Belle blinked confusedly under the lights of the lobby as she mutely led Derrick toward the elevator. What was she supposed to say to him? Hey, sorry I left you back in Lavender Town, how the hell did you find me? He didn't seem to care much that she wasn't talking anyway; she heard him whistling a little as he followed her, making no effort to start a conversation.

She pressed the button to call the elevator and stood silently staring at the floor. Derrick stood beside her; she snuck a glance at him and saw him patiently standing before the doors, hands shoved in his coat pockets, whistling good-naturedly. His Bellossum stood on his shoulder still.

When the doors opened, Derrick gestured for Belle to go in first, so she did. She waited for him to join her before pressing the right button. She wondered briefly if he knew that there would be other people in the apartment. She thought that it might be a good time to warn him. She watched the doors close. She felt the rumble of the elevator below her feet. She looked at the floor. She looked at the wall. She looked at her hands. They had Derrick's gloves on them. She ran out of non-Derrick things to look at.

She drew in a deep breath and screwed up her courage. You can do this, Belle, she told herself. Why was she so freaked out, anyway? "Um," she began.

Way to go, she thought dryly.

Derrick looked at her attentively with a somewhat amused expression across his face.

"Uh, I—uh—I live with Alyssa and Cassandra," she stammered.

He nodded. "Yep. Your mom told me that."

She blinked, bewildered. "My mom?"

"Yeah. Y'know—Leader of the Viridian City Gym? Real nice lady? Strange aversion to shoes?"

"Oh—right."

"She's the one who told me where to find you," he added helpfully.

"Oh!"

"Yeah."

"Okay. Well, um, they're not the only ones living there."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. There's this guy Ian."

Derrick raised his eyebrows.

"He's a Ranger. He's sort of Alyssa's partner." Belle frowned. "He's also sort of her boyfriend. I guess. It's…confusing."

"Okay." He nodded and smiled. "Is that it?"

"No, actually. Also…my dad."

It was Derrick's turn to frown. "What about your dad?"

"He…he's living with us."

His eyebrows shot up again, and she could tell he was questioning her sanity.

"He's…alive. That's—well—it's a long story, I guess. Um…I'll tell you when we get there. I guess." Stop saying that, she chided herself.

"Belle…that's amazing. I'm so happy for you."

She looked at his face; he was smiling broadly at her. She felt herself give a tiny smile in reply. "Yeah," she said quietly. "It..it is amazing."

The doors slid open and she led the way down the hall to the apartment; when she got to the door, she began frowning as she unlocked it. How was she supposed to introduce Derrick? What would everyone say? What would her dad say? Her mind was racing as she pushed the door open and leaned inside.

Conveniently, everyone was in the living room—Daniel was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a frying pan in his hand, for some reason, and Alyssa had a hand over her mouth stifling a laugh. Ian looked halfway between concerned and greatly amused, and Cassandra had tears in her eyes from trying not to laugh. They all looked up at her as she stepped inside, hovering awkwardly in the doorway; Daniel looked embarrassed.

"Ah—hey there, sweetheart," Daniel said, waving the frying pan.

Belle suddenly smelled smoke, and she frowned. "Um…what smells like—"

And then Alyssa burst out laughing. "Oh—Belle—your dad—he tried to cook lunch—"

"I, uh…I'm not as good with a stove as I used to be," he muttered, glancing away and setting the frying pan down—now Belle could see that there was something hard and black sitting in a lump inside it.

"He was just—explaining—" Cassandra stopped, and she looked as though she might cry from laughter.

"What's wrong, Belle?" Ian asked.

Everyone frowned and cocked their heads at her, looking at her anew. Now they seemed to notice that she hadn't come fully inside or shut the door or even removed her coat. She fidgeted under their gazes.

"Uh, guys," she said slowly, scratching at her neck though it didn't really itch. "Um…well…this is Derrick." She shuffled aside so that he could come in behind her.

"Hi, everyone," Derrick said jovially, nudging the door shut with his heel.

Daniel's eyes narrowed. Belle had told him about Derrick, and he had been appropriately sympathetic. But now here was a real, live boy, and Belle was bringing him home.

His paternal instincts kicked in.

Ian was the most aware that no one had said anything; he got to his feet and walked over, thrusting his hand forward with a smile. "Nice to meet you, Derrick," he said, and Derrick seized Ian's hand for a handshake. "I'm Ian."

Cassandra stood as well. "I'm Cassandra," she said.

"You should come in," Alyssa told him from her seat. "I'm a cripple; I can't get up without a lot of difficulty." She gestured toward her leg. "I'm Alyssa, by the way."

Derrick smiled. "All right."

"Here," Ian said. "Let me take your coat, man."

Derrick took his Bellossum from his shoulder and placed her on the floor. He took off his hat, shoved it into his coat pocket, and then removed his coat, which he handed to Ian.

"Why aren't you wearing gloves?" Cassandra exclaimed as she caught sight of his bare hands.

"I was," he replied. "But Belle wasn't, and she looked cold, so I gave them to her."

Daniel's eyebrows raised briefly.

Belle remembered the gloves and stripped them from her hands. She went about unbundling as Derrick removed his shoes and followed Ian into the living room. Her hands were shaking. This was all so strange. Derrick had just showed up, somehow knew exactly where to find her—probably due to Terra—and, as if that wasn't strange enough, seemed to want absolutely no explanation from her. She might have been less shaky and nervous if he had demanded some details, but instead he was acting as though nothing had happened.

Before Derrick could sit, Daniel rose and stood before him, frowning down at the boy's face. "Derrick," he said.

Derrick nodded. "Sir."

"My name is Daniel Caldwell. I'm Belle's father."

He nodded again and offered his hand. "It's an honor to meet you, sir."

Daniel grasped the boy's hand.

"Especially since I thought you were dead. It's nice to see you're not a zombie."

A brief moment of silence followed these words; and then Daniel's face split into a huge smile. He let out a deep laugh. "You're all right, huh, kid?" He smacked him on the back. "You're all right."

"So, Derrick," Cassandra said as the two of them sat down, "what brings you to Sinnoh?"

"Yeah," Belle piped up, joining them. "What brings you here?"

Derrick smiled. "I wanted to find Belle. Miss Terra told me where to go, so…here I am. I just got here about a week ago. I thought it'd be…intrusive, I guess…if I just came straight here, so I just found the Poffin House and waited outside until I saw Belle." He laughed. "I mean, I beat all eight gyms in Kanto, so what was I supposed to do there, anyway?"

"And…was there anything you wanted to ask me?"

"Nope."

"Not even…privately?"

"Nope."

"…nothing?"

He glanced at her with a grin. "If you're asking if I want to know why you ran out on me, the answer's no. I don't care. You did it, Miss Terra said you regretted it, and that's good enough for me. I don't even want an apology, really. But I did want to see you again, so…here I am."

Belle didn't know how to reply. Her mouth fell open in disbelief; Derrick's smile widened.

"Honestly, Belle. I'm just happy to see you."

"I…I'm happy to see you, too."

He nodded. "Good. Oh—I didn't properly introduce you to Bellove, did I? Bellove, dear!"

Derrick's Bellossum was still by the entrance; hearing her name, she wandered over, eyeing everyone shyly. She climbed into Derrick's lap and sat there, still watching everyone. "This is Bellove, my Bellossum. Because she doesn't particularly like Poké Balls, she's the one who accompanies me most of the time. Say hello, Bellove."

The Bellossum made absolutely no sound.

Derrick chuckled. "She's a bit shy."

Belle slowly sat down in the floor next to Derrick. "So…when did you get her?"

"Oh, shortly after I entered Fuchsia City. Her trainer wasn't quite sure how to handle her because she was so shy; but she took a liking to me, so I traded my Geodude for her." He stroked one of the flowers on her head. "She's awfully stubborn. Reminds me a little of you, Belle," he added with a smile, and Alyssa snickered.

"So, was Bellove her previous trainer's name for her?" Cassandra asked.

"Oh, no," Derrick replied. "I started calling her that after I got her."

"But I thought Pokémon don't respond to new names after they've been traded."

"They usually don't," Daniel said, watching Bellove. "This one must not have bonded very well with her previous trainer."

"Probably not," Derrick admitted. "But she's my sweetie, my Bellove."

"Bellove, huh?" Daniel muttered.

A silence descended as they all watched Bellove watch them. It was broken after a few seconds by a strange beeping; Ian leapt to his feet.

"That's my Styler," he said, rushing down the hallway.

Alyssa's eyes lit up. "That may be a message from the Top Rangers."

Derrick frowned. "What's going on?"

"It's a long story," Belle told him. "We'll tell it to you over dinner, probably."

"He's staying for dinner?" Daniel asked, snapping out of his reverie.

"Well, I assumed he'd just be staying here, period," Alyssa said, brushing her hair out of her eyes.

"There's no room," Daniel said.

"Ian's got plenty of room. He can sleep in there."

Daniel's eyes snapped to Derrick's face and narrowed. Derrick looked at him apologetically.

Ian stumbled out of the hallway, clutching his Styler, his face a strange mix of emotions. "I—I—"

"Well, spit it out," Alyssa said, twisting to look at him.

Ian's gaze roamed over Derrick. He appeared uncertain.

"It's okay," Belle assured him. "We're going to fill him in later anyway."

Ian glanced at Alyssa for confirmation; she nodded. He took a deep breath. "That was Chairperson Erma."

Alyssa frowned. "You mean Ranger HQ, right?"

"No. I mean Chairperson Erma herself."

Belle glanced at Alyssa's amazed face. She had no clue who Chairperson Erma was, but obviously she was important.

Ian waved his Styler. "She said the Top Rangers are coming. Tomorrow."

"Without sending a scouting party first?" Alyssa demanded.

"She said that they're already contacting the region's gym leaders. And the Champion."

A hush settled over everyone in the room. They may not have known who Chairperson Erma was, but they all understood the importance of the Champion.

"It's going to be a raid," Alyssa whispered.

Ian nodded. "A big one."

Belle felt a churning in her stomach. "We're going to be allowed to participate, right?" she asked. "I mean, we basically were the scouting party. It was our information that triggered this."

Alyssa frowned. "Top Rangers rarely bring in civilians," she said. "But, under the circumstances…you've already played a big part…I don't see why they wouldn't allow it."

"Plus, you and Cassandra are powerful trainers," Ian remarked.

"I am, too," Derrick chimed in. "I don't know exactly what's going on, but I want to be a part of this."

"Heath probably will, too," Alyssa muttered—she still had trouble calling him Alexandré. "I bet I can convince whoever is in charge to let you all participate. And I'm not getting left out, either."

"If you all are going in, so am I," Daniel said.

"You don't have any Pokémon, Dad," Belle told him apologetically.

Daniel shook his head. "I do have Pokémon. They're just not with me. And I know that Galactic didn't dispose of them; I've seen them several times."

"Seen them?"

Daniel nodded. "There are a few reasons I want to be a part of this raid…and one of them is a girl. A young girl, probably no older than ten now. Galactic got her young. She had domestic responsibilities—she took care of the prisoners, human and Pokémon. She had a way of calming Pokémon down that made her an excellent caregiver. Occasionally, she would take care of me. We became friends. She would bring my Pokémon down to see me—one at a time—so that I could know they were all right, and they could know I was all right. The Galactics haven't beaten the compassion out of her yet." He shook his head. "That girl's not a criminal. She's a prisoner. And I want to get her out."

"Why is this the first we're hearing about this girl?" Belle asked.

He shrugged. "I don't know. I've been thinking about her for a while, though."

"What's her name?" Cassandra asked.

"Low-ranking Galactics don't have names," Daniel sneered bitterly. "She was Number 472. She told me that she used to have a name, before the Galactics found her, but she was very young, and she doesn't remember much. She didn't seem willing to talk about what she did remember, so I didn't press her."

"She's only ten?" Alyssa piped up. "When did you start seeing her around?"

Daniel shrugged. "A few years after I arrived, I suppose. She was younger then, of course. I think she was five when I first started seeing her." He scratched at his forehead. "The Galactics might be disgusting, but I'll admit they're clever. They started sending her to the prisoners to reduce violence against the caregivers. Not many of their prisoners could bring themselves to hurt a little girl."

"At any rate," Ian said, "the Top Rangers arrive tomorrow night. Erma didn't say exactly when we were going to start, but she said that we'll be contacted once they touch down." He took a deep breath; he appeared to be shaking, and he wasn't the only one. Belle felt her fingers trembling the way they did before a big battle, and Cassandra's whole frame seemed to be shuddering. Alyssa seemed the calmest, but her eyes were closed in a concentrating frown. "I think there's a big possibility that they'll actually start tomorrow."

"This is too fast," Cassandra muttered.

Alyssa shook her head. "No. I see their reasoning. We can't take too long and run the risk of the Galactics actually finding a way to harness Celebi's power. We have to go in hard, and we have to go in now."

Silence followed her words. Belle's heartbeat kicked into overdrive as she let it sink in that this was huge. This was bigger than a young girl fighting to help her father; this was a team of top agents fighting to put down a large criminal organization, possibly to save the world. She glanced at Daniel to see how he was handling it, but the only thing showing on his face was determination. He wanted to get this done.

She did too.


After everyone had recovered, filled Derrick in, talked the raid to death, and gone to bed one by one, Belle and Derrick sat at the dining room table eating cookies and talking softly. He was different somehow; Belle couldn't quite put her finger on it, but he was definitely different. He told her about his gym battles, made fun of himself for getting stuck at Erika's gym, told her a funny story about a biker he had met on Cycling Road. She nodded as he talked. She wasn't sure she wanted to tell him about her own adventure—it had been a tad lonely, and it sounded much more sad than his—but she was happy to listen to his. She had missed him, and that didn't surprise her. Hadn't she thought of him almost constantly?

"Sabrina said something about you," he said, and she cocked her head.

"She did?"

He nodded. "She told me that you had left Saffron City the very day before I arrived. And then she told me that your battle was one of the most intense she had ever had."

"There was a lot of screaming," Belle said. "Man, I haven't thought about that in a while." And then she frowned.

"What?"

"It's just…she said something to me, after I won…" She screwed up her face. "She told me she knew my dad, and that…" And then her eyes widened. The way he died…well, you would not expect one of his caliber to go so easily. It doesn't seem…true, almost. "Oh my…she knew."

"Sorry?" Derrick said, frowning.

Belle shook her head. "She knew Dad was alive." She told Derrick what Sabrina had said, and Derrick smiled.

"She probably did. She is psychic."

Belle found herself smiling too. "Son of a bitch."

Derrick laughed a bit.

"So, after that…you went to Cinnabar, right?"

His smile slid off his face, and he looked at his hands upon the table. "Yeah."

She let her unspoken question hang between them for a moment. He had to know that she had seen his mother, knew what he left behind.

"Derrick," she said finally, and he smiled slightly.

"I visited my mother. CI-4 told me you'd been there."

Belle nodded. "I…wanted to see where you lived."

"CI-4 also said that the house was a dump when you visited. After you left, Dr. Anderson gathered some people to fix it up. It's cleaner now. And there's someone with Mom around the clock."

She nodded again.

"I didn't want you to see that."

"Didn't want me to see what? Your mother?"

"Yeah. But…I'm glad that you did. You saved me the trouble of having to yell at Dr. Anderson. I've always admired her." He smiled sadly at her, and her gaze lowered to the table. "If I had come back and seen the inside of the house like that…I mean, the outside had been falling apart for a while. There's only so much a little boy can do, you know?" He ran his fingers through his hair, unwittingly tousling it up. The gesture was so familiar that Belle felt herself smile, and she was glad he wasn't looking at her. "But I always kept the inside as clean as I could. And to find out that Dr. Anderson had been mostly ignoring her…well, I would have been pretty mad if we had arrived and discovered that together. I wouldn't have wanted you to see me like that."

"How was…your mother?"

"She recognized me," he said, smiling. "She was happy to see me for the most part. But she kept asking for Koko."

"Was she…sad…when you left?"

"No, actually." He glanced at her. "She understood. Dr. Anderson had hired a therapist to work with her, so she's been making progress. She understands that I'm on my Pokémon Journey—most of the time, at least. She still asks for me occasionally, but she still seems to be looking for Koko. Sometimes she thinks she still works at the lab. But she's doing better."

"That's good," Belle said. She reached out to lay a hand on his, but she hesitated and placed it awkwardly on the table in front of her instead.

"Blaine mentioned you," he told her, changing the subject.

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Him and CI-7 seemed to like you. He told me to ask about your Poliwhirl."

Belle's face fell. "Ah. Poliwhirl."

"What happened?"

"I…I was stupid. I didn't see the puddle, and I drew a blank when I tried to think of what to do next…"

"Puddle? Oh—you mean the ones Blaine's Macgargo leaves all around the battlefield?"

"Yeah. Poliwhirl fell into one. He has a big scar across his back now—look." Belle pulled Poliwhirl's Poké Ball from her belt and let him out; she gently turned him so that Derrick could see the giant, ugly scar marring the Pokémon's back.

"That looks like it hurt," Derrick said softly.

"Poli," Poliwhirl agreed in a low voice. Belle gently put a hand on his head.

"So when did you get Poliwhirl here?"

"In Celadon City," she replied. "You know that random pond?"

"Oh yeah! Who else do you have?"

Belle let all her Pokémon out—even Charmy, who seemed happy to see Derrick again—and told him all about how she got each one. Derrick grinned and placed Bellove beside Belle's Bellossum.

"That's funny," he mumbled as they eyed each other warily.

"So who do you have?" Belle asked.

"Well, you've already met Rargus."

"Your Arcanine."

"Right. Remember my Nidoran? He's a Nidoking now. And my Squirtle is a Blastoise. They're all way too big for me to let out in this apartment," he added, and Belle laughed. "But the ones I can introduce to you—besides Bellove here—are Raichu and Henry." A Raichu and a Fearow appeared before her.

"Well, nice to meet you," Belle said to them.

"I'm glad they could finally meet you," Derrick said softly. He glanced at her across the table.

"So…who did you use against Blaine?"

"Well, Blastoise, of course," he said with a laugh. "Nidoking at first, though. I didn't see Magmar's Thunderpunch coming, that's for sure, but Blastoise pushed right through it. He is a trooper."

"Did he give you some sort of riddle after the battle?"

"Who, Blastoise?"

"No," she laughed. "Blaine."

"Oh, yeah." Derrick grinned.

"I couldn't figure mine out. I've been thinking about it for a while now."

"Well, let's hear it."

She sighed irritably. "Okay, here it is: Life is simply meaningless without me. Oh, you cannot see me! Very blind am I, but yet I capture people securely. Everyone chases me, though some think they do not need me. What am I?" She glanced at Derrick's face only to see that he appeared to be struggling against laughter. "What?" she asked.

"Belle." He shook his head. "Blaine thinks he's…some sort of psychologist. He gives people the riddles he thinks they need to find the answer to." His voice became softer, all traces of laughter gone. "That riddle's answer…is love."

She felt the atmosphere shift, and she looked down at her hands. The Pokémon all seemed to feel it too; led by Charmy, they wandered into the living room.

"I've missed you, Belle."

"Derrick," she said. "I…"

"Sh." He reached out and laid a hand on hers. "You don't have to say anything. It's all right."

"I'm just…sorry."

"I know." He squeezed her hand. "It's okay. Belle…"

She looked at him. There was something in his eyes, something that reminded her of that last night in Lavender Town. She remembered falling asleep with her hand in his. She remembered kissing him before she left.

Had he ever known that she had kissed him? She wondered if he had felt it somehow, if his cheek had tingled with the feel of her lips when he woke up. Maybe she would help him remember. Maybe she wanted to kiss him right now, really, really bad. Maybe she would. I'm going to kiss you, she thought determinedly.

As if he had read her mind, Derrick leaned slightly toward her. Her heart began to beat faster, and she realized that she had never kissed a boy. But she wanted to. She wanted to kiss this boy. She leaned toward him. Wait, would their noses get in the way? She tilted her head slightly. That should take care of it; after all, that was how people kissed in the movies…but they also opened their mouths in the movies. Panic-stricken, she began to search through her memories of romantic movie scenes, trying to piece together a proper kissing technique. She had not thought this through.

"It's a little late, isn't it?"

Belle almost jumped out of her skin; she looked around to see Daniel standing in the hallway, watching Belle and Derrick with a level gaze.

"N-not really," Belle replied, rapidly gaining composure. She pulled away from Derrick and sat straight up in her chair.

"You two should get to bed."

"It's not that late," Belle insisted, but Derrick got to his feet and returned Raichu and Henry to their Poké Balls.

"You're absolutely right, sir," he told Daniel. "Over here, Bellove." The Bellossum ventured out of the living room for Derrick to scoop her up. "Good night, sir. Good night, Belle." And he walked down the hall. Belle heard a door open and shut, and then nothing else.

"I guess I'll go to bed too," Belle muttered. She returned her Pokémon to their Poké Balls and went to walk past her father into the hallway, but he blocked her path.

"I want to talk to you," he said. "Sit."

She went back to the table and sat down. Daniel sat in the seat Derrick had previously occupied, linking his fingers together and staring at his hands. He didn't say anything for several seconds.

Belle began silently steeling herself for the talk. She compiled some replies she was sure she would need, mainly focusing on the fact that Terra had already given her the talk and that she had her own views on such things (which seemed to be much more conservative than Terra's, something Belle had been horrorstruck to discover). Being a good, dutiful daughter, she vowed that she would let her father at least get in a sentence or two before she interjected.

"Belle," he said, and he sounded weary. He paused.

"I know what you're going to say," she said, grabbing at this opportunity. "And you don't need—"

Daniel held up a hand for silence; Belle clamped her mouth shut immediately. "I don't think you do." He placed his hand back down on the table and waited for a little longer. "I know it's late. I know that I told you to go to bed. But I need to tell you this."

She felt her stomach clinch. Suddenly, she didn't think he was going to give her the talk she was expecting.

"I don't want you to go on this raid."

"What?" she demanded; Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and motioned for her to be quiet. "What?" she repeated, more softly.

"It's too dangerous, Belle. I can't allow it."

"I'm the one who came in and got you," she snapped.

"This is very different," he told her. "This time, they'll be on high alert. It'll be violence on a large scale. I can't let you do this."

"Can't let me?" she growled in reply. "I've already proven that I'm a powerful trainer. I'm not some little girl, Dad. I've defeated eight gym leaders, including Mom."

"Those were controlled environments with rules and a referee. This will be totally different. The Galactics don't go by any rules."

"Good. That means I don't have to, either."

Daniel sighed exasperatedly and pushed away from the table, getting to his feet. He turned and walked a few steps toward the kitchen. "Belle," he began.

"No, Dad."

"It's dangerous," he said, turning toward her again.

"I don't care!"

"This is—it's just—"

"Dad." He looked at her; a long silence passed between them.

Derek really had gotten his eyes. That piercing blue gaze had caused her to feel many things as a child; comfort, security, fear, guilt. Now all she felt was determination. Now she was old enough to face that gaze with confidence.

"I'm going on the raid," Belle told her father, meeting his eyes. "And that's that."

Daniel sighed like a man who had been on the losing end of many arguments and could tell when it was happening. He ran his hand through his shaggy hair. "Look at you," he murmured. "Cursed with the same stubborn recklessness I am." He laughed a little and placed his hands on his hips as he looked up at the ceiling. "I'm not sure if I should be proud or terrified that you grew up to be just like me, kiddo."

Belle felt herself smiling. I'm just like my father, she thought proudly, and a warm glow started in her belly.

"You grew up to be just like me," he repeated, his voice barely above a whisper. He shook his head, and his gaze fell to the floor. "You grew up. You grew up, Belle," he said again, this time louder. His voice sounded a bit shaky as he turned to her again. "You grew up and I wasn't there to see it happen."

"Dad, I—"

"And you know why?" he said, interrupting her. She fell silent. He looked a little crazy. "Because I'm stubborn! Because I'm reckless! And you are too!" His voice cracked a little; he put his face in his hands for a moment, shaking his head. When he spoke again, his voice was muffled. "Don't you see what this does to us, Belle?"

"No," she whispered after his pause. His hands slid off his face.

"It takes us away," he told her in a hollow voice, his gaze leveled at the floor. He shook his head as if to clear it. "It takes us away from the people we care about, the people we love. If I had—if I had just—" His voice shook so badly he paused and shook his head again, taking in a huge gulp of air before he continued, much quieter, so that Belle had to strain to hear him. "If I had just…left…well enough alone…if I hadn't tried to stop Team Galactic…I would have been home. Oh, God," he moaned, stopping to bring his hands to his face again. "I would have been…home. I would have spent these past…eight years…eight years…with you, and Terra, and Derek. I haven't even met Derek," he added in a whisper. "But if I had let it go…if I had just let it go, left well enough alone…" He laughed a humorless laugh. "I'd be there right now, wouldn't I? And instead…look what happened."

He turned away from her, and Belle suspected that he was crying. His shoulders didn't shake, but he was slumped, his face in his hands. He seemed defeated; it made her sad to see him like this. He was her father, her mighty daddy, the man she had looked up to and missed for eight long years. She shifted slightly in her chair, wondering how many times he had mulled this over in prison.

"Dad?" she said quietly, and his head flicked slightly to indicate that he had heard her. "Dad, I…well…" She sucked in a breath. "If you had just…left well enough alone…I don't think I would have been as proud to call you my dad."

He didn't move; for what felt like ages, he stayed perfectly still. And then, finally, slowly, she saw his fingers snaking through his hair to the back of his head. He turned, equally slowly, to look over his shoulder at her, his bent elbow stuck way out past his face. He used to stand that way all the time; when she was younger, she had always wondered how he could twist his torso so awkwardly, and she would practice it in front of a mirror, but she could never do it quite the way he could. Now she smiled shyly at him as if she were eight years old again, waiting for him to dole out some reprimand or punishment.

"You," he said quietly, "are just like your old man."

She felt tears spring to her eyes, and her smile widened. That one sentence meant more to her than the whole of Sinnoh.


Look at me, back again after only one week! I am on a roll! *knock on wood* I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving! (...if you're even in the US. Are all of you in the US?)

Anyway, now to thank my totally awesome reviewers!:

Gazing on the Arabesque (Your wish is my command! ...sort of. I just couldn't leave you guys hanging for TWO WEEKS on that whole slap thing! That would be sadistic!)

DTeddyBear (Still don't think you should fight with me on grammar!)

The Finesseful X (I'm glad I could brighten your day a bit! I remember driver's ed...it was awful. D:)

WingedSmasher (Yaay! I'm glad you liked it! XD)

KeepOnMovingUp94 (Your name makes me think of The Jeffersons...and now I have that song stuck in my head...and you read this from the BEGINNING? o_0 That is a LOT of reading. Welcome to the family!)

Fettucini Alfredo (Well, good luck on your own fic! I'm glad you liked mine! And you finished this in two days? That's pretty fast! Well, welcome to the family!)

And thanks so much to anyone who may be lurking out there but not reviewing! Just realized I've never thanked you guys! If you exist, thanks for reading!

Hopefully I'll have the next chapter up by next week. IS IT TOO MUCH TO HOPE FOR?