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Out of Hand


A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
Summary: A lone Machamp, desperate for rent money, becomes a temporary team member in order to stay in her beloved Circhester. However, when she discovers the hiring trainer is a spoiled influencer, she's forced to side with him in order to get paid. She not only has to fight for someone she hates, she also has to fight herself in a battle to find her true calling within Galar's new PokeJobs system.

Rating: T for swearing and references to alcohol.

Chapter index:

Part 1
Part 2 (upcoming - 05/07)
Part 3 (upcoming - 09/07)

Part 1
Isobel held the letter marked 'Urgent' in one of her four hands. The second hand scratched her head. The third one held a bowl of Lucari-O's cereal. The fourth hastily shovelled spoonfuls of oats and chocolate chips into her mouth.

This letter was addressed to Machamp Isobel, the name she assigned herself once she joined the postal registry. Even without opening it, she knew it meant her rent was late and she needed to pay her dues soon.

It had only been a month and a bit since she had moved into a place of her own. Though the teachers did their best to educate her on all these human responsibilities, rent was something that slipped past her this time. She had saved up a bit from various other jobs when she wasn't spending it on booze, but would that be enough to cover the rest?

She put the cereal bowl down on the kitchenette counter and looked to the rest of the apartment. Aside from the bathroom, this was the only room in the flat. The kitchen was in the same space as the unchanged bed in the corner. It didn't even have a TV, not that she needed one. But as little as she knew about reality TV, this place wouldn't end up as a feature on Escape to Galar anytime soon.

Still, it was her home, which she was starting to pay for with her own money. It felt good, or at least, she thought so.

You're wasting both your time and your money.

There it was, that voice in the back of her head. Isobel grumbled, trying to suppress it. No, she wanted to prove she could strike it out on her own. Where else did she have good enough wifi to stream the latest Scyther High episodes? She could've spent the rest of her days finding out if Night Terror and Scythe ever hooked up, since they were her favourite ship.

Oh yeah, and having a roof over her head that wasn't just a bunch of rocks or a canvas tarp also felt nice. Not to mention central heating. She wanted this, and she could keep it. She just had to work for it.

With the cracked phone her old trainer had given her, Isobel looked at the PokeJobs app for new roles to fill. She was already doing one to keep herself afloat, so what else could she find to fill the void? Nothing she was qualified for.

A lot of jobs for engineering, for instance, required more training than just having brute strength. There were a lot of creative jobs, but she never considered herself one of those artsy-fartsy types. The most she was qualified to be was a sandwich artist. Then there was something else, something that made one of her hands twitch.

"Huh," she thought out loud. She didn't want to get back into fighting on a league level, but when the thought of a paid fight struck her mind, it filled her with a certain urge. Not that she enjoyed it or anything; just that she knew she was good at it. She didn't move away from the training lifestyle for nothing, though.

Screw it. She had bills to pay. It's not like one or two fights meant anything by the end of the day anyway. With a few scrolls, a skim-read, and a final tap on the screen, she accepted the job as a 'temporary team member for Trevor'. Sounded self explanatory. She only read the '8,000 Pokedollars' part, since that would've been enough to cover her for the month. Once she finished this job and paid her rent, she was going to paint the town red.

* * *​

Despite how most people saw Machamp, Isobel preferred to dress to (moderately) impress. With a tank top, shorts (because they were comfy and easy to wear), and tabi shoes, she was ready to take on the day. Out of the apartment, down the stairs, and to the outside world of Circhester. She lived on the outer edge where they had built a new block of flats, so that meant transit to the inner city for work. Good thing she knew how to ride a bike. Dig through the city's trash and you can find anything as long as you put the elbow grease in to fix it, and Isobel had plenty to spare.

With it, she zipped down the roads with ease, sailing through the vehicular seas and passing through the luscious green parks with the flying taxis overhead. It got noisier the further she ventured into the city. The air was filled with the various squawks of Pokemon, the songs the buskers played, and the blaring of the traffic. This city was filled with chaos. And she loved it.

Everywhere she looked, there was something going on, especially with the advent of the newly introduced PokeJobs system. Human-speaking tour guides took bystanders through the various historical sites, educating them on who built what and other trivia. She got the language part down pat, but anything about history usually went through one earhole and out the other.

Teams of various flying types were dispersed throughout the streets. One group had perched themselves on telephone wires, scouting the area for pesky feral Wingull that snatched up other people's food. Another group glided through the air to deliver all sorts of munchies. Her bike paled in comparison to their speed, as one Rookidee took off like a bullet to take one boxed lunch for someone else's order.

Both humans and Pokemon filled one market with street food stalls, even competing with each other in one case. Two stalls faced opposite each other. One was a human ice cream vendor named Vanilluxuries. The other was an Appletun and Alcremie duo named Slurpuff All You Want, serving up cream-topped slices of apple pie with the assistance of a Cinderace.

Isobel briefly wondered if an Appletun eating its own shavings counted as self-cannibalism. Probably not. But Isobel didn't consider herself the best cook either, as she mostly subsisted off of pre-cooked pasta and Magikarp.

Still, it was nice to see other Pokemon like her working, even if it already existed in other forms before the system took off. The initiative just gave Pokemon the extra push to make a living out of it. Still, Isobel had to leave before the scent of that alleyway lured her away from her job.

Once she parked her bike somewhere safe, her first shift spinning signs for stores went by quickly. Whenever she weaved the hunk of metal between one pair of arms, she usually lost track of time as she let her hands guide the advert wherever it pleased.

Any other human could've taken her place, sure, but what human could do that while staring at their phone at the same time? She was basically getting paid while she watched the league matches on the Victreevee app. If anyone stopped her, technically, she could've said she was doing research for another job. That was half true. Aside from that, she needed that fix, that charge she got whenever a hit connected in those matches.

Speaking of which, Isobel surfed from video to video. One was a highlight reel of a famous Pokemon-trainer duo whose Grimmsnarl carried the whole match. She always found that hairy sweat mop gross, but their fighting prowess was admirable. She even saw bits of herself in him.

They left no room for their opponent to breathe since they manoeuvred each strand of hair with purpose to trap them, then bunched up their coat for the finishing blow. With each hit, the Grimmsnarl injected his own personality into the fight as he whooped and hollered with each movement. It was infectious, which reflected in the way Isobel flung the sign up in the air and caught it without realising it, as her arms took on a life of their own. She got a cheer from some of the bystanders for that one.

Even if she wasn't in the league any more, if she had the chance to, she would've taken the Grimmsnarl on just for kicks. Perhaps on her own terms that time, and not as a trainer's Pokemon.

Then she sighed, going to the saved videos stored on her phone. Her own league matches with her trainer were still on there, including one of the last ones, between her and a Mr. Rime. The only thing amusing about the fight was that clown's dancing, and they were just doing it for crowd appeal. Though the cards were stacked against Isobel, she still came out on top. Her opponent's moves were easily readable, and each psychic attack just as dodgeable.

When she watched herself in the playback, though, it served as a reminder of why she quit. Unlike the Grimmsnarl, her moves were calculated and cold. She had rehearsed them many times before. Her face tried to hide emotion, but occasionally, even when she had the upper hand, she'd frown. By the end of the fight, Isobel just stared back at her trainer with hollow eyes. She won, but the victory wasn't hers, it was her trainer's. It was always her trainer's from the start.

Who cares? It's not as if you matter anyway without battling—

"Hey," one kid said, dragging her out of her headspace. Isobel looked down at the tyke who wore a Pokeball belt and a hat with a crudely drawn badge on it. She could tell he wanted to be a contender.

"Yeah?" she said, shaping the human word carefully with her inhuman mouth.

His eyes glistened, fists pumped. "Can you teach me how to do that?"

Isobel tucked her phone into her pockets and grinned. "Well, I can't say I'm a good coach or anythin', but I can point you somewhere." She stepped back and spun the metal sign above her like a propeller. "It took me a few tries to even do this right, and this sucker's heavy. But I taught myself just fine with cardboard and watchin' people do the same thing."

"Oh!" The kid rubbed his hands together. "So I can do it at home!"

"Yeah, or anywhere you fancy. It's all a matter of practise, just like anythin'. Practise hard enough and you can do whatever you set your mind to."

"I will!" He gave a toothy smile "Oh, and can you do that flingy thing again?"

"You got it, kid," she said with a thumbs up.

Isobel poured all her attention into the sign for a few energetic spins, then with one graceful arc, launched it up into the air, higher than the building she stood in front of, and caught it. Seeing that kid smile filled the void in her heart. And if he went home taking her advice to heart, then that would've been her own little victory.

* * *​

In no time at all, her shift ended, just an hour before her next one with the trainer. Isobel reported back to the Pokeball store where they handed her a thin slip of notes. Just to make sure, she counted each note individually, which all checked out.

"Thanks," she said, returning the sign. "You guys don't forget to pay like some of the others do."

"Really?" the human clerk said. "Don't you have protections in place?"

"Yeah…" Isobel rubbed her head. "The council's still ironing out some of the kinks since it's a case by case basis."

"Sounds like a pain in the ass. I mean, we wouldn't be caught dead screwing over another Pokemon, since, yanno." Her gesture to the shelves of luxury Pokeballs filled in the blanks. "Plus we've got a lot to thank for since we've been seeing more customers thanks to you."

"D'aww," Isobel said, mockingly holding a hand to her cheek, "at least buy me dinner first before you flatter me, hun." She paused for a moment, then leaned forward, holding one pair of hands in a praying motion. "Would you buy me dinner?"

"Eh, we'll see."

Can't blame a mon for trying. Still, she left the shop with a heavier wallet than before.

* * *​

After lunch, Isobel hit one of the outdoor training areas for practise. It was a park with a bunch of outdoor equipment for her and other Pokemon to use, which was designed to work in all weather conditions. They had Mankey bars, cycling machines, and punching bags for bipeds, plus exercise wheels, scratching posts, and hurdles for quadrupeds.

There was even a four-armed chest press designed specifically for Machamp, perfect for toning her back muscles and biceps before the match. Plus, she had to burn off that piece of apple pie she had for lunch. That was like Arceus' ambrosia. She stationed herself on the unused machine.

As she sat, two Machoke eyed her from far away. One misplaced glance at them, and they started flexing their arms, trying to show off their muscles.

Not that she didn't have a trained eye for beefcake, especially for her own evolution line, but she didn't exactly want the attention. So Isobel looked away, pretending not to notice the Machoke duo until they approached, strutting towards her unashamedly like two naked emperors. Did it count as being naked if they had pants on, even if it was made of their own skin?

"Hey, wanna fight?" one of them said. "Y'look real strong, y'know. Real strong."

"Heh, yeah, brother," the other said, "I'd love her to pummel me anytime."

"Wait, what? No, we're challengin' her, not the other way 'round."

"But some guys like it like that, y'know."

They really were as dumb as they looked. Isobel put on the widest grin possible. "Where're your trainers? I'm sure they'd love to know you two are bothering a stranger."

To seal the deal, she stood up, towering over them and cracking the knuckles on all of her hands. It did the trick as both of them quietly slunk back to their own space. Good. With that, she sat back down and got to wor—

Nope, her phone vibrated just as she positioned her arms on the weights. From the ringtone of the Pokemon anime's first opening, she knew who it was. Crap. She didn't think to call her at all for the past month. She just got so wrapped up with getting by that she forgot.

That's not the real reason, and you know that.

She grit her teeth and pressed accept on the screen. It would've been nice to talk to her again, and she needed to get outside of her own head for once.

"Hey," she said, using her back pair of arms to push the press behind her. "It's been a while. What's up?"

"Oh, er…" her trainer Gloria said. "Just wanted to know if you've settled in okay."

"Pfft, yeah, absolutely." She grinned. "Work is just work, the room's fine, and y'know, Circhester's great as usual. Nowhere else I'd rather be."

"Good to hear, I guess?" She shuffled some papers in the background. "It's just that I got some letters here saying that your rent's overdue."

Isobel stopped using the machine and leaned forward, groaning. "Ugh, yeah, I know that too. Why do they need to send the bill—" No, wait, she remembered: Gloria was one of her references in case she couldn't have forked up the rent. "Forget it. But yeah, sorry 'bout that. I have been workin' every day though."

"I don't doubt that. I mean, I don't mind paying since money's not a big concern. Just that, I'd rather make sure you're, er, sure about this. You know I'll let you saddle along if you want to come back."

"Yeah…" She rubbed her head. "About that… you wouldn't be jealous if I told you I've signed myself up as a temp Pokemon?"

"Not really." Gloria hummed. "I thought you said you didn't like fighting anymore."

"I don't. I thought we went over this." She sighed. That wound didn't need re-opening. "But this guy's stinking rich and he's willing to pay, so I'll be able to cover the rest of my rent with this."

"Well, that's good, but, er, some trainers have clauses against other Pokemon signing up on their lonesome."

"Okay." Isobel huffed. "That sounds really dumb, to be honest."

"It is, but I don't know."

"Galar's supposed to be a land of opportunity for us, isn't it?"

"It's not that, but when money's on the line, some trainers want to know they can rely on another trainer's track record to let them know their Pokemon can put up a good fight and obey commands."

She ground her teeth at that. "I can do both if I need to! I didn't spend this long with you just sittin' on my as—"

"I know, I know, I wasn't implying that." She sighed that familiar sigh. She might as well have been tutting at her. "But, well, I'm sure you'll do fine. You can use me as a reference if the guy asks where you came from. Bye."

She hung up before Isobel said the same. Her fists shook, which she took deep breaths for. That calmed her down, but after that, she suddenly didn't have as much energy to exercise. The comment she made stuck with her for a bit. During this downtime, she looked at the app once more to see what the offer was, giving it a complete look instead of a skim-read. What she saw on there made her eyes pop.
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A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
Part 2

Isobel had a lot of explaining to do. Her shoes slapped against the cobblestones as she charged through the streets. She was going up to meet the trainer near the Hero's Bath and hopefully get herself out of this jam.

Stupid. She was stupid. Stupid for snapping at her trainer and stupid for giving herself false hope over a phony contract. It was on a competitive basis, and she'd only get paid on the condition that Isobel won, not just for tagging along. She wished she had read the fine print there. But if she had Nomels, she might as well have made Nomelade if the trainer was still willing to pay.

Eventually, she reached the stone pillars which housed Circhester's biggest tourist attraction. Both a historical site and a popular bath-house, it was one of many reasons Isobel chose to move to Circhester in particular. Nothing like soaking up in the hot springs after a long day of work or exercise. Now wasn't the time to relax though as she tried to pick out her employer in the crowd.

There he was, dressed from head to toe in black designer gear, plus a golden chain hanging by his neck. He was as scrawny as a Scraggy, and looked like he was made of money even though his clothes were as plain as night. And who wore all-black in the summer?

Isobel put on her friendliest customer-facing mask and walked up to him. He looked up at her. She looked down at him. He said nothing at first.

"Oh, you're Trevor, right?"

He stepped in place. "And you are?"

"I'm Isobel, the one who accepted your offer." She extended her hand to his. A nice, firm handshake was customary between people working together. "Nice to meet—"

"Aw, ****," he said, "did you even read the thing? Can you read at all?"

So much for being civil. She squinted in response, leering down at him. "Yeah, I can. I know you asked for a trainer to come and not just a Pokemon."

"So why should I hire you?"

That was a good point. While she kept that poker face of hers, she wanted to die inside. No, she had to think of something quickly, or else live on a diet of Pokepellets for the rest of her days with Gloria. Well, the Pokepellets part was a lie, but still.

"Oh, no, I have a trainer, she's just… out of town. I thought I'd do her a solid and take on something on my lonesome."

"Oh yeah, her name and rank?"

"Gloria Deo, five stars."

Four stars since Isobel left, actually. She hoped that whatever he typed in, it would skirt around the ranking lie and show Gloria for the good trainer that she was. "Check out the league match between me and that Rime—"

"I know." Oh, c'mon, let a Mon speak for once!

The fight played out on his phone (not cracked unlike hers and with a gold case), and with each punch and kick Isobel flew at the opponent, Trevor made brief comments here and there. Nice form. Determined to win. Able to think on her feet, unlike most Machamp. Hey, that was just another Pokedex myth! But no matter. He put the phone away and sighed.

"Alright, fine, you're hired, but on one condition. You don't speak at all. Don't ask questions about what this is and don't let anyone else know you can speak."

She stepped back. If she remained within punching distance for this, she would've clobbered him without a second thought. "You gotta be kiddin' me. It's not like I'm some alien or anythin', more Pokemon are talkin' these days, y'know!"

"I know." He tucked his hands in his pockets, puffing out his chest. "But money's on the line here. If you go running your mouth, he won't think you're my Pokemon, and if that jerk finds out I hired you because of it, he'll call the bet off. He'll—"

"So it's a bet?" This was getting worse with each passing second. "You didn't put that on the job description."

"Pfft, who cares? The refs won't know. But this jerk I'm fighting will know I'm cheating by getting someone else's team member in."

Isobel balled her hands into fists. What had she gotten herself into? "You can't stop me from sayin' stuff, especially if I need to coach yo—"

"Coach me, who do you think you are?" He spat on the ground. "Like you're some master-class trainer. You're just here to carry out whatever moves I give you."


"Do you want to get paid or not?" Stop interrupting! Isobel did all she could to not wring his neck, tucking her shaking hands behind her back. She already sold out the minute she chose this job. And yet, she needed the money. She sighed, putting her hands on her hips.

"Alright, yes, I wanna get paid. Do we have a deal?" Time for a second handshake. He squinted at it for a moment, then shook it.

"Okay, deal. Now let's just get a move on to the battle park. And remember, no talking."

Isobel sighed and tailed Trevor as he led the way. Not that she wanted to see his face, but no matter. Once this was over, she didn't have to worry about this situation for another month. At least the walk through Circhester proved as beautiful as ever. Colourful flowers were lined up in pots along the pavement paths. The buildings around her gave the city a timeless feel, with its bath stone architecture and symmetrical patterns. Looking at this, she almost forgot she was picking at some dumb trainer's scraps. Speaking of which…

"Hey, T-Vul!" A younger trainer went up to him, holding a sharpie. "Can you sign my Pokeball?"

"Hey, my Vully, sure thing," he said with a smile. So he must've been a celebrity of some sort, right? Isobel had to check.

Once the kid was gone, she turned on the city's free wi-fi and looked through the Rootom search bar to find this T-Vul, expecting a movie star or a rapper. Lots of celebrities were fake, bitter asshats in person, right?

She was disappointed to find out his Snap!App was his claim to fame with around 50k followers. Sure, it was nothing to sneeze at, but even a Scrafty could do better, and did by about 500k more followers. But anyway, most of Trevor's account was him showing off his clothes, his cars, both his clothes and cars, and his Pokemon, which he also sometimes dressed in designer wear. He had a Thievul and Raboot by the looks of it, though the Raboot was the only one smiling in the picture alongside their trainer.

She wasn't supposed to speak, but she might as well have humoured herself. "Psst," she whispered, "what's it like being a Snapper?"

"Ew, no, that's not what we call ourselves," he said. "But eh. I only have a few followers."

"Fifty thousand isn't a lot, then?"

"This other guy has 200k. He has clout, believe me."

"So… you're fighting him because he has more followers than you?"

"Part of it, but what's your point?"

"Just seems like one big pissing contest to me."

"Do you want me to call this job off? Then shut it."

That put that conversation to bed, then.

Once they got close to the park's entrance, Trevor took her to the corner where the two of them remained unseen and briefed her on how the fight would play out. 3v3, 1st to 2 wins, yadda yadda, she knew the drill already.

Since Isobel didn't have her Pokeball on her (not anymore since Gloria released and unregistered Isobel with her insistence), he brought both of his other Pokemon out to accompany him on the way. They didn't stop to introduce themselves. Once they started walking through the lobby, though, that's when the Raboot turned and sneered at Isobel.

"He's gettin' you to fight?" She snorted. "Like we're not good enough for him."

"We aren't," the Thievul said, head lowered, "we never are."

"Look," Isobel said, "this isn't a contest. I'm just here to pay my dues, then I'll be out of your hair. Or fur."

The Raboot crossed her arms and turned her head. "Whatevs. I'll show you."

"Just calm down..." the Thievul said.

"Oh yeah?" She kicked him in the side, making him fall behind. "Well, I'm calm now."

"C'mon, guys," Trevor said, eyebrows knitted, "get a move on. Don't need one of you down for the count before the fight starts."

Raboot joined her trainer while the Thievul joined Isobel's side.

"Both of them are such jerks," the Thievul said.

"I can tell," she said. "Name's Isobel."

"Bronze. So you're really here on your own? That's cool."

"Certainly doesn't feel cool right now." She sighed, then forced a smile. "But it has a lot of perks."

"Huh." Not another peep from him, which struck Isobel as weird, but oh well. That was the least of her concerns as the team entered the rented arena.

There were two sides of the audience. On Trevor's half, only a handful sat on the bleachers, while the other half had a dozen people on the contender's side. This guy wore colourful garb and looked nothing like the tech savvy guy Trevor made him out to be. If anything, he looked more like the type to meditate underneath waterfalls than go for joyrides with chrome-plated cars.

Isobel felt out of sorts here. It was like walking into a bar and having the patrons stare at you as you asked for drinks. Only because she had definitely done that once before and got asked to leave on account of alcohol being illegal and dangerous for Pokemon to consume. Still, she took a deep breath, calming herself as Trevor's team stopped, facing the other side.

"Ah," the guru guy said, "you have a new team member."

Isobel was about to speak when she covered her mouth. Keeping herself silent was harder than she thought.

"Yup, you know my old man. He had a few Pokemon knocking around, and as a parting gift, he gave me another one."

"Was that why you challenged me?" He smiled. "Now you have another Pokemon?"

"I…" Trevor rubbed his head. Isobel resisted the urge to laugh at that. "Look, Nil, I got her fair and square. Now, when are we gettin' started?"

"As soon as you're ready." He kept that smile. "I must warn you, since you challenged me, it's only customary for me to decide the order of each battle. So you know you will be severely disadvantaged since you're stuck with your weaker types."

Did that account for Isobel too? She hoped he didn't have a psychic up his sleeve that time.

"Alright, fine, I know what Pokemon you've got. Just… lemme…" He whipped out his phone and started recording, holding it out in front of him to his audience. "Yo, Vullies! We gotta mad sitch here. My beef with Nil's reached mad heights, and we're havin' a grudge match to decide who becomes top dog around here!"

He continued to brag about how his Pokemon would come out on top. It seemed like he was making a point of this, perhaps for the 'clout' as he called it. Trevor's voice was completely phony, along with his movements as he made devil horns with his hands and showed off his bling. The few followers in his audience, when asked to cheer, only did so half-heartedly, clapping like they were at a golf match.

"Is he always like this?" Isobel asked Bronze.

"Yes, unfortunately," he replied.

"Oh shut it, don't ruin the spirit of this match!" the Raboot said.

Compared to Trevor though, Nil seemed a lot more genuine. He didn't start bragging to the fans on his side or gloating about his riches. At first, Isobel wished she was on Nil's side instead. Then a cold sweat trickled through her. How strong were his Pokemon if he wasn't showing them off?

Once Trevor stopped showboating in front of the Snap, Nil answered that question as he released a Drizzile. The water type looked to Nil with reverence, and he returned it by stroking his neck.

"First," he said, "against your Raboot."

Nil certainly wasn't kidding when he said he rigged the match against his opponent's Pokemon. Trevor grunted, though he kept his cool and grinned. "I expected that would happen. She'll run circles around your lizard."

"Suck on a Muk, you smelly human!" the Drizzile shouted, which fell on deaf ears. Despite this, Nil seemed to understand the sentiment as he patted him on the back.

"Don't let him rile you up, just focus on the battle."

He gave him a thumbs up, and the Drizzile entered the fray as he faced the Raboot.

The ensuing match told Isobel a lot about Trevor's training style. He stubbornly commanded the Raboot to throw fire attacks at the opponent despite her severe disadvantage. She carried out her trainer's orders even though there were multiple opportunities for her to have improvised. She could've dodged quite a few of the attacks, but ended up drinking from the fire hose in more ways than one when Trevor insisted she attack anyway.

By the end of the match, the Rabbot was down for the count, blowing bubbles in the puddles that the Drizzile had formed.

"Well, we're doomed," Bronze said as his trainer went to collect that drenched loser.

"No, we're not," Isobel said, kneeling down to his level. "Not if you're willing to listen to my advice."

"But how can you? He's still my trainer."

"Well, I've worked around it before, and it's fine as long as you work within the rules. You've just gotta have confidence that it'll hit."

"But…" Bronze sank to the floor. "I… I don't…"

Nil withdrew his Drizzile and smiled. "Well, one to zero. I hope your Thievul can compare."

"Shut it." Trevor stomped his foot on the turf, signalling Bronze to come to his side. Isobel expected him to give a pep talk, but Trevor just pointed to the arena, leaving Bronze to enter the fray on his own. As he walked, his tail dragged behind him on the wet floor.

Next up on the opponent's team: a Frosmoth, whose presence spread a bitter cold to the air. Isobel flinched at the sudden chill. Bronze was lucky he had fur covering him, but not so lucky that he was outmatched in terms of typing. She predicted it would turn out the same as the last fight if she just stood there and watched.

The fight started at the blow of the whistle. Trevor commanded Bronze to swipe forward with a sucker punch. The Frosmoth flew back and blew a frosty spell at the puddles, instantly turning them to ice. Too late to stop running, Bronze slid across the surface. Trevor started swearing, then pulled himself together.

"Get up! Get up!" he shouted. "Go around the ice and try again!"

The Frosmoth didn't even give Bronze a sporting chance. She flew up, beating her wings to cast clouds around it. Then, she disappeared. Bronze stood still, trying to find heads or tails of his opponent.

Then, the whole arena went misty, covering Nil and the other half of the audience. Isobel crossed one pair of arms, trying to shield herself from the cold.

"J-just," Trevor chattered, "j-just go in there, slash at anythin' that moves! Do it!"

Bronze cocked his head at Trevor.

"Just do it, you—"

Bronze whimpered and flung himself into the misty fray. Crap, this was bad. All Isobel saw was Bronze flailing wildly at nothing, as if batting at the mist would've made it disappear. But where was the Frosmoth?


The Frosmoth emerged by Nil's command and planted her fangs into Bronze's shoulder. He screamed, slipping and sliding as he tried to shake off the biting bug.

Isobel's heart sank. It was never pleasant to see a teammate go through such pain for their trainer, or be on the receiving end of it herself. But this… what was this even for? Some guy's attempt to get imaginary internet points? Fake crap like this was why she left the league in the first place, though it was all a big lie to begin with. A sham to get dumb kids to go on a railroaded journey so the marts and leagues can keep making money off of them.

But you liked it, didn't you? So who are you to say what's fake?

She shook her head, snapping herself out of her daze. The Frosmoth had backed away at least, though it left Bronze with a slight limp as he walked to his trainer for the next move. Trevor was about to open that stupid trap again. She couldn't let that happen.

"Hey!" she called in her own tongue. Bronze glanced at her, followed by a glare from Trevor. She didn't care what his reaction would be as long as the other side didn't see what was going on through the fog. It's not like Trevor would've understood anyway. "Ignore that dunderhead, just follow my lead."

Bronze frowned. "B-but—"

"Play along for now, but listen out for my commands as well."

"C'mon, Bronze!" Trevor yelled, "just go back in there and keep attackin'!"

Bronze looked to Isobel once more and nodded, entering the arena. He stood still, awaiting her advice.

"Listen out for that Frosmoth. You're not gonna get anywhere if you just go in blindly. She'll probably want to bite you again. Once she gets close, bite her back, then see if you can plant your scent on her. That way, you can track her."

"Don't just stand there," Trevor interrupted, "sicc that moth!"

Bronze glared at his trainer, then stuck his tongue out at him before turning back to focus on the battle, ears perked up.

"Hey," Trevor growled, wagging a finger at Isobel, "what the hell are you playin' at?"

Isobel made a mouth-zipping motion and shrugged. Trevor's face scrunched up even more at that, though she ignored him for now. Bronze lay still, listening. His tail lightly swished behind him. Then his ears twitched. He leapt forward, swiping as the Frosmoth emerged from the mist.

He knocked her to the floor. Trevor stopped staring daggers at Isobel and watched as Bronze pounced on the Frosmoth, trying to get a bite in. She pelted him in the face with a bit of snow and flew off again, disappearing into the mist. However, Bronze didn't stop. He correctly picked out her position and swiped at her with another successful hit.

"It's working!" Bronze shouted gleefully. Isobel smirked at that as Trevor stepped back. Perhaps that put him in his place.

The mist weakened and the Frosmoth could no longer hide behind the arena's environment. She reverted to her original strategy of covering the floor with ice as Bronze tried to get another hit. Instead of sliding across the floor like before, though, he dug his claws into the frozen surface, using the traction to slow down.

Incredible. She didn't even have to coach him that time; that initial spark was all he needed to carry the match on his own. Adjusting his trajectory, Bronze leapt for the Frosmoth, using the ice to generate more speed.

"Change of plans," Nil yelled. "Bug Buzz!"

"Cover your ears!" Isobel yelled as she cupped the sides of her head. Bronze flopped onto the ice as he pawed at his ears, but he was already close to the Frosmoth.

They screeched, making everyone else in the arena flinch at the cacophony. It lasted for a few seconds, then stopped to Isobel's relief, but not to Bronze. As he got up, he wobbled from side to side, struggling to keep himself standing. If her own ears were ringing at that, she couldn't have imagined what it was like for Bronze.

Trevor didn't have any insightful comments this time, not that he was a wellspring of good ideas, instead using the opportunity to record the battle with his phone. The Frosmoth was flying straight towards Bronze. Crap. Crap crap crap.

Despite his weakened state, Bronze started running, using the slippery ice to gain speed. His movements were erratic; it was a wonder he didn't slip again. In response, the Frosmoth darted from side to side, throwing him off even more. Isobel knew what he was trying to do, though it would've taken some luck for Bronze to pull off. The two got closer. Two big Pokemon about to collide with one another. Bronze raised his paw, spun in the air, and threw a sucker punch at the Frosmoth's fuzzy body.

It hit, knocking her to the fence on the other side. She had no strength left to fly anymore. And with that, she laid still as Nil went to comfort her. Unlike his opponent, Trevor didn't join in to celebrate his Pokemon's well earned victory, turning the phone to the rest of the arena as he started recording again.

"Wasn't that badass, my Vullies? Don't mess with T-Vul, y'all!"

Unbelievable. Isobel's hands twitched, tempted to snatch the phone off him and seismic toss it into the sky. Not congratulating Bronze was bad enough, but Trevor taking all the credit? It was exactly why she left to get away from this nonsense.

"H-hey," Bronze said, snapping Isobel out of her funk. She knelt down to stroke his head.

"Sorry you got roughed up out there," she said, glaring at the clout-chasing trainer, "and all for that guy."

"I know." He rested his head on her knee, happily taking the ear scritches. "But this is the first match I've won in ages, so thanks. You're a good coach."

"A good coach?" She had heard that before, both from Gloria and her teammates. Not that she did much here in the grand scheme of things, but she smiled and patted his head. "I guess I am."

Bronze sat out on the other end of the arena. Now it was Isobel's turn to join in the fun. And just in time for Trevor to stop recording on that lame phone of his and come up to her.

"Look, whatever you tried to pull with him, knock it off with this next match. I'm your trainer, you follow my lead."

He wasn't her trainer. If her lips weren't sealed, she would've called him all sorts of off-colour names. She had a few human curses up her sleeve. But she relented and nodded. This would be the ticket to her paycheck.

With a sigh, she entered the arena, waiting for Nil to draw out the next Pokemon. Before the battle started, however, Isobel gave Bronze a thumbs up, who smiled for once. That cheer spread to her.

Instead of whipping out a Pokeball like he did in the previous rounds, Nil whipped out a phone instead, holding it up to his ear.

"Hello. Sorry to call out of the blue, but would you be able to come down to the Circhester Community Arena for a quick fight?"

Someone on the other end talked.

"Doesn't matter. Either way, it'll be my treat."

Trevor tapped his foot, looking at the referee who pretended not to notice him.

"Alright, deal. We're in arena 7." Nil put the phone back in his pocket and waited. A few seconds passed. Still nothing but dead air. Finally, Trevor snapped, about to stomp over to his opponent.

"What the hell do you think you're—"

Light flashed, and a Hatterene emerged from it to fill the void in the arena. The entire crowd fell silent at her release, and Isobel gasped. Even Trevor stood in stunned silence, and without a phone in his hand this time.

Hatterene weren't the kind to be messed around with. She had the psychic potency of an Alakazam, the emotion-detecting senses of a Lucario, and the wrath of a Gyarados. Even after all the battles she faced before, Isobel gulped at the sight of this emotionless banshee. Oh, wait, couldn't she have detected fear as well? Now what?

The Hatterene smiled. "You seem anxious. Maybe because I know a secret of yours." Before Isobel could respond, the Hatterene levitated to her trainer's side and waved a tentacle to the audience. "My name is Admirari. Not to worry, everyone. I can handle other people's emotions, no matter how intense. Isn't that right, Nil?"

She spoke as well? With that, the crowd dropped any sign of emotional restraint as they talked amongst themselves. Trevor just started filming. "What, my opponent's a talkin' Hatterene? What's up with that, my Vullies?!"


Admirari smirked, gazing at the two in the arena before levitating back to Nil. Even the way she carried herself in the air was regal, keeping her hat steady as she fluttered from one place to another.

"You expected me to appear out of the blue just for the sake of a fight?" she said with a sneer.

"Not usually." Nil said. "But even you like the odd match or two, don't you?"

"Why, yes." Admirari tilted her head. "That is the cross I bear as a Pokemon. But what's the point of this farce, anyway? You don't even need the money, do you?"

"Not particularly, no. But, well, do you know the sensation you get whenever we meditate in a deprivation tank for hours on end?"

"I don't need that nonsense to meditate. I can do it instantly."

"No, but whenever I do that, I am gambling a part of my own wellbeing to achieve enlightenment in some way. So, now it's come to this, one to one, so close to both victory and defeat..." Nil started chewing his nails, grinning with his eyes. Isobel didn't know why he didn't mention the bet, but she knew full well what was at stake.

Just before they entered the park, Trevor had mentioned that the bet between them was 40,000, making for 80,000 smackeroonies altogether. Isobel could've taken up driving lessons with that money. Maybe two months worth of rent. Maybe a flight to Alola. And Nil was willing to gamble half of it away because he had a kink about it. Goddamn rich people.

"Before we start," Admirari said, "can I have a little Machat with this Machamp?"

The referee nodded, and Nil did the same in turn, giving her the go-ahead.

"Where did you learn to talk?" Isobel asked, crossing both pairs of arms.

"Trainer. I asked for a private tutor and he paid. But never mind that, how about you?"

"Well, I learned from the—" Isobel grit her teeth. She would've said it involved the council's program in preparation for the PokeJobs opening, but she didn't need to dig herself a deeper hole. Damn psychics. "It's that obvious, is it?"

"Oh, you're like an open book." Admirari squinted. "You're covering for him, aren't you?"

Isobel looked to Trevor who stared at the two, though was none the wiser about their conversation.

"Don't rat me out to that trainer of yours," Isobel said. "I just want to pay for my flat."

"Hmm, fair enough. I just know for a fact that he wouldn't have a Machamp fall into his lap like that."

Why was this Pokemon on her case all of a sudden?

"I mean, it doesn't matter so much to me." Admirari tilted her head, glancing at Trevor. "I haven't known that trainer for that long and I hate him just as much as you do."

"Good, glad we've got something we can agree on."

"And in the end, I just want to play a beautiful game. So I will do you a favour." She turned back to her trainer. "May I suggest we both fight on our own terms, Pokemon to Pokemon? This Machamp seems capable."

"No," Trevor said, "I'm her trainer, I have the final say in what's going on."

"Ignore him." Nil earned a glare from the opposition for that one, but he pressed on. "It's your call, Admirari. I know you can carry the match by yourself, unlike that buffoon there."

"Hey, shut the fu—"

"No, you," the Hatterene butted in. "With an attitude like that, even without seeing a battle of yours myself, you do nothing to convince me you can put up a good fight with your training style."

"But yeah, you're a Pokemon, so you have no right to tell me I suck!"

"Says who?" She levitated to Trevor, towering over him as she looked down at the snivelling trainer. "Let me serve you a slice of the proverbial humble pie. There will be no room for trainers like you in the future, the way you continue. Us Pokemon know better by now, and Galar's better than ever for allowing more progress for us. So be a good boy and let the Machamp decide her own strategy as well."

Trevor backed away, putting his phone in his pocket. For the first time, he seemed rather flustered, like he'd come face to face with a bigger bully than he was. Served him right. The referee blew a quick whistle amidst this face-off.

"We've been seeing more of these types of battles, anyway. So go on."

"Y-yeah, alright, Isobel," Trevor said, "you're on your own now."

It didn't make her handicap against a psychic any better, but at least it would've given her the freedom to fight however she wanted.

"Thanks, I guess?" Isobel said to Admirari.

"You're welcome." Admirari levitated to her spot and made a little curtsy. "Even if the circumstances aren't so fun, I hope we can make the most out of this fight. Don't hold back, because I won't."

Isobel replied with a bow of her own, and she returned to her respective spot in the arena. She took a deep breath. She could do this. To prepare, she kicked her shoes off to the side, fully grounding herself on the arena's turf. She raised her arms, her hands curled into fists, and the balls of her feet bounced on the damp floor, still wet with the melted ice.

Inhale. Exhale. She remembered what Gloria told her ages ago. She didn't need flashy moves to succeed. Just her strength, endurance, and her reflexes.

The whistle blew. Purple lights flew towards Isobel like laser pointers. As she sprang back to her feet, another purple beam was approaching her. No time to plan a counter-attack. She ran as more Psybeams whooshed past her. Several frozen puddles lined a path ahead, leading to the arena's partition.

Isobel skidded to a stop before she hit the puddles, maintaining her balance. Yet Admirari was closing in, her tentacle almost in reach. Isobel focused her energy into a Heavy Slam and stepped forward, sliding across the slippery floor to bounce off of the partition's fence. Arms forward. Back arched. Feet off the ground. All of Isobel's effort focused into one attack.

Her forearms only grazed Admirari's hat before they got stopped. First, Isobel's arms froze, stuck in time, while the rest of her body was free, feet kicking the floor to try to pull back. Then the tentacle grasped her forehead, the frozen sensation spreading to the rest of her body. Isobel was immobile, like being encased in ice. Then time stopped. Admirari stood still, unblinking for what seemed like a minute.

You're not very smart, are you?

It was Isobel's inner voice, but not quite. It was distorted like it was being played through bass-boosted speakers submerged underwater. But why did this happen as soon as Admirari hit her?

You seem to attack through brute strength and not much else. It's a wonder you lasted in the league this long.

Her brain needed to shut up. But how were these her own thoughts? Why were they always so aggressive? What—

Time sped up and Admirari swung the tentacle forward, flinging Isobel across the arena. Isobel braced herself to land with a gymnastic's grace. She slid, barely managing to stop short of backing into the fence.

Isobel stuck the landing. She still went to her knees, though, trying to process what the hell had just happened.

That was all her. She didn't know if Admirari unlocked that inner voice of hers on purpose or if it was just amplified by the psychic voice. Whatever it was, she was sweating bullets, one hand on her moist forehead. This wasn't good.

Admirari raised her tentacle, about to strike again. Right, now wasn't the time to overthink things. Isobel stood, spitting on the ground before making her next move. Her shoes were by her side. Sure, it was below the belt, but it was still technically a move: Fling. With one swift motion, Isobel picked one up and lobbed it at Admirari. It missed, though not without stopping Admirari in her levitating tracks.

"A shoe, really?" she grumbled. "Please, have some class—"

Bonk! The heel of the other shoe struck that distracted Hatterene's face, stunning her. Isobel sprang forward. Admirari shook her head to recover. Isobel aimed a fist. The other raised her tentacle. Isobel struck first, socking Admirari in the jaw with a Mega Punch. She wound up for another, raising her other fist, ready to combo and hit… nothing?

Isobel tripped over her own feet, trying to regain her balance after whiffing that attack. Where did she—

"Crap," she whispered.

White light blinded Isobel. Her face was on fire. She stood still, rubbing her eyes as if chlorinated water had gotten splashed in there, but found no refuge. Another psychic wave blew her away, pinning her against the fence. Once wasn't enough for the Hatterene. The invisible force pulled her out and shoved her onto the grate again, and again, and again. Each hit knocked the wind out of Isobel's sails. She drifted in and out, trying to find a way out of this mess. The psychic force was impenetrable. Any attempts to resist were useless.

That isn't good enough, weakling. You used to be on top of things so long ago, and now you can't even fight back?

Her voice again. No, wait, how could it have been Isobel's? She wouldn't have beaten herself up like that, right? It was all that Hatterene's fault. Was she planning this all along?

How about we sift through some of your memories?

An invisible spoon stirred her brain like how Gloria used to stir the stew pot over the campfire. Wait, no, she didn't want to—

Isobel was back in the forest as a Machop, heartily slurping from the soup bowl with a smile on her face.

Then a freshly evolved Machoke, comparing her height with Gloria against a tree. Finally, she was taller than her trainer! Even if she couldn't speak the same language, Gloria picked up that she was proud of her size.

Then she was a Machamp again, except in a different place, sharing a beer with her trainer as they overlooked Circhester from the mountains. Gloria had picked up a six-pack once she had turned 18 and let Isobel have some. She was cool like that. That and Machamp were one of the few Pokemon that had the stomach for it, but that was beside the point. Although they didn't see as much of Circhester as they hoped, one day, they promised that one of them would see all the sights it offered.

You have all these good memories, yet you threw these away, and for what? So you could fight for a trainer you do not care for and for an empty cause?

No, this wasn't happening. What right did some psychic have to get into her head like that? How dare she tell her how to live her life? It was hers to decide what she did with it, right? Or maybe it wasn't. Maybe Admirari was right. What was she doing there? Why put herself through this mess?

"Go on, Isobel!" Bronze shouted from Trevor's side. "Fight back!"

Those words awakened something within Isobel. She opened her eyes, able to see again, though the world spun around her while she was still under the effects of the psychic spell. She forced her mouth open despite the invisible barrier.


Oh-hoh, don't deny it. Admit it, you had a purpose back when all you did was fight. Just like the others, it scratched your back whenever you pounded the **** out of another Pokemon. Your trainer gave you that extra push. She supported you, taught you about the wider world. Then you didn't want to be with her anymore once you got enough of a taste for the league, just one badge away from leading her to completing her journey.

Isobel stayed silent for now, putting all of her mental energy into her fists. They shook, however slightly, but that was enough to know the barrier wasn't invincible.

Then somehow, you knew you wanted a change, but you didn't know what. Then you decided you wanted to live on your own like the other humans did. Like a few of the other Pokemon here started to do. You didn't want to be a Yamper sniffing after your trainer's scent anymore.

Each intruding thought weakened Isobel, clouding her vision. She couldn't give up, though. Yet moving through the telekinesis was like swimming through jelly.

But why are you here now? What reason do you have to live other than acting the lone wolf? You waste away your days on pointless entertainment and the bottle when you're not working, and when you are working, your mind's in another place. You don't even want to be there. Why sell yourself out?

Isobel grit her teeth, breathing in and out, in and out, trying to keep focus. First, her hands shook. Then her arms. Then the rest of her body trembled. She was almost there, she could feel it.

Even behaving like another human is just an act for you. You're still that same Yamper, chasing after another dream humans gave you. You have no ideals as an individual Pokemon. You have no identity, even less than a trainer's Pokemon. You're no one. You're nothin—


Isobel's fists broke through, throwing a quadruple Mega Punch at Admirari's chest. The Hatterene fell back, coughing and panting. The psychic force had lifted. Despite her exhaustion, Isobel pounced onto her, pinning her to the ground with one set of arms, ready to pound her face in with the other.

"You dare…"

Admirari winced and her face morphed into another Pokemon's, from a Hatterene to some horrid mix between a Machamp and a Grimmsnarl. The Grimmsnarl's fangs poked through the Machamp's cheek, grown like mutations. It was a monster, yet the Machamp half looked just like Isobel. But this wasn't her. It was—

Isobel punched again, pounding at the hybrid on the floor. Punch, pound, smack. Every fist thrown at that thing's face brought back memories, good and bad. Times spent partying after winning a gym battle. Times spent wandering through the routes at night alone when Isobel didn't know what to do with herself. Dancing with that Hitmontop when she found her groove. Shouting at the same Pokemon when he didn't respect her personal space. Feeling alone even though she was together with the group. Feeling like something was missing even though she had everything before her. Feeling like she stood in her trainer's shadow whenever she won. Not being able to express to her trainer how she felt or what little she understood about her own emotions.

She didn't stop. She wanted to, yet deep down, it activated that part of her she didn't want to admit: that urge to fight. That warmth inside her. Why did she pretend not to like this feeling? Asserting her power over a weaker being gave her such a rush. But she didn't want this. This gut feeling that she had to fight. She wasn't a monster. She was her own Pokemon. She had agency. She didn't make it this far to make it on her own just to give into her instincts, right? Right?

What are you even doing here, Isobel? You don't belon—

The referee's whistle blew. Isobel came back to reality. Admirari lay before her, crumpled on the floor, back into a Hatterene. Her senses must've been scrambled by the psychic attack.

"Alright, the match is over! Trevor here is the victor!"


A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
Part 3

Admirari had fainted, but was still in one piece. Yet Isobel's hands still shook. They still yearned for something to hit. No, she couldn't do this. She was in control of her instincts. Isobel pulled herself up and got back to her original spot before the battle, putting her remaining strength into her steps.

Those golf claps returned, even less enthusiastic than before. Trevor didn't even have his phone glued to his hands. Bronze wasn't there either, presumably back in his Pokeball. Nil looked worried there, not for the match, but for Admirari. Isobel fell to the floor, catching her breath. If Trevor had any potions in his pocket, now would've been a good chance to use them, though perhaps that was being too optimistic. To her surprise, he came up to her, handing her a potion to spray over herself.

The aching disappeared, which was better, but Isobel would've had to walk the rest off.

"Well, damn, congrats." He smiled, though it looked the same as the one performed for the Snap!App. "I really owe you one for all of this."

She didn't crack a smile, but at least it didn't get her to pull the opposite. He sounded sincere enough anyway. Remembering she couldn't talk, she patted his pocket, gesturing to his wallet.

"Ah, yeah, sure." He turned to Nil, stepping towards his rival as Nil tended to Admirari with a potion of his own. Soon, she was able to sit back up. Immediately, she went over to Isobel, scowling at her.

"What was that?" Admirari growled. "You went berserk there."

"Says you!" Isobel tried to control her tone. "You just turned my own thoughts against me!"

"I did no such thing!" She sighed and backed away, looking to Nil. "In any case, I did have a good fight with the Machamp. I'll see you at the centre."

"Of course." With that, Admirari teleported out of the picture, leaving the three on their own.

Nil extended one hand towards Trevor; the other hand's nails had bite marks, nearly gnawed off but still hanging there. Trevor stared at it for a moment, then his plastic expression came back, whipping out his phone again to take a selfie with the two of them. Isobel stayed out of the frame as she slipped her shoes back on, trying to wrap her head around what Admirari had said. At that point, Trevor's slang faded into white noise for her.

While this happened, the audience members started leaving, including those from Trevor's side.

"Honestly, he's such a tool in person, I can't believe..." one said as they exited. Trevor either didn't hear it or pretended not to hear it since his expression didn't change.

After they finished, they walked out, and all the while, Isobel wondered when the two would finally make the damn deal so she could get back home with her moolah. Once they were out of sight of the arena and back into the facilities of the battle park, the trainer duo came up close once more. With little comment, Nil handed the bills to Trevor, which disappeared into his wallet.

"It was a good fight," Nil said, his cool complexion warming a little. "Look, I know times are tough for you right now. And when it comes to striking out on your own—"

"Don't talk about that." Trevor scowled, backing away from the garbed mystic. Nil just shrugged and went back to his neutral expression.

"Suit yourself. Well, best of luck to your career, however that goes." Nil put his hands in his pockets and walked off, leaving the two alone at last.

Isobel's prize was just out of reach. She didn't know what Trevor was being so coy about, but it added a new fishy aura to him. Well, even fishier than before. Once Nil was out of earshot and eyeshot, Isobel glared at Trevor.

"Look, I dunno what you're plannin', but whatever it is, I want my money now."

"Yeah, about that…" All the colour drained from his face; he tugged at the chains hanging from his neck. "Look, I'm in hot water right now. Can I, um, pay you back later?"

Isobel took a few seconds to process that, then laughed in disbelief.

"Aw, man, you can't be serious." She shook her head. "After all this... no, just no."

"Yeah, I know." His expression wasn't lying that time, but that did nothing for her. "I admit, I knew I wouldn't have been able to win if it wasn't for you. And I'm sorry, I really am, but—"

"What, for treatin' me and Bronze like crap the whole time?" Another chuckle. "Yeah, you better be freakin' sorry, man."

"You don't understand!" He waved his hands, either shielding himself from her incoming wrath or trying to explain himself better. "I need every penny I can get, I'm flat out broke!"

"Says the guy wearing gold."

"That, uh, that's for the Snap! B-but, it's okay, it's okay. I'll give you your money once I've paid my lot off, I promise."

She tried to pull herself together, keeping her shaking fists behind her.

"That's not how this works. How should I trust that you're not gonna run off with everything after what you've done?"

He took a deep breath, clutching his chest.

"I-I don't understan— okay, just listen, please!"

"Enough." Isobel took a deep breath and stepped closer to him, looking down at his snivelling figure. "I haven't put up with your crap just so you could tell me this. I've got payments to make too, y'know."


That was one too many buts. Isobel grabbed his shirt, tugging him by the collar.

"Listen, you ****head!" Isobel shouted, tightening her grip. "I scratch your back, you scratch mine, just like you'd do with anyone else! So pay me now or I'll seriously dunk your ass in a Sharpedo tank!"

"You—you can't!"

Isobel growled, grabbing his chain like a Yamper collar. "Then give me my—"

"Help! Help! I'm being attacked, help!"

Isobel froze, relaxing her grip. No, he wouldn't have stooped so low, but he totally did, as the commotion attracted a crowd of trainers.

"Please, help!"

"You shut your—"

A ball of aura darted towards her. Isobel had to let go of Trevor to avoid it, and he unfortunately got away. She would've chased after him if it wasn't for a black-vested Lucario approaching her. He was a patrol guard, fitted with a badged uniform that covered his spikes.

"Ma'am," Lucario said, "I'm not having another Pokemon fight a human on my watch."

She stepped back. What had she gotten herself into?

"B-but I—"

He raised his paw, which flared with blue energy. "You know how serious this is, right?"

Isobel wasn't there. This wasn't happening. Wait, she could've explained hersel—

No, you idiot, he won't believe you! Fight back, you coward, fight! You're fixing for one anyway!

No, she couldn't do that either. The only other option that sprung to mind was to get the hell away from there.

She ran: dodging people, dodging Pokemon, dodging aura spheres. It all went so fast. Isobel dashed through the streets, running through alleyways, hoping to shake the security off. She kept running, even though his footsteps no longer pounded the floor from behind. Then she stopped, catching her breath.

That Lucario still could've picked out her aura, though. She wasn't safe. Yet she hit a dead end. She had nowhere to hide. She tried to find anywhere she could escape to, but found nothing.

A moment passed as sense caught up to her. That Lucario had stopped chasing her. But why? He knew where she was. She didn't want to stick around long enough to find out. Maybe she could've told him about Trevor, but—

Isobel kicked a trash can over, muttering human curses under her breath. What a Machump she was. She could've avoided all of this if she had calmed down. Now she had no idea where Trevor was. She could complain to the PokeJobs site and get compensation there, but by the time she would've gotten it back, she probably would've been evicted by then.

Great, a wonderful way to cap off a wonderful day. She was all alone in that smelly, dark alleyway.

She faced the alleyway's exit as hundreds of glass pathways emerged before her. Where she'd go, whether she could've scrounged up enough to pay back the rent in time, if she'd move back in with Gloria, if she took a gamble and travelled the world. And out of all of them, she didn't know what to do, just like the Hatterene had said. All the junctions shattered before her, leading to one exit out of the alleyway through a path of shattered glass. The long way back home.

* * *​

After a lengthy bike ride, Isobel swung the flat door open and slammed it shut with the same force. If her neighbours complained, she didn't care. She was glad to be back home. Her drab, compact, and messy home.

In her morning routine, she didn't notice it as much, but the apartment needed a deep clean. Beer cans lay crumpled on the floor. Empty protein buckets and dirty dishes sat in random places on the kitchenette. Cereal boxes piled up on top of the recycling bin. Perhaps if someone else lived here or helped her out…

She shook her head. Who cared if the place was unclean? It was messy, sure, but it was her mess. She could take care of herself. Right?

Crap. Her hands shook again. Why was this happening? They didn't have lives of their own, right? No, she was in control. Deep breaths. Was there any beer left? No, there wasn't. It had been a few days since her last grocery delivery.

Isobel didn't want to leave the house. No more interacting with those stupid humans for a day. Yet she needed something else to take the edge off. Then she remembered she had saved something for an occasion like this.

Once, she'd convinced a stranger to buy her cigarettes using money she had lent to them. Most Pokemon couldn't drink or smoke, that much was true, since it wasn't good for them and they hadn't adapted to it to begin with. No clerk wanted to be liable for a Pokemon's poor health even though other humans freely poisoned themselves. Regardless, she'd bought it out of impulse, in case she was curious to try it out. Here, she was more than curious: she wanted a taste of humanity, to prove to herself she was still just like them.

Isobel fished through the kitchen drawer until she found what she was looking for: a lighter and a pack of Blue Numels. Everything was going to be okay; she just needed to get some smoke in her lungs.

Isobel charged over to the balcony, letting the cool breeze in as she slid the glass door open and closed. She leaned against the railing, looking at Circhester from up on the hill. Even from a distance, Circhester had that historical charm to it, especially when bathed in that orange evening light. It would've been calming if it wasn't for everything else.

Her hands shook again as she reached for the pack of cigs, still wrapped in plastic. Last chance for returns? Nah, she tore it open, exposing its contents.

Isobel took a smoke out of the pack and flicked the lighter a few times until it produced a naked flame. Wind cut through, which threatened to slice it away, but an extra hand shielded it from the breeze. Fire touched paper, and there it was: Isobel's first cigarette. Her shaky hand dragged it to her lips, just shy of singeing her grey skin. Puff, breathe in, hold, breathe out, wait, no, it was too much.

Isobel spluttered; the back of her eyes stinging. Ash lingered on her tongue. Bleh. She scrunched it onto the railing, putting the damn thing out, and flicked it out into the open, out of sight, out of mind. Even then, that damn taste was still in her mouth. Now, she was left with overpriced poison she didn't even want anymore. There was good poison, like the booze, and then there was bad poison, like this one. And just like today, she tried something new, only for it to blow up in her face.

She backed into the glass door behind her. All four of her hands tugged at her head. Then she was on the floor, knees tucked to her chest. Isobel was all alone on that cold balcony.

Stupid. She was so ****ing stupid. Stupid for thinking she could've struck out on her own, and stupid for taking up this deal to begin with. What were these classes even for? Why did she ask Gloria to set her up with lessons in the first place? All that time spent studying, all that time spent not battling, all that time spent not making herself useful to the team, all so she could struggle in an even worse position than before. Why?

She didn't know.

That Hatterene, no, Admirari back there had nothing to do with this. Those thoughts earlier were all her own. Isobel had all the answers; she just didn't want to admit them.

From the first day she moved in, there was always that sinking feeling of 'what now?' She spent her first week sightseeing, wandering the streets, the parks, and finally checking out the Hero's Bath museum. Those were nice, but eventually, the novelty dried up, like how she ran out of money. That was her first wake-up call.

For days, she had surfed through the PokeJobs board, until she found a few odd jobs for a removal service. The work there was tolerable. The people were friendly, the other Machoke too, and they appreciated having a stronger Machamp like her on the team. That would've been perfect for her.

Except it wasn't. The pay itself wasn't all that impressive. In part because heavy lifting was easier for her kind, plus there was a culture of strength-training Machoke over paying them handsomely. It was good for building up muscles, but what was the point if she wasn't in the league anymore? She felt the same as when she was with Gloria.

She had left for greener pastures, then business was slow for a while. A stint at two different retail stores was enough for Isobel to learn she hated customer service. Not the 'helping people' part, just everything else surrounding it. The tedium, the crappy management, being out of depth with the petty things humans got hung up on like how presentable they looked for numerous stuffy occasions like work meetings and parties. At least with the new sign spinning job, she snuck in a bit of me-time, but that was still an escape from herself.

Underneath all of that, who was Isobel? She was at sea, getting swept up by the waves when she needed to find a damn raft to climb onto. There was no land to swim towards, only time as it stretched for days and days like the ocean. More time than Isobel knew what to do with, especially once she was on her own. All her friends and relatives were somewhere else. Yet she promised herself she'd be strong, for her sake and theirs. She didn't need to rely on anyone, especially not her trainer or another human. She liked it this way. Except she didn't.

No, she hated it. Hated being alone. Hated, hated, hated it. She wanted help. No man, or Pokemon, was an island. Even with Gloria, she made friends of her teammates, and, well, Gloria was a friend too. She still was. Then why didn't she talk to her after all this time until Gloria called?

She won't listen to you, she's ashamed of you, not being able to look after yourself. Just like your old chums back home.

She didn't want to remember that, but this couldn't go on. This voice was a part of herself she could no longer ignore. It seemed hellbent on self-destruction, and the only way Isobel would get past it was to face it head-on.

Isobel shut her eyes, trying to visualise this internal voice.

* * *​

She was a Machop again, standing in an inky black room. This voice manifested as a Grimmsnarl, towering over her as he bared his fangs.

"G-get away from me!" Isobel held her puny fists up. Before she could even fight back, the Grimmsnarl wrapped his hairy tendrils around her.

"What are you even doing here, Isobel? You don't belong here."

She fought against it, squirming and writhing in the matted hair.

"This world is a mess. You don't know where you stand with humans and other Pokemon. Pokemon like you can prance around like you know what you're doing while this system still binds you and sends the dumber ones to slaughterhouses. And you can't change any of it. Makes you want to give up, doesn't it?"

Isobel thrashed more and more, trying to find a way out of this hairy jungle and its tangling vines. That was until the hair started wrapping itself around her head.

"You love to fight. It's in your blood. Don't pretend you're anything different. It's the only thing that makes sense in this crazy world."

Then her mouth.

"You'll just be drifting from dead-end job to dead-end job. You have no passion. You don't truly want independence, you just want validation, that you're an adult, whatever that means in Machamp terms. It's not like anyone back home would've cared."

Then the rest of her body, encasing her in a follicular sarcophagus, save for her eyes.

"Why do you even need to go through all this trouble? So you can keep impressing those meatsacks even though you're nothing special? You think you're hot **** just because you're on your own in the big city."

It was right: she wasn't anything special. Nothing special. Not important. Not outstanding at all. No one would be proud of her. She wasn't worthy of love from anyone.

She sank further and further into the abyss, everlasting black surrounding her. Blacker than black. There were no thoughts left. Everything turned a blank as all light faded. Then a faint image emerged above her: a dwelling made of wood and stone home to many mixes of fighting types.

She saw herself years back as a Machop, way before all this started with Gloria. Isobel trained alongside her parents, two other Machoke, as they punched holes into piles of stones they had set up as practise dummies. She joined in, only to nurse her hand afterwards.

She knelt down, looking guiltily towards the two. Then they lowered themselves to her level and patted her shoulders.

They spoke, but no words came out. Still, their tone soothed her. At that point, she didn't have the strength to do what they did, but they kept reassuring her that her skills would come over time. There was no point shaming her when she still had room to grow. The rest of the dwelling would've said as much.

They fought alongside her, giving her a basis for her own fighting style. They accompanied her on trips to mountainous peaks where all of Galar stretched out before her. They did everything. Yet still, there was discord in her heart. She wanted to be stronger, like the other Machop, and yet she wasn't. Being herself wasn't enough for her.

One day, they asked if she wanted to go on a journey with a trainer. It wasn't exactly their place to meddle with humans, but at low points in their own youths, they went on journeys of their own and came back stronger, both in mind and body.

Isobel obliged. One day, she'd come back a better mon. Yet she never returned to the dwelling.

The image faded, and all was dark again. Dark except for a pinprick of light way up above.

"Stay down there. You're worthless, just like me. Just like you made me."

Worthless. So what?

Why did she have to prove herself to anyone, let alone a human, to feel worthy of anything? There was no one she wanted to live for but herself. She liked these weird comforts and curiosities. She liked being among lots of various people and Pokemon. And she liked to help others. The kid. Bronze. That was when she felt her best today. And she wanted to feel it again.

The light beamed down, loosening the blindfold.

Maybe she still had those fighting bones in her body. But it didn't define her. Nor did the human stuff. Still, there was plenty she liked about trading blows with other Pokemon. Living in the present. Testing her strength. Just the sensation of pushing her own mind and body to the limit. Nothing wrong with a bit of play here and there. Her parents would've said the same. Then why didn't she come back to them, like she didn't with Gloria until today?

That's what she wanted to find out. Years of fighting, and she still never found that inner strength, that full balance she needed. Now that strength was coming back to her, like rays of sunshine beaming over her.

The light flooded the void, and with the hair no longer covering her mouth, she could breathe again.

The Grimmsnarl faced her, baring his fangs. He chopped downwards, slamming his hand against Isobel. One strike would've pounded her to dust. Yet Isobel blocked the strike, catching the attack between her palms.

"You're right!" she said. "Battling is a part of me! And I didn't wanna admit it, but now I do. I'm sorry I pushed you aside!"

The hair covering her unravelled, and the two Pokemon turned into white light, brightening up that void. Isobel had evolved into a Machoke, and the Grimmsnarl had devolved into a Morgrem. The figure no longer towered above, and had shrunk to half her height. He whimpered, tugging on his locks of hair.

"I-I didn't mean to say those hurtful things. I just didn't like being ignored. I'm sorry too."

She didn't need to be angry with him or herself. Isobel knelt down, extending her hand to shake his paw. Then the void shattered into obsidian shards, letting the light in as it consumed the room.

* * *​

Isobel's eyes snapped open as her phone vibrated. There were four messages from Gloria.

'today at 6:31pm from OG Gloria'

'Oh hi'

'Saw sum of yr fight, u kicked ass!'

'R u ok?'

'Sry abut b4'

Isobel laid there for a moment, letting the night air cool her down. She didn't remember what she was doing before she opened her eyes, so it must've been a dream. The episode from before had still rattled her a bit. Breathe in. Breathe out. Eventually, she relaxed her grip on herself, and, well, got a grip on herself, not that she felt any better. She needed to talk to Gloria, properly this time.

Isobel went inside and padded to the sink to pour herself some water. All that time and she hadn't realised how dry her throat got from the smoking. Or from something else while she had that episode. Downing it in one gulp didn't do much to soothe her, but it got some of the taste out. With a sigh, she tapped the phone a few times and pressed it to the side of her head as she sat on the bed. Hopefully, her trainer would pick it up if she wasn't busy.

"Hey," Gloria said as music hummed in the background. "How did it go?"

"Terrible. But I'm glad to hear your voice after all this."

"Same. But… I thought you won."

"I did." Isobel huffed, clasping her head. A migraine was coming on just thinking about it. "Didn't matter anyway, the trainer ran off with all the money."

"All the money… excuse me, what?!"

"You heard me. Didn't give me a penny."

"Are you kidding me?" Footsteps thumped from her side of the phone. "He can't not pay you, you should take it to the police!"

"Well, they chased me last time for tryin' to talk some sense into this guy." She crossed one set of arms. "I'm not turning myself in for this stupid crap."

"No, but…" Another sigh. "That really sucks, Isobel. Look, whatever money you need to cover the rest of this month, I can—"

"Please don't." Isobel grit her teeth. "You're not bailing me out."

"Oh come on, I'm doing it because I want to, and what happened was really unfair."

"Yeah, I'll say. But please, don't just throw your own money away for it. And I'll figure something out, I'm sure I can. And that's not why I called you."

"It wasn't?"

Why did she seem surprised by that? It's not like Isobel asked for much help with this moving-out period. Isobel slumped to the bed, sighing.

"I don't wanna go back to the way things were. But I also think I made a mistake moving out."

Gloria kept silent.

"Well?" Isobel expected a response, but piped in before Gloria could take her turn. "I guess… I'm just not sure if I'm happier than I was. And I thought I would be. The minute I signed up for that programme, I dreamed of having my own space. Not just some rocks or a tent, but a place I could put stuff up in. Now I'm here, it's…"


"No. I feel the exact same. I still don't know what the hell I'm doing with my life."

"Who says you needed to know?"

"I dunno…" She rubbed her forehead. There wasn't a good answer for that, though it was on the tip of her tongue. A part of that dream came back to her, and she sighed again. "Just myself, I guess. Even before I met you, I set my hopes about myself way too high. Just wanted to come back stronger to my folks."

Gloria hummed, then took a deep breath.

"I get it. Mind you, even I don't know that much about what your family was like."

"It's been so long since I've seen them; I thought it didn't matter."

"I mean, family is family. I still think about what my parents are doing and if they're pleased I became a trainer instead of a doctor like they first planned."

Isobel couldn't help but chuckle at that, though that quickly subsided. What would her own parents think about her after everything was said and done? Now she had mixed with humans for so long and gained the ambitions of one?

"Do you think I should see 'em?" She rubbed one free set of hands together. "I dunno, it's been a while, so it might be really awkward, or…" The right words lingered on her tongue.

"I think they'd be glad to see you, and it'd probably be good for you to get out of the city."


"I mean, I think it's great that you stuck it out for that course and wanted to live somewhere you liked. I don't really think you sound very happy about this, though."

"It might just be this crappy situation, but no, I'm not."

"So… what would make you happy, then?"

Isobel turned in her bed, thinking of a quick response. It was something she always took for granted, yet it was still an abstract concept. How did she define happiness, anyway? From the pleasure something gave her, or the feeling of long-term satisfaction?

Then she remembered another part of the dream. The way her parents helped her. The way Isobel liked helping others. Those both felt nice. And she couldn't deny that there was always a part of her that wanted to battle. So why was she ashamed of admitting it? Now was as good of a time as any.

"The odd thing is, I still actually like fighting, after all this time."

"Yeah, it's just all the crap surrounding it you don't like. Understandable."

"Exactly. So, I thought about becoming a coach for other Pokemon. I could still fight sometimes to make my point, but I'd also be passing my knowledge down to others. I dunno, do you—" She stopped herself. Right, approval from Isobel wasn't needed, but it would've been nice to hear her thoughts. "Sounds good?"

"Totally! You helped mine out when a certain strategy wasn't clicking for them. Didn't she?"

Gloria called to her side of the phone. A pair of footsteps shuffled.

"Yeah, Izzy!" Hitmontop Eddy piped in. "Those flyin' types can't keep up with my moves now!"

It was good to hear Eddy's voice too. Maybe when things were less stressful, she'd give him a call through Gloria. At least, if he wasn't dancing, since he presumably went back to his spot where music played in the background.

"So, how about it? I'm sure there's plenty of room for you to do that. Times are changing, especially in this region."

Isobel scratched her chin. Yeah, saying it out loud, it only confirmed her resolve. Maybe she could've set up a page covering techniques, or arranged lessons for Pokemon, or other trainers. Video was all the rage now, wasn't it? Maybe that could've gotten her message across and would help influence the next generation of trainers and Pokemon alike.

Influence. Now that was a word she wanted to wipe from her memory.

Someone knocked outside, bringing Isobel's attention away from the phone.

"Hmm, I'll have to look it up," she said as she got out of bed to open the door. "I knew it was an option, but back when I did the tests, I didn't know that I was interest—"

Bronze and that patrol Lucario stood outside. Her heart raced.

"Uh, crap, can I call you back? Someone's here."

"Oh yeah, sure. Bye."

"And, uh, thanks a lot for listening. I really appreciate it."

"Anytime," Gloria said with an audible smile as she hung up.

With her out of the picture for now, it was round two against that patrolling Lucario. Isobel was at a blank there. Was he going to arrest her?

"Um, sorry, I'm—"

"No need to explain," the patrolmon said, looking down to Bronze. "This Thievul told me everything I need to know."

"I-I'm sorry I attacked that human! I just got so heated..."

She trailed off as the Lucario shook his head.

"Not to worry. Well, we don't exactly approve of betting in matches like these, though it's too late to really confiscate the money, so that evens out. And from what this fella told me, you got swindled out of a fair deal. Theft is a crime, and with you, well—" he patted his covered spike—"I was only doing my job. I've just seen bad things happen between trainers and Pokemon before."

Isobel sighed a breath of relief. She couldn't deny that, but what was he doing here?

"Well, in any case, I might as well give you what you're owed." The patrolmon took an envelope out of a satchel and handed it over to Isobel. "I know the PokeJobs system ain't perfect, but we've got to look out for each other, don't we?"

She opened the contents, revealing a stack of money, which she widened her eyes at. She thumbed through them, counting them in her head. 8 notes, 8,000 Pokedollars, just as initially promised. She didn't know how to process it at first. It was her pay, but having it brought back after all the crap she went through...

The Lucario cleared his throat. "You can thank this fella for bringing it to my attention."

"Oh, um, it was nothing." Bronze's tail wagged, betraying his meek expression. "Besides, it was the least I could do for—"

Isobel knelt down and hugged Bronze. It wasn't very dignified for people to cry. Especially not in Galar when the usual response was to put on a brave face and get on with it. But she wasn't a human, and Machamp like her were more open about their own emotions. So for the first time in a while, Isobel couldn't help herself, sniffling as Bronze wrapped his paws around her. Her extra hands rubbed the tears from her eyes even as she had Bronze in her clutches.

"T-thank you," she stuttered. "Jeez, the day I cry over somethin' like this…"

"Oh, um, don't mention it."

The two held that embrace for a moment until the Lucario cleared his throat. Isobel gently pulled herself away, sighing in relief.

"Before I go, well, I might as well say this Thievul needs a place to stay for the night."

Isobel cocked her head.

"O-oh, not like that," Bronze said as he shielded his face, "it's… oh, he can explain."

"He would like to leave his trainer. It's not really my department to deal with this issue, so I'll carry it over to those in charge of taking care of Pokemon so he can get properly unregistered later. And they'll also try to help him wherever they can. I don't want to force any obligation on you to let him couch surf, so if you know anyone else that could look after him—"

"Oh, no, it's fine," she said in a heartbeat, "he can stay with me for the night."

As much as she would've liked more explanation from the Lucario, she couldn't have turned Bronze away. So the patrolmon left, leaving the two of them alone. The apartment seemed even messier with the presence of another Pokemon.

"Sorry," Bronze said, "I didn't want to step on your toes, but, well..."

"No biggie, that's what shoes are for, hehe." She rubbed the back of her head. "We can talk about it inside if you wanna make yourself at home."

With that, Bronze entered, and she shut the door. While Bronze sat on the bed, pawing at the white covers, Isobel poured a water bowl for him. She also opened the fridge, hoping beer had magically appeared in there, but there was nothing but a half empty—no, half full carton of milk and some leftover canned Magikarp that smelled funny. A shopping trip was in order at some point.

There was still that taste of that cigarette left behind as she smacked her lips. The rest of the milk would do. She looked back to Bronze as he sprang up and dove into the sheets headfirst like it was snow.

"Um..." Isobel started.

"Oh!" Bronze's moustache bristled. "Sorry, force of habit."

"Nah, not a problem." Isobel laid the bowl on the bed, which Bronze happily lapped at while she sipped her drink. Still tasted fresh, which overpowered that awful ashy aftertaste. "So, you left Trevor."

"Yes." He looked to the balcony window, grumbling. "When he let me out to feed me, I caught onto the fact he didn't pay you and, well, I wasn't having it. Even if he didn't understand my rant, I think he realised how unreasonable he was being and let me go. At least, I hope so."

"Good riddance. I bet you're glad to be out of his hair."

Bronze flopped flat on his belly, tail sluggishly swishing on the bed. "I dunno. He wasn't… horrible, I guess. That money thing was it for me though." His eyes lowered. "I just stuck with him because I didn't know what else to do. Didn't wanna go back to the wild either."

Isobel hummed, surprised to hear of his origins.

"Don't tell me you put up with his **** all of the time without getting your own back."

Bronze tilted his head at the human curse, but continued.

"Well, not exactly. Humans like to wear these stupid shoes sometimes, I dunno, because they're more expensive and they like to show them off. Not that it makes much difference since they smell either way."

Isobel winced at that. "Ew. Go on."

"So Trevor bought these shoes one day, and he had to borrow even more money he didn't have for that. I heard his father cut him off, or something."

"Makes sense."

"I dunno much else about the human world outside my trainer, but even I knew he shouldn't have been wasting it on stuff he didn't need. He could've fed lots of Nickit cubs with that money. So guess what I did when he put those on."

"Mmm?" Isobel hummed as she took another swig from the carton.

"I peed all over them."

Her belly lurched, and she spat all the milk out into a stream, which splattered on the floor. Isobel clutched her stomach as she guffawed. Bronze seemed surprised at first, then joined in the amusement with high pitched squeals. This lasted for a few seconds. Once the laughter died down, Bronze slumped to the bed.

"This stinks. I thought I would've been happier once I left, but—" he buried his head in his paws, shaking—"I don't know what I'm going to do now. It must be nice, having your own den like this to yourself. You said it had its perks."

"Yeah, but it has its downsides." Isobel gulped the rest of the milk down, then stood up to wipe the mess from the floor with some paper towels. "Well, I like my own freedom, but I feel ya there." She frowned. "It ain't nice to try and make it alone."

Bronze uncovered his face, though it still had that look of worry. "I guess so."

Both of their stomachs rumbled, bringing them out of their funk. Isobel stopped mopping, stifling a titter. "Crap, I forgot to eat."

"Me too. I ran out just as Trevor was about to pour some for me."

"Well, that makes two hungry Pokemon." Isobel quickly finished cleaning up the last of the milk and stretched her arms. She had money in her pocket now, and some to spare before she had to turn the overdue payment to the bank, but that could wait until tomorrow when it reopened. "Whatever happens from here on out, I can at least treat you to some grub for now."

"O-oh, no, I can't ask that of you."

"No, seriously, I owe you one." She gave him a big smile. "You're a lifesaver, Bronze."

His whiskers twitched at that. "Well, you were nice to me, so..."

"Well then." She slipped on a four-sleeved jacket and headed for the door. "C'mon, it's my treat. Whaddya say?"

Bronze cocked his head, considering the request, and then joined Isobel as she turned the handle. Both their futures were uncertain at that point. For Bronze, the first steps into life without a trainer lay ahead. For Isobel, the challenge of carving out a niche as a coach, and possibly coming back to her old home. But those were worries for tomorrow. And whatever happened, at least they could face them together.

Isobel looked at her apartment one more time before she left for dinner. Even though it was messy and small, suddenly, having Bronze around made it feel less empty. She'd give it a good clean when she got back. Then there'd be enough room for herself, the Thievul, and the Morgrem in her mind.
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