It's been a while! This in itself is still old, but only from Christmas this time, which is a marginal improvement from my last posts in summer. I've been trying to fit in writing when I can, but as ever university swallows all of my time. I have been dabbling, but only that. Most of drabbles have been Ember Days related though. ;3
A little bit about this piece.
It is set in the Pokemon world... just a different side of it, one that you rarely see. As such the setting has been utilised, and elements have been referenced, but pokemon themselves don't really make an emergence. If you have a problem with that, well, I'm afraid there's nothing I can say. I've also taken liberties with the city itself, as is immediately evident in the existence of a metro system; given, however, that Castelia is based on manhattan and this 'fic is set a little ways into the future (as you should be able to gather), I figured it's not much of a leap. :3
As for the format of this 'fic: it's about comings and goings and the surprising insights a person can garner on another's life at a glance, no matter how brief the contact.
Character-driven (it's a character study mainly), and you will not be able to guess where it's going from the outset: enjoy the ride, however? The plot is simple enough. I'll discuss this more at the end.
Final note: recognise the characters and you will get love. ;x They have been transposed into a slightly different environment and their timelines have been messed with, but they are there, alright.
The drone of the train muttered constantly in Elizabeth's ears as she swayed in her plastic seat, the languid rocking of the carriage almost lulling her tired eyes closed as she was sped through the Castelia Metro. The rush of darkness outside was only interrupted by the occasional blaze of a station before it was whisked into black once more and she felt herself almost sinking into her place, the placating warmth of her purse in her lap barely registering as she drifted into sleep.
Departing Station: Castelia Warf. Stations left until her hostel stop: 5, inc. 2 changes.
She’d had a fantabulous if tiring day today, and well deserved this rest, if she said so herself. She’d done her dues, having spent the day dutifully traipsing after her best friend-***-adopted-brother as he´d wandered up and down the smooth streets of the overshadowing city. They’d even got to visit the famous cone stall near the center, with its carefully painted walls and candy-cane awning that had positively glowed in the sunlight- although that part, of course, had not interested Nathaniel.
She managed a glance over at her faithful friend as he happily snored from his slumped position across the three chairs opposite her, his chin length red hair still glisteningly damp from the 'quick dip' in the sea he'd insisted on having despite the failing sunlight.
Despite the years that she had known him, he´d never seemed to have matured past the goofy stage, despite finally graduating school and leaping into his first full-time job as a safari park general assistant.
Not that that mattered or even bothered her now, though.
Another tilting corner, and she found herself snuggled further into the corner she'd placed herself. Her coat was draped over her lap, warming her up from the waist, bag and knees and all, and she found her eyelids drooping again, weighing down like leaden dumbbells .
Nathaniel had agreed to wake her up, after all, and it had been such a long day…
She nodded off to sleep.
Her eyes slid open.
Dim lighting and empty seats greeted her gaze, empty windows gawping gormlessly at her as she struggled into consciousness, thoughts askew. It was silent - that thought made it through the mire - and that felt wrong, somehow, but she wasn't able to quite grasp why…
It was not that that´d woken her, however.
There were a series of insistent, hard pokes were consistently bombarding her shoulder, demanding her attention, each jab steadily and precisely executed.
Wincing in pain, she groaned, glancing towards their source.
A set of light, yet rich brown eyes frowned down at her in the person of a smartly dressed official that loomed over her prone position, sharply chiseled features set in rigid lines as he scowled down at her huddled form. Seeing her stir, the man withdrew his hand from her shoulder and folded his arms across his chest, expression shifting to an almost emotionless blank slate.
Instinctively quailing, her fingers reached for the comforting lump of her purse, her mind racing to situate this new situation within her recent memories
She- was in Castelia on holiday, right, and hadn't she and Nathaniel spent the day exploring, but- but- where was he-?
“Are you lost?”
The word was grave despite being low, and she fixed him with as innocent a look as she could manage, an element of panic fluttering in her chest.
Where was Nathaniel? The thought repeated itself as she struggled to arrange her thoughts, hoping the man would forgive her sleep-garbled words. God, if something had happened to him- but here, what was going to happen to her, here? She was lost, it was clear from the situation – she must've conked out on the metro, gone to the end of the line and been found by the ticket checker-conductor. A potentially creepy- perverted-conductor …
Levering herself into a more upright position, she caught a glimpse of the stern, sharp lines of a distinctive, foreign styled archway in the station beyond the window, and a spark of panic settled a little deeper into her heart.
She was in a lot of trouble.
With a renewed frown that was perhaps even bordering on a scowl, the official tried again, his lips (as finely chiseled as the rest of his features, she was beginning to realise- almost statuesque, in a terrible, beautiful, I'm-gonna-rape-and-murder-you sort of way) pursing as he formed the words.
“Are you lost?” His voice became shorter, crisper- yet the accent was certainly not the easy Unovan she’d become accustomed to, but rather something closer to… home? “This train is no longer in service. This is the end of the line. What is your name?”
No longer in service?
Blinking, she managed a nod and gestured with a wave of her hand to the world beyond the windows, the levity of her movements masking her growing fear.
“Ah- yes. I am lost- my name is- is Elizabeth Findleson. Where is this, the station…?”
His answer was blunt and to the point. “Ms Findleson, this is Hosika. This train was retired early for its biweekly safety checks. You were thoroughly warned.”
Her heart plummeted to somewhere around her knees, and she breathed a little ‘oh’, her lip trembling despite herself. Now that he mentioned it, she did recall some sort of announcement of that sort, but as she'd had only a little way to go on the line before she had to change, she hadn´t thought… and now…
The male crossed his arms loosely yet neatly across his chest, his uniform pressed and folded in all the proper creases and hugging his… apparently not unimpressive physique. His hair was silver, she realised now as she took him in properly, taking advantage of the opportunity to examine her possible saviour-killer in an attempt to distract herself. How odd – she swore he didn't look a day over 25, and indeed there was not a wrinkle in sight. Perhaps he´d just been unlucky with genes.
Blinking and allowing her eyes to linger shut a moment longer than was necessary, she bunched her coat to herself and faced the inevitable.
“Where is this... Hosika station, is it in Castelia? Is there a train I can take back to-“ (And here she paused to dig out her crumpled underground map with the key stops circled) “Back to fifth-lane station?”
Her voice was still cracked from sleep, and she refocused on her hands as she waited for his response, fingers automatically curling and fumbling at the already-tattered corners of her map.
“There is no train back.”
The words struck her like a hammer, and she struggled to keep her breathing steady despite the lump that was developing in her throat, hitching her breaths.
She was stranded in the middle of nowhere.
“All trains within are out of service for the evening.” He paused, the moment stretching, before he continued, his voice as level and firm as it was before. “Even so, this station is closing. You will have to leave immediately.”
Elizabeth’s throat tightened as he gestured to the door of the train, and she struggled to keep her voice steady even as tears burned at her eyes, scrambling her coat off of her lap and stumbling to her feet. The official took a step backwards as she shakily wormed her way into the jacket, zipping it up haphazardly over her purse.
“Ah… I’m- sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I fell a-asleep, you see.”
She turned her gaze up towards his once more, the effort costing her more than she thought it would. She couldn’t stop her lips from trembling. Dammitdammit what was she going to do? Did Nathaniel just- leave her? No, no- he wouldn’t of, but… What was she going to do, what could she- she couldn’t panic, no she couldn’t panic. She had to focus. If there was no train, then there had to be other forms of transport- it couldn’t be too late, certainly her day travel pass would cover the bus as well. She’d just have to ask.
She squinted up at the utterly unhelpful, scary man before her, fighting to keep her panic in check.
She- hated foreign officials, no matter how damn handsome they happened to be.
“It was- an accident,” she continued, forcing the words, “is there any bus, or tram, that’d get me back?”
His eyes were sharp as they surveyed her preparations across the cabin, their quiet depths revealing nothing.
He turned on his heel and began to walk away from her as she finished adjusting her scarf, the official ducking to step confidently through the automatically opening door and stride into the dimly lit darkness of the station. With a shiver crouched on the ridge of her neck she followed him, dread dragging her feet. The ceiling of the station loomed high above her, the sharp angled designs of what seemed to be a sigil slashed in half by a lightning bolt that additionally comprised the foundational leg of a large 'P' visible dimly against the cracked marble slaps they were embossed into. It was an infamous logo. Her tears were slipping from her control. She… was so ****ed.
“There is no more public transport from here, only taxis. Mind the gap, please. Your only option is-”
She tripped over the cabin’s threshold nevertheless, her limbs still heavy and dead from her impromptu nap, and careened into his back, her fingers instinctively digging into the warmth cloth of his jacket as she stumbled for her balance. Her phone skidded from her pocket as he turned to steady her, a dim clatter spelling doom for her already wobbly battery, and she blinked forlornly at its dim form on the shadowed concrete past the officials arm, a tremble loosening her grip.
It was broken, she could see it from here. Oh god no. She had been meaning to replace the dodgy battery for ages anyway, and on this floor-! On top of everything else…
She took no notice as the official stepped quickly out of her impromptu embrace and pulled her forward with surprising gentleness, a wave of emotion rising above her checks and rushing on her mind, the weak dam she’d built straining under the pressure.
“Are you alright?” he asked frankly, ducking his head as if to examine her more closely. His frown soon creased into an expression of slight consternation and concern as her own features crumpled, suppressed panic and anxiety hammering at her failing mental barriers. “Madam?”
She drew a single, choked breath in an attempt to speak and the dam inside her broke, tears tumbled down her cheeks.
“S-sorry,” she gasped out, struggling to retain what remained of her dignity. She wiped futilely at her eyes, mascara smudging onto her white jumper. “I just- it’s been a – long day-“
Another wave of tears and she hiccupped, embarrassment flushing her already blushed cheeks, and she could just see the official draw slightly away through her tear blurred eyes, expression unreadable. The tears flooded harder, dripping from her chin, and she clutched her arms to herself, trying to steady her breathing, unable to stop them. Calm, Elizabeth, you can’t do this here, you need to figure this out – you can do it, just need to follow him to the surface and then it’ll all be alright, you know it will-
A packet of tissues was thrust under her nose, and she glanced up to see the official with his hand extended, expression schooled as he examined the other side of the train tracks. Her flush of embarrassment deepening, she accepted them with an attempt at a thanks, her cracking voice rendering the words intelligible. Blowing her nose, she tried again, sniffles breaking up each hesitant word.
“Th-thank you, I- I just need to get above, I think. I was just- a little over- overwhelmed, I just need to-”
Stumbling past him, she knelt and gathered up the pieces of her phone, not noticing how he stiffened as she made to move out of his sight. The cold of the floor seeping through her jeans, she gathered the scattered components (she was right, the battery holder had given up the ghost) and straightened with a little difficulty, turning back to him with an utterly failing attempt at a smile, phone fragments in hand.
“Do- do you have- a phone I could borrow?”
Thank god she’d memorized Nathaniel’s number.
The official considered her for a moment more before nodding and gesturing towards a set of stairs at the far side of the station-esque room, the worn brown plastic of the stair rails sticking out as strangely normal against the remnants of a darker past. Guessing he was showing her to the office, she nodded shakily and followed as he set off towards it, still unable to control the tears trickling down her cheeks despite her frequent tissue dabs.
Tears weren't unexpected, but it was so humiliating…!
She would get upstairs and call Nathaniel, though, and everything would be alright.
Raising each foot so that her toe and heel fit almost evenly between the back and edge of the stair, she counted her steps as they ascended, such distractions working to constrain her emotions in a fashion until she was able to breath properly again as they emerged into an equally dimly lit office (as she’d expected), its grotty wall paper and dirty carpeted floor peeling at the corners. She immediately regretted her newfound sense of smell, though, as she fought the urge to gag, choking on the distinct scent of mould and rot that greeted.
Someone had apparently not lived here in quite some time. It was all she could do to attempt to mask her disgust – it smelt like a rat nest had just given up the ghost and died under the floorboards, its multiple inhabitants happily rotting away to their maggot-gorged hearts content.
Her companion had no such preoccupations, however, and the first genuine emotion she’d seen playing on his features emerged in the further crinkle pure disgust across his forehead.
He didn’t work around here either, then.
Her heart lifted briefly at that thought.
If he didn’t, then surely he’d have a way to get home?
Needless to say, she really couldn’t afford a taxi.
Striding sharply across the practically rancid floor, he waved her after him as he halted before a phone, picking the handset up with delicate fingers and passing it to her. His gaze swept over her still-teary but clearing features as she shakily accepted the receiver, temporarily placing aside any worries about the health risks of using such an object, and hovered it over her ear, punching her friend’s number into a number pad that seemed more than reminiscent of the seventies.
Neither of them said anything as she waited for the usual three rings it took for Nathaniel to answer the phone.
Not a sound.
Frowning and heart sinking, she drew back the receiver, blinked at it, and pressed it against her ear again, straining for the sound of ringing, no matter how quiet. Still nothing.
Eyes prickling once more with the threat of tears, she hung up the phone and picked it up again, listening for a dial tone.
The phone was dead, that was quite clear.
“No line?” the grave voice of the official broke her thoughts, and glancing up at him she shook her head, not trusting herself to speak as heat returned to her cheeks.
No phone, no taxi, no way home.
His brows furrowed in consternation, and taking the phone from her, he tried it as well, typing in a number before equally giving up and dropping the receiver back into the holder. Turning to her, he sighed and checked his watch, his expression souring at the sight, obviously late for something.
The sight struck through her numbed, circling thoughts as they detailed the many ways she could get raped and murdered during a journey on foot from the suburbs to the center of Castelia, and she turned and gave the room her proper attention, her glazed, searching gaze finally settling on the dark window.
The dark, curtainless window.
It was… completely dark outside.
The sun must’ve set a while ago; it had been setting when she and Nathaniel had first gotten into the train, but it would’ve been a while before the last light would’ve drained from the sky…
Heart pounding in her throat, she returned her gaze to the official.
“What time is it?”
He gazed at her blankly, however she swore she could see a hint of aggravation tilting his lips. “It’s eight sixteen pm.”
Her eyes widened and she clenched her fists.
She’d lost two hours.
How- how had they not checked her carriage? And what had-had happened to Nathaniel? A whole two hours had passed, with her tucked away in the carriage, without a care in the world, while the godforsaken train had just, just trundled through the center and out of the city itself, taking her along with it on its mission to Timbuktu or-
Controlling the burgeoning wave of panic as it threatened once more to overwhelm her, albeit in a different manner, she took a deep breath. She wasn’t completely alone, not yet at least – the conductor was still there, and while he was, some hope of a safe return home remained. She would just have to cling to that.
“I-is there another public phone nearby, or anywhere else that may have one? Do you have a m-mobile I could use?”
His short shake of the head dashed those hopes, and a shiver of frustration through her – she was right, the trainstop was in the middle of nowhere but she couldn’t think about that now. She clung to the spark of fury, using it to fight a renewed wave of tears, fuelling the element of anger spiking through her mind. His damned ambivalence. “So there’s no- no way to call a taxi, then, is there? Am I supposed to walk?”
He narrowed his eyes slightly at her tone, stepping towards her. She didn’t budge, scowling up at him with tear-streaked features as he towered over her, struggling to hold onto this flare of warmth. “I will drive you to a phone, if you are not adverse to the proposition, and you can call a taxi from there. Alternatively I could drive you to a bus stop, although it is not recommended at this time. I have another obligation, however, that I must fulfil before hand.”
His words stopped the fire in its tracks, but suddenly she didn’t care, widening eyes focusing on the frown the official was fixing down at her, clearly displeased.
“Is that acceptable?”
She met his gaze, different tears pressing against her eyelashes this time.
She still couldn’t afford a taxi, but if he was willing to help, then maybe… everything would be… alright.
“A- a bus stop would be nice.”
His eyes tightened.
“So be it.”
He turned on his heel and swept across the room, opening a previously unnoticed door and disappearing outside. She stumbled after him almost without a thought, numbed feet still unwilling to listen to her commands, that spark of hope burning a gentle warmth back into her limbs despite the apprehension that resumed its drain as they exited the building into the balmy night.
No matter how trustworthy- well, in the sense that he seemed to lack any interest in her well being, good or bad, beyond the requirements of his job – this official seemed, though, she knew, she couldn’t forget that she was effectively at his mercy.
Nevertheless, though… he was the best hope she had, and at this point…
She felt that she could trust him (She’d always been told she was naďve) .
She could still feel the tissue packet in her hand, warm after being clasped in her grip for so long.
A deep cover of cloud blocked out the stars and moon as she stumbled through the semi-darkness, their crevassed underbellies dyed a murky orange by the dim streetlights of the distant city center. She huddled deeper into her coat beneath it as she tripped across the almost empty carpark, following the long, quick strides of the official as he swept towards the only car in the lot. A dusty road and a dirty streetlight were the only other things in the direct vicinity, a roll of swelling wheat fields and a few, closed-looking warehouses the only other things that graced her eye in the dim half-light, and the acknowledgement was not satisfying, the knowledge of vulnerability once more settling into the pit of her stomach. The orange sky was a comfort, though, she told herself stubbornly, attempting to shelve away the fear: the city skyline couldn’t be faraway, the darkness was just masking it. She was still near Castelia...
She stopped her thoughts before they could wander any farther along that path, a tremble returning to her pursed lips.
It was only when she stumbled to a halt beside the small, but well-kept car (a Honda, she believed), the official reached into a zipped pocket within his coat presumably for his keys, that she was struck by an almost inevitable thought.
He knew her name, but she didn’t know his.
“What is your name?” Her voice was still cracked from her earlier tears, the discordance thankfully hiding the obvious, if hesitant, curiosity in her voice.
The official didn’t look up at all, successfully instead pulling out a set of keys and slotting them into the lock.
“You may call me Tobias. Get in the passenger side, please.”
That- had to be a Hoenn name, she’d swear by it. No wonder she believed she’d recognized the accent, they were both from the same place originally. Of course after spending the majority of her latter childhood and adulthood in the Sinnoh, she was no longer really a citizen, but the memory of the accented English stuck, reinforced by occasional visits to and from family who’d remained on the islands.
The discovery resonated pleasantly in her mind, warming a little the cold little cavern of fear that had been digging into her chest.
But why was he here of all places?
Adhering to his direction, she tucked the question away and tottered around the side of the car and slipped into the passenger side, piling her bag into the foot well. He was already belted in his seat and sliding his keys in the ignition by the time she’d settled herself, and the moment she slid in her seatbelt he began to drive, sweeping out of the car park in a spray of dust.
Jolting slightly in her seat as the car swerved to avoid a pothole, Elizabeth fixed her gaze out of the window, watching as the wheat fields sped by. The wheat ears were bending under their own weight already, she noted, watching as a breeze waved through them. That meant harvest time was getting closer, she supposed .
Distracting herself with the views outside the window had seemed like a good idea, and so she’d used it to attempt to keep her gaze from the quiet man beside her, distancing herself from her thoughts (and the fact that she’d yet to see a city scape) by focusing on the wheat and sunflower fields that rippled into view from the darkness surrounding them.
They’d been driving for the last twenty minutes in complete silence, broken only by the roar on the engine and the occasional moan of the wind as it twirled up around the car, clawing through the cracks in the car’s outer shell. All of her attempts at conversation had been quickly and efficiently ended, and after a while she’d abandoned the endeavour entirely, occupying herself instead with gazing out of the window, leaving her hopeful-saviour to his own thoughts.
By now, however, her nerves and curiosity were getting the better of her.
Taking a deep breath, she turned back to her companion, her now tear-streak free face (she’d made good use of his makeup mirror, a manoeuvre he'd thankfully politely declined to notice) brighter but cautious. She squinted at her barely visible companion, noting that his hat now placed delicately on the seat behind him. Her hair was silver, as she’d discovered- but it also reached down to his shoulders in a neat, discrete ponytail, tied up smartly at the back and apparently once tucked discretely beneath his collar .
Her travel companion was… unique.
“So… where abouts do you need to be to fulfil your… obligation?”
Tobias's eyes slid to the left, giving her a cursory glance before returning to the road. “Obolon. We will be there in five minutes.”
The foreign word flew over her head, but she nodded nevertheless, keeping her eyes on his profile. Straight nose, distinct jaw line… and, now that she had the chance to examine him closer, she could see the strangest, faint lines of a series of thin scars under his cheekbone. He shifted, however, and the sight was gone – and she blinked, refocusing on his visible eye.
It seemed almost impregnable.
“Can I ask… what your obligation is?”
A scowl tugged at the corners of her lips. He was ignoring her, was he? In his arrogance, surely, although the lack of an identifiable goal could also mean… She derailed the thought before it could digress further, focussing on the passing landscape once more. She couldn’t think about the chance she'd taken, not now, it’d do nothing but mess with her head and shred what remained of her sanity to pieces.
Huffing lightly, albeit with a slight tremor, she sat back in her seat and resumed her stare out of the window.
Two could play the silent game.
They sat unspeaking until Tobias slowed the car once more and turned from the main road, the fields quickly giving way to a spray of urban life, buildings and train tracks springing up before them. Elizabeth was examining them with a contrasting mix of excitement and further anxiety – finally, they were returning to Castelia proper, with all the consequences of that reemergence – when the car took a final right turn off the main throughway, trundled up a cobblestone road for a minute or two more before coming to a stop. She watched in bewilderment as Tobias quickly unstrapped his seat belt and turned towards her, eyes just visible in the light cast by a distant streetlight.
“I will be only a moment,” he intoned quietly, fixing her with a look that was finally tempered with emotion – which ones, however, she couldn’t tell. He paused, glancing at the back seat, before returning his gaze to hers. “After this I will take you to the underground station at Lisova, which should take about twenty more minutes. From there take the train to the Central Plaza, change to the blue line towards Nimbasa and the next stop is yours.”
He shifted in his seat to reach back and grab his hat once more, slotting it on his head before reaching for the door handle.
“I don’t have to tell you to not let any other person enter this car while I am gone. I will lock the doors when I leave; however the unlock is just above your door handle. Press it once and you will be able to open the door freely.
“I should only be a moment, though.”
With those final words, he exited and closed his door, the brief flash of light illuminating brightly for the first time the true colors of his uniform – a deep navy blue – before Elizabeth was plunged once more into darkness. Grasping out for her door handle, she found the button and tested the truth of his words, before locking herself back in.
Satisfied, she waited in the car's shadows, attempting to pierce the darkness as she waited for Tobias's return.
This… was the part she’d been dreading.
(Was this the moment when he came back with others and robbed her?)
She’d had no choice but to trust him when she'd first stumbled out of the empty tube carriage, it was either that or stay huddled in the decaying office until another, less sympathetic warden came along, but now...
He was a stranger, someone she didn't know the first things about, and only barely his first name.
She blinked at the twilight surrounding her, the dusky fields intermitted with spurts of urban life, and the final glimpse of city skyline that marred the distance, running through her options.
...She could run for it.
She immediately chastised herself for the thought, locking her hands on to her knees.
She was in the middle of no where, for Christ's sake. At least in the car she had a chance, and a good one at that- a chance he could be trusted, a chance she could see what was coming, a chance she could run away fast enough. Outside... she’d just be a sitting duck, ripe for the plucking by any opportunist thief or psychopath she happened to stumble past as she struggled to find her way in the back lanes of a city she didn’t know in the dark.
There was only one thing for it.
Wrapping her arms tightly across her chest, she squinted at the surrounding shadows and tried to keep out of her own head.
A few minutes had passed before she saw movement again against the distant streetlight, and she perked at the sight, hope and dread weighing at her heart. It took a couple more seconds before she could make out the two indistinct silhouettes approaching the car, one half the size of the other. It was another few moments before she recognized the taller one as her officer- the other one, however…
Two door slams later, and Elizabeth was glancing with surprise between the figure who’d just slipped into the back seat, giggling lightly, and the silver-haired man who sat gazing at her with a solemn caution, brows furrowed.
“Ms Findleson,” he began, blinking slowly at her. The small person in the back took the second to grab his hand, interweaving delicate fingers in-between his. Elizabeth watched in fascination as a flicker of emotion creased through his features once more. “I’d like you to meet my daughter, Natalka.”
Final note: I wanted to change the beginning, at first, as it introduces the character, but gives no allusions to the plot... but I can't for the life of me figure out what I'd change it to. Hence you have no idea what you're in for - but it fits, nevertheless, introduces characters (that some hopefully recognised from Ember Days) and launches you head first into it all, and given the purpose of the 'fic, I felt it was appropriate. I hope you enjoyed it.