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Homecoming [Yuletide 2017]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by roule, Dec 25, 2017.

  1. roule

    roule take it all or leave it... I Feel You

    This was my entry for Yuletide this year!! I got Firebrand, who gave me a flexible prompt, so I wrote something sweet in Kalos.

    Happy holidays!


    Fat snowflakes float down from the sky, glimmering in the yellow lights of Lumiose City. The streets are slick with sleet, snow lining the cobble sidewalks of Old City as people dart to and fro, clutching their coats up to their faces, while their pokemon trot by their side. There are not many cars on the road, but occasionally, one of the bright blue cabs that service Lumiose moves down the street, slower than usual. Looking up, the chimneys of the old brick houses are blowing white smoke into the grey sky, and there’s a hissing of steam coming from the grates each time the Metro train stops and passes by underground with a loud roar. The houses are lit up with bright lights in red, white, and green, with occasional ribbons of similar colors on street posts.

    It’s sort of nostalgic for the tall, raggedy looking woman, as she walks quickly through the sea of people, her manectric patrolling by her side, glaring at passerby with a sort of proud look in his eyes. Her hands are fidgeting with the sleeves of her fraying ocean-blue ski jacket, sometimes moving to fix the pink knit scarf (given to her by a friend a month before she left) around her mouth. She hasn’t been to Lumiose, or any real city in Kalos, in about five years (six?), wandering aimlessly around the south of the country, pushing away actual responsibilities, running away from her problems, and battling to get enough money for food. Coming back now feels warm and welcoming and… strange.

    She’s been away from real civilization for so long, except to get food or other goods, lived in a shabby tent wherever she could put it up, and it feels odd to finally come back to running water, heat, and electricity that isn’t powered by a hand crank. The entire world has moved ahead of her in a dizzying fashion, and she feels like she’s trapped in the time before Team Flare, a remnant of the not-so-distant past of five years ago. A time before the weapon’s resurgence, the crisis in Hoenn, and the sudden popularity of Mega Evolution in places other than pokemon research.

    She had briefly wondered while walking up Route 16, if her colleagues and Alexandre have forgotten about her. If they listened to the note she left them in scrawled, quick letters, and didn’t send a search party after her. She’d never found any posters hanging around with her name and a photo. It had always felt too easy to get food from the Quick restaurants in the suburbs of the south of Kalos. She’d always expected someone to tap on her shoulder while she ate her burger and ask if she was Anais van Haver, or call the police.

    A bitter, ugly part of her had insisted that when she ran off, they had been too busy fawning over him to even bother looking for her. He was always smart, the well-mannered one, and Anais was forced to become the troublemaker to his genius, unreliable and ‘jealous of his success’, even to her closest friend. And she couldn’t live in that role anymore.

    Well, she doesn’t care anymore. It’s not like it matters.

    Her manectric barks loudly, jolting his owner back to attention. He stands in front of a short, stone path that leads up a large, pale brown chateau, with green accents above the windows, a dark blue roof, and a long fence surrounding the building, with two poke ball statues on the ends. Anais feels a small smile grow on her face at the sight.

    Her manectric was just a little puppy when she started work as Professor Sycamore’s student, tasked with learning about mega evolution. Anais had been chosen by the professor to raise Pierre due to documentation that some manectric held the potential to mega-evolve. Of course, she didn’t end up testing if he could do it because she left before he evolved. But, he was still a decent age when she left, so maybe he does remember a little.

    Pierre leads her up to the door and sniffs at it, then turning towards Anais, looking back at her with pleading eyes. Anais squints through the window and notices that the receptionist is too busy chatting with some sort of deliveryman to see her. That’s good, she thinks, she doesn’t want a huge ruckus over her return.

    So, Anais slowly slips through the door, Pierre by her side, and practically tiptoes to the stairway door. She glances back at the receptionist, who is still blissfully chatting away, not noticing the long-missing student of the professor passing through. With that, she walks through the door and up the stairs to the second floor, where her old office is.

    The lights are dim when she enters, the blue of the walls and chair cushions fading into a stony grey, and distantly, Anais hears the chatter of voices and the low notes of some jazzy Christmas tune. It must be the annual Christmas party for the lab, images of watching the professor dance, idle conversation, and glasses of wine rising to her mind. Pierre whimpers, and looks back at her with begging eyes.

    "No," Anais signs quickly, nervously, "not now."

    The manectric sniffs, turning his head away from the door, looking rather sad. Anais shakes her head softly, and slowly, pads over to the second wood door to the left. She slowly opens it, careful not to make too much noise and alert everyone in the other room.

    The office hasn’t changed much since she worked there with her dear friend Alexandre. The office is still painted a pale red, two wooden desks are still pushed together, her old dusty one on the left, his clean one on the right. On a coat hanger, her old pea coat, covered in dust and grime from five years of sitting there.

    Anais’ feels her breath catch, a lump of painful sadness in her throat. She walks further into the room, mouth wide open and her body beginning to quiver. Pierre is close behind her, low on his haunches, sniffing the air with narrow eyes. Her feet move her almost mechanically to her old desk, examining it, her hands frozen to her sides.

    It’s almost exactly how she remembers it. Picture of the skyline of her home city Saint-Lawrence to the left, a mug containing most of her pens, with a design of a pancham with the words “PEKING 2008”. Her computer monitor is still in the middle, dust blanketing the screen, and distantly, she can see Pierre’s old bed in the corner, a fading light green. In fact, after a little bit of searching, she can find her original note in one of the sections of her old desk, originally left flat on her desk when she ran off, a worn piece of notebook paper with visible tear stains.

    That’s odd, Anais thinks to herself, why is it still here? It’s a pretty decent piece of evidence in a missing-persons case (if one was opened at all) to just leave floating around in a desk drawer… Whatever.

    The letter-writing process was full of scribbling, where Anais wrote, and then covered it up with her pen. She did that about ten times, trying to find the exact words to say. Part of her back then wanted to tell Alexandre what had exactly happened, but then the memories of him telling her that she needed to “get over her jealousy” popped into her mind, and then she began furiously rewriting.

    The part that is actually legible reads:

    DO NOT LOOK FOR ME

    Thinking back on the moment, with a rational mind and body, she thinks that she may have been too… dramatic. That hiding away for five years, and writing an ominous at best, suicidal at the worst letter to her colleagues may have been irrational and without any logic.

    Then again, she had her reasons for suddenly disappearing.

    Unintentionally, her eyes wander towards a picture of the three students standing with their arms around their shoulders, smiling widely. First, she looks over at the younger, more innocent Anais, her black hair short, dark complexion relatively lighter than it is now, wearing a dress shirt, canary yellow sweater, and dark jeans. Then, she glances over at him, Lysandre, with his red spiky hair, pale complexion, bright blue eyes, and dark suit. Surprisingly, she feels nothing while looking at the picture of him, no anger, no fear, nothing.

    Even though he was the main reason she left, she was shocked like everyone else when he revealed who he really was. Of course, she found out when she went back into town, because the whole “mega-death-weapon” thing happened while she was deep in the mountains. The day it was happening went by unnoticed, with her only notes being that Pierre was more fearful than usual, and the forests were unnaturally quiet during the day, instead of being full of birdsong.

    It’s weird to think about. Lysandre, the man who practically ruined her reputation with the professor is gone. Dead. He lead a terrorist organization because something-something ‘make the world beautiful’, and then he died in the resulting aftermath. It was the main reason she came back, because it felt strange to be hiding in the forest from something that couldn’t hurt her anymore, and that the world was moving on, and she didn’t want to be lost in the rush.

    And, she knew she had to make amends with the professor and Alexandre eventually. Move on with her life and such.

    Perfect timing to come back, her mind snarks, funny of you to choose Christmas Eve to make amends, huh?

    She shuts her mind up and looks over at the resting manectric, who glances up at her with wide pink eyes. Anais gestures for him to come to her side, as she walks out of the room near silently. Pierre sniffs anxiously, putting his nose to the ground and walking closer to the door across from them, and sits in front of it, whimpering loudly.

    The music is still present, and she hears laughter and chattering coming from the room across from her office. There’s a painful surge in her gut, pushing her closer and closer towards the door. Part of her wants to fight it, run back down the stairs and out of the room, back into the wilderness where she truly belongs, but her hand is already on the doorknob. With sweaty hands, she turns it, and steps into the room.

    The professor’s office is almost the same as five years ago, navy blue walls full of paintings and bookshelves full of research papers. The lights are dim, and a record player is off to the side, playing some classic Christmas song that Anais can’t recall for the life of her. Professor Sycamore is off to the side, not facing the woman, with a group of posh-looking kids talking to him, about sixteen or seventeen, probably his new assistants. The one kid who stands out to her is a girl, reaching to Anais’ neck, wearing a light brown trench coat with strawberry blonde hair in a ponytail. She glances over at Anais, with her blue eyes wide, she reaches for her belt. She grabs a pokeball, a bright pink one with a baby blue button, and holds it out threateningly.

    Anais freezes, looking desperately for Alexandre or someone who understands sign language to defuse the situation. After flitting her head around, she sees his shadowy but unmistakable form off to the side, but not looking at her. Anais groans, closes her eyes and waits for the girl to scream at her.

    And, sure enough:

    “Who are you?” the girl shouts, turning attention towards the tall woman standing in the middle of the room.

    Anais stays silent, glancing over at Alexandre. She can see him a little better now, so she examines her old friend. His hair is longer, reaching to his neck instead of just reaching the ears, and he’s grown a stubbly sort of beard. He’s wearing a dark t-shirt, a worn white lab coat over it, the dark jeans he’s wearing probably close to threadbare by now. Alexandre is staring at her with wide eyes, and Anais feels her stomach drop.

    Distantly, the girl by Professor Sycamore asks her to say what she’s doing here, but Anais could care less. Slowly, she begins to sign, facing her old friend.

    Alexandre.

    She pauses, gauging his reaction. Alexandre stares at her, his mouth slightly agape.

    It’s me, Anais,” she gestures, “I’m alive.

    Suddenly, before Anais can say anything further, she hears the mechanical noise of a pokeball opening, and she looks over to see Pierre lunging in front of her, blocking her view of what appears to be a sylveon, growls, and electricity crackling through the air. Anais grimaces and prepares to either return her manectric to his pokeball or fight defensively, before she hears rapid footsteps.

    “Serena, stop,” Alexandre says, and his voice is audibly tight with tears, “I know who she is, she’s not trying anything.”

    Serena loosens her posture and returns her sylveon, but still stares at Anais suspiciously. Behind her, the woman can see Sycamore staring at her with an incredulous expression on his face, his hair just as out of control as it was five years ago.

    “Who is she then, Professor Nguyen?”

    “She’s…” Alexandre chokes, before regaining his composure. “She’s an old friend... I think the two of us are gonna step outside for a few moments to talk.”

    Anais nods and follows him out of the door with Pierre, feeling everyone in the room staring at her. As soon as the door shuts, Alexandre pulls her into a tight hug, resting his head on her shoulder, and she feels his body shake with sobs. She swallows painfully and feels tears run down her face slowly.

    For a few moments, she stands there, waiting for Alexandre to calm down enough to speak as he cries hysterically, Pierre looking up at him and whimpering loudly. She pats him on the shoulder softly, and she feels his breathing begin to calm.

    “I thought,” he murmurs hoarsely, “I thought you… died. We all did! What happened?”

    “I went to the south,” Anais signs, briefly pausing to rub at her eyes, “lived in the wilderness. Studied pokemon.

    “Why didn’t you tell us?” he sobs, a hint of anger in his voice, and Anais swallows painfully “do you know how much you just… disappearing, hurt me? Hurt the professor?”

    I’m sorry,” Anais gestures, tears and snot running down her face, “Lysandre.

    “What do you mean by ‘Lysandre’?”

    Couldn’t work with him anymore. I was frustrated. He said that I was broken. Filthy.

    Before Team Flare, she doubted that Alexandre would believe what she said. Lysandre was the professor’s favorite student, and while the two of them were significantly bitter about it, she doubts her friend would believe something so outlandish. Lysandre had always been polite and kind towards everyone, even her, until suddenly, he wasn’t.

    Now, Alexandre’s face contorts in pain, and he wipes away tears.

    “I’m so sorry,” he sighs, crossing his arms, “I-I should’ve noticed, all of us should have noticed. Should’ve spoken up when he claimed you had falsified your data and plagiarized your work, without proving it… I’m sorry.”

    It’s fine. You wouldn’t have known.

    “I know, but he gathered Team Flare under our noses…”

    I didn’t know either. I really hadn’t expected him to be a f*cking monster.

    Alexandre laughs hollowly and nods, and the two of them fall into a comfortable silence as they continue to hug. After a few moments, he pulls away and smiles softly up at her.

    “You still have that scarf of mine,” he says, touching it softly, “after five years…”

    Why wouldn’t I? You’re still my friend.

    Alexandre grins from ear to ear, running a hand through his messy hair. Anais cracks a smile as well, fidgeting with her scarf.

    Do you still have Edith?” Anais signs, and Alexandre nods.

    “Yeah, I do! We found out she was capable of mega evolution, but it put too much stress on her body. She’s just my companion now.”

    With a click of a button, he releases his mawile, who looks up at Anais with confusion in her eyes. It takes her a few minutes to recognize the woman in front of her as the same, smiley friend of her owner from all those years ago. Edith makes a loud squealing noise and hugs her leg hard. Anais laughs quietly, rubbing the mawile’s head softly. Her manectric practically leaps over to Edith, small flashes of static electricity visible in his fur, and bows in front of her. Edith makes some sort of chirping noise and reaches her hand out to pet him.

    She feels Alexandre staring at her, almost if he wants to say something. Anais adjusts her coat and looks up at him, his sleepy but warm eyes looking her over.

    What?” she signs, looking at him inquisitively.

    “Nothing. I’m just… I’m so happy you’re back,” he smiles, and Anais wonders why she didn’t leave earlier, “working here without you was… too painful to bear.”

    I should have told you. I was foolish.”

    “I forgive you,” Alexandre smiles, and places a hand on her shoulder, “and I should apologize too, because I wasn’t there for you…”

    “So, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not being a better… friend.”

    Forgiven,” the woman signs, and Pierre looks up at her.

    Alexandre smiles warmly, and she can spot the glimmer of tears in his eyes. He wipes them away with a quick movement of his hand.

    “You’re still not a fan of parties, right?”

    Anais shakes her head.

    “Well, how about we go over to my place, then? We have five years of talking to catch up on…”

    Anais laughs, nodding wildly. Grabbing her hand, Alexandre leads her out of the room and down the stairs, their pokemon following them. Anais glances over at her old friend as he walks through the lobby of the lab, the receptionist still not noticing her, and her heart feels warm.

    She’s finally home.
     
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    This is really rather lovely. I mean – there's a sense in which you know how this story ends as soon as you learn enough about Anais to tell why she's back in town, but you carry on reading anyway, because you want to see it through to its conclusion. I guess that's kind of how a Christmas story works. And this one in particular really does work; I like how you come at the plot from a slightly offbeat angle and keep us guessing till you reveal what sort of story it is we're looking at and how things are going to play out.

    It's also cool to see the aftermath of the XY story given its dues. All the villainous teams must scar the people they touch, to one degree or another, but Flare is quite closely connected to Sycamore's office – that is, with as close to an official force for good as the games have. I'd never have thought of it myself, but it's true that that might mean there's a real human cost there, which is totally something worth investigating, and you do that really well here.

    Like I said, I think it works well structurally and conceptually; the main things I'm going to point out here are typos or little grammatical errors.

    'She gestures' shouldn't be italicised here.

    There should be a full stop after 'painfully' – and actually, if dialogue continues with a new sentence after an attribution, as it does here, you should have a full stop rather than a comma, and the next bit of dialogue needs a capital letter. It's something you do a couple time elsewhere, like here:

    Since 'working here' starts a new sentence, it should begin with a capital W, and 'earlier' should have a full stop after it. Also, I'm not sure that 'smile' can be used as a dialogue verb – though if you wanted to make minimal changes, you could quite easily just make it work with different punctuation:

    “Nothing. I’m just… I’m so happy you’re back.” He smiles, and Anais wonders why she didn’t leave earlier. “Working here without you was… too painful to bear.”

    But these are pretty minor things, honestly. It's a really competent story, which sounds like I'm damning it with faint praise, but like competence is what matters with this genre of story, and on top of that you have a bunch of other interesting things too, like your short but vivid portrait of Lumiose and the exploration of what it means to be in that weird place where you're caught between Sycamore's lab and Team Flare. It's good, is what I think I'm trying to say.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2017
  3. Ooh, this took a turn I didn’t expect, in that I didn’t think it would be dealing with Lysandre and the people he hurt from how you set it up at the start (it gave me more Hilbert/Hilda vibes than anything). But it’s a very interesting take, and I thought you handled the story very well. How Anais reminisces about Lysandre and how she talks to Alexandre about what happened, you can really feel her pain and regret and a whole mix of emotions.

    I also really like how you describe Pierre here. He was relatively minor, but I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to his trainer’s actions as the story went on. I like how you always gave him something to do and didn’t just put him in a corner or something while Anais was going through her old room or while Anais was reuniting with Alexandre.

    There was one thing that caught me off-guard though:

    This side of the story was brought up a lot in the early parts of the story, but I didn’t think it was actually resolved? What did Alexandre and Sycamore and the rest of her old team did after they found out she escaped? There’s a nice bit at the start of the story where she ponders about this, but save for Alexandre apologizing for not noticing the situation fast enough I don’t think it was addressed. If I’m missing something, I’m really sorry and you can ignore this, but it was on my mind when I finished reading the story. Maybe the parenthetical in the passage I quoted above was a nudge-nudge to the fact that they didn’t actually do anything major about her escape? Idk.

    But that didn’t really deter my reading that much, and it’s a sweet and well-written story. Like I said, I enjoyed how you tackled the narrative and how you mixed in Lysandre’s plot. Great job with it! :)
     

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