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750p an Hour

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by pbugle, Oct 3, 2019.

  1. pbugle

    pbugle Active Member

    Disclaimer: Rated Teen for Strong Language, Moderate Suggestive Themes.

    Summary

    The low pay. The monotony. The too-short red and yellow apron that his chest spike poked out of. It wasn't like he couldn't deal with it. What else could he expect working as a lowly employee at a certain fast food establishment? The bland, McDeinos walls may overshadow yesteryear's colors, but for a certain Lucario behind the register, the past is never as buried as it seems.


    Story
    "Welcome to McDeinos. The aura is with me; What will be with you today?"

    The words were drab. Monotone. They left the Lucario's mouth like ticking hands of the overhead clock. Midday rays shining through the large windows of the uniform establishment, illuminating a long line of pokemon. It stretched first to the marble, register lined countertop, then ended between the rows of wooden tables. The latter was lined with the loose crumbs and french fry bits of those who had already departed.

    In the front was a Delphox, holding a hand to her temple with closed, bagged eyes droopy enough to rival only the Lucario's own on a day like this. A Pichu and Fennekin stood close behind the Delphox, infinitely more youthful, and making no small deed of repeatedly tucking on the Delphox's fur with their paws and maws.

    "B-Buh..but Mom! When we go to Dad's house, he would always buy us that tasty, green shake when he took us here. Please? Pretty please?"

    The Lucario's ears shot up at the gesture, nearly disheveling his logo-emblazoned hat. He looked to the Delphox, then to the line, finally resting on the large menu hanging from the roof, not a single green shake to be seen between the drinks, fries, and burgers pictured above. The Delphox apparently took no heed to this, using her time to return the piercing glare shot to her by the Luxray at the back of the line.

    "I told you," the Delphox said, punctuating the statement with a deep sigh, "Money doesn't grow on trees, not anymore anyways. Besides, we both know that if I let the two of you have that shake you'll be bouncing off the wall till—"

    The Pichu took the initiative, clamping onto the Delpohx's leg and grasping his hands around her purse.

    "I want a shake! I want a shake!"

    The Fennekin soon joined in, latching onto adjacent legs and chanting the phrase like it was a satanic ritual. The moment the first words left the kits mouth, followed soon by aggravated groans and unnaturally loud coughs from the line behind, the Lucario's eyes glazed over. His ears drooped, hoping in some vain effort they could shut themselves. Yet, they remained open as the Delphox shot her children a halfhearted glare, before running her hand over her face. The Lucario sighed, casting his own glance to a canvas backpack hidden just out of reach under the countertop. Out of the gaps in one of its pockets protruded a red pastel bit worn to a dull edge, as well as the faded corner of a leather-bound sketchbook.

    "Soon," the Lucario whispered under his breath. "Soon…"

    The plastic smile soon returned. He adjusted his apron, hearing the high-pitched chanting, aggravated groans from the line, and barely concealed growls from the Delphox all blending together into one ubiquitous roar. He gritted his teeth, eyes shooting open upon seeing the Delphox begrudgingly reaching into her purse.

    "Ma'am," he said. "You should know, we stopped selling—"

    "I'll take two of those green shakes for the little ones," the Delphox said, renewed smiles on their faces uninfectious to her own. "And give me a black coffee. I swear, one of these days… "

    Her fist clenched. The Lucario bit his lip, chest beating faster and faster as his gaze swerved between the Delphox, now eagerly cheering kits, and the line. The Luxray wasn't the only one stomping now, and if he looked closely the Lucario could swear there were sparks coming from his fur. Setting back on the Delphox, he let out a deep sigh, muscles and aura sensors instinctively tensed for what was to come.

    "Ma'am, I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, but we stopped selling those shakes a few days ago. They're a seasonal thing. Won't be till the better part of a year that we start selling them again."

    The Delphoxes eye twitched, a moment of silence settling over the restaurant in the same vein as a nuclear bomb about to mushroom. The Pichu looked at the Fennekin, then to their mother, before a torrent of tears washed down their faces on demand.

    "B-But our shake!"

    "Shake! Shake! Shake! Shake! Shake!"

    "Control your kits!"

    The Lucario's fur shot out on end. The last call wasn't nearly as high-pitched. The Delphox's head turned in unison with his, finding a Typhlosion near the end of the line whose back flames were blaring like a furnace. His breath seethed, Delphox's doing likewise as she turned back to the Lucario, eyes showing an inner flame hot enough to melt a thousand suns.

    "You," the Delphox seethed, "What's your name?"

    She took a step forward. On instinct, the Lucario nearly took a step back, before rallying with a chipper smile as warm as a bergmite.

    "It's… Ames."

    His paws fiddled, world going out of focus as he saw the Delphox take a deep breath.

    "Well Ames, I have gone through too much to let some lowly, aura sensing, minimum wage rube ruin my only chance of getting a full night of sleep. Now, are you going to get these two their shake, or do I have to report you to your manager and get you fired?"

    The Lucario merely sighed, a moment passing where the proposition seemed almost agreeable. Almost. He took another deep breath, paws fixed together in a meditative stance before turning back. His maw opened. Then closed. Then opened again, trying to speak, yet finding the words blocked by a horrific, subconscious dam of reason.

    Friggin' employee policy…

    "Look Ma'am," he said. "There's nothing I can do. The Magmortar above me is on his lunch break now, and all of our leftover ingredients got shipped off two days ago. Even if we did have them the machine is probably broken for maintinan—"

    "Tauros-****," The Delphox responded, Fennekin and Pichu having hidden behind her dress. "You have some in the back, I'm sure of it. Do I have to crawl over that countertop of yours and get them myself? Is that what this has come to?"

    The Delphox flinched, glancing over her shoulder. The Pichu and Fennekin had lost their usual pouty demeanor, now clinging to the Delphox's dress and looking towards her with nearly tearful eyes. From their looks, Ames could only insinuate that it wasn't the first time they had heard shouting of that magnitude. A growing look of horror took to the Delphox, seeing the kit's faces about to burst into tears like a Bunnelby seeing a Mightyena just about to pounce. She turned back to Ames, anger, fear, and desperation flowing in and out of her scowl. The Lucario did not flinch… not until she took a step forward.

    All at once, the world seemed to pause. An unspoken gasp filled the room as the Delphox took her first step to the countertop. Then another. Then another. Until she was directly in front, lifting her leg in a motion to climb over. Ames' ears drooped. He shot back, looking this way and that for spotting a small button hidden underneath the countertop, sign painted next to it the familiar markings of a green and gold badge with three distinct letters. When he turned back, however, the Delphox was already halfway up the counter.

    "P-Please!" Ames said. "Be reasonable. If you don't stop now, I'm gonna be forced to alert the guild."

    "Do I look like I care?!" the Delphox shouted, words piercing enough that even the Pichu and Fennekin had taken to hiding under a nearby table. "I am going to get one Arceus-damned pokemon in this godsforsaken world to respect me, even if that means forcing you to show me where they're hiding those ****ing milkshakes. Now—"

    She got in not another word, for in a flash the Delphox was hit by a piercing jolt of electricity. Her nose twitched, face locked in a final stare towards Ames as her arms and legs locked in on themselves. Her feet gave way, causing her to fall to the wooden floor with a thud. Delphox below the counter, Ames' vision was unobstructed, leaving only the visage of a Luxray, other customers gathered in a circle around the stunned Delphox. After a few seconds, she recovered. She lifted a hand to her head, blinking upon realization that she was on the floor.

    "You…"

    "Leave," the Luxray said. "Take your damn kids, and get out of here before things get worse for you."

    Ever so slowly, the Delphox rose to her feet, finding her own glare feeble against those given to her by the surrounding pokemon. The foremost of them was Ames, paw under the counter an inch away from the button.

    "That's assault," the Delphox said. "Y-You just made a big mistake."

    Looking between the Luxray and Lucario, she found both of their expressions unmoving.

    "Ma'am," Ames said, every effort needed to force the words out. "Take your kids, get out now, or there will be members of the guild hauling you away with a Blastoise and Absol in tow. Understand?"

    The Delphox's head was on a swivel, looking for support from any of the surrounding pokemon. Turning back to Ames, she only had blank stares to show for it.

    "Y-You—"

    "Get. Out. Now."

    Ames himself flinched at his words, adrenaline running up and down his spine. His breaths only lulled as the Delphox picked herself up, motioning to her kits as she inched towards the doorway.

    "Come on," she said, waving them over with one hand, while opening the door with the other. "I'll buy you those plushes you always wanted if you don't tell your father what happened here when he gets you."

    Tepidly, the two followed, exiting the restaurant with only the ting of the entrance bell to show for it. Ames let out a deep breath, every muscle seeming to loosen at once. It would come back, of course; serves him right for accepting a full day's shift on a weekend. He turned back, finding the Luxray standing before the countertop with a slightly diminished line of pokemon behind.

    "Thanks for that," Ames said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Don't think I could have gotten her out that quickly if you weren't here."

    The Luxray grinned back, waving his paw in a nonchalant gesture. "Eh, don't worry about it. Sure you got your fair share of crazies working here."

    "Eeyup," Ames replied, staring towards the floor for perhaps a second to long. "This pays the bills, though. Just gotta push through and pray to Arceus the overtime pay fills the rent. Anyway…"

    He cleared his throat, putting on a smile the slightest bit more genuine.

    "The aura is with me. What will be with you today?"

    The Luxray let out a soft humm, eyes glazing over towards the menu. "Lets see. How 'bout I get one of those caramel ice creams?"

    If Ames had any energy left, he would have sighed. The Lucario looked over his shoulder, seeing hidden in the distance a large, metal ice cream machine. It was lying sideways on a table, with a soapy mix of cleaning fluid filling in where the ice cream should have been. Laying a paw to his temple, the Lucario closed his eyes, taking three deep breaths.

    "Hey, you alright, buddy?" the Luxray asked.

    "Y-Yeah," Ames replied, feeling his aura sensors throb as a slight migraine went over his forehead. "It's just…good news, we got a free special on fries for customers who don't want ice cream."

    ---​

    One hour. One hour of freedom. One hour to chew his lunch down and get ready for the graveyard shift. With most of the rush hour customers having since departed, the Lucario sat alone on a circular grated table just outside the familiar yellow and red establishment. His hat and apron were in a haphazard pile beside him, next to the crumbed up wrappings of a half eaten McTorchic and some loose fries. He did his best to avoid the greyish insides of the former; it wasn't like that was anything new around here. Looking towards the food, however, Ames found it suddenly difficult to take another bite.

    Instead, he leaned back, looking towards the canvas backpack next to the table with a renewed, if weary smile. Unbuttoning the pouch, he took out the same sketchbook, having had to dig through a pile of pastels, half read books, and application response letters Arceus knew he dared not open up right then and there. Ames almost expected a waft of dust to fall off as he ran his pawn down the cover. Same worn texture. Same faint water stain on the upper right corner. And the same name stamped in big, bold letters on the top. Well… it wasn't the only one.

    Ames flinched, feeling his hand jitter the slightest bit seeing the second name emboldened on the cover, barely visible after having been painted over with a color to match the leather of the front. Still, he wasn't about to let something as quaint as that deter him; in most instances nowadays, the Lucario would have preferred a canvas to the sketchbook in his hand, yet as the years had gone, an increasing schedule left weekends working like this more of the rule than the exception. Besides, what harm could come in picking up where he had left off?

    "Beats mopping the floors," he muttered. "Or those damn commissions…"

    Ames sighed, casting a glance to the few letters piled into another pocket of the backpack. Normally, any chance to pick up a pencil or pastel was a welcome one. But those? In his other paw, the Lucario picked up one of the letters, tearing it open to read at a slackoff's pace.

    Hewwo UwU 'Aspiring Artist'! I saw your commissions poster on the newspapers (ᵔᴥᵔ) , would be willing to pay you a hefty sum if you'd be able to draw a little idea of mine. See, there's this lucario, but he's got red fur lining his whole body. Once he meets up with this Lopunny character of mine, the two of them go into a bedroom and he takes out his two feet long—

    Ames' eye twitched, a deep desire to crumple the letter in his hand stopped only upon glancing towards the disheveled McDeinos uniform on his left, and the bank statement he knew hidden deeper inside of the bag. He may have never done well in math, but he knew well enough what the numbers on the right meant.

    "... Another day, then. Now, back to it."

    He shoved the letter back, feeling the icky chill running up his spine soothe as he went back to the sketchbook. A soft 'hmm' left Ames' lips flipping through the first few pages. An old drawing of a landscape here, an experiment in shading there, almost all of it seemed to come back. True, there was certainly… room for improvement, and more than a few of the early drawing left Ames biting his lip at the occasional poorly drawn eye or improper shadow. However, a soothing balm went over as his eyes closed, aura sensors glowing in meditation. A single drop of rain pattered against the overtop umbrella, then another, then another, until all that was left to here were the soft plinks of rain against cobblestone. Grey clouds soon enveloped the sky, sending a crack of lightning through the air as the Lucario flipped the page.

    His paws froze. This… this was different. Words took the place of colors and shades, written in a pen that wasn't even his own. In truth, some small part of Ames' mind knew this was coming, yet it did not make his heart beat any less seeing the familiar signature at the end, verbatim to the same stamped letters overwritten in brown.

    It was a simple tale, really. One Ames knew well, had read over and over, yet in those days prior always seemed new. Two birds, a Fletchininder and Staravia meet, spending each day flying with each other through vast gaps and endless seas. The former spends his free time on the ground, making himself a nest and devoting his time to making himself a musician, the envy of his hometown. The latter flies with her head tilted up, pining to journey to a world beyond the sea where prosperity is a mere flap away. Anxiously, the Lucario flipped through the pages, lines scanning this way and that as he approached the end.

    Approaches. His paw flicks, mind attempting to conjure up memories of how the tale ended even as the last page comes into view.

    And so it was, after a final meeting, Fletchinder and Staravia—

    He blinked. Nothing. Nothing but an almost blank page as the last sentence cut off. That, and two short sketches near the bottom. The first was written in the same ink, sporting two scribbled birds that only in the most generous sense could be called a Fletchinder and Staravia. Still, the heart was there. He had been with her long enough to know that. On the right, a similar drawing, outlined, colored, and shaded in a style he knew to be his own. His eyes widened, the next page appearing in his memory before he had even flipped it.

    Comics. His own. Drawings of important scenes. The like, each inscribed in the margins with comments and words of encouragement from the writer's pen. Looking to the last frame, it likewise was but a half drawn sketch, leaving only one last page before the sketchbook was separated by a sizable divider. Two large paw prints were plastered in ink on the page. The first, his own. The second, a tad taller and wider, with two large fang prints that jutted out of the top. His eyes lowered, finding one last message dotting.

    Here's to meeting again, Ames! I'll be sure to come back with stories about the hustle and bustle once college is done. In the meantime, keep being awesome! I'm looking forward to finding out where our story ends up.

    -Debra

    More on instinct than anything, the Lucario lifted a paw to rub his eyes. Something was strange, though. They felt… wet, almost. Damp, as if he were—

    Ames flinched, feeling tears beginning to run down his eyes. They soaked into his fur, turning it a darkish tinge similar to the cobblestone roads under the rain. He was given only a moment, however, before the sun made its final descent over the horizon. He looked around, letting out a silent sigh as the next shift of workers made their way through the door.

    "D-Damn," he whispered. "How long did I spend moping over this?"

    Evidently, too long. It took a few more sniffles, of course. A few more seconds staring towards the floor. In the end, however, he picked himself up, wiping the tears from his eyes and adorning the hat and apron as his gaze set back on the doorway. Glancing one last time back at the book, he forced it shut, shoving it back into the bag with perhaps a bit too much force. Slinging the backpack around him, he made for the door. The past was just that, and the pages would remain unfilled, but in the end, life went on.

    ---​

    He wanted to sleep. If the eyes of the Lucario standing at the moonlit countertop were not open, you'd think he was. The restaurant was, after all, nearly empty, and had been with the past few turns of the clock hands. His pupils were glazed over, paws having taken to aimlessly fiddling with a paper straw wrapper long since systematically torn to bits; If Ames was hit with a baseball bat, he doubted he would even flinch.

    And so it went. Before too long, the Lucario had his eyes set on the clock, now but a few ticks before it would reach that sweet, sweet number that would let him walk back home to his humble abode; Perhaps with a brief discussion with his manager, he could get off a bit early?

    It wouldn't last. That same, chipper bell chime sounded through the restaurant as the door opened. Ames had his eyes locked towards the counter, vision too fuzzy to focus on anything but his own two paws and the register. In his peripheral, it seemed that the figure walking toward him was some mix of red and white.

    "Stupid, stupid, stupid," the voice softly grumbled, pitch feminine but even. "You just had to sleep through the refreshments on the boat, didn't you? Could have been enjoying a glass of wine and cheese, but no. Gotta content yourself with fast food in the middle of the night. I swear… "

    Ames simply huffed, barely lifting his gaze. He gave a few quick shakes of his head, hoping it would do what the drinks couldn't to keep him awake.

    "What'll it be, Ma'am?"

    "Let's see… I'll have a—wait."

    Ames' ears twitched, head tilting. He'd heard that sentence verbatim many times before, yet the tone was all off. It sounded… more important, more urgent than a customer who couldn't be bothered to think of what they wanted at the back of the line. His paw raised, tilting his cap so he could get a good view at the customer.

    "Yeah? Something wro… "

    His maw was agape, words trailing off looking towards the pokemon before him. She was a Zangoose, with white and red fur combed to a uniform pattern. A wide, black ledger binder was tucked under her right arm, left arm holding a large, grey suitcase big enough to hold a typewriter. Her eyes were wide, sharing a look with the Lucario as familiar as it was unrecognizable.

    "Y-You're—Ames?!"

    "Debra?" he answered back, heart thumping and look equally as incredulous. "A-Arceus, how long has it been?"

    As the two pokemon's gazes combed up and down each other, it seemed two long. For a moment, Ames looked toward the Zangoose like a farmer would a housing development site, while she in turn looked back with the enthusiasm of seeing a blazing flame used for lighting candles.

    "F-Four years," she answered. "Maybe five. I… it's good to see you again."

    "You too," Ames answered.

    He looked to her, then down to his apron. Then back to her. Then down again to his apron, before turning back up with a humorless chuckle.

    "S-So then," he asked, "What'll you be having? Prices are pretty cheap here, just… please, don't ask for a 'green shake'. Last pokemon who did ended up having to be shocked after she tried climbing over the counter."

    Debra stared at him, hoping, praying that he was joking. Yet, a shiver ran up her spine as she found not a hint of humor in his face.

    "Yeah. Geez, and I thought office politics were bad. Anyway…"

    Her eyes scanned the items on the board, most earning a dismissive tsk. Ames' paws fiddled on the counter as she did so, occasional glances given to the clock hand barely a millimeter from the top. Ever so slowly, his thoughts wandered to the book. To the canvas backpack sitting barely a few inches from his feet, before tracing back to the Zangoose still giving the menu a scowl. Letting out a deep breath, he paws set themselves on either side of the counter, tingling lightness going away for just a moment.

    "And Debra—"

    The Zangoose perked up, fur having shot out in surprise.

    "Yeah?"

    He bit his lip, fluttering in his chest having returned in spades.

    "W-Would it be alright if after you get some food we… we could take a little walk with you outside, for old time's sake? I-If you still need a place to stay, there are some decent hotels I can show you. My shift ends well, now basically, and I'm gonna have to walk home anyway."

    The Zangoose's eyes widened, before lulling back as she placed a claw to her chin. Her feet shuffled, head swerving between Ames and the nearly pitch black windows. The Lucario's throat tightened, a second needed to realize he was holding his breath. Eventually, Debra's claw lowered, gaze locking with Ames' as her blank expression took to a smile.

    "Sure, sounds decent; Should be interesting catching up on what we've been doing. B-Besides, no chance outside of crazy customers bursting in and climbing onto the counter."

    A slight bit of laughter left Debra's lips. Then another. Then another still. Soon, Ames had joined in the giggling filling the store as, for once, he wasn't tired in the least.

    ---​

    It was a dark night. While a fair portion of the moon was out, residual clouds cut off most of the light shining over the two, reflection of the moon muggy over a short retention pond. Just around the corner of the city streets, Ames could see the outline of McDeinos fading into the shadows. A welcome sight, with a certain Zangoose at his side. Debra held her chest, returning the lucario's occasional glances even as a stiff groan left her stomach.

    "You okay?" Ames asked. "T-The meat hadn't gone bad, had it? I checked the date for it yesterday, but if—"

    "Y-Yeah, it's fine," Debra replied, claw lifting to her throat to conceal a gag. "It's just… remind me to order a salad next time."

    The Lucario was about to say a warning of the copious amount of dressing on said salad when he forced his mouth shut. Another time. Besides, it would do well for both of them to get off the topic. He cleared his throat, watching as Debra pounced over a loose puddle collected on the street.

    "So, what are you doing here, anyway? Last time I saw you. You were waving me goodbye on a ship with a portfolio and your first cup of coffee. I… take it things have worked out well since then."

    Ames made his own jump over the puddle, falling a bit short as a few droplets splattered in every direction. A gasp left his lips upon hitting the water, seeing Debra clear in the firing range. Before he could even apologies, the Zangoose had already raised her claw preemptively. She turned back forward as Ames lulled, wiping off what liquid had collected on her briefcase.

    "Yeah, things have more or less been going well. Doing finances mostly, now. Have to do a lot of traveling, and things can get… pretty damn tedious, if I'm being honest, but it keeps me in the green. Bought a little condo in the city a few years back, might even be able to get a house if I save up enough. What about you?"

    For a brief second, the Lucario remained fixed in a dumbstruck glare as the words went through his mind. He took hold of the backpack, lurching it up to adjust it. Among the shuffling noises inside, he knew well enough one of them was a finance report he couldn't run from forever.

    "Fine. Just fine. Working there, obviously, but I've spent a fair bit of the last couple years getting my drawing skills in order and advertising my service. Even have some commissions rolling in that should be fun to draw once I get home. Might not make the most money, but people respect a good artist. Yep… couldn't be happier, if I'm being honest."

    "Yep," Debra said, letting out a humorless chuckle almost in tandem with Ames. "Likewise. Couldn't be happier."

    A moment of silence lingered over the two, each staring towards the other for perhaps a moment too long as they walked. As they rounded the corner, however, Ames let out a sigh of relief under his breath. Debra had similarly lifted her gaze, a small glint in her eye as she looked toward a well lit restaurant in the distance. True, the ornate wooden flooring and walls had been ripped away to make way for a new design. The small dimple in the marble from when the back of his dull, riolu paws had slammed against them from a particularly clumsy trip was similarly repaired, but the outer tables and curbside had not changed a bit. Though the Lucario knew well enough his next days would be spent in a McDeinos uniform, he could not deny the temptation in his heart for another night there with a certain Zangoose.

    Debra seemed in a similarly nostalgic mood, red irises centered on a very specific curbside. The mid-morning air. The scribbling of pen against paper. The soft beats of wings fluttering in the distance; Ames didn't even need to look to guess what she was thinking about.

    "Hasn't changed a bit," Debra said, giving a slight chuckle. "You think they're still letting pokemon book in for a meal, only to let in way too many and kicking poor saps like us out to wait in the curb?"

    Ames matched her laugh, tone the slightest bit lower as the memory flashed through his mind. The deeper he dug, the more his face scrunched up into a cringe. He shook it away, burying the urge to cover his face with his paws.

    "Yep. At least if they have kits entering like a Riolu who spent so much time grooming his fur that he looked like a prissy Furfrou and the greeter looked at him like he was going to go blind from shininess."

    "Or a three foot tall Zangoose who gets a 'fancy' fur trim the day before that leaves her looking like a wet altaria?" Debra retorted.

    For a moment, their shoulders slumped, and both pokemon found themselves inclined to look away. Upon looking back, however, and realizing their current company, the desire to squirm away with their tails between their legs faded away.

    "Was a great night, though," Debra said, after clearing her throat. "Think that was when we first came up with the idea for that little story we had. Was it…"

    Her eyes narrowed, scanning the roof work across the restaurant until it had settled into a spot just the right angle from a specific curb. Ames smiled envisioning the spot a few feet from a grate; if he looked closely, he could almost see the visages of a certain Riolu and Zangoose of yesteryear transposing onto the image.

    "There," she said, claw pointing. "Right there. Where that staravia and fletchinder were perching, and you took out that sketchbook of yours to pass the time. Arceus… line was barely there by the time we got done talking. If only we knew how far that little idea would go."

    "Yep," Ames replied, "if only we know… "

    Their vision glazed over for a second, minds inundated with a deluge of memories brought out from deep storage. An evening spent of laughter and contentment. Hours upon days spent as their forms grew up, and yet two silhouettes still stood against the beach with pencil and pastel in hand batting ideas between them until the moon rose over the horizon. It ended only when Debra looked to the Lucario's jostling backpack, brow furrowing. Her eyes narrowed, heart skipping a beat upon seeing a familiar, water stained leather corner peeking out of one of the pockets.

    "Wait, that's… you kept it?"

    He looked back, head tilting a bit before he traced her vision. Ames' own muscles seemed to freeze. There was something different about the tone of her voice. In that brief moment, it had reverted to a lighthearted, giddy state, a dichotomy to her now almost foreign sounding voice.

    "Y-Yeah, was taking a look at it today, actually. Do you wanna see it?"

    Her eyes glistened in the moonlight, nod not even needed. The two walked side by side, book in the middle as they began flipping through the pages. They went on, outside world becoming a blur with only a Zangoose, Lucario, and sketchbook to fill it.

    "And that was—Arceus, must have taken me a month to get that scene filled out halfway decent," Debra said. "You went through all of this, didn't you? I-I… sorry that you had to go through some of my more inexperienced prose. Those comics you made were always great, though. Stuff you draw now must only be better."

    "Don't put yourself down," Ames replied, smile between the two of them warm against the chilly air. "Honestly was nostalgic going back to the stuff we did. And don't worry about the older sections. Pain's a phantom of the mind; no need to cringe at our old stuff if we don't have to. E-Even now reading that story was on par or better with the stuff I read nowadays. Just a damn shame we never got to finish it."

    The two stopped, last sentence lingering in the air. Ever so slowly, their smiles faded, a piercing breeze sweeping through the streets. Debra looked to the floor, eyes closed for a few seconds before she returned Ames' look, a renewed fire in her eyes.

    "Y-Yeah, it was, but… had to end sometime, I suppose. Can't spend forever making sketchbook drawings or writings of fictional stories. Was fun while it lasted, don't get me wrong, but if you don't wanna spend everyday worried about the next bill, a 'mons gotta prioritize."

    Ames laid a paw to his chest, Zangoose's words piercing deeper than they should have. The Lucario's gaze likewise pointed down for a moment, before raising back to meet hers as he took a step forward, posture straightening. His feet were light, and every so often his legs would wobble, but he stayed his path.

    "But that doesn't mean it had to be tossed aside. H-Honestly, if you want my opinion, let the bills come. It's nothing a 'mon can't handle. Besides, what's better than getting to follow your passions? With getting to choose what you want to be, and not what society wants you to be? If a 'mon likes what they do, they'll never work a day in their life."

    Debra's nose twitched as she noticed the posture shift, quip retort on the edge of her tongue on the cusp of letting loose. Only the splashes of a faraway gutter vent sounded as they stood, not a word being said with minds divided equally between forming and defending against imaginary accusations. Debra held one half of the book, while Ames held the other. With tensed shoulders, their gazes lowered, unconsciously drifting to the final page they had yet to look at.

    All at once, their scowls disappeared, book lowering the slightest bit in tandem with their arms. Lucario and Zangoose's eyes widened staring towards the final, incomplete sentence, drifting even lower towards two sketches of a fletchinder and staravia nuzzled up against each other. Warmth took to their cheeks, while a morose sigh took the place of any snarl.

    "Do you have any regrets?" Ames said.

    Almost as soon as the words left his mouth, the Lucario froze. He looked down, staring towards his mouth as if giving a halfhearted question of if the words were even his. With only the soft howl of the wind as his answer, he turned back to Debra, paws fidgeting.

    "I-I mean… it's been a while since we last saw each other," he said, giving a humorless chuckle. Just wanna see how the years have been treating you. Nothing more."

    The Zangoose shot back, eyes blinking. She glanced to the book, then to Ames, the look in the Lucario's eyes unable to hide his question's true nature. The ledger book under her arm seemed to tug ever more against her side, briefcase likewise feeling heavier. Still, looking towards the Lucario, Debra could little stop the phantom memory of a logoed cap and apron from appearing over him. She took a deep breath, irises darting this way and that.

    "Yeah, yeah I do. If we're gonna talk about this, though, I'm only gonna answer specifically if you do the same. Is that fair?"

    Ames nodded in an instant, still trying to decide whether he was happy or sad that she had said yes. Looking over the sketchbook, Debra thumbed through a few more pages, each with another heavy sigh as her claw traced down drawings and paragraphs on pages long since faded.

    "If I'm being honest, there are times when I stay awake at night thinking about it. How I can have a well to-do condo, but enough time spent traveling between ports that a cheap apartment is more often my home. How I have a career higher than many, but everyday sorting through paperwork and tauros-**** makes me want to tear my fur out. I don't wanna throw myself a pity party, though. After all, was my choice in the end that got me here."

    She closed the book, claws scratching her neck as they began to fidget.

    "Sometimes I wonder how it could have been, if I had tried to strike out as a writer like you did for art. It's been… years, probably, since I've picked up a pencil for anything other than a financial statement. But you, like you said, you get to do what you enjoy everyday. So what about it? How is it on the other side of the fence?"

    Ames flinched, mouth unmoving as she handed him the sketchbook, and he put it back in the bag. The question was expected, of course, yet his ears seemed to droop with every second of thought. He let out a nervous chuckle, paw raising to adjust a cap that wasn't there.

    "It has its pros and cons. You've already seen it already, but you can't exactly support room and board on artistry alone. Have to take some… less enticing jobs for my paygrade. I've tried again and again to make myself known to some of the bigger organizations, but the market just isn't there. Friggin' depressing going to my mailbox everyday and knowing what I'll read in the giant stack of reply letters. And the commissions I've had to draw to pay the rent… you don't wanna know. Pokemon are into some pretty freaky stuff."

    He looked to Debra, seeing that familiar twitch in her eye of half part sympathy and half part horror. He could already see the gears in the Zangoose's mind turning, imagery inside likely more accurate than he'd like to admit. Ames simply shrugged, kicking a loose bit of stone on the street.

    "We're more alike than we think, I suppose," he said, letting out a sad chuckle. "There are some days on the graveyard shift where I start to wonder where I would be if I went on that boat with you. Would have to deal with a lot less crazy Delphoxes, for sure. Though if all that bureaucracy is as bad as you say it is, it'll probably be just as if not worse than manning the register for me."

    His eyes closed, thoughts awash working their way into his mind too close for comfort. Debra gave a sympathetic nod in response, likewise stuck in contemplation. The words came less easy, this time, stuck on the roof of his tongue like leaves jammed in a gutter. Eventually, though, the fiddling with his paw stopped, and his voice rose.

    "Was a great time, honestly, before all of this. Simpler then. Just you, me, that sketchbook, and all the time in the world. I swear, that mantine ride through the air we took before your going away party was probably the best day I had ever had. I-I like to think, If things had been different, we could have… we could have—"

    "We could have been something," Debra whispered.

    The Lucario blinked, then blinked again, brain short circuiting at her words being a statement, and not a question. Though the Zangoose's face was slumped, he found not a hint of doubt in her expression. She looked to the sky, finding a hint of the moon's crescent showing between the clouds.

    "If I had stayed, if you had left. Would have been great. I-I mean, our partnership wouldn't have lasted as long as it did if there wasn't something, I bet. You're kind, patient, creative, and you got this passion in you that held up where mine withered out… even if it does have to show under a McDeinos apron."

    Between his paws, Ames could feel the sweat beginning to pool, a familiar warmness creeping up his spine and settling into his cheeks. Judging by the way Debra was fiddling with her claws, she was of a similar disposition. The Lucario's head was on a swivel, darting this way and that as his mile a minute brain attempted to form the correct response. In that very moment, something strange seemed to have occurred with his vision, only the tepid smile and crimson white fur of the pokemon before him coming into focus.

    "Y-Yeah! Definitely. I… I'd have a hard time asking for anything more if that did happen. Hard to find a pokemon with that much fire in her. When other 'mons quit, you'd always be the one to keep pushing and looking forward. Was the most I could ever want being with you as much as I could. If I knew what I did now, I would have went on that boat with you no questions asked, but— "

    Once again, their tongues held, word sticking in the air. Ames bit his lip, vision set on the black ledger tucked underneath Debra's arm, while hers was likewise lulled to the brown leather sketchbook sticking out of the Lucario's bag.

    "But… " Debra said.

    "But… "Ames replied, voice similarly trailing off.

    The streets dimmed the slightest bit, peeking crescent blocked by another cloud overhead.

    "B-But it wasn't for us," the Zangoose finished. "Either of us. You going. Me staying. It wasn't in our nature, was it?"

    Ever so slowly, Ames nodded. Faint stars twinkled against the pond, blinking in and out of existence with each passing second.

    "No, it wasn't." he replied. "We each have our own paths, been through our own journeys. Too late in the gambit to go back now, I suppose."

    Debra lifted a paw to her eye, wiping away something in the darkness Ames could only guess wasn't an eyelash. Without another word, the two turned, continuing their way through winding paths and dimly lit streets. Eventually, they had made their way to a central intersection, with two paths branching out to the left and right. A slight jitter went through both Lucario and Zangoose's legs as they stopped at the center, faint desire brimming in their hearts for another long street of cobblestone to replace the one they had already walked. Ames let out a small cough, only the howling wind filling the streets as the two turned to each other.

    "If you go down the left path," Ames said, "there's a pretty decent hotel a block or so down the way that you should be able to check into. My apartments that one on the right side with the old, red bricks. I… I guess this is it."

    "R-Right," Debra replied, opening the ledger in her claws to give a half-hearted glance. "I guess this is it. I got a meeting pretty early in the morning tomorrow, once that's done, I'm gonna have to head back home to help with the parental company."

    Had the Zangoose been a customer at twelve AM asking if they were still open, Ames' nod wouldn't have been as unenthusiastic. Trying to turn, the Lucario froze, finding any shift to the right like trying to walk with cinderblock boots. He looked down, scowling. It wasn't like it mattered. He'd be at McDeinos tomorrow. She'd be wherever life took her. It wasn't like he was in a position to question which way the stars aligned. He looked back, finding Debra centered towards the right route, glancing back and forth between the hotel ahead and her own briefcase. Might as well not make this harder than it has to be; What harm would come in leaving right then and there?

    One last time, the Lucario and Zangoose's feet lifted, before planting firmly to the ground as the two turned to face each other.

    No. Not like this.

    Before Ames knew it, a white and red paw was reaching out towards him. His chest grew light seeing the Zangoose's smile, a look plastered on her face that flip-flopped between anxious and content.

    "How 'bout one last gesture?" she said. "To what could have been! And best wishes for the future."

    Something was… different. Though the paw was firmly in front of him, Ames could not take his eyes off of Debra's posture. Almost as if there was some invisible force whispering suggestions into her ear. In fact, the Lucario could feel a similar sensation balming over him. The chill going through the streets didn't seem so harsh, not where he was. Returning the grin, Ames held Debra's paw, both giving a long shake.

    "To a good future ahead, no matter what it holds."

    After three shakes, their hands lulled. They could feel the others heart through their palms, a moment passing where each expected the other to break the grip. Once a few seconds too many passed, however, it became readily apparent that neither would, nor did they want to. In fact, it more so seemed like the opposite was happening. Be it at a slackoff's pace, Lucario and Zangoose found themselves shuffling forward without realising it, mutual gasps filling the air upon realising the other had done the same. One last time, they looked into each others eyes. Red irises met as a cacophony of memories spilled out into the open, vision of each other filled by the light of a full moon shining down upon them. Ever so slowly, their heads tilted forward, cheeks warmed with barely an inch or two of space between them.

    A nervous chuckle left Ames' mouth as loud as a whimper, Debra soon following suit with one even quieter. Their handshake broke, now free paws slowly working their way up until they were resting on the others neck.

    "Do… do you mind?" Ames asked.

    Debra leaned forward, an inch away from closing the distance. "N-Nope. Not. At. All."

    For one long moment, their maws met, eyes closing as the world seemed to slow, and nothing else mattered. A ledger and briefcase had fallen to the street, followed soon after by a backpack. Through the kiss, they embraced, taking in the warmth of the other's fur. If a chill had ran through the streets, if rain had fallen upon their heads, if Articuno himself had summoned a snowstorm to fill the quiet city, neither would have felt it.

    Finally, it ended. Zangoose and Lucario pulled away, each giving a chuckle. It had been a light kiss, all things considered. More befitting of two shy pokemon on their first spring dance, but it was something. As much as it pained him, Ames looked town to the fallen backpack and briefcase, before settling into Debra's eyes with one final question to ask.

    "Well… what happens now?"

    Debra closed her eyes, taking a deep breath; In a way, they already knew. "Life goes on. Places to travel. Business meetings to go to."

    "Shifts to fill," Ames continued. "Crazy Delphoxes to serve."

    "But—"

    The Lucario's eyes widened, Zangoose returning a cheeky grin. "But I'm willing to let it wait for one day. Sound fair to you?"

    As the two turned towards the red-bricked building in the distance, Ames' own grin grew ear to ear.

    "Completely."
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2019
    NebulaDreams and Venia Silente like this.
  2. NebulaDreams

    NebulaDreams A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden

    Oh damn, even in PMD, Karens still exist. Kill it! Kill it with fir-- Oh, wait. Kill it with water!

    This game me 'nam flashbacks.

    --

    Okay, so I'm glad I gave this one a read, because it definitely struck a chord with me. Ames is relateable enough as we start with him being a henpecked millennial-- oops, I mean fast food worker, having to deal with Karen the Delphox and her kits. It was a bit shocking, pardon the pun, to see her go so far, but that did set the tone, I guess. Honestly, from that point onward, it becomes a different story, since it's more about the dilemma between being suffering for your art or being successful and hating the path your life has taken you. These are some timeless themes, and I could relate to them, being at a crossroads with my own life. Ames and Debra were really cute together, by the way, and the emphasis on body language and the environment as they walked home really sold that feeling of them being two long lost friends awkwardly catching up with each other.

    One thing that stuck out to me, and I know other people have mentioned this before some place else, is that this really could've been an original story and nothing would have been changed. Aside from the guild stuff, the Pokemon means of transport and the elemental powers, the PMD setting is really muted, aside from the entertainment value of seeing a Lucario serve Maccy D's (thanks, Sword and Shield). Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the story resonated enough on its own, and a majority of fantasy or urban fantasy stories have non-human characters that are essentially humans with a furry paintjob. It just meant that there might've been more possibilities with an urban PMD setting that weren't really fully explored. In a world where technology and nature collide with the population being all Pokemon that have a wide range of abilities or powers, wouldn't that remove the need for stores like McDonalds at all? Why not just have everything delivered by flying Pokemon at that point? Or instant food delivery through waypoints/teleportation/Abra or something or other. Just something that might've given it a bit more flavour than what we got.

    But anyway, not a major issue in the grand scheme of things. The only other thing I would say is that had it started with Ames and Debra going their separate ways at the start instead of opening with McDeinos, it might've built up a bit more intrigue at the beginning. Even though the opening we got was simultaneously funny and cringe-inducing (for the right reasons), I was a little hesitant at first since I don't think I could've tolerated reading a story about 'my job sucks, the end'. I'm glad it went a different direction in the end, and even if their situations didn't get resolved, there was still a glimmer of hope that hinted that things could turn out differently for them in the future if they stick with each other. So overall, this was an engaging read, and thanks for posting this. I'll see you around on Discord if you want to discuss more.
     

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