She’s born in the bottom of the sea.
She knows this because of how the sky looks like rippled glass. It’s always been that way, ever since she’d stood with her toes on the edge of the world, her arms above her head, the water below.
Two deep breaths, then three…
A little girl sells clamperl rings on roadsides, empty shells, milotic scales, and when she looks at that glass sky, it looks just like that sea.
Nell tiptoes to the cliff’s edge, six feet over the water. Waves crash against it, and she shivers in her silk robe. The garment had been made from the threads of clamperl that only grow near her home island.
Her mother, Mia, had once said this is her legacy. She’d spent many nights by her mother’s side, watching her sew with delicate fingers, silk shimmering beneath her touch. She does this for hours, and days, and weeks.
Mia wears a clamperl silk robe, the same as her daughter’s, but sheds it when she steps up to the edge of the earth.
No matter how many times she watches, there is always something holy about the way her mother dives. She says her grace, and raises her hands above her head, body strung tight between air and earth.
The sea swallows her up. Nell waits. This can take more than a minute, sometimes, but Nell always holds her breath, too, counts the seconds down until her mother breaches the surface.
When she does, the woman climbs back up over sand and seaweed-slick rocks. She wears a small bag around her neck, and inside it is the pale strands of sea silk.
She wraps the robe back around herself, and looks at Nell.
“Dive,” she commands.
Nell doesn’t imagine herself as refined or controlled as her mother, and the splash in her wake must be huge, but she dives all the same.
The clamperls sit near a coral reef, so she is very careful as she cuts the strands from their shells. She apologizes before placing them in her bag, gives a gentle pat. Her feet touch down on rock and she kicks.
When she swims back to her mother, she hopes for praise, hopes for pride.
But there is nothing.
“It is you duty,” Mia says later that night as she dyes the silk. “Your life belongs to the sea.”
A Pokemon battle flickers on the television in Nell’s dimly lit room. Outside, waves break against the shore, rough with storm winds. She rolls onto her stomach, the springs of her old mattress squeaking in protest.
It's a zangoose fighting a seviper, their trainers calling out attacks that they follow through fluidly. Zangoose makes long swipes at the serpent, but seviper winds its way across the battlefield to lash out with its tail.
Her eyes grow large. She’s never watched a battle before. The only pokemon she’s seen are the ones at the bottom of the ocean, and the linoone that hide in the bushes outside of her house.
There’s something graceful about the way the pokemon move, the connection between them and their trainer almost tangible. Her heart flutters. Would pokemon like her, she wonders, after stealing their treasures from them? She has never felt harmony with anything in her life, but especially not pokemon.
She shimmies closer, nearly falls off the bed as rain begins to drive down.
A storm blows through.
And then, static.
Her life is like this, she thinks.
The storm and then silence. A break in signal that, no matter how much she tries to fix, she can never get right.
Her mother pushes her from the cliff and she wants it this time - the dive, the sudden shock, and then the static.
The sea is quiet the day she runs away.
At thirteen, she gets off that island and onto the mainland. No more roadside stalls and sharpedo teeth, no more scraping by. Her mother wouldn’t miss her, she knows. Wouldn’t notice she’s gone until spring, when they harvest sea silk and Nell is not there to prove herself worthy to the great, yawning ocean.
This is her dream. A blurry, half-realized dream of becoming something more than a sea maiden with pearl-blue fingers and calloused hands.
She holds these hands outstretched before the professor, imagines the strings of pearls she used to drape across her palms, except now she begs for a mudkip.
“Mama told me to get one!” she tells the professor, rocking up on the tips of her toes. “To help me swim.”
The blue little beast hates her from the start.
She thinks he knows about how she sliced away silk, pillaged the ocean for her own survival. She thinks that maybe she deserves her first pokemon hating her.
Up a waterfall, there is a city of flowers, and in the city, she defeats the Elite Four.
Nell is only twenty. The youngest Champion in Hoenn history, but it doesn’t feel like the way she thought it would, back in her bed that night. There is no joy in fame, in interviews, in the pressure to do more, to achieve more.
The Champion disappears.
To the disappointment of everyone who had sunk sponsorships into her, who had seen her enter the Hall of Fame, who had been with her every step of the way. A rising star that does not crash and burn, but instead simmers out into nothing.
A Champion, dethroned.
She hadn't expected to get away with it, but hadn't expected the shame that came with it, either.
Without something to fight against, without training and battles and all that had kept her occupied for years, Nell grows listless. The sea that had once filled her up, now empties out to leave a husk of girl with sea silk hair.
What she wanted most in the world has left her tired, has left her empty-handed, as left her with nothing.
She turns up later in Unova.
A smuggling ring appears and it is only her duty to fight them, she thinks, and most especially, it is her duty to fight against Joshua Dale. A man she hates and fears, with a stolen Deino and an irritating smirk. Nell would do anything to bring him down.
It only follows that she falls in love with him, instead.
Like a lost puppy, she stays with him. Helps him save pokemon, learns from him, and for the first time in a long time, she feels that spark within her. The same one she had felt when she’d watched a battle for the first time, a fire burning underneath her.
He inspires her, and she hates it, that sea-spun thread she feels between them.
She’s brine and waves and heavy weight. She tells Joshua this, says he should jettison her now before it’s too late.
He marries her instead.
The ocean sings to her, even now.
It hums songs from her childhood in her mother’s voice, and she wakes in the night crying.
She's wrapped up in her husband’s arms, pokemon stretch across their legs, on the floor, in the house they built together. And still, there's a pain deep in her skin, through her bones.
This is better, she chants in her head as she attempts to sleep. She doesn’t belong to the sea anymore, not like she used to. She belongs here, where she is safe, where she is love.
But when she sews she remembers her mother, and she knows better than to think that she is anyone but a girl from the sea who longs to return.