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Light Through the Blinds

roule

take it all or leave it... I Feel You
new semester, new me, new fic. i started writing this recently between assignments, and havent been able to stop. please help me.

hopefully with this i'll be back to regular writing in the fandom again lol




1.



Dead leaves in the breeze



Milou wakes up in a comforting warmth, with the front of her body pressing up against an unfamiliar form. At first, she stares blankly at it, notices how it moves up and down slightly through the thick red comforter covering it. Then, a bolt of coldness causes her to leap to her feet, stumbling back into the pale blue wall to her right with a soft thunk.



Her head spins around the room, hands grasping at the wall, chest tight and breaths coming out in fast puffs. The room is rather cozy, with a small stove towards the end of the room, with dark hardwood floors and a red Persian rug covering most of it, and a stark white space heater humming in the corner of the room.



It would all be comforting to the woman if this was really her room, where she had gone to bed the night before.



The night before, Milou had done an all-nighter, perched on her desk chair and plunking away at her animation homework, watching as the shapes she drew morphed and shifted on the canvas. Her room was puny, barely bigger than a prison cell, with half of the room taken up by her bed and the rest taken up by her desk and dresser. Pulggie had fallen asleep underneath her desk on the linoleum, the metal pokemon was curled up in a ball-like shape, blue eyes shut. Milou made sure to not accidentally hit him as her legs swung up and down as she worked, not just to let him sleep, but with the knowledge that his steel shell could break a toenail or worse if she swung her legs too fast.



After a few hours of work, her eyes began to ache, and she couldn’t bring herself to focus onto the screen anymore. After a short trip to the shower in the communal bathroom, she flopped onto the bed, locked the door to her room, flipped on her radio to classical music, and passed out.



And woke up… here. With a stranger sleeping beside her, in a bed that wasn’t hers, in a room that was unfamiliar to her with no memory of how she got there.



Pacing towards the window, dodging a nightstand that sat by the right side of the bed, Milou pulls back the cloth curtains. Instead of the brilliant blue sky-scrapers jutting up into the sky in her native city of Philadelphia, the buildings are brick, with elaborate neon signage on them. There are people walking down the street, some with pokemon walking beside them, too far away for her to recognize their species. She can’t think of anywhere that looks like that in her home city, and she quickly pushes the curtains back down. Her hands shake against her thighs, sweat trickling from them as she steps away from the window quickly.



Staring at the figure resting on the bed, Milou feels the cold leave her body, and a sort of itchy curiosity takes its place. She knows she shouldn’t act upon it, but the itch runs down her spine, and it's no use. Slowly, she approaches the bed, and tugs at the comforter. A young man's face, with a thin triangular jaw, full pink lips, and soft hair strewn across his pale face, a fading pink, slowly becoming a light blonde. His expression is almost angelic, eyes shut and mouth hanging slightly open. His face contorts at the sudden lack of blanket coverage, grumbling something the woman doesn't understand.



It takes her a few seconds to recognize the man, and relief washes over before confusion immediately follows it. Why is he here?



Milou grips the man’s bare shoulders firmly, and shakes him until she feels him begin to move underneath her palms. A long thin hand bats at her sluggishly, and grips her wrist as he turns away from the light, loosely but still enough to her cheeks to flush.



That’s all it takes to get it going, her mind sneers, huh? Just a slight tap of fingers...



“Please,” the man groans in a familiar low voice, turning away from her and burying his head into the blankets, “jus’ five more minutes, coach…”



“Yunseo,” Milou says, her voice sounding small and creaky in her ears, “wake up, it's me. Milou.”



That causes the man to pause, before turning to her with bleary, dark eyes. He blinks quickly, before rubbing at his eyes quickly.



“Milou…?” he murmurs, his thick eyebrows furrowing, “how…?”



“I don’t know,” she says, rubbing at her mouth, the urge to smile incredulously burning at her lips, “I just woke up, and I’m pressed up against your back.”



“But..”



“I know,” she huffs, before tugging on his wrist, “c’mon, do you think you know where we are?”



With a groan, Yunseo wobbles to his feet, the blanket sliding off his bare chest, and a hand rubbing at his eyes. Milou watches as he walks to the window, peering outside with half-open eyes. He stands still for a moment, and she observes his expression morph from irritation to confusion, then finally to horror.



He turns to her, his dark eyes wide and his mouth tight.



“I don’t know where this is,” he says softly, his voice shaking.



“Me either,” Milou sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose, “what were you doing before you woke up?”



Yunseo turns and stares at Milou with blank eyes, mouth in a thin line.



“Sleeping.”



“Before that, asshole!”



“Uh,” he hums, tapping his chin with his index finger, “well… I was training Hankar for a bit, trying to teach her some new move combos. Nothing was sticking, so I decided to let her rest, and then I played Reign of Heroes until my eyes felt like they were going to melt out of my skull, and passed out shortly after.”



“And what were you doing?” He asks, tilting his head to the side with a small smile on his lips.



“I worked on homework until my brain broke, then went straight to bed.”



The man makes a low “ah” noise, and Milou watches him as he scratches the nape of his neck with his long fingers. He glances over at the woman, and a tinge of red comes over his cheeks. Milou looks down at herself, only wearing a black bra with navy boxers, before she glances up at Yunseo, who is wearing nothing but a pair of white boxers, his pale bare chest and long legs burning itself into her mind.



“We should get dressed,” Milou says quickly, moving towards a dresser resting a few paces to the right, “if the two of us have to go out to find out where the **** we are, I’d rather not do it with my tits out.”



Yunseo laughs a little, a low, pleasing noise, and the two of them busy themselves with searching through the dresser. There’s nothing in here that seems to belong to Milou, no graphic t-shirts, no skinny jeans, just dress pants, heavy pull-over sweaters in a spectrum of different colors, and crisp white dress shirts.



Eventually, Milou decides on a dress shirt and red wool sweater combo, with long dark slacks and grey knee socks as well. The sweater feels heavy on her chest, but it looks nice, and it’s better than nothing. As Yunseo changes, she averts her eyes, picking at the fuzz on the arms of her sweater.



It’s… been a while since the two of them had seriously spoken to each other, or hung out and did **** together. It wasn’t because of a fight they had, or any tension between them, just their lives going in different directions and forcing them apart. Milou had art school, then her barista job at a local coffee joint, Yunseo had tourneys to compete at, sponsorships to fulfill, and media events to attend. They had never been able to find a time to play Reign of Heroes or some other video game together when they had those things going on, and could only muster up conversations through text some of the time.



Blinking, an itching feeling behind her eyes, she crosses her arms and sighs loudly. Why does she care now? Yunseo is here, and they could have whatever time they need to make up for the dry spell of conversation.



Instead of seeping further in painful memories, Milou decides to wander the room aimlessly, to investigate it a little further. In a small walk-in closet, she finds her set of three pokeballs on one of the shelves, with their red paint chipping off after years of use. On the adjacent shelf towards the left, she finds a set of six black pokeballs, with a orange-red ring circling around the top. Below the shelf are their phones, laptops and chargers, in a neat stack. Milou’s Fender Stratocaster lies off to the side, with her amp and pedals in front of it, holding it from falling forwards. Reaching out, she grabs one of her pokeballs, and lightly bounces it in her hand.



Nice of her kidnappers to think of her pokemon too, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself if they were back at her dorm. The thought makes her face crease in agitation, and she runs a hand through her dirty blonde hair.



Suddenly, there’s a press of hands on her shoulders, and she jumps a foot in the air. Glancing behind her, she can see Yunseo, wearing a dress shirt with dark dress pants, staring at her with wide eyes.



“What’s in there?” Yunseo asks, and Milou spins on her heels to properly face him, “oh, sorry for scaring you.”



“It’s fine, I’m just a little jumpy,” she sighs, rubbing at her chest, “it’s our belongings, my guitar, our phones, our pokemon, that sort of stuff.”



Yunseo’s eyes go wide, and quickly gathers all of his pokeballs. Once they’re in his arms, he seems to visibly relax, shoulders drooping. Looking down at her own pokeball, the artist realizes that if they’re going to investigate the mess they’re in, they’re going to need some protection. With a click, Milou taps the button on her pokeball, and in a stream of light, Pulggie appears. The lairon stares at Yunseo for a few seconds, before emitting a low grumble, walking towards his feet and rubbing against his pant leg.



“Pulggie!” he exclaims, reaching down to pat his armor, which garners a happy grumble from the metal pokemon, “you’ve grown so much, buddy!”



Milou laughs, fingers digging into her sleeve. A wave of unease sets in her body as she eyes the door, and Yunseo follows her gaze.



“Let’s get going,” Milou sighs, her hands feeling remarkably cold, “we can’t just stay in this room forever, you know?”



With a few steps, and a twist of the golden doorknob, she pushes out into the unknown world that lays beyond the door.



This ‘unknown’ turns out to be a long hallway, with tacky flowery wallpaper, full of several doors and leading to a small staircase made of what appears to be iron. Pulggie crawls past his owner, and sniffs around, looking over everything with his big blue eyes.



“It looks… quite quaint,” Yunseo says, head swiveling around, “do you think we’re in a boarding house of some kind?”



The artist shrugs, watching Pulggie out of the corner of her eye. The metal pokemon eyes the iron railing of the staircase, and makes a low squeaking noise and shuffling towards it as quickly as he can go. Milou steps forward, and is about to start walking up to her pokemon until the sudden noise of a door flinging open from behind shocks all of them.



Whipping around, Milou is met with a woman, about to the artist’s shoulder blades, wearing a similar outfit to Yunseo, but with a ribbon tied around the collar of her shirt. She stares up at Milou with wide dark eyes, with her dark glasses glinting in the light.



There’s a moment of silence between all three of them, a tight, blanketing quiet that makes Milou’s nerves itch, before the woman speaks up.



“Is that you, Milou?” she asks, and Milou immediately breaks into a face-splitting grin on hearing her voice.



“Sure ****in’ is. You wake up in here too, Diana?”



Diana nods, crossing her arms, and brushing a strand of her light brown hair behind her ear. There’s a moment where Milou opens her mouth to ask her something before another door opens, and a mop of messy dark hair peeks out. The person in the doorway stares at them with dark eyes, their mouth hanging slightly open.



“H-How are you guys here?” the person asks, and they slowly walk out into the hallway.



“Do I look like I know, Michael?” Diana snarks, turning towards the man, who now stands in the middle of the hallway wearing a blazer, dress shirt and tie, a teal frog pokemon standing by his side.



“Well, I kind of hoping you or someone would have,” Micheal says, scratching at the nape of his neck with long fingers, before looking up at Yunseo, “do you have any idea, Yunseo?



“Absolutely not. Milou woke me up fifteen minutes ago.”



“She woke you up?” Diana asks in disbelief, her eyes wide.



“We were sleeping in the same room,” Milou says, rubbing her lips with her index finger, “you guys don’t have roommates?”



Both of them shake their heads, and Milou watches with some amusement as Michael’s marshstomp imitates his owner, shaking its head violently. Pulggie slowly approaches the other pokemon, letting out a low humming noise which causes the marshstomp to jolt backward. It wraps its large flippers around it’s owners legs, which causes the lairon to pause and stare at it, cocking his head to the side. The artist smiles softly, and pats Pulggie’s back, which garners a loud snort.



“Hm,” she says, rubbing her chin in slow circles, “I wonder why that is, then.”



“Maybe they ran out of room?” Yunseo says, walking towards one of the other doors.



He knocks on it, a quick rap-rap-rap, and pauses for a response. There’s a long silence before Yunseo twists the doorknob and pulls the door open with a loud creak. Peeking in, Milou sees a messy bed, its comforter nearly sliding off of it, pillows resting on the floor in odd positions. The closet doors are flung open as well, with various objects strewn across the floor, mainly some sort of brown canvas messenger bag. If Milou looks carefully, she can see the glinting of something circular and metallic underneath the cover, peeking out slightly.



“Someone already high-tailed it out of this shithole, huh?” she mumbles to herself, drumming her fingers on the doorframe.



“****. I was really hoping that someone would be in there,” Yunseo sighs, frowning to himself and rubbing his thumb against his pants pocket, “someone who could tell us what the **** is going on.”



Milou frowns, before feeling something nudge against her leg. Pulggie stares up at her with a soft gaze, emitting a low squeaking noise. The artist kneels down and lets the metal pokemon rest his head on her lap, running her hand down his iron armor.



“I know, I know,” she coos to him, barely noticing Michaels expression of amazement out of the corner of her eye, “you must be just as scared as we are at this brand new place, aren’t you Pulggie? Poor baby…”



Suddenly, Milou hears loud, quick footsteps coming from the end of the hall. Whipping her head up, she’s met with a man, must be in his mid-twenties at this point, only about five or so years older than her she guesses, his boxy face tight and hands to his sides. Her throat catches, and the artist freezes in place as icy terror runs through her, just staring ahead and hoping somehow that he doesn’t notice her. Through the haze of fear, Milou can feel a shaky hand rest on her shoulder, and looks up at Yunseo whose face seems tight with some mixture of agitation and fear.



At least they’ll be together in death, Milou laments to herself, and closes her eyes in anticipation of the incoming blow that’ll end this all.



There’s no such blow, and instead…



“What the **** are you all still doing here?” The man yells in a thick British accent, and Milou grits her teeth at both his volume and his tone, “they’re all going to be here in thirty-****ing-minutes, and you’re still up here, sitting on your asses and doing nothing!”



Milou opens her dark eyes wide, and whips her head over to Yunseo, who is gawking at the man from his kneeling position.



“Excuse me?” Michael exclaims, stepping forwards quickly, “What the **** are you talking about?”



The man looks at Michael, his face contorting and nostrils flaring.



“You heard me,” he snarls, stomping towards the boy until he’s nearly chest-to-chest to hin, “I tolerated you four oversleeping, but you’ve wasted two ****in’ hours at this point, two hours you could’ve spent earning your pay! Do you understand?”



“B-but,” Milou stammers, before a visibly shaking and furious Diana interrupts her, jutting a finger towards the man.



“What the **** are you talking about?! None of us agreed to this ****! Why did you-”



“-kidnap us?” the man groans, his expression softening into irritation, “I’ve heard that one before.”



Diana’s face drops, and the color leaves her face. hand falling limply to her sides, and she gapes at him.



“Frankly, I have no clue what you lot are trying to get with this. I met with all of you yesterday to discuss your contracts and your duties, and I have witnesses and the documents you signed as proof, so drop that lie quick.”





Milou feels her stomach flip, and a cold sensation comes over her. A silence falls over the group, and the artist’s mind rushes to come up with some sort of joke or solution to end it.



“I’m sorry for our lateness, sir. I’ve just been looking for the food I bought for Pulggie here,” Milou quickly lies with a wide smile before anyone can speak up, and rubs her lairon for extra effect, “his species has a very specific diet, and I accidentally left the iron I bought for him with Diana when I moved in!”



The man stares at her, then looks down at Pulggie with a disdainful stare.



“Can’t he wait?” he asks, scratching at the side of his face.



“Well, if I don’t feed him soon, he’ll start foraging for food around the building, and you wouldn’t want that, sir.”



“You think so?”



“Oh yes, sir,” the artist nods quickly, her smile faltering somewhat, “I mean, looking at the wonderful metalwork in my room and in the hallway, I would imagine it was quite expensive to have installed.”



The man’s eyebrows raise, and he steps back somewhat, eyeing Pulggie with some caution.



“All right,” he says, and Milou feels her body relax, “but another thirty minutes late, and you’re all fired.”



Milou nods quickly, a big toothy grin on her face. She watches as the man turns around, and walks back to the stairway, hand in his pants pocket. There are several minutes of silence as he heads down the stairs, and after waiting a few moments just to be sure he’s out of earshot, Milou turns to face her friends with a serious expression. Diana’s face is pallid, her eyes bugging out, Yunseo is visibly quivering, his eyes staring blankly at the stairway far ahead, and Michael is leaning against the wall, head in his hands.



She had no idea how she didn’t choke on any of her lies. It had felt seconds away, like a hand rising up from her belly, up her esophagus, to rip the words from her vocal cords before they even formed. That was luck, pure luck.



The base of her fingers itch suddenly, an annoying, not quite painful feeling. Almost like something pushing up underneath her skin. Milou scratches at it, looking down at her hands as she does it. The skin is peeling off there on both her hands, but other than that, they look fine. No rash or any sort of discoloration, as far as she can tell.



“How…?” Diana whispers, barely audible.



“I don’t know,” Yunseo says, his voice shaky and tight, “this doesn’t make any ****ing sense.”



“Let’s cross that bridge when we have the free time to get to it,” Michael sighs, walking over to the artist, “Milou, do you actually have to feed Pulggie?”



“Yeah,” she nods, and gets to her feet.



Rushing over to her room, Milou rummages through the closet, grabbing her two remaining pokeballs, praying deseprately to find some sort of scrap metal for Pulggie to eat. After a few moments of searching, she grabs a paper trash bag full of cans and what looks to be cut-up car parts. Poking through it gingerly, it looks like it’s all safe for her lairon, no paint to remove, nothing. So she lifts it, and cradles the awfully heavy bundle in her arms, walking out into hallway slowly. Her lairon instantly perks up, and scuttles over to his owner, making a happy grumbling noise.



“Please move out of the way, and cover your ears,” Milou warns, before unceremoniously dumping the trash bag onto the floor, her friends skittering away.



The artist throws the empty bag to the floor, slamming her palms over her ears and shutting her eyes tight as she watches Pulggie approach the pile of metal. Milou’s pretty good at blocking out most of the sound by now, but the loud scraping, screeching, and the crunching of metal as Pulggie chews through it and tears at it with his sharp teeth still makes her stomach churn and ears ache.



After several painful minutes, the noise stops, and Milou opens her eyes. Her lairon is looking up at her triumphantly, raising his head up in anticipation of a pat. There’s absolutely no sign of any remaining metal on the floor, and Milou grins from ear to ear.



“Good boy Pulggie!” she cheers, patting his head softly as he squeaks loudly, “you must’ve been really hungry, huh boy? C’mon, let’s go downstairs now!”



“Jesus,” Diana says, grimacing in pain, “how do you live with that?”



“You get used to it,” Milou shrugs, and Michael stares at her like she’s losing her mind.



Milou lets her mind roam as they walk over to the staircase. What is the cause of all this, exactly? Why are they here all of a sudden, in the middle of wherever apparently under contract to do something downstairs? And she doesn’t even want to delve too deep into the fact that they were seen signing these contracts. Just the thought of that makes her skin crawl, and she desperately racks her memory for any fragment of a moment relating to that.



As they pass by the last door, Milou’s eyes catch on something white hanging from the wall. She pauses to the protests of Yunseo, who she feels tug at her sleeve, and steps closer to it, examining it with squinting eyes.



It’s a calendar, one her mother would buy for her house, a picture of a flowery field somewhere. There’s flashes of reds and yellow, begonias Milou thinks, against a green field, all with a brilliant blue sky framing it all. However, Milou finds herself staring intently at the date, underneath the photo, in a large, simple font.



August 7th, 1963



“Jesus ****in’ christ,” she whispers.
 

roule

take it all or leave it... I Feel You
2.

The Taste of Fear, The Feeling of Red

"What?" Yunseo asks, pushing past the artist, who is standing perfectly still. "What's wrong, Milou?"

She watches from the corner of her eyes as Yunseo looks at the date, and his face goes pale as the realization hits him. Shaking his head, he steps back, eyes wide like saucers. Michael's head peeks slightly over the blond man's shoulders, and his eyebrows furrow at the text.

"It's probably just a very shitty prank," he groans, a straining expression on his face as Diana walks past him in a hurry, "we need to get going. C'mon."

Milou's gaze holds on the calendar, unable to will herself to move forward. Like something's grabbing her knees tight, holding her in place. Part of her wants to believe Michael, that this is all a joke meant to **** with their minds more, but the way the city looks outside springs doubt in her mind.

In the end, she follows Michael's advice and walks forward with shaky legs, leaning her body against the stair railing. Her head is swimming, thoughts still fixating on the date, the "August, 1963" taunting her in big, bold letters. What if Michael was wrong? How did they end up here?

Milou heard the story of Celebi as a young girl, a story her mother had told her when the young girl would fret endlessly about what tomorrow would bring. The legend of a rare green fairy pokemon, who could travel through time's rushing current, whose appearance always symbolized a good future. It had brought peace to the young girl each time she heard it, but as Milou grew into an adult, she became more and more unaffected by it.

Celebi's existence, with all legendaries, was hotly debated in the pokemon community.. There had been no definitive proof that it wasn't anything other than a story passed through generations, any photos or videos being seemingly debunked as clever editing or a very well-crafted model. When the artist was little, she used to watch shows on television about people desperately searching for proof of these creatures, but everyone knew that they were made up for the camera.

Get out of your head, Milou's rational mind crows, you're wasting precious energy worrying about the probable. Think about what is in front of you, what is going to happen.

She's the last person down, eyes focusing mostly on Pulggie, who crawls down slowly and timidly. Occasionally, he looks up at his owner and makes a soft whiny noise, and she has to pat him reassuringly to get him to take another step forward.

The room in front of them is in a retro (or if they're really in 1963, is it modern?) style, a bright red rug covering most of the hardwood flooring with a bizarre circular pattern on it in a darker shade of red. There's not much furniture, judging by the big oak door in the center of the room, it's the front room, but a geometric coat hanger, with a dark peacoat hanging from one of its arms. Diana stands towards the left, leaning against a doorway.

As she steps down, she notices Michael staring at her, his eyebrows furrowing, and mouth taut.

"I worry about Pulggie, sometimes," he says, crossing his arms and looking up at the artist.

"Why?"

"You're spoiling that poor lairon," he grins in jest, tapping Milou on the shoulder.

"No, I'm not," she insists with a grin, rubbing her sweater sleeve, "I'm not giving him ice cream or dressing him up in dumb clothing, **** you, man."

"But babying him isn't? Milou, you are so deep in denial."

"Shut up," she grins, shoving him playfully, "didn't I tell you his story? He's-"

"-a rescue, I know. Still doesn't give you an excuse to treat him like your first-born."

Milou only huffs in response, crossing her arms. She turns to Yunseo with an inquisitive glance, and Yunseo visibly deflates.

"You should know better than me, Yunseo," she hums, a smirk on her face, "am I spoiling my pokemon?"

"W-well, I don't think you are," he stammers, eyes going between her and Michael, "but there are different schools of thought for this sort of thing. You know?"

Milou nods, beaming at him.

"Can we not talk about this right now?" Diana interjects, her expression weary. "I'm ****ing starving, and I'd rather avoid getting screamed at again."

"Okay," Milou huffs, running a hand through her bleach-blonde hair.

Peeking through the door, the artist is met with an expansive living room, with dark green walls and a lime couch that's almost completely square in shape. In front of it is a small, vintage television set, the kind with the brown sides, curving CRT screens, and large antenna poking out on the top, with no VCR on the bottom. Flanking its sides are two rectangular baby blue bookcases, and off to the corner, Milou spots a large blue record player resting on a dark table. On the top of the one to the left, there is an odd statue of an espeon, its pink paw raising upwards in an almost beckoning manner. On the walls, a series of shelves cut from a very pale wood, with assortments of books and record LPs littering them, held up by elaborate bookholders made of iron.

There's a sudden blast of an abrupt urgent tone from the TV, and Milou whips her head around to face it. She watches the screen as a grey screen displays "BBC TV NEWS" in big white letters. A man, about forty or so, sits in front of a black background, wearing a suit-and-tie. Before the artist can register any more details about his face, Pulggie sits in front of the TV, blue eyes staring at the antenna. The artist is about to walk over to nudge Pulggie aside before the anchor begins to speak.

"Good morning, today is August 7th, 1963. Overnight the…"

Milou needs to hear nothing more before she abruptly slams her fist into the nearby wall with a loud thunking noise, and does it two more times for good measure, the LPs above her rattling precariously. Her hand aches, knuckles throbbing with pain, but she doesn't seem to mind it. It helps center her, make her realize that this is really happening.

"Tabarnak de tabarnak!" she exclaims, her father's native tongue subconsciously spilling from her lips. "Oh… There is no ****ing way this happened."

She turns to Diana, who's leaning against the wall, face pale and hand covering her mouth. Michael, to her right, is completely rigid, his eyes bulging from his skull and mouth hanging open. Yunseo's hand is clasping her wrist, holding it in place gently so she can't attack the wall again. Looking at him, she can see that his thin face is taut with hidden emotions.

"****, man!" she exclaims, rubbing the bridge of her nose with her free hand, "Fifty years… Fifty ****in' years! ****..."

"Stop yelling," Diana chides her, dropping the hand from her mouth, "if you yell, he'll hear us!"

Milou groans, clutching her head tightly and massaging her already aching temples. She steps over to the couch and sits down with a thud. Slowly, her knees crawl up to her chest as she watches the anchor prattle on about the First Lady of the United States giving birth, her hands digging into the couch's fabric tightly. Pulggie looks over at her, and toddles over to the couch, placing his forearms onto the cushions and grunting curiously at her.

Milou's thoughts blend together, churning and twisting furiously like a hurricane barreling forth, a coldness rushing through her body. Her mind flits through incomplete thoughts, how the president they're discussing in such warm terms on screen is only a few months away from death, and all the upheaval and uncertainty that was soon arriving to this time. Martin Luther King, the FLQ bombings, the rise of the Vietnam War…

She thinks of the abstract art she had to view for her Contemporary Art class, reds, blues, blacks, all sorts of colors splattered across a canvas. Her professor, a tall man in his mid-forties, had talked excitedly about how these works portrayed movement and feeling above all else. She didn't understand it then, and frankly, her memory of that lecture is fuzzy at best, but now...

Milou wants to grab a canvas, and just fling paint onto it, using her brushes, hands, whatever she can get. She wants to portray the confusion, anguish, rage, and horror of this moment with however many strokes of paint she can manage before it all melds together into a disgusting blend of color.

Taking a deep breath in, Milou runs her quivering hands down her face, groaning lowly. Next to her, she feels someone sit down, and a hand rests on her shoulder. Sluggishly, she looks up to see Yunseo smiling nervously at her, and she exhales through her nose.

"I don't know man," she shouts, her hands rubbing her temples, "I don't ****ing know! Like... this doesn't make any sense! At all!"

"I know," Yunseo sighs, rubbing her shoulder in a soothing pattern, opening his mouth to say something to her, but just makes a low noise, his expression darkening.

Guilt pools in her gut, and underneath the anger and horror it twinges painfully. You're taking it out on the people around you again, it hisses, the people you love. Aren't you making the same mistakes over again? Yunseo, Michael, Diana, they've all put up with your tantrums for so long, who knows when they'll decide to give up on you?

Milou closes her burning eyes, breathes in, and tries to swallow around the lump in her throat.

"I'm sorry for getting upset," she says, clearing her throat when her voice sounds like it's wavering as she stands with wobbly legs, "I… I think I need to have breakfast."

A few moments later, the four find themselves crowding into the kitchen a door down from the living area. It's not impressive to Milou, a stovetop, an oven, all the normal fixings of a kitchen, and the dark wood paneling covering all the cabinets reminds her of home improvement shows her mother watches, how this stuff is usually the first to go in a remodeling. However, she's also from a whole different time period, so maybe all of this is modern and cutting edge in the owner's eyes.

Michael is standing at one of the gas stovetops with his marshtomp hanging onto his pant leg, and the delightful smell of eggs frying wafts through the air. Milou is at a counter behind him, biting into a fried-egg-cheese-onion-and lettuce sandwich ( maybe she should call it the "Time Traveler's sandwich"...?), put together from stuff sitting in the large fridge. Pulggie is at her feet, leaning against her ankles lightly, head resting over her feet. He grumbles lowly, and Milou can sort of feel the vibration against her leg.

"You know," she says, looking over at Michael, who briefly peers back at her, "we should all come up with cover stories."

"Cover stories?" Yunseo asks from her right, fork in his hand and staring at her with wide eyes.

"Yes, I'm not gonna **** with the past if I can help it," she sighs, taking another bite into her sandwich, "so we should make up a story that tells whoever needs to be told why we came to this place. Future stuff removed."

"Oh, I see," Diana hums, a cheeky smile on her lips, "like we're spies!"

"Yeah."

There's silence for a few moments, and Milou takes a few final bites of her sandwich. She gently brushes the crumbs on the front of her shirt into her palm, and throws them into the trash can. Michael's marshtomp squeaks loudly, hitting his left calf with a slapping noise.

What should her cover story be, anyways? All her life, her "backstory" isn't all that interesting, nothing to write home about. Maybe she's going to be an Olympic-level swimmer trying to be a school teacher after ending her career. Or maybe a starving artist deciding to work between art pieces to make enough money… Well, she'll think of something.

"Maybe that's why we're here," Michael says suddenly, scraping egg off of the frying pan, and throwing some of the scraps into his marshtomp's open mouth, "to be spies."

"Spying for technology that's already been built?" Diana says, looking over her shoulder with her eyebrows raising.

"No," he says, resting his chin on his hand, staring at the pan intently, "I mean, if there's some way to harness the ability to time travel, wouldn't there be people misusing it?"

"That sounds like a blockbuster movie," Yunseo sighs, twirling a strand of his pink hair around his index finger.

But, I guess that could make sense," Milou says softly, biting at her thumbnail, "I don't know, wouldn't they use actual government employees?"

"Hey, Diana," Michael turns to her, a wild grin on his face, "aren't you a government employee?"

Without looking up from her own plate of food, Diana responds with a huff.

"Yes, when they decided to go fifty years into the past to monitor some cataclysmic event, the United States government decided to send the woman working in the Parks and Recreations department in the state of Washington as a spy."

"Yeah, you're right," Michael says, running his hands down his round face, "god, none of this **** makes sense. It's almost ****ing Kafka-esque."

The sound of light footsteps and the squeak of the door opening coming from behind shocks any response Milou is thinking of giving, as she whips around to face the person entering the room with wide eyes.

A short man with messy dark hair leans against the doorframe, a thick hand fidgeting with the glasses resting on his nose. His square face and stubbly beard strike the artist as familiar in some faint way, but before she can speak, she hears Yunseo's voice.

"Coach?"

Yunseo's coach, blinks quickly, his eyes widening in shock. He lets out a breath, and Milou shifts from one foot from the other, glancing over at Yunseo, then to his coach. Her skin crawls, and she itches her fingers furiously again.

"Oh god," the man finally says, his voice shaking, "I was really hoping you weren't stuck here too, Yunseo."

"Yeah, we all won the ****in' time travel lottery here," Diana groans, crossing her arms and moving to the artist's side, "What's going on?"

Yunseo's coach stands up straight and clears his throat, his hands clenching.

"Well, Mr. Bitterman asked me to come get you all. Yuto and I have been cleaning up the house while you four have been resting"

"Yuto is here?" Yunseo exclaims, his eyes wide and arms stiff.

Milou blinks in surprise at the name and bites down hard on her thumbnail.

She knows who Yuto is, of course. The name brings her back three years in her parent's basement, her black-and-red headset on, sitting at her dad's work desk, chatting eagerly with Yunseo through a chat client. The two had been playing Reign of Heroes together, as usual, Milou played as a demonic woman, black as the shadows that cloaked her, with long claws, glowing yellow eyes, and pink venomous stingers, and had been stalking an enemy player, a dark-haired man in elaborate gilded armor.

"**** yeah!" She crowed, as she managed to kill the player in a massive flash of damage, "finally I'm ****ing winning!"

Yunseo laughed loudly on the other line, and the artist felt herself grin widely. After seeing no threats coming to her. she moved her camera towards him. She saw his character assisting a fellow player as they killed a wave of enemies, a large imposing dog-like creature, black like a zoroark but with the facial structure of a manetric, with a long silver staff in a clawed hand.

"Ugh…" Milou grunted, stretching her sore back before she focused her attention back on the game, "****, I'm beat today."

"Why?"

"I had gym today, and even ****ing walking around the track eighty times over and over ruins my muscles, dude. I have no ****ing stamina! Plus it was three hundred degrees out!"

"You really should work out," her friend chided, and she saw his icon pop up on the kill feed, killing another player with their teammate, "it'll be good for you."

"Come over here and teach me, then."

"I can't afford a plane ticket."

Milou growled for a second, as her character gets attacked by two different enemy players. She fought hard, but ultimately she fell to them. She rubs at the base of her nose with her thumb as her screen darkens. The urge to slam her fist against the desk burned through her arms, but she settled for just clenching her fist. If she broke anything on her father's desk, she knew she wouldn't be allowed to play downstairs anymore, the only place she could play without being bothered.

"I'll fly to Seoul then," she grunts, trying to calm herself down, "better to learn one-on-one. Besides, I need chem tutoring."

"I don't think I'm a good teacher," Yunseo laughs softly, "you'd probably learn nothing good from m- oh ****!"

Milou looked up at the kill feed as her character respawned, and saw Yunseo's avatar on the other side this time. She snorted in response.

"Unfair," he huffed, and moved something close enough to his microphone for it to be audible, "they need to ****ing nerf Sorkannan, I hate that ****ing lighting cat."

The artist giggled in response, twirling a strand of hair as she moved her character into the forests surrounding the battlefield.

"In all seriousness," Milou said suddenly, biting at her lip, "I think you're a good tutor. You wanna be a doctor, right? I bet you're gonna get into some amazing genius college, and like, become a doctor that cures some sort of-"

"I'm not going to college"

Milou froze at her screen, her character unmoving. Yunseo said it all in one breath as if the words forced themselves out of his mouth and through the microphone. A moment of silence passed between the two of them.

"What?" she asked, her eyes so unfocused that she was easily picked off by another enemy. "But you said-"

"I… I decided against it," he said quickly, and there was a twinge of something Milou can't identify in his voice, "It's not what makes me happy."

"Then, what are you doing after you graduate?"

"Well… ****, sshibal!" he said, dying again to the same enemy. "I signed a contract with a coach. I'm going to be a professional pokemon trainer."

"WHAT?" Milou screamed, and her mother slammed her fist against the door to the basement three times.

"Stop yelling down there! Me and Dad are trying to watch a movie!"

"S-Sorry, Mom…" The artist said, and hears Yunseo cackle loudly on the other line, "but seriously! Did you sign a contract? Please, please don't tell me you got it from some dude off the street, you know how that **** goes, right?"

"No, no," Yunseo said, and Milou could feel his mood lift, as if the impending news weighed him down, "It's a pretty prestigious coach. I think you would know him."

"Would I? Who has he coached?"

"Yuto Kurosagi."

"YUTO-!?" she shouted, before lowering her voice. "You're being coached by the Peter Kim?"

"Yep, he had an open try out here last month, and he apparently thought my technique with Rai was good enough for him," he said cheerfully, before he sighed sadly, "so we all might not be able to play together as often. But, maybe I'll be the second of his trainers to run through the American Championship undefeated…"

He giggles timidly, and the artist feels a smile burn at her lips.

"That's fine, I don't mind," Milou said softly, "If you're happy, I'm happy. I'm… glad you're doing what you want."

There was a flush of warmth rising in her chest, as she looked back at Yunseo's character. He seemed happy doing this, probably the happiest she's seen him in a while. She knew being a trainer was an uncertain path, but he seemed to have a good person coaching him. That's all she wanted.

Is it, really?

Suddenly, Milou feels a lurch, and she's back in the ugly kitchen in 1960-whatever, blinking rapidly. Her head stings with a bolt of pain feeling almost if it's stabbing through her right eye, throbbing and aching, and she feels the crawling sensation of eyes fixing themselves on her. Pulggie is at her feet, nudging her legs gently and snorting. Looking over at Yunseo, she notices that he's staring at her, a firm hand on her shoulder.

"Huh…?" she mumbles, blinking her eyes a few times.

"Are you okay?" he asks, voice quivering slightly." You… were in some sort of trance. Your eyes were blank and you w-weren't responding to anything we said…"

"I'm fine," she lies, forcing a grin on her face, "I zoned out for a bit."

Yunseo still has concern all over his face, but his shoulders seem to droop. Milou feels a flush of embarrassment come over her, her cheeks reddening, with fear chasing on its heels.

She doesn't know what that was. It was a memory from the past, but it felt so… realistic. Like the artist was really back in her parent's basement, three years ago, really cycled through all the same emotions that she had felt back then. Had she really been back there somehow? It's not implausible, even with how ridiculous it sounds, she did wake up in 1963 this morning…

She shakes her head, trying to dispel these thoughts. Focus, focus. You don't need to concern your friends more.

"We should head out," the artist says, rubbing the bridge of her nose, "I'll be fine."

"Really?" Diana asks, her voice sounding small. "Are you sure, Milou?"

"I'll tell you if I feel sick," Milou smiles in an attempt to reassure them, "I promise."

It sounds fake as all hell in her ears, but Diana seems to loosen slightly. Deep down, part of her knows it's not true in the slightest.

It never will be.

Her body acts on autopilot, walking in step with Yunseo as they leave, walking out into the hallway. Everything in her aches and itches, her fingers especially. It's getting worse and worse after her sudden vision, which is honestly more likely a hallucination. The sensation is almost now like bugs crawling up her arms, not very fast but deliberate enough for Milou to feel every step.

Please, her mind begs, anyone, please start talking so I can pay attention to that instead.

"So," Diana speaks up, and Milou has to choke back a sigh of relief, "you're… Yuunbi's coach?"

"Yuunbi?" Coach Kim asks, his brow furrowing. "Who's Yuunbi?"

"It's… uh… my nickname online," Yunseo says, scratching at his neck quickly, "we all met through playing video games."

Briefly, Milou wonders if he's going through the same thing as she is. But the thought makes here even more aware of the feeling, so she drops it.

"Oh," his coach replies, looking over all of them with wide eyes, "and your names?"

"My name is Milou," the artist says, before pointing to Diana.

Diana stares at her with blank eyes, before sighing, and running a dark hand through her hair.

"Diana Serrano,"

"And I'm Michael Lau," Michael huffs, reaching down to pat the head of his marshtomp, whose eyes are half-open as its body hunches over.

"Nice to meet you all," he smiles curtly, before turning to face the artist, "so, not a last name person, are you?"

"Well, my last name is long as ****, so I rather not trouble anyone with it."

Coach Kim blinks at her, rubbing at his chin and staring at her. Milou's eyebrows quirk upward as she looks back at him, and she's about to ask him what he's staring at her for before he speaks again.

"It wouldn't happen to start with a V, would it?"

Milou's eyes widen, and her muscles tense up and the itching noticeable again. Glancing over at Yunseo, the artist notices that his expression is just as taut with confusion as she assumes hers must be. He looks back at her, and shrugs his shoulders quickly, and Milou rubs at her fingers again.

"Uh…" she says, trying to force words past the lump in her throat, "yeah. It's Vandenbroucke."

The man snaps his fingers suddenly, a grin growing on his face.

"That's who you are!" he exclaims, pointing a long finger close to her chest. "Jeanne Vandenbroucke!"

Instead of nodding like Coach Kim expects, Milou stares blankly at him, blinking quickly and rubbing at her fingers.

"That's not my name."

The grin on the man's face drops, and his face contorts in confusion.

"Huh," he says, his thick eyebrows raising up towards his hairline while he rubs his chin with an index finger, "Mr. Bitterman showed us three employment papers to prove he hadn't kidnapped us... my papers, Yuto's, and this 'Jeanne'... How strange."

Milou pauses for a second, thinking to herself. What if she gets to Mr. Bitterman, and there are no employment papers for her in there? What will happen then? Will she be thrown out, into an unfamiliar world with little of her own belongings? An icy feeling runs up her spine, and she bites down on her lip, tasting copper.

Without thinking she says:

"Well, I'll be Jeanne then."

All four of them whip around to face Milou, and her cheeks grow hot.

"It's better if I don't use my real name here," she insists, and it is a half-truth at worst, "even if I'm not even close to being born in this decade."

"What if the real Jeanne comes down?" Michael asks, a skeptical look in his eyes and a taut mouth, "what will your plan be then?"

"My plan," Milou says, hiding the fear coursing through her with a level voice, "will be to cross that bridge when I get to it."

Michael huffs in response and throws his hands up to the ceiling. He's about to respond to that, before Coach Kim clears his throat loudly, one hand on the doorknob.

"When we pass through here," he says, his face rigid and voice low, "we are from the 1960s. No references to the future, at all. Got it?"

Milou nods her head furiously, and a glance over at her friends shows her that many of her friends are doing the same. She takes a deep breath before a thought crosses her mind, and she turns to Yunseo.

"Do you think I should let Beatrice out?" the artist asks in a whisper, and Yunseo rests his hand on his chin and his eyebrows furrow. "I think she'll be cranky if she's not let out soon, and… uh… I don't l-like seeing her cranky."

"Not now," he responds, walking closer to her so he can be heard, "I'm letting mine out after we meet this… Mr. Bitterman. I don't want to freak him out."

The artist nods in agreement. She doesn't know how their employer would react to Yunseo's team of pokemon, especially Hankar, no matter how well they end up behaving. She assumes it will be the same if Beatrice is out of her pokeball.

Milou feels something hard and cold rub against her pant leg, and she looks down to see Pulggie staring up at her with big curious eyes. A smile burns at her face, and she lightly pats him on the nose, garnering a snort. His eyes close as her hand runs up the steel ridge on his head, nudging it towards her hand softly.

The artist has always been confused as to how the lairon seems to enjoy being petted by his owner, it had always felt like she was running her hand down the smooth metal shell of a car more than anything, and if she recalls correctly he couldn't feel her hand at all. Maybe he just liked the idea of his trainer being close to him?

Eventually, Milou stands up, noticing that the door is ajar, probably opening while she was petting her pokemon, and she can hear Coach Kim engaging someone in conversation. Peeking through the doorway, Milou sees the man from earlier, his hands resting in front of him, fingers interlacing. Instead of the furious, terrifying expression the four saw earlier, he's grinning while listening to Coach Kim talk, eyes glittering.

Oh good, she thinks to herself, he's in a better mood now.

Slowly, she slinks into the room, wedging herself between Michael and Diana, who are standing stiffly. Both of them have their hands resting in front of them, Michael's marshtomp imitating him half-heartedly. Pulggie squeezes between her left leg and Michael's right leg, and the boy grunts and inches over slightly.

Looking over the room, Milou notes with revulsion that it's the same butt-****in'-ugly sixties style, bright orange curtains, white shag carpet on navy blue carpeting, baby-blue walls and those round pod-like chairs she only sees in the movies. There's one right behind her, made up of some sort of hard white plastic with a green plush interior, and the temptation to curl up inside is nearly overwhelming. However, she manages to beat it back with fear of upsetting the man, who she thinks is Mr. Bitterman.

Then, all of a sudden, her eyes catch on a young man, standing off to Coach Kim's right. He's about the artist's height, give or take an inch, with a scrawny build, a square face and dark hair barely past his small ears, slightly messy, as if he woke up too fast and forgot to brush. The man notices her glance, and peers back at her from his round eyeglasses, his face cold and gaze almost clinical.

Out of all the times to finally meet the "Devil-king of Pokemon Battling", in the sixties and with Yuto in a white turtleneck and bright blue blazer instead of his normal red-and-black jersey is… not what she was predicting.

Her prediction before this had been that she would've gone out to one of Yunseo's matches, maybe in Philly, maybe in New York, maybe even in D.C. if she managed to bribe Papa to drive her. Yunseo would've won, cheering from the crowd, handshakes, blah-blah-blah, the whole nine yards. She would go backstage as a ve-e-e-ry special guest, thank you very much, and then congratulated Yunseo, gave him a gift or two, then would meet his coach and Yuto. It would be awkward, of course, but they would probably joke about pokemon husbandry, the artist would tell some of her old job stories, the ones she had in her imaginary brain-cabinet labeled "FUNNY WORK STORIES - GOOD ICE BREAKERS!" and the two would be friends.

This, this whole time travel ****, threw off her vibe completely. Now she's frozen in place, unable to do much other than meet the gaze of one of the greatest pokemon trainers to ever live and she has jack **** to say to him because her brain is fizzling and spluttering out of control.

"Jeanne."

Milou whips her head towards the voice, blinking to focus her mind, and looks at who she assumes is Mr. Bitterman, whose gaze moves from her to Pulggie, who stares right back at him with big, doe-like eyes. Looking over at him closely, Milou realizes that somehow, his oval face looks very familiar to her, a very distant familiarity but still notable to her.

"Yessir?" she replies, and she swears she hears a little bit of a French accent in her voice there.

"I assume you fed your pokemon properly, yes?" he says with a smile.

Now that he's not screaming at her, Milou notices that he speaks with a certain slow, drawn-out sophistication. It was almost like the stereotype of an affluent British man. Well, from a foreigner's perspective, of course. She knows that there's definitely a name for this type of accent, but she does not have a whole lot of time to ponder it.

"Yessir, he'll be fine now," she says with a smile, and Pulggie grunts softly, stepping forward slowly, "once he's done eating his meal, he is perfectly docile, and very very sweet."

Mr. Bitterman doesn't seem to believe her, as he eyes the metal pokemon with caution, his arms crossing and expression tightening. Pulggie peers at him, his head turning to the side and blinking slowly.

"Well, you did warn me about your…choices in companion pokemon," he sighs, adjusting his dark blue tie, "you worked in exotic pokemon handling, yes?"

Milou nods enthusiastically. I guess Jeanne is really my name in the sixties, she thinks to herself. Her shoulders sag with relief, and she rubs her chin absent-mindedly. Looking over at Yuto, the trainer raises his eyebrows a little, but other than that his expression is the same.

"Yes. I worked in the field for three years, and understand their needs well, sir."

Her employer's eyebrows raise, and he lets out a low whistle.

"You're rather young for three years of that sort of work."

Briefly, she racks her mind on what details of her job to tell him. Quickly, her mind throws together a reasonable excuse.

"Well, I wasn't allowed to handle extremely lethal ones, of course," she laughs, picking at her sweater again, "if they let me, my mother would've never let me work! But other than those, I… think I still know my sh-stuff, sir.

Mr. Bitterman nods with a small smile, continuing to occasionally glance down at her pokemon, before turning to Coach Kim again, with that glimmering look in his eyes.

"Well, Peter, you and Yuto have done tremendous work!" he exclaims, looking around the room, "the room is practically spotless!"

"Thank you, sir," Yuto says, briefly looking back at Milou, then to Yunseo, who stands to her right.

Mr. Bitterman beams at Yuto, before turning towards Milou and her friends. His smile falters somewhat, but he keeps up his chipper demeanor.

"I'm glad all of us are on the same page now," he says, and Milou feels something in her flinch at the reminder, even though his face is perfectly serene, "I am very sorry for yelling at you all earlier, however, the boys should be arriving shortly, so you all should start preparing."

Confusion swirls in Milou's head like someone is grabbing her and shaking her around. She glances around the room, trying to see if any of her friends know who he's talking about. Everyone's eyes are just as devoid of understanding, looking over at her as well.

"That's fine," Milou says, moving her head to the right, "but what should we do in the meantime, sir?"

"Well," Mr. Bitterman says, placing a hand on his mouth, "I recommend that you look after the remaining rooms, see to them so this place is practically perfect, then help with the luggage once the boys arrive."

"Sounds good, sir," Yunseo smiles, nodding quickly, "I will do my best."

"You know," their boss says, something of a warm light in his eyes, "you don't have to call me 'sir'. 'Mr. Bitterman' is fine."

"I must be going now. When I come back, I'll call for you all, so you can be properly introduced."

Mr. Bitterman turns on his heels suddenly, and heads towards a door to the left. He pulls it open, and Milou listens for the noise of fading footsteps before turning to Michael.

"Well," Milou says, rubbing at her face in a long drawn out motion, "that's not how I expected to talk with him after he screamed at us."

"He likes Coach," Yuto says simply, glancing at Milou from the corner of his eyes.

"Yeah, I guess. I don't know. Maybe it's the whole 'I own a very scary looking pokemon' thing."

"Maybe," he says, but he peers at her with a glance Milou doesn't think is very sincere.

She sighs, shaking her head before reaching for one of the pokeballs in her pant pockets. As Milou bounces it lightly in her hand, Michael grimaces, and holds his marshtomp closer to him.

"You're gonna let out Beato, aren't you?" he asks, his body rigid.

"Yeah, her and Nine," she says, rubbing at the pokeball lid with her index finger, tracing the shallow scratches, "listen, I'm sorry dude. Beatrice needs to eat, and you know that Nine gets… wacky when he can't roam around."

Michael sighs, lowering his shoulders.

"You also know she scares the **** out of me, right?"

"I can't help that," Milou sighs, biting her lip, "she's been through a lot of **** before she came into my hands, dude."

With a click, she presses her thumb down on the pokeball's button, releasing a stream of white light. It forms into a towering, vaguely humanoid shape, baby blue in color before slowly turning into a pastel pink towards the end of its flowing body. A form on it's head resembles a stereotypical witches hat, its wide brim covering a round face. It's black eyes peer at Milou, it's pure white pupils glaring intently at the artist with a stone cold expression.

The artist stands still for a few moments as the pokemon gathers its bearings, blinking its eyes quickly, before she bows comically before it. She reaches out to place one of its sharp fingers in her palm, the tentacle growing from its 'hat' bending somewhat to accommodate the gesture.

"G'mornin' Lady Beatrice," she says in a poor posh accent, "what does my dearest desire for breakfast on this fine morning?"

Beatrice stares at her with an unblinking stare, her mouth tight in a frown. However, Milou feels a pulsing warmth enter her head, and a grin grows on her face. Looking over, Milou can see Coach Kim staring at her with wide eyes, his mouth hanging open slightly.

"Oh," Yuto says softly, his eyes wide and mouth pressing into a thin line, "you know, she will freak out Mr. Bitterman even more."

"Yeah, I know," Milou huffs, deflating and letting Beatrice's claw slip from her hand, "it's why I didn't let her out immediately."

"Still," Coach Kim says, walking closer to look over the hatterene with a hand up to his mouth, "she is a pretty damn impressive hatterene, if I do say so myself…"

He turns to her with wide eyes, and Milou feels a chill run down her body.

"What's her story?"

Something in Milou's throat catches. People ask her about Beatrice all the time, what's that pokemon's deal, how does a kid like her take care of one of those pokemon, but it's never been by a professional like him. Her hands are shaky and damp, and she rubs them against her pants.

"Well… uh… It's a long one," she laughs, and she feels Beatrice's interest at the edge of her brain, like a stick poking her in the back, "the short of it is that she was a donation to my work, and was eventually entrusted to me before I left."

Coach Kim nods, but Milou just knows that he doesn't believe her at all. It's half-way true, but the truth is a little more bitter for people to take. She sighs quickly, before grabbing her remaining pokeball.

Clicking the button, a large, round pokemon forms in a flash of light, floating over her, its yellow stick-like wings stationary to its side. There's an intricate pattern of green, white and yellows painting across its round body, and looking from it's middle are two blue eyes, a third peering from on top a large head-like growth.

"Hello Nine," she says in what she hopes is a cheery tone, "How's it going?"

Nine bobs in the air, blinking at her slowly. He's not much of a talker, not many sigilyph are, sometimes transmitting symbols and basic words into the heads of their owners or nearby humans but mostly keeping to themselves. Rising up towards the ceiling, he rotates slowly in place, his odd fork-like feet swaying with the movement. Drifting, he circles the room slowly, floating closer to things that capture his interest.

Milou stands in silence, watching him inspect the room, arms folding against her chest. She feels Beatrice poking her mind again, an insistent feeling, confusion.

"I don't know where we are," she says, looking over at Beatrice, who stares back at her with her dark eyes.

A flash of confusion again, but it feels more accusatory. As if she were asking "how do you not know that?".

"I seriously don't know. We all just woke up here."

Beatrice projects a large black bottle with a red-and-gold label into her owner's head, and Milou's face burns up.

"No, I did not have any Bailey's last night!"

The room bursts into hysterical laughter, and Milou shrinks, crossing her arms. Biting her thumbnail, she scowls quietly, baring her teeth a little.

"I think I know who Mr. Bitterman is," Michael says suddenly, and Milou nearly gets whiplash from how fast her head moves.

"Really?" Yunseo asks, his voice light and almost breathless, "how? Who is he?"

"Well, you know that band the Silverhands, right?"

Milou sighs, crossing her arms. How could she not? It's all her father plays when he drives her home from school, constantly talking to her about how this is real music, not like the music playing on the radio now.

The Silverhands is the music that she grew up listening to, grew up learning to plunk out on her red Stratocaster to the delight of the adults around her. The band that her grandmother had been obsessed with when she was Milou's age, falling in love with the lead guitarist Joseph Eades, bringing the image of her huddled against her record player to Milou's mind, listening to him croon on.

"Yeah, I do," she says, picking at her sleeve again, "who doesn't? What about them?"

"Well, they were managed by a guy named Paul Bitterman. Did he mention his first name to you, Mr. Kim?"

Coach Kim's eyes widen slightly, and he quickly shakes his head no. Milou finds herself balking at the idea. The whole 'going back to the sixties' thing is ridiculous at best, but the idea of working under one of the most popular and influential bands in the world seems almost farcical. But then again there was a good possibility that the world that she is living in is a gigantic practical joke by some time-traveling asshole.

"Why do you think that?" Diana asks, frowning at Michael, her arms tight against her sides.

"Well, I mean, it does add up, sorta," he says, rubbing circles on the nape of his neck, "they were all starting to get really popular around this time, so they probably could afford a place like this. And… from what I remember, Mr. Bitterman and their manager look similar… but this is just a hunch."

Milou's eyebrows raise, and she glances over at Diana, who's eyebrow is quirking upward.

"Well, we won't know for at least an hour," Coach Kim says, crossing his arms, "could be The Silverhands, could be his wife and kids, could be anyone really. What matters right now is to pick up the place so it's presentable."

Running a sweaty hand down her face, Milou grunts and fidgets with her sleeve again. There's still this sort of hollow unreal-ness to everything, not that this is a dream per se, but that everything around her is someone's idea of a practical joke. A very sick one, she doesn't want to even think about what people outside of this house will think of her.

Her fingers itch again, a pulsing feeling, and part of her wants to itch violently at it until the skin peels off the bone and the itch stops for good.

She wonders, briefly, if Mr. Bitterman has a bottle of liqueur in the kitchen, something not too strong. If she can get whatever the **** they make coffee with working, maybe she can pour some of it into a mug with the alcohol, something to dull the edges of her mind for a bit. The temptation simmers in her mind, but Milou decides against it. If he has any in the house, it's probably fancy rich person **** that's three million years old - like the fancy French wine Pépère wheels out every Christmas - and he will definitely notice if she nicks a cup.

She looks over at Yunseo, who is biting the skin around his thumbnail, his eyes dark and without any real focus in them. Part of her wants to pull him aside and tell him how she's not feeling great, but something angry and solid in her tells her off. No way in hell are you bringing other people into your mistakes, dumbass. You're most likely having an allergic reaction to something in the house, you don't need to burden him with a possibility that it could be something more.

She feels Beatrice questioning her, a prickly sensation at the back of Milou's head. Taking a slow breath in, she tries to level out her emotions, thinks of waters crashing against an endless sandy beach, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Her chest moves up and down with the movement, and slowly, the anger leaves her.

"So," Diana asks, and Milou jumps at the sound of her voice, "what do we do now?"

Coach Kim shrugs, before crossing his arms.

"Explore this place? Clean up while you're looking around? Up to you."

"Hey, I-I'm gonna go back up to our bedroom to wash up," Milou says, turning to face Yunseo, suddenly hit with a jolt of pain in her right arm that causes her voice to waver, "I'll be back soon, I promise."

Yunseo nods, his eyebrows furrowing, and Milou quickly rushes out of the room. The unfamiliar rooms she enters in her panic to escape confine and confuse her, and she barely manages to stagger out to the stairway. Her fingers throb with pain now, and she whimpers as she jogs up the steps, her right arm limp. It feels like something is breaking through, ripping apart her fingers, the raw open flesh stinging in the air.

As if in a dream, Milou notices the hot tears rolling down her face, as she slams the bathroom door open. For a few minutes, she slumps over the porcelain toilet, forehead resting against the lid, unknowing if the pain running down her arm like a hot wire would cause her to be sick. The cool feeling of it against her hot skin seems to help however, and the sensation slowly begins to ebb away.

Milou picks herself up from off of the floor, and rests her now pain-free hand upon the vanity. Looking down at her long, pale fingers gripping the red wood, the artists notices the skin on the tip of her middle finger. It's pulling back, coming off not unlike how dry skin flakes off, a ring of dead skin around the joint. However, the skin that's replacing it is pitch black, the edges of it flickering or shimmering in and out of existence. Where her nail should be, there's a massive black talon, not unlike one on a noctowl's claw.

Her mouth dries up, and cold, searing panic runs up her body as she jolts away from the vanity, landing halfway on the bathtub behind her with a thunk. Holding her hand up, she watches her finger move, feels the cold, sharp feeling of her talon resting against the flesh of her palm.

This can't be real, she thinks to herself. There's no way a ****ing talon burst through her finger.

For one, she notes, there would be a lot more pain. Plus, there should be blood practically oozing from where her finger tore apart. Even if she feels the talon against her palm, it could just be something attaching itself to her fingernail.

Milou pulls at it with her thumb, but feels a stiff resistance, and a slight prickling feeling from the nerves underneath her skin. Whatever it is, it's stuck on.

"Oh no, no, no, no," Milou mumbles as she stands, rubbing the palms of her hands on her eyes, "no, no, NO!"

She slams her fist down on the vanity hard, causing the mirror to rattle against the wall. She looks at her reflection, and points between its eyes.

"You are not ****ing doing this!" she shouts, slamming her fist down against the vanity two times to punctuate her point. "You're already in deep ****ing ****! You don't need to ****ing-"

All of a sudden, she hears music coming down the hall, a loud guitar riff against a melodic synthesizer, then…

In the heat of the summer, you're so different from the rest…

She stands still for a few moments, before the realization that, oh **** that's her ringtone, comes over her, and she runs to her bedroom. How is her phone working? There shouldn't be any service!

Digging through the closet, she finds it, vibrating against her laptop with a loud noise, continuing to blast the song she set as her ringtone.

You know that you should be my bo-o-oy, ooh, yeah yeah…

Without looking or thinking, she hits the answer button, walking back to the bathroom with her hand running through her hair carefully, avoiding scratching at her scalp.

"H-Hello?" she asks, looking at her reflection again.

There's no response. She tries again, in French this time, but still gets nothing on the other line. She waits, waiting for either her to lose patience or the line to go dead, like it ****ing should in sixties England (?).

After a few minutes, there's breathing on the line, and a smooth, deep voice responds to her in English.

"Hello, Juffrouw Vandenbroucke," he says, and Milou shudders in response "I see your infection has begun."

"What?" she shouts, incredulously, clutching the edge of the vanity, "what the **** are you going on about, dumbass?"

"Can't you see it? Can't you see your own fingers?"

"I can," she snarls, her teeth showing a little, "but it isn't real. None of this is real. You're not real!"

The man on the other side of the line laughs, a loud noise veering into hysterical.

"Oh, so you will deny it? Even when it is right in front of you? You deny yourself?"

"This isn't me!" Milou howls, slamming her hand down again, "it isn't who I am!"

He laughs again, and Milou growls angrily, her hands twitching. She wishes she can reach through the phone and clock him in the ****ing face.

"It doesn't matter," he says, in a sing-song tone, "It is inevitable."

"What?"

"The infection is already taking hold of you. I am particularly interested in how fast it has started to take hold of you, to the point where you've begun to use your power… How peculiar… Something must have caused your body to react in this way."

Her throat catches at the words, and she feels cold sweat begin to drip down her arm, seeping through her shirt.

"Am I going to die?" she asks, her voice wavering.

"Oh, no no no," the man says, but his cheerful tone does little to soothe her, "it will not kill you, Juffrouw Vandenbroucke. But you will be different. Much different than before."

"One day, you will look in the mirror - much like you are doing now - and you will not see your face as you know it in its reflection."

"What will I see?" she says, meaning for it to come out as a snappy angry reply, but it comes out in a breathless manner.

"Oh, I do not know, Juffrouw Vandenbroucke," he laughs, as if that was a stupid response, "I cannot see into the future. I know not what beautiful creature will emerge from your cocoon…"

"Shut the **** up!" she screams, throwing her head in her hand. "Shut up, dude! I swear to ****ing god, if I hear your goddamn voice on the street I'll ****ing get you for making this happen to me! Ik zal je vermoorden!"

"Oh my," he says, and Milou feels herself seethe at how unbothered he sounds, "you have quite the mouth on you, don't you?"

She feels the bolt of pain on her right hand again, and she doubles over, crying out in pain. Milou stays there, motionless, panting against the wood. Slowly, she brings her hand to her face, and feels her stomach drop at the sight of her fingers. Skin is ripping off the tips of all of them now, dead skin peeling in rings around the tips, where talons erupt from underneath her flesh just like her middle finger.

"It happened again," the man says after a few seconds, "didn't it?"

Milou feels the urge to start sobbing build up in her throat, but she swallows it down.

"**** you," she spits out instead.

"It did," he says smugly, and he laughs again, "I see, I see. Very interesting…"

"Make it stop!"

"Unfortunately, it is already too late. You have been infected already, and you've begun to emerge so quickly after arrival. There is no reversal possible at this point in time."

"Dumbass," Milou growls despite the horror running through her mind, running her talons down her face, "I hope you suffer with this same ****ing pain, **********er."

"I appreciate your cooperation in this experiment as well, Juffrouw Vandenbroucke. Until we meet once more, vaarwel."

The line goes dead.

Quickly, Milou taps on the caller to call him up again, but is met with a message that her phone is not connected to a provider.

Milou screams loudly, and slams her fist down on the vanity so hard she swears she nearly shatters the mirror. Dropping her phone onto the counter with a thunk, she curls up over it and finally lets herself cry. For a few minutes, she sobs hysterically, hands over her eyes, tears, snot and spit running down her face. It will be disgusting in a moment, but for now it's a relief to let go of it all.

There's a knock at the door, and Milou slowly looks up, sniffling.

"I'll be out soon," she rasps, running a hand down her face.

"Milou," Yunseo says, and she flinches at the concern dripping from his voice, "are you okay? You sound like you've been crying, and I heard something slam…"

She grabs the door handle with her right hand, but stops to stare at her fingers. The talons are gone now suddenly, and her hand looks like how it normally looks.

Was it all just in her head, she asks herself, really? No. It can't be all in her head. The pain… It hurt too much for it to be fake… And…

With her free hand, Milou opens her phone and checks her calling list. Sure enough, on top of calls from her parents, there are two calls to and from a caller with the name "UNKNOWN" with the date on both reading "12/31/69".

It was real. Despite everything logically pointing to it being ****ing impossible, she really did receive a call on her phone.

But her hands are...

She turns her phone off, stuffing it in her pocket. Stop thinking about it, she chides herself, you're upsetting your friend. Get out of the bathroom!

Turning the handle, she looks out to see Yunseo standing there. His face falls once he looks over her face.

"Oh Milou," he says softly, and she wraps her arms around him, resting her head against his chest.

Yunseo stands awkwardly for a few moments, his arms limp against his sides. Slowly, he reaches out to run his hands down her scalp softly.

"I wish this wasn't happening," Milou mumbles against his shirt, gripping it weakly in one hand, "I wanna go back home."

"I know," Yunseo breathes, rubbing the top of her head slowly, "I'm scared… But I'm sure there's a way home... We just have to find it."

Looking up, Milou notices that he has a soft smile on his face, and she smiles back, even though it feels fake. She pulls away from his chest, rubbing at her eyes quickly.

"Thank you," she says softly, "that made me feel better."

It's a lie, but at this point, Milou doesn't care.

She feels like she'll be lying a lot soon.
 

roule

take it all or leave it... I Feel You
3.

I AM A SINNER WHO WILL SIN AGAIN

The last few hours have been a blur of both jittery excitement and sheer overwhelming terror for Michael, both mingling into a sickening sensation in the middle of his chest. It churns like a storm barreling forth, threatening to turn everything upside down.

And make him spew all over the nice Persian rug.

But, "turning everything upside down" sounds nicer, more poetic.

Michael had finished cleaning one of the front rooms about fifteen minutes after Mr. Bitterman left. Well, he barely had to clean, most of the dust had either never been on there in the first place, or Yuto and his coach had cleaned it up. He'd looked around the other rooms, but they were either cleaned or in the process of being cleaned by Diana, who seemed to be doing it with the enthusiasm of someone being held up at gunpoint.

So, now Michael is at a loss on what to do next. Patton is lying next to him on the couch, resting on his back with his orange eyes shut and a flipper-like hand on his belly, fast asleep. In the distance, he can hear Milou working in the kitchen, the loud noises of kitchen equipment crashing, and her shouting curses echoing out into the hall.

That must be one of the gifts of the twenty-first century, Michael muses to himself, if he were back home, he would be fidgeting on his phone or computer to waste time between appointments, between classes, between anything really. Now, he can't really do **** except go find the television, or read one of the many books lining the shelves. He's not sure if Mr. Bitterman would appreciate the latter too much.

Instead, he sits on the couch, staring at the wall. Mr. Bitterman has a rather interesting taste in interior design, one that Michael doesn't think would be fashionable in the modern-day. Particularly, he seems to love statues of mythical pokemon, with statues of the two legendary dogs of Great Britain standing at the center of the room. Both of the dogs are resting on their haunches, with the blue one clutching a sword and the red one with a shield-like head.

His thoughts flit over to his… well… his boss as of this morning. His face, his voice… they all resemble the manager of The Silverhands. But… it couldn't be. It just… couldn't.

It seems too.. farcical in a way. Like they are in someone's creative writing assignment for 12th grade English, traveling back in time to meet the The Silverhands at their most "pop-friendly"... Though Michael thinks he'll be the only one acting like he should in these stories, fawning over the band. He knows his friends. He knows how they are…

Michael notices that the blood orange blinds are covering the window tightly. He groans, getting up slowly and walking to the blinds, pulling them back enough to stick his head behind them.

Through the window, Michael sees the front of the building, black ornate fence surrounding the perimeter, with a tightly shut gate leading to the street. Vintage cars race down the street, bright and shiny, and occasionally a red double-decker bus would slowly inch down the street to the honking of horns from cars behind it

Across the street, stone walls leer above the people walking down the street, and Michael can barely make out part of a storefront display. Squinting, he can sort of make out a short orange dress on a thin mannequin against a green background. On the sidewalk, he sees crowds of people heading past the street in all sorts of directions, men off to work in suits, mothers walking with their children, and kids his age chattering amongst themselves. Sometimes a pokemon would walk past, a yamper darting between its owner's feet, a machamp walking with luggage in its arms.

People-watching feels bizarre like these people are from the twenty-first century but at the same time, they are not, that it is all completely ****ing wrong. They're not peering at their phones as they walk, and the clothes they are wearing feels so old-fashioned in a manner that Michael cannot describe confidently. It just feels like an odd amalgamation of the past and his present that seems to separate from each other in an odd manner, like oil and-

"Hey, Michael."

Michael whips his head out from underneath the curtain, as he faces Milou, who is standing towards the door and leaning her shoulder against the frame. She stares at him with a curious expression, a long hand running through her hair. Patton sits up to look at her with bored eyes and lets out a low croaking noise.

"What's up, Milou?"

"Uh, I got the percolator or whatever it's called working," she says, reaching to pick at her right hand before suddenly stopping, "you want a cup of coffee?"

"Oh sure," Michael beams, "I'd love it."

After Milou leaves, Michael stands still for a moment, staring at the door with his hands in his pockets. Slowly, he walks over to the couch and shakes Patton, who makes a low noise and bats at him with his flippers.

"Come on," Michael groans, nudging his marshtomp to his feet, "we're moving, come on buddy."

Patton gets to his feet, but he glances back at his owner with a death glare, eyes squinting. Michael sighs, adjusting his glasses, before walking out of the room.

He finds Milou hunching over the kitchen stove, staring at a tall pot with a spout. She's not doing anything, just standing in front, watching the flames lap at the metal pot with a bored expression, biting at her thumbnail. Resting against the oven, Pulggie is fast asleep, curling into a tight ball and snoring softly. Yunseo is beside the two, peering at Milou from his spot against the fridge, his triangular face pulling into a frown with his eyebrows furrowing. Yuto sits at the counter, his thin arms resting and his gaze unflinchingly on Michael, which is… unnerving.

It's not like he's creepy or anything, if anything Michael should feel flattery at an objectively attractive guy stare at him with such intensity. Especially Yuto.

(He remembers an offhand comment an eighteen-year-old Milou on a Discord call made about how "anyone who follows pokemon training would gladly accept his hand in marriage" which he hadn't understood at the time...)

But… Yuto has always been like a shadow peering down over Yunseo and the rest of their friends since Yunseo officially started entering pokemon tourneys. The shoes Yunseo has to fill, the name he has to live up to… Even when Michael organizes his school's tourney, everyone mentions Yuto. His skill in adapting to his opponent's strategy within mere seconds, how much they want to be like him, how much they want to go up against him… that sort of thing.

Even in a time completely removed from his fame, Yuto still has a certain aura to him that demands respect from everyone around him, not due to any conceitedness but out of pure will power. It causes Patton to cling onto his pant leg, staring apprehensively at him.

Milou turns to face him as he walks closer, her dark eyes half-open and the hand not in her mouth itching at the side of her oval face. Smiling lopsidedly, she gestures to the percolator on the stove with a long finger.

"Piece of **** took me twenty minutes to figure out," she says, and Yuto barks out a small laugh. "I guess I can't say I used to be a barista now, huh?"

"I'm surprised you could call yourself a barista and not know how to work a percolator," Michael says with a grin. "It seems pretty simple to me."

"Oh shut up. We have to make it using fancy ****ing machines at work, and when I'm at my dorm I bust out my Keurig. Forgive me for not knowing how to make coffee using this old-ass method."

Michael laughs loudly, before turning to Yunseo with a sly grin. Patton walks over to the man and stares at him with unblinking orange eyes, and Yunseo pets him with a long thin hand.

"Not all grounds this time?" he smirks, and he watches Milou sigh.

"I mean, I hope not. I want to believe that my grounds-to-edible-coffee ratio is getting better, but I think the fact that I'm using the same **** as my grandparents did might screw me up."

"At this point," Yuto says. "You may end up running into them."

Michael runs his hands down his face and adjusts his glasses. A cold sensation rushes down his spine at the thought of seeing his relatives, what time paradox bullshit could occur.

"God. ****. I don't know what to feel about all this," he says softly, scratching at his face, Patton looking up sadly at him. "I-I really don't."

The four of them, Milou, Yunseo, Diana, and he had never met in real life, ever. Period. Milou lived the closest, only a few hours away, but she had always been way too busy with school to head up to the city to visit. Diana was farther away on the West Coast, and Yunseo could've been anywhere on the planet on a given date. He'd always wanted to meet them in person, joke around like they did in-game, get a bite to eat, that sort of thing.

Not like this though, never like this.

"Yeah, I don't know what to think either," Yunseo hums, as Milou pulls the percolator off of the stove and turns the gas off, "the movies about this sort of thing make it seem fun, but in reality…"

"It's wrong," Yuto finishes, as Milou pours him coffee into a flowery mug, "we shouldn't be here, at this time. What will happen to our present, with our inevitable interference in the past?"

"I don't know," Milou huffs, rubbing at her eyes, "well, I'd rather not think too hard about it. At least not right now."

"Alright," Michael sighs, rubbing his hands against his pants, "well, how about The Silverhands, Milou? Aren't you excited about that possibility?"

"About what?" Milou says, her eyebrow cocking up as she grabs a green mug for him.

"Well, they're some of the greatest musicians in history! They had-have one of the best guitarists! Isn't it exciting to see them play, maybe even in person?"

"Eh," she says with a shrug, "they're not Frank Ocean."

"Seriously, Milou?"

He never knows what's a joke and serious with her, she can say **** in a perfectly level and serious voice that she doesn't mean, or **** she means in a jokey tone. Even as kids, she's always been difficult to read.

"Serious as sin. They're okay, but I'm not about to lose my mind over them."

Michael rolls his eyes, clutching the pale green mug in his right hand, then taking a sip of his coffee. It's relatively bitter, but for all the griping from Milou, it's not a bad cup of coffee, certainly not the worst he's had. He looks over and smiles at her, which garners a grin in response, and he notices her shoulders slumping back somewhat.

"Still," Michael says after a gulp of coffee, "we should at least try to enjoy being stuck in this time period… Between looking for a way out, of course."

"I don't know," Yuto says, and Michael swears he sees a quick flash of anxiety across his stoic face. "The technology we use is not the only thing that's regressed."

Michael cringes. He is right, it might be easy to forget in the heat of the excitement of being back in a historic time period, but there's a reason why it's historic. Most of the freedoms he has in the twenty-first century do not exist right now.

"Well I, personally, cannot wait to get out of this house," Milou says in an attempt to lighten the mood, a grin growing on her face. "I'm gonna invent the iPhone before Steve Jobs can. Get the money for myself and myself only."

"No you're not," Yunseo says quickly, rubbing at his nose.

"Why not?"

"Didn't you almost fail out of high school math twice? I remember having to tutor you..."

Milou rolls her eyes as Michael laughs, tongue pressing against her cheek to hide some sort of smile, which briefly twitches on her face. She leans against the fridge with her coffee in her left hand, and her right hiding underneath her shirt.

"Whatever," she says, clicking her tongue between sentences. "I'll think of something. I have to leave this place with some more money… I need it, taking care of three pokemon, two of them needing special care, and the other eating car parts every day."

"Anyways… have you checked your phone?"

Michael blinks, and turns to face Milou. Her eyes are dark, and she's not meeting his gaze. His brow furrows, and he just knows that she's trying to hide something, and doing a bad job at it at that.

"No," he says slowly, taking another sip of his coffee. "I mean, I saw that it was in there, but I didn't check it. Why?"

"Oh nothing," she says airly, scratching at the top of her head, looking at the stovetop again. "I was just wondering if by some act of god, we had cell service in 1960-whatever."

The answer is believable enough, but something in his gut tells Michael that Milou isn't telling him the entire truth. Like the words she meant to say are hanging in the air, but barely tangible, he cannot grasp them with his hands.

Suddenly, Michael hears the door open slowly behind him slowly. Peering behind his shoulder, he sees the baby blue face of Beatrice, and feels his stomach drop. Her dark eyes peer at him, mouth still tight in that ****ing frown she always wears.

"Speak of the devil," Milou says, glancing back at her pokemon, "what would you like, miss?"

There's silence, as Beatrice moves closer to her owner. Michael walks backward, resting his free hand against the kitchen counter, clasping around it. It's awkward, just the two of them staring at each other. He knows that Beatrice is talking to her telepathically or whatever (and part of him knows that if he were to say this aloud, Millou would lecture him on pokemon communication and how it's not really "talking" for the nth time), but it will never stop being uncomfortable to witness.

"Oh," Milou says slowly, putting down her coffee cup. "I don't know if I could do that."

Beatrice cocks her head to the right, and gingerly, her claw points to one of the cabinets.

"Well, that belongs to Mr. Bitterman… Mr. Bitterman, he's the one housing us, Beato! I think I would have to ask him if I could use it to make it first, and he's away doing… What did he say he was doing again?"

"I don't know," Yuto says, the cup up to his lips, "getting 'the boys', I think."

"The boys…" Milou says, rubbing her mouth, before turning to her hatterene. "No, I don't know who they are, Beato."

Beatrice stares at her owner with squinting eyes, before something grabs her attention. The hatterne turns to look at the back door, peering at it and making a low humming noise, an almost ethereal sound that causes a chill to run up Michael's spine.

"What's up?" Milou asks, before her eyebrows furrow, and she bites at her free thumb.

"What's up with you?" Yuto asks, his eyes wide. "Did she hear something?"

"Beato says that there are people coming from over there."

Suddenly, Michael hears footsteps coming from behind the door Beatrice is facing, and in a flash, the door opens. Mr. Bitterman walks in halfway, before spotting Beatrice and freezing in his tracks, eyes wide and complexion pale. Michael opens his mouth to respond, to explain what's going on, he hears a voice from the hall.

"Hey, Paul, what are you stopping for? Where are all those birds at?"

Michael's blood runs cold as he watches a young man walk into the room behind Mr. Bitterman. He stands about a few inches taller than Michael, with a square face and dark hair reaching to the base of his neck, mainly cut around his ears and eyes in a manner that makes it look like one big mass. His dark eyes look at them with a sort of painful intensity, not quite deadly but rather dangerous, but alluring. He's wearing casual clothes, a white shirt, a dark blue suit-jacket, and dark slacks.

Michael knows who he is. He definitely does, if he didn't know what Joseph Eades looked like, he would be ashamed to call himself a Silverhands fan.

To think that the man in front of him both helped change the course of music and music history forever, and has been long dead in his time nearly causes Michael's head to explode into meaty chunks.

In between wanting to gush about how great of a musician Joseph is to his face, remaining professional as an employee, and not just blurting out that he's a time traveler from the twenty-first century, he hears Yuto speak up.

"Go outside. You still might be able to see some."

"Yuto," Mr. Bitterman says firmly, as Michael throws his hands over his face, "come on now, let us remain cordial."

"What? I'm telling him where to find them."

Joseph stares at Yuto for a few moments, his brow furrowing. Michael knows that look. He's seen it in people on the street, in stores when they talk to him. Condescension, pity, the perception that he cannot understand them. The musician smiles, shoving his hands into his pant pockets.

"You do know I'm not talking about real birds, right?" he says slowly, and Yuto's expression darkens.

"I know," Yuto says, staring back at him.

"Alright you two," Mr. Bitterman says, and Yuto raises his hands up with a smirk on his face, "well barring Peter and Mrs. Serrano, this is my house staff."

He gestures towards Joseph, who grins, showing off white teeth.

"This is one of the artists I manage, Joseph Eades," he says with a smile, "you will probably end up seeing some of them around the house as you six work. Are any of you familiar with the band 'The Silverhands'?"

"Michael likes them," Milou says simply, crossing her arms.

He quickly looks at her, noticing the slight quirk of her mouth, hiding a smile poorly.

"Seriously?" Michael mouths and Milou shrugs quickly.

Joseph scans the room, staring at all of them with squinting eyes. Michael feels his face flush at it, Joseph Eades is looking at me and tries to hide any outward emotion.

"Interesting crew you've got here," he says finally, his lips turning up in a smirk, "rather young, don't you think? That lad over there looks almost thirteen!"

He points to Milou, who rolls her eyes, rubbing at her nose.

"I'm actually forty-two," she growls between a gulp of coffee, "got a wife and three teenage sons back home."

"No, she doesn't," Yunseo says, before turning to Milou, brow furrowing, "enough with the backtalk Mil-Jeanne. This is our first day! Do you want to make a bad first impression?"

The message "do you want us all to get kicked out" is unsaid, but definitely not unheard. Milou stays stoic, but Michael notices Beatrice visibly bristling up, looking pensively between her owner and their boss.

"Jeanne?" Joseph says, his eyes wide now, but the smirk still on his face. "You're an odd-looking bird, aren't you? Thought you was a lad at first."

Michael watches her eyebrows furrow, mouth pulling in a slight grimace, and Yunseo's cold expression turns into something angry, his jaw twitching. Her arms stiffen Beatrice rises on her hackles and makes a low groaning noise, her claw pulling up to her side, fingers flexing. Before Beatrice can unleash an attack or Milou starts arguing with the Silverhand's guitarist, Mr. Bitterman steps between them.

"No, no," Mr. Bitterman waves his hands quickly, "its fine, you're fine. Joseph is a bit of a… joker. Don't take what he says too seriously, Miss Vandenbroucke."

Milou nods, and Michael notices that Beatrice's posture slumps down, and she turns back to her owner. For a few seconds, there's silence as the two look at each other.

"Beatrice wants to know if I can make tea for her," Milou says suddenly, facing their boss, "I wanted to know if you two wanted some as well."

"Oh of course!" Mr. Bitterman grins, "just black tea will be fine."

Milou nods, and reaches into one of the overhead cabinets, grabbing a kettle. As she prepares the tea, Michael rests his back against the counter, closing his eyes slowly. He's so ****ing exhausted, his arms and legs feeling so heavy that if he didn't know any better, he would worry that they would tear off of his body.

"So, Jeanne?" Joseph asks.

He hears Milou make a low angry noise deep in her throat before she responds.

"Mhm."

"How can you understand what that pokemon is asking for?"

Michael sighs, rubbing circles into the bridge of his nose.

"She beams pictures and emotions into my mind," she says curtly, and Michael looks to see a look of annoyance and exhaustion on her face, "It's a very odd sensation, but you get used to it eventually."

"Hm," he says, before walking over and nudging Milou's shoulder with his elbow. "Where are you from, anyways?"

Milou pauses, shutting her eyes quickly. Michael notices her fingers twitch, and swears he sees them start to distort, something dark and sharp emerging from the tips, before…

"Philadelphia," she says suddenly, and when Michael blinks, the distortion is gone, "I have lived at my parent's place in Montreal for the past year, however."

"Really?" Joseph grins, nudging again, "what made you choose to pack up everything and move across the pond?"

"My mother sent me to live here, and Mr. Bitterman was kind enough to offer me a job. It's not safe to live in Montreal right now. Have you heard of the FLQ?"

With that, Mr. Bitterman, Milou and Joseph Eades get into a conversation about whatever's happening in Montreal in 1963. However, Michael can't focus on what they are talking about.

All he sees is Milou's fingers. How they warp, tear, morph into claws in his memory, dark as shadows. Did she even notice? Was it real? Part of him wants to ask her about it, but another part is convincing itself that it's just exhaustion taking hold in his mind.

But… it seemed so real in that moment. Like some sort of predatory animal lying underneath Milou, wearing her appearance like a second skin.

Something is wrong here, something is evil here, something is unholy here, something is…

The door behind him squeals as it opens, and Michael whips his head to stare at Peter Kim, who blinks at him through round glasses. It's odd seeing him in real life, imperfect and more approachable than the stoic man always dressing up in a suit, standing off to the side of Yuto or Yunseo, looking over their shoulders before matches. Now, all Michael can think is that he looks like the kind of thirty-something who would buy ridiculously expensive salad bowls back home and talk to him about weird indie music.

Mr. Bitterman, in the middle of discussing some factoid about France or wherever stops to look over at Peter. In an instant, his eyes light up, and his body turns to face him, hands clasping in front of his abdomen.

Oh, Michael thinks to himself, has he already chosen favorites?

"Jeanne?" Peter asks, rubbing at his nose with his thick fingers. "Is your siglyph supposed to like, speak?"

"No," she responds, face as stoic as ever, "he's never communicated to me before. Did he speak to you?"

"No, I just think it's fuuuh-rather creepy that he's like rotating around our television like its the sun and not saying a word."

"He does that. He likes to watch television."

Michael looks over at Milou with the most withering look he can manage.

"Why do you end up with the weirdest pokemon?" he asks, "seriously. Other than Pulggie, all your pokemon do is like, stare creepily at people and enter their minds to tell them when they will die."

"I don't know," she responds, a hint of a smile on her face, "they usually find me first. Something about my brain waves. At this point, I uh, J'm'en câlisse, it may as well happen."

Before Michael can tease her further, the tea kettle screams, begs for attention. Milou quickly busies herself with tea prep, Yunseo following close behind her.

"Anyways," Mr. Bitterman says, smiling warmly, "you've worked so hard today Peter. How about you and I have some tea with our guest?"

Peter's eyes go wide, and his posture straightens.

"Of course," he says, a faint smile on his lips. "I would love that."

Milou's eyebrows shoot up in the middle of pouring water out into three mugs, and she turns to look over at Yunseo, a lithe hand covering her mouth. Yunseo quickly shrugs in response, and quickly hands off the tea to all three of them.

Left on the table is one solitary cup of tea, and Beatrice slowly walks to it. Her claw gently wraps around it, and slowly, gingerly, she brings it to her lips for a taste.

"Is it what you wanted, milady?" Milou says, hiding a smile.

The hatterene lowers the cup from her lips and beams at her owner. She laughs, a high almost chime-like sound, and out of the corner of his eye, Michael watches Joseph shiver. Milou doesn't seem to notice or care, instead smiling at her pokemon.

Mr. Bitterman thanks Milou one moment, and in the next, Joseph and Coach Kim follow him out of the room. Milou looks at them as they leave, her lips pressing together. She waits silently for a few minutes before her face breaks into a scowl.

"I ****ing hate Joseph Eades."

Michael sighs loudly.

He figured that Milou wouldn't get along with him. Even if he hadn't remarked on her appearance like… that, he'd just seemed to be acting like a bit of a dick. Well, a lot of a dick. He's very lucky that he didn't make jokes about his appearance too, because he knows right now that he's a relatively easy target.

Never meet your heroes, he thinks to himself, especially the ones from fifty years ago.

"Yeah," Yunseo agrees, and Michael flinches at the dark look in his eyes, "I don't like him."

"Well, how about Mr. Bitterman?" Michael asks in a high voice, "he seems nicer than he was this morning, right?"

"He likes Coach," Yuto says firmly, "that's why he's so friendly."

"Mhm," Yunseo agrees, the darkness lifting, "He seemed rather eager to have tea with him…"

"I don't know," Michael says with a grin, "Maybe it's an English courtship ritual. First the tea and crumpets, then they head to the.."

"Eugh, stop it there Michael!" Yunseo exclaims, crossing his arms, "Seriously, Coach is like my dad!"

Michael laughs loudly, nose crinkling. He notices Milou's moving out of the corner of her eye, Beatrice close by her side, peeking in and out of cabinets with her eyebrows upturning and biting at the corner of her mouth.

"What's up?" Yunseo asks, walking over to her side.

"Lookin' for any canned tomatoes," she says softly, her fingers curling around the cupboard door. "I want to try my hand at pasta. He's probably gonna have one of us make dinner, anyways."

"Mr. Bitterman will be very disappointed when he finds out that's all you know how to make," Yunseo says with a smirk, and Milou responds by lightly elbowing him in the gut.

"Well, this is a big, fancy house," Michael says, looking around the room quickly before looking back at Milou, who is looking up at him with wide brown eyes. "I'm sure there's some sort of pantry nearby. I'll go look for it."

"I'll go with you."

Michael whips his head back to look at Yuto, who stares at him with blank eyes. His mouth twitches up a little, and Michael realizes with a start that it looks almost feline, and something twinges in his chest. Patton croaks loudly, and slowly steps closer to Yuto, still clinging to the leg of his owner.

"Sure," he responds, rubbing at his own lips absent-mindedly. "Let's go."

The two of them walk out of the kitchen, and Michael's body tenses at the feeling, ever so slight, of Yuto next to him. He's close enough that with one move, intentional or not, their arms could brush against each other. Maybe even their fingers, close enough so they could tangle together.

Michael doesn't know what to feel about that.

He remembers being fifteen, eyes glued to the TV screen as Yuto beat the clock against the American League champion that year, how swiftly his greninja dashed around the opponents talonflame, zipped between flashes of fire before knocking it down with a shuirken so quick that Michael would have to watch it frame-by-frame to properly register its impact. Michael remembers Yuto's face, more rounded with youth but still holding that cold, clinical look in his eyes.

The look of someone who knew how to dismantle your team, and had the reaction speed to do it in under five minutes.

But now, Yuto is right there. Right next to him, his hand now brushing against him. Yuto quickly moves his hand away, but Michael's hand feels like it's on fire.

"So," he says, his throat dry. "Did you notice anything weird about Milou?"

Yuto turns to look at him, his eyebrows arching up.

"I barely know her. Aren't you two best friends?"

Michael's cheeks blaze and his fingers reach up to scratch his face.

"W-Well yeah," he stammers, biting at his lip. "But… I don't know, I wanted to see if you felt like she was… off today or something."

"Hm, no," Yuto says simply, adjusting his glasses with his index finger. "She is very strange, though."

Michael perks up, and turns to Yuto, his eyes wide.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I've never seen someone her age with so many… difficult pokemon," he says simply, and Michael's shoulders droop. "A lairon, a siglipyh, and that hatterne… All pokemon that are rarely seen outside of competitive circles."

"Oh yeah," Michael says with a slight smile burning at his lips. "Well, two of those were like gifts or whatever, and the lairon has always been hers. She found it."

"Really? That's interesting."

"Well, what do you think of Patton here?" Michael asks with a grin, patting his marshtomp on the head. "He's not common, isn't he?"

Yuto looks down at Patton, who stares up at him with big eyes. The marshtomp makes a happy croaking noise, but moves away from Yuto's hand when he reaches to pat it.

"He doesn't like people?" he asks, looking up at Michael.

"Well, not strangers…"

"I see," he says softly, a small cat-like smile on his face. "Yes, he is very uncommon. But I've seen a few in matches."

The two fall into a period of silence, awkward and itchy. Michael looks anywhere but at Yuto, looking at the ugly green wallpaper of the hall, the white ceiling, the surprisingly ornate metalwork where the floor meets the wall…

"So, how long have you known Yunseo?" Yuto asks suddenly, and when Michael turns to face him, he's looking away slightly, hands clasping in front of him.

"Uh… since I was… twelve I think," Michael says, resting his chin on his knuckles. "I'm eighteen now so… I think it's been six years? Definitely before he was a trainer."

"How did you meet?"

"Through a video game we both played," Michael says, and watches Yuto's eyebrows raise. "He thought I was really good, so he added me to his clan. That's uh, actually how we all met."

"Oh," Yuto says softly, his eyes widening.

He sighs softly to himself, and puts his hands in his pant pockets, his shoulders slumping. Yuto isn't facing Michael anymore, but he notices a soft, distant look in the trainer's eyes. It reminds him of a child, lost in the rain with no umbrella, or someone sitting alone at the lunch table, and it causes something in his chest to clench.

"Are you alright?" Michael asks, and Yuto whips around to face him, his cheeks a dark pink color.

"Y-Yes," Yuto says, his eyes very wide, before he points to a door behind Michael. "I think that's the pantry."

Sure enough, when Michael opens the door, he's met with rows and rows of shelves of food products, cans, boxes, whatever they could come in. The room itself isn't that big, only about the size of a large closet, but it has enough space for Michael to pace between the shelves. It's near pitch black towards the back, however, with a long string leading to a lightbulb on the ceiling, and he walks over to it with Patton following closely behind. He pulls on it hard, hears a click, but the light never turns on.

"Busted," he growls, and turns to Yuto, who resembles a shadowy form standing in the middle of the doorframe. "Remind me that we have to fix that… Can you keep the door open so I can see? I'll try my best to find it."

"Of course," Yuto says in a low voice, and Michael turns away.

This would be easier back in his time, Michael thinks to himself. He could run upstairs and grab his phone as a flashlight, but he doesn't want to risk explaining it to either Joseph or Mr. Bitterman. So his only option is to squint at the label of a can, and hold it close to the light in the hall and try to decipher the wording on it, which just looks like hieroglyphics.

Mr. Bitterman… Michael remembers researching The Silverhands when he was in high school. Remembers reading up on their history, watching the movies they were in, watching documentaries, all sorts of stuff. However, almost all the stuff he learned has exited out of his mind and left him with only the vague ideas of who Mr. Bitterman was.

Is. He's alive now.

They're all alive now. Michael groans to himself, running his hands through his hair. ****. How is this all real? He's known that they're all in the past for the past few hours, but every so often it feels like it creeps up and bashes him in the kneecaps.

He's drawn out of his thoughts by the sight of a large can with a red label, and he can just barely make out the words "WHOLE UNPEELED TOMATO" in big bold letters, and he reaches up to grab it. A smile burns at his lips as he balances it in his hands. Jackpot, he thinks as he steps back, now to get out of-

There's someone behind him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can make out a dark figure in some sort of blazer, with fluffy dark hair and glasses that glint in the faint light. Michael freezes for a few moments, his throat constricting and his legs stuck as if they are pure lead. All he can do is stand still and listen to the slow, even breathing of the person behind him.

Then all of a sudden, adrenaline runs through his body and he whips around and runs to the exit. Before he can get far, the person is on his tail with quick steps. Two strong, powerful arms wrap around him, and Michael stops, tremors running through his limbs, and distantly he can hear Patton make a high squealing noise, like someone puncturing a bag full of air. Michael cries out with him in a high voice as a pair of lips ghost across his ear, and a soft voice says:

"Shh, it's just me."

"Y-Yuto?" Michael asks, as Yuto unwraps his arms from his chest and stands in front of him. "Why did you…?"

"Shh," he says, walking up to Michael, close enough for their noses to nearly touch. "I have something for you."

Before Michael can say anything, Yuto's arms are around his neck. He half expects the trainer to wrap his long, thick fingers around his windpipe with how the day is going, but for some strange reason, he doesn't feel any fear. However, instead of that, Michael feels something cold and metallic drape across his neck, and he looks down to see that Yuto has put a necklace around his neck. It fits perfectly, not too loose, not too tight, and he notices a round, sort of small pendant at the base of his neck.

"You look beautiful," Yuto says suddenly, his voice warm.

A bolt of heat runs through Michael, and he looks up at Yuto with wide eyes and a slightly ajar mouth. His cheeks must be bright red, because they feel like someone could cook something off of them. Michael still can't see Yuto's face clearly, but he hears him laugh softly, sweetly.

"Remember," he says, his voice still in that soothing tone. "No matter how we dam it, the river moves forth."

"I-I… I don't understand," Michael says, his voice coming out as a squeak.

"You will," Yuto says, leaning in to rest his nose against Michael's. "I know you'll figure it out. My dear fox."

Michael knows deep down that he should jolt away from Yuto. Push him away, run to Milou, and tell her what's happening. But he doesn't. Instead, he closes his eyes, relishing in the odd warm feeling in his chest. It pushes him, makes him tilt his head, and move ever so close. Closer. Closer…

"Did you find it?"

Michael's eyes open wide, and he looks at the shadowy form of Yuto, standing in the doorway.

"Huh?" he says, his voice hoarse and creaky. "You were- You were just here. How are you…?"

"What?" Yuto asks as Michael walks forward, back into the hallway.

He grasps the pendant between his thumb and index finger and presents it to Yuto, who stares at it blankly.

"You… you gave me this," Michael stammers, his throat dry. "You put it around my neck… you put it around my neck and then you called me beautiful and then you were like rambling on about rivers or some ****, then when I was like 'I don't understand' you were like 'you will' and then you… then you…"

Yuto shakes his head as he trails off, eyes wide.

"I-I don't know what you are talking about," he says, his voice wavering. "I went to the bathroom while you were in there. You can ask Diana, she saw me on the way back! I swear!"

Suddenly, a light comes over Yuto's eyes, and he snaps his fingers quickly.

"Wait," he says, pointing at Michael's chest. "I think it was me."

"It was?" Michael asks, cocking his head to the side. "How?"

"Well, we already are here, in the past," Yuto explains, putting his hands in his pockets. "Wouldn't it make sense that perhaps a future version of me came to meet you there to offer you advice?"

"That makes sense," Michael says, his shoulders relaxing. "Like if we messed up on something, and need our past versions to prevent it."

"Yeah! So, what did I say? About rivers?"

Michael feels his face go bright red at the memory.

"U-Uh, 'no matter how we dam it, the river goes forth'... That's what you said."

Yuto puts his hand up to his chin, rubbing his hand against his full, pink lips. Michael stares at the motion as if he's being hypnotized before Yuto speaks up.

"I can't make heads or tails of that," he says with a withering smile, before walking closer to examine the pendant. "Can you open it?"

He tries to pry it open with the edge of his nail, but no amount of force seems to open it up. Looking closely, Michael can see a hole for a key at the bottom of the circular disk, and he groans wordlessly.

"We need a key," he says, and Yuto frowns. "Or some sort of lockpick."

"Damn," Yuto says, frowning before that feline smile comes to his face again. "Still, this is interesting. Maybe we'll run into future versions of ourselves later on."

"Maybe," Michael says, his eyebrows furrowing. "No offense, but I hope they're less confusing."

Yuto doesn't seem to mind that, and in fact, he laughs softly at the joke. Michael stares at him, looks at how his eyes glint with a warm, playful light. It's definitely for too long, long enough for Yuto to stare back with pink cheeks, and they stare and stare and stare before Michael clears his throat.

"We should go back. I don't want to piss off Milou."

Yuto stares at him for a few moments more, eyes slightly glossy, before blinking, and nodding quickly.

"Yeah."
 
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