December 24th

2:34 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

In a roundabout way she was going to see her husband for Christmas. Just not upfront. She had a job to do, that's what she rationalized as she sat about a city away in a very, very familiar place. The smell of pastries and about an entire breakfast shift's worth of food had come up from the grill as she sat in the booth she had sat in for the first eighteen years of her life.

The Celadon City Diner (formerly the Thorpe Dining Hole), perhaps as a reflection of its simple name, had simple food; that is to say the best food that could come from a blue-collar establishment. It had been family owned for the last eighty years, and the first break in that generational inheritance had been in the form of the young woman who sat with an entire booth to herself.

The owners didn't mind though.

Not when they had been Janie McCain's parents. Her brother thought might've had a few more choice words as he poured her apple juice again for the fourth time that day.

"You 'gon give me a tip, right Jain?"

"Fuck off John." Had been McCain's aggravated, if not tired and muted voice. There had been a plate of half eaten waffles and fried chicken to the side of the four-man booth, otherwise left for later as the case notes, hand written, all piled up as the laptop before her had been sending messages back and forth with Ranger HQ back in Fiore.

"Who's that?" A blue haired ace Ranger, her commanding officer no less, had asked in the video chat off her laptop.

John rolled his eyes as he put back on a presentable, amiable face to go attend to another pair of guests. Even if he was home, he wasn't happy working on Christmas Eve.

"Just my dead-beat brother." McCain had said that as lovingly as she could, seeing her mother poke her head out of the window between restaurant and kitchen. She flashed a shrug at McCain, and she could only send a thumbs up back. She asked if her food was any good with the gesture. Of course it was. She was home and having the food of her youth in her stomach had been a blessing. A Christmas gift unto itself. One she couldn't appreciate fully given what she was doing now.

Lunick Stallone had been one of the best damn Rangers to have come around in the years since the Rangers started actively recruiting. Rumor had it he had been a failed professional trainer, raring to go at something else to hit it big. He wouldn't confirm or deny, but he had the certain touch that ace trainers seemed to have. It was almost as if he had been a character of a larger story, and he played his part well. Played it well enough to have gotten the station of Fall City beneath his command.

A feat, no doubt, especially since McCain and him had been the same age and she had been doing law enforcement longer than anyone in the Ranger Union coming into it. She didn't dwell on it, for her own sanity.

Still he was a good CO, and she had no complaints with him as, a few timezones away, he was as groggy as anyone related to the Cerulean-Parker Case, as it was coming to be known on all those who had been on the email or message chains.

"You know Parker's case files would've immediately gone to me." He spoke with a hint of skepticism. "Most international rangers from Fiore designate a backup in case of… tragedies like this. But of course, this is special."

"Yeah…" McCain had been coming through freshly printed scans and notes taken from Parker's Styler. His body had been out of the cave for the last hour and Cerulean PD had sent over the content of the Styler to the Ranger Union. Subsequently it had been sent back to Kanto to McCain's own connection to HQ and either transferred to her Styler or printed. "This wasn't even the only case he was on, coming out here."

Lunick nodded behind the screen, running a finger through his blue hair as he picked up his tablet on the other end. "I'll take the rest of 'em, McCain, but you keep the Silph files. Those seem like the ones that got him killed. If anything, you'll shoot back."

Gallows humor didn't exactly seem appropriate when Lunick wasn't on the gallows, but she couldn't blame him. He hadn't dealt with homicide cases as a Ranger. This was an uneasy event and when the rest of Fiore woke up, the Ranger Union would be in mourning. How he dealt with it she could only imagine how any golden boy would've. "Glad you want me out of the picture so quickly Lunick."

His eyes rolled behind the screen. "Nonsense, who else can strong arm the Fall City Port Authority like you?"

That was her usual assignment: doing inspections on any cargo ships flagged that came into Fall City. It kept her close to the station, but it hadn't been the most fulfilling job. Instead of smuggled Pokémon it had usually been smuggled contraband, and at that point she'd hand it over to Port Authority. Usually rough and tumble sailors had been more willing to throw down with a Ranger, and thus, the only Ranger that had been licensed to have a gun had been on station. Lunick's fears were not unfounded though as she had to put her gun to work at times. The threat of it being drawn was often enough to diffuse any situations. That was on a good day.

"So have the calls cleared? Am I good to work in Kanto-Johto?"

He shrugged. "Eh, most of the preliminary stuff is fine. Your papers for that region are still in circulation from your time in Celadon PD and your name throws around weight. If that Gym Leader, uh, what was her name?"


"Yeah, Misty. If she vouches for you you're cleared for work and all the resources of the local PDs."

The Chingling rang on the counter as it saw another family walk into the café. The local Chingling trainers made quite a buck renting out their Pokémon to businesses who would enjoy them and their noise that time of year. Her family had always been one of them. Thorpe Diner had one giant counter that spanned almost the entire restaurant in a U shape, only splaying out toward the back for kitchen access, booths otherwise lining the walls like the one she was in. Still the long grill was out and centered, two sided, letting people smell the simpler meals they came in here to celebrate. Only now did the smell of pine mix with bacon, and it hadn't been too comforting after the first hour.

Local boys ran the cooking stuff, while her family and extended family waited and managed. That might've been her life too, but no such luck. She was too ambitious for such a homely life.

McCain came unannounced, just before the lunch rush, dropped off and the Celadon PD building and promptly ducking out of sight without anyone noticing. When she came back the lunch rush became hell. The prodigal child returned: the most successful child of the beloved Thorpe family, come back from saving the world with her lofty title of Pokémon Ranger.

She did visit as often as she could, often when she came to Celadon to visit her husband, so she hadn't been sorely missed. What personal days she did take she often spent coming home to them and him. He lived in Celadon while working in Saffron, the metro train over not more than ten minutes, so it was a matter of convenience. Her parents hadn't enjoyed the thought of her moving to Fiore any more than her husband, but they enjoyed she was in a fundamentally less violent trade now.

It why they hadn't been showering her with hugs and kisses as she was on the comm on her Styler, respecting the fact she was technically on the job. She could see them out of the corner of her eye, as always, peeking out the kitchen/diner window as they checked up on their little girl. They had her young, so they were still on the grind of restaurant owning.

He shuffled in his office back in Fiore, leaning into the camera of his computer to make certainly clear what he was saying was brought across.

"McCain you know as well as anyone what this case is gonna look like, so I'm gonna transfer your other current files over to the rest of Fall City's Ranger complement. Hell, I'll take a few. I need you on this 100%."

100% was what Parker deserved, no doubt, and she wasn't blind to what was owed a dead man. She knew what it was like to have emotional debt, and to pay it off was always something she tried to do.

"You'll have nothing less, sir."

"I trust ya. Stallone out."

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a figure tilt their head at her, non-verbally asking if she was open to a talk. She shook her head though, thumbing the contacts on her Styler before anyone interrupted her. To appear busy was a great way to be left alone at the office and she had done office politics for the last few years. She didn't even say hi when the contact was called.

"Anything new on the Pokéballs?" She heard her Operator chuckle at her punctuality. Andrade was a good man, and she had always wondered why she had been paired with him, but, as far as she knew, he had done her well. She had been on call with him before Lunick had interrupted.

"Master Balls you mean? Yeah." More papers shuffling. "They're definitely machined from a recent run, cross comparison with Pokeballs sold in the last calendar year show the same machine markings. Celadon PD ran forensics. No fingerprints though."

Easy enough of a break. Shame on no fingerprints or DNA, but gloves were basic thug 101. "That gives us precedent for a task force to go out to Sevii and start pressing the managers… thought the Master Ball development tools were scrapped anyway after the law was passed."

"Key word was disassembled Jain."

Take a nut from the joint, break it in two, and that was enough for the Indigo League to okay Silph Co from avoiding sanctions. When Master Balls were subject to public safety legislation, the items themselves weren't banned. Enough had been distributed to the various Leagues and privileged few for that to be an interesting affair. Rather, the production of them had been outlawed instead, and, to the average consumer with high dreams of catching anything they wanted, that was enough.

To someone who would go as so far as shoot a law enforcement official, apparently not.

"What does your husband do at Silph anyway? We going to have to book him?"

Andrade was in jest but Lunick would've probably already been looking into it. Anyone who knew that Danny had been doing work with Silph was probably looking into him. Unfair, surely, guilty by association, but McCain still had to answer the question. "He's in field R&D, the Pokéball division is separate."

"So like, what, those running shoes that spit air my kids are always asking about?"

Like those running shoes McCain had been wearing now. When perps ran she usually caught them. They had been a gift from Danny, years ago when she first became a beat cop, exactly for such reasons. Whenever she did visit their house in Celadon he would always have some prototype or another that he "borrowed" from the division. Some had been useful, some not. She appreciated them all, naturally, but the running shoes had been the most useful.

"Something like that…" McCain had put down the Silph folder, palming her eyes in her hands, sick of black text on white paper. "Okay, I'm going to send you off for a bit Andrade, ring me back if you hear anything new."

"Stay safe McCain. You're my favorite Ranger."


"Yeah. You make office gossip so much better. Merry Christmas, and say hi to Danny for me."

The moment her line was dropped someone had slid back into the seat across from her, Hops on her lap. It was Mom. In her older years she hadn't lost the energy, but she had been losing the sight. As was why a new pair of rather thick, large glasses had been on the crook of her nose. The same nose that McCain had, gifted to her by her mother. Her hair was in a neat pony tail, greyed, but not gone, her skin perpetually having some sort of mist of kitchen oil on it given the type of food they made here.

"So is this what you look like when you're working sweetie?" Mrs. Thorpe had teased her daughter. She never brought work home with her, at least, not physically. The desk at the Celadon PD was there for a reason, and unlike some officers she kept a private life private. She used to be uptight, professional to a T. Life had broken her down, eased her off. Her grit had been replaced by a certain tiredness.

McCain could only chortle, rubbing tired eyes. Half the table had been Parker's notes, the other half had been her own: the main divider being a laptop and her Styler. Her messy handwriting made itself known on a notepad too small to fully contain her thoughts.

"What's this all for?"

McCain put on a smile for her dear mother. "You know I can't tell ya Mom."

She reached across the table and ruffled her hair, Hops taking the opportunity to dismount her and return to McCain's side. He always enjoyed cleaning up McCain's leftovers, especially in the restaurant.

"Could've at least given me us a heads up you were coming back. Me and your father would've made room for you at the Christmas table tonight."

"Nah, no need, Mom. I'm going to be working at a hotel, probably."

A toothpick had come out of Mrs. Thrope's breast pocket, and McCain had remembered where Hops had picked up his habit, the Grovyle settling for a leaf of mint at the moment. Thumbing the thin stick between her teeth she chided her daughter. "Nonsense. Save some of that money, right after this shift I'll send John up and clear out your room, at least you can work there so when you go see Danny you can do good on last year's New Year Resolution."

That last resolution had gone unfulfilled, that being that balance between home and work life kept. Here she was in the middle of her childhood home (their apartment upstairs) and she had been working a murder case of all things.

She was a week early to Kanto, all things given.

They had a home here. An honest home in Celadon, with a modest lawn jutting out to the busy street half way between the urbanity and suburbanity of Kanto. It was empty, of both the woman of the house and of an actual family living there, but Danny McCain had maintained the homefront while his wife was away in Fiore, sleeping in nature or in the bunks of her Ranger station. It'd been a long time since she had been truly home. Every other time had just been a visitation, a teaser for some unknown when she could return home.

A cold breath came out of her mouth. "I know I ain't been the best daughter, nor the best wife, Mom, but… I don't know. I can't just meet Danny like this, on the job. It ain't right."

A larger man had been over her shoulder. Mr. Thorpe had gotten rather portly after their last child had been born, but he wore it with pride in the kitchen. "Hey there, punk."

McCain smiled up at her father. "Hi Dad."

Punk had been her pet name as a child, for she had been one. The elder McCain had looked to his wife and seen the worry in her face for their daughter. "Danny stopped by for dinner last night. You seen him yet?" McCain shook her head. "Know where he at today then?" Again, she shook her head.

She hadn't called her husband in days on account of a fight over telephone after their last counseling session. It had been a waste of money, he said, they knew their problems. She had been liable to agree but it hadn't been cause to cuss the counselor out over the phone. "'Fraid not Dad."

He nodded thoughtfully, sliding over some coffee to his wife in a teacup. With a tip of his head he coaxed Mrs. Thorpe the thought they were sharing. "Well, he said that Mr. Silph was throwing a Christmas Party tonight for the company. He didn't have a date, so, well, I reckon he'd be happy to see ya. Even if it is on business. Hell, I'm with your mother all the time at work."

Father Thrope had sweetly pressed his face into the top of his wife's head, and she had enjoyed the affection as, for a moment, McCain had been transformed back into a kid and resented her parents public affection.

"If you haven't noticed I don't exactly work a domestic job." It was a fact they two were painful aware of, ever since she had joined the force. "In fact no one's really happy to see me showing up when I'm on the job."

"Yeah, but you're not arresting Danny." Father Thorpe had been less right than he thought as McCain held her tongue.

There was no way Danny had any part of this wrong doing. He had been too nice growing up, too straight and raised right. He was, and she didn't admit this unless in tender moments with him, good enough for the both of them. And she didn't lie: his division in Silph wasn't related to the Pokeballs.

"The principle-"

"Damn the principle of it, Jainie." Mrs. Thorpe had almost slammed the table, sterning her daughter and dishevling already chaoticly organized notes. McCain held her tongue and clenched her jaw as she remembered that, once, long ago, she was her parents' little punk. "Danny misses his wife, and last I checked, you still are his."

If their current state of affairs kept on going, maybe, maybe not. Hops had cringed for her as she averted her eyes from her father.

She very much wanted to be his wife, as much as he wanted to be her husband, but the problems of a professional life interfered. It didn't help that Danny never particularly agreed to her position with the Rangers.

There was pain in her eyes, and her parents, more than anyone else in that world, knew it. Their gazes softened, and Mrs. Thorpe had reached out and put a brown strand of hair in front of McCain's face behind her ear before cupping her cheek. "Just call if you need anything, Jainie. We love you."

Father Thorpe nodded gruffly, agreeing.

With a slight sniffle, McCain had put that subject behind her. She was still on the job.

"I know Ma'. I know..."

Left alone now, it was just her and Hops. He gave her that knowing look, the one he gave her when he knew that she was overworking for the sake of overworking. She slept better on the nights she did, but it wasn't healthy. Gray strands of hair had sprout up, from time to time, at far too often a frequency.

"Look," She thumbed some of Parker's notes. "If I work myself to death, this is the case to do it on."

Hops was very much like her mother, mirroring the hand that reached across the table and grabbed her forearm, over the tan mark that her styler had made.

His conversational speech was very rare to hear. He spoke more in hands and face gestures, in chirps and growls. He had a language understood by all Pokémon, but the speak he used with McCain, one on one, where context could not be bridge enough, was a sign of a bond that did clue many that perhaps McCain could've been a great trainer.

He spoke elongated growls, his throat used fully as if mimicking a canine Pokemon. One might be liable to mistake it as that, but no, this was a conversation.

'I'm your partner, Jain. I'm supposed to take care of you.'

That's what he said, starting harsh, but ending soft.

"I know, Hops. I know." She bit again into a waffle, tired. It'd been a long day and she had just finished lunch.

Hops chirped again. "Drink some coffee."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Never."

The Grovyle had rolled his eyes, taking his own mug and sipping. More for him, he supposed. "There is a party, you know. An actual Christmas Party at Silph. I suggest going. Been a while since we've been to one."

He was right. He always was. Grumbling she had offered her unused cup of joe over to his side of the table. "We'll go around six. I still got work to do."

4:00 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

Daniel McCain worked very hard for his life, and for his wife that matter. He had once been a trainer on the Indigo League circuit, duking it out on the lesser tournaments for cash as opposed to badges or renown. His family was well off, enough to have sent him to a private school. Instead of going into an actual, straight edge career, as soon as he was able he had set off traveling Kanto and Johto.

"Lightning McCain!" They had called him. Every trainer who had become a regular on the battling circuit had some sort of nickname as if it had been a wrestling match between trainer and not their Pokémon.

He left that life behind, around the time he got married, but with the money he had already built up he had bought a house in the new projects of Celadon, meant for young professionals like himself and his wife.

He looked at it during his usual 4 o'clock break. If this was a regular work day he'd only have an hour left before he packed up and went home. Today was Christmas however.

Holding the picture fondly, as he had every day, he remembered why he was in an office job now and not appeasing some youthful instinct in him to roam. The very least he could've done was actually go out into the field as a trainer in Silph's Field Division, but no, this paid more.

They were 22 when they bought the house, a two-story, white affair straddling the old and new parts of Celadon. Enough lawn for a tree, and enough backyard to worry about cutting it, albeit being boxed in by other model houses in three directions. They still lived in the city, but at least for a moment they could believe they made it to suburbia.

The picture had shown a younger him, fresh shaven and less bulk then he had now. He was still a kid in the photo, taken the day they bought the house from the realtor, and they posed very much like a family.

Janie had been in his arms as if again a bride, and their two "kids" had been Hops and Coda, standing by their legs giving thumbs up and smiles.

Better times, perhaps. Before Janie had become swept up in a police revolution that chased her to the far corner of the world, away from him.

He got his olive skin from his parents, having emigrated from Hoenn, the thick bushy beard he kept trimmed only matching the fluffy top that developed upwards. He looked distinctly like some 90s stock jockey from Nimbasa, but he had made it far enough up in Silph for no one to call him out on it.

Standing up, stretching his for, the white he wore today with jeans had been a casual affair.

As the door to his office on the 83rd floor opened, he was reminded that in about an hour it was to be the start of the Christmas Party, sound being let in. As for who let themselves in-

"Mr. Silph!" Danny had stopped stretching and approached his boss in his new office, folding that picture frame down from its window shelf. Just recently promoted to Head of Field Division, Internal Offices. Rug, bookcases with literature he hadn't been sure how they got there, two couches and a table between them for meetings with his subordinates. The entire office was a mahogany and jade affair; he even got his own bathroom.

"Oh Daniel," The older man had taken off his top hat as he approached Danny. "I thought I told you to call me by my first name."

He had survived a long life and came out on the top of the world because of it, so much so that as a billionaire he made himself look like a homely man, his long white beard and moustache almost going to his chest like the old Kung-Fu masters. His eyes had Murkow's Feet, but they only served to focus his gaze at his age, cast upon Danny.

"Force of habit, Joe." Danny placated, sitting on his desk as Mr. Silph made himself comfortable on the couch facing him. Danny had closed the folder he was working through: proposals for more universal first aid kits, sprouting off of Potion development. Biofoam and medigel being able to cover and stabilize all but the most internal of injuries. In the last year he had become quite learned in first aid and the medical pursuits of the roaming trainer he had once been. "What can I do you for?"

"Oh nothing," Mr. Silph had waved his hand, "just wanted to chat. Is all."

Danny had pursed his lips, "Alright, shoot."

It turns out chatting had been about as heavy as being hit by a Machamp's punch. "I couldn't but hear, passing by your office the other day… Were you using company time to attend a conference call with a marriage therapist and your wife?"

Caught red handed and Danny thought he was going to lose the office he just got.

"Oh!" Danny had raised his arms caught before lowering them, a Deerling caught in the headlights. "Uh, sorry sir, it was just, urgent and, well, my work was mostly predisposed for the day and I had time before the usual Department Head meetings that-"

Mr. Silph had raised his hands at Danny to tell him to settle down. "Oh it's alright boy. I understand up here in the offices can be, well, a tad more unoccupying than being down there with the cubicles and field researchers."

Danny had wanted to speak out more, to excuse himself for letting his marriage interfere with his work, though he could say nothing as Mr. Silph apparently saw no harm in it, straightening his lips.

"I'm sorry, Joe."

Again Mr. Silph had made a gesture, saying no big deal. "I just didn't want you to preoccupied while we throw this party. Such a heavy topic would surely weigh you down."

"We're okay. I'm okay." He wasn't quite sure he believed himself, but Mr. Silph shook his head.

"I haven't lived this long, Daniel, without knowing where you've been. At least you are reaching out to a professional for help, and that must count for something."

His entire life had been more or less planned for him. Either by his parents, or by himself when he had the ability. Maybe the plans weren't the best, nor the most sound or logical, but they all were felt right to him. They all kept his heart at ease and at peace. The only person to come storming into his life had been the woman he married, and for as much sense it didn't make for him to marry someone with a criminal record (Albeit reformed), that had settled his heart the most.

"Just didn't think my life was gonna turn out like this." Mr. Silph could only smile at him as Danny realized what it could be interpreted as. "I mean- I am very thankful for this position, Mr. Silph-"


"Joe! But uh, ah- It's just."

"Oh settle down there Danny."

He did, looking out the windows to a fiery sunset. It looked hot but he knew sure as hell it was cold out. "I just miss my wife, sir, is all."

Mr. Silph nodded up and down several times. "I see. Well," standing up, offering his hand to his newest executive, there was a Christmas party to attend to. "Help us out set up for the party, getting your mind off this should do you some good."

6:32 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

The metro tram over had been speedy enough. It was the same line that connected Saffron and Goldenrod, extended out to Celadon now. Kanto and Johto had been changing, she knew. In the time that she had left the regions had gone through an economic boom matched only by Unova at the end of the last century. The olden regions had become new again and its ports and cities built up and up. The urban population exploded as even poor old Pallet Town dealt with such topics as gentrification. Along the advertisements put up in the tram had been one of Professor Oak's petitions to keep South-East Kanto free of urban build up.

Times had changed. Globalism that had once nearly two decades ago made Hops as a Treeko a star in public due to his rarity in the region, had no one looking at him now in the train. Among other Pokémon out had been Rockruff from Alola on its trainer's shoulders, a few Pokémon she couldn't identify from Sinnoh and Unova. There was even just a Gallade riding the tram alone.

Still, it was perhaps better that way, gotten off without issue to a city that was, both metaphorically and literally, at the heart of Kanto's boom.

Saffron City.

Her leather jacket had been enough to keep the wind chill from affecting her as Hops held onto her back, stepping out of the station. The smell of urbanity with its foul and yet electrifying scent pervaded. Fall City had paled in comparison, and the city was growing every day, the sound of construction in the distance unkind to her.

She spent the last half-decade in nature, out in the frontiers of the world. To come back it felt harmful to her.

People pushed past her, obviously busier than her as she stepped asides from the leaving crowd, taking in the city.

Maybe N was right, she recounted Team Plasma in Unova. Perhaps a world without Pokémon would've been better, based on how few she saw that hadn't been owned. A Raticate had picked at a trash can as she saw eyes peer from tops and corners of buildings, out of sight and mind as cars and crowds filled the street. These people were going home for the day as the sky ran a dark red on Christmas Eve.

A Delibird and a man dressed as Santa across the way echoed. "Alms for the less fortunate this Christmas! Please! Help those who would be alone tonight!"

She dug the change from the ticket over to Saffron from her pocket, crossing the street as she made eye contact with the charity worker, placing the coins into his collection bin.

Again and again she had to remember it was Christmas, and her mood did not account for it. "Thank you, kind ma'am." Santa had spoke to her, as did the Delibird. Hops chewed on another thing of wheat as the Delibird reached into its burlap sack, offering out a scratch ticket. "As a token of our appreciation, the Kanto Charity Group would like to offer you the chance to win a ticket to one of the Waterflower's shows in Cerulean."

McCain waved the Delibird down. "Oh, don't worry, keep it." She put on a smile as she trod away down those streets, beginning, sub-consciously, to trace her old beat as a cop. Saffron, nearly a decade ago, had always outsized Celadon, so at times during peak periods she was sent to Saffron on loan.

And again, even back in those days, the star of the town had been the Silph Co. Tower. An easy land mark for anyone to find. It had grown about a third more, last she'd been in Saffron, construction evident toward the top. Whatever happened in that town seemed to happen because of Silph. Either because what it was doing or what had been done to it. The amount of technological snowballing that happened because of its R&D had trickled down into the city, the once homely brick and mortar buildings being replaced by steel and glass. Money meant modernity and it spread from the center.

To McCain, all it meant that people were more likely to take up crime in places where money had piled up. The tallest castle of it she approached after half an hour of walking through those changing streets. The decorations of the holiday thrown onto the town in substitute for lack of snow. Strangely less and less people had been toward the center of town, leaving her alone as she stood before her goal that day.

Too much glass for her taste, the walls were windows and thus all of Silph were lain bare to any flying Pokémon that flew up there. She enjoyed privacy, but then again, she hadn't been an architect. The building hadn't even been done anyway, the last dozen floors or so up there being attended to by an idle crane that reached all the way down from the ground. Ever since Rocket had barged in, there was a new call for renovations and security, and, quite frankly, seemed to McCain a bit much.

The building was surrounded on all sides by a rather nice plot of city ground, a plaza almost, if there had been anything but the paved ground level, the occasional trash can or light post marking the flat affair which extended out as far as a block. Silph had the money for the permits and land, surely, but it was a hell of a walk that, if it was done for security purposes, made sense. No cover, and all the cameras from the building on those that approached: like her.

She felt vulnerable on the walk up, the shadow of the building cast on her as it seemed Saffron receded behind her. Moreso Hops had felt out of his element. There had been no nature around and nothing to jump to but McCain's back, which he did, she taking the weight naturally as the glass doors to the lobby were approached in the dying light of Christmas Eve.

There was a doorman in that white lobby behind a U-shaped desk at the back, its brightness beaming out as if the future itself. An initial tug resulted in nothing but wasted strength, the doorman noticing only after the fact, a buzz letting loose the magnetic lock and letting McCain in.

First impressions hadn't meant much when she had seen the décor before: in Castelia City's office towers. The designer of the renovations probably had been Unovan.

The lobby had been nice and professional, chairs too low and too square for her tastes surrounding coffee tables with magazines toting Silph's advancements in the world. Glass cabinets decorated the side, boasting of magazine or newspaper clippings that chronicled achievements and milestones while Pokémon benefitting from their work were in artsy photographs on the wall. The sheen of the walls themselves seemed perfected as they vaguely reflected her as she walked in. A giant metal Christmas tree had been in the corner, not at all warm to her.

This was only a lobby: the elevators to the rest of the building behind the metal detectors adjacent the front desk.

The front man: an older man, on his police pension probably, McCain figured, sat at the desk after ringing her in from his station, the echoes of a Pokémon battle on a hidden screen on his desk playing.

Approaching him, Hops had gone down, a screen on the visitor side of the desk awaiting input. "I'm here to see my husband."

The older man looked up at McCain, eyebrow raised. "Huh. Wasn't alerted… then again who would, the entire damn office upstairs is throwing their Christmas party." He grumbled, only barely looking at McCain as the Pokémon Battle he had been looking at was more captivating. His finger pointed over the desk in the general area of the screen. "Punch in his name and just follow the directions."


Daniel McCain, Field Division Executive. Floor 83. Room 105.

A directory had popped up with a set of directions to his office. It dawned on McCain that she had never visited her husband at work, but then again, they'd both be doing the same tonight, for the first time.

Upon hearing the confirmation ring the doorman had nodded. "ID please?"

Both of them, then. "I might need help getting through the detectors."

Her wallet was flipped out and the doorman finally paid attention. Most law enforcement, new and old, in Kanto and Johto knew who she was. "You're the one who put me out of a job."

There was sourness in his voice and McCain could only cringe, pocketing her identification as she opened her jacket, showing off her pieces. "Wasn't my intention… Where were you?"

"Saffron PD. 3rd Precinct." He wasn't fat or old like most retired cops, but he had less hair and a scowl because of it. "Youngster like you changed the game. Made kicking in doors fashionable."

Her boots had changed through the years, from issued, to tactical, to hiking, but she still felt the phantom marks on the rubber soles from boots past where she had splinters and debris lodged in them. Her right leg became very familiar with the way a door and a lock buckles beneath a kick.

"Rocket changed the game. Not me." The doorman typed into his keyboard, the metal detectors shutting off as he waved McCain through. She caught him, and he knew that was the truth, still, he didn't like thinking about it.

His nose crinkled. "This whole damn world is moving on too fast. In the old days when a gang of ruffians got caught, they stopped their shtick. Ain't none of this Rainbow Rocket, Neo-Rocket or whatever. One and done. Now they just use it as work experience… I couldn't keep up."

McCain had wanted to say the police forces of the world had gotten soft. That their laxing of the rule book had caused a rise in the type of behaviors that led to Magma, and Aqua, Plasma and Cipher. She was the only option they had when it came to laying down the law, and reminding people that there had been people with the mandate of society to keep it safe. She wanted to say things could've been different.

But they hadn't.

"Was around this time, my last year on the force, that I had to deal with my first murder, you know that McCain?" To hear a total stranger say her name, it hadn't gotten any easier, especially when it was used in scorn. "He didn't run, he didn't hide, he was just there in his apartment when we came in: knife in hand, blood on blade, her body not even cold. He cried and he confessed to me the second I came in. She didn't understand, she didn't understand, he told me."

"Got a point here?"

"Violence begets violence." His tongue held on that word: violence, unkind to those hearing it.

On his television screen an Empoleon had just swiped at a Monferno, the impact felt even through the sound and the thrill of the crowd, filling in the silence between two former cops.

She breathed out coldly. She had heard this all the time, ever since she had led the very idea of a SWAT unit into the mainstream police force. "Nothing lasts forever. Times will change." That's what everyone had to hope for after all. That extremist idiots wouldn't try to hold Elite Four as hostages or trying to flood the world with artifacts far beyond their understanding. There was only so many things a gun could solve compared to the power of love or, at the very least, as history seemed to tell, a gifted Pokémon Trainer to throw themselves into the thick of it and save them all.

"Long as I collect my pension, I'm fine!" He laughed, over it. If McCain had her opportunity to bellyache to the reason why she thought the world had been head over heels, going south, she would've done it.

"You seem to be in a Christmas mood." Opening her jacket to let the man look inside again, he had raised his eyebrow. "Just to let you know."

He saw the gun, only to shake his head, done with it. "Just don't drink." He opened his own jacket and showed his metal flask. "And if you start shooting people, come down and shoot me! I sure as shit don't want to deal with the paperwork."

McCain could only give him an apathetic face, shrugging, walking through to the elevator area.

Hops had followed, not even looking at the man.

It was warm enough inside, the sound of her worn shoes clacking against tile floor, finding the elevator bays. Four in total, four on each side in the inlet from the lobby. She took off her leather jacket, her green and grey flannel left on but unbuttoned as she transitioned the holster beneath that layer. Anyone who took a good look at her would've figured her for carrying, but at a glance she was fine.

Passing into the inlet she glanced up, a rather wide protrusion for a gate to come down from the ceiling, sealing off the elevators.

The report she wrote following the first Team Rocket raid had affected Mr. Silph in spades perhaps, the free usage of the elevators allowing Team Rocket to spread out throughout the building fast.

She punched the button of one of the elevators up, pocketing her hands, whistling a Christmas tune on her lips. She wasn't a singer but she had to have become good at some things during lonely nights out in the Fiore wilderness.

The elevator made it down and she had made her way in, the one hundred or so buttons that would've otherwise been there on older elevators for a building that tall replaced by nothing more than a keypad: 83, she punched in, the holiday elevator music kicking in.

Hops had a curl in his stomach the second the elevator started to ascend.

McCain chuckled as any mother would to her uneasy child. "Buckle-up, sweetheart."

Hops growled at her as he did settle, the floors going by rather fast as he, in a bark, told her to buckle up. She was seeing her husband again tonight.

When the floor hit 83 the elevator smoothly stopped, the sound of a party underway coming through. In Fiore, the Rangers knew how to throw a block party in the name of Christmas, so she was interested to see what the business elite could as she poked her head out.

Floors 80-83 had been the office suites for the department heads and the lower managers, 83 being where no less than where Danny ended up as head of Field Division. He had sent pictures of his office and the floor, but seeing it was believing: walking right out of the elevator inlet and being met with red velvet carpet that only led to a floor plan of offices on two levels, all surrounding a natural pond and rock display which people had been free to walk through as if a park. A waterfall which routed through the higher rock formations had fallen back into the pond, offering a serene ambiance as a string bang played highbrow music. Even the Pokémon present had seemed to match the atmosphere.

Hops had done a double take between McCain, himself, and then another woman with her Combusken, sitting on the edge of the rock pond. The Combusken's fur seemed so finely sheened and groomed that only then did he realize that both he and his Ranger looked like country yokels.

Suits, button downs, dresses and jewelry. The hallmark signs of executives patting themselves on the back. The party was mostly concentrated in the natural display, on the outside of the depression before the rock and pond garden had been refreshments, black suited butlers and psychic Pokémon roaming around tending to the needs of the guests.

Before anyone could notice McCain, a butler had done so, a plate of champagne flutes before her face as she blinked several times, confused.

"May we offer you something, ma'am?" The butler asked. McCain had her leather jacket around her left arm, her right arm slowly coming up and grabbing a drink.

"This should be enough, thank you." Maybe it was the fact that it seemed rude to not, but as the butler smiled at her and turned away she had downed it, the bubbly taste here and gone as she realized that these champagne flutes were more for holding than drinking: They were watered down.

A cute Abra had appeared at their feet, the empty flute gingerly taken from her hands as she was finished.

Hops had thanked the Abra for her as it silently blinked away in a teleport.

It was a crowd of maybe forty people, more men than women, but what else was new this high up the food chain?

"Merry Christmas!" A man had come up from the stairs and seized her by her sides. On his breath had been a little more scotch than champagne, his face a little too close to her own as her right arm braced across herself and elbow jabbed, as politely as she could, into his own chest and pushing him off.

"Not available, bud."

The man hadn't known what had been done to him as he stumbled a step or two back silently, just shrugging as he cried the joys of Christmas somewhere else with someone else. It was her intention to find someone else too as she stepped into the depression of the garden, a weird dissonance between the tile paths and the nature that surrounded it.

"Excuse me," a group of women had been chatting amongst themselves on the edge of one pond, the same group with a Combusken. They'd been smoking in doors but no one seemed to mind exactly, especially not McCain as she approached them. "I'm looking for a Daniel McCain. He 'round?"

"Hi! Merry Christmas," the lead of the group, younger than McCain and with a cigarette between her fingers, offering. It was then that McCain realized that the cigarette hadn't been tobacco and remembered why she hadn't been a drug officer. "Would you like some? It's straight out of Floaroma Town."

McCain didn't quite care but Hops went for it, only for her to, as subtly as she could, step on his tail not to. "I'm good, thanks. Again, I'm looking for a Mr. McCain, is he here today?"

She hoped that he hadn't taken off early at least.

The girls all spoke to each other, they didn't recognize the name. "Do you know what he looks like?"

McCain nodded. "Always have, he's my husband."

A round of Ooo's had come about the group of girls, the Combusken seeming annoyed with them all and their trainer. Hops rose an eyebrow at the Pokémon, and they had only shrugged.

"Do you know what he does here?" One of them had asked.

She could've answered both ways. "He got promoted recently, Field Division-"

The woman had stopped mid-sentence it seemed, and it was look McCain knew very well. She wasn't always like this: Gritty and annoyed at life. She used to be a hardass. She was a Captain of a division which had the responsibility of shooting people who threatened the public safety and with that came a certain weight that put her in a certain mindset. When she approached certain rooks on the team, they had that captured look in their eye that spoke of fear and respect.

"A recent promotion to field division? I believe that I would know Daniel McCain." When McCain turned over, she was face to face with a man who had made more than she would make in a thousand lifetimes and had already lived out one. He was a thin man, in a good, nice suit, a smile on his face that reminded her of her late grandfather's. That warm and kind look went away as he puckered his lips in confusion at McCain. "You- you seem familiar?"

She offered her hand, dreading what was to come. He shook it gently while still staring deep into her. "I'm Daniel McCain's wife, sir."

Silph had narrowed his eyes at her more. "No, no, I do know that, it's just…" Realization hit him as if he had been shot. "Oh my. I didn't know you were that McCain."

He recognized her. Of course, he would've, they'd met before, a long time ago in passing. When the Silph building was cordoned off for a police investigation she was one of the officers on call. They shook hands, nothing less. Back then she grew her hair out more.

She smiled through the awkwardness of being made by none other than the owner of one of the world's biggest companies. "Don't worry, I'm not in that job anymore." she said as the gun against her said suddenly felt three times as heavy.

Silph seemed relieved, but it was in jest. "Come come," he ankled her out of the group of women. "I'll take you to his office, I just told him to go settle some affairs in his division downstairs before he comes joins us."

"Oh- my. Thanks you." Being led by Mr. Silph himself was an experience to beheld. "Hey, Hops, go troll around, would ya?"

Hops nodded, he didn't want to be around for this, and secretly neither did Janie.

"Oh your Daniel has certainly been an asset for Silph in the last decade," Mr. Silph praised her husband, and in some small part she had joy in it. Passing by a bust of some Pokémon into a hallway away from the party affair, names of people on frosted windows mounted on doors passed by them as they walked. At the very end of the hall they found his: DANIEL J. MCCAIN. The J was for Jackson. "I remember when he was just a young circuit trainer, but even then he wanted to extend his help to us as best he could!"

Danny wanted a career. He took his shot and made it.

Mr. Silph saw the same amazement of how cushiony this office was on her face as Daniel had when he first saw it. Perhaps this was the first time that she had fully recognized where her husband had ended up. "Woah."

Mr. Silph bellowed a proud laugh as he let her pass into his office first. It smelt like business. "Did I tell you that Daniel was one of the first to prototype those very shoes you're wearing?" Mr. Silph pointed out the Running Shoes on her, not noticing they were in fact an employee pair and not bought. "He was, and still is, at the forefront of Silph Co.'s products and research that the average everyman has access too."

She didn't know what to say as he approached his large bureau and saw his scraggly handwriting on notes and documents. She didn't know what to say when he saw that same picture of them she had in her wallet, larger, and in frame on the cabinets that lined the windows, looking out to Saffron City.

"What a view."

Mr. Silph seemed totally in his Christmas spirit. "He's earned it. Granted when in the morning it's real bad, the sun, if the shades are up, are full blast like a hyperbeam coming at ya."

"It's quite a place you got here," she tried to encompass all of the Silph Building in her finger wave up and down. "It's changed since I was last here."

"And when was that?" Mr. Silph asked, tilting his head, curious.

"When Giovanni was still on the board."

"Oh." Mr. Silph had taken the blow with grace. "Well, I suppose us changing this entire building was in response to that, a new start, after all. That is if the renovations ever get done!"

They thought they were alone, but from one side of the room a door opened, revealing a group of ruffled business people all way too happy, too conniving, to be doing any good, emerging from the office's own bathroom.

The group of people first noticed their boss, standing rimrod straight, caught red-handed. Mr. Silph immediately had known who had been the leader of that group as his jovial face became uncomfortable, walking over. "Oh, uh, hello there." Mr. Silph leaned into the group, "Uh, this is Mrs. McCain, she is- was a police officer." It was more of a warning than an introduction as the entire group wizened up, sniffing their noses all the way up to their brains and trying, as best they could, to appear normal.

The leader of that assortment had reached out his hand, a hundred-dollar smile on her. "Uh, hey, name's Ellen." Too bad she was a ten-dollar woman based on what she was doing in somebody else's office, and, by McCain's glance, with thousand-dollar tits in a dress too low.

She put on a counterfeit smile, closing her eyes as she finished the weak shake. In that McCain had seen the glint of white on her nostril. "Missed some." Ellen had wiped her nose again as McCain took a glance down the bathroom to see if anyone else was hiding, the younger men and women she was with shrunk beneath her gaze. McCain walked like a man, and in that haircut was liable to be called a dyke. She was scary, no doubt about it, even without the knowledge she was law enforcement.

Mr. Silph tried to divert attention away from what had obviously just happened. "May I offer you some champagne? Some cake? Anything at all, it's the least we could do to spread the holiday cheer."

McCain had returned to her husband's desk, shrugging as she leaned on it. "No thank you… Though that being said, you do know how to throw a party."

Ellen had chimed in, a little vibration in her step from factors known. "It's sort of a double celebration, wouldn't you agree Mr. Silph?"

Mr. Silph stood on his toes for a moment, rocking. "Ah yes, your husband also has some big part to do with that, Mrs. McCain. I don't know if he told you but Daniel, he helped us close a pretty big deal that'll help us get a leg up on the Devon Corporation. Not that competition isn't good for business, but, this deal is cause for celebration."

Danny had mentioned it to her. Something about working with a Unovan scientist about literal dream science and commercializing it. She couldn't make heads or tails of it.

For all her preparation she couldn't make heads or tails to see the man she had known in heart as her love appear rushed in the doorway, holding a paper folder. It was a surprise for him to see a rival worker and his boss in his office. It was near heart stopping to see his wife.

Halfway through a step he almost tripped, and Ellen and Mr. Silph had stopped making any noise at once watching what they believed to be a tender moment go down.

"Janie." He said her name, soft as a whisper. She puffed up her chest as they locked eyes. For anything she could feel in that moment, she isolated happiness, a grin spreading across her face in that moment. Looking at the other guests he had placed the folder down on the coffee table. "You've met everyone?"

"We've been sticking him like a Cacnea." Mr. Silph again stood on his toes in jest.

The distance between them had once been oceans and regions. Now it was an office, and this time Danny had closed it. A head and a half taller than her, and she liked it, privately, as they embraced as professionally as they could with their audience, the wet, but welcome presence of his lips at her temple fleeting as they parted. Her hand had been at the back of his neck, unconsciously dragging off, not wanting to let go.

"I didn't know you were coming so early."

For someone who dedicated herself to truth and justice, she had to tell a lie. Looking down to the floor and kicking at nothing, "Oh, well, surprise?" She tried baring a smile awkwardly.

"Show her the watch." Ellen chimed in again, hands held up at her heart giddly.

"Later." Danny had said, obviously trying to make it barely of note.

Ellen was offended. "Oh come on, show her! It's a small token of our appreciation for all of his hard work. It's made from the finest Sinnoh metals." The woman had eyed the watch less than she had, in the same glance, eyed Danny. Her husband caught the twitch in her right eye. He had known her all her life and he knew what that meant.

Mr. Silph frankly felt uncomfortable, but it was okay, Janie had her Segway. "Do you mind if I settle in? It was a long flight." She said in her most domestic way, the way that made it sound like she didn't want to be a bother as she looked directly at Mr. Silph.

"Of course!" He agreed, snaking his arm around Ellen, leading them out.

"I'll see you later Danny." Ellen had dragged before the door closed, leaving the McCains, for the first time in half a year, alone.

"Danny?" Janie parroted the woman.

Danny let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. "It's Mr. Silph's company culture. He likes to think we're all family and friends and not, well, cut-throat executives." Which he had become, McCain wanted to say. It was a fresh wound though. The conference call with the marriage counselor trod on that topic. "What're you doing here, Jain?"

"Can't I surprise my husband for Christmas?" It was Christmas Eve. "Come on. Santa dropped me off a few moments ago." She tried to placate him by being playful. He didn't fall for it, insulted that she thought he would.

"Locked and loaded?" He knew better what her Hi-Power looked like when it poked out of her clothes by an edge.

Janie never lied, per-se, to her husband. Though there were things she held back. She couldn't lie if she didn't say anything, after all. It was on the counselor's advice that they speak more openly about their professional affairs.

"I- I wanted to come see you early." That was the truth. "But I'm-"

Danny had picked back up his folder and placed it back on his desk. "I'm what?" Aggravation. "What could it be?" He knew the second he saw the gun.

"I'm on the clock right now, Danny." Her shoulders dropped. "I know I should've told you I was coming, even if I'm not supposed to but-"

"But what Janie?" He leaned on the couch closest to his desk as well, mirroring her. "That now the only time I get to see you now is while you're working?"

This wasn't uncalled for. This was just a continuation of a conversation they had dropped a week and a half ago, but not ended, over the phone with a counselor in the crossfire.

"You can't do that to me, Danny." She raised her voice a notch. "I don't get to choose when bad people do bad things in this world." It was only her job to do something about it.

"You sound like you're missing your job, putting it like that all dramatically." He raised in turn, turning his face away for a moment while saying it.

"I miss you."

Before they could get any higher those tender words had stopped them.

They locked eyes again. "I miss you too, Jain. Though this is the longest we've been apart, and this is how we see each other again?"

The world wasn't perfect. In the year since the last Christmas Eve and then New Years, resolutions had been set and lost, broken, forgotten underneath the reality of life. "I'm caught up in something, Danny. Something big."

"Bigger than our marriage?"

"Nothing is!" She was glad that was her kneejerk reaction, pushing herself off the desk.

"Well whatever it is it's done something to it!"

Their door had burst open to the sound of giggles. A man and a woman, already half way into each other as they noticed the room was occupied. "Ah, sorry." They shuffled back, closing the door behind them.

"Does everyone like getting blowjobs and doing blow in your room?" Janie had cooled down at the odd event, leaning back against the table as she moved a loose strand of hair behind her ears.

Danny shrugged. "I'm the newest executive. Right of passage, I guess."

It never occurred to Janie until now, but hearing that word: Executive. The Team Rocket admins were all executives on the Silph board along with Giovanni. Daniel McCain was now in the shoes once filled by the likes of Archer, and Proton, and Ariana. Her worries about that were pushed asides. She was thinking about the job with her husband before her.

"Who was that woman," She didn't want to remember that she had a gun at her as she thought about her. "The one with fake tits."

"Ellen." She had introduced herself to McCain and yet she already forgot. Danny had done it again. "She's about fifteen years my senior in both age and position."

"She wants you. Has her eye on you."

Daniel scoffed. Of course he had known, but he never thought of it or helped that thought of hers, gazing again at his wife before him. "She's always like that. In fact, she gets jealous around this time of year."


"Yeah. Usually she thinks herself as God's greatest gift on Earth." That had gotten a chuckle out of both of them. "Besides, the fake tits made it easier to not look at her."


"Besides, yours have always been better."

The talk of a married couple who still had their youth, albeit matured, was healthy in this regard. Familiarity on what to say and what not to say, compliments at the right time, the tempo of chemistry both mental, physical, conversational and in any other way… Here, even in their dysfunction, glimmers of something great and beyond, of something that spurred them into this life in their past, came out. Even if it manifested in a comment on Janie's breasts.

"Always been a tad big for the job." She scoffed at him in some good-natured annoyance.

"Good." He parroted. Seconds, moments, half a minute. The silence between them passed. Too fast they threw themselves back into it. "What are you really, doing here, Janie?"

Her vague answer wasn't enough, and maybe that was the reason they had just been short of another fight. "A Ranger was murdered in-region."

Any domestic trouble had been pushed away. "Oh."

Janie nodded. "Yeah." Looking out at the city, she remembered its police force. As the city quadrupled in size, so did its police force. Every action had an equal and opposite reaction, so when the force of the police raised, so did those willing to push back to do what they wanted to do. Crime statistics had become a new datapoint on the nightly news. Murder and kidnapping was the dread on every mother's mind now, at night, regarding their children, and, when the violence relegated to gangs spread to the innocent, Janie knew it would explode.

This city wasn't the same. Celadon had weathered the times too, and she prayed to God that it hadn't been all her fault.

"I didn't hear anything on the news this morning?" Danny had closed the gap between them, sitting on his desk as well now, shoulder to shoulder with her.

"You wouldn't have." As Danny had shared Silph secrets with her, and she would hope that he'd continue to, she would share secrets to him. It wasn't right, but they had their sins. "It was in an Indigo League black site, near Cerulean. One of our Rangers got shot and killed trying to warn some Pokémon that they were being hunted."

"Did you know them?"

Janie shook her head. "No. But I know he was a good man: Preston Parker."

"I figured."


"All Rangers I know are good people."

"…But you only know one?"

"Exactly." His flirting was corny and light hearted and stupid. Though she craved it as Bulbasaur craved the sun.

"Goes deeper than that." She turned around, taking out her Styler, flipping through notes both old and new, her's and Parker's. "Silph Co. is involved. I think."

Danny was many things. None of them brash to yell out. "Go on."

She nodded, thankful for him to give her time to explain. "Master Balls were find at the crime scene. Dozens. Broken, thankfully, by the Pokémon that were being hunted, but Master Balls nonetheless."

Danny had held one of them before, used of them before, and it had been a privilege to test. The power he felt with it, he once tried to describe to his wife, was the same as a gun he imagined. She disagreed, but it perhaps was close. He had a question. "What Pokémon would be able to break them? Master Balls are some pretty serious shit."

"I can't tell you. It's for your safety."

He looked annoyed but shook his head. "Go on, Janie." Whereas she liked to call people hun, or honey, sweetheart, or baby, she had told Danny that her pleasure came from hearing him say her name.

"Parker was, as far as I could tell, trying to track down who exactly would be using the Master Balls, he knew that they were being produced, but as for why? Well, he found a lead, and tailed them to the crime scene."


She took a breath, careful of where she was. She wouldn't put it past Silph to bug the office. Still it was no matter. "Team Rocket."

Danny's eyes widened. "Good God."

The original team that made gangs like them fashionable in this world. Organized crime syndicates modeling themselves after the order and goals of Giovanni's manifestation.

"I know it sounds crazy but, uh, they were trying to track down Mewtwo… or rumors of." She was wishy washy on how much she wanted to admit.

"I thought it died at Cinnabar?" Silph had been implicated in its creation, researchers using spare development funds to funnel into a private lab at Cinnabar, fueled by the now exploded geothermal source.

She shrugged. "There's rumors about, rumors with some serious money backing it," She reached back into her research this morning, "Some people have a price on their head and Rocket thought it legit.."

Any amount of spoiler kids had asked their well-to-do parents about catching a very specific Pokémon for them. Hell, chances were one or two people in that office had partaken in the Pokémon Trade's black market. Trading Pokémon hadn't been like trading cars or cellphones for upgrades. Pokémon for Pokémon was the only way it worked, officially, anything else had to have been taxed or documented. Still, big government wasn't as all-encompassing to stop the day to day trades of neighbors and of the like, and they wouldn't be able to catch the section of the trade that dealt with money for Pokémon.

Benign requests for Pokémon Professor sanctioned starters to legends themselves had been on the dark web, as the grander the target brought in a higher price, bounty hunters and trainers had made a market of it.

"How much?"

McCain listed off the price and Danny had reached back into his head, just to compare, how much the very skyscraper they were in costed. Something involving that much money? That much power if Mewtwo was contained?

Perhaps that was one of the problems that came with the dissolution of Rocket, and indeed any of the criminal gangs: The individual with their own goals would be far more elusive than an easily boxed gang.

"Maybe they're trying to capture… things that require Master Balls to either fund a new version of Rocket, or use the Pokémon to do so, but, whatever it is, it isn't good." She glanced at her Styler's watch. She had ended her shift at the station at 3AM when Lunick put her own her way to Kanto. She more or less stayed away on the plane trip over, no reprieve between Cerulean and Celadon, and then, here. She'd been awake for almost a full twenty four hours already counting the shift she had just taken before she'd came to Kanto, and it was seen on her. In her eyes, in her hair, in the drop of her head. "I need help with this, sweetheart." Her voice had been low and tired, rightfully so.

Danny had nodded slowly, thoughtfully. "Sounds like it."

"Any leads you could give me, well, we'll cover you with anonymity and whistleblower laws."


"Master Balls, Danny. No one can produce them except this company and its assets."

Danny's mouth was open for a moment, tilting his head at his wife. "I'm in Field, Janie. The Pokéball and Materials Group is separate."

"But you can look, can't you?"

"At the cost of my job, Janie! If I start looking around then well," he motioned to his office, to everything he had earned in that last half-decade. "It ain't none of my business."

"If Silph is at all behind any of what's happening, this Rocket appearance, the murder, anything, then they'll drag everyone down with it. If it's true, you just have to do what's right."

"What evidence do you have, Janie? What could you possibly-"

She whipped out her Styler again and showed him the photos: broken Master Balls, astrewn in a deep cave, and, most strikingly of all, cradled by a dead man. "Someone died for this, Danny. A Pokémon Ranger. Like me. Least you could do is look into it for me."

How many times had Danny seen a dead body? Never, until today. Not until he saw Preston Parker's chest splotched with a red pool of blood on his uniform, his hands curled around a Master Ball made by the company he worked for. He replayed his last few spoken words. Was he really defending his company? Had he become that much of a corporate cog that, when his wife of nearly a decade of law enforcement experience came to him with a body that hadn't even been cold yet and implicated said company he had spoken for it?

Truth and ideals. He remembered the N's manifesto, broadcast to the world. He was still a criminal on the run, but the words he spoke for his crusade for a new world had rung true for him, and many people like him. The truth was written in blood, in broken pieces of an item exclusively created by the company he worked for. His ideals of his life could not be ingrained with that.

He brought both hands to his face, palming it, dragging it down with his lips. "You're gonna be the death of me, you know that?" Their wedding bands shined in the dying light of Saffron, the glint caught in McCain's eyes as she rose her eyebrow. He didn't mean it. "Just didn't think my life would be this way, dear."

Janie tightened her jaw at that. Neither did she. "No matter what happens though, after tonight, this case…" She smoothed her hand over his husband's worn ones. A long time ago they had been rubbed raw and rough by his travels, but now they had been softened by the domestic life. It was McCain's turn to have nature on her hand. "After this, I promise to start being better for you."

"For us…" Danny corrected, remembering their counselor making note of such efforts being communal. They felt stupid following that advice, but it was worth it. He leaned in close, standing her knees as his hands placed themselves on the, parting her legs so he could get close to her. "Promise?"

Her hands naturally went up to his face as he approached, feeling that big scruffy beard she had loved on him. "Promise." She didn't even know if there was enough sound to it, but it didn't matter, when inches became centimeters and then millimeters. When their breaths had been tasted and their crotches way too close together without feeling the familiar heat.

Their soft breathing had filled that quiet room as Danny paused just short of feeling her lips on his, far removed from the party but not so. That was what felt electrifying as Danny had shifted himself and held her sides a bit tighter than he would've in public. The only other time he had held her like that was-

"Mr. McCain." A voice had shoved the two of them apart as they were millimeters away from breaking in his new office with a kiss, door creaking open. They had been afraid it was Hops but then again it hadn't been anything he hadn't heard, seen, or, frankly enough, smelled.

"!" The McCains had grunted in surprise, Danny backing off as Janie slid to a stand, eyes at the floors and arms behind her back.

"Oh, uh-" It was an intern, twenty-something. Danny knew him as his assistant. "Mr. Silph wants you to say a word to the troops when you can."

Danny had coughed a few times, unflustering himself and tightening his tie. "Oh, yeah sure." His assistant had backed off from the awkwardness as best he could, leaving two frustrated adults affirmed that, at the very least, the spark of foreplay and passion was still alive for them.

"Hey," Danny tipped up Janie's head by her chin with a finger, allowing nothing more than a better angle to get in a quick peck at the very least. It was times like this that McCain had totally agreed that maybe the domestic life with him was what was best for all of them. Then she remembered that she was a public defender at heart for some reason, boiling inside of her. She had her moments of clarity in a different point of view however. "I got you something!" Danny said as if a child, scampering off to his desk and swinging out a drawer.

It was a quaint white box, and before McCain could harbor some sort of mystery of it Danny had slid it open, revealing the bane equal only to fruit cake in that time of year.

A purposefully ugly, overdesigned, stitched together Christmas sweater: The borders of holly, trees, and snow flakes were on top of a disgustingly red background, all of it framing this:





Maybe if she did actually celebrate Hanukkah or actually practiced her family's ancestral Judaic faith, she might've avoided it.

No, all she got was a giant Pikachu face in the background of those words in an ensemble known as an ugly Christmas sweater, a Delibird border framing it all.

"I hate it." She was both being truthful and sarcastic.

"I know you would." Danny had winked at her, throwing the rather hefty affair at her, only to get her guard down for another embrace: the scratchy linen between them cushioning. "Hey, I know it ain't exactly on good occasion but…" He pulled back, holding her shoulders. "I'm glad you're home for Christmas."

What would her life had been like if she wasn't stubborn? If she hadn't raged out of the Celadon PD that fateful day and instead worked at her family's diner? What if she hadn't wanted to use that sorrow and rage filled in her by her mistakes to do a better good for the world then she could at Celadon?

At the very least, she hoped and prayed, her marriage wouldn't be on such shaky ground.

"You know I was coming back this year anyway." she said, quietly.

He wanted to say he couldn't believe it till he saw it. He wanted to say that it didn't matter. He wanted to say he wanted her to stay this time.

Nothing came from his mouth, and McCain had hoped herself on her own that he had said any of those things. Only the sad look of people with the rest of their lives ahead of them.

"Use my bathroom, freshen up. I'll be back in a bit and we can talk about all of this… stuff." He turned away and was out the door before she could respond, the crowd outside cheering at his appearance as, before the door closed, a green figure slid in: Hops.

"Stuff… yeah."

Hops rose an eyebrow at her as he checked out the office better, with Danny gone. He was expecting something.

"It went well." She said as convincingly as she could. He rose his non-existent eyebrow higher. "I swear you spoiled salamander!"

There was nothing threatening about her as she cradled the ugly sweater in her arms, and Hops only huffed in amusement, finding the couch and laying himself across it, stalk of wheat still in his mouth.

Danny could practically live in this office, McCain found out, rounding into his bathroom and finding a rather hotel-like assortment: A standing showing taking one corner as a shitter with more than one button more than her liking stood opposite of the wall sized window and vanity.

With as she understood work at this level, when projects and contracts were on the line, executives were expected to.

She knew exactly why Danny got the job, both when he started and now in his current position. He was smart: technically and pragmatically when it came to Pokémon and trainerdom. When Silph offered to sponsor him during one of the larger tournaments, plastering his competition shirt with their branding, Danny didn't ask for money in exchange: he asked for a job.

He went all of Kanto and Johto testing products and providing field research for them. By the time he turned 25 it was only natural that they offered one of their most enterprising employees a job in the office, close to his home. To him it would've, at least at the time, been his dream.

That was until she had left the Celadon PD and sought out a new career, an ocean away…

No other PD in Kanto or Johto wanted her. No other PD at all, within the regions, after learning about what she pioneered and how she decried it afterwards. The Rangers were more than willing however to take her in for her talents, and she saw herself having no choice.

She believed in the Rangers though, nowadays. A half decade with them did her good in some moral sense: saw the world through the eyes of people more in touch with life and the Earth. The crimes she stopped her moral and ethical ones. Not ones of law and politics.

December 24th

7:45 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

Lunick Stallone had rung in her mind as she opted out of a full shower, wetting a towel and patting herself down, disrobing from the waist up. He was a younger man and yet her CO, and the career he probably came from hadn't the slightest thing to do with law enforcement. He annoyed her in that aspect, but in any other way he was fine. He wasn't unqualified, and he had been worldly, lived a life.

Noticing some lines of powder on the toilet seat she had hoped been of the cosmetic variety, she had taken a toilet paper square and wiped it away as she remembered her CO's advice.

"I was in Hoenn during a vacation paid for by Steven Stone himself." He recounted one night as he led a three man-expedition out north of Fiore to set up more outposts for Rangers and adventurers who liked to venture the mountainlands between Fiore and Sinnoh. "And in order to maximize all the nightlife I could, I figured this out." She recounted very vividly Lunick throwing off his boots and socks and dumping his feet into the river before sundown. "You can be wide awake at the end of the day if you wash your feet and walk around barefoot a bit."

Like most things, the damn jockey had been right as she used the towel to wipe down her feet, callouses unfeeling from a world walked over it felt like, shoes and socks put asides for now. His office was rugged fortunately.

So, McCain had used her husband's accommodations readily, wiping herself down from the day as well. The breaths of air she took in felt more filling, she felt at least, putting her bra back on and eyeing, not her undershirt and flannel, her holster sitting atop them, but rather the ugly Christmas sweater.

Yes, she did hate it. That was the point though, and the least she could do was indulge her husband for his troubles. Maybe he would've gotten sick of it and tore it off her, she thought vaguely herself, it would've done them both good in the end.

When she emerged from his office bathroom Hops had spit out his wheat stalk, laughing in his chirping way, pointing to her as if he had a crowd.

"Eat it up, you bet your ass if Danny bought something like this for me, he has something like this back at the house, and I'm sure Coda would love to put you in it."

The name of his "sister", it stopped his thoughts. Coda the Jolteon would've loved to see her little brother in a Christmas sweater, and if Danny hadn't she would've more than likely bought a gift for him herself.

Homelife reminded her of something rather urgent: Her Operator who always talked about his own. It was probably a good idea to give him a status update, going back to her holster and drawing her Styler into its comm function. She had been so used to the switchboard operator that she had listed off her identity and credentials before realizing there had been no sound coming from it.

She blinked several times dumbfoundedly. The Stylers were hooked up to satellites when they weren't being bounced off the cell towers. The only other time the reception on them hadn't been serviceable was when she was dealing with an electric-type overcrowding problem deep in a cave. Her Styler still worked, that much she knew as she went to the diagnostics screen.


There was a landline mounted on the wall of the bathroom, and she was going to go for that, but a sound erupted first:

One she had forgotten how long it'd been since she hadn't been the cause of it.

Cracks, concussive thumps, the snap of air around glass breaking. Each sound she felt in her lungs as they chattered away beyond those walls.

Hops popped his head out from the couch toward the closed door, both of them looking at each as they heard the sound of screaming.

"Lights!" She ordered him, and all of Hops' swagger had faded away as he dove for the light switch in the room, retreating back behind the couch as McCain was faced with a world that forced her to make decisions – NOW.

Going to the door she had thanked the architects that they opened in the direction of the party:

All she had got as she opened the door a sliver was the back of something she had seen in visions and memories, history and news clips:

Men in black. A red R on their backs. The dangerous difference between them and the ones Red and Lyra dealt with: One Rocketeer had turned around to breach into one office, in his arms a weapon that came from a region so far away that people had forgotten it existed: The Rusulka Region. It and Orre shared the distinction of being one of the only Regions left to maintain any firearm industry at all, and of it, in Rusulka at least, it resulted in one of the finest one-man weapon systems the world had seen since its advent: The Kalashnikov Assault Rifle.

In their heels like their predecessors dangerous Pokémon, Houndour and Mightyena and Raticate, had all followed and enforced their wills, throwing people out of their office mid-copulation or mid-cocaine snort. Toward the garden McCain could see more Rocketeers and Pokémon, shooting up into the ceiling and forcing the partygoers into the depression. Desperately, desperately, she tried looking for her Danny. There was no time though. Spotting down the hall had been the access to the stairwell. That was her ticket.

Danny's office had been the last in the line in that hallway, she using the time to close the door and run for her holster.

The Hi-Power, her pistol. If she took it, if she ran out there and started shooting? She'd be dead. She'd be dead and anyone caught in the crossfire too before she took down more than one, more harm than good done.

Thumbing her back pocket she still felt the two mags seated in it. For a moment she thought leaving the gun. Why? She asked herself. Maybe if they knew someone was running about unarmed, they wouldn't hunt them down and leave them be as the did what they wanted. No, no, they would come looking for its owner regardless. No one carried without knowing how to use it. No time to hide it.

"Fuck!" She screamed to herself silently as she exited the bathroom again, forgetting where she had put her shoes and socks, instead holding her holster harness in her hands instead. Only now she realized that the badge had still been on her. Only now she realized why she was reacting the way she was.

A small fist hit her side.

It was Hops. She looked out again, and hoped the darkness concealed the creak as she again peered through a sliver of door opening. She might've been made if it hadn't been for the office next door: the screams of a woman bursting out topless with a man pulling up his pants drawing the attention of the male grunt who was making his way to her door.

"Hey dude! Look at this bitch!" One of the Rocketeers said to the man too close to McCain, that man moving away and back.

Decision time, and decision time now.

If Erica could judge her for being a trainer for how well she treated Hops, then she would've judged her as well with how well she made hard decisions.

"Stay with Danny. Hops." She winced even saying it.

The words said to him as she closed the door again was urgent, too fast, only by the situation.

"What?" He responded back. "You have a gun, and I have-!" The blades of grass on his arms solidified and sharpened. Hops had killed before. A fact he never dwelled on. In the animal kingdom kill or be killed was less a morality struggle and more a trial of right to survive.

"You have to stay with him Hops."

"Why?!" He hopped up to her, seized her hands and knelt her down. This time she said it slow and smooth. She wanted him to understand exactly what she was saying. "I'm not letting you go out there to die-!"

"Hey! Hey! Listen to me!" She was on her knees by her own accord and his face was held by her hands, the grips of her pistol caught between her right hand and his cheek. "I love you Hops baby. But I trust no one else on this Earth to take care of my dumb ass husband than you. Please."

"I don't care about that!" How natural they spoke to each other in moments like this. It was if they were speaking the same language all their life as he bared his teeth at her. "I love you too much to let you go off and do whatever alone!"

He knew what she was planning, somewhat, just by the air about her.

"If you get taken hostage now, they won't hurt you! As a hostage you're safer then running with me." Hops wanted to debate with her so bad, but he couldn't as she made the decision for him, praying, betting with her own life that this was the best one. "I love you like my own child, you know that, but please. Please."

Her words were rushed, but they were honest and true. For all his years alive and all his years he could've called McCain his own, he had known her to never treat him wrongly. He trusted his life with hers, and vice versa. She was the closest thing to a mother to him, and for that, if all his life was building up to this, then yes, he would do it for her.

She was his mother.

He was her Pokémon.

Green arms wrapped around her neck and, for a moment, all was okay in the world. It was the tightest hug he had ever given, and it was the tightest hug that she had given back. It was also a quickest. "I'll be back. I promise." Not even enough time to get teary eye'd at a possible, final goodbye.

No. She couldn't allow herself to think like that.

Without even a response she had went back to Danny's door, only to open a peek, and, seeing none of the gunmen looking her direction, she bolted out and into the stairway access.

When the Rocketeers came into Danny's office, all they found was a Grovyle sleeping alone on a couch. Guns aimed at him, a Houndour growling to reinforce, he only raised his arms and cooly was collected back at the garden with the rest of the hostages.

In that mess: a man he hadn't exactly always been a fan with, nowadays, but who he was charged with taking care of. Huddling by Mr. Silph, it had been Daniel McCain, as dazed and shocked as anyone else.

Still, he had his priorities about him as Hops revealed himself in that mass of people at his legs. He shot to his shoulders:

"Where is she Hops?!" He whisper yelled at him, begging as people continued to scream, gunfire destroying the ceiling above. "Where is she?!"

Hops looked back at Danny, into his soul hopefully. He couldn't answer, shaking his head. All that meant was she wasn't here, and he hoped to Arceus that she knew what she was doing.