Chapter 2: Privé Fille / Private Girl
Celosia's mood darkened over the next few days, almost to the point of being unbearable. It was bad enough that Aliana had skipped away with her date (who she had indeed planned on legally robbing at the restaurant). But what was infinitely worse was that Bryony – her fashionable, playful partner in crime – was secretly dating someone.
Someone she was hiding from her fellow Flare sisters. Someone who may even be making her soft, perish the thought. After all, why else would the emerald scientist be so quiet? And it wasn't so long ago that they would all gather in their break room and discuss the importance of how endowed a date had to be. And that poor schmuck of a guard who had to monitor them in their off hours would be forever scarred. At least that was the game they all played.
But Bryony was irritably good at keeping cool, shrugging off Celosia's nagging questions and focusing more on her research than normal.
"Gimme a hint," Celosia had pleaded one day.
"You've already had one, and you're a shitty scientist if you missed it," Bryony replied, before smiling sweetly. "But you'll find another swimmer some day."
So, effectively cut off from Bryony's love life, and a lack of anything interesting in her own, Celosia moodily buried herself in research. Their shared lab was functional, if not fashionable, and she could study these so called "Mega Evolution" paths that had become established recently.
Peace managed to return to their "community service" work place.
Until Professor Sycamore came calling a few days later.
"This really is unusual circumstances, Professor." Known more by the nickname of "the Warden" than the overseer she really was, Claudette adjusted her glasses and motioned for the famed Kalos researcher to take a seat.
"Merci," he said happily, immediately getting comfortable and scratching his whiskered cheek. "Madame Claudette, unusual is just another name for opportunity." With a flourish, Sycamore produced a roughly drawn map with a cross in the mountains.
"With the funds that have been recovered from Lysandre's accounts, we have already been granted the deeds to establish a new research lab in East Kalos. And with respect, I want one of these young women to head that lab." The affable Professor relaxed, smiling broadly. Claudette was less than impressed.
"Professor Sycamore, these women are convicted criminals. You and I both know that their positions on these premises are another form of community service." She pushed the sketched map aside. The only perk she saw was how remote it was. It would be good to split up their little group, if only to stem the constant harassment claims that the guards filed. The purple-haired one in particular was being a pain lately.
"Precisely," he said, motioning with his hand while leaning forward. "Just think of it – these women were once working for a criminal organization. And now, they could be working for the greater good. Using the same money that was once funding their activities, no less." Sycamore clasped his hands, eyebrows quirking as his excitement grew.
"Just think of the message it sends – centuries ago, Kalos invented the guillotine. And now its rehabilitation rate is second to none. And you can't deny that these ladies have talent!"
"These ladies have an obsession with their hair," Claudette said, her patience beginning to run its course. Pushing her chair out, she motioned for him to follow her as she strode towards the window overlooking the facility.
"Shall we review your 'ladies,' Professor?" Sycamore said nothing, sticking his hands in his pockets and standing aside. It was clear by now she had no intention of waiting for him to answer her.
"Let's start with Aliana," she said, pointing towards a corner of the facility where a redhead was tapping away on a tablet with a stylus. "Field of study? Power sources and renewable energy. Years ago, she was in charge of a raid on our Power Plant, leaving most of our city in a blackout. She claims she can't use keyboards because it will chip a nail."
Sycamore was about to speak, probably about the power of the justice system, but Claudette spoke over him, instead pointing towards a woman with bright blue hair.
"Next we have Mable. Her studies are primarily in weather and how they effect different Pokémon." He nodded thoughtfully, pleased with this rather interesting line of research.
"She was found guilty of provoking a native Abomasnow in a frost cavern, which caused a blizzard to fall on the neighbouring town and cut off routes of travel. Never, ever make fun of her braids, or she'll throw hot coffee in your face."
By now even Sycamore was frowning. He had known of their involvement with Team Flare, but the nature of their individual crimes under the organization had been left out. Still, those events were, as pointed out, years ago. And he had faith in what he had been hearing of their good behaviour bond.
"Then we have Bryony," she said, nodding towards a woman with a head of emerald hair, looking bored while adjusting a monitor and scribbling down some numbers. "Good with gadgets, providing she finds them fashionable. She was able to alter standard Pokéball's to mass capture. She wouldn't be so bad on her own, but sadly-" Claudette pointed towards the final girl, with cropped purple hair and a scowl on her face as she typed away at a screen.
"She's part of a matching pair. Meet Celosia. Together they robbed the Pokéball factory. Tragically, this one does enough badmouthing for the both of them. I'd tell you she was a genius if I thought you'd take her off my hands, but I wouldn't want to insult you."
The introductions done, Claudette crossed her arms and shook her head.
"Professor, I'm sure these women are intelligent, and they may have even been swayed by Lysandre's promises years ago. But it doesn't change the fact that they're a bunch of bratty girl criminals." Her frown deepened as she saw him nodding passively, as if she were talking about something as interesting as the odds of it raining later. "If you put any of them in charge of a solo project, you're inviting trouble."
She wasn't surprised when he smiled, eyes crinkling with mirth.
"Désolé, Claudette," he apologised, "But the final choice is mine. And one of these ladies will be the head of a new research team."
Claudette shook her head, sighing in frustration.
"Then do yourself a favour – don't give them an attractive assistant, or the most you'll get is a scandal."
The next day, Sycamore took one of his assistants and made himself formally known to the former Flare's, hands tucked behind his back and beaming. Claudette sighed, pushing her glasses up her nose before demanding their attention.
"We have some guests," she announced, motioning towards the pair. "Our regional Professor, Sycamore, and-"
"Oh, we know him," Mable accused, crossing her arms over her lab coat and sniffing. Beside Sycamore, Calem adopted a similar passive look and remained silent.
"I hope you don't mind our intrusion," the Professor began, amusement tinting his words as much as his Kalos accent always did. "But I'm here to discuss your possible future and your rehabilitation, and thought perhaps my young guest here could shed some light on that issue."
The purple haired woman, Celosia he thought, snorted and looked away, but he felt it was a good sign that the others managed to stay calm. The redhead even seemed to find it amusing.
"It's been a long time since our date in the Power Plant, non?" she called out, and Calem managed not to fidget from her attention. To Sycamore, who always possessed a sense of humour, it seemed like a good opportunity to break the ice.
"Well Calem, since you know these ladies better than I, would you be able to introduce us?" Behind a tense smile, the Professor was such the trainer was cursing him, but nodded regardless.
"Of course," he muttered, before facing the room of women. Years of being Kalos champion, and he had nowhere near the experience required for this, he thought.
"Aliana, as clever as they come." The redhead gave a little wave, and it was obvious that she was delighting in the awkwardness of the situation.
"Mable, who's hair looks stunning today." Mable flicked her head to the side, muttering loudly enough that it always looked stunning.
"Celosia, a natural leader." The loudest of the girls was less than impressed with this introduction, and found her manicure infinitely more interesting.
Calem had to stop himself from saying that she was both a good teacher and a fantastic kisser.
"Positively gifted," he said instead, and the last of the Flare's adjusted her green goggles while her eyebrow quirked upwards.
"Wonderful!" Sycamore said, clapping his hands and becoming the centre of attention.
"Ladies. From what I can tell, you have all paid a debt to society, and I for one wish to prove that time mend's all misdeeds." In what was surely a practiced spiel, the Professor explained the situation with the appropriated funds being used to build the latest research labs off to the East.
"And I want one of you to become the new head of research for this installation."
The air seemed to be sucked out of the room, before all four women began asking questions at once. Mable seemed the be the noisiest, making wild gestures with her hands, while Aliana practically skipped forward and made herself known.
Calem was sure he would have a headache before they left.
"Now now, we'll go over the details soon," Sycamore announced, stroking his whiskered chin and beaming. "For now, it's important to know who would be best suited for the position. So, I'd like to know a little more about your current assignments."
Aliana immediately grabbed his arm and pulled him to her station, only for Mable to demand why electricity could possibly be more exciting than her weather studies.
Calem didn't envy the Professor in the slightest. Especially not when a coy voice whispered in his ear.
"Care to see my cubicle?"
He was starting to know Bryony's perfume by scent, he realised, as he nodded demurely and walked after her.
The noise coming from the argument was escalating quickly. Maybe that was why, confident that there was a distraction, she didn't hesitate to push Calem against the corner wall and possessively claim his lips. He even muffled in surprise, not used to this kind of forwardness from her, and the flavour of her emerald lipstick meant he would have to wipe his mouth properly before they were missed.
"That was fun," he said breathlessly, and she smirked at him from behind her visor.
"Green suits you, you know," she replied cheekily, pressing herself against him and humming as his knee came up between her legs. "I wonder if I can have conjugal visits during community service," she mused, her hands playing with the front of his collar while he licked his smeared lips.
"So, missed me?" he joked. "Or is this about Ali making that date comment?"
Bryony laughed at that, a musical note that was coy and full of secrets.
"I've grown fond of our apartment dates," she whispered, pulling his collar back to plant a kiss against his throat. The small, green lipstick mark she left on his pulse was almost as attractive as the moan he made. Almost.
"Did you really want to show me something back here?" he breathed, unable to stop his hands from resting on her hips, and she smiled a playful smile.
"Mm, non. You were just there, in front of me, and I thought... I want him. So, I took him."
"You are a bad girl," Calem whispered, and he almost saw her eyes twinkle behind her visor.
"But of course," she said playfully, before adjusting his collar and stroking his jaw. "Call me," she said, before turning him around and ushering him out of her small workspace.
She followed along when she was sure her lab coat was no longer ruffled around her hips from his hands.
Hours after Sycamore and Calem left, their little group was still buzzing over the visit. The chance to move up in the scientific world was something that they had all aspired to once upon a time. Never mind the fact that it was virtually a fresh start for any of them if they managed to secure the position.
"I'm telling you," Mable said as she hung her coat up inside her locker. "The effects of weather on cross species is something we've only scratched the surface of. Sycamore himself said so!"
"Whereas renewable energy is something we need now."
"You're the biggest source of hot air I know, Ali."
"Hey? Fuck you."
Celosia stowed her coat, discreetly pulling Bryony closer.
"I can't wait to leave this place behind," she whispered, nodding at the bickering girls before looking up at the emerald's face. "You'll remember your sister Cel once you're done with the brat, wont you?"
Bryony's face immediately turned stony.
"What are you talking about?" she demanded, pushing Celosia towards the corner of the room while the others were distracted. Her partner in crime merely rolled her eyes, scoffing.
"What do you think? I'm pretty sure he didn't have a green kiss mark on his neck when he walked in."
Ah, that. 'Merde,' she thought to herself, frowning to think that she slipped up so bad. And all because she really couldn't keep her hands to herself.
"So, when you're done winding him around your little finger, you'll get us out of here, right?"
Bryony was torn between agreeing and calming the purple-head down, or firmly swearing her to silence. Neither option was very appealing.
"You don't know what you're talking about on this one," she said instead, avoiding the other's stare and crossing her arms. But Celosia was pretty sure that she did know what this was.
"Come on," she urged, waggling her eyebrows. "I mean, he's cute enough for a goody goody. He wouldn't stand a chance against us both, and then we're outta here."
Bryony squeezed her eyes shut, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"Arceus, I wish you would stop bringing that up," she hissed, giving her a cold look. Celosia actually looked hurt at that, as if she had done something reprehensible.
"Then what the hell else would this be if not-"
Bryony bitterly looked away as Cel wore a look of understanding. So, she actually did piece it together, she thought.
"... it's him? You're screwing him?"
Bryony glared and put a firm hand on the other's shoulder, before her shock completely wiped away any subtlety she had.
"Oh, Bry. Tell me this is a con job. Tell me you're using him."
Bryony said nothing. She only frowned and rubbed her forehead. If a part of her secretly wanted to brag a little that she had been carrying on with the Kalos champion, she always knew it was in everyone's interest to keep it a secret.
And now, Celosia knew.
"You're not using him. You're sweet on him," she breathed, as if the realisation was something unbelievable.
"Shut up," she snapped, and Celosia leaned against the wall as if she had been struck. But as if some dam had begun to crack, the emerald scientist felt like adding fuel to the proverbial fire. "So what? So the fuck what if I'm seeing him? That I might actually like him?" she demanded.
Celosia said nothing. Her mouth shut tight, before she pushed past the other woman, grabbed her handbag and left. If Bryony was relieved that their little confrontation was over, she knew it would be short lived. It was nearly impossible for Cel to keep her mouth shut, especially when she felt justified or wronged in any way.
For the first time in a long, long time, Bryony thought of that silly, selfish dream they had years ago. To live in a world with only beautiful people and beautiful creatures, where they would do as they wanted. It was so foolish, but it would have been so simple, she mused.