Gloria supplies, as if trying to be helpful. Her hands go still for a second before she sits down on the bench next to Hop, facing him so he can still see what she’s signing. Legs swinging idly, her hand movements quicken.
[ You know, there are clubs too. Maybe you could join a Pokémon research club...I think you’re the only one with real world experience in that department. You could show off your dominance. ]
Her shoulders shake at that—silent laughter. She’s careful not to make noise this time.
[ Or you could battle. I dunno how well that would turn out for you though. ]
“Hahaha! My dominance!? Pffft!” Hop laughs. “That’s so funny. I’ll show them how fast I can climb a tree, and how fast I can fall down a hole.”
He knows what she means, but he can’t help but scoff at it.
“It’s an idea, I’ll say. If I have time.” He looks away, unsure. Was it okay to use that extra time just to try and make friends?
[ Of course you’ll have time. You said you’re taking a break, right? ]
Gloria frowns; this is definitely different from the usual Hop. After a few seconds of pause, her hands come up to slap against each of Hop’s cheeks, cradling his face in her hands. She’s staring intently at him, but without her hands, there’s no way she can use words.
Regardless, the meaning behind her actions is clear.
She wants to know what’s wrong.
Hop rolls his eyes. He understands her loud and clear. He puts his hands over hers. “I’m fiiine! I’m just. Anxious. And nostalgic.”
He sighs, leaning back, freeing her hands. “It just makes me miss being with the people I’m closest too. But I know there's no way to make more friends without beginning with strangers.”
He smiles at her shyly. He hopes that isn’t too cheesy. He just hates that even around other people he can still feel lonely.
Glorias fiat comes to gently tap against his shoulder; she almost looks vaguely offended.
[ Hello! I am right here! I know we aren’t best friends but I consider myself pretty damn close to you! And besides that, you’re like a Butterfree. People will flock to you if you let them. ]
A pause. Something shifts in her expression.
[ You’re someone that is endeared to by everyone, Jumpy. ]
“We are best friends!” he tells her, shaking her by the shoulders.
He slumps over. “I mean, like...a group of friends. Right now? You’re...kind if all I have. But I don’t want to put all that pressure on you!”
He looks up at her again. “You’re really sweet and wonderful. Augh. Thank you, I just—sorry, I’m always being a downer! I swear, I’m happy about a ton of things right now!”
Gloria isn’t going to point out that here, Hop is also the only one Gloria has. It doesn’t need saying again—she had already made that clear before. Instead, she gently shakes Hop’s hands from her shoulders so she can speak.
[ You’ll be able to find a real nice group of friends, ] she says, words easily coming to her. [ You don’t need to worry so much. ]
—and with that, yeah, she grabs his face again, squinting.
“Gloria, I’m a pro at worrying! But I’m trying to unlearn it by learning other stuff,” he says, face in her hands.
He almost wants to grab her back. He will definitely give her a hug once they stand up again.
Gloria huffs silently, pulling away as she starts to speak again.
[ I know it’s hard getting back into the game, ] she provides with a hint of sympathy, [ but it’s not going to get better if you don’t jump right in. It’s like going in a pool, yeah? Cold at first but you warm up to it pretty quick. ]
Hop nods several times. “I know you’re right. I’m just being cowardly. I’ll do it when I get around to it.”
Pinchurin crawls onto his lap and he squirms in fear, sitting up straighter. He loves the little thing but it hurts a lot to get stabbed by her body.
“I’ll do it soon. I promise. Haha, I just get caught up in other things a lot.” He looks up from Pinchurin.
“Whoever I meet, I hope they’re as patient as you are with my constant rambling.” He laughs, but is a regretful one. Old habits die hard. Or they’re just immortal.
Gloria squints at him, before pinching hard at his cheek. She pulls away quickly and signs so he has to look at her hands the frown on her face is unreadable.
[ You have to stop putting yourself down. When did this happen? I know we’re friends and you can tell me anything, but. ]
[ You don’t need to talk badly about yourself. You’re pretty great, Jumpy. ]
He looks at her, pained. Not at the pinch, but...he just. Doesn't know how to respond.
"I don't really understand what you mean? When did what happen? Me...not liking myself?" he asks. His voice is much quieter than before. He's slouching a little, as if he wants to be smaller.
I'm pretty great? Gloria's just. She's my friend. She's my friend, so she thinks that. But, how am I pretty great? Everything notable I've accomplished has been either minor or luck.
What's there to feel good about? My morals are fine. I treat my Pokémon well. I'm trying really really hard. But does that even mean anything? To have met the bar of being a functioning adult?
He gave up on his dream. He failed his dream. Was what he was doing his new dream?
Sometimes it felt like it. But other times his efforts felt so futile he wanted to throw in the towel because who would fucking care anyways? The world had been doing just fine before he started his research, so what point was there in doing it?
Was he just wasting time? Were theses classes just wasting time?
How can I live a life worth something? How can I stop being fucking useless like I realized I am all that time ago? Why do I feel like this? Why can't I stop feeling like this?
He looks glassy eyed, entirely spaced out now. Gloria couldn't read his mind, but it wasn't hard to tell that...yeah. He was sad.
Gloria isn’t a mind reader, but turf isn’t the best place to have a panic attack. She grabs Hop’s wrist and drags him up from the bench, weaving through the various students in the area. She glances back to make sure Hop’s Pokémon are still following them, and when she knows they are, she looks forward and tugs him into her dorm building.
Instead of heading to the dorm room, she heads the opposite—way into a kitchen and lobby area. She sits Hop down at a little table with two chairs hidden away next to the fridge and the sink, before reaching up to open up the freezer and pulls out…
An ice cube.
She opens Hop’s hand and drops the ice cube in it, before signing.
[ Put it in your mouth. ]
Pinchurin, luckily, falls right into Hop's bag. Corviknight hops after them, confused and concerned. He trusts Gloria though.
Hop hadn't realized he wasn't breathing until Gloria yanked him to his feet. He stumbles after her, mouth agape. He doesn't know what she's doing, but he knows better than to fight her off. He manages to catch his balance and silently follows her.
He doesn't know why his heart is hammering so hard. Fuck. This was his fault, wasn't it? He made her worry again. He wants to bite himself.
Corvinight sits outside, on the lookout. He's very protective of Hop, and anxiously shifts on his feet. He closes his eyes and tries to rest instead of worrying.
Hop sits and looks up at her worriedly as she goes to the freezer. He stares incredulously at the ice cube in his hand. He looks back at her. Back at the ice cube.
He puts it in his mouth. He signs.
[ Why? ]
Gloria is glad that Hop knows how to sign. She signs back—hands quick as always, but making sure that Hop can keep up.
[ Three reasons. ]
A pause. She waits for Hop to let the ice sit in his mouth; eight seconds pass before she signs again.
[ The ice cube in your mouth will help you focus on something that isn’t panic, number one. Number two, the cold of it keep you concentrated and not let you slip back into your thoughts. ]
She doesn’t indicate why or how she discovered all of this. Gloria pauses, waits six more seconds, before continuing.
[ Third, you probably have been so focused on studying that you forgot to drink water today. So you can be a little more hydrated. How do you feel? ]
He feels lucky that there isn't any way she can tell how hard he's biting down on his inner cheeks. Burden. Burden. Burden. You're always just a fucking—
He takes a shaky breath. He hardly even registered how much he shaking.
"Sorry," he says through his teeth.
[ Yes. Maybe. I'm sorry. ]
Gloria looks unimpressed with his apology. Her hands flit in motion again.
[ Don’t apologize. ]
Reaching out, she takes Hop’s chin by hand, but the motion is gentler now. She stares at him for a long moment before letting go, using the silence to sign again.
[ Just concentrate on the ice cube. Don’t do anything else. Just breathe and let the panic exhale out of you. ]
How does she know so much? Well. She’s not going to answer that so easily.
He looks dazed. Gloria had been touching him so many times. She probably knows just how much he needs that. She knows Hop too well.
Hop swallows some of the water melting in his mouth. He takes a slow breath through his nose. He closes his eyes and tries to focus like she said. It's hard.
He hates to think it while with Gloria but silence never helped him. He just wants to hurt himself, the pain of the cold isn't nearly enough to distract him, he knows how much it took to work. He listens to her anyways. Even if he has to fake it until it works, he tries.
The ice cube melts. He presses it against the roof of his mouth with his tongue. When he opens his eyes again, he doesn't manage to look at her, just his clenched fists in his lap. He opens his mouth to apologize again, but he knows the words are empty.
He sits there for several seconds. He just can't decide what to say. What can he possibly say after that? He can't just say he's okay. He can't excuse himself and leave. He can't change the subject. He can't, oh Arceus, he can't, he can't—!
He doesn't want to! He doesn't want to at all, but—
Hop bursts into tears. He buries his face in his hands, as if that could possibly help with the way he started shaking and failing to choke back his weak whines. He doesn't want to cry in front of Gloria, fuck, this is the last thing he wanted to do! He was just supposed to say hi and go back to studying but now he was having a damn emotional breakdown!
Tears fall into his lap through his fingers and he clenches his teeth. "I don't know what's wrong with me! I don't know why I'm like this Gloria, I don't know how to stop!"
Gloria feels more than a little terrible when Hop breaks down. Fuck. Maybe the things that help her don’t help him. Kneeling down, sneakers squeaking against the floor, her hands reach out to touch against his knees.
It’s just the two of them. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Gloria steels herself before her hand comes to pry away one of Hop’s from his face, just...holding it.
Her voice comes out all creaky; every time she uses her voice, she’s aware of how strange it sounds to her own ears. But Hop is in no state of mind to read what she’s saying.
“Listen t’me,” she repeats, slow and steady. Her free hand comes to touch against his cheek, stopping the flow of tears from gathering at his chin.
“S’okay to be not okay,” she says quietly. “Don’ force yourself. S’okay to not know. ‘m here to help. Kay?”
"I'm so fucking sorry," he cries, voice breaking with each word. He's making her come out of her comfort zone for him. He's still burdening her, he's just making things worse for her, he's—Dammit, why can't he stop!?
"I'm sorry, Gloria, I'm sorry," he repeats, clutching her small hand as if he'd sink if he didn't.
"You're so nice, I-I wish—I wish you didn't—d-didn't have to worry about me like this, I know you have your own things to worry about! I-I-I—!" He wishes he could yank his hand back to hide his most certainly ugly expression as he struggles to stop his uncontrollable tears.
"Thank you, I just—I'm sorry, I...I just need a minute, I..." he insists, shuddering. He wishes he could disappear. How could he be so weak in front of her!? He was supposed to be listening to her! And taking a break, and taking care of himself, why did he still hurt so much!? Why didn't it ever stop?
Gloria does lift his head up now; there’s concern all over her features, but it doesn’t look like she’s too fussed. Her thumb rubs quietly against the tracks of tears running down Hop’s face.
“Listen t’me,” she says again. Repetition is key, right? Especially with people like Hop, who get stuck in a spiraling echo chamber of their own ugly thoughts. She hums quietly.
“Not nice,” she says simply. “Not as nice as you. Only doing what I want. Relax. Breathe.”
She quietly squeezes his hand with the one she’s holding.
“Healing s’not linear,” she says slowly. “Not gonna happen at at once. Ups and downs, Jumpy.”
Is this making sense, she wonders? His mind must be screaming even more, if he can’t get a decent sentence out. She licks her dry lips and swallows.
Hop tries to take a deep breath but it just makes him feel like he's drowning.
He just...he. Needs to listen. He needs to listen. He needs to listen to Gloria. Listen to Gloria, Hop.
"I-It's not going to happen all at once. It's not going...to happen." He nearly stops. "All at once." His tears are finally slowing, but he's still shaking very hard.
He swallows another apology and replaces it with a soft "Thank you" as he tries to steady his heartbeat. Stop himself from breaking down again. At least for the time being.
"I'm so lucky you exist," he whispers. He wants to hug her, but it'd probably be too overwhelming.
He doesn’t need to worry about overwhelming her, because Gloria’s arms slide up to wrap around him on their own. Her hand comes to rub against his back; the other holds his head, cradling it against her shoulder.
“S’okay. It’ll happen. Not immediately. But it will,” she says, a spoken promise. Her eyes slide shut and she exhales softly. Hop is way too nice to someone like her. If Hop were a drink, he’d be hot chocolate; if she were a drink, she’d be black coffee.
“Don’t worry. I’m here.”
Hop hugs her back. As much as he wants to cling to her for dear life, he hugs Gloria gently, as though she were so fragile he might break her.
He sniffles, not wanting to get any grossness on her while in their embrace. He rests his head against her. He feels like he's filled with sand. He feels so heavy , physically and emotionally.
He isn't sure when he should pull back. Because Arceus knows he never wants to. "Thank you," he says again. He can't possibly say it enough.
"Next time we hang out I promise I'll try harder not to cry." He laughs bitterly, but he means it. He really wants to have some time together where the two of them are just truly happy, even if only for a day.
Gloria knows that Hop needs this.
How long has it been, she wonders? Since he had a friend hold him. Gloria knows that she doesn’t let people touch her that often, and she doesn’t normally seek it out; but Hop is in all ways wholly different from herself.
And right now she’s the only friend he’s got in the area.
It’s another few seconds before she pulls away and goes back to her comfort of signing. Sorry if you were expecting to hear more of her voice, Hop.
[ Don’t worry about it. You can cry all you want. It’s not going to bother me any. ]
And it won’t. She sits on the floor now, crossing her legs, before glancing at the freezer again.
[ Need another ice cube? ]
His breathing is hefty, but it isn't painfully fast anymore. His face is a wet, red mess, but the tears have stopped. And, be it the numbness or Gloria's kindness, he can't hear his own voice shouting back at him anymore.
[ No thank you. ]
He feels like he's trapped in a fog when he looks at her before his eyes readjust. He doesn't care about anything more than her right then.
[ I love you G-L-O-R-I-A. ]
He feels lucky he can sign. He isn't very good, he's slow and only knows how to do a small amount himself by memory, but he knows the important things. Like that.
"Thanks," he rasps.
[ No problem, Jumpy. ]
Part of Gloria wishes that she had a proper sign name, but she doesn’t. Most everyone she speaks to talks just fine, so there wasn’t a need for her to have a special sign just for her — but the ache still blooms underneath her chest.
She tucks it in for later. It’s fine. Gloria’s hands come up again.
[ Do you want to take a quick thirty winks in my room? Napping might make you feel better. ]
He smiles. He almost tears up again, now out of gratitude. "I was really hoping you'd ask. You're the best."
He decides once he's home he'll pull up a sign language dictionary again. He interlocks fingers with her.
[ Okay. C’mon. ]
Gloria stands and takes Hop’s hands, pulling him up with her as she leads him towards the dorms.
There’ll probably be more tears later. More whispered fears. Maybe Gloria will feel like sharing something vulnerable.
But now, all that matters is getting Hop a nap. And that’s all Gloria will think about for now.