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Shatter the Dark

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A knock on the door broke us from sleep. A few light taps echoed in the dead of night, followed by a quiet silence. After a few seconds, it began again.

"Ugh..."

The room was near black, illuminated only by the blinking blue light of the PC in standby mode. In the secluded darkness hollow raps on wood gently lulled Brie back to sleep beside me. The curtained window offered no light.

What time was it?

The knocking brought my attention back to the door.

"Coming..." Swinging my legs out from underneath the covers, I shifted out of Brie's grasp despite her sleepy complaints, grabbing a shirt as I went.

After a brief struggle in the dark, I fumbled to the door with my clothes half caught overhead, throwing it open to reveal an orange and cream Buizel standing beneath the dim hallway lights. I continued to fight the shirt. "Huh?"

She averted her eyes, chittering and pointing to Ben's room. Her unintelligible words fell on deaf ears.

Tugging the faded logo tee into place, I opened the door wider. "Uh... come inside for a minute."

She crept into the room with a grateful sigh, hopping up into the bed with minimal disturbance.

Turning on the screen of the pokédex and laying it face up lit enough of the room in a white glow. The clock read one in the morning.

"Hey Brie, wake up."

"Mmm." She curled further into the blankets. Should've known it'd take more effort than that.

"Brie."

"mwuh? I'm up, I'm up."

"Okay, you can speak now Flow."

The Buizel yipped a few times, pointing to Ben's room, then back to us with a hopeful twinkle in her big blue eyes. When she finished her speech, we both looked at Brie.

"Brie. Translation?"

"Mm. She said that... she said..."

She trailed off in thought, thinking of her next words. After a minute of silence, she snored.

"...Really?"

I shook her out of sleep.

"Brie! Wake up!"

"What! I said I'd do it... so... " She drifted off. Again.

"Yeah, but you're still asleep. I need you up."

She rubbed her eyes. "Fiiiiiiiine. Ben isn't sleeping or something and his light's keeping her up, so she wants to know if she can stay here tonight."

"Right. Thanks Brie, you're good now."

"Mm." She nestled back under the covers.

"Alright." I whispered. "Yeah, you can stay here. But we're going to bed. If you want to join us you can, there's enough room for you. You'll have to sleep on the other side, though." Brie, splayed out in her sleep, took up half the bed. To her left and right sat empty space, enough for each of us to sleep in.

Flow poked my side, face puckering into a small pout as she frowned at me.

"Okay, okay. If you need more room I can bring Brie over there with me. That whole side will be yours, that sound better?"

She shook her head, pointing at me as she wrapped her paws around my arm. Great.

"Alright, alright. I'll sleep in the center, you and Brie can both be next to me. Good?"

She nodded, cheeks puffing up into the smallest smile as her eyes squeezed shut. What a pain.

"Alright, I'll get Brie up."

- - -

Mornings suck. It's easy to see why I say that, me being the moonlight pokémon and all. It was so much more fun to stay up during the night, but sadly that didn't fit Shaun's schedule. I just had to tough it out. Being nocturnal makes the normal human sleep cycle hard to keep up with, but at least it's not impossible.

Every so often we found the time to switch it up. Shaun and I. We'd catch a nap at dawn, and a nap at dusk. Just enough sleep that we could stay up most of the day and part of the night. On those nights, when the moon looked its brightest in the sky and the stars were white drops of paint splattered across the black of night... those nights we were truly alive. And we'd sit. Sometimes talking, sometimes just being together.

I kind of miss it. Where'd those days go, honestly? It's been so long since we last did it.

I think I'll ask him to stay up tonight. For old times' sake.

- - -

A faraway voice barely reached my ears, way too sensitive for their own good. Even so, the pillow did wonders to muffle the irritating sound, offering short release from whatever vile thing threatened to ruin my morning.

"Brie, come on. You've got to get up."

"No."

The words bubbled out my throat, mumbled through sleep and the pillow clamped over my head. Through the haze my paw gripped tighter around Shaun, pulling him close. Except where Shaun's larger form usually slept struggled a much smaller, much more hairy body. By the time I'd realized Shaun was not the one squirming in my grasp, a full tuft of fur had lodged itself deep into my nostrils.

"Pft! Bleh!"

Shaun laughed at my sneezing and sniffling.

"I'd be a little more sympathetic if you weren't just trying to crush Flow in your sleep." He continued organizing containers on the desk, popping them open as the scent of cooked meat wafted through the room. "Now if you're done trying to kill her, I've got breakfast over here. You guys are hungry, right?"

Flow scowled in my direction for a few seconds with crossed arms before leaping off the bed to receive her food. "Hey, it's not my fault she was sleeping here! Besides, if you guys were up already she could've left before that happened! That's her fault, not mine. "

Shaun stirred at one of the meals, leaving it for a second as he lifted Flow up onto the chair to eat. He then sat down on the floor, peeling back the paper lid of his steaming foam cup. "First, stop deflecting blame. It makes you seem insecure. Second, she woke up after you. You crushed her awake when you didn't want to get up, so you're not getting any sympathy."

It wasn't worth disagreeing over, so the food captured my interest instead. "What is it?"

He blew into the cup as he stirred. "Steak. Rare, of course. You didn't want it seasoned, right?"

"Thanks. But... what are you eating?"

"Cup noodles."

"Why?"

Slurping from the plastic cup, he reached down and popped open the lid to my container. "They're cheap, and I like them."

A sideways glance was all I could muster. "Are you really rationing right now?"

"No, Brie. I'm trying to enjoy my food."

Ugh, why's he gotta be so difficult? "Just know that you don't have to do it all alone. We can all cut our spending with no problem."

"Right, I get it. Come on, eat."

Hoping he took my words to heart, I started on my food.

- - -

It wasn't something she should have concerned herself with. If I was content with how I'd spent my money, then there wasn't any real issue. Blowing on another fork full of noodles, I thought about the day.

One more cup for lunch. Two cups for dinner. That's easily achievable. At this rate, we'll have about three-thousand left to spend. We could save up for a TM, or nab one of the more useful held items. Maybe I could pick up one of those tray noodles, too.

My thoughts somehow had drifted back to noodles again.

Actually, maybe I'll eat two cups for lunch.

"Shaun."

And maybe another one for breakfast too.

A rough tongue dragging up the side of my neck shocked me back to Earth. "Gah!"

"I said 'What's the plan for today?' You there?"

"Oh. Right. I was thinking I'd have another cup for breakfast. Then I could just eat two for lunch and two for dinner."

She gave me a blank stare. "Uh... huh. I meant like what we were doing today, but I guess that works too."

"Wait, shit." Flow snickered in the background. "Right. So today we can probably get in a bit of warm up training before we take on Misty. I need to pick up a towel and some shampoo to bathe you with, it's been too long."

Flow barked a question.

"Yes, I'll bathe you too."

She quieted down.

"After that, we can take a break before doing some actual training. While we're at it, we can search for a new team member. Sound good?"

Brie scooched closer. "It's a date."

- - -

Green grass stretched out beneath us as we stood on the near empty hill. In the distance, a few trainers battled, a flash of fire lighting the air as a collared Arcanine chased down a circling Skarmory.

Ben and his pokémon stretched in the clearing. Magic, the Abra, hovered beside Flow and Rocco as Ben gave a rundown on their drills, bouncing in place.

"Has he slept yet?" Brie sauntered to my side, eyes glued to the young trainer.

"No idea. He doesn't seem tired, though."

Ben began with a chasing exercise, his pokémon using any moves necessary to either ensure capture as the predator, or to evade pursuit as prey.

"He's learning fast, isn't he?" She asked.

"Certainly. In no time at all he'll surpass us. Then again, we're not done growing either, are we?"

"Nope. Not even a little."

"Well then, let's get Buggsy and Slate out here. We've got a lot to prepare for."

She noticed the book in my hands. "Wait, are those strategy guides?" Her smile crumpled in disgust.

"To study during our breaks."

"Arceus, you're such a dork."

I laughed. "And you love it all the same. Now let's get moving."

So our training began. Stretching, jogging, dodging, and attacking through mock battles built up to the next part of our warm up: target practice.

"Aim for that branch this time." Over the course of half an hour we'd steadily crept to the treeline at the back of the park. The thick trunks and thin branches offered a variety of targets to practice on.

A few yards down, Brie huffed aloud. "I just can't get it! Why can't I get it?"

"Right, Buggsy. Just keep hitting those targets, focus on the center, we'll start on controlling the speed of each shot later." I turned to Brie, her head down and shoulders trembling. The short distance took a few seconds to close. She rubbed up against my leg, arching into my open hand as I massaged her back. "All right, Brie. What's wrong?"

She sniffled, sitting down. "I'm trying so hard, but I can't get it. Like it won't click. I can't hold the Psychic like before, it just... it just explodes on its own!"

I sat down too, hugging her tight. "Lie down a minute." She curled up beside me, laying her head onto my legs. "So... what did it feel like when you were maintaining that Psychic yesterday?"

"Well, at first I was just trying to hold it in until I was sure I could hit with it, then I moved it to where Flow would be when she jumped at me."

"But it didn't move. "

"I'm sure it did. I mean, it felt like it. Kind of like when I'm making it into a barrier..."

She looked off at the empty field beside us.

"Well, maybe you were moving it. Just outwards, instead of in a specific direction. If that makes sense."

She thought. "Like... how?"

"Well, when you tried using the Psychic, I noticed there were things being affected outside the sphere, getting pulled into it. Almost as though you were drawing in energy from the outside. So maybe just form the energy, but don't gather it together right away."

She hummed in thought.

"Let's try." She said.

She closed her eyes, face scrunched in concentration. A small bubble of Psychic energy formed, barely visible as it grew, before bursting.

"Damnit!"

I brushed through her fur. "Relax Brie, start off with creating it. Don't focus it anywhere yet."

"Ugh. Fine." She closed her eyes and sighed, a small ball of Psychic materializing in front of her. It frothed in the air for a few moments.

"That's it Brie, now loosen your hold on it."

After a few seconds, the Psychic expanded, crawling outwards in a slow, unsteady cloud.

"That feels weird..."

"Keep doing that, but now try condensing the loose bits after they form. Guide it, but don't force."

"Okay..."

The outer puffs of Psychic drew inwards, the energy balling up as it gathered into a current, flowing towards the center. After a second, the attack bloomed into a small shock wave, air gushing around in an explosive blast.

"You got it, Brie!"

"I did it! Arceus it's so hard to hold, though. This sucks..." She sighed.

"You've already managed to recreate the technique! All you've got to do is train the motions and you'll be able to hold it purely through muscle memory!"

"You... really think so?"

"I know so! Keep at it, you'll get it in no time." I patted her head, lifting her off my lap. "Now you keep practicing, I'm going to help Buggsy with his String Shot."

She smiled. "Thanks Pumpkin!"

"I swear, if you start calling me that..."

A pink tongue poked through her lips. "Too late! Besides, it's pretty cute."

"Yeah, but you also think rickety old buildings and pitch black alleys are cute, so-"

"Because they are!"

"My point exactly."

- - -

The scent of salt water carried through the city streets on the backs of boats (towed by trailer) , seafolk trekking through town with their fishing poles and tackle boxes, and the horde of Wingull flocking overhead. Salt filled the air, dry and humid and gross and grimy as it caked the dull buildings and the periodic street stands in a layer of crust. Cerulean carried a seasonal seaside vibe as the calm weather whispered of good fortune for many fisherman.

Ben pranced beside us on the oversized sidewalk. "Man, I gotta say: Fuck this place."

The cotton t-shirt clung to my body, dampened by spots of sweat. I tugged at the collar, finding little relief from the uncomfortable cloth."Chill out. You're running on fumes by now, and if you aren't careful you'll crash."

"I'm feeling fan-fucking-tastic! Dude, never been more alive over here!"

"You sound delusional and look half-dead, take better care of yourself."

Brie walked on my left, bristled by the dryness in her fur as little tufts of hair stayed just out of place. Flow, however, played with the natural lift in her fur, styling it into different shapes and patterns as she walked between Ben and me.

"Fuck off. I say I'm fine? That means I'm fine. No fine print, ya dig?"

Brie scoffed. "Sure thing, iron man. Whatever you say."

Of course. She just had to stoke the damned fire.

"And what's that supposed to mean, four legs?"

I sighed, cutting Brie off with a hand signal. The glare in her eye met my own resolve as we stared for a long moment. Eventually she relented.

"Fine." she muttered. With that issue resolved, we continued our walk in silence, sidestepping a particularly persistent street vendor. Just ahead loomed the Cerulean city gym, settled near the center of town.

"Right. You guys ready?" I glanced around at the others, getting affirmative nods and an excited bark in response. "Good, let's get this Cascade badge."

Through the double doors was a large lobby, surrounded by a body of water broken by a single walkway to the center of the gym, where a battlefield of earth and water waited. A few swimmers and their pokémon dotted the oversized pool, the obvious leader and lifeguard of the troupe swam around the outskirts at astounding speeds, a Golduck and Starmie on either side of her as her single orange pigtail dipped in and out of the water.

"That looks like Misty, come on. Let's hit the kiosk."

"Dude, way ahead of ya." By the time I realized he'd moved at all, he was halfway to the registration kiosk.

"Right. Well, he'll scout it out for us I guess."

Brie shook her head. "I doubt we'll see any of her strategies."

"Ben's team can definitely take her on, you know."

"Not what I meant, but sure."

Not what she meant?

Ben called out as he finished setting his appointment. "Y'all ready for a show?"

- - -

With a Light Screen to reduce Misty's special attacks and a few Calm Minds to further increase special defense and special attack, Magic swept through Misty's entire team.

Golduck?

Ate a single Shockwave, out like a light.

Starmie?

Two Shockwaves. Done for.

Vaporeon?

Shockwave. Recover. Shockwave again.

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Gyarados.

Gyarados who?

Gyarados has fainted.

Ben laughed at his easiest victory yet.

"Fuuuuucking swept!" he cheered, leaping side to side as he did a little jig. Misty, just barely tolerating Ben's victory dance, waited for his enthusiasm to die down before finally offering him the Cascade badge.

Brie and I sat on the sidelines. Scratching my head, I shrugged. "Right. So that was... pretty smart actually. Good setup, held strong with a clean sweep."

Brie chuckled. "Told you so. But... where'd he get those TMs?"

"He obviously... he used the, uh..."

Huh.

"I actually have no idea." I managed to stammer out.

"Hm. Our battle's next. Toxic?"

"Yep. I don't think we'll need the others for this one. Maybe later we can barter for that Calm Mind Ben's got."

"He might just share it?"

"Bullshit."

- - -

"Yeah, I gotchu fam. You can use it."

Shaun and I exchanged a glance, my thoughts ringing clear through my mind.

Called it. Should've backed out when you had the chance.

Our battle didn't take long and consisted of our usual strategy: Cripple the opponent with status conditions and stall until the chip damage took them down.

"Right. We can do this later, though."

"Earth to Shaun, you still there my dude?"

"Yeah, sorry. Talking with Brie."

"So do you want it or..." Ben clapped a hand over his head. "Shit, man! I forgot all about our fucking bet! "

"Congrats. You remembered. Any idea what you want or do we have to wait even longer?"

Ben just stood in silence.

After a minute of silence Shaun shifted his weight to his other foot. "Uh..."

"Wait, what was the bet again?"

Arceus, this'll take forever. "Hey Ben. " He looked over at me. "How high are you?"

He paused, a dazed expression glazed across his face. Then he giggled. Well, that answers it.

"Right." Shaun said, rubbing his brow. "We'll sort this out later, for now let's just use the TM." He picked the disc from Ben's hand, placing it into the pokédex disc reader.

A light beep played, the universal error sound.

"Incompatible? Really? But... but Brie can learn Psychic! How can she not learn Calm Mind!? "

"Maybe cause she's too hot headed!" Ben laughed.

"That's disappointing." Shaun ejected the disc. "Here. Thanks anyways. If you want, I've still got that Psychic TM on hand. You want it?"

"Shit, man, that'd be sick!"

"Quid pro quo."

"No clue what that means, but thanks. You too, fam." He snatched the disc, jamming it into his own pokédex. "And now for the magic!"

Another beep in response.

"Disc can't be read? I think your shit's broken my dude. Ah, fuck it. I'll just order one online."

"Online?"

"Yeah, you can get all kinds of shit online if you know where to find it."

"You mean like one of those seller sites?"

"No, man. Like, an online black market, ya know?"

"No. I don't."

"Jeez, man. You're behind on the times. Look, you see this?" He swung the bag off his shoulder, rooting through it before lifting a small plastic device out. "Ya know what this is?"

"Yeah, a flash drive."

A what?

Hey Shaun, what's a flash drive?

"It's like a portable memory stick. You store photos, text, and software on it. When plugged into a computer you can transfer files through it.

"-got a VPN on it to use with the app, and you've got untraceable access to the darker shit on the net. Drugs, body guards, mercenaries, all kinds of shit on there. Hell, you got enough cash on ya and you got yourself a hitman for hire."

"Sounds... sketchy."

"It is, but I mean, how else can ya get this shit so easy."

"Right. Well, if you see something you think I'd like, let me know. I'll buy it off of you."

"Yeah man, don't worry. I don't fuck over my friends. You want something? You get what I payed for it."

"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks, though. I appreciate it."

"Hey man, squid pro quote."

Shaun sighed, almost unnoticeable. "Quid pro quo. You do something for me, I do something for you."

"Aight man. I gotcha."

The grumble of my stomach changed the subject real fast. "Hey Shaun?"

"Yeah, we can get some food. You hungry, Ben?"

"Nah. Not really." Flow yipped at him. "But my pokémon sure are."

"Pokémon Center?"

"Whatever you say my dude."

- - -

All together we took up two tables, Shaun, Slate and I sitting on one side of the booth, Ben and Flow on the other. Buggsy, Rocco, and Magic chittered amongst themselves at the adjacent table. Amongst us waited plates of pokémon meal, not as tasty as steak but still good in its own way. I dug into the soft brown meal pellets, occasionally sipping some Iapapa juice through a straw.

Ben's normally obnoxious chewing was almost inaudible as he stole a few small bites of his burger before downing a large glass of water.

"Ben, you really should eat something. You're starving yourself." Shaun said.

"I'm not hungry."

The background chatter of the surprisingly packed pokémon center forced us to speak louder than usual.

"If you aren't feeling well, we can take a day or two off you know. Keep pushing yourself like this, and your body will screw you over."

"Thanks, professor, but I know my own limits."

Shaun glared at him. "Look, I'm not saying this because I'm monitoring you, I'm saying this because I'm genuinely worried. You ruin yourself, you'll become a liability. Brie, Rocco, and I. Everybody here. We're counting on you, and if you fall apart in a bad situation..." He trailed off. "You're not the only person you're affecting."

Flow looked up at Ben, nuzzling into his arm. "You're hurting yourself..." she whispered.

"Ben," I said, "We all care. Please just..."

"You're acting like I'm trying to kill myself." He lifted his beanie, scratching his scalp before settling the cloth back on his head. "If I say I'm good, then I'm good. Got it?"

"You're being weird! I don't know if something happened, but you can tell us."

"I'm not hungry, that's all it is."

This isn't working.

Shaun stepped in. "But you usually eat the-"

"Shaun." I cut him off. "Let it go."

He sighed. "Fine."

In the background, a young teen stepped up to the microphone, a Pachirisu curled on his shoulder. In his arms he carried an acoustic guitar, comically large next to the boy's small body. "Suh, dudes. My name's Chase, and I beatbox."

Beatbox? "Shaun, what's a beatbox?"

"He makes sounds with his mouth or something."

"Does it... does that even sound good?"

"I don't know. It's just something I've heard of."

Chase cleared his throat, brushing the short black hair out of his eyes. Into the mic, he clicked a few times. "Shout-out ta all my fans. If ya like what I do, you can support me on my official website, we've got all kinds a merchandise: keychains, clothes, poster prints." He pointed a finger towards the crowd. "Now without further ado, let the show..."

His voice dropped to a low, gravelly tone. "Begin."

Impressive would've been an understatement, whatever deal this kid made with Giratina transformed his voice box from a simple tool to an instrument, heavy thump of drums, gritty bass, the buzz of synth and static claps, somehow made all with his mouth. And along with it, the unsettling strum of guitar chords added an odd, dark backdrop of acoustics. I looked around for a camera, it had to be a prank. No way could he do all that alone. Yet his voice, imperfect, yeah, but still pretty good, just barely broke with each kick of the drum. Arceus, this guy was the real deal.

Shaun looked as surprised as I felt, Flow and Rocco sharing a similar expression. Ben pumped his first, he looked ready for a rave.

"Whoo!" he screamed.

The shrill sound pierced my ears. "Arceus, Ben. Sit down! Don't ruin the show."

"Dude, I am fucking jamming out right now! This shit's so sick, he needs to go to a hospital!"

"Yeah? Could've worded it better, but whatever. Like maybe a four out of ten."

"Oh shut it."

The performance came to a close as Chase finished his rendition of 'Hit the road, Jack'. The applause roared like a tram car, loud and ugly and enthusiastic as the onlookers cheered for their local talent.

"Feel free to check out my shows at-" his voice dulled to a buzz as we settled back to our original conversation. A light bark stole my attention as Flow grabbed my paw. "Brie? Can we talk?"

"Sure, what's up?"

"I don't want them to hear..." She looked around at the others.

"Is it that important?" She nodded. "Fine. Shaun!"

"Huh?"

"Card, please. Me and Flow are going back to the room for a few."

"Oh. Uh... right. Here. You going to be alright?"

"We'll be fine." I gripped the card in my teeth, handing it to Flow. "You'd think they'd make these things for pokémon too. It sucks to have no pockets."

She tilted her head. "I think they do... I've, um, I've seen other pokémon with a card around their necks. Oh, and if you, uh, need a bag they probably have those too. So you can carry things." We walked to the back of the Pokémon Center, weaving through the crowd as we reached the back hallway.

"We should check it out." I said. "What color bag would you get?"

She thought as we walked, eventually stopping near the end of the hall. In front stood two tall metal doors, a simple control panel to its right. Flow hit the elevator button with the up arrow on it.

"Um, I really like brown. Like a light brown really, like my fur."

"So you'd choose beige?"

"That's the color on my chest, right?"

I nodded.

"Then yes. Well, that or maybe even a regular brown. What color would you pick?"

"I dunno, there's too many to choose from. If I could, though... I'd pick either blue or purple. Both would go well with my fur."

She snorted, holding back a laugh. "That would look pretty cute on you."

The elevator dinged as a few trainers and one Raichu - a nylon lanyard draped around its neck and a key card dangling from the end of the cord - stepped out of the open doors. We entered and pressed the button for our floor, a few other trainers climbing into the elevator with us.

"And we need to see about those bags, too. It'd be way easier if..." I tapered off, words falling flat as the other passengers gawked at me. "What?"

A girl who looked to be about Chase's age pulled out a cell phone. "This is so awesome! Hold on, I've got to record this." She played with the screen for a few seconds before waggling a finger in my direction, kissing at the air a few times. "Come on, sweetie! Say hi to the camera."

Flow fidgeted, inching closer to me. I shook my head, "Arceus, you're a bitch." My snide grin stretched wider. "No offense, of course, sweetie!"

The shock smeared across her face was sickeningly sweet. I pushed past her, aiming for the opening doors of the elevator.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude like that. It's just that you don'tseetalkingpokémo-" She spoke in rapid succession as the closing doors suddenly silenced her voice.

My short lived victory suddenly felt a lot less satisfying. "...I'm the real bitch, aren't I?"

"It's okay, I think she forgives you." Flow froze. "Did you make a joke just now?"

"You'll get used to it."

She giggled, light and soft, almost dainty. "I can't wait." She jumped ahead, waving the card in front of the door. "It's... not working..."

"Try putting it in front of that metal thing."

She moved it over to the small black rectangle beside the door, it's normally red light blinking green as the lock clicked open.

"Oh." She struggled with the door before finally holding it open, gesturing for me to enter. "You first."

I stepped inside. "Thanks Flow."

She bounced with glee as she followed. "You're welcome!"

Jumping onto the bed, I patted the spot beside me. "So what's up?"

She hopped up beside me, plucking at the fur on her paws. "Um..."

"..."

"Well, um, how do I say this..."

"You just say it. Like, that's it. Don't think about it or it'll never come out."

"Oh... um, okay. You won't get mad, will you?"

"Look, I dunno. I'll try not to."

"Oh."

Quiet filled the room, Flow's breath heavy as she stumbled over her words.

"Um... I-I-" she stammered, "I really like you guys."

"Oookay...?"

"No, like... like really like y-you guys."

"... and?"

She buried her face in her paws. "You aren't getting it."

"Yeah, I get it. You've got a thing for Shaun. Like, it's really obvious."

She peeked out from between her paws. "Not just Shaun, um..."

"Okay. You've got a thing for me too. That it?"

"No, wait... For that bet, I was wondering if... um... If I could maybe...?"

Arceus it was like trying to beat words out of a mute. Basically impossible.

"You want to join us sometime?"

She nodded. Finally.

"Yeah." I said. "I don't any problem with that. Honestly, I think it'd be fun. Does Ben know you want this yet?"

She shook her head. "No... not yet."

"Great. We'll bring it up when we get back." I stood, stretching my limbs out. "That all?"

"Yeah. Um... Brie?" She grinned, a small blush forming beneath her facial fur. "Thank you."

The bed shifted beneath me as I leapt to the floor. "Don't worry about it."

- - -

"Dude, I swear it on my life, I'm like a fucking Greninja."

"Right. I call bullshit." Ben and I had been arguing ever since Brie and Flow left.

"Look, I'd do it right now but we've got no room to flip."

"You're just making excuses at this point."

An unfamiliar voice joined in on the conversation. "Ooh, I'd love ta see this."

Ben and I looked over to see Chase lean up against the booth seat, arms crossed and an eyebrow cocked in anticipation. A small Pachirisu peeked around his shoulders. "I'm Chase, by the way, if ya didn't catch it the first time."

"Right. Guess we should introduce ourselves." The plush seat creaked from below as I turned to offer him my hand. "I'm Shaun. That was a great show you put on out there. Absolutely amazing."

"Thanks, mate."

"I'm Ben!" Ben reached over to clap him on the shoulder, using just a little too much force. Chase shifted his leg, standing upright against the excessive push. His Pachirisu nearly fell off, clutching at the shirt as Chase reached over to lift his companion back up onto his shoulder. Finished helping, Chase closed his eyes and sighed. Ben payed no notice. "You smoke?" He asked.

"Ben!" I yelled.

"Yeah, I smoke sometimes."

Somehow the words dumbfounded me. This kid was younger than Ben, how could he possibly smoke!?

"Great, wanna light up? I'll smoke you out."

"Cool. Lemme grab my stuff, first." He pushed off the wall, turning to the curved desk of the pokémon center.

"Ben!" The words came out in a hushed whisper.

"What!" He imitated my tone.

"You can't just invite random people over! We don't even know him."

"Dude, he seemed pretty chill, something you wouldn't know. If we need to fight, we can take him. Easy."

"If he's planning to rob us, he's figured that out already. We'll need a plan... denying him now would be too suspicious."

"All right detective, sit the fuck down. He's a kid. If we each have one of our pokémon, then there's no problem."

"Fine. Right. Whatever. But when shit hits the fan, guess who's saying 'I told you so'?"

He shrugged. Chase returned a moment after.

"Ready?" He asked. "We gettin' fucked or nah?"

Arceus now there's two of them.

- - -

We ran into Flow and Brie halfway down the hall, briefing them on the situation as we walked. The two exchanged a glance and a few quiet mumbles. Girl gossip, I'd assumed. It didn't take long to arrive at Ben's room, a couple doors down from my own.

Ben pulled the door a bit, stepping to its inside before shoving if the rest of the way opened. He sauntered in while Chase, Flow, and Brie followed after. Last in the pack, I grabbed the heavy hotel door handle, guiding it closed with minimal impact.

"Shaun, dude. What're you even doing?" Ben's voice.

"Being quiet?"

"It's four in the afternoon."

"The doors are weighty. I'm trying not to disturb the whole floor."

"Just sit down, man. We're starting without you."

Brie looked back, patting the floor beside her.

"Right, I'm coming."

"Left, that's you." Ben said. "You're up, mate." He held out the glass bowl, passing it into my right hand. He picked up the lighter, tossing it deftly into my empty left palm. "Nice catch."

"All you." I said. "Good throw."

"Still caught it, though. Some people can't even do that."

Brie laughed. "Likely 'cause we don't have hands."

"No need, my dude. Anyone can catch if they try hard enough."

"What about a Voltorb? That seems-" they droned off in pleasant chatter as I fixed upon the little pipe in my hand. The flick of the lighter bathed the plant matter in a deep orange glow, embers from a gateway to a cozier place. Someplace warm, calm.

I lit the bowl, the crackle of firecrackers bursting bright as the bud burned. Out the corner of my eye, Chase watched Brie with odd fascination. Try anything and you're dead, kid or not.

After the heavy pull came the exhale, broken by a deep, throaty cough. Never does go away, I guessed. "Ooh. Fuck. That hurts."

Chase shifted his focus, clapping his hands together as he turned to me. "Dude, ya know that sound ya just made?"

I cleared my throat, head clouding up as the bud hit work full force. "You mean coughing?"

"No, that deep rattlin' sound ya get aff'ta coughin'."

"...Huh?"

"Just, neva'mind. It's a start to a beatboxin' sound, just somethin' I thought ya'd find neat."

"No, yeah. That's pretty cool. I didn't realize that."

His face betrayed no emotion, but he stared at me nonetheless. The Pachirisu perched on his shoulder patted at his cheeks as it chittered. The fuck did I do?

Brie climbed into my lap, pressing up under my chin and redirecting all my attention to her instead.

"Hey, Brie. You need something?"

"You," she purred, "That's what I need."

Chase chuckled. "There somethin' I should know here?"

"Yeah," Brie said, "He's mine."

Damnit, Brie! You don't need to tell everybody!

Chase paused, as though unsure as to whether or not she was joking or not. Unfortunately, Ben confirmed his suspicions.

"Yeah, they're fucking."

Steam must've been pouring out my ears by that point. "You dense asshole! You don't just tell people that!"

"Dude, if you'd just played along we could've passed it off as a joke. So... congratulations. You played yourself."

"Eat a dick."

Chase sighed, stepping in. "I dun' care what'cha do, mate. Ya live your life, I'll live mine." He then drew out a pokéball, looking around the room. "You guys care if I let out one of mine?"

Ben glanced over, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah." I said. "Go for it." I tapped Brie, whispering the word "Care" under my breath. She nodded, nowhere near as uneasy as I felt. A two on two, eh? Well, we weren't going down without a fight.

"Aight." Chase said. In a brief flash of light he released his pokémon, a fluffy snow-white fox emerging. Curly tail wisps flicked in anticipation as the Vulpix looked around the room with a curious expression. Chase scooped it up, twirling the small white and blue fox around in his arms. "Fluffykins!"

Brie batted at my chest, snickering. "Oh, Pumpkin. That's what you were scared of?"

"Hush, Brie."

Chase set down his pokémon, reaching into his bag for a second before pulling out a square brush. He clicked his tongue. "Here Fluff." The Alolan Vulpix stretched out beside him as he began brushing, scratching under its chin at the same time.

Ben laughed. "Dude, that is so fucking gay."

"Groomin' my pokémon's gay now? Thanks for the heads up, fag." He looked over at me. "You dun' groom her?"

"I... uh..." It was hard to think. "I mean, I pet her. Like, comb with my hands."

Brie looked up in disgust. "You lying cheat! I demand groomies!" She giggled, tone shifting to a playful beg. "Please?"

"Right. Um... sure." I looked around the room. "Hey Chase. Can I borrow a brush?"

"Sure thin', mate. Lemme just grab one from my bag." He stopped his own grooming to sift through his things before lifting out a puffy, rounded brush. He pulled a few stray hairs out before handing it over. "You're cleanin' it aff'ta, though."

"Right." Brie splayed out in my lap, face down as I began, working my way from head to tail.

"Oof, you closeted or something, Shaun?" Ben asked. Flow pushed him, yipping in annoyance.

"Jesus Ben, when'd you become homophobic?"

"I mean like, not gay like that. That part was a joke. I mean like gay as in faggot kind of gay. Like 'Damn, dude, that's pretty fucking gay!' Not like 'You like dudes' kind of gay."

"You sound like an idiot."

"And you sound gay."

Chase put down his brush, reaching into his bag for a metal comb. "Ben, do ya just not care for your pokémon or somethin'?"

"Dude, I care for 'em all the time. I give them all the love they need, brushing them just seems like too much." He jammed a thumb in my direction as he packed himself a third bowl. "Besides, he doesn't do it either. Why you getting on my back about it."

"Cause you're callin' it gay like it's a bad thing. He's at least doin' somethin' now. Bett'a late then nevv'a. Look, in Alola we basically pride ourselfs on the bond with our pokémon, that's why our trials are all about Z Crystals. You haff'ta have a strong bond to use 'em."

"Wait..." Brie said. "Alola?"

"Yep. That's where I'm from. Story for anoth' a day, though. What I wanna know is where ya learned ta talk, though."

"It wasn't like easy or anything, but I just really wanted to talk to him." She reached a paw up to stroke my arm. "It just seemed stupid to not talk to your best friend. So I kept trying and trying. I mean, I already knew the language. I just had to figure out how to make the sounds."

"Cute story." Chase took the bowl from Ben as he passed it. "So how'd you meet?"

"I was the family pet, but Shaun was my favorite."

"Hm. You're staying at a Pokémon Center, though. You guys live on the road or something?"

I cleared my throat. "Yeah, we're currently traveling. Have been for a little over a month. You see, Ben here got screwed when they ran out of starter pokémon. So they decided to try something new by taking a pokémon from a different region and giving it to him as a starter. I'm tagging along to help, and to keep an eye on their progress."

Chase nodded. "Sounds legit. You guy's miss home yet?"

Ben laughed. "I dunno about them, but I don't."

Brie rolled over as I finished brushing her backside. "Belly rubs, Pumpkin."

"Please stop calling me that."

She grinned, toothy and wide. "Never!"

Ugh.

She laughed, peering over at Chase as she covered her more... revealing bits with her tail. "I mean, we don't really have much of a home to miss."

He sighed. "Yeah, I get it mate. Dun' worry about it."

"I mean, since we left home, we just stayed in a Pokémon Center. These places are basically home to us by now."

"Brie." I nudged her.

"What? It's not like saying it's gonna hurt anything, and they'll find out eventually."

"Look, just... Fine."

"You're being paranoid, Shaun."

Ben took the bowl, bringing it over to Brie. "It happens when some people smoke. Now sit up, or I can't get you lit."

"No, I meant like all the time."

"Brie." I said.

She took a rip from the pipe, blowing out a huge cloud of smoke. Somehow, she only let loose a few short coughs. "He doesn't trust anybody. Except me. Right Pumpkin?"

"Brie, I'm serious."

"Me too. It's your turn."

Picking out the hair from the brush, I handed it back to Chase before taking hold of the glass bowl once again, a soothing constant in an otherwise uncertain world. Brie sat up against me, batting her eyes. For whatever odd reason, she looked way too far away to be leaning right up against me.

"Don't give me that." I joked, flicking the lighter and starting on my next hit as I did. Whatever this stuff was, it felt stronger than I'd remembered.

"Love you too, Shaun." She waited for my coughing to die down before leaning up to plant a peck on my lips.

Chase shrugged. "You two make a cute couple, y'know?"

Brie winked at me. "Of course I know it. Now you just need to convince him-" she pawed at my chest, "of that!"

I shook my head, handing the glass pipe back to Ben. "Hey, I believe it. It's just... not everybody's going to think that too."

"A problem for another day." She smiled.

"So." Chase said. "Pokémon Centers?"

"Yeah!" Brie replied. "The manager of the Viridian Pokémon Center liked me and Shaun. In exchange for working there, we got a discount on the room."

Ben guffawed. "Shaun was a fucking nurse? Dude, that's hilarious!"

"I wasn't a nurse, dickweed. I was in charge of stocking. Resupplies, ordering products, etcetera."

"Plus," Brie continued, "People really liked seeing a talking Pokémon. We were kind of like mini celebrities there."

Chase nodded, cleaning off his comb and brush before placing them back in his bag. "So like, what happened before that?" Fluff scampered over to Brie, sniffing at her. They spoke a few quiet words.

"That's private." I said.

"No worries, mate. Sore subject, I feel ya."

Brie squinted around, fixing her eyes on Ben and the bowl in his hands. "Not sore," she said, "just not something we bother talking about. It's like an 'us' kind of thing. So, we doing another round, Ben?"

"For sure, Breebie."

"Wonderful."

The room looked particularly clouded, and almost certainly smelled. Thankfully, the heavy hotel door did a good job containing the scent. It wasn't illegal, but the Pokémon Center had a strict 'No smoking' policy, for good reason and we didn't want to get thrown out just yet.

As we talked, the bright colors of the room melded together. The increased depth and contrast of the tilting world around us offering a strange, out of body kind of feeling. Arceus, I could feel my intelligence faltering with each passing second.

Chase zipped up his bag. "I should prolly head out in a few. It's Sunday, right? The Celadon railway will stop runnin' earlier than usual."

"Dude, don't worry about it. You can stay over tonight. But... Flow doesn't really like to be in her pokéball-" she barked in confirmation. "So Shaun, could you take her tonight?"

"Right, sure. This all work for you, Chase?"

"That's cool with me. I've got nowhere to be."

Brie stifled her laughter. "That rhymed perfectly!"

As I stood up, she shuffled out of my arms, calling Ben aside for a brief moment while I gathered my things. Shouldering my bag, I pulled our Brie's luxury ball, just rolling it around my hands. "I'm gonna go put my stuff away. I'll see you guys in a a couple of minutes."

Brie looked back. "Wait in the room for me, Shaun."

"Alright, I'll leave the door open."

- - -

Buggsy squeaked beneath my touch, relishing the attention. His eyes burned particularly red that night, bright like rubies and foreboding like blood in the secluded room. Out the window, clouds gathered, dark and gray and dreary. A hushed patter of rainfall tapped the window, dripping down in a slow torrent. It looked as though the sky itself were crying, tears of heaven splattering against the hard asphalt below.

"Sorry we couldn't get more training in today. I know you were looking forward to it."

Buggsy squeaked, as if to say it was okay.

"We'll work at it again tomorrow. If the rain let's up, of course." I looked over at him, still and silent as his dark red eyes bore through me with a soft sadness. "I promise, we'll get in some more practice before we take on the Saffron City gym. You're a Bug type, so you'll be a force to reckon with."

Buggsy blinked, wobbling on the silk legs of his cocoon as he plodded across the bed to his pokéball, nudging it. I picked it up, looking back at the storm outside. It did nothing to appease my growing unease. It was probably just the high that screwed with my sanity. Nothing to worry about. But even so, the world looked cold and cruel that evening.

"Tomorrow. I promise."

- - -

Shortly after returning Buggsy back to his pokéball, Brie sauntered in, hips swaying in that telltale fashion of hers. Figured. But then... Flow stepped in a moment later, fighting with the door behind her.

"So... uh..."

"She's cashing in the bet."

"...Hm?"

"I said she's cashing in the bet."

"...Hm?"

Brie sighed, slapping a paw to her head. "She's joining us tonight."

"Right." It took a moment for my way to high mind to register what she just said. "Wait wait wait. Hold up."

"Something the matter?"

The back of my neck felt way too itchy all of a sudden. I scratched at the spot, avoiding Brie's gaze. "I'm... uh. I'm not comfortable with this."

"Shaun, look at me for a moment."

With a hesitant sigh, I looked up at her. Big wide cyan eyes begged back. Damnit, of course she would. "You trust me, right?

" Um..."

"Don't lie."

"Fine. I trust you."

"And you know if you like really, and I mean really, don't feel comfortable, we'll stop at any point, yes?"

"... Right."

"So are you willing to try it? For me?"

My mind was running too fast to form a coherent thought, so I just did what I always did. "Okay..."

I rolled with it.

She grinned wide, her muzzle pulling a little too wide in an uncanny grin. "You'll like it, I swear. Flow, come on up here-"

"Wait wait! Can we go slow... at least?"

"That'd probably be best for the both of you."

The both of us? Flow took a few short strides forward, eyes peeking over the paws she covered her face with.

Brie stepped back over to Flow, nudging her closer. "Don't be shy."

Flow blushed, trying harder to cover her embarrassment as she clambered up onto the edge of the bed. She crossed her arms, trying to smile as she stumbled forward. Her gentle demeanor, a far cry from Brie's dominant personality, pushed me to offer her my hand. "Here."

"Arceus, you're both so timid." Brie laughed. "Shaun, pants."

My eyes bulged, somehow stuck in their sockets despite all odds. "I thought you said we were going slow!"

"We are. Now, pants."

"I meant slower than this."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine, if you want to wade in first, I won't throw you off the deep end. At least take off your shirt, though."

"Okay, that I can do." Fumbling with my shirt, I pulled it over my damn head. "Is the door locked?"

"It's automatic."

Right. I forgot.

"Of course you did."

Not even safe in my own head anymore...

She laughed, the feeling echoing through my skull. "Flow, climb on his chest."

Flow looked uncertain. She reached over with a paw, but paused as she leaned against me.

"Here. " I said, guiding her until she straddled my stomach.

Brie placed a paw on the back of Flow's head, pressing her forward. "Arceus, just kiss already. You know you want it."

Flow offered little more than a yelp and a half-hearted struggle before she succumbed to the closed mouth kiss, just resting her lips against mine. Brie layed down atop my legs.

Whatever happened down there, Flow suddenly shivered, opening her mouth to pant and granting me entrance to a deeper kiss. An offer that I took with no hesitation.

"Use your hands, Shaun. Oh, and Flow?"

Flow wriggled in response.

"Close your eyes. You're in for a ride tonight."

- - -

"Chase!" Since there was no way I could open it myself, I just had to knock instead.

Ben opened the door, peering down at me. "How'd it go?"

"Oh, it was awesome. So we-"

From the room, Chase yelled out. "I dun' wanna hear this shit! Keep it in closed doors, mate."

"Okay! Arceus! Oh, can we borrow your brush, though?"

"Yeah, go for it."

"Thanks, we just need it for-"

"Dun' need ta know. Just keep it." He sighed.

"We'll get you a new one, 'kay? See you tomorrow!"

I turned back, catching a snippet of conversation as I left.

"Should I be worryin' about my pokémon too?" Chase joked. The voice was muffled, but definitely his.

"I dunno, man. You've got 'em in there, right? Ask them, not me."