Note: Well then. It's certainly been a while. The past two years have been a struggle for me, for both my physical and mental health. As a result, my writing became sporadic. I am truly sorry. I hope that this update will be worth the wait.

This chapter is dedicated to JMeh on deviantArt, whose unyielding support and friendship made this update possible. Thank-you, hun.

Follow Me

A Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver Story

Chapter 40


The duo approached the city limits of Viridian City from Route 22 as the evening settled in, the sky painted a blurred spectrum of orange, pink, and purple, hints of night blue on the horizon. Chocobo, ever at Soul's side, crooned piteously at his master, who turned at the sound of his distress. She patted his head feathers, concerned, but then her own stomach elaborated the problem with a low gurgle.

Clutching at her middle, she turned to Silver. "I know you're eager to get to your house, but it's been a while since we ate lunch, and I'm sure all the Pokémon are hungry…"

"No, that's fine," Silver said, shaking his head. "Trust me, I'm starving, too. Let's find a place to eat, and then we can settle on how to move forward."

Soul agreed with a nod. "That sounds like a good plan to me. Let's go."

A meal order later, the two sat on a park bench, both absorbed in their food, their Pokémon spread out across the grassy plain, eating and socializing merrily. Soul's Gyarados cruised along the surface of the very tiny pond nearby, bellowing happily because of her full stomach. Soul watched as both her Pokémon and Silver's interacted, a fond smile on her face. These very Pokémon had fought on dozens of occasions in the past, yet none of that seemed to matter as they cavorted on the grass, like old friends. Pokémon had no use for drama, so they did not adhere to such conventions. She envied them in that moment as she sat beside the boy she craved but could not hold. Why did emotions have to be so complicated? She sighed.

Silver heard Soul exhale and turned. Her eyes were distant and full of melancholy. He noticed her hands in her lap, clutching her half-eaten sandwich. More than anything, he longed to clasp that hand with his own, to comfort her. She turned to him, and, startled, he scrambled into an excuse. "Something wrong?" he asked.

Soul shook her head. "No, not really," she said. She turned back to the monsters on the lawn. "I was just thinking about how happy the Pokémon look to be together."

Silver turned also and grinned. "Nn, yeah, they do look pretty happy."

Soul paused contemplatively. "...And what about you?"

A jolt shot through his chest, and he turned to her, swallowing. "Hm?"

"You've been pretty quiet since we got here," Soul elaborated. "Aren't you happy to be in your hometown?"

Silver's heart deflated, and he turned back to the Pokémon, debating. "I guess, maybe. For every good memory here, I have a bad one, also. They kind of...cancel each other out, you know?"

Soul nodded. "That's how I feel about my hometown, too, actually. I told you I'm originally from Hoenn, right?"

"Nn," Silver recalled with a nod.

Soul looked thoughtfully at the ground. "I was born in Rustboro City. I have a lot of fond memories visiting parks there with my mom as a kid. But I have a lot of bad memories to cancel all that out, as well." She paused, and then she filled the somber silence with a bite of her sandwich.

Silver swallowed. "Is that because of your parents' divorce?"

She turned to him, surprise registered on her face, but then she seemed to recall his inclusion in this secret, and she nodded. "Nn, it was...rough, to say the least." She stared at her lap for a moment and then looked at him. "No offense, Silver, but I don't really want to talk about it. One day, we will, maybe...but not right now, okay?"

Already understanding, Silver nodded. "Sure."

They both took samplings of their meal to fill the silence that followed.

"Sorry," Soul blurted after another minute passed. "It's's complicated."

"Don't worry about it," Silver assured her. "I can appreciate having a complicated past you don't want to talk about, trust me." He took another bite and added, not looking at her, "Just whenever you're ready, you let me know."

Soul blushed; she was unused to a straightforward, kind Silver. She had to admit, she liked it. "Thanks," she said, brushing her bangs behind her ear with one hand.

He nodded in reply. "In any case, once we're finished here, we can head to my old house."

"How far is it from here?" Soul asked.

"Mm, it's probably…" He paused, obviously calculating. "...Four or five blocks from here, in a neighborhood on the east side of town, just south of Gym Hill." He grinned a little. "My father used to complain bitterly about climbing to the Gym on the hilltop."

Soul smiled at the candid admission. "If it sounded anything like your grumblings, I can picture it."

He raised an eyebrow in protest but caught her prodding grin and smirked instead. "Yeah, well, I had to get something from him, I guess."

"That's actually something I was curious about," Soul said, taking another nibble of her sandwich, which was cooling rapidly in the approaching night. "When I met your father, I noticed the two of you look alike in the face, but not much else is similar. I guess you take more after your mother?"

"Nn," Silver confirmed with a nod, mouth full of another bite. He chewed a moment before he continued. "My hair and eye color are hers. I'm also not as broad-shouldered as him, something I probably inherited from her, as well. My mom was pretty petite."

Soul nodded, swallowing a bite. "That's what I figured." She paused, pondering. "What was she like? Your mom, that is."

Silver contemplated the question a moment. "She was very gentle," he said. "She knew exactly how to calm my father when he lost his temper. She was a housewife and happy to be so. She loved cooking and cleaning; I don't think I heard her complain once." His face darkened. "But she was pretty frail, and she had a bad immune system. She was always sick with one thing or another, though she'd try to hide it."

A memory danced into the front of his brain at the admission.

"Mama, can I have some jui—"

Silver froze in the doorway of the kitchen, more shocked than he had ever been in his short three years of life. His mother sat on the laminate tile, her legs curled beneath her, one hand still gripping the counter above her, her shoulders leaning against the cabinetry. She had obviously collapsed, judging by the fit of coughing she succumbed to with her other hand.

"Mama?" the boy asked, distress in his voice.

The red-headed woman turned to him, startled by his witness of her moment of weakness. "Oh, Silver, sweetheart…" She gripped the counter with intention to rise, but her legs buckled and refused, another bout of coughing overtaking her.

Silver crossed the room to her, panic on his young face.

"I'm all right," she reassured him between coughs. "I just need some water—"

A particularly violent row claimed her, and she covered her mouth to shield it. Red flecks spurted between the gaps in her fingers, dotting the floor. The pair of them stared at the emissions, and slowly, Scarlet removed her hand from her mouth, noting the large swath of red that coated her palm.

"Is that why she died?" Soul asked, pulling him from his memory.

Stiffening, Silver nodded. "One of her illnesses got the better of her," he said darkly. "As far as I remember, it started out as a simple cold, but then things just spiraled out of control." He gazed upward, his eyes unfocused, trying to grasp memories hazed by time. "I was young, though, so it's possible I don't remember everything." He sighed. "I actually wouldn't mind asking my father for the full story when we find him."

Soul smiled at his usage of, "when," instead of, "if." She clapped a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Well then, it seems to me we should hurry up and get going."

Grinning, Silver nodded, taking a purposeful bite of his sandwich.

Night shaded them in earnest as the duo, accompanied by Chocobo, made their way down the block-paved streets of Silver's old neighborhood. The late December air cut at their exposed faces, their breath smoking around them before dissipating into nothing. A calm settled over the quiet neighborhood, one, Soul figured, the hamlet enjoyed routinely. North of them, guarding the town from atop its hill, loomed the Viridian City Gym, clearly visible beyond the rows of rooftops. The lights were off; Soul assumed Green was still away for the holiday. She wondered briefly about the Gym Leader and his fiery girlfriend whom she had befriended. Categorically, her thoughts shifted to Red, and her features darkened.

Silver swore at her left, rousing Soul from her thoughts as they stalled on the sidewalk. "Hm?" she asked.

Silver indicated a house several lengths ahead. "That's my house."

Soul followed his instruction. The little raised house sat quaintly on the south side of the street, the front facing toward the Gym. True to Silver's word, boards barred the windows of the single-story home, and police tape criss-crossed between the beams of the covered porch. It, like many of the other houses on the street, was old-fashioned in design, and Soul wondered briefly if she stood in one of the original neighborhoods that comprised the city at its founding. The white picket fence showed signs of time, the paint chipped and grime-covered, several slats intermittently missing in the lineup. The grass beyond in the small front yard rivaled the height of the fence, and she imagined it was crawling with the local wildlife.

"And that," Silver continued, directing her attention across the street, "is going to be our problem."

Glancing, Soul gasped sharply. A white-and-black patrol car sat parallel to the house, a policeman clearly visible in the driver's seat. He turned in their direction, and Soul floundered.

"Act natural," Silver said through his teeth, retaking their stride.

She followed him, and the two made a casual pass of the house, Soul's palms sweating in her gloves as the guard leered at them. When they had traversed a safe distance from the patrolman, Silver spoke again.

"Let's try going around back, see if we can get in that way."

They turned right and headed down an alleyway created by the high privacy fences that gated the surrounding backyards. They trudged through the snow down the pathway, Silver counting houses beneath his breath, before they stopped at their destination. Locating a hole in one of the wooden slats, Silver peered through. He swore and moved back, allowing Soul access. A policeman, his arms folded, stood on the raised back patio, a Houndour sitting patiently beside him, both guarding the back door with an unrelenting gaze.

Soul stepped back from the fence, her face pensive. "What now?"

Silver's jaw clenched, obviously thinking. "We head to the Pokémon Center to strategize," he responded after a moment. "We'll need to do some reconnaissance, see if there are any gaps where we can sneak in unnoticed."

Soul studied his face and then gripped his arm for comfort. "Don't worry; we'll think of something."

Silver turned to her, and the corners of his mouth twitched in the briefest semblance of a smile. "Nn, yeah."

They made their journey in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. Silver, both hands in his pockets, walked the familiar streets of his boyhood in bitter contemplation. He sighed, his breath steaming in the frigid air. He turned to Soul, her attention captivated by Chocobo. Would she stay by his side if they could not access the house? Would she continue on with him like she had before, with no clues to guide them? Dozens of questions and zero answers jumbled in his brain, his temple pulsing.

They approached the business district of town, the glow of the city limits blinding compared to the darkness of the suburban area with its scant streetlight accents. The night still very new, people strode down the streets in clusters with great energy, no doubt leftover from the previous day's holiday. Christmas decorations still adorned the buildings, and several stores hosted colorful banners advertising after-holiday sales. Soul and Silver, full of uncertainty and melancholy, cut through the crowds of merrymakers, their dour mood a harsh contrast.

"I'll tell you what, though, minor annoyances aside, it's good to get away," a female voice in the throng chatted to her companion. "Johto's great and all, but even I get homesick."

"Well," her male companion said with a chuckle, "any time you get the urge for a homecoming, you let me know—"

The man stopped abruptly as he bumped shoulders with Silver. Both turned to apologize and then hesitated in surprise.

Leaf, blocked from view by Green, who had bumped into Silver, peered beyond her boyfriend's shoulder at the cause of the halt. Eyebrows rising, she held up a large bundled box in offering. "You guys like sushi?"

"It's funny, because I was thinking about calling you soon, anyway, Soul," Leaf said as Green fumbled with his keyring to allow them access to his apartment.

"Oh?" Soul asked, shivering against the cold as they waited on the threshold of the townhouse apartment.

The door opened, and they all preceded Green into the warmth of the building at his gesture. The two-floored apartment was small but well-suited to the needs of its single occupant. The downstairs was comprised of one long room, sectioned into living areas by furniture. The kitchen branched off on the left near the doorway, the cramped laundry room beyond it. The group removed coats and hung them at Green's indication on the backs of the chairs at the small square table beneath a hanging light fixture. In the far left corner of the room, Soul noticed a staircase, which she figured led upstairs to Green's bedroom. Two doors on the right wall indicated the toilet and washroom, Soul supposed, and a small lounge area stood where the wall abruptly ended, creating a little alcove beyond.

"It's not much, but make yourselves at home," Green said as he switched on lights, shrugging off his own gray coat and tossing it without care onto the back of his own chair. "You guys thirsty?"

"I'm all right," Silver said, shaking his head as he seated himself at one end of the table.

"Mm, just water would be great, thank-you," Soul said with a slight bow as she too sat down at the table, on Silver's right and opposite Leaf.

Green nodded and disappeared around the corner into the kitchen.

"So, Soul," Leaf said, lacing her fingers as she placed her elbows on the table, "tell me: what exactly did you say to Red?"

Soul inhaled sharply, and Silver stiffened. "Wh...What do you mean?" Soul asked, swallowing.

Leaf's expression darkened behind her hands, and she placed her laced fingers on the table in a business-like stance. "I mean what did you say to him to throw him off so badly? I chewed him out for being late, and he didn't even say a word! Not one!" She emphasized this fact as if it were of grave significance. "Then he sat quietly and moped when he thought no one was watching for the rest of our gathering. Aunt Cerise and I couldn't figure out what was wrong for the life of us, and I just assumed maybe you said something to knock his ego down a peg."

Soul's expression fell, and she eyed her lap. "I can't think of anything I said that would've affected him like that," she lied.

Leaf leaned forward on the table, eyeing Soul skeptically.

"Just leave it, Leaf," Green said, placing a glass soda bottle before her. "I told you that yesterday."

"But he was definitely odd!" Leaf insisted as Green served Soul's beverage. "You even said so!"

"I also said it was none of our business," Green said pointedly, shooting her a stern look. "If Red wanted us to know, he would've said." He pulled his chair back in preparation to sit down, indicating the discussion was over. Leaf, glowering at him, kicked his chair leg to the side at the last second to push it out from under him, but with unparalleled reflexes, Green caught the back of the chair in mid-sit. With a glare rivaling Leaf's, Green seated himself. "So, Silver," he said, turning casually to the redhead to disregard the unspoken argument between he and his lady, "what have you been up to? Leaf mentioned she saw you a few weeks ago in Goldenrod."

"Just traveling," Silver replied with a curt nod. He eyed Soul purposefully, who caught his gaze, and he jerked his head in answer to her questioning look.

"I've gotta admit, I envy you," Green said with a grin as he untied the wrappings of the box containing their meal. "I miss journeying, not really knowing where you'll be tomorrow." He sighed wistfully.

"Funny, I don't recall this wanderlust of yours whenever I ask you to come along with me," Leaf said with an air of bitterness.

"You know good and well I can't just leave the Gym whenever I please," Green said with a sigh. "It has to be cleared through the Champion, and Lance isn't keen on closing Gyms for more than a week at a time. Not after the unauthorized extended closure under the previous Viridian Gym Leader a few years ago."

Soul noticed Silver's fist clench on the table. "I didn't know Gym Leaders had to report to the Champion like that," she said, trying to ease the subject away from Giovanni.

"Oh, sure," Green said with a nod, deftly breaking apart his wooden chopsticks. "Gym Leaders have a lot of power in the government, it's true, but they're still beneath the Champion." He selected a piece of sushi and popped it in his mouth, chewing before continuing. "I figured Lance would've told you all about that when you defeated him."

Soul shook her head. "Since I turned down his offer to become the new Champion, I guess he didn't see the point in telling me."

Green nodded, grunting an affirmative between chews. "Yeah, it's a lot of responsibility, and you're pretty young."

"But weren't you around my age when you became Champion, Green?" Soul asked.

Green grinned, leaning back in his chair, his eyes nostalgically raised to the ceiling. "Nn, yeah, I was. I was a little over-zealous back then."

Leaf snorted through a mouthful. "'A little?'" She ignored the glare Green shot her. "You probably would've turned the whole system into a monarchy if Red hadn't beaten you so quickly. You were so full of yourself back then."

Green's glower melted into an impertinent half grin. "And yet that was around the point you fell in love with me, wasn't it? So what does that say about you?"

Leaf's face flooded with color, and she whirled to him, her eyes malevolent. His cocky smile only agitated her more, and she turned away, adding, "Shut up, you smart ass."

"Besides," Green added with a chuckle, "they have checks in place for young Champions, anyway. They have an adult advisor and everything, plus the government councils outside the League. It all comes down to voting and all that political garbage." He turned to the others at the table, visibly pleased with his victory in his domestic squabble with Leaf, "So, what brings the two of you to Kanto? Just more traveling? I was under the impression when you faced me that you already earned all the Kanto Gym Badges, Soul."

Soul glanced at Silver, who jerked his head in negative again. "Oh, just traveling, like you said." She paused, wringing her hands and side-looking at Silver. Inhaling, she added, "Actually, there was something I was hoping I could ask you, Green, since you're the local Gym Leader."

Silver's face masked the rage and panic his eyes betrayed. His head shook so briefly but repeatedly that it mimicked a seizure.

"Nn, sure, what's the question?" Green said, reaching for another bite.

With another inhale, Soul blurted in one breath, "I was wondering if you could tell me about that boarded-up house on Sand Street?"

Green paused in mid-motion, his chopsticks still at his mouth from the act of depositing food. Silver shut his eyes, groaning in his mind, and Leaf looked up, surprised by the sudden tension in the room.

Green's hand lowered, and he expedited his chewing. Swallowing, he turned to Soul, his face oddly stern. "Why do you ask?"

Soul blushed, surprised by his intense reaction. She feigned innocence. "We happened to be in that area, and I noticed it, is all…"

"You were in the residential district?" Green said, eyebrows raised. "Do you know someone out there? Nothing but locals down that way."

Soul swallowed to wet her suddenly dry throat, glancing from Green, whose stare did not waver, and Silver, whose eyes were closed. She saw Silver lean back in his chair, sighing, and he flicked his hand at her, his gesture clearly stating, "Go ahead."

"Holy crap, you two," Leaf said in awe when Soul and Silver had finished explaining the story in turns. "So your old man is Giovanni?" she asked, pointing to Silver, who nodded. She paused for thought and gasped, her face horrified. "So that would explain why you'd be so bitter about Red…" She glanced at Soul, her eyes pleading forgiveness for past bad advice. To her relief, Soul smiled encouragingly at her.

"Anyway, if you have any insider information from the police about my old house, we'd appreciate it," Silver said, turning to Green, who sat, as he had during their whole story, with his arms folded, his chin lowered to his chest in deep thought.

Green sat quietly a moment longer,and then a grin spread across his lips as he chuckled. "I want to thank you, actually," he said, sitting up, "because you just confirmed the suspicions I've had for months. Lance'll be pleased to hear this." He caught the shocked glances of all three of his tablemates and shook his head in clarification. "No, no, I won't tell him where I got the information, just that the police were in fact hiding an appearance from Giovanni all this time."

"The police were hiding information from the League?" Soul asked, aghast.

Green nodded. "Several months ago, someone reported seeing movement in the house. The neighborhood is always complaining about the state of the place. They've been petitioning to have it torn down for over a year now." Silver shifted uncomfortably in his chair across the table, and Green nodded. "Nn, yeah, I can imagine that's unpleasant for you to hear. You could always take claim of the house, you know. You're still underage, but as a Pokémon Trainer, you can own property with a guardian's permission. In this case, since you don't have a guardian and are considered independent…"

"Except my, 'guardian,'" Silver used finger quotes on the term, "isn't just M.I.A., he's a wanted criminal. They'd take me in for questioning, during which no doubt my own criminal record would come to light."

"Professor Elm pardoned you for stealing your Totodile," Soul said, shaking her head. "He said he'd told the police to drop the charges after you came to him and apologized earlier this year."

Silver smiled weakly and looked into her eyes, his expression appreciative. "I'm guilty of a lot more than that, Soul."

"But only because you had no choice!" Soul flustered. "You stole because you had to survive!"

Silver's heart swelled with new affection for the girl, and he nodded. "True, but the police won't see it that way, Soul. In their eyes, I'm just a criminal, no less than my father. They'd see me as a lead to him, and when you consider that I do have information that could find him…"

"Right, I see your point," Green said, nodding. "Well, to add my half of the story...before the incident happened, the house was left unguarded, though it was still taped off from the public. Afterward, the police were in a frenzy, despite their claims to the public that it was just locals vandalizing the place. I went to do an official League investigation, but the police wouldn't even let me in." Green folded his arms and snorted with disdain. "They blocked me at every turn. Lance was furious and has used the full weight of the League to fight it, but the police countered that it was a local matter and none of the League's business. The whole thing has been a legal nightmare, and it's been tied up in the courts for a while. Meanwhile, the police have been guarding the house ever since. They insisted it was just to keep vandals out, but I just knew…" He leaned his chair on two legs, trailing off in his thoughts.

"How long ago, exactly, was the break in?" Silver asked.

Green dropped his chair legs onto the carpet again with a soft thunk, his eyes on the ceiling, calculating. "Nn...that was back in...February, I think...Yes. It was definitely February. Shortly before Valentine's Day."

"I remember that now!" Leaf said, excited to contribute to the conversation. "I called you on Valentine's, and you were grumpy because Lance had a fire under your ass about something going on in town. You said you didn't want to talk about it since it was work, so I let it be."

"Right, I remember that, too," he said with a half grin. "Wow, that feels so long ago…"

Soul and Silver exchanged serious glances, Soul's eyes glistening in her growing excitement as they both put the pieces together at the same time.

"Soul," Silver said for the benefit of the older Trainers at the table, "about when did you say you had that battle with my father?"

She smiled knowingly at him. "Last December, right before Christmas."

"So it stands to reason, then, that somewhere between December and February, Giovanni devised a plan to break into our old house and leave me a clue about where to find him?"

"Not to mention the note he left in the radio," Soul added. "And there are probably more clues as well, which probably took time to plan."

"And who's to say he was only in the house that one day in February?" Silver said, his enthusiasm rivaling Soul's. "For all we know, he could've been staying there since December and only left because he got caught in February."

"Not to rain on your parade," Leaf interjected, an eyebrow raised, "but that sounds like a lot of conjecture. There's no guaranteeing you're right."

"True," Silver said, nodding. A grin spread across the left side of his face. "Not until we get in the house."

"And how, exactly, do you plan to do that?" Leaf asked, crossing her arms. "You said yourself that you saw the police guarding that place like it's a bank. How do you expect to cross that line? And furthermore," she added, pointing accusingly at Silver, "I hope you don't plan on dragging Soul in there with you. If you get caught, you both could end up in jail."

"I was planning on going in alone—"

"Of course I'm going in, too."

They had spoken at the same time, but only Silver turned to a very sincere-faced Soul, his eyes wide in surprise. Leaf too stared at her, unsettled.

"Soul, you can't be serious," Leaf said, convinced she had heard incorrectly.

"I'm completely serious," Soul said, expression unfazed.

"Soul, I mean it, this could put you in jail," Leaf said more sternly.

"I know. So we just won't get caught."

"Leaf has a point, Soul," Silver said. "I was planning on going in alone and leaving you on guard outside. That way, if things went south, only I'd get in trouble." He caught her fierce gaze of protest and softened, trying to reason with her. "I can't ask you to risk yourself like that."

"I knew the risks when I agreed to come along, Silver," she said. She put her hands atop his on the table. "I'm not letting you do this alone."

Leaf observed the faint color change in Silver's face, and her lips parted slightly before curling into a devious grin. So that was how it was.

Silver sighed, relenting. "Okay, Soul...but I really wish you wouldn't. Think of your poor mom if we end up in jail."

"Well then, we'll just have to be extra careful," she said cheerfully.

Silver closed his eyes, chuckling. "But before that, we'll have to figure out how to get in in the first place."

"About that," Green said abruptly, garnering their attention, "I may have an idea. It's not guaranteed, mind you, but...they change the guard there every three hours: six a.m. , nine a.m., twelve p.m., three p.m., and so on. It's the same routine every day, like clockwork. However, the police are always overtaxed on holidays, and their busiest one is right around the corner…"

"New Year's Eve!" Leaf gasped, coming to the conclusion first. "They're always so busy that you have to help out." She added this fact with bitterness.

"It's my responsibility as a Gym Leader to help the local police, even if they're not willing to extend the same courtesy," Green pointed out, sighing when his girlfriend snorted in resignation.

"Do you think they might not post a guard that night?" Soul asked anxiously.

"I think that it may be difficult for them to keep their guard post after midnight, at the very least, since that's when the real problems start. Their forces may be too busy handing out B.U.I.'s to guard an empty house."

"'B.U.I.?'" Soul repeated the unfamiliar term.

"'Battling Under the Influence," both Green and Silver answered simultaneously.

"I remember hearing my father mentioning them back when he actually cared about his duties as a Gym Leader," Silver explained when Green turned to him with raised eyebrows.

"It's drunk people getting into Pokémon battles, Soul," Leaf clarified. "Not only is it illegal, but it's insulting to the Pokémon involved."

"People actually do that?" Soul asked, horrified.

Green snorted derisively. "Speaking as someone who's had to break up quite a few of them personally, yes, they do, and with increased frequency on New Year's Eve. I'll probably be out all night breaking up bar fight after bar fight. And yet I'm not even legally old enough to drink." He shook his head in disgust. "However, there's a possibility we could use this to our advantage. As a matter of fact…" He trailed off, stroking his chin as he pondered.

"Oi, what are you scheming under that flop of hair?" Leaf asked, playfully putting her hand atop his head and shaking it back and forth.

Green batted at her hand in annoyance. "It's just an idea, but...if we instigated a battle, it's possible we could draw the guard away from the house long enough for you to slip in."

Leaf snorted. "You're going to hustle some drunkard to have a battle with you?"

Green's grin broadened. "Who, me?" he asked with an air of innocence. "I'll be patrolling with another officer, so there's no way I could do it."

Leaf's eyebrows furrowed. "Well if Soul and Silver will be getting inside the house, who's supposed to—oh hell no." The realization dawned on her and she immediately stood and rounded fiercely on Green, agitated further by the sickeningly sweet smile he returned to her. "There is no way in hell I'm spending my New Year's Eve in some holding cell surrounded by a bunch of beer-smelling idiots just because—"

"I know it's a lot to ask," Soul said gently, "but it'd only be as a back up plan, right, Green?"

"Right," Green agreed, thankful Soul had picked up that implication. "The night will produce plenty of B.U.I.'s on its own without us having to start one, but it'd be nice to have a guaranteed one just in case."

Leaf turned between Soul's begging insistence and Green's smug grin, feeling trapped. Groaning loudly, she flopped in her chair again, defeated. "Fine, I'll be your damn distraction. But only if it's necessary," she stipulated, wagging an accusatory finger in Green's face. "And you'd better believe you're going to be making it up to me later if I end up in jail."

"If you play your cards right, you won't be fully charged and will be pardoned on self-defense," Green said dismissively, affecting his most convincing smile.

"Yeah, but I'll still end up in a holding cell surrounded by drunks before they figure that out, won't I?"

Green didn't respond, his eyes not meeting hers.

"Won't I?"

Green still refused to catch her eye, and a grin cracked at the corners of his mouth.

"You're an asshole, Green."

"In any case, it's a decent plan," Silver said, interrupting the quarreling couple. "In the meantime, while we wait for New Year's, Soul and I will do some reconnaissance and get a feel for how the guarding works. Maybe we can spot a gap in the routine."

"Sounds like a good idea," Green agreed with a nod. "Do the two of you have a place to stay until then?"

"We'll probably take up at the Poké Center like always," Soul said.

"Nn, Poké Centers are always packed around the holidays, though," Leaf said, a tinge of her previous acerbic attitude still present.

"She's right," Green said, trying to appease Leaf into a better mood. "It might be crowded with four of us, but you're welcome to stay here until then. I'm pretty sure I have an air mattress in the upstairs closet, and the couch is pretty comfortable."

"If we're not imposing, that'd be great," Soul said.

"Please, impose upon me," Green insisted. "This one," he jutted a thumb at Leaf, "has been talking about you for days."

"Only because I've been concerned," Leaf protested, her cheeks flushing nonetheless. She turned to Soul. "You and I need to have a chat later, hm?"

"Sure thing," Soul said with a weak smile. "And while I'm here, I can cook meals, at least."

"Wait, you cook?" Leaf gasped.

"Well, I'm not amazing, but I wouldn't say I'm that bad, either…"

"Silver!" Leaf exclaimed, so loudly that everyone jumped. "How dare you hog Soul when she could've been cooking for me all this time! Do you know how much money I spend on takeout in a week?!"

"Do you not cook at all, Leaf?" Soul asked.

"The only thing Leaf hasn't burned in the kitchen yet is water, and even then, given time, I'm sure she could probably manage it," Green said with a droll smile.

"I can think of someone who's going to be in hot water if he doesn't stop being an ass," Leaf said testily.

"Oh, hush, you know I'm no better a cook than you," Green said, reaching across the table and pinching her cheek with affection, evading her attempt to slap his hand away.

"Well, I don't mind cooking for everyone at all, then," Soul said.

"Green, we're adopting Soul."

"I concur."

Silver listened as the three chattered amongst each other, his attention elsewhere. In a few days' time, he would have another clue. More importantly, he had confirmation that his father had indeed been in the house. That smug bastard. Silver had to admit he was impressed with his father's boldness.

"Come on, Soul, let's go dig out that air bed," Leaf said, rising from the table and snatching Soul's hand to drag her along.

"Ah! But isn't it upstairs in Green's room?"

"Bah, it's fine. I'm eighty-percent certain he didn't leave any underwear lying around."

"Only eighty-percent?" Soul repeated, her voice distressed.

"Leaf, stop, I'll get it!" Green protested, standing to stop the two girls before they reached the staircase.

Sighing, Silver enjoyed a private smile. In the past, he probably would have found such antics annoying, but in that moment, he was almost grateful the next few days would be anything but boring.

Glancing over her shoulder, Leaf noticed the small smile on Silver's face, and her eyes twinkled schemingly.

The boards in the staircase creaked as Leaf lumbered down in the late-night darkness, and she grumbled to herself about how Green's crummy apartment needed an upstairs toilet. Half-asleep, she maneuvered her way across the room, stubbing her toe on the air mattress in the center of the room along the way. She swore and clutched at the bed to stabilize it, but Soul and Chocobo continued to snooze atop the mattress, blissfully unaware.

When she had finished her necessity, Leaf flicked off the light and, more awake now, stumbled across the room with more care. In her periphery, she noticed the empty sofa. Startled, she glanced around the room but found no trace of the redhead. It was then she noticed the parted curtain over the back sliding glass door, and she crossed toward it. Peering out, she spotted Silver, huddled inside his blanket in one of the patio chairs.

Silver stared up at the full moon. He had seen the moon at its peak countless times in his life, but for some odd reason, it captivated him more as it hung over his hometown. Perhaps it was because he could stare into it and forget the things that truly troubled him. Shivering against the cold, he closed his coat across his chest more snuggly and tugged the blanket around his socked feet, hugging his knees closer to his chest.

"How fortuitous."

Startled, Silver's head whipped around, where he spotted Leaf in the doorway, dressed in her teal coat, a fleece blanket draped around her shoulders. "What?" he asked as Leaf joined him in another seat, swearing against the cold on her exposed toes as she did.

Tucking the base of the blanket under her feet, Leaf settled herself in the chair to get warm. "Wow, it's effing cold out here. This conversation better be worth it."

Silver's eyebrows furrowed. "I didn't ask you to come out here," he said.

"Oh, I know," Leaf said, hugging her knees and burrowing into the blanket up to her neck. "But when I saw you out here, I figured when else was I going to get another chance?"

"A chance for what?" Silver asked, annoyed. Leaf was so cryptic sometimes it made him itch.

"To talk to you about your crush on Soul."

His entire body stiffened, and his cheeks warmed against the cold. She was smiling at him, that twisted, devious, knowing smile he disliked, the same smile she had given him back in the Goldenrod Department Store. He debated for a few seconds about denying the accusation, but, figuring it would only delay the eventual, he instead sighed deeply, his breath streaming visibly from his mouth in the frigid midnight air. "How long have you known?" he asked, not hiding the agitation in his voice.

"Oh, I suspected as much last time we met," she said casually. "But seeing you both today pretty much confirmed my suspicions." She repositioned her feet beneath her and smoothed the blanket in her lap. "So, have you told her yet?"

Silver's jaw clenched, and he turned back to the friendly moon in the sky. "...No," he answered quietly.

"What?" Leaf asked, beyond surprised. "Why not?"


"What the hell do you mean, 'it's complicated?' If anything, it was complicated before, but now? You like her." She extended her hand to one side. "She likes you." She gestured similarly with her other hand. "Commence the smoochin'." She brought both her hands together.

"Except Soul doesn't like me any more," Silver said, more bitterly than he had intended in his head.

Leaf snorted. "Like hell she doesn't. Who told you that?"

"She did."

"Bwah? When?"

"Two nights ago."

"She rejected you?"

"More or less," Silver said, nodding. "She said she wanted to pretend her confession never happened so we could be friends again."

"And she said this after your confession?"

"I never confessed," Silver said, shrugging. "She said that right before I was about to. How could I contradict her?"

Leaf paused, obviously thinking. "Did Soul actually say she doesn't like you any more? I mean directly?"

Silver's eyes closed at the recollection of those harsh words, and he nodded, grunting an affirmative in his throat.

"And you're not going to do anything about it?"

"What the hell am I supposed to do, exactly?" Silver spat, suddenly furious. "I can't just confess and make things awkward all over again. The best I can hope for is she'll fall for me again. It happened once before, so if I wait long enough, maybe…" He exhaled, expelling his anger as well.

Leaf studied him for a long moment. "I could talk to her, if you want. See if I can get her to open up. She seemed pretty guarded today, so I could—"

"Please, don't," Silver said, shaking his head. "I've already decided I'm, at the very least, not going to tell her how I feel until after we find my father. I want to focus on the problem in front of me, rather than worry about the one at my side."

Leaf reluctantly shrugged. "All right, if that's what you want, then I'll respect it." She rose, muttering about how cold it was. She crossed the distance to the building but lingered in the doorway for a few seconds. "But if you asked me, Silver, I'd say she was lying."


"Call it a hunch," she said. She turned to him and forced a smile. "Something to think about. G'night." She entered the building, closing the door lightly behind her.

Silver stared at where Leaf had stood for a long moment, his eyes unfocused, his conscious mind swimming in his thoughts. Shaking his head as the biting cold brought him back to reality, he rose and entered the apartment. Giovanni was his priority now. The only way he was going to find his father was if he focused. Soul would remain by his side in the meantime, and she would be friendly to him. That was enough to satisfy him, for now. As he settled on the couch, he glanced at Soul's sleeping figure, watching her shoulders rise and fall incrementally with the slow breathing of deep slumber. Smiling, he rolled over and settled down for rest.

Selected quote from the next chapter:

"Time for plan B."