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Appraise Me

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On a trek from the North Italian Plain to the edge of Mount Vesuvius, the Pokémon had come to her. At first she only encountered one or two small Vulpixs, the odd Ponyta here or there. But as the hours and miles slipped through her fingers, her fiery creatures began to light up the horizon. When she wound her way around the delicious-smelling lanes of Bologna, there was a Ninetales preening itself on every corner. Magmars and Arcanines came to her among the monuments, churches and relics of Florence, while crowds of novice trainers tried, unsuccessfully, to capture them with their tiny, basic Pokéballs. The grandeur of Rome brought a majestic Rapidash spewing out lashings of fire from its elegant mane. And Naples seemed to attract flocks of flying Charizards, who danced oblivious above the chaotic back streets.

Then, as if by magic, she was at the foot of the volcano. Looking up at the mighty mountain of lava, she caught sight of the god-like bird perched on top of its summit. Determined to capture the creature, she began to tackle the climb. But the higher she went, the louder the background noise became. At first she mistook the noise for the hoof-beats of her loyal Flareon, running steadily beside her. Alas, just as the tips of the wings of Moltres were coming into reach, the thunder came roaring down upon her head...

THUUUUD!

‘What the hell is that?’ groaned Candela into her pillow. She was stranded in the painful place between sleeping and waking. And not at all pleased at being so rudely disturbed. ‘Surely Spark hasn’t let his Jolteon loose again?’ she pondered fuzzily, still confused by the strange noises that were coming out of the bathroom.

SHHHWAAAAACK!

She rolled over in the large bed that was built for three, reaching for her friends. But she could only feel Blanche’s lithe form by her side. ‘Seriously, if we have another explosion in there...’ she muttered, mutinously. ‘For the last time, when is he going to learn that Jolteons and water do not mix?’ Failing to get any response, she raised her voice a little louder. ‘Blanche, do you hear that?’

‘Mmmmmm.’

Blanche rolled away from Candela, pulling the duvet up around themself. A cacophony of clanging and banging noises continued to come from the washroom.

THWICK-BANG-WALLOP-SWISSSSSH!

‘Seriously, what’s Spark doing in there?’ Candela huffed, almost shouting. ‘A herd of Rhydons would make less noise using the bathroom. And his look definitely doesn’t require this much grooming.’

‘Go back to sleep,’ Blanche coaxed, now fully awake. ‘You’ve got an early start at the Pokémon Center tomorrow.’

‘Yes. But. What is he doing?’

‘It’s probably for the best that we don’t know,’ murmured Blanche, lightly stroking Candela’s back. Not many people were able to detect when Blanche was making a joke, but, even through sleep-muddled eyes, Candela could pick out the ever-so-slight curl of the lip that gave it away. ‘If he catches the night-blindness the Zubats and Ghastlys will have an easy time of it,’ muttered the leader of Team Mystic, deadpan. ‘And if his skin turns yellow it will match his team colours.’

Blanche moved their hands up Candela’s spine, proceeding to knead their lover’s tense shoulders. They knew from the rise and fall of Candela’s ribs that she was suppressing her laughter. ‘Hush now,’ Blanche instructed in their best schoolteacher voice.

Blanche continued to knead but it was no longer necessary; Candela’s eyelids had already begun to droop and her breathing had already become deeper and more regular. ‘Just get some rest,’ the mystic instructed softly as Candela drifted back to sleep.

~o~

CRAAAASH!

Just five minutes had passed and Candela was wide awake, again. Wide awake and furious. She sat bolt upright in bed, ready to drag Spark out of the bathroom and back into bed with her own bare hands if necessary. Blanche placed a calming hand on her arm. ‘Listen.’

The words coming from the bathroom weren’t distinct enough to make out, but there was definitely something going on.

‘Is he talking to himself again?’ Candela asked, rolling her eyes indulgently.

‘I think—I think he’s got someone in there.’

‘Someone? Like, a girl?’ Candela pulled herself out of bed, her silk, scarlet camisole glistening in the moonlight. Blanche was right behind her, pushing their sleeping mask back on top of their head and pulling on their practical blue and white button-down pyjamas. Candela took an empty water glass from the night stand and eyed it mischievously. Like a pair of naughty schoolchildren the two of them set the tumbler against the bathroom wall, taking it in turns to press their ear against the bottom.

‘Overall, you look like you can battle with the best of them!’ came Spark’s muffled voice through the bottom of the glass.

Candela stifled a giggle, passing the tumbler to Blanche. Impatient for her turn, she peered through the key hole where she saw Spark standing in front of the bathroom mirror, flexing his biceps self-consciously. He looked totally stressed out and the yellow vest he slept in was covered in sweat.

‘Your stats are about the best I’ve ever seen! No doubt about it!’ Spark began again, loud enough for them both to hear. ‘You’re just HUGE!’

Unable to contain herself any longer, Candela collapsed in a heap of giggles. Blanche fell down laughing right next to her, accidentally allowing the empty glass to fall from their hand and roll across the floor.

‘Hey!’ Spark was red in the face, his damp hair flopping wildly over his eyes as he kicked the bathroom door open. He eyed the guilty item of glassware suspiciously. ‘Were you guys spying on me?’

Blanche was the quicker of the two to recover. ‘We just wanted to check that you were okay. You seemed to be in there a long time.’

‘With this?’ Spark waved the glass aloft, his other hand planted squarely on his hip. ‘As it happens I was practising my Pokémon appraisals,’ he added, blushing. His bottom lip protruded so far out that someone could have turned it into a couch. ‘Some of us take our duties seriously y’know.’

Before any more could be said, Candela dashed back towards the bed, throwing herself under the covers to hide. Spark backed into the bathroom again, slamming the door behind him. A few seconds later, the downstairs neighbour began to beat on their ceiling with a sweeping brush. ‘HEY! Keep it down up there!’

‘Just a typical morning, I guess,’ sighed Blanche with a serene smile. They calmly smoothed down their pyjamas and tidied their hair.

~o~

Ten minutes had passed before Spark had quit sulking and decided to come back to bed.

‘I’m sorry,’ admitted Candela, shamefaced, as she pulled her head up from under the duvet, her mop of dark hair sticking up all over the place.

‘I’m sorry too,’ said Blanche evenly. ‘We shouldn’t have been listening in on you.’

‘ ’s alright,’ Spark conceded, finally letting his sulky face give way to a smile.

‘You know, we all need to practice our appraisal technique sometimes,’ Blanche began in a comforting tone. ‘I prefer to go for something a little more formal myself.’ They snaked their arm around Spark’s shoulders, drawing his boyish face against their chest. ‘Overall, you’re a wonder! What a breathtaking thing!’ Blanche chanted, smiling. ‘Your stats have certainly exceeded my calculations. Incredible!’

Spark couldn’t help but grin at that.

‘I could use some extra practice too,’ Candela chipped in. ‘Overall, you simply amaze me,’ she began, fingering a strand of Spark’s loose, messy hair. ‘You can accomplish anything!’

Spark puffed up his chest, raising his chin a little higher.

‘I’m blown away by your stats. WOW!’ Candela continued. She illustrated her words by pulling her two lovers into a tight embrace and kissing them both lightly on the forehead.

Spark’s voice was muffled from being pressed so tightly against Candela’s chest. Nonetheless, it was obvious that he was struggling to control his laughter as he spoke. ‘Well, when it comes to you two, your stats are all right, but kinda basic, as far as I can see. Not been putting in enough training hours at the gym?’

‘Hey!’ Candela retorted with mock outrage. She slipped her fingers behind Spark’s knees and began to tickle ferociously. The leader of Team Instinct struggled at first but eventually managed to get the better of his assailant. He climbed on top of Candela, launching an all-out assault underneath her arms.

‘Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

Blanche sent a look of exaggerated disapproval in Spark’s direction. ‘If you’re going to play it that way then I must say that your assets are tinier than any we have on record. Astounding.’

Noticing the flicker of disappointment on Spark's face, Blanche quickly swallowed their words. ‘I’m talking about your button nose, of course.’

Blanche looked to Candela for support but she was too wrapped up in her war with Spark to pay much attention.

‘Your stats don’t point to greatness in battle,’ Candela threw out with a wicked glint in her eye.

'You certainly have room for improvement as far as battling goes,’ Spark countered, managing to reach down and tickle Candela’s toes.

Candela was hardly able to breathe from laughing so hard. ‘Well, your Pokéball is so tiny, I almost didn’t notice it!’ she gasped.

Spark was struggling to come up with an appropriate retort. ‘Your nose is a BIG one!’ was the best he could do as he finally fell apart in stitches.

Blanche’s Vaporeon must have known that the situation was getting out of hand. She chose that moment to spurt a fanfare of water in between the warring pair.

'Eeeeeeeeeeeeep!'

Amidst the chaos, Blanche found themself a cosy spot to lie down in and make the most of the remaining time before the alarm clock began to buzz. Running out of steam, the other two flopped down as well, shaking off their wet hair and faces. Blanche could tell that they would both be asleep again in a matter of minutes. Zen-like, they whispered softly into the quiet of the night: ‘this ends my analysis. Farewell.’

~o~

Three soft, sleepy bodies were tucked up tight on an enormous bed of infinite feathers. Woven in amongst them were three equally sleepy, and always loyal, companions: one Jolteon, one Vaporeon and one Flareon. During the day the three trainers would bicker and fight, teasing each other about their stats. They would compete over attracting the best recruits or catching and training the strongest and rarest Pokémon specimens, and indulge in epic candy fights and stardust battles. But night time was when their true feelings really shone through.

Candela opened her sleep-filled eyes for a moment and saw that their flaming yellow bed now floated high above the earth. Mountains, rivers and farmlands, villages and cities, all unfurled like a giant toy town before her eyes. As she came to, the feathers beneath her ruffled up for a second. Of course they were sleeping atop the wings of Moltres, who now graciously smoothed out his plumage for her. The mighty creature would, she knew, fly them safely over the horizon and on to the next adventure.