This will be the general disclaimer for the entire lifespan of this fanwork. Fuggmann does not own any IPs (intellectual properties) depicted in this fanwork. This fiction is non-canon and all mentioned IPs are the sole property of their respective holders.
Notes: I am an animal lover, but not exactly an expert. Some biology and behavior referenced in the story may not be 100% accurate, or might even be stretched in creative liberty.
I am an animal lover, but not exactly an expert. Some biology and behavior referenced in the story may not be 100% accurate, or might even be stretched in creative liberty.
Want to support me? See Fuggmann on the place of patrons. I do have goals on there that will hopefully allow me to cut back on work in favor of more writing. As thanks for donating, patrons get to see updates a few days early and suggest edits to the final draft before it goes live. The outpouring of support has been nothing short of astounding, and I hope to keep this and other works coming out quickly for you all.
"She really likes you, you know."
Lee groans, setting the bloody bucket in his gloved hand down and wiping at his sweaty forehead. Behind him, the staff door to the lion exhibit closes with a pair of clicks. "I know Makiri is pissed. Don't rub it in."
The first voice laughs, deep and hearty. "Well, can't dem to love you all da time, can you? Lovely Lady Makiri likes her routine, and you broke her big rule of not changin'. Mommy Mara's scent all over ya ain't helping either. Lady Makiri be thinkin' you're cheaten on her."
Lee looks up to the tall speaker.
Before him is a large african man with a shaved head, a beaming smile, and eyes sparkling with mirth. He's clad in the same khaki bush trekking outfit that most animal handlers in the Columbus Zoo use as a uniform, Lee included. On his belt is a radio (currently turned off as to not spook the lions) and on his right breast pocket is a nametag reading "Aasir".
Lee runs a glove-clad hand through his sweaty hair with a sigh. "I know. With how David called out so suddenly someone had to check up on the tigers, and I drew the short straw. Mara's in heat again and is real cuddly with anything even vaguely smelling male. She walked up to me without an ounce of aggression."
Aasir nods and hums, scratching his stubble-covered chin. "Yah, no wonder Lady Makiri was givin' you da stinkeye den. Smellin' anodda female, one jonesin' for cubs no less, on any of her handlers gunna make her mad."
The shorter man grimaces. He had to carefully maneuver in the enclosure as to not let Makiri, the eldest lioness, be downwind of himself. The other lions gladly approached for their admittedly late lunch with Makiri trailing behind, already knowing none of the foolish younglings would eat her share. By the time Lee realized the wind had shifted, the old lioness had already gone silent and was maneuvering into his blindspot. Lee bid a steady retreat, as running would make her chase, and it gave him enough time to see the fury in her eyes.
If she caught him, Lee would have been dead.
Harsh is the realization that any animal could turn on you.
"Think you can cover the lions alone for a few days so Makiri can cool off?"
Aasir nods with a chuckle. "Dats fine. Deh boys at deh reptile house gunna need some extra hands anyway. Dey be setting up a spider exhibit while new rattlers be shipped in. Lions, old Aasir can do. Now spiders?" He drops his grin and shudders. "Can't do spiders. No. Dem beady eyes and crawly legs and hooked fangs be hauntin' my dreams," he says, rubbing his arms as if to ward off a chill.
"Heh, suit yourself," Lee says with a shrug. "Any idea when that's going down?"
Aasir pulls his phone from his pocket and checks the time. "Threeish? Dey getting the buggers in and set up in da back while de enclosures be converted for dem."
"Enough time to catch some lunch and a nap in the supply closet. Nice." Lee thinks with a grin, turning towards the exit to the visitor area.
"And don't be sleepin' in da admin closet. Miss Jonesy knows."
Lee stops. "I said that aloud, didn't I?"
"It's a bad habit you got." Lee didn't even need to turn to know Aasir was smiling. The man just laughs when Lee keeps walking.
Lee steps out into the visitor area, barely avoiding a kid that runs by with an exhausted mom trailing behind. He looks around and takes in the throngs of people in the Zoo today.
Everyone is crowded by the fence of the lion exhibit, watching with gasps and exclamations broken up by the beeping of cellphone cams as the lions eat. Young, old, man, and woman alike watch raptly, and thankfully no one has the gall to try and throw things into the enclosure this time.
Just yesterday a pizza crust thrown by some brat managed to bean poor cub Sefu in the eye, and both himself and Aasir rushed out to the culprit. Lee isn't terribly intimidating, only being of average height and build, but even an indignant mom quickly caves to a large african man so angry that he accidentally slips back into his native Swahili. The family and bawling child left without needing an escort out.
Respecting the animals isn't that hard, is it?
Either way, today seems to be going just fine, making Lee smile as everyone points and gushes over cubs Sefu and Zuberi fighting over a rib bone.
The man continues on, gliding through the Saturday crowd with practiced ease back toward the main admin office and towards his much-needed lunch. One or twice he's stopped by a zoo guest for directions, and he gives them out almost without noticing, knowing where everything is by heart. As he walks, Lee runs a hand across his forehead and speeds up, hoping to get out of the beating late-summer sun soon.
Lee slips into the gift shop near the front of the Zoo and walks along the wall to a door marked "Employees only." With a swipe of his keycard, the door opens with a 'click!' and lets him back into the admin office.
Inside the small lounge area, a few staff, animal keepers, security, and even an on-site cop mill about, talking in small groups or seated at one of the small tables eating lunch. In the corner of the room, an old TV with the news perpetually playing fills the background. Lee promptly ignores all of that and makes a beeline for the shared fridge, snatching a tupperware container of pasta from it before finding a table for himself.
Lee pulls his phone out as he brings a forkful of food to his mouth, clicking on his GBA emulator to continue his modded Pokemon Emerald run. Not too much was added. Simply a randomized starter and all first three gens available in the wild.
Beating the first gym leader Roxanne, a Rock-type specialist, with a Vulpix as a starter was a gigantic pain though. Will-o-Wisp and Confuse Ray really earned their place in Vulpix's moveset after that. The Vulpix has stellar IVs and even has the hidden ability Drought, so it's too bad her lax nature means a special defense reduction. She would have made a good wall. 'That's alright though,' Lee thinks. 'I can still build a good team around her.' He marks the little fox with a heart in the box system.
With the first gym beaten, Lee took one last look around Rustboro and talked with every NPC before heading to the next route.
A chair across the table squeaks as someone sits down. "Still a big Pokemon fan, eh?"
Lee looks up as he finishes his last bite of lunch, seeing fellow keeper and member of the reptile house, Marcy, sit down with him.
Lee nods, pausing his game to address her. "Now and forever. The only thing I like more than Pokemon is actual animals. Broke my heart as a kid when my dick brother said they were real only for Ma to tell me they aren't."
Marcy snorts and grins. "He wouldn't be a proper brother if he didn't mess with you."
"True, and I busted his favorite GI Joe as revenge," Lee quips, making Marcy laugh. "So what brings you over to my lonely little table?"
The woman collects herself. "Aasir told me over the radio one of your lions thinks you're cheating on her, so you need a break from there for a few days. Want to help set up an arachnid exhibit in the meantime?"
"It's not my fault Mara felt like rubbing up on me..." Lee grumbles. "But yes, I was actually about to call you once I was done here to ask just that. Thanks for saving me the trouble."
Both zookeepers stand, Lee pocketing his phone, then stop as tornado sirens begin to sound out in the distance, their wails echoing across the whole zoo hauntingly. Under the wailing of the sirens is the audible panic of several of the louder, more skittish animals. Everyone else in the lounge likewise looks bewildered. One glance out the window shows that the sky is clear and blue, as a summer day should be. Even the fickle weather of Ohio can't shift that fast.
"The hell is going on?" Another keeper asks no one particular.
"Dunno. Some kind of malfunction?" A gift shop cashier finishing her lunch suggests.
"Someone must have broken something big then." Someone near the back of the room chimes.
More sirens echo in from the not-so-distant city of Columbus, the capital of Ohio and one of the largest cities in the United States. The extra sirens mix with the closer ones, forming an unnerving din. Then from the north even more sirens cry out from the city of Delaware.
The confusion gripping the room slowly turns to worry.
"Alright, it's one thing for our sirens to fuck up, but both Columbus and Delaware going at once?" Lee says, pulling out his phone. "What is going on?"
Then he gets an answer he didn't want.
All at once, every cellphone in the room screams out alarm tones at maximum volume. Several people flinch and a few bite back screams from the unexpected scare. The message flashing on each one is infinitely more damning than any frightening alarm tone.
PRESIDENTIAL ALERT ISSUED.
TAKE SHELTER NOW AND TUNE INTO OFFICIAL NEWS STATIONS FOR MORE DETAIL.
All eyes fly to the TV in the corner.
"-rising tension may mean disaster for negotiations. Back to you, Tom.", the anchorwoman says as the news shifts to a smiling man with a weather map behind him. Before he can get a single word in, the screen suddenly goes black.
Everyone watching waits, coiled with tension.
After several seconds, the TV screams out with the chilling screech of the E.B.S. After several screeches, a synthesized voice begins to speak with an eerie calm. "This message is transmitted by the order of the president and Department of Homeland Security. At approximately 12:37PM EST, The North American Aerospace Defense Command detected incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. These missiles are believed to be carrying nuclear warheads of unknown yield. Known targeted cities include Washington DC, New York NY, Dallas TX, San Francisco CA, Seattle WA, Pittsburgh PA, Chicago IL-"
The TV rattles off more cities in it's monotone. The longer it goes on, the more hope begins rising in the room.
"Jesus fuck this is unreal, but if there is anything good about Ohio it's how irrelevant we are. Why waste a nuke here?" Lee thinks to himself, trying vainly to steady his heart rate. "There is nothing worth nuking. Oh my fucking god I can't believe the crazies online were right."
"-Phoenix AZ, and Columbus OH."
A deathly stillness grips the entire room. Just outside, screams overtake the sirens.
"If you are located within 100 to 200 miles of any of the listed locations," the TV drones on, "take shelter immediately. Warhead impact is estimated to be in the next 30 to 45 minutes. Keep a radio and tune into local emergency channels. If you do not know your local emergency channels, look them up now. Internet service cannot be guaranteed after impact. Shelter in place and do not move until an all-clear is given. A location underground is optimal. Failure to follow these instructions may lead to injury or death. This message will repeat."
Lee looks around at his thunderstruck co-workers, but can't hear a word of their frantic yelling over his heart pounding in his own ears and the growing screaming outside. He falls backward, his back hitting the wall and letting him slump to the floor. "Absolutely nowhere in the zoo can stand a nuclear blast," he whispers to himself. "We're going to die. We're actually going to die."
The man frantically takes out his phone and hits the first contact inside, his mother. He holds the phone up to his ear, but only hears "All circuits are busy. Please try again later" before it can ring out even once. With a growl, he calls again, again, and again...
"All circuits are busy. Please try again later."
"Fuck! Did EVERYONE have the same idea?!"
Lee raises his arm and almost dashes the smartphone across the ground, but controls his temper at the last moment with a deep, heaving breath. He drops the now useless device into his pocket and grips his head in his hands, tears of both fear and frustration stinging his eyes. "Fuck fuck fuck..."
He raises his head, seeing everyone else isn't coping much better. Most fill the room with screams and muttered prayers asking God to save them. One poor intern has the cashier girl in a death grip of a hug, crying large, ugly tears as the shell-shocked girl rubs his back absently. Several of the keepers slip out the door, probably to go see their animals one last time.
Everyone jumps and screams.
Lee stares at the slumped form of the on-site police officer. He's wide-eyed and bleeding from a hole in the side of his cranium, his Glock pistol held in limp fingers. The wall to his side is painted a morbid red. The man's mouth opens and closes several times before his eyes unfocus and he goes limp.
Lee quashes the temptation to take the gun and follow the man into the afterlife.
Someone else, an older man in overalls with a tool belt picks up the gun and drops the magazine, looking at it with shaky hands. "There are sixteen more bullets if anyone wants to go on their own terms..." he says quietly, placing the gun on a table after putting the magazine back in.
'Impending death does things to people. Really reveals who they are.' Swear rolls down Lee's forehead and into his eye, stinging him.
The crying intern wipes away his tears and steps towards the gun, a sudden calmness to him.
Lee screws his eyes shut and plugs his ears.
Red splatters across the ceiling and another one moves on.
The crying and panic calms in favor of numb shock, everyone now too overloaded to process everything at once. All the remaining people in the lounge slowly settle into a small group along the floor and the chatter dies down to silence. Everyone is content to wait, and no words are needed to communicate that. Outside, only the wails of the sirens remain. The cries of the guests are gone, and in their place is the distant beeping of car horns.
Lee looks down at his phone, now noticing it has no signal at all. With a sigh, he opens Pokemon Emerald again in a vain attempt to distract himself.
"The front gate is probably clogged to all hell..." Lee murmurs, hugging his knees to his chest with his free arm. "Glad I'm not on parking lot duty today."
A few people chuckle and the maintenance man who set the gun aside even says; "Hear hear, brother."
Quiet falls over the group again and goes unbroken for a few only sound comes from Lee's phone as he takes his character back to Littleroot Town.
"So how long until..." Someone trails off.
"That was a good 20 minutes of freakout," someone else says. "It's can't be long now, people. If you've got any regrets, out with it now."
No one speaks up and the second speaker scoffs. "Of course..."
Lee sighs and leans his head back, praying to whatever power that is listening to make sure the coming doom is quick, both for him and all the animals. The thought of Makiri, the cubs, Mara and her mate Jupiter, or ANY of the animals he'd come to love like people suffering fills him with a nameless dread. Why should they be killed for the mistakes of people?
"They shouldn't. They're the biggest victims here, being condemned to die because forces they can't comprehend or control don't even consider them in the collateral damage."
"My one regret," Lee begins, making all eyes turn to him. "Was that I could never properly tell all my charges how much I love them. I went to school and came here to learn all about animals of all sorts, and I can gauge how much they like me thanks to those lessons, but I never had a good way to tell them. The curse of a language barrier that can't be breached I guess."
"Jesus Lee, make the rest of us feel bad why don't you."
Lee turns to the speaker to retort, but stops and screams when a 2nd sun blooms in the distance. The flood of white light through the south window blinds, instantly burning lines into the left side of his face so fast he can't even scream.
The screaming begins again as everyone scrambles to cover their eyes. Hardly a second later, the shockwave hits. All the windows shatter into slivers of razor-sharp glass and shoot northward. Several lodge themselves into Lee's side or fly by and open gashes, making him cry out at the sharp agony. His own scream and the rest of the world goes silent as his ears pop from the pressure. The whole room shakes and cracks like an earthquake struck the entire zoo.
And then, FIRE
THE FIRE THE FIRE THE FIRE THE FIRE
MAKE IT STOP
MOMMY GOD JESUS ANYONE PLEASE MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT GO AWAY
MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOPSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOPSTOP
An instant later, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is no more.
Lee opens his eyes.
A second later, he shoots up into a sitting position and coughs wet, painful coughs into his hand for almost a minute, taking wheezing breaths whenever his abused lungs would allow. He looks at his hand, grimacing at the flecks of red dotting his hand and at the copper taste coating his tongue.
The man cranes his head around, confusion welling up inside him as he stands on unsteady legs. This is neither heaven, hell, or a hospital.
All around is lush greenery that one would see in a fairly tropical region. A humid wind filled with the scent of recent rain blows through the leaves of the tall trees, sending a calm rustle rolling through the forest all around.
"What the fuck..?" Lee murmurs, turning only to hiss as the movement pulls at the glass stuck into his side. He gingerly touches a large shard that shredded through his khaki shirt and stuck itself in his left side with a wince. While looking at his side, he notices the dark lines burned into the side of his shirt, probably from where the bright light shined in through the blinds. So he probably...
Lee touches a finger to the left side of his face and pulls it away, biting back a scream. A trio of lines are burned into his face, one just barely missing his eye. The flesh is cooked and bubbled in some places.
"Don't touch my face, good to know..." he says to himself, returning his attention to the glass in his side. He grits his teeth "This is gonna suck," he says, gripping the largest bit of glass. With a wet schlick! the shard slips out and Lee bites his lip to hold back a scream. He quickly yanks what shards he can out and lets the bloody glass fall to the grassy ground. Thankfully none are in so deep that he risks bleeding out.
With that out of the way, Lee reaches in his back pocket and takes out a small folding knife. With a few quick cuts, his still whole right sleeve is made into several sloppy bandages. "Thank God for small mercies," the man mutters, thankful his shirt is a button-up and not a pullover that he'd have to drag over his burns.
A moment later, his cuts are covered and his tattered shirt is buttoned back on.
"Now, where the fuck am I?" He murmurs, weary.
Lee turns around carefully, trying to make heads or tails of his location. Could he have been picked up by the blast and flung here? He shakes his head. "What kind of cartoony shit is that? And I distinctly remember being on fire."
Just the phantom sensation of being engulfed in flame paralyzes the zookeeper and makes his heart hammer. Sweat dots his brow and he struggles to breathe, his mind convinced that opening his mouth will let the nuclear flames in.
"Ta. Taillow!" A voice with a trill to it calls.
"Zag?" Another voice asks with a questioning whine.
The strange, almost child-like voices snap Lee from his vision. With a gasp and a blink, he whirls around and comes face to face with something, or a pair of somethings he instantly recognizes.
Less than ten feet away stands a living, breathing, Zigzagoon and a Taillow, both watching him carefully. A pair of fucking Pokemon.
Lee gulps and stares back. "I've lost it. This is my brain flooding with hormones for a nice vision before I'm burned to ash. There is no other explanation."
The Zigzagoon is just as he remembers them. Short and stubby with a cute face and the distinct zig-zag pattern to its fur, but there is a realness that any game or show lacks. Zigzagoon has individual strands of fur that gently flow in the breeze and its eyes gleam. It blinks and twitches its nose in little sniffs.
The Taillow is just as real, with actual feathers composing its form rather than just solid color. On its beak, Lee sees several scratches and minor discoloration telling him it's not been eating a balanced diet. Its talons knead the dirt under it anxiously.
"This can't be real."
Zigzagoon tilts its head and Taillow narrows its eyes.
'Shit, I said that aloud.'
Lee slowly dips into a crouch to make himself seem smaller and less threatening.
Taillow's form eases and Zigzagoon steps a little closer, its tail slowly wagging.
Zigzagoon's eyes scan over Lee, and he swears he sees the Pokemon's gaze become sympathetic as it looked over the wounds upon him. The little Pokemon steps even closer, coming almost to arms length. Zigzagoon finally looks over its shoulder to Taillow, letting out a; "Zagoon. Zig zigzagoon!" that sounds imploring.
Taillow looks over Lee with an appraising eye, its eyes lingering on the burns on his cheek, before it spread its wings and took off into the forest, vanishing like a specter into the branches.
The little raccoon look-alike seems elated if its body language offers any tells and fearlessly steps closer, now within arms reach.
Lee slowly, carefully reaches a hand out, pushing down the twinge of childish excitement that suddenly wants to rise out "You're a friendly one, eh? My favorite," he says, gently laying a hand on the Pokemon's head.
Zigzagoon happily preens under the compliment and accepts the gentle scratch behind its ear with a croon. Lee takes the time to marvel at the feeling of the stiff, backwards-facing fur.
Suddenly, Taillow returns and lands beside Zigzagoon. Only years of 'Don't make sudden movements' being beaten into Lee's head keep him from flinching.
Taillow carries a pair of small, blue fruits held by the stems in its beak. The small bird looks at Lee critically before dropping both fruit at his feet and hopping backward two steps. Zigzagoon likewise backs up several steps and looks up at him patiently.
"They're giving these to me?"
A second look at the fruit tells him exactly why.
At his feet is both an Oran berry and a Rawst berry. A berry that restores lost health points and a berry that cures burns.
One side of Lee knows that Pokemon are intelligent of course, but the other side is utterly blown away that a pair of animals could diagnose injuries and acquire treatment, for a stranger no less.
The man gives both Pokemon a smile, careful not to bare his teeth. "Thank you both so much."
Taillow just nods, seemingly not thinking this is a big deal, but Zigzagoon trundles up and rubs its face against Lee's knee with an affectionate bark.
With a smile, the man picks up the Rawst berry first. "Chase the bitter one with the sweet one." Then he stops. "Am I really about to accept a pair of fruits I've never seen before from a pair of anomalous creatures?"
He pops the Rawst berry into his mouth and chews quickly, trying not to cringe at the impressive bitterness that such a small fruit could pack. Both Pokemon before him watch with no small amount of amusement as he grabs the Oran immediately after swallowing the Rawst, again eating the thing quickly.
Lee almost gags when the sweet Oran doesn't wash down the Rawst flavor, but instead mingles with it into a disgusting new flavor. "Ech. Did you two know this would happen?"
Taillow actually smirks, a facial expression an avian should not be able to make while Zigzagoon replies with a "Goon!"
Once both berries are down, the pain from all of Lee's injuries fades to a dull ache and the throbbing, molten pain of his burned face eases to a much more bearable sting. He tentatively touches his face to find that action isn't pure agony any longer. He takes a deep breath, noting the wet wheeze he had was gone.
Incredible. Just incredible. His inner academic yearns to know the hows and whys of berries.
Again, Lee finds himself smiling. "Thank you both again. I won't forget you."
Both Pokemon actually smile. Taillow spreads its wings and Zigzagoon turns to leave.
The Pokemon halt and look at Lee, Zigzagoon with curiosity and Taillow with suspicion.
"Can you..." he stops, almost feeling foolish. "Can you tell me where the nearest human settlement is? I'm.. not really from around here."
Taillow rolls its eyes. "Tailllllow," it says, sounding condescending. Nonetheless, the small bird flits up to a branch and points its beak to the east. It then takes flight and vanishes into the forest.
Zigzagoon is quick to follow, but not before throwing a quick "Goon!" over its shoulder.
Once again, Lee is alone.
The zookeeper pushes away the mental breakdown that desperately wants out and starts walking east at a slow pace. No matter what happened, he needs to find other people to help him and hope he doesn't stumble into a nuclear crater. As he walks, Lee takes stock of himself.
"I'm hurt, tired, lost, have zero supplies, and I'm probably hallucinating" He closes his eyes and sighs. "At least those berries worked."
Lee pats down his pockets, finding everything where it should be. His radio is still on his belt, but it only takes one look to see that it's chassis is cracked down the middle and the innards look like they've been microwaved, he observes with a groan. His folding knife and wallet are in his back pocket. His phone somehow survived, albeit with a cracked screen, but then...
As Lee was putting his phone back, his finger runs over something cool, metal, and spherical at the bottom of his pocket. Curious, he wraps his fingers around it and pulls the tiny sphere out.
In his hand is a pokeball, shrunken into its traveling form.
"No fucking way..."
He presses the button several times, watching mystified as the ball grows and shrinks over and over before his eyes. "Did Taillow or Zigzagoon sneak this onto me?" he asks no one, tossing the ball up and down, only for it to slip from his fingers and fall to the ground.
The ball bounces once and then snaps open with a flash of energy, making Lee jump back with a yelp. The energy collects to a single point and forms a small, quadrupedal figure before fading, leaving a creature behind.
Brown eyes blink and look up at the gobsmacked human. An ear with a little heart mark flicks.
Before him stands a Vulpix. His Vulpix.
The first thing Vulpix does once her ball opens is take a deep breath of air.
The scents of the forest, the dirt, the trees, the water, the grass and mingle in her nose, telling her countless things about her surroundings before she can even blink the stars from her vision. She remembers an incredible victory over the Rock-type gym leader, where her own trainer commanded her like a professional. He and her working in tandem led the entire other team to ruin.
A young Fire type demolishing a team of experienced Rock types. Alone. Power never mattered overly much to her, but such explosive growth appealed to a much more primal part of her Pokemon psyche. A part she could not and would not deny.
Her human was never the affectionate sort, and would keep her in her ball most of the time. With a flare of her budding psychic powers, Vulpix scans for her opponent as her vision clears, but finds naught but her trainer.
After a few seconds that seem like an eternity, Vulpix's vision adjusts from the sudden flash of her own materialization, and before her stands... a human who isn't her trainer. He's taller different in the face, clad in unusual, tattered clothes,... and coated in injuries.
But this human's psychic signature feels just like her trainer. Exactly like him. She knows there is no such thing as a perfect psychic spoof. It can't be done. Vulpix wars with herself, fighting the desire to try and comfort her trainer(?) over his injuries and the logical side of her that says to wait and be wary of tricks.
And things... look different. Sharper. Dare she say more detailed? Strange happenings are abound.
Vulpix blinks and looks around, not recognizing anything. With a flick of her ear, she sits and waits, content with having her trainer(?) lead the conversation.
Lee blanks out.
Before him is the crux of his latest team, looking at him coolly with at least some level of recognition. Actual recognition, as in she knows who he is. Somehow. He takes out his phone and boots up his emulator for Pokemon Emerald. On starting up, he opens his pokemon menu.
And it's empty. His Vulpix, his only Pokemon, is missing.
The game promptly freezes and crashes.
He puts the phone away, thinking over the implications.
Again, he falls back into his training and crouches down slowly, Vulpix's eyes watching carefully. Lee hesitates for a minute with Vulpix just watching, before he finally takes a deep breath and begins "Vulpix? I know this is going to sound really stupid, but what is the last thing you remember?"
Vulpix tilts her head, carefully regarding him with her chocolate eyes. The little vulpine then looks around and spies a small rock sticking up from the ground. She trots to the rock, then breathes a short tongue of flame onto it before giving it a little kick, knocking it over.
This sudden appearance of the flame makes Lee go still, but he snaps himself back to reality a second later. "So our victory over Roxanne?"
Vulpix simply nods.
Again Lee stops to think. "Alrighty, girl. Lets walk-n-talk. We want to get to a town before nightfall and I've got a lot of things to cover. I urge you to listen to me until the end."
The little fox responds with a demure sigh and stands to follow.
Lee stands himself and stretches his limbs with a held-back yawn. The energy given to him by that Oran is beginning to fade. He starts his leisurely pace east again with Vulpix easily falling in step to his left. As they walk, he mulls over his explanation.
"How does one explain... well, all this shit to a superpowered animal without getting killed?" The zookeeper wonders with a sigh. "Or, do I even need to explain it?" He wonders, thinking back to some of the older Dex entries for Vulpix and Ninetails. "Ninetails is explicitly said to have mind control powers in one of the gen III Dexs. That means some way to connect minds together. Could Vulpix have a lesser form of that ability?" The man then starts second-guessing himself. "Do I really want to let her into my head? Sure, I can say I know how psychic powers work from the show, but this isn't the show. At least I don't think. If I don't though, then everything I say is going to sound crazy. 'Hey, I dunno how either of us got here, but I was in a fiery holocaust and I'm sure you were in a video game before that.' Even in a world as wack as Pokemon, that's weird."
"Vulpix?" Lee asks, looking down at her. "I'll be honest, I don't quite know how to explain what exactly happened. It's... kind of unbelievable. So much so that I almost don't believe it. I know your line has some level of psychic power. Can I possibly show you the memories?"
"Excluding some parts, of course. I can't scar my only Pokemon."
Vulpix looks up and regards Lee with some surprise in her eyes. She stops and jumps to Lee's shoulders with a deft hop, taking care to drape herself over his right shoulder and to keep her tails away from his burns. Lee and Vulpix lock eyes less than an inch away, and her large chocolate eyes begin to glow a dark red.
Lee gulps and brings his daily life in the zoo to the forefront, showing Vulpix what he did for a living, then shifted to his phone.
He can FEEL Vulpix looking over his mental shoulder into the memory of the phone screen, where a perfect digital copy of herself was. He could feel the countless questions bubbling in her, but she remained silent. He shifted his mind to his trainer avatar, then back to himself, correcting her image of him.
Finally, he shifts the memory to the very tail end of... his death?
The alarm that shoots through Vulpix nearly makes him stumble.
A flash, then pain. Unearthly pain.
Lee snaps out of the short flashback, his chest heaving and the sensation of burning. He looks to his right shoulder, seeing the horrified face of Vulpix.
"No. She saw everything." The man feels himself go cold, like a lump of ice was dumped into his stomach. "Why the fuck did I think this was a good idea?! Jesus fuck man try to think things through!"
The fox takes shaky breaths and fights back tears in an unnervingly human display as a pitiful whine builds in her throat. She pins her ears back and looks away.
Lee keeps her pokeball pocketed. If she runs, then he has no right to pursue. He'll break the ball and free her.
For a long moment, man and fox stand there. Then Lee jumps when a cold nose nuzzles into his neck. "V-Vulpix?"
Vulpix meets his eyes with hers, but stays nuzzled to his neck.
"You're," the man stops and thinks over his words. "You're not going to run and leave? I won't stop you."
The fox bares her teeth and growls as pure offense flashes across her whole face. Merely suggesting she leave seems to make her almost enraged. Her body heats up before she suddenly stops and lets it cool down again.
Lee gulps and turns away, holding up a hand in surrender. "L-Look. I was just saying. If you don't want to, then that's fine too. I'm more than happy to have you."
With those words, Vulpix visibly calms and huffs, holding her head high as she steadily meets her trainer's gaze. A firm growl rolls in her throat, and it's easily interpreted as 'I am not leaving. Don't ask again.'
Despite all the day's great misfortunes, Lee feels a little of that childish excitement from earlier return. Here he is, with a Pokemon of his own!
The time to cry and mourn is later. For now wonder can have the front seat.