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    Default Learning Curve [Glistenshipping, PG]

    Hello~ So it's been a long time since I wrote anything, but then I unexpectedly fell in love with Candice/Maylene (blame the bit in Platinum when you're going to Snowpoint City and you see Maylene on the way to "practise training" *waggles eyebrows*) and, um, this happened. XD I'll be posting this in two parts, cause it got LONG. Enjoy, hopefully!



    Learning Curve
    by Whiscash
    Disclaimer: Nope, still don’t own Pokémon. I’ll let you know if that ever changes. I’m just borrowing the characters for a while for an entirely non-profit work of fiction.
    Rating: PG.
    Pairing: Glistenshipping [Maylene/Candice].
    Warnings: None, really, except if you’re sensitive to (very tame) female/female content.
    Summary: Maylene never expected someone like Candice would understand.
    Notes: I haven’t seen any of the animé appearances of these two, so characterization's based entirely on the games; hopefully I haven’t got them too OOC.




    “Well, you all know how it is, I’m sure. I know these kids are trying, but…sometimes you just want to be challenged. Don’t you?”

    As a general murmur of agreement ripples through the circle, Maylene nods and tries to look like she knows how it is. It’s a few hours into the “informal gathering” of Sinnoh gym leaders, and most of them are standing by a buffet table, listening to Volkner, Sunyshore’s leader, talking about how his job is just too easy.

    This is only Maylene’s third one of these, in the year since she became the Veilstone City gym leader, but she knows well enough how they tend to pan out. The other guys are always friendly, but sometimes she can’t help wondering if they’re all secretly judging her. Because the truth is, she doesn’t know how it is; in fact, she has no idea how it must feel to effortlessly beat all your challengers.

    As Volkner continues, she realizes the plate she’s been holding for the last few minutes is still empty. None of the food looks appealing, but she probably ought to eat something anyway. She takes a burger.

    “Sometimes you go a little easy on them, though, right?” says Gardenia, who’s standing next to Maylene, tilting her head quizzically. “You get – I mean, most of them are pretty strong – but I had this kid the other day with a Bidoof…and nothing else…”

    They all laugh at this, although Volkner frowns slightly afterwards.

    “Maybe sometimes, but the rules do say –“

    “’Scuse me.” A flash of blue and white squeezes by Maylene’s other side, leaning over to pick up a plate. It’s a girl with two long plaits, flicking them both over her shoulder so they don’t end up covered. Maylene recognizes her as Candice, the Snowpoint City leader. Straightening up with her plate full, she asks “What are we talking about?”

    “Just about how hard it is being so obviously better than everyone else,” Gardenia replies, rolling her eyes in Volkner’s direction. He grins good-naturedly.

    “I’m just saying…”

    “I haven’t missed much, then.” Candice glances down at Maylene’s plate, and a look of distaste flickers across her face. “Ew, are you going to eat that? I heard those are Miltank burgers.”

    There’s a general groan of “Don’t say that!”, “I’ve just eaten”, “They wouldn’t do that”, and so on, while Maylene looks dumbly down at her untouched burger.

    “No, not if…is it really that bad?”

    “Pretty bad.” She grimaces. “But – okay – possibly not Miltank. I may have been exaggerating. Just a little.” Then she grins, and Maylene finds herself smiling back.

    “Maybe not, then.” She puts her plate back down on the table edge. “I wasn’t that hungry anyway.”

    “The food here’s never been that great. But I’m guessing you know that by now. You’d think…” Candice breaks off. “Hey, you train Fighting types, right?”

    Maylene nods cautiously. She’s anticipating a comment about how she doesn’t look like your usual Fighting gym leader, but it doesn’t come.

    She jerks her head towards the next room, reserved for practice battles. “You want to practice? Only I’m Ice, and I think it’s good to go against your weaknesses, you know…”

    Maylene wants to make an excuse – sure, she has the type advantage, but Candice is a lot of gyms ahead of her. But she can’t come up with anything fast enough, and finds herself saying “Sure.”

    “Great. Guys –“ She waves her hand in the air, presumably to attract the attention of the others. It largely fails – only Roark looks over at them curiously. “We’re going to battle. Anyone want to watch?”

    “”Hmm?” Volkner raises his head, like he’s just noticed Candice is there (although frankly, Maylene thinks, she is hard to miss). “Oh – no, you go ahead. I think we’ve all had our fill.”

    “Unless you wanted us to,” Roark offers. “Cause I’d…”

    Candice looks at Maylene. “Do we want an audience?”

    She shrugs, suddenly uncomfortably aware everyone’s looking at them.

    “No, I think we’re okay.” Candice decides. She puts her arm through Maylene’s, tugging her in the general direction of the door to the other room. “So let’s do this!”



    ***



    Battling, Maylene relaxes a little; it’s only a practice, she tells herself, and no one’s watching, so there’s no pressure. They keep it simple, one-on-one. She goes with Meditite and Candice uses Sneasel.

    It’s a close match. Candice, to Maylene’s fascination, totally changes when she’s battling. She’s focused, determined, completely in tune with her Pokémon and its moves. Maylene’s impressed; she’d always thought Candice seemed nice, but kind of ditzy. She knew she must be good – she’s the second-highest ranking, after all, after Volkner - but she’d never been able to imagine her in battle.

    Maylene, though, has never taken her training lightly. She and Meditite have been together a long time, and he’s learned to anticipate her orders before she even gives them. Sneasel’s fast and cunning, but she knows what they have to do to win. And – to her satisfaction – they do.

    Maylene can see, as soon as she returns Sneasel to the Pokéball, that Candice is surprised; shocked, even. She’d been expecting to win, even with the type disadvantage. But if she’s annoyed, she doesn’t show it – she bursts into applause almost immediately. Maylene smiles awkwardly, looking down at the floor.

    “That was a great match! You’re good. You and Meditite, obviously.”

    “Thanks. I, um…I train a lot.” Maylene hopes she’s not coming off big-headed. “You are, too.” She has to say it, of course, but she still means it. “You and Sneasel.”

    “Thanks. I had fun.” Candice looks uncharacteristically embarrassed. “Could you, um…I mean, you seem to know a lot. About battling. Would you mind telling me what I did wrong?” She pauses. “Just so I know what to work on. Feedback’s important, you know?”

    “Oh, I…Sure, well, okay…You didn’t do anything wrong exactly.” Maylene flusters. She’s not used to people looking at her the way Candice is now; intently, like she’s trying to take in everything she says. She especially isn’t used to giving advice to her “betters”, as her dad used to call them. “Listen to other trainers”, he’d say when she first started out. “They’re your betters”.

    “It’s just strategy really,” she manages to say eventually. “Like just then – if you have the type disadvantage, you need to approach the battle differently. Because you can’t just rely on your most powerful moves. So you have to work harder and try to… predict your opponent’s moves. Think about what they’re going to do and adapt to it. That kind of thing. It really varies with the opponent.” Pause. “Well, that’s one way, I mean, I don’t know that much…”

    Candice nods thoughtfully. “No, that’s all great. I’ll remember it.” She digs in her shoulder bag and pulls out a little blue-cased Pokégear. “Have I got your number? We could swap tips. Train together sometimes. If you wanted to.”

    She really is serious about this, Maylene thinks, fumbling for her own Pokégear. “No, I don’t have your number. Yes, training would be good. Let me just…” They swap Pokégears, entering their respective numbers.

    “Awesome.” Candice is smiling again as she hands Maylene’s Pokégear back, looking more like Maylene remembers her. “So we should probably…”

    A sudden loud knock on the door makes them both jump.

    “Someone in there?” a voice calls. “Still battling? It’s closing time.”

    “No,” Candice calls back. “We’re just leaving.”

    On her journey back to Veilstone, Maylene wonders if Candice really does want to train with her. She can’t see it happening, since she lives all the way up in Snowpoint, and there are plenty of stronger people around.

    But she still feels oddly honoured by the sentiment.



    ***



    It turns out that Candice does call her. Kind of a lot, actually. Like, in the middle of a battle (and Maylene’s sure she only lost that time because the sudden noise distracted Lucario for long enough for her opponent to get a sneak attack in) if she feels it’s necessary.

    But it’s kind of nice, because Maylene’s life, since she became a gym leader, has been pretty much the same every day. She battles challengers. She works out. She trains her Pokémon. She works out with her Pokémon. Sometimes it gets exhausting, and she likes an excuse to just sit down and not have to be moving for a while.

    She likes talking to Candice, too. At first it’s mostly just battle tips and stories about the weird challengers they’ve both had recently. Gym leader stuff, basically. But she figures out quickly that Candice just likes to talk, about pretty much everything. It’s nice, she finds, not to have to be serious all the time.

    Gradually, they find out more about each other. Candice tells Maylene how she used to want to be a Pokémon coordinator, “because I always liked Pokémon from when I was little, and I liked pretty things, and I guess I liked the idea of dressing Pokémon up to look pretty and stuff.” Pause. “That probably sounds dumb to you, huh?”

    “No,” Maylene protests, although she never really did “get” contests, herself. “I know what you mean.”

    “Snowpoint isn’t a big contest city, anyway. But when I had Pokémon, battling started to make sense – it’s a mutual thing, you know? You work and they work and it’s about what you achieve together.”

    Maylene is nodding, even though Candice can’t see her – because that’s exactly it, and it’s what makes all her hard work – most of the time – worth it, and she never expected someone like Candice to understand. Hearing her say it like that makes a huge, stupid grin start to spread across her face.

    “Hello? May? You still there?” Oh, right, she hasn’t said anything yet.

    “Sorry, I’m here. That’s – yeah, I think you’re right.” And she tells Candice about how she started out, how her parents were always serious about Pokémon, like they were a career choice, and they expected her to be the same. How she always felt this connection with Fighting Pokémon, because they had such strength of mind as well as physical power, and she admired that.

    “When I met Meditite, I could tell that he hated to lose as much as I did,” she explains. “So then it was like…a pact we had. To work hard and be stronger – both of us.” She’s not just talking about battling, either.

    “That’s so sweet,” Candice says, and Maylene frowns for a second, wondering if she detects a mocking tone. But no, she thinks, she does mean it as a compliment. “Sweet” isn’t a word Maylene’s been taught should be associated with Fighting type trainers, but she doesn’t think she minds too much. “Oh, hey – sorry, I really have to go. I’ve kept this guy waiting for forever. I think one of the trainers told him I was out to lunch.”

    Maylene glances at her watch. “It’s nearly three o’clock.”

    “It was a very long lunch.” Candice giggles, and Maylene does too. “Talk to you soon. Good luck with all the training and stuff.” A beep, and she clicks off.

    Maylene puts her Pokégear away, feeling vaguely guilty about all the time she’s wasted. Lucario has been standing there the whole time, and is now looking at her curiously.

    “Come on,” she tells him, getting to her feet. “Back to work.”



    ***



    Maylene wonders if it’s her, or if the challengers lately are getting tougher. She’s always wondered – no one ever really talks about it, maybe it’s a code of honour among gym leaders or something – just how easily she’s expected to win.

    She thinks back to Volkner at the last meeting: “Give me a challenge!” Maylene seems to get plenty of challenges. When she’s giving out more than three badges a day, she starts to wonder if she’s just not good enough. Or training hard enough. But she doesn’t see how that’s possible – when she’s not battling, she’s training. She couldn’t work harder.

    She tries not to let it get to her – she doesn’t want her Pokémon to feel bad, for one, and it’s instilled in her not to dwell on these things, only to focus on being better, working harder, proving yourself…

    One day, though, it’s too much. It’s an unexpectedly busy day – she has no time for training, challengers come one after another. After she loses to the first trainer (a young boy who can’t have been training that long, but still gives Meditite a match with his Staravia), she just can’t focus like normal. She hands out badge after badge, forcing herself to smile and tell the trainers they did a great job and they earned it, when all she wants to do is give up and just go and lie down somewhere.

    When it’s finally closing time, she goes down to the Pokémon Centre to rest an exhausted Lucario. Maylene has the horrible feeling that she’s let him down – let all of her Pokémon down, for that matter.

    “You were really great today,” she tells him, stroking the top of his head. “I know I work you hard sometimes, and I –" She can’t quite bring herself to say “sorry”, because she’s scared of getting too emotional in public. This isn’t what gym leaders are supposed to do. “Today wasn’t your fault. We had an off-day. But we’ll do better next time.”

    Lucario just nods, but Maylene knows he understands.

    Her Pokégear bleeps, and after a disapproving look from the nurse behind the counter, Maylene returns Lucario to his Pokéball and goes outside to answer it.

    It’s Candice, full of stories she’s heard about changes in the gym leaders’ union, or whatever it’s called, Maylene can’t really concentrate.

    “…which would totally ruin everything. I mean, uniform? What do they think we are?” Candice stops to draw breath. “Sorry, I’m rambling. So how are you – everything going okay?”

    “I guess,” Maylene mumbles, unconvincingly. Then she blurts out, without thinking about it, “Candice, when – you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to but – when did you last lose?”

    There’s a pause, and Maylene’s dreading the answer – so long ago she can’t even remember? – or that she might have broken the unspoken code. But then it comes: “Um, yesterday? No – the day before that. This guy, he had a Camerupt – totally wiped us out.”

    “Oh.” Maylene considers this.

    “Did you have a rough day?” The concern in her voice is almost too much – Maylene, to her horror, feels tears prick her eyes. She squeezes them shut, telling herself, you will not let this make you cry.

    “Kind of. I lost…I just feel bad. Like I’ve let my Pokémon down, and…sometimes I just think, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this…” She takes a deep breath, trying to compose herself.

    “May, you should be doing this,” Candice interrupts. “Believe me. We all lose – it happens – but you haven’t let anyone down. Look on it like, at least you made people happy by giving them the badge.”

    Maylene tries, but it doesn't, in truth, make her feel a whole lot better. “I guess…”

    “My first week? We actually ran out of badges, I was giving them away so fast. One guy offered to tutor me!”

    Maylene manages a laugh. “Really?”

    “Oh yeah. And anyway – you probably don’t need me to tell you this – but you’re good. Not just strong – although you are, obviously – but the way you battle is...” Candice stops suddenly. “Wow, I sound like the head of your fanclub or something.”

    Maylene smiles, properly this time. “Fanclub? I wish – but you can start one if you want. And – for what it’s worth – you don’t need tutoring either.”

    “Right? That’s what I told him,” she huffs, and Maylene realizes she’s feeling better, a little bit lighter than before. “But yeah – don’t let this stuff get you down. Win, lose, it’s all part of the learning curve. Right?”

    Maylene nods, before remembering Candice can’t see her and echoing “Right.”

    “Okay, pep talk over. The other thing I heard…”

    They talk a while longer. Maylene’s grateful for the distraction, but she doesn’t feel quite so bad any more. She lost, but she’ll do better tomorrow. That’s always the plan.

    She empathizes with Candice about how it would suck if they have to wear “official gym leader uniforms”, and promises she’ll say something to Volkner if she sees him (even though she never sees him and probably wouldn’t dare to anyway. Still, Candice seems convinced he’s the one who can do something about it and Maylene doesn’t want to discourage her), and eventually they say goodbye.

    Maylene heads home, shivering against the cold, but feeling a new sense of resolve.



    ***



    Things carry on in Veilstone City much the same way they always have. Maylene keeps working hard, always working hard, and she doesn’t have another full day of losses. She loses a few times, of course, and never completely gets used to it, but she tries to take it in her stride. Challengers come and go. She talks to Candice most days, and some days it’s the only thing keeping her going.

    It’s a freezing February morning, too early for any challengers, and Maylene’s in the back of the gym doing weights with Meditite. Well, that’s the idea, but in reality they’re both struggling with it.

    “Tite,” Meditite complains eventually, rubbing his arm.

    “Okay, good work, you can take a break for now.” Maylene tells him. She casts a restless eye around the gym, wondering what to do next. There are the punching bags, or maybe she should go outside, or…

    Suddenly there’s a loud knock on the door. “Maylene!” It’s Jim, who guards the entrance to make sure everyone coming in is an officially sanctioned trainer – he hadn’t been here when Maylene had arrived. “Someone here for you.”

    “Coming,” she calls back, thinking, already? You did get the odd trainer who was eager – so eager, in some cases, they would turn up outside your actual house on a holiday. But she’d banked on having a bit more time to prepare today.

    She returns Meditite to his Pokéball and heads to the front of the gym. Instead of a badge-hungry trainer, though, she’s greeted by a familiar voice

    “I think it’s great, what you’ve done in here. A gym should look like its type, you know what I mean?”

    “Well, it wasn’t really my job to…” Jim starts, but then shrugs and says “Nothing but the best. So, Snowpoint City – you must have come a long way?”

    “Oh, yeah, I guess. But it wasn’t so…” Candice spots Maylene, and waves her over. “Hey! I knew you’d be here already. You probably didn’t expect me, did you?”

    “Um, no, I didn’t,” Maylene agrees. But she doesn’t feel as irritated as she normally would be at having her routine interrupted, somehow. “Do you want to come to the back? It’s where I do all my training.”

    Candice follows her through to the back room, positioning herself on a rowing machine. Maylene doesn’t have the heart to tell her it’s not really meant for sitting on. “So…you look well.”

    “Thanks – you too,” Maylene replies. She’s sure she doesn’t look well – her face is flushed and her hair is everywhere from her workout. Candice, of course, looks perfect. “Did your journey go okay?”

    “Fine. Well – it takes a while. But it’s worth it when you get here.” She pauses, and for a second Maylene thinks – though it could be her imagination – she sees a faint blush on Candice’s cheeks. Just slightly. “Um, you know – cause Veilstone is such a beautiful city.”

    Maylene nods, and then her brain automatically seems to snap back into training mode – there’s no time for small talk. “Sorry – did you want to battle? Or we could train, or…” She gestures vaguely at the various exercise options, although the slightly alarmed look on Candice’s face indicates neither she nor her Pokémon would be game for a session with the punching bag.

    “Well…sure, that’s one option.” Candice says, carefully, so obviously unenthusiastic it makes Maylene smile. “Or, here’s an idea – since I came such a long way – we should go and look around town instead?”

    “I shouldn’t really leave the gym…” Maylene starts, half-heartedly, but Candice is already shaking her head and standing up.

    “May, you work too hard. Believe me, this will be good for you. And me. And probably all of your challengers too.”

    So Maylene lets Candice drag her out, protesting every so often but actually kind of enjoying it. Candice tells Jim they’re going to do “important gym leader stuff” and to put challengers on hold til tomorrow, and – for the first time in a very long time - she leaves the gym behind. It feels like she’s doing something she shouldn’t, but also gives her a weird sense of…freedom.

    Shopping isn’t really Maylene’s thing, except when it’s for stuff she strictly needs. The first time she’d told Candice this, she’d reacted as if Maylene had said she wasn’t big on breathing. But Candice is eager to see the department store, and it turns out her enthusiasm is infectious.

    “Oooh, look at this…and that…and these! Okay, that’s totally unnecessary…but this!” Candice picks up a pink polka-dotted bow. “Isn’t this perfect?”

    Why, though?” Maylene can’t help asking, and Candice rolls her eyes.

    “I don’t know, because some of us like our Pokémon to look nice? Or even…” She holds the bow up against Maylene’s head. “There – doesn’t that look cute?”

    “They’re for Pokémon,” Maylene laughs, batting it away. “Do I look like a Pokémon to you?”

    “Nothing in the rules that says people can’t wear them too.” She holds it against one of her own plaits, considering. “It’s good to mix it up, you know.”

    “And some of us don’t have time for these things because we’re serious gym leaders…” Maylene starts, shaking her head mock-despairingly, and giggles when Candice throws the bow at her in retaliation. “Hey, I don’t think you’re supposed to do that…”

    “Maybe not – but you’re only saying that cause you know I’d beat you in an accessory-fight,” Candice bends down to pick up the offending item, and grins when she catches Maylene’s eye. “Anyway, I’m buying this. Then maybe we can go find something more to your taste.”

    They do, as it happens, find lots of things to Candice’s taste and even some to Maylene’s. Despite Candice’s attempts to convince Maylene she should be “trying something different – not that what you’re wearing now doesn’t look great – but you don’t have to dress for the gym all the time, you know?” Maylene realizes she’s actually having fun. She barely even feels guilty about leaving the gym.

    They cover most of the shops in Veilstone – Candice seems to know the area better than Maylene does, and she’s lived here her whole life – but still end up back at the department store. Candice eventually reluctantly agrees that maybe Maylene’s right and they should do something at least vaguelytraining-related.

    While Maylene looks at all the fancy new training items on offer (she’s not fully convinced that a lot of these “training aids” aren’t just dressed-up drugs for Pokémon), Candice wanders off.

    Maylene’s debating the pros and cons of a muscle belt – it says it’s designed for Machoke, but she thinks maybe it could help Meditite with some of the harder moves – when she sees Candice talking to one of the guys behind the counter.

    As they talk, he slips something across the counter – Maylene can’t see what it is. Candice leans over, laughing at something he’s saying, and Maylene realizes she’s staring.

    She looks away, focusing her attention on the bottle of Protein she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and wondering why there’s a funny feeling in her stomach. She hasn’t eaten for a while, maybe that’s it. She’ll suggest to Candice they get something to eat in a minute. If she can drag herself away.

    She reappears a moment later, and Maylene puts the Protein back on the shelf. She feels the need to explain herself, “I don’t realize. I was just…curious.”

    “Me neither. But I’ve heard things…about certain people, naming no names.” Candice widens her eyes meaningfully. “You didn’t hear it from me, though, right?”

    “I won’t say anything if you won’t. So anyway…” Maylene tries to keep her voice casual (even though there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be casual), “what were you talking to that guy about?”

    “Hmm? Oh – he was just trying to sell me TMs.” They’re walking back to the elevator by this time. Candice puts on a fake deep voice. “”You may not need any help Attracting people, miss, but maybe your Pokémon could…” – seriously, what a line. And –“ She waits until they’re in the elevator and the doors are closed. “Did you see him? I think I’d rather date my Pokémon, to be honest.”

    Maylene giggles guiltily, and says “Harsh”, but part of her is inexplicably pleased. She’s not quite sure what to think about this, so she ignores it. “Are you hungry?”

    They both are, luckily, so Maylene takes Candice to one of her favourite cafés in the city. It’s a pretty small place, down a side street, and not too crowded at this time of day.

    Sitting down and dropping her bag, Maylene says “I can’t believe you made me buy a top hat for Lucario.”

    “Hey,” Candice raises her arms, feigning innocence. “I didn’t make you buy anything. I only said I thought it would look good…”

    “Yes, but…a top hat!” Maylene repeats, incredulously, but she can’t help smiling. “I wouldn’t have bought it before – it’s all your fault.”

    Candice shrugs, examining the menu. “What can I say? I’m a bad influence. So, anyway, what’s good here?”

    They end up sharing a huge plate of nachos, something else Maylene doesn’t think she should be doing, but luckily is hungry enough not to care. They eat mostly in silence.

    After a while, Candice says “Maylene?”

    “Yes?”

    “Can I ask you something?” It’s the most serious Maylene’s ever heard her sound, and something about it unnerves her. Candice plays with her hair, looking…well, shy, as hard as it is to believe.

    “Sure,” Maylene replies tentatively, wondering what could possibly be so important, and thinking that good news is rarely prefaced by those words.

    “Do you always have to wear that plaster?” Instinctively, Maylene reaches up to touch the plaster on her nose. “Cause I think you’ve had it on every time I’ve ever seen you, and I just wondered…It’s not, like, a medical condition or something, is it? Cause just – ignore me, if it is, I’m sorry.”

    “No, Candice – it’s fine, seriously,” Maylene interrupts, feeling both relieved and oddly touched Candice should be so apparently concerned for her feelings. “What it is – when I first started using punching bags, I was always getting smacked in the face. So I started just putting the plaster on before I did anything, just for protection. I guess it just became part of my routine, I do it pretty much every day now.”

    “Right.” Candice takes a sip of her drink, apparently thinking. “So you don’t have to wear it, then?”

    Maylene shakes her head, thinking she might have more of an idea of what’s coming now. She might have known it’d be some kind of fashion agenda.

    “Can I…?” Candice shifts her seat closer, hesitantly, awkwardly. Maylene shrugs, as if acknowledging that resistance is futile, and leans forward to let her take the plaster off.

    She’s not prepared for how she feels when Candice leans over, steadying one hand on Maylene’s shoulder, and carefully peeling the plaster off with the other. Their faces are barely an inch apart, and Maylene feels…hot, suddenly, even though it’s the middle of winter and not particularly warm in here. There’s a strange, tight feeling in her chest. When Candice’s thumb briefly brushes across her nose, there’s a jolt of electricity so strong it almost makes her jump.

    Maylene’s not sure if Candice notices, but she sits back almost immediately, removing her hands from Maylene’s face like she’s just been burned. “So, um…”

    “Yeah, that’s…”

    They exchange slightly awkward smiles, and Maylene touches where her plaster used to be. “How is that?”

    Candice looks her up and down, as though appraising her work. “Yeah, that looks great. Although you kind of worked the look before, actually – it looked cute. But this is better.”

    Maylene rubs at her nose self-consciously – her skin’s still sticky. “You think?”

    “Definitely.” Candice confirms, smiling satisfactorily, and Maylene – what is this? – finds herself blushing again. She eats another nacho to distract herself, and Candice seems preoccupied with turning the remains of Maylene’s plaster into a ball, then flicking it away.

    Unfortunately, it hits one of the only other people in the café – a serious-looking guy in a suit a few tables away. He brushes it off his shoulder (of all things, it had to be her plaster) and glares over at them.

    “Oops. Sorry!” Candice calls over, widening her eyes apologetically, but when she catches Maylene’s eye they both dissolve into giggles. That’s probably their cue to leave.

    They head back to the gym, even though it’s really too late for any challengers now. But Maylene figures she should spend some time in there.

    “Today was fun,” Candice says. “I know there was no training, but…”

    “No, it was – really fun.” Maylene agrees. “We can train some other time.”

    Candice widens her eyes in mock amazement. “Did you really just say that? Wow.” Then she grins, pulling Maylene into a hug she’s not quite expecting. “So I’ll see you. Call me. Or I’ll call you. Or whatever.”

    Watching her leave, Maylene reflects that it really has been the most fun she’s had in a while.

    And also that she’s sort of wishing Candice could stay longer, even though by all logical accounts she should be feeling bad about neglecting her training and making all sorts of plans for how she can make up for it tomorrow.

    She really is a bad influence.


    --end of part one.



    Thank you for reading! Part two should be up soon. Any and all comments/questions/praise/criticism/flames/etc will be very gratefully recieved. =3
    Last edited by Whiscash; 21st September 2011 at 12:08 PM.

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  2. #2
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    Sorry for the double post...here, as promised, is part two.


    Learning Curve // Maylene/Candice // PG // Part Two


    Weeks pass. Maylene trains, takes on challengers, attends an obligatory gym leaders meeting in Hearthome City she can’t really see the point of (but the upshot is that the uniform idea’s been shot down due to “unprecedented unpopularity”. Candice shoots her a thumbs-up from across the room, though it certainly has nothing to do with Maylene). She keeps busy.

    And then one day her parents drop by, unexpectedly. They want to see how the gym’s looking, know how her training’s going, what the challengers are like, the general glamorous reality of being a gym leader.

    “It’s good,” she dutifully tells them, and declines her dad’s offer of a battle, saying “Really, a trainer could come in at any minute – my Pokémon need to be ready.”

    “Yes, I guess so – although it’s a shame, a friend of mine’s just brought over a Pokémon we really thought you should see. You can never have too many, you know – have you thought about expanding your roster? He has some eggs, and I thought you might be interested…”

    “Dad, thanks, but I’m – I’m doing okay with these guys,” Maylene replies, glancing over at Meditite and Lucario, out of their Pokéballs for the occasion. They seem fine, but she’s not sure they – or she, for that matter – would really want a new Pokémon on the scene. It would be impossible to explain this to her father, though.

    “Hmm,” he says, reluctantly. “Well, I suppose you know best – and you do seem to be doing great, I have to say. How many challengers yesterday?”

    “Seven.”

    “And how many did you win?”

    “Six,” she replies, hastily adding “I only lost the last one because it was a girl with an all-Psychic team…”

    “Ah,” he nods, knowingly, irritatingly. “See, now if you had a Scraggy, that wouldn’t be a problem. It’s Fighting/Dark, you see – powerful combination. You should learn to cover your weaknesses, Maylene, it’s…”

    “Part of what being a gym leader’s all about.” she finishes, starting to feel defensive. “I know, Dad. I’m working on it.”

    “We’re so proud of you, dear,” her mom chips in. “You’ve done so well, hasn’t she? Coming to this rank – you’ve worked so hard and it’s paid off. And I know you’ll only keep getting stronger.”

    Maylene mentions, in passing, that she’d been thinking of taking a break – just to go somewhere new, get out of the gym and of Veilstone for a while. She has been considering it, but it always seemed like one of those “maybe, someday, never” type of things. But today’s making her realize that she really does want one. She needs to get out of here – as soon as is humanly possible.

    Her dad narrows his eyes, like he’s suspecting her of neglecting her duties, and Maylene feels guilty for a second, wondering if she really is just running away from it all. She pretends to consider a few possibilities, but really, she knows there’s only one place she wants to go. When she says where, her mom asks if she’s sure, it really is such a long way from here, and is she definitely prepared for it?

    But she reassures them (and herself) that it’ll be good for her as a gym leader to try new things, it won’t be for long and of course she’ll fit in some training while she’s away, and eventually her father is pacified.

    “Yes, that sounds good – a change of scenery is good for Pokémon, I think. Keeps them at the peak of their powers. And you, of course. It will be good for you all.” He turns to address Meditite. “How about you, then? Feel like evolving any time soon?”

    Maylene feels Meditite stiffen next to her, and she sighs. “Dad, I told you, he doesn’t want to evolve yet. And I don’t want him to if he’s not ready.”

    He shakes his head, like she’s being impossible. “Well, maybe one day. Surely it would make things much easier for you, though?” Her mom shoots him a warning glance, and he drops it. “Fine, it’s fine. You’re the gym leader, after all.”

    Maylene promises her parents she’ll call, and eventually she’s left alone. She exhales, thinking. It’s not that she doesn’t like what she does, but it won’t hurt anyone to go away – her would-be challengers can stand to wait for a few days. It will be good for her to get out. It’s always good to train outside, in the wilderness, and she knows her Pokémon can take it.

    And Snowpoint City is supposed to be beautiful this time of year.



    ***


    A few days later, outside Mt. Coronet. Having made it through the mountain with relative ease, Maylene and Lucario are standing knee-deep in snow. It keeps falling, thick and heavy, and there’s a harsh wind blowing in her face.

    Maylene has to admit she’s not really thought this through.

    “It’s good for us,” she says, determinedly, as much to herself as to Lucario. “That’s why I brought us here – it’s the ultimate test of our training. It’s out in the cold like this that we can really see the results.”

    Lucario says nothing, but Maylene swears he gives her a knowing look for a moment.

    But they press on anyway, through the blizzard, up snowy hills, past the few skiers who are crazy enough to be out in this weather, and eventually make it to Snowpoint City. Maylene stops by the Pokémon centre – ostensibly to rest Lucario so he’s fit for battle again, but she’s so exhausted herself she almost falls asleep waiting.

    She’s happy, though, partly that she’s made it here but also to be somewhere different. The snow has eased off a little, and the city has a certain magical feel that makes Maylene feel oddly excited.

    Maylene means to go straight to her hotel, really she does. It’s just that she sees so many signs for the Snowpoint City Pokémon Gym, and she’s curious as to what it looks like inside, and, well, she’s sure Candice would like to know she’s in town. It’s only polite, after all.

    The gym doors are open, but no one seems to be around. Maylene enters uncertainly, taking in her surroundings for a minute. The inside looks stunning; all ice pillars, artificial snow and slippery floor. Probably a health hazard, but stunning nonetheless.

    She’s wondering whether to shout, or just call it a night, when she hears Candice through the back door.

    “Hello, someone there? We’re really closed, but I guess I could fit one more in for –“ Spotting Maylene, she looks amazed for a second, then breaks into a huge grin. “Maylene!”

    Maylene waves a little awkwardly, while Candice makes her way across the icy floor, impressively gracefully, to greet her. “What are you doing here? I mean, it’s great, but…”

    “I was just in town, and – Sorry, are you closed? I can come back tomorrow – “

    “No, it’s fine – stay.” Candice says, authoratively, so Maylene puts her bag down. “I can stay open a little longer for you. So…what are you in town for?”

    Maylene gives her the official party line: “I just wanted a break, you know, from Veilstone and everything. Snowpoint’s a beautiful city and…I thought it would be nice to come up here.”

    Candice smiles proudly, like she’s personally responsible for the city’s architecture. “It is, isn’t it? But such a long way. You must be tired – and cold.”

    “No, it’s good training, being out in the snow. I can’t be slacking off now. And anyway, I owe you a rematch.”

    Candice nods. “Yeah, that’s great – but seriously, May, you look freezing. Here –“ She pulls at the blue sweater around her waist and thrusts it at Maylene. “Put this on.”

    “I’m fine,” Maylene insists, but her point, she fears, is undermined by her being unable to stop shivering. Candice rolls her eyes like she’s dealing with a difficult toddler.

    “Fine, whatever, it’s up to you – your health, after all.” A glint appears in Candice’s eye. “It’ll be your fault when I totally beat you because you can’t focus on the battle…”

    Maylene knows when she’s being played. But it doesn’t stop her reluctantly grabbing the sweater, pulling it over her head. “Okay – but just to keep you happy.” Seeing Candice’s smug look, she adds, “But if you think you’re going to win that easy…”

    “Uh-huh, yep, we’ll see.” She smiles, maddeningly. “So, you ready to go now?”

    Maylene nods, and when Candice motions, she follows her up onto the platform, where she guesses the official gym battles are supposed to take place. She blinks as Candice flicks a switch, and suddenly harsh lights are glaring down on them.

    “If we’re going to do this, we should do it properly, right?” she calls, from the other side of what seems like a very long stage (Maylene is definitely not jealous that her own gym is not quite so immaculately furnished. She is totally above these things). “You can even have a badge if you want – I’ve got tons of the things.”

    Maylene smiles. “Thanks, I think I’ll pass. How shall we do this – the same as last time?”

    “Works for me.” Candice deepens her voice to an official-sounding boom. “This will be a one-on-one match, no time limit.” Then in her normal voice, she amends, “Well, maybe some time limit. I don’t want to be here all night. Just try not to make it really ridiculously long, okay?”

    Maylene decides her best option is a by-now-refreshed Lucario, Candice sends out Abomasnow, and it’s on.

    Maylene’s already worked out that speed is her best strategy; Abomasnow may be powerful, but they also tend to be slow. That’s its weak point, and one she knows Lucario can easily exploit. So she focuses hard, trying to stay in sync with Lucario, anticipating the next move.

    Candice is equally determined - Maylene can feel it from all the way across the stage - and Abomasnow looks to be the same way. For a long while the two Pokémon give as good as they get, heavy blows traded on both sides. As Lucario scrambles and skids across the floor, Abomasnow stands its ground, barely moving an inch. Candice knows her home turf well, knows how to manipulate it; one smartly-timed sidestep and Lucario almost crashes into a snowball at the side of the stage.

    “Keep it together, Lucario!” Maylene yells, desperately.

    Abomasnow grunts. Candice clenches her fists.

    “We’ve got them – Seed Bomb!”

    Abomasnow looses a fast, steady stream of seeds; they ping off the ice, but glance off Lucario. He’s already in the air, shooting right over Abomasnow’s head. It staggers, momentarily confused, and then…

    “Lucario, now – it’s time for the Aura Sphere!”

    Lucario lands the blow right on target; Abomasnow cries out, Candice gasps, and Maylene holds her breath.

    But it’s not over yet; still reeling from the blow, Abomasnow manages to stay upright, and stomps hard on the ice. Lucario, startled, slides off-course.

    The battle rages on, and it’s intense. Even though there’s nothing official about this match, even though Candice is her friend, her natural competitive instinct kicks in and Maylene will not, cannot back down now. Candice isn’t giving an inch, either; Maylene sneaks a glance while the Pokémon are staring each other down and her eyes are blazing, concentrating fiercely.

    Maylene’s had plenty of battles in her time, though, and inevitably, all of them must end. As much as she sticks to the plan, she can sense Lucario’s growing exhaustion as he dodges heavy blizzards, giving all he can. Abomasnow may be slow, but it’s resilient; still barely moving, but always getting up when Lucario smacks it to the floor.

    The two Pokémon struggle to keep going, but aren’t giving in any more than their trainers are. Eventually, though, Lucario can’t take it; Abomasnow unleashes a blizzard that seems to chill the whole room (Candice visibly shivers, although Maylene isn’t sure if it’s just dramatic effect – she’s like that) and there’s no way he can dodge it in time.
    Lucario kneels, drops to the floor, and it’s over.

    “You did great,” Maylene tells him, returning him to the Pokéball straight away for a well-earned rest. We lost, she thinks, and with the type advantage. But it doesn’t feel like such a loss, strangely – it was a real match, a battle between equals. Watching Candice hug Abomasnow, she realizes she doesn’t feel so bad.

    Candice comes over to her side of the stage, beaming, and extends a hand. “Hey, May – great match, right?”

    Maylene smiles, takes her hand and shakes it enthusiastically. “Great match. Well done – you too.” she adds, looking at Abomasnow. The Pokémon is slumped on the floor, exhausted, but it claps its hands in appreciation.

    Candice hops down off the stage, and sits on a bench at the side. Maylene, after a moment’s hesitation, follows her. It feels good to get away from the harsh light, sitting together in the semi-darkness.

    “Phew.” Candice wipes her brow theatrically. “That was…”

    “Tough?”

    Amazing. Best battle I’ve had in a long time, seriously – I mean that.”

    “Really?”

    “Yeah. Even if I do say it to all my challengers after,” she grins, and after a second’s thought, Maylene frowns.

    “Did you just call me a challenger?”

    “Of course not – would I do that to you?” Candice demands, faux-indignantly.

    Maylene just looks at her.

    “Anyway, I don’t really say that to everyone. Or do I?” She tilts her head like she’s thinking about it. “Maybe occasionally. But only the cute ones.” Maylene gives her a warning glance. “Kidding! Oooh, you’re scary when you’re like this. But anyway, I did mean it just now.”

    “Sure.” Maylene shakes her head disbelievingly, but she’s still secretly pleased. “It was a great battle, though.” After a moment’s silence, she adds, “I guess you’ve been training…”

    Candice tuts. “Is that so hard to believe? Yes, I have been training.”

    Maylene thinks she’s still kidding. “I mean…”

    Candice shakes her head, as if to say “forget it”, and pats Maylene on the arm. “It’s okay, May, I know what you mean. And thanks, I guess.”

    There’s definitely a shift in the atmosphere – Candice is quiet, for one thing. She’s looking into the distance with an unreadable expression. Mentally, Maylene congratulates herself on her spectacular conversation-killing skills.

    Eventually, Candice says, “I get that people think I’m kind of a ditz.”

    “No, come on, they don’t…” Maylene starts, but clearly she isn’t convincing because Candice just shrugs.

    “It’s fine – I’m okay with it, really. Let’s face it, I can be one, some of…maybe a lot of the time.” She smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’m not as serious as some people, but whatever, that’s how I am – I can’t help that. But…”

    “But?” Maylene prompts her, softly.

    “But I wonder sometimes if people think that…I’m not serious about this. That I don’t want it enough, that I’m not – worthy of being a gym leader, or something. You know, kids are always telling me I’m not what they expected an Ice gym leader to be like…”

    “Screw the kids,” Maylene says immediately. “They don’t know anything – there’s no right way to be a gym leader of a certain type. That’s why we’re doing this and they’re not. You shouldn’t listen to the kids."

    Candice smiles faintly, which Maylene considers a victory – even among the guilt she feels because Candice just described her exact first impressions. “I guess not. But it made me think – I don’t want people to think that, because I do want this, and I work hard for it. Maybe not in the exact same way as some of you guys, but I do.” And then she shakes herself suddenly, like a Growlithe coming in from a rainstorm. “You know what, I’m sorry – I’m being ridiculous. I’m not usually like this…”

    The thing is, Maylene’s coming to realize, she doesn’t want to be just “some of you guys”. So now would probably be the time to say something.

    “Candice, you’re not…We don’t…” Try again. “We all have different ways of doing things – not just gym leaders, you know, I mean every Pokémon trainer, ever. If anything, I’m probably too serious – um, but that’s not the point. Anyone who’s seen you battle could never think that you’re not , because you’re – well, you’re really strong, you don’t need me to tell you that. But when you battle, it’s – you can tell you mean it, and that you love your Pokémon. Which is the most important thing, really…”

    There’s a long silence, until Maylene makes herself press on.

    “But you’re not a ditz, no one – no one who matters – thinks that. They think…” Gulp. “I think you’re amazing.”

    It’s not exactly the world’s greatest pep talk – Maylene’s more used to being on the receiving end, for one thing. But the smile that spreads across Candice’s face makes her feel like she’s just delivered the speech of the century.

    “May, that’s really…thanks.” She grabs hold of Maylene’s hand, folded in her lap, and squeezes it. “It means a lot to me to hear that. From you, I mean – cause you’re pretty amazing too, you know that, right?” Maylene smiles, shrugs modestly.

    “Well, I…”

    “Seriously – I’ve learned a lot from you. About Pokémon and battling and stuff.” But after a second, she evidently can’t resist adding, “Even though, look at that - we still beat your ***.”

    Maylene elbows her in the side, possibly a bit harder than she intended, and Candice slides sideways off the bench, laughing – but she still has hold of Maylene’s hand, so tugs her along, both of them landing on the floor.

    It’s not real ice, but it’s cold and hard enough. “Ow.”

    Still giggling, Candice sits up, brushing herself off. “That was all your fault.”

    “No way, you started it.”

    You did.” She’s rubbing her elbow as she repositions herself, but Maylene’s pretty sure it’s just for show. “I should have known, you Fighting leaders – so violent.”

    “At least we can…crack the ice.” Maylene returns, but she knows it’s a painfully lame comeback, and can’t help laughing at the way Candice raises her eyebrows, as if to say really?

    “Snowpoint’s a long way from home.”

    Maylene doesn’t actually realize she’s said it out loud until she notices Candice looking at her quizzically. “Um…yeah.”

    She flushes – what is the matter with her? “Oh, um…nothing, sorry. I was just thinking.”

    “That you want to go home now?”

    “No – no.” She’s trying to sound as casual as possible, but Maylene can feel her heart thudding, considering what she might be – maybe – possibly – about to say. “I meant that it’s a long way, but…I’m glad I’m here.”

    “Even though…”

    Yes, even though you beat me, well done,” Maylene cuts her off, smiling. “Whatever people think about me, I don’t only think of Pokémon battles all the time.”

    There’s a pause – she’s letting that sink in? What was that, anyway? – during which Maylene’s very aware of how close they’re sitting. In the cold of their icy surroundings, she can almost feel the warmth from Candice’s body. And maybe it is just the cold - but neither of them moves away.

    “So, um,” Candice’s voice is soft - softer than Maylene’s ever heard it - and there’s something in her eyes that Maylene can’t quite read, but she thinks, maybe…

    “So what were you thinking about?”

    “Well,” Maylene starts to say, but then she shuts up, because – almost imperceptibly, yet very perceptibly, they’re moving towards each other. Faces inches apart, Candice’s knee just barely brushes against her own, and then…

    And then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees something move – a huge, unidentifiable shape, looming ominously in the shadows. She catches sight of something – an arm, a leg? – barely visible from the battling arena – and instinctively, she jerks back.

    “What…?” Candice jumps too, a worried expression crumpling her face. “Oh, I – I’m sorry, I didn’t – I thought…” Maylene only shakes her head, still transfixed by the stage, and Candice follows her gaze.

    Then she yells, “Abomasnow!”

    And she reaches to turn on another switch, Maylene can’t see where – the lights flare again and she blinks, like a spell’s been broken, and yes, the Pokémon’s still there on the stage, looking equal parts guilty and amused. She’s relieved – of course, it must have been there the whole time, and of course she should have known that – but also a bit annoyed at herself, because really

    “What have I told you about listening in to other people’s conversations?” Candice reprimands her Pokémon before, finally, pulling out the Pokéball until it disappears in a familiar stream of red light. “Sorry about that. Did she scare you?”

    “No,” Maylene lies quickly, feeling her blush must be amplified under the lights. “Just…surprised.”

    “Me too, believe me. I had no idea she was still there.”

    There’s a moment’s awkward silence, and Candice says, “That was so not smooth.”

    Maylene blinks, but when she catches Candice’s eye, there’s something about the expression on her face that makes them both giggle stupidly.

    Composing herself, Candice manages to say, “I’m sorry about that. She’s so nosy, it’s really a problem…”

    “It’s okay, it’s fine – it wasn’t your fault, and it was nothing,” Trying to affect a casual tone, Maylene adds “Pokémon, huh?”

    “I know, right? There was this one time…”

    It’s not exactly premeditated – it’s more like Maylene has a feeling that if she doesn’t kiss Candice, it’s possible she might not ever shut up.

    It’s soft, tentative at first, their lips just gently bumping. For a second – that feels like a lifetime – they’re both just kind of hovering, and Maylene can’t really process that this is happening.

    Then she feels Candice murmur “Oh”, softly, against her lips. She opens her eyes, and Candice’s eyes are huge, and soft, and Maylene’s…well, no one has ever looked at her like that before, and she couldn’t begin to describe what it does to her.

    So she settles for shifting, pulling Candice closer, and then Candice’s hands are cupping her face, stroking her hair, and Maylene has no more coherent thoughts.

    They draw apart, and Maylene – for some reason, it’s like she can’t make her mouth stop working – says “Um.”

    Candice says, “Yeah.”

    They sit there for a second, just grinning at each other like idiots, and Maylene has to stop herself from saying something dumb like thanks or that was fun, can we do it again?

    Instead, she says, “I should…It’s late. I should probably…”

    “Yeah,” Candice says again. As they head for the gym doors, Maylene allows herself a second’s smug satisfaction that she – she! – appears to have rendered Candice – Candice! – temporarily speechless.

    “So, your…this,” Maylene pulls at Candice’s sweater, which she must grudgingly admit has done a good job of keeping her warm. “Do you want it back?”

    Candice shakes her head. “No – you can keep it for now. I’ll see you tomorrow and anyway, I bet you didn’t bring anything warmer. Did you?”

    She hates when Candice is right.

    “Tomorrow,” Maylene repeats.

    “Yeah – I mean. You are staying a few days, aren’t you?” Candice suddenly looks unsure of herself. “Like you said, it’s a long way back to Veilstone and…”

    “No – yes – I am staying,” Maylene interrupts, nodding her head possibly a little too vigorously. Candice smiles, clapping her hands together and slightly resembling an overexcited Spheal.

    “Great, it’ll be awesome – there’s so many things I have to show you. I mean…” A mischievous glint suddenly appears in her eye. “In the city, of course.”

    Maylene coughs, feeling her face grow hot – and yeah, even though she’s wearing her patented who, me? innocent expression, Candice totally did that on purpose. Maylene will get her back. Somehow.

    “Sure, okay,” she manages, and before Maylene can think about what the appropriate goodbye would be in these circumstances, Candice is hugging her.

    “I will see you tomorrow, okay? Be safe.” She says the last part right up against Maylene’s ear, and it makes her shiver a little – and not just because of the cold, now she’s out and Candice has disappeared behind the heavy gym doors.

    So she’s left to make her own way to her hotel (it’s called The Friendly Snover or something, she thinks). The night is dark, even with the lampposts that light the path to the gym. Another harsh Snowpoint blizzard is raging. Maylene is ankle-deep in snow as she trudges on, pulling Candice’s sweater tight around her.

    She still can’t stop smiling.



    --end.



    Again, thanks for reading, reviews appreciated, etc. =)
    Last edited by Whiscash; 5th October 2011 at 12:51 PM.

    thank you to Mew's Universe for the banner!

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