I'll miss you, Danny, said the voice in Danny's head.
Danny jumped and looked around wildly, forgetting for a moment that his natu had been sitting quietly by his side for some time now.
In a few minutes you're going to tell me that you're leaving me here and taking that new natu instead, came Natu's telepathic reply. I just want you to know that I'll miss you.
Danny stared down at his pokémon, surprised. Natu's face was blank, as usual, and her eyes were fixed on the crumbling Ruins of Alph in front of them. For someone who was talking about missing people and being left behind, she certainly didn't seem too emotional about it. So Danny, too, tried to be cavalier when he replied, "Where'd you get that idea? I never said anything about leaving you here."
You aren't denying it.
He didn't know what to say to that, and he had to think for a moment before opening his mouth again. "I... I promised, though, Natu," he insisted at last, though he couldn't look at her when he said it. "When I caught you here I promised you that we were going to train together, you and me and my other pokémon, and that we were going to take the championship trophy home together, too. Remember?"
I do. It sounded exciting. I was looking forward to it. We trained so hard...
"Yeah," said Danny, nodding. He smiled as the recollections danced around his head: Natu's narrow victory over Morty's haunter, the time she'd gotten aprishake all over her face while fueling up for a Pokéathlon attempt, all running together into a blur of happy memories.
But there was something else in that blur, too, something unwanted whirling around with the haunter and the aprishake and that double battle where she and Quilava had done so brilliantly as a team. He could almost hear the conversation now, hear himself wondering aloud when Natu would be ready to evolve, hear her saying that she never would in her usual unconcerned monotone. He'd been concerned, though. Never evolve? What did that mean? That she didn't want to, or...?
No, she'd stated. The lack of feeling in her voice had nearly driven him crazy. I just never will. I can't. I see myself, many, many years from now, long after your championship, and I am still a natu. That's just the way it is.
Danny hadn't heard anything so preposterous in his life. A pokémon that couldn't evolve? That was nonsense, and anyway she had to because he needed a xatu for his championship team. If Natu really couldn't evolve... but no, he'd told himself, no, there was no way. They'd just go ask the nurse at the pokémon center. She'd be able to clear it up, and they could go back to training the way they'd always done...
...but sometimes that happens, the nurse had said, sometimes there are some pokémon that never evolve. If she saw it in her future then she's probably right, sorry. Sorry, like that would make up for the fact that he'd never have a xatu. She'd mentioned changing Natu's diet or taking her to some specialists, but that hadn't changed what Natu had seen. They tried all that and it hadn't changed the fact that Natu was never going to evolve and be what he really needed her to be.
Natu had seemed genuinely upset when he'd told her about his conversation with the nurse. He'd never understood why—hadn't she been the one who'd first told him?—but he'd tried to comfort her anyway, tried to lie to her and tell her it was okay even though she couldn't live up to the entire reason he'd meant to catch her.
"We're friends," Danny said, now determinedly looking at a vine encircling a scrawled unown instead of at his natu. "And we'll always be friends. But..." He paused to finger the new poké ball he'd hidden in his pocket. "But I need a xatu for the tournament, don't you understand? I need a xatu, and since you can't evolve that's why I had to go catch another natu, and, and— and you used to live here anyway, right, so it won't be that big a deal that I'm releasing you—"
...you're going to leave me here? Natu asked. Her mental voice was shaky, and Danny thought he could see something glistening in the corners of those wide, blank eyes.