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Old June 16th, 2017 (6:16 PM). Edited June 18th, 2017 by icomeanon6.
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icomeanon6 icomeanon6 is offline
It's "I Come Anon"
     
    Join Date: Feb 2008
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    Chapter 7

    June, 2017

    Krissy rubbed her eyes. It was still early in the morning and she had been walking for over three hours. This would have been hard enough if she’d been sticking to the trails, but she had opted for a more secluded and obscure route back to her house. She checked the topographical map she’d bought in town yesterday. The mansion was only an eighth of a mile away. By the time she reached the top of the hill she was on, she was dragging her feet. She leaned against a tree, took some deep breaths, and decided it would be best to take a short rest. Approaching the enemy stronghold while exhausted was always a poor decision, after all.

    She collapsed, closed her eyes, and wondered if the boys had woken up to read her letter yet. Even though she knew no good come from it, she tried to picture how they would react to it. Jason was easy enough: he would show more than a good deal of righteous indignation that she’d acted unilaterally. And she imagined he’d be sad, even though he’d probably be too proud to show it. But it occurred to her that she was likely projecting on him and indulging in wishful thinking. It wouldn’t be the first time she misunderstood how someone felt about her. Or second.

    Travis’s reaction was easier to guess. He was mad that saving Wyvern was out of his hands now, but he was hiding how glad he was to be rid of her. The thought churned her stomach more than a little, so she turned on her side and tried not to think about it anymore. The important thing was that she was making process. This attempt had lasted a year and fifty-nine days longer than her first try, hadn’t it? All she had to do was wrap up a few loose ends at the mansion, and then she was free to find some new kids who might turn into her comrades. So there really wasn’t a good reason for her to feel as sick and miserable as she did.

    At some point she nodded off. When she woke up it was still morning and she felt well enough to keep moving. It would take a conscious effort, but she decided not to think about the boys for the rest of the day. Now that they were in checkmate and had no choice but to go to a Pokémon Center, there was no point in wasting any more of her mental stamina on them. She took a heading of west-south-west and walked on to her destination.

    Before long she was standing behind one of the last trees at the edge of the mansion grounds. There was a good forty yards of open grass between her and the building itself, which had two long stories of large windows where someone might look out and see her approaching. The best-case scenario was that she could get inside unnoticed and sneak into her father’s office with no one the wiser. That meant the front door was a non-starter, but it was also the only entrance to which she had a key.

    She clicked her tongue. Her best bet then would be to find Alessa somehow and get through the service entrance around back with her. Coming into contact with anyone was a risk of course, even with Alessa, but the chances of her being unsympathetic seemed low. Krissy just hoped she wouldn’t ask too many questions. With no options remaining that involved the front of the mansion, she stuck to the trees and made her way around back.

    The trees were much closer on this side of the property. An added bonus was that there were also fewer windows, as the only people who came back here were ones her father didn’t care to impress with architecture. In particular, the dull steel door that the Grunts used stuck out like a sore thumb, especially with its heavy, conspicuous lock. If Krissy remembered rightly, Alessa’s window was one above and two to the right from there. She grabbed a pebble from the ground, looked both ways, and ventured into the open space behind the mansion. Then she tossed the pebble at the window, missed it by a mile, scrambled back for cover in a panic, and broke her own rule by wishing Jason were here to make a decent throw.

    She shook off the stray thought and composed herself. But her composure was lost again almost immediately when the steel door opened with a loud scraping noise. She made sure she was well behind a tree and waited for whoever it was to pass by.

    “…saw Slate earlier today. Dude looked like sh*t.”

    “Well, can you blame him? You ever spent fifteen days in the brig?”

    They were two men; not Alessa as Krissy had hoped. She continued to listen carefully, though, as she’d never heard of anyone receiving a sentence of that length. She could barely imagine spending even two days underground.

    “Didn’t say I blamed him, just said he looked like sh*t, geeze.”

    “He never should’ve gone down there in the first place, that’s what’s getting me.”

    Krissy thought she heard one of them light a cigarette. Smoking was forbidden inside the building itself, including in the basement and sub-basement.

    “Course not, wasn’t even close to his fault. I don’t think anyone would’ve gotten out of there with their Pokémon. Like, you’re this close to moving on from Grunt and bam.”

    “Yeah. But just try telling that to Rus—”

    “Hey! Watch it, dumbass, the walls have ears.”

    “Whatever. Oh, y’know what else I heard was…”

    The Grunts went back and forth for several minutes on topics that were of no concern to Krissy. As they rambled on, she considered the matter of this ‘Slate’ who’d just been released from the brig. It seemed likely that he held a grudge against her father, which meant there was a small possibility that she could use this to her advantage. Trying to find and deal with this person would have to be Plan D or later and it carried considerable risk, but it was still important to keep all options open.

    Eventually the other two went back inside. Krissy waited another five minutes until she felt safe enough to give the window another try. She picked up three more pebbles, took a deep breath, and walked out into the open a second time. She pulled her arm back and took more care to aim. But, as before, the pebble bounced off the brick instead of the glass. She bit her lip, tried to adjust the motion she’d just gone through in her head, and then convulsed as the steel door to her left slammed open again.

    She jerked her head over. Standing there with a look of intense anger and incredulity on his face was the last Grunt she ever wanted to see again. It was the old one with the crooked eye. The same one who had the Ursaring and the Golbat. The same one who’d kidnapped Wyvern and would no doubt like to see her and her friends dead. For a moment that felt far longer, Krissy froze.

    The Grunt took a step forward and started to say something that would probably have been, ‘Hey, you!’ In that instant Krissy’s adrenaline took over. Her hand moved on its own to her belt. Before she knew what her plan was, a Pokéball was on its way to the midpoint between her and the enemy. The right words came out of her mouth at the same time. “Ice Punch!”

    The Grunt only had time to stop in his tracks and lift his hands halfway to where they needed to be. As soon as Frostbite appeared, she leapt straight for his head and retracted her claws faster than a human can blink. Her knuckles glowed blue as they clipped the Grunt’s right eye.

    Gaaaaaah!

    The Grunt dropped to a knee, and even behind his hands Krissy could see the frost and blood on his face. Rather than wait to see any more and give him any chance to retaliate, she swiped Frostbite’s ball from the ground and sprinted for the woods. Soon her Pokémon was running beside her and she returned her to the ball. That was when she heard the enemy shout something incoherent, or maybe she just couldn’t parse the words with how her head was right then. If he was calling for reinforcements, then they could be coming her way any second. So she kept running, and hard.

    At some point she tripped and had to catch herself to keep her head from colliding with a tree trunk. Her heart felt like it was about to pound out of her chest, which made it hard to hear the voices coming from different directions behind her. She forced herself to run farther away from them. The analytical functions that dominated her brain under normal circumstances were gone. The closest thing she had left was an overwhelming instinct to escape the danger.

    ‘Away’ and ‘escape’ meant uphill, and her legs were dying from it. As the adrenaline wore off, her body gravitated toward the more level way. But this put her on a tangent from the optimal trajectory, and at any other time this would have been obvious to her and indeed to anyone who knew forwards from backwards or sideways. When she had to stop for air again this dawned on her despite her spinning head. She put a hand to her temple and tried to calm herself down so she wouldn’t make any more mistakes. To her left was the base of a small bluff, to her right was downhill and therefore peril, and in front of her was a tall, dense clump of shrubs and bushes. The logical course would be to backtrack, but then she heard the fast feet coming from behind.

    Her hands shook. Running downhill was an unsustainable solution, so she had to fight here. She took Lucia’s ball from her belt and hoped there was only one of the enemy and that they wouldn’t shout. Then she turned around, and the sight of the black outfit with the red ‘R’ almost sprung her into action. But she stopped.

    It was Alessa. She was standing still just like Krissy, breathing hard, and wearing a loss of an expression. Then she advanced quickly but not threateningly. Krissy didn’t move a muscle when she wrapped her arms around her.

    “Holy sh*t, Lucy. The hell were you thinking?”

    Krissy didn’t know what to say. It had never crossed her mind that she’d have to talk to Alessa immediately after she possibly maimed a fellow Grunt. And she’d never thought she’d maim anyone, either, and this kept her from speaking just as much.

    “I thought you might leave and burn all your bridges someday, but picking a fight with Slate? Twice?

    Did she say ‘Slate?’ And ‘twice?’ “…H…How did you—”

    Alessa pulled back and held onto Krissy’s shoulders as she stared right in her face. “Wait. You thought we didn’t know about that?”

    Why would they? Krissy had never seen him before the first fight and he’d never seen her. She shook her head.

    “You and your pals made him lose three top-notch Pokémon in one day! Your dad grilled him for hours! How many preteen girl-geniuses with a Bayleef do you think are out there? Slate just had to ID you in a photo and we knew it was you!”

    Not a single step in this chain had occurred to her once. It felt like she had been walking in a minefield for hours without knowing it, where ‘hours’ meant over two weeks. She felt her eyes grow wide.

    Alessa continued. “Don’t tell me you’ve been this close to home the whole time! I guess that’d explain why they haven’t found you up north, yet.” She then began to drag Krissy by the arm. “Well, come on! They sure as hell know where to look now. We’ve got to get you farther away from here.”

    Krissy was exhausted, but somehow she moved along with Alessa.

    “You better appreciate how dead I am if they find me with you.”

    “…I’m… sorry…”

    “I don’t need you to be sorry. I need you to be smart. Now pick up the pace!”

    Krissy tried, but it was immensely easier said than done. Somehow she made it close to another mile through the woods before she slowed down so much that Alessa nearly had to lift her to get her to move at all. Her eyes were having trouble focusing and it hurt her throat to breathe.

    Alessa sighed. “I guess we can take a break. Gotta be somewhere out of sight, though.”

    Nearby there was an ancient tree whose roots covered a wide dip in the earth. Alessa lead the way underneath, and when they sat down Krissy collapsed into her side.

    “Still finding it hard to run, huh?”

    Krissy was gasping too hard to answer in words, but she nodded. Alessa rubbed her head and she felt somewhat soothed.

    “I suspected for a while, but if you’re still having trouble after a year of exercise I think you might just have small lungs.”

    Neither of them said anything for a while. At length Krissy’s pulse slowed and her breathing came closer to normal. Only when she was ready to talk did Alessa ask, “So, three questions: have you had any adventures yet, did you meet any cool people, and what the hell were you doing snooping around the mansion?”

    The answers to these questions were inextricably tied together, so Krissy began her explanation with Jason and Travis. She took her time to relay what in her mind were all of the relevant threads to the story. Though she tried, she was still disappointingly unable to fully describe the mechanics of Jason’s uncanny talent for catching wild Pokémon. She devoted so many words to this element of Jason’s character—as well as to Travis’s knack for teaching advanced water-type abilities to young Pokémon—that by comparison the revelation of her crusade against Team Rocket was brief and blunt. If Alessa found anything peculiar about this, or offensive about the fact that they were ostensibly enemies now, she gave no hint of it. The sole major omission in Krissy’s version of the tale was the matter of her new name.

    When she was finished she put emphasis on the most critical point: although she and Travis were not friends as she once suspected, Wyvern still needed rescuing.

    Alessa nodded. “Yeeaaah… that’s not something I’d ask your dad for help with. Still think it’s pretty dumb to try stealing his PKI card.”

    Krissy forgot everything else for the moment and jumped on this clue. “Card? Do you know what it looks like?”

    “Forget it. And before you ask I don’t know where he keeps it, either.”

    “I think it either has to be in his office or on his person. And—”

    “Look. Lucy.” Alessa sounded more serious than Krissy had heard her in years. “Don’t you think this is awfully far to go for someone who’s not even your friend?”

    Krissy hadn’t thought about it this way yet, which she could hardly believe herself. “Well… he’s a friend of a friend, anyway. Friend of maybe-a-friend.” She thought about it for another moment and felt ill. “…Friend of a former friend, maybe.”

    Alessa said nothing. Krissy shook her head and brought herself back to the real reason. “It was my fault. He didn’t want any part of this, and I pushed—well, maybe Jason did most of the actual pushing, but—”

    “It’s not your responsibility what he does with his Pokémon. I’m sorry about what happened—you know I wish we’d only steal from assholes and banks—but his mistake ain’t worth risking your neck.”

    Krissy had predicted that Alessa would react in roughly this way, but she had hoped otherwise. She’d learned about heroes from Alessa’s books in the first place, and a hero knew that their neck existed for risking. She wanted to explain to her that it wasn’t nearly enough to run away from home; she had to be her father’s antithesis, and that meant saving Wyvern. She almost began to say something along these lines, but everything stood still when she heard the sound of snapping twigs not far away. Then there were footsteps, and more than one set of them.

    Alessa put her hand over Krissy’s mouth for a moment, and then she crept forward without making a sound. Krissy stayed where she was and didn’t dare move a muscle, not even for one of her Pokéballs. She could only hope that the other Grunts were unaware of their presence and were only passing through. Alessa held up a finger at her and rose to her feet: it seemed she had a plan.

    “Hey!” she called out to no one Krissy could see. “Anyone seen her yet?”

    For a long second there was nothing. Alessa turned to her left and looked over the edge of the depression, which is why she didn’t see the body flying in from the right. Jason yelled at the top of his lungs as he landed on Alessa’s back and hung on by her neck.

    “Aggh! Who the f*ck—

    Krissy’s jaw dropped. She rushed forward to break them up, but as soon as she was out from under cover a second flying body collided with her and knocked her to the ground. This one was smaller and furrier and proceeded to lick her face. As she tried to remove herself from underneath Rabies someone grabbed her hand and tried to pull her up, but this only threw her physical predicament into further confusion.

    Meanwhile, Alessa continued to rave. “Get off me, you little sh*t!”

    “Never!”

    Bark! Bark!

    “Come on, we’re getting you out of here!”

    Krissy would have liked to explain to Travis that (besides her being stuck under a large puppy) she was in no need of extrication. But she was finding the concept difficult to articulate and had to settle for yelling, “Guys! Guys! Knock it off!

    *********

    It was fifteen minutes later when Krissy felt more acutely awkward than she ever had in her entire life. She was sitting on the ground with Alessa on one side and Jason and Travis on the other. She had meant for them all to sit in a circle, but it ended up being more of a squat triangle as the boys and Alessa mutually refrained from sitting as close to each other as to Krissy.

    At the moment, everyone was staring at her while she was staring at the trees. She had just finished explaining the gist of her situation to Jason and Travis. It hadn’t gone the way she’d imagined it would a year ago. There was no drama, no artfulness to how she’d explained it. It wasn’t nighttime or even raining. She’d said something to the effect of “Mariano Russo is my father. I want to defeat him and get Team Rocket out of Johto someday. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think they’d want to be around me.” It was straightforward. On-the-nose. Boring. You were supposed to at least make poetic use of the third-person when revealing something of such significance.

    She waited, and at great length someone finally said something. It was Jason. “So… do you want us to call you ‘Lucy,’ then?”

    Krissy shook her head.

    “Actually,” said Alessa in an uncharacteristically small voice, “I think I’m the only one who calls her that. It was usually just her proper name. ‘Lucia.’”

    Krissy endured a moment of crushing anticipation before the boys broke into their slowly-building but inevitable laughter. It grew especially loud from Jason.

    Alessa didn’t seem to get what was so funny, yet. “Huh?”

    Then Jason finally said, “You named your starter after yourself!”

    Alessa started laughing her head off immediately. “Omigod, you’re kidding!”

    Travis tried to restrain himself, but he wasn’t doing a good job. “Knew it. I knew that name had to come from somewhere.”

    Krissy wanted to find a hole to hide in.

    “You don’t know the half of it!” said Alessa. This time she was actually addressing the boys directly, and while smiling, no less. “One time when she was younger she was writing a story, like a little fantasy novel, and she named the main characters after me and her even though they were nothing like us! She just couldn’t think of any other names! And then she begged me to come up with the names for all the other characters, and oh my god, Chikorita’s ‘Lucia’ now! That is so her!”

    At the very least, it seemed like this might make the three of them friendlier with each other. Krissy supposed she might survive the embarrassment after all in that case.

    But then Jason asked her, “So wait, what about your name? Who’s ‘Krissy,’ then?”

    No one had said ‘Krissy’ the entire conversation so far. She’d been hoping to get away with just ‘Lucy.’ Alessa covered her mouth with both hands and looked like she might explode from holding the obvious truth back from her mouth. Krissy shot her a look that said, ‘Please, please don’t say anything or I might literally die.’

    In what appeared to take a herculean effort, Alessa removed her hands and said, “No idea.”

    “And none of your business,” added Krissy. She hoped that would be the end of it. The laughter did in fact die down, but what followed was worse in retrospect.

    Travis stared Alessa down. “So are you gonna help us or not?” From the look on his face, you wouldn’t know that he’d been in such a good mood only moments ago.

    Just like that the smile was gone from Alessa’s face as well. “Slow down, pipsqueak. I’m thinking about it.”

    Krissy could see from Jason and Travis’s eyes that they didn’t believe there was anything to think about. She wanted to say that this was Alessa’s livelihood at stake and that the Rockets treated traitors worse than they treated cops. She almost remembered what happened to the last police officer they caught trying to break into a hideout, but something in her brain mercifully stopped her.

    This was far easier for Krissy than it could ever be for Alessa. Krissy had any number of mitigating factors protecting her from fierce retaliation: nepotism, age, perceived threat, et cetera. But Alessa was an adult of no relation to anyone important and she had taken an oath of loyalty. Whatever Krissy had in store if her father caught her was certainly dreadful, but it wouldn’t be lethal. She couldn’t say the same thing with confidence for Alessa. There was no escaping that uniform.

    But she didn’t know how to say any of this without sounding like an apologist. She couldn’t think of anything worse than Jason and Travis seeing her as a defender of Rocket Grunts.

    While she was thinking, another tense silence had settled in. This time Alessa was the one to break it. “Anyway, we still have to get all of you further north for now. They might send out another wave of searchers.” She stood up. This didn’t resolve the situation by any means, but Krissy would take a continuing, pragmatic ceasefire.

    Jason stood up as well, and Travis followed suit after him. “We passed some on the way here,” said Jason. “They just asked if we’d seen anyone and kept moving. They weren’t going the right direction.”

    “Good. Better safe than sorry, though, right? I’ll cook for you guys tonight.”

    With that, the three of them followed her in silence. The things that could lie in store for Alessa hung heavily on Krissy’s mind, and this made her realize she hadn’t thought enough about what might happen to Jason and Travis. Things were never supposed to escalate to this point until they were at least fifteen and could better protect themselves.

    So nothing had really changed since the night before. Krissy was the only one who was anywhere close to safe.

    *********

    Krissy was tired, but she wasn’t asleep. The clouds were too thick for stars and the fire was already out. Everything was as dark as could be. It gave her some small measure of confidence that she could sneak away again. It was the right thing to do, especially now that there was one more person involved. If she was quick enough, then she might just bring everything to a happy end before the others could follow her to the mansion. This plan had seemed like a longshot when she was more awake, but now it was clearly doable.

    She sat up without making a sound. There was another critical difference between this night and the one prior: Alessa’s keys. They were only a few feet to Krissy’s right, and if she could find them then it would all go so much more smoothly. She could get inside the house without anyone’s help. There was still the matter of getting into her father’s office, but she wasn’t the worst lock-pick in the world. This was too good a chance to pass up, and she could save Alessa and the boys so much grief this way.

    She crept as carefully as she could next to Alessa, who was lying on her side. Krissy listened to her breathing pattern. It was regular, which meant she was asleep. If the keys were in her right pocket like Krissy thought, then she could get them without disturbing her. It was going to be simple, she told herself, and it let her keep everyone safe.

    Krissy wiped some sweat from her forehead and dried her hands on her shirt. Then she slowly reached out to where the top of Alessa’s leg was supposed to be. Her fingertips touched her hip. Then before she could move them any further a hand grabbed her wrist so fast and so hard that she thought it would break off. Alessa bolted upright and yanked her closer to her.

    Krissy started to cry out, but she just stopped herself. She couldn’t see a thing, but the way Alessa refused to loosen her grip painted a distinct picture. Krissy imagined a pair of burning eyes that were beyond furious. The way Alessa’s hand twitched and continued to squeeze the life out of Krissy’s wrist said something to the effect of, ‘I told you what would happen if you ever tried this again.’ But Krissy didn’t know whom Alessa was talking to and didn’t want to know; she was just trying to help.

    Alessa pulled her in until her mouth was right next to Krissy’s ear. She whispered, “Don’t mess with sleeping people. Not everyone likes that.” There was acid in her voice that she was clearly trying but failing to keep down. Krissy wanted to say she was one of those people, but now she wasn’t sure she knew what that even meant.

    “Were you after my keys?”

    Krissy barely managed to squeak the word, “Yes…”

    “You realize if I was a little less sharp I would’ve clocked you? Busted your head right in?”

    She did now. “…Yes…”

    “Is this how it’s going to be if I don’t help you or drag you away? You’ll keep pulling stupid, suicidal sh*t until you get that kid’s Seadra back? The one you said ain’t even your friend?”

    “…Yes.”

    Alessa’s hand kept twitching for several seconds, but then it gradually calmed down. “Fine. Go to sleep. We’ll all rest up, and then tomorrow night I’ll sneak you and your friends into the mansion. I’m keeping my keys with me, you’re on your own from there, and you never saw me.”

    Krissy was a little relieved, but she still swallowed. “Jason and Travis too?”

    “You want them to track you down again and ruin everything? Unless you can tie ’em up and leave ’em here, they’re coming too. If you don’t like it, pick some better friends next time.”

    Alessa finally let go. The conversation was over and the matter was settled. Krissy crawled back to her sleeping bag and rubbed her wrist. She didn’t know what was worse: that Alessa was right, or that the boys were going to agree to the plan without a second thought.

    *

    [Next time, in Chapter 8, Jen finds complications for the search from without and within.]

    [Just letting you guys know, the next chapter will take a little longer to get here because I'll be mostly away from the computer for about 10 days in a bit. Thanks so much for reading, and I'll see you soon!]
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      #27    
    Old June 17th, 2017 (12:42 PM).
    Venia Silente's Avatar
    Venia Silente Venia Silente is offline
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      I'm not caught up fully yet, but I like what I am reading. I like that this story has evolved, overall, to be like what I envisioned when I first heard about planning for it. Though I guess I have already said that before. When I got to the letter - the letter... I felt like the portrayal of the characters and the story around them were to shift a little. Like less "bad things just happen to people..." and more "...people can't always do good things". I think it was something in the delivery you gave when and right after Jason decided to not throw the letter, and then the key questions start flowing.

      I'm still hoping to fully catch up to this so I can give better judgment but in the meantime I want to congratulate you because I see the story goes on.
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        #28    
      Old June 17th, 2017 (1:14 PM). Edited June 17th, 2017 by Bay Alexison.
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      Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
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      So I decided to skim through Dad's Old Gym once more to see what changes you did and I think I agree having this be primarily Jen's POV this time around gives this story a more tight focus. There are also some subtle changes I noticed but actually makes the details much richer, like Krissy's father meeting with Jen's father with that dive. There's also the reference to fire safety that gives Jen's father a bit more character. So yeah, I like the changes you did here!

      Onto the latest chapter, I like the interactions between Krissy and Alyssa there, and everyone's reactions to Krissy being bad at names was amusing. Yeah, I agree with Alyssa how Krissy is stubborn to try to get things done without anyone's help, even if it's with good intentions. Looking forward to how this unfolds next.
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        #29    
      Old 1 Week Ago (5:53 AM).
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      bobandbill bobandbill is offline
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      I liked the shorter version of the Dad's Old Gym chapter. Good work with the trimming and keeping it to the one POV, while maybe removing some added neat aspects (e.g. a conversation with Bill, which I suppose has that dynamics earlier in this fic anyway so removing it makes sense) was pretty successful in telling the tale. And your ballpark nostalgia definitely shines through in both versions.

      Newest chapter continues to entertain. Nice to see more on Alessa and a somewhat different side to what we saw from before Krissy left. One can appreciate the trouble she's going through with betraying TR. Looking forward to the next chapter!
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        #30    
      Old 1 Week Ago (9:59 AM).
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      icomeanon6 icomeanon6 is offline
      It's "I Come Anon"
         
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        [Replies to readers' comments in the spoiler tags (there are some spoilers, but they're for prior chapters):

        Spoiler:

        Quote:
        Originally Posted by Venia Silente
        I'm not caught up fully yet, but I like what I am reading. I like that this story has evolved, overall, to be like what I envisioned when I first heard about planning for it. Though I guess I have already said that before. When I got to the letter - the letter... I felt like the portrayal of the characters and the story around them were to shift a little. Like less "bad things just happen to people..." and more "...people can't always do good things". I think it was something in the delivery you gave when and right after Jason decided to not throw the letter, and then the key questions start flowing.

        I'm still hoping to fully catch up to this so I can give better judgment but in the meantime I want to congratulate you because I see the story goes on.
        I like your description of "people can't always do good things," that's apt. Hope you continue to like the trajectory of the story!

        Quote:
        Originally Posted by Bay Alexison
        So I decided to skim through Dad's Old Gym once more to see what changes you did and I think I agree having this be primarily Jen's POV this time around gives this story a more tight focus. There are also some subtle changes I noticed but actually makes the details much richer, like Krissy's father meeting with Jen's father with that dive. There's also the reference to fire safety that gives Jen's father a bit more character. So yeah, I like the changes you did here!
        I'm definitely glad I could swallow my pride and make some needed improvements to it. Also glad that you noticed the little tie-ins. :) Thanks for your feedback on both versions!

        Quote:
        Onto the latest chapter, I like the interactions between Krissy and Alyssa there, and everyone's reactions to Krissy being bad at names was amusing.
        Poor Krissy. For all her serious troubles, she can't escape how silly her problem with names is. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Quote:
        Originally Posted by bobandbill
        I liked the shorter version of the Dad's Old Gym chapter. Good work with the trimming and keeping it to the one POV, while maybe removing some added neat aspects (e.g. a conversation with Bill, which I suppose has that dynamics earlier in this fic anyway so removing it makes sense) was pretty successful in telling the tale. And your ballpark nostalgia definitely shines through in both versions.
        BAALLLPAAARRKS I definitely tried to fix some of Dad's Old Gym by "outsourcing" elements to the rest of the story. Thanks for your feedback both before and after!

        Quote:
        Newest chapter continues to entertain. Nice to see more on Alessa and a somewhat different side to what we saw from before Krissy left. One can appreciate the trouble she's going through with betraying TR. Looking forward to the next chapter!
        I wasn't going out of my way to show a different side of her, but now that I think about it that's what should happen when you try to show the same character under very different circumstances.

        Speaking of the next chapter...


        Thanks for reading!]

        Content Warning: There is a higher density of coarse language in this chapter than in the others.

        Chapter 8

        It was almost noon when Jen was standing outside the Violet City Pokémon Center. She had no way of knowing this, but at that very moment Jason was jumping onto a Rocket Grunt’s back in a desperate attempt to rescue his prodigal friend from what he mistook to be considerable peril. As for Jen, she was handing out fliers to anyone who walked by.

        “Excuse me, sir, have you seen these children? Please call this number if you do. Thank you.”

        “…No, ma’am, I’m afraid we don’t have a picture of the girl. She should be with the boys, though.”

        “You guys seen these trainers before? Well, if you could keep an eye out that’d be real great.”

        This was turning into the same routine that she’d gone through in Cerulean City. She must have talked to hundreds of people by now and handed out twice as many fliers, but no one had seen the kids. It felt like all it was doing was costing her a bundle at the copier store. Even though it was true that she had some small reason to be more optimistic about their chances in Violet City, it was hard to shake off that sense of futility.

        ‘Hanna and Derek said they were here, and that’s that. We’ll find ’em for sure this time.’ Her main partners in the search were not in town at the moment. It had only been a few hours ago that she got the call from them with the news, immediately after which she hopped on the first bus while they presumably passed out to recover from the all-nighter. The plan was that they’d meet up sometime that evening.

        Jen saw that her stack of fliers was growing thin, so that meant it was back to the copy machines, and probably the ATM before that. She looked around as she walked and saw that the number of people out and about for their lunch break was starting to pick up. She hoped to be ready to hand out more fliers before the streets turned quiet again. She was thinking it might be a good idea to try around the Tower District too when something else caught her eye.

        A young woman had just dropped a paper of her own on the cobblestones and was bent over to pick it up. She was wearing all black including a cap that she kept pulled low over her forehead, and her boots were nearly combat-ready. As Jen hadn’t been born yesterday, the fact that her jacket was zipped closed to hide the ‘R’ didn’t fool her for a second. The best thing to do at a time like this was to pretend she was an idiot and walk right past the obvious Grunt as if she were invisible.

        Not that this was easy. Jen stuck her right hand in her pocket to keep herself from making a fist. It sure would have been something if she could get Jason and his friends back just by giving one Rocket a black eye. She began to indulge in a few thoughts of intense (but still restrained and justifiable) violence, which gave her a small case of whiplash when the Grunt stepped in front of her path and said, “’Scuse me.”

        ‘Act normal. Act normal.’ “Yeah?”

        The Grunt held up a flier which bore a single portrait with no description. “You seen this girl?”

        Jen’s eyes nearly bugged out, but she caught herself. It was Krissy’s picture. At least Jen thought it was. It had to be, right? Then again she’d only ever seen her for a little while a few weeks ago. No, it was definitely Krissy. Team Rocket was specifically looking for Krissy. “’Fraid not.”

        “Hmph.”

        The Grunt was about to leave, when a few ideas struck Jen at once. She wanted to be sure beyond any doubt that it was Krissy, and they also really needed a photo. She quickly reached for her phone and asked, “Hey, want me to take a picture of that? My friend knows everyone around here.”

        The young woman hesitated, and her mouth came half-way open but she didn’t say anything. ‘Come on,’ thought Jen. ‘You don’t want to act suspicious either, do you, you evil little b*tch?’ Whether for this reason or because she simply couldn’t find any harm in it, the Grunt did hold up the flier again. Jen snapped a picture of it quickly but casually. Then she put on a look of concern that wasn’t exactly fake, but was perhaps deliberately misdirected.

        “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find her soon.”

        The Grunt nodded, and then walked off at a hurried pace. Jen turned the other direction and did likewise. She wanted to focus on the positive development in that she could change the flier to have all three pictures now, but even she couldn’t pretend that this was nothing compared to how much more drastic the situation the become. She prayed that Team Rocket didn’t know that the kids were probably in the area, because if she had to bet money on who would find them first it wouldn’t be on herself.

        It was when she walked straight past the sign that read ‘Copy, Photo, Print’ that Jen realized her eyes were fixed into a nervous glare. She tried to shake it off. Was it still too early to call Hanna and Derek? ‘Of course not. Sleep be damned—this is an emergency.’

        As Jen took out her phone again to try Hanna first, she went over again in her head who was supposed to know what: Hanna presumably knew a little something about Derek’s job, as she had probably applied her hacker skills to some of Derek’s work data in order to get the information from earlier this morning. Depending on how carefully Derek had selected and redacted his data, he probably still thought that Hanna knew little and Jen knew nothing. Either way, Jen still had to act like she was totally in the dark when she talked to either of them.

        It was getting increasingly difficult to pretend that she hadn’t ‘accidentally’ learned about Derek’s job as an undercover cop when she was seventeen.

        *********

        It was a few hours later when Jen was sitting on the curb by a hotel on the outskirts of town. Two cars drove by and she found herself growing anxious. She was thinking about calling Hanna again when Derek’s truck pulled into the parking lot. Hanna stepped out of the passenger side, rubbed her eyes, and gave a small wave. “I called ahead. You and me are sharing a room.”

        “’Kay.” It worried Jen a little that Hanna still looked this tired. They didn’t exactly have time for rest.

        Derek got out as well and cut to the chase. “If the Rockets are on their trail and they’re in the right city, that means we can’t just go around talking to people. That’s too slow. We need to head into the woods; it’s not likely we’ll find them in the city. Think you can track them with Summer?”

        Jen had to think about it. “I know she’d recognize Rabies’s scent if she found it, but probably not any of the kids’. We’d have to find something that belongs to them, and I didn’t think to get anything last time I was in Cherrygrove.”

        “That’ll have to do. If we’re lucky, Jason’s been using him a bunch. I’m gonna go check in, so let’s meet back here in ten.” With that, Derek darted off for the entrance.

        “He knows we’re checking in, too, right?” asked Jen.

        Hanna shrugged. “Long drive. Don’t think he’s all there. I offered to take a turn at the wheel but he wouldn’t listen. Shall we?”

        Jen was glad to finally have somewhere to drop her bag. When they entered the lobby she just saw Derek rounding a corner and heading to the rooms. It was nice that they were on the same page in terms of the urgency of the situation.

        “Honestly,” said Hanna, “I think we need him to slow down for a minute. You can only go so far on fumes.” Then she yawned before going to the front desk to take care of the typical hotel formalities. Jen found herself shifting from foot to foot in impatience. After what seemed like forever Hanna tossed her a key.

        “So what do—” Hanna was already walking, rather shambling, to their room as Jen started her question. “So what do I owe you?”

        “You don’t.”

        Jen would be lying if she said she hadn’t expected this answer, but that didn’t mean she was going to take it sitting down. “C’mon, don’t do this. Tell me what the bill was.”

        “No, you don’t do this.”

        “Nice comeback.”

        “Whatever.” Hanna struggled with the lock. “I know you don’t like talking money, but I’ve got some and you don’t, so I’m paying and that’s that. Also, I’m bigger than you.”

        Hanna’s facts were all correct, but Jen still didn’t agree with the conclusion. “Okay, so my finances aren’t exactly solid, but I can at least pay myself to be here cause I’m the boss. You said you ran out of vacation a few days ago, right?”

        The door finally opened, and Hanna promptly entered the room and fell face-first onto the bed nearest the door. “Bill’s been more than accommodating.”

        Jen suddenly felt silly for equating Bill to an ordinary employer, and she realized that her latest argument wasn’t much of an argument. If anything, Jen’s extended absence was more detrimental to her future financial prospects than Hanna’s was to hers. “Guess neither of us are really doing ourselves favors at work right now.”

        Hanna rolled over on her back and lifted her head. “You mean ‘none’ of us. There’s three.”

        It took Jen a moment to realize what Hanna meant. She had been taking it as a matter of course that Derek was on the clock. To her knowledge, their efforts were all perfectly within his normal work duties, but of course Hanna wouldn’t know that. To an uninformed observer the natural assumption would be that ‘at work’ for Derek meant a government building in Goldenrod. Jen was really sick of trying to keep track of what everyone supposedly knew. “Right, duh.”

        In any case, Hanna didn’t seem to think it was a big deal. She held up a limp arm as a signal for Jen to help pull her up. She obliged and brought Hanna to her feet with a grunt. “You need more exercise. Getting pretty heavy, there.”

        Hanna acted like she hadn’t heard that. “It’s supposed to rain tomorrow morning. It’ll be tough if we can’t find them tonight.”

        “Hey, we will. I’ve got a good feeling.”

        *********

        It was pouring. The leaves were catching a lot of it, but it was more than enough to put Jen’s spirits in the cellar. She rubbed some of the water off Summer’s nose. No Arcanine was happy in even a drizzle, and now more than ever Jen was regretting that she’d never taught her to use Sunny Day. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to dispel the rain entirely, but it still would have been a huge improvement, and they needed a huge improvement the way things were going. Yesterday afternoon’s search in the forest to the southwest of Violet City had turned up nothing, and the northeast was proving no better so far.

        “Hey,” said Hanna to Derek, “You’re sure we don’t want to bring this back to town for now?”

        Yes. In-town’s still a dead end. I don’t care if we’re out here all day.”

        The two of them didn’t seem much better even after a full night of sleep. Jen couldn’t understand why Derek was so hell-bent on searching for them this way, either. It felt like looking for a needle in a haystack to her. “Look, Derek, Summer’s good but I don’t know if anyone’s good enough to find them with nothing to go on. What are the odds we just stumble on somewhere they had Rabies out?”

        “We won’t have better luck in town. All we’d get are some old leads, if that. Hanna, bring Marie out again; it’s been long enough.”

        His tone was really starting to get under Jen’s skin. As for Hanna, she shook her head but tossed Marie’s ball anyway. The Alakazam stood in a slouch and her arms hung heavy. Marie let out a low, discouraging hum, and Jen noticed Hanna’s eyes widen in a familiar way.

        “No. They’re nowhere close.” Hanna bent down and rubbed Marie’s back. Apparently her Pokémon had been awfully tired lately and she wasn’t getting better. While Derek looked around, probably to decide where to go next, Hanna’s eyes suddenly grew wide again. “Wait.”

        “What is it?” asked Jen and Derek at once.

        “There’s somebody close by. Strangers. She thinks three.”

        Derek’s brow grew tighter. “How close?”

        Hanna paused, and when she spoke again it was in a smaller voice. “Fifty feet west. They’re coming this way.”

        Fifty feet?” Derek was almost whispering now, but it still sounded like he was shouting. “We needed to know that right away! Put your Pokémon away! They might be Rockets!”

        He didn’t have to tell Jen. She just felt lucky to have the cover from the trees and inclines around them, otherwise they might have been spotted already.

        When Summer and Marie were safe in their Pokéballs, Hanna turned on Derek. “Listen, you, this ain’t as easy for her as just looking. It’s not like—”

        “Later! Just follow my lead!”

        Derek began to walk north and gestured for Jen and Hanna to follow. He wasn’t moving at any particular hurry, and Jen assumed this was so that if they were seen it would look like they were simply passing through. She didn’t have time to think about whether it would have been smarter to run off, as she heard from behind: “Hey! You down there!”

        They turned around. Uphill from them were three Grunts who weren’t bothering to hide the letters on their shirts. As the Rockets began to approach, Jen started to consider despite herself how she would handle a battle with them. It was ‘despite herself’ because everyone with a brain knew that the risk of fighting Rockets didn’t go away if you beat some of them once.

        The clear leader of the trio walked right up to Derek with an insufferable swagger about him. “Hey, pal, you seen a kid around here? Girl, ’bout eleven?”

        Jen took some offense at how this pig acted like Derek was the only one here. It almost made her want to point out that Derek didn’t have any Pokémon left and had always been a crappy battler anyway.

        “No.”

        The two Grunts behind the leader—who was perhaps self-appointed—let their heads drop. They certainly weren’t trying to fake any gusto for their job. Mostly they seemed just as tired as Jen was with how the rain kept pelting their heads.

        “That really sucks,” said the leader. “Makes me wish there was some other way you could contribute. Get my drift?”

        Jen looked at Derek’s face. Immediately she felt a knot form in her stomach. He had looked angry a moment ago, and he often looked angry, but there was a tension in his jaw and something in the lines on his face that she was positive she had never seen before. She looked down and saw his fist shake at his side, and then the image filled her head of him beating the Grunt to a pulp. She was this close to moving forward to intervene, but then Derek loosened his fist and reached for his back pocket instead. He pulled out a few large, loose bills.

        Jen supposed it had just been her imagination—hers had always been a little overactive. The Grunt at least didn’t seem to have noticed a thing and took the money while wearing the same sh*t-eating grin as before. “Hey, you’re a smart guy, y’know that?”

        Not a muscle in Derek’s face moved. One of the other two Rockets however looked up and said, “Come on, let’s just keep moving.”

        With an obnoxious chuckle but without another word the first Grunt acquiesced and soon enough all three were out of sight. Jen and company stayed still for a good while afterward, until at length Derek let out a deep breath.

        “I nearly f*cked that up.”

        So Jen hadn’t imagined the whole thing. It wasn’t that she would have felt differently had she been in his shoes—who didn’t ever feel like correcting the shape of a Rocket’s nose? The difference was that she couldn’t see herself being as close to actually following through with it as Derek had just been. He’d always been strong—so had the whole family for that matter—but he’d never been any kind of fighter. “Don’t worry about it,” she said. “We didn’t get in a fight, and that’s all that matters. Went about as well as it could’ve.”

        Hanna nodded her agreement, but Derek didn’t say anything else. They then walked on, and Derek didn’t seem nearly as driven as he had been all morning, rather his feet dragged. When it felt like the right time Jen brought out Summer again, who growled at the ongoing rain but dutifully put her nose to the ground. They continued in no particular direction at a trudge for what felt like twenty minutes.

        Then Summer barked, and they all jumped at the sound. The Arcanine dropped her shoulders and sniffed with more intent than Jen had seen from her in over a year. “Summer? Is it Rabies? Is it your baby boy?”

        After a little more sniffing, Summer barked again and sprung back up. Jen could have cried, and her face broke out into a tremendous smile. Summer took off at a trot in a new direction. They finally had a trail. “Slow down, girl!” Jen turned to the other two. They didn’t quite seem to believe it yet. “We’d better move in slow. We don’t know how they’ll react.”

        “If they’re at the end of the trail, you mean,” said Hanna.

        “Hey, they’re gonna be there! Let’s go!”

        Now Jen took point with Summer, and even though the wind was coming from in front she could have sworn it was at her back. After all the agonizing and hopeless searching she was finally going to bring Jason and his friends home. She wouldn’t have to bring any unspeakable news back to Aunt Meg because this was it. Today was the day, she kept telling herself over and over. She repeated the thought as long as she could until Summer came to a sudden stop by a huge tree. There was a kind of hollow under its roots, but there were no kids there. There was nobody around at all, nor was there any sign of a camp, abandoned or otherwise.

        Jen could only stare as Summer sat at attention. The Arcanine didn’t look exactly happy, but she had clearly followed the scent as far as it went.

        “He must have put Rabies back in his ball here,” said Hanna.

        Derek examined the earth all around. “I don’t see any footprints. That’ll be the rain.”

        Jen felt like an idiot. She thought she’d stopped overreacting to small signs like that years and years ago.

        “Can Summer pick up any other scents?” asked Hanna. “Just anyone who’s been here?”

        Jen looked over at Summer. She knew she could understand Hanna at least that well. As for Summer, she put her nose to the ground again, but pulled her head back up quickly and with finality. “That might be the rain, too,” said Jen.

        Hanna sent out Marie, found nothing, and recalled her after barely any time at all. Then she came near and put her hand on Jen’s shoulder. “Let’s take a break. There’s space under those roots.”

        There was just enough space, she might have said. The ground was muddy and they had to bend their heads down, but the three of them were able to sit out of the rain. Less than an hour ago Derek probably would have shot down the idea of taking a break, but now he just stared into space. It was a familiar look that reminded Jen of when he was a teenager, which wasn’t necessarily encouraging. Several times it looked like he was about to say something, and eventually he did.

        “I think we need to let the police take it from here.”

        Jen could barely register what she’d just heard. When she didn’t say anything, Derek kept going in an attempt to explain himself.

        “I mean, we know they were here now. And if we tell the Violet police about how the Rockets are looking for Krissy they’ll put good people on it.”

        Jen didn’t see how there weren’t already ‘good people’ on it. Of course it was the right idea to tell the police what they’d just learned, but why should they drop their own search? She had to wonder if this was just him trying to get her and Hanna out of the picture while he continued to work on it alone. Maybe there were things he couldn’t do as a cop if they were in the way.

        “…I’m sorry. I also have to get back to Goldenrod. I’ve been away from work for too long.”

        No, he was serious. Derek wasn’t that good of an actor, and Jen knew it. He really intended to go back to whatever his normal duties as an officer were and leave everything to the local police. She felt like there was a boiling kettle in her stomach, and it was getting hard to hold in the steam. How could he seriously consider abandoning Jason to chance? “But…” she said, “…But we’re so close. We’re so much closer than the police have been able to get!”

        Derek put his hand to his forehead. “No, we’re not. We’re not prepared for this, trust me. I meet cops through work sometimes, and they know a hell of a lot more what they’re doing than we do. We need to let the professionals handle this.”

        Jen exploded. Ten years of careful discretion did nothing to keep her from shouting, “That’s you, you bullsh*tting coward!”

        Derek stared at her. He looked almost like she was holding him at gunpoint. Then the quivering fear suddenly gave way to something closer to rage, and he glared at Hanna for some reason. Hanna had been stuck in awkward silence to this point, but now she spoke. “Derek, I didn’t tell her, I swear.”

        Jen twitched. For a reason she could barely grasp, this was nearly as infuriating. “You told her before you told me?”

        Derek twisted his head back to Jen and jabbed a finger in her direction. “I didn’t ‘tell’ anyone, and she’s f*cking blackmailing me!”

        The corner where Hanna sat wasn’t big enough for her to disappear into, but it looked like she wanted to. She didn’t deny the charge.

        Derek took on a deadly serious tone. “Tell me when you found out and exactly how many people you’ve told.”

        There was no ‘if’ in that question, only a ‘how many.’ Jen almost slapped him. “It was last time we were both home for Christmas. I haven’t told a single goddamn person, and I never heard anyone guess.”

        It looked almost as if Derek had come down with a sudden case of stomach flu. Apparently his guess had been far more recent. “Well,” said Jen, “it’s all out in the open now. So what the hell do you mean ‘let the professionals handle this?’”

        And then Derek’s anger was back. “Look, do you want me to say it out loud? This isn’t my assignment, and I’m not allowed to call my own shots. I’m sorry, but this is bigger than just three kids and there’s too much at stake for me to ignore orders. Every day I waste here is putting a much bigger plan at risk.”

        “Let me see if I follow this stupid sh*t: for years and years the only thing you ever said about your job was how f*cking dumb your bosses are and how they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. So now they are worth listening to when that means leaving Jason in a ditch.”

        “Oh, shut up! If he’s in a ditch it’s cause you shoved him there!”

        She hadn’t seen that coming, and she thought for his sake that he’d better have a good explanation for it. “Excuse me?”

        “Why do you think I brought you into this in the first place? It’s because he used to trust you. Used to. But no, you had to throw that out the window as fast as possible. ‘I know! I’ll get my psychic friend to scare the sh*t out of them!’ Great f*cking plan! That’s why we’ll never find them again!”

        Jen almost started screaming about how he wasn’t there and had no idea how that plan actually went down, but she thought of something worse. She had realized what was actually behind Derek’s twisted idea, and it was so much more banal than he was trying to spin it. “So sue me, I tried! And I’m still trying, unlike you! You know what, f*ck it, the kids are trying, even if they’re stupid about it. You know why they’ve done more to hurt Team Rocket than you ever will? It’s cause to get anything done you’d have to stick up to your idiot bosses, which you won’t cause they might fire you and you’re scared to death of f*cking job interviews!”

        This stopped Derek cold, not that Jen gave him much of an opening to respond. “How are you not over this yet? That’s a problem for teens and new grads, not guys in their thirties! Is that seriously why you’ve stuck this long with a job you obviously hate? I can’t believe I was ever proud of you for what you do. You make me sick.”

        Derek’s face was utterly blank. He was staring a thousand miles away again. Then where there had been blankness it looked closer to sadness, but barely. “…You’re right.” He ducked his head, rose to squat, and left the roots to return to the open and the rain. He walked a few paces and then stood still. Slowly it sunk into Jen that she may have just said something that would haunt her for the rest of her life. She looked over at Hanna and saw that her head was buried in her hands.

        Minutes passed. Nobody moved, and the only thing that changed was that Derek was getting wet again. Eventually Jen realized that she had to say something, and probably something that at least resembled an apology. Before she knew what it was, she got up to join Derek. As soon as she was able to stand up straight, however, he spoke again. He sounded calm. “New plan. We’re going to save Wyvern.”

        Not in a million years did Jen expect him to say that. The idea had never even crossed her mind. “What?”

        Derek turned around to face her again. “That’s the only thing that’ll make them come back. They don’t have a shot of getting that key, but I do. We do. Hanna, I’m going to need your help.”

        Hanna got up as well, but she didn’t look remotely convinced. “Even if we get the key, will that work? We can text Travis that we’ve got it, but are they going to believe us?”

        “They will if Bill tells the press that his team’s cracked the Rockets’ new Pokéballs. Then we just have to tell the kids to read the news. It’s what they want to hear, and they’ll believe it. And we’re not going to trick them. We can do this the right way.”

        Hanna bit her lip for a moment. “And you’re sure you can do it?”

        “Yes.”

        Jen found it hard to believe, but it wasn’t like Derek to overstate his confidence about anything, much less something this dire. He continued. “There’s a Grunt who works directly for Russo who owes me. It’ll only work once, but he’ll get me inside the facility under Russo’s manor. Their network isn’t connected to the public internet, but everything I’ve heard suggests that once you have access to it their security sucks.”

        Now Hanna lifted her eyes up. The gears seemed to be turning inside her head.

        “If you can handle it,” said Derek, “I can call you when I get alone with one of the machines. Then you and Marie track my phone, teleport in, do your thing, and we’re out with the key and all the other data you can pull in ten minutes.”

        Jen wasn’t happy with one of the conditions of that plan. “And you’re sure you can find an unsupervised computer?”

        “Almost sure. But I’ve been getting ready to pull this kind of operation for years. But like I said, it’ll only work once. Soon as they know I’m not actually selling out the police then that’s the rest of my assignment out the window. This plan means cashing in for me, and if I’m lucky the police will think it was worth it. So are you and Marie up for it, Hanna?”

        “…Yeah. Should be no problem.”

        Jen swallowed. “I’m coming too.”

        Derek answered immediately as if he had read her mind. “No way in hell.”

        “What if things go south? Marie’s in no shape to fight, but Summer is.”

        “I have a Pokémon. We’ll be fine.”

        Somehow Jen hadn’t seriously considered this possibility, but she played it off. “One Pokémon’s never enough. Everyone knows that.”

        Derek shook his head, but to Jen’s surprise he said, “Fine. You’re right. But if you and Hanna get in serious trouble, Marie’s taking you out of there right away. And the plan is that nobody needs to fight at all.”

        ‘You mean she’ll be taking all of us out of there right away,’ Jen thought to say, but she didn’t push it. Derek was the professional, after all. “How soon can you make this happen?”

        “Tomorrow morning. I need some time to get ready, and we could use a good night’s sleep first.”

        Jen looked at Derek and Hanna, and Hanna especially seemed almost as confident as Jen had been when Summer found the trail. She had to wonder though if this was how Jason and his friends had felt when they first decided to pick a fight with Team Rocket. But then they were just kids, while Derek and Hanna were experts. This was going to work.

        *********

        It was past midnight when Travis had his back to a tree. A short ways behind him stood the biggest house he had ever seen. To his left was Jason, to his right was Krissy, and standing by another tree was the Grunt, Alessa. Nobody made a sound. The stillness lasted at least ten minutes, and then he heard a heavy door open and shut. With that, Alessa crept over to the three of them and whispered, “That’s the guard’s nightly bathroom break. There won’t be anyone watching for about five minutes. I’m going to open the door, and then I’ll signal each of you over one at a time.” She switched her small flashlight on and off. The beam was narrow. “You first, then you, then you.” She pointed at Travis, Jason, and Krissy in that order.

        There was no debate. This part of the mission was entirely in the Grunt’s hands, as much as Travis hated to admit it. He didn’t understand why they had to go one at a time, though. In any case, Alessa moved as quickly and quietly across the lit clearing as she could, unlocked the door, and disappeared. Several long seconds passed, and then Travis saw the signal. He had to move. It took a moment of hesitation, but he willed himself to cross the gap. He could only hope that nobody who was still awake was watching from one of the windows.

        As soon as he was through the door someone grabbed his shoulder and he nearly cried out. It was just Alessa, of course, but that didn’t keep his heartrate from spiking. He was about to move away from the entrance, but she held him in place. Then she made him face her and whispered, “Do you know what you’re getting into, here?”

        It didn’t seem like the perfect time to ask that question. Travis’s eyes strayed up and down the long hallway they were standing in. There was a dim light coming in from outside, but at the edge of his vision it was pitch black.

        “Answer me.”

        “Yes.”

        “Are you willing to do anything to get your Pokémon back? And I mean anything.”

        Travis didn’t like that she was willing to burn so much time on this. “Why?”

        “Because you might have to.”

        Something was crawling up Travis’s throat. Despite that, the answer was obvious. Wyvern came first. “Yes.”

        Alessa stared him in the face with a deep crease in her brow. He got the feeling she didn’t believe him. “One piece of advice, cause I feel sorry for you. If you end up facing Russo, don’t look him in the eye.”

        Travis didn’t know what to make of this. “Why not?”

        “Cause that’s what he wants you to do.”

        Alessa nudged him over to the side, and then signaled Jason. He came in a flash, but he got no words from Alessa before it was Krissy’s turn. Then there they all were huddled just inside the house. Alessa looked them over one last time and said, “Remember: you never saw me. Good luck.” She bent down and gave Krissy a quick one-armed hug. Travis wondered how Krissy could stand to let a Rocket touch her that closely, friend or no. Just how badly had they messed her up?

        Alessa hustled out the door and closed it as quietly as she could. Travis could feel the clock ticking as Krissy waved her hand and hurried them down the hallway.

        *

        [Next time, in Hubris Island, young Hanna overestimates herself and underestimates another.]

        [As a little roadmarking, the next two installments will be the last of the stand-alone chapters. After that the last four chapters are all numbered. Also, if you look a few lines down you can see Hubris Island at the top of the one-shots in my sig, but I'd suggest waiting about a week and a half to read it here.]
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          #31    
        Old 1 Week Ago (7:56 PM).
        Bay Alexison's Avatar
        Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
        O, Dance of Devotion!
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        That was a close one the three had with those grunts there. Oh ouch over Jen's burn to Derek over him not standing up to his bosses. I don't blame Jen for being tired of him unable to do that. At least that snaps Derek into getting a plan in action. Am looking forward to see if Travis will have to face the possibility if he'll do anything to get his Pokemon in the off chance he meets Russo.
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        Old 4 Days Ago (6:10 PM).
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        icomeanon6 icomeanon6 is offline
        It's "I Come Anon"
           
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          [Reply to Bay's comments in the spoiler tags:
          Spoiler:
          Quote:
          Originally Posted by Baaaaay!
          Oh ouch over Jen's burn to Derek over him not standing up to his bosses. I don't blame Jen for being tired of him unable to do that. At least that snaps Derek into getting a plan in action.
          I don't blame her either! Part of my idea with Derek is that it's easy for him to get mired in his own anxieties because he keeps everyone at arm's distance, so it's rare that anyone tells him what he needs to hear.

          A quick note on this chapter: this is a slightly-revised version of a one-shot I wrote for the Art/Writing collaboration event last year (which was super fun and I would be hella down to do again). I've chosen to present it here without the illustrations because the rest of the fic is text-only, but if you want to see the artwork that sp00kyskeleton prepared to accompany it, you can find it in the original thread. I'd recommend reading the chapter here first, though.

          Thanks for reading!]


          Hubris Island

          August, 2002

          Hanna had hoped she wouldn’t be fifteen years old yet, but as of a month ago she was. She had also hoped that she’d be able to enjoy this excursion to the Whirl Islands without worrying about her age, but there was little chance of that now. She tried to distract herself with the wide, cloudless sky and the salt breeze coming off the water, but it was no good. Then their little sailboat hit a small wave that sent some thick spray into her face, and she spat over the side.

          “Hey Derek,” said Jen, “What’s with all the turbulence? I thought you were supposed to be good at this.”

          “Keep it up and the ride isn’t going to be free anymore.”

          Jen just laughed. She tended to give her big brother a hard time, and Hanna thought it was to his credit that he let her get away with it as much as he did. At the moment Derek was leaning off the edge of the boat to balance the sail. Hanna was pretty sure he was nineteen, and today she saw a whole new side of him: specifically that he looked pretty good in an undershirt that was a size too small. It drew the eyes away from his face, which always bore a dull expression that stood somewhere in the range between vacant and irked.

          “Don’t worry, Hanna. Jen’s paying for your ticket, too,” he said, which snapped her attention away from his abs and back to his painfully boring face. “By the way—”

          Then he paused. Hanna had noticed that when most people might go ‘uhh…’ or ‘so, like…’ Derek just said nothing and took on a thousand-mile stare before he found whatever it was he wanted to say. Finally he continued. “You’re almost done, right?”

          Jen answered for her. “Yeah. She got accepted to Nerd School, Goldenrod Campus.”

          Hanna sighed. “Nobody keeps journeying forever.”

          “We’ll see about that.”

          Hanna could believe that Jen intended to stay on her Pokémon journey indefinitely, if only because she was still thirteen and nobody had confronted her about her future yet. One day of course she’d have to move on, whether that meant going to school like Hanna or starting a career like her brother—whatever it was he did for a living. He never gave a clear answer when they asked about that.

          “The real question,” said the aforementioned brother, “is who we’re going to find to babysit you next.”

          Jen stuck out her tongue at him as she took off her glasses to wipe away some of the spray. Then the boat hit another wave and she had to juggle to keep from dropping them.

          “Isn’t that your fifth pair since you left home?” asked Derek.

          “As if. I haven’t lost any since we went to Cinnabar, and that was like last year.”

          “I remember that,” said Hanna. “You tried to find them in some volcanic mud, and then I had to pull you out of the mud.”

          “Hey! That was a secret!”

          Jen pouted, but Hanna could tell she was still having fun. After spending over three years in close proximity it was never a mystery to her when Jen was actually upset. And sure enough, moments later Jen was staring at the sea and practically jumping out of her skin in excitement. “Hey! It’s a Mantine!”

          “Don’t rock the boat!”

          Hanna leaned forward to see the Mantine and took care not to agitate Derek any further. She had never seen one in person, but its huge fins that were stretched out like a kite were unmistakable. It surfed alongside them for a few seconds, but then it sped ahead and suddenly there was air under its fins. It rose a solid two feet above the water and stayed at that level for at least a dozen yards before it dove back under the surface.

          “Wow,” said Jen. “I’m so catching one of those today. It’ll be a great chance to use my new Ampharos, too.”

          “No, it won’t,” said Hanna and Derek together.

          “Huh?”

          “You tell her, Hanna. I’m trying to concentrate.”

          Jen looked at Hanna like there was no way she’d be able to explain why using an electric type was a poor decision in this case. So Hanna leaned back again and began to deliver the lesson. “When it comes to matchups against electric-types, Mantine’s more similar to Gyarados than to other water Pokémon. Those fins act like wings, so electric moves don’t just take advantage of conductivity: they also lock up the ‘wings.’ Any fully-evolved electric-type will probably knock a wild Mantine out in one hit, which is great if it’s trying to kill you but not so much if you want a new Pokéball to register it.”

          Jen stared at her older companion in amazement. Hanna wasn’t finished, however. “On top of that, I’ve seen your new Ampharos, and the guy who traded her to you was a terrible disciplinarian. If you try telling her to use an electric attack around the ocean—salt water is more conductive, by the way—she’s going to spray electricity everywhere and then I’ll have to take you to the hospital.”

          Now Jen was turning a little red, but she tried to play it off. “Yeah, good point. That’ll make it tough, though. Other than Ampharos all I’ve got is fire-types and that new Staryu for Surf. I guess Summer’s strong enough that she could deal, but hmm…”

          “Duck,” said Derek.

          Hanna and Jen both ducked as Derek adjusted their course and let the sail’s boom swing over their heads. “About that Staryu,” he said, “You’re drawing attention to the fact that you didn’t really need my help to make your way out here.”

          “Why wouldn’t we want your help when boats are fun and you’re so nice?” asked Jen with a sneer.

          “Correction: boats are fun when you don’t have to pilot them and worry about how to get around rocks and whirlpools. This isn’t a joyride—I’m here for work.”

          “What’s a boat ride got to do with your so-called ‘work?’”

          “You don’t need to know that.”

          While the siblings went back and forth, Hanna looked to the horizon and zoned out. Spotting a Mantine may have been captivating enough for Jen, but not for Hanna. She’d seen countless new Pokémon after five years on the trail, but she was running out of time to encounter any that were truly special. The fact was that only Jen was here for fun. Hanna wanted to find a Pokémon that nobody had seen for generations, if ever, and which was rumored to reside nearby. She wanted to fill one of the obvious gaps in the Pokédex before she had to leave the world of nature and Pokémon for who knew how long.

          She wanted to see Lugia just one time.

          *********

          Hanna, Jen, and Jen’s Arcanine were standing on a shallow beach that belonged to a rocky island that was dominated by a small mountain. It was almost noon, and Hanna could just see Derek’s sailboat receding into the distance. She still wondered where exactly he was going and what he was going to do there, but she wasn’t going to lose sleep over it.

          Jen stretched, smiled, and soaked in the sun before asking Hanna, “You’re sure you want to split up?”

          Hanna nodded. “I don’t want to get in the way of your fun.”

          “Fine, as long as you’re still having fun yourself.”

          Hanna didn’t want to say outright that she only cared about finding Lugia and not whether it was a good time, or even that it wasn’t boring. “Hmm.”

          “Cause you know you got, like, a one in a million chance of seeing Lugia—if there’s a Lugia. And I’d say that’s fifty-fifty so we’ll call it one in two million?”

          Hanna rolled her eyes and tried to signal with her posture that she was about to walk off. “Don’t make Summer go too deep in the water.”

          “Jeeze, I know that much. Don’t I, Summer?”

          Summer barked in an expression of total confidence in her trainer. Hanna wished she could share the sentiment and started to stroll down the beach. “Let’s meet back here before sunset.”

          “’Kay! Gimme a shout if you find him!”

          Hanna kept walking until she could no longer hear the splashing and the barking. She shook her head. How was she ever going to leave Jen to continue her journey by herself if she was worried about leaving her alone for one afternoon? It seemed like every day she had to stop her from doing something stupid, and every week she had to fix the mess from some stupid thing she ended up doing anyway. Jen was such an impulsive little kid.

          Of course, all this reminded Hanna of the only thought worse than that of leaving Jen unsupervised: in a few weeks she wouldn’t have Jen around to remind her to smile now and then. So she shook her head again and thought about how she might track down this legendary Pokémon.

          On the other side of the island there was a cave which connected underground to several other islands, according to Hanna’s prior research. If Lugia was down there, it would take Hanna way too long to find it. She needed a less obvious but more precise lead than that, and she was thinking it had to do with the sea and the sky. For that reason she wanted a better view, so she decided to leave the beach and start climbing. The island’s mountain was far too steep for her to reach the summit, but there were conspicuous outcroppings that would suffice.

          It was easy going at first as the base of the mountain consisted mostly of smooth boulders that rose only gradually. Hanna wondered if the tide sometimes reached this far up. Past the boulders the rise in elevation became much sharper and she had to put a hand on the mountainside to navigate the narrow way that wasn’t quite a trail. She decided she was right to leave her Pokémon in their balls today. Her Kadabra, Marie, in particular hated high places with poor footing.

          When she reached a relatively broad shelf she took a break and looked out to the horizon. The sun was still bright overhead, but there were a good number of clouds in the distance near one of the other islands. She could see a few whirlpools between shelves of rock, and nothing was out of the ordinary. It was about as good a day as you could ask from the Whirl Islands.

          In a bit of absent-mindedness, Hanna found herself taking out her Pokédex. She had read everything it had to say about Lugia a thousand times, so she figured a thousand and one times wouldn’t hurt. When she pulled up the page, Dexter began to narrate automatically.

          “Lugia is said to be the guardian of—”

          Hanna hit the skip button to shut him up so she could read in peace. There was little to read though besides vague conjecture and myth. The one solid fact it cited was that it was a flying-type, but there was disagreement as to whether it also had water-based or psychic qualities. The only image in the database was a crude illustration, and Hanna thought the hand-like wings depicted therein were probably ancient artistic license.

          Most of the things Hanna had ever learned about Lugia were, of course, legend. The key take-away though was that all of these legends focused on or at least made reference to the weather. It was possible that the alleged sightings in the Whirl Islands were baseless rumors that only seemed plausible because of the area’s unpredictable winds and currents. But at the same time, any other place in Johto seemed like even more of a stretch. If Lugia was anywhere to be found, it was here.

          With that in mind, Hanna decided she would spend at least an hour watching the air and the water for anything unnatural. If she was lucky she might catch Lugia on the move, and it seemed like a better bet than stumbling in the dark caves to find it sleeping. In this sense, it was a shame that the weather was so nice. So for some time Hanna fixed her eyes on distant clouds and whirlpools. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, though.

          Then after thirty-odd minutes had passed, something caught Hanna in the corner of her eye. They were mostly hidden by the mountain behind her, but there were some new, tall clouds that weren’t so far away from the island. It took her a while to figure out what was off about them, but then she noticed that they seemed to rolling more vertically than horizontally. She felt a small burst of optimism and knew she had to get a better look. There was a terribly thin path leading away from the shelf and further up the mountain in that direction, so she took it. Around a bend she came across an even shallower shelf than the first one, but one that provided a perfect view of these new clouds.

          Hanna sat down with her back to the wall and her legs dangling over the edge to observe the anomaly. She had never seen a cloud formation like it. It was almost as if she were looking at clouds from above; as if someone had turned them ninety degrees vertically. The shadows didn’t make any sense either. They seemed to move independently of any clouds or anything else. It all spun much like the whirlpools that were all around the sea, only much slower. The sight of it had her mesmerized.

          She thought about pulling out her notebook to take a sketch, but she wasn’t comfortable with managing her backpack in this position. Instead she continued to look at the clouds with a measure of hope that Lugia or something like Lugia might have something to do with this. Then she thought about pulling out her notebook to take a sketch, but stopped when she realized she’d just thought about that, which was weird. She was probably thinking in strange ways because of how the horizon would spin along with the clouds until she realized that was impossible and blinked, only for it to start again every time. On top of that, it was tiring the way the shades of gray shifted and spun and made her vision slip out of focus.

          All of this made Hanna decide she could probably continue to monitor the peculiarities with her eyes closed.

          *********

          Hanna didn’t want to be asleep anymore. It may have been dark enough, but it was terribly loud and oddly wet. A small part of her that she never made known to anyone was worried that she’d wet the bed, but that hadn’t happened in a number of years, the exact number of which was absolutely nobody’s business. Besides, the wetness was all over and it was cold rather than warm, so that couldn’t be it. Since her mind was still hazy, this provided a small amount of comfort. But then she opened her eyes, the relief vanished, and she screamed at the top of her lungs.

          It felt like a typhoon. The sun was gone, the rain was coming down in sheets, and the wind was blowing in her face at what felt like twenty miles an hour. She was still sitting in the same spot and holding on for dear life.

          She tried not to panic. She tried not to think about how the beach was now completely covered by the tide, or how it would be suicide to try the path down when it was wet, or how jumping would also kill her whether from the rocks or the water. She was stuck. And even if she weren’t stuck she was far too terrified to move.

          All she could do was sit there and grip the edge beneath her with white knuckles. It was five minutes or five hours later when she thought she heard something besides the wind and the hammering raindrops. It was her name. She brought herself to look down, and she could just spot Jen riding on a Pokémon beneath her.

          …ump!…Jum…!

          Hanna couldn’t believe what she was hearing. How on earth was she supposed to jump? “No!” she yelled back. “You’re crazy!

          Jen kept trying to coax her, but Hanna knew that even her survival instinct was smarter than Jen. There was no way she could move now.

          …old on!…ust……econd!

          Jen was up to something. Hanna saw that she was getting her Pokémon to swim in an oval, gradually picking up speed. The water was rising. If Jen was trying to use Surf to raise the tide enough for her to jump in, that was insane. The Mantine could never get the water high enough for her to survive. Hanna closed her eyes and wished it would all go away. There were some warm drops on her face now among the cold ones, which must have been tears.

          When Hanna opened her eyes, something had indeed gone away: Jen. She wasn’t in the water anymore. But she wasn’t drowning: it was only in the upper right corner of her eye that Hanna caught her.

          They were flying. The Mantine had grabbed the wind and was leaning into it to climb fast. It was almost as high up as Hanna was, but its trajectory looked like it would hit the mountain well below and away from her. Jen leaned as far as she could in one direction without falling, and shouted something. The Mantine pulled off so it was flying nearly parallel to the cliff face, and it kept on climbing.

          Then Hanna was looking slightly up at Jen. She couldn’t see her face clearly, but her posture was hard and steady like steel. Her friend pulled slightly at Mantine’s face so that for just a moment it stalled. The Pokémon was hanging nearly still in midair seven feet away from Hanna. Jen wasted no time. She rose to her feet, and then she jumped into space. With a grunt, she somehow managed to hug the wall of the mountain instead of bouncing off of it. She immediately found her footing, and now the two of them were on the shelf together.

          Hanna looked up at Jen in utter astonishment. Jen’s breathing was rough but she didn’t seem rattled in the least. She stuck out her hand. “Come on, get up!”

          Hanna’s right hand felt weak and she didn’t want to let go of the rock, but she managed to reach out to Jen’s. Jen left nothing to chance and grabbed her forearm. Hanna suddenly felt immensely glad that Jen wore those fingerless gloves everywhere. Now it felt like it might be possible to get out of there. Hanna slowly raised one of her legs and tried to keep her balance toward the wall. She had one foot on the shelf.

          It gave way. Hanna’s foot slipped and everything immediately slowed down as her brain processed the beginning of a freefall. There was nothing beneath her but air.

          Then with a jerk she stopped. Her arm nearly fell out of its socket, but Hanna was not falling. Jen was still holding on. Hanna was all spun around and her left hand and her feet had nothing, but Jen was somehow handling the whole thing. When Hanna finally looked up, she saw Jen on one knee. She had a death grip on the mountain wall with her other hand. Her eyes were closed and her teeth were clenched.

          As Hanna’s arm began to rise again and the rest of her body with it, only one thought passed through her mind: ‘When? When did she get this strong?’

          Her wits returned to her, and Hanna found the wall and helped pull herself up the rest of the way. They were both standing on the shelf now. The rain and the wind were still belting them without mercy and they were out of breath, but for the moment they were okay.

          Jen turned them around to face the sea, and she shouted down to the Mantine who had glided back to the water. “Surf! As hard as you can! Surf!

          Hanna watched as the Mantine obeyed. To the naked eye it looked like it was just swimming around, but any experienced trainer could tell that it was powering the stronger waves that were now hitting the mountain, each one starting and ending taller than the last.

          “We need good timing, but it’ll work!” yelled Jen over the gale. “Link arms! Here we go!”

          At this point Hanna would believe anything Jen told her. They pulled tight with their elbows so they were locked together. When she looked down again, Hanna’s gut told her there was no way the waves were tall enough to catch them right, but they were committed now.

          “Ready?” Jen didn’t wait for an answer. Hanna braced herself.

          “One! Two!

          Jen was interrupted. From twenty feet to their right and ten feet above them there came a crack that blew out Hanna’s ears and a flash that struck her blind. Something was pinching her from her toes to her chest, and it felt like every hair on her head was standing erect. As her sight came back in a haze, she looked over and saw a small tree sticking out of the mountain that was now on fire. Her heart was in her throat along with her tongue.

          Hanna vaguely heard a voice that sounded like counting, and on ‘three’ her body moved on its own. She was falling. Someone’s arm was in hers though, so it didn’t quite register as falling. Then something shocked her feet and she was underwater. The water was moving fast and pulled her forward and away from the mountain. Something shined in front of her face, and for a moment it looked like a pair of glasses floating away, never to be worn again.

          At last, something smooth came up from beneath her. It pushed her up and over the surface again. It was only now apparent to her that the arm was Jen’s and that the smooth thing beneath them was the Mantine. The storm showed no signs of stopping, but they were riding away from the island.

          *********

          It was around midnight when Hanna and Jen staggered up to the Cianwood City Pokémon Center. They were soaked to the bone and still speechless after hours of trying to keep balance on Jen’s new Mantine, to say nothing of the preceding ordeal. Jen tried to take off her glasses which weren’t there, and then just rubbed her eyes and yawned.

          Hanna was immediately relieved when they passed through the automatic doors and into the bright, warm building. She was so relieved that she almost walked right into the man who was trying to leave at the same time.

          “Oh, uh…”

          Hanna looked up. It was Derek. Suddenly she woke up a bit and found herself acutely aware that she was wearing a white shirt and that it was drenched. To her dismay it occurred to her that her bra must have been on full display right in front of him. She resisted the urge to look down and check, and instead crossed her arms over her chest as quickly but casually as she could.

          Then she looked more closely at Jen’s older brother, and noticed what she had missed in her momentary panic: Derek looked beyond awful. He had a black eye, a swollen cheek, a cut around the corner of his mouth, claw-shaped holes in his shirt, a bandaged hand, more claw-shaped holes near the crotch of his pants that revealed his boxers, and last but not least a missing shoe.

          Hanna, Jen, and Derek stood still for a while. Between all the visible (but obfuscated) underwear, Derek’s various injuries, and Jen’s conspicuously absent glasses, it seemed inevitable that somebody would lead things off with a question.

          At length, Derek did so: “Anything happen?”

          Jen shook her head. “Uh… no, not really. You?”

          “Nah.”

          Jen waited a beat. “’Kay.”

          “Yeah.”

          Derek walked past them and out the door without another word. Likewise, the two girls walked to the front desk without another word so Jen could drop off her Pokémon and so they could ask for some towels. Then they stopped by the vending machines to buy some hot chocolate and found two comfortable chairs to collapse in.

          It was fifteen minutes later when they finished their drinks and looked each other in the eye. Then Jen broke out laughing.

          “Hey,” she said, “I think there’s, like, a lesson here about hub-reese.”

          “It’s ‘hue-briss,’” said Hanna, who stared at the floor and rubbed her forehead. Pronunciation aside, she wasn’t sure Jen had the right word. ‘Hubris’ referred specifically to a misplaced confidence in oneself in the face of fate or the divine. But that didn’t describe an unmerited lack of confidence in a peer, especially a peer you mistook for a dependent. In any case, Hanna was about to admit that some credit was long overdue, and that much talk about ‘babysitting’ had to be taken back. But Jen kept talking before she had a chance.

          “That’s legendary Pokémon for you. I bet that’s how they get their kicks—you know, trying to scare the crap out of anyone who thinks they got what it takes to find them.”

          Hanna jerked her head up again. She didn’t know what to say. Surely that couldn’t be Jen’s only takeaway from all this. That wasn’t right at all. “Yeah,” said Hanna regardless. “They don’t mess around.”

          They fell back into silence. It was a silence that was uneasy for Hanna, even though it seemed perfectly easy for Jen. Hanna knew she had to make it right, even if Jen was letting her off the hook. Rather, especially if Jen was letting her off the hook.

          “I was thinking,” said Hanna, “After… When I head off to school, you ought to team up with someone younger. Maybe some new trainers you can show to ropes to.”

          Jen stared at her wide-eyed, as if the thought had never crossed her mind. “You really think so?”

          Hanna did think so. Maybe she thought that Jen would have to slow down and think a little more if that was the road she was going to take, but there was no doubt she’d make the adjustment.

          “Mull it over. I think it’ll be a good change of pace for you.”

          Jen was blank for a moment. Then she sat back, stared at the ceiling, and smiled.

          Hanna decided she would leave it at that for now. School was still a few weeks away, and it wasn’t like she wanted to start saying goodbye.

          *

          [Next time, in Wyvern, Travis struggles to act like he cares about gym badges.]
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