Hello all! It has been a very long time since the tale of Kris and Gold concluded. I hinted at an epilogue back then, but when I was thinking of a Christmas story to do for 2012 (a bit late now...), I realised there was a part of Kris' story that needed to be told first before the epilogue. So here it is, a little Winter special sharing what happened to Kris after she became Champion and how the title has affected her life...


"Are you sure you're ready for this?"

No, but I don't have much choice, do I? "Of course I'm ready… why wouldn't I be?"

"You seem nervous – you're shivering."

"Funny that, as it is snowing. Shouldn't you be cold yourself, Dragon Boy?" Spike laughed, and Kris glowered at him, not in the mood for laughing. She turned and looked towards New Bark Town, which now only about three kilometres in the distance. A snow covered, frosty wooden walkway stood between her and her home town, with the frozen waters of Route 27 splashing up against the supports. Kris and Spike stood on one side of the bridge, feeling the constant winds as they crept into any uncovered or unprotected part of their bodies, sending chills through their spines. They should move on, but Kris had found herself unable to carry on. She stared almost mournfully at the distant wind turbines and little cottages, imagining her mother bustling about, preparing the house with Hooty, waiting for Kris to arrive…

"Shall we get a move on then, isn't lunch set for one' o'clock?" Spike said, shivering slightly himself as the wind roared all around them. Kris gave a reluctant, almost robotic nod in response, knowing that if she did not keep moving soon, then she would stay here and simply stare at her town, dreaming of her past life as the snow piled high around her.

"What exactly is it that's holding you back?" Spike asked as gave her a gentle push to start moving, and together the two set off again across the damp wooden path. "I know it has been a while, and things have changed quite a bit, but your mother wouldn't care, would she?"

Things have changed… that's an understatement, Kris thought bitterly. Several months had passed since Kris had faced Gold in their battle to be Champion, a brutal fight to the finish that she had come so close to losing, but had ultimately and finally emerged victorious. Kris had spent a few days in a daze, lost in the shock of finally achieving her goal and the sudden change she was thrust into. She was given amazing new apartments, a ceremony was arranged for her proper coronation as Champion, there were prizes, trophies, interviews, everything she had ever dreamt of come true.

But after the initial glory, everything turned sour: death, accusations of cheating and undeserved titles, abuse and ridicule, constant criticism. It had become too much for Kris to handle, and had it not been for the soothing influence of her Pokemon, she may have collapsed under the pressure weeks ago. She had been given the chance to live the life she had always wanted, but it was nothing like Kris had expected. Her mother had known, she had tried to warn her in the days after the battle. Foolishly, Kris had ignored her, thinking she could handle things. Now, several months later, Kris felt guilty as well as tired and frustrated, having put off contacting her mother, wanting to use the holiday season to try and fix all the problems that had piled up around her.

However, when it came to Christmas, there was no avoiding Persephone Soul.

"It was so nice of your mother to invite me to Christmas," Spike said as the two trumped along the wooden path, trying his best to make conversation. "At the Dragon's Den, we usually just have a big buffet styled feast in the House, but it doesn't feel as homely as having a nice quiet meal with only a few people."

"My mother knows we're friends, and she probably thought that if you were invited, it would pressure me into coming," Kris said gloomily, but quickly realised that this implied Spike wasn't really wanted and she changed her tune. "I mean… you were friendly when we last visited, so… my mum probably thought… um… that you could…" but Spike cut her off with laughter, and Kris laughed herself, quickly relaxing.

"It is fine, I am sure that is why she invited me, but I am not bothered," the Dragon trainer said with a smile. "It beats having to fight over the last piece of meat with a dozen other people." Kris laughed again, and could not help herself from carrying on as they stepped off the long wooden path and back onto solid, snow covered ground. During all of her stress over the past few months, Spike had always been there for her, largely as he had nominated himself to be the messenger between the Johto League and the Dragon's Den over the issues with Lance. They had spent a lot of time together wandering through the gardens and surrounding mountainous paths of the Johto League Complex, talking things over, and while Karen had made several jokes when she and Kris had met up, the two remained friends. Kris had feelings, and there had been the kiss after her battle, but with the stress she was under at the moment, throwing a relationship like this into the mix was too much. But Kris could not help but feel something every time they were near, and she wished Spike had fought more for a relationship to blossom.

"Here we are," Spike said five minutes later, as they left the wide, empty snowy field behind them and moved into the limits of New Bark Town. The snow began to thin away, presumably from young boys who were always paid around this time to keep the main paths clear, though Kris doubted they would be working with Christmas only a day away. She glanced around all the houses that had turned white from the snow, and noticed that trees that had been fully in bloom during her last visit had lost all their leaves, making them look like skeletal hands sticking out of the ground.

The whole town was silent except for their footsteps, the creaking of the wind turbines and the gusts that powered them. It was a ghostly as moving across a war zone, and Kris began to feel unnerved again as they turned left down a road and made the way towards the Soul household. She moved closer to Spike, who linked his left arm with her right, and Kris considered sending a Pokemon out, but she did not want to draw any attention to herself. They simply moved quickly, and Kris tried not to let the fears that had plagued her this whole trip come back to her, knowing that if they did, she could probably turn around and fly back to the Johto League before Spike could stop her.

Finally, after three days of walking and sleeping in freezing snow, they arrived at her home.

Kris instantly felt better as she stared at the quiet little cottage. The mix of purple, blue and lime green colours jumped out from the snow, giving some brightness back to the world and making Kris instantly feel as though she was home. She saw figures move behind the frosted over windows, and suddenly Kris found herself running forwards, stumbling through deeper patches of snow but without a care in the world. After her last few months, Kris was desperate to be back somewhere that she knew was familiar, welcoming and safe, a place she had not been for far too long.

"Mum!" Kris shouted as she burst through the door, and screams of delight erupted from the living room. Without taking her shoes off, Kris rushed inside the small room, instantly seeing a tree that nearly touched the ceiling twinkling in a corner, but her attention went towards the figures she had seen from outside.

"Oh Kris, it has been so long!" Persephone Soul cried, rushing forwards with tears already streaming down her face. Kris found herself crying as well, and she pulled her mother into a mutual hug, getting hit with a waft of nutmeg and chocolate from the apron tied around her neck. It was so warm and welcoming, and Kris felt as though she would never be able to let go, silently letting her emotions pour out. For a moment, all the stress of the past few months disappeared, and Kris thought she would be able to pour her heart out and reveal everything that had been happening, and beg for forgiveness and the advice she should have taken months ago.

After a few moments, a breathless Spike emerged behind them, and mother and daughter broke apart. Kris finally got a chance to examine her, and struggled to hide her shock: Persephone was much thinner than she had been at Kris' coronation, her skin pale and looking as though it had been pulled tight over her bones. A red and green bandanna was tied around her head, and there was a gaunt expression in her eye's that sent a worried chill through Kris' spine.

"You have no need to worry!" Persephone said with a smile, an expert in reading people's facial expressions. "I know I look awful, I had a stomach bug last week and it played havoc with me, but I swear I am feeling fine!"

"Alright," Kris said and forced a smile, though she was doubtful: her mother had not looked this bad for months, as she was supposed to be beating the cancer, and she could not help but be worried.

"You've been here two minutes and you still haven't given me a hug!" An angry voice said from behind her. "Are you too much of a Champion to care about your family now?" Kris turned as Hanoko waddled towards her, laughing at her own dark wit, and Kris brightened up as she gave her grandmother a hug, completely taken aback by her appearance.

"I had no idea you were going to be here!" She said, overwhelmed with emotion once more. "I thought you would be spending it in Ecruteak."

"Do you seriously think I want to spend another year watching as office workers drunk on brandy and their own sense of self worth gawk over my daughters?" Hanoko scoffed. "It happens every day, mind you, but having dozens of them trumping through as part of their office do's is just plain annoying! So I thought I would come and see the rest of my family, but don't worry, your aunts made me bring you enough presents to make up for all these past holidays and not making it to your coronation!"

"I did miss seeing them there, but at least you made it," Kris said, smiling warmly, but more fear began to settle on her. What if Hanoko had come out here to help look after her mother? It seemed daft when she second guessed it, such an elderly woman looking after someone much younger than her, but the way Hanoko had spoken and a slightly tense atmosphere made Kris wonder. Persephone and Kris were the family Hanoko had never had the chance to know, so was she making up for that by caring for a sick daughter in law?

"Hello, Merry Christmas!" Spike said, breaking the sudden tension that had erupted in the living room. He pulled a plastic bag of wrapped presents out of his back pack and placed them alongside the other piles before moving in to quickly hug Persephone. "It is freezing out there, it feels wonderful to be back indoors!"

"You two must be cold, I'll make you some hot chocolates," Persephone said, glancing away from Kris and getting back into her culinary state. Hooty flew in, her eyes glowing pink and with a plate of Christmas themed cookies floating in front. Kris suddenly felt hungry and she and Spike quickly scooped some up, just as the smell of cooking meat wafted in through the kitchen.

"That smells divine Mum!" She called out, and Persephone's laugh echoed back to her.

"You'll be able to taste it in about fifteen minutes once you've stopped scoffing cookies down!" She chuckled. "Wash up and then help set the table, there is a job for everyone!"

"And people say I'm tough!" Hanoko grumbled, and Kris laughed, finally feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks, but she could not rid herself of the nagging voice in the back of her head. Part of her knew that she should discuss the issues she was having with her mother and get her take on things, lessen the burden that she had been left with, it was what she would have done in any other situation. But Kris could not shake her worries over her mother's unhealthy state, and knew dumping all of the issues with Gold, Lance and Kanto could be unwise in such a state

Maybe after lunch, Kris told herself, but even that seemed doubtful, and she could not help but let her gloom creep back and consume her once again…

An hour later, after eating all the delicious food Persephone had prepared and opening several of the presents that were piled high under tree, Kris noted that the snow had finally settled outside, with thin bursts of sunlight shining through the murky clouds. It seemed like the perfect time to go for a walk, so Kris and Spike made their way to Professor Elm's laboratory with a present for him.

The small town looked nicer now that the sun was shining, making the snow glow beneath their feet. It helped to lighten Kris' mood, but she still felt a bit glum as they trudged through the snow that seemed unwilling to let them pass. Her worries for her mother's health had grown when Persephone had barely touched her plate, and Kris hoped that a walk and some fresh air would help clear her head.

People had moved outside now that the snow had stopped, mostly kids or families having snow ball fights in their back yards. Spike marvelled at the sight, having never experienced it in his years spent deep within the Dragon's Den, and Kris could tell he was eager to join in. She would have liked to as well, but when people saw her and recognized her, they paused in what they were doing and stared at her in awe. It had been a while since Kris had actually gone out in public, having been trapped within the Johto League Complex and within endless meetings that served to simply crush her spirit. People were weary about approaching her, but Kris smiled, waved and greeted them all, and as they got nearer to Professor Elm's, many people began to cheer or shout out their congratulations.

"Ah, to be Champion!" Spike said, giving her a cheeky nudge that made Kris laugh. "How glorious it must be to have everyone in the world fawning over you, savouring the very air you breathe, crying out to their neighbours of how you gracefully stepped on their hydrangeas!"

"Oh shut up!" Kris said, pushing him sideways, and then laughed harder as Spike lost his balance and landed in the snow. He blushed from embarrassment, and quickly scooped up some flakes and threw them at her. Kris screamed as the snowball exploded against her, but quickly laughed and set off, forcing Spike to scramble to his feet and chase after, throwing snow balls every few seconds. This carried on until they reached the laboratory, where Kris dived down near the stairs and grabbed as much snow as she could, and quickly flung it behind. Spike was caught off guard, and Kris was able to move on from the snow soaking through her warm pants as she jumped up laughing at Spike's stunned, snow covered expression.

"That's what you get for abusing the Champion!" She shouted joyously, and ran the last few metres to Professor Elm's. It was here that her journey had first begun, and Kris' laughter died down as a sense of nostalgia settled in. How long ago that seems, she thought, remembering how excited and nervous she had been, how wonderful that first win against Gold had felt at the time … if only she had lost that first battle, things may have ended so differently…

"Ah Kris, hello my dear! I was wondering if I would be seeing you sometime this week!" Professor Elm exclaimed as a once again reclusive Kris walked through the sliding doors. "Merry Christmas, my glorious little Champion!"

"Merry Christmas to you too!" Kris replied, forcing a smile and letting the Professor hug her, the doors sliding open again as Spike came in. "This is for you," she added, and passed the present across. Professor Elm gave a little squeak of delight, and as he tore through the wrapping paper, Kris glanced around at the lab: it was very familiar, with the same mess of papers covering their desks around experiments and equipment. There appeared to be nothing new, with only a small bit of tinsel up as decoration. For a moment, no one else seemed to be about, but Kris could heard voices coming from behind a partition and wondered if they belonged to scientists or members of the Elm family that lived upstairs.

"Oh thank you Kris, this is lovely!" Professor Elm said, and held up the gold plated plaque that Kris had given him, which had the words 'ELM – CREATOR OF CHAMPIONS' emblazoned across the surface, drawing her attention back.

"You're welcome! I had to do something to thank you for all the help you gave me, and something materialistic just didn't seem right," Kris replied with a smile and gave him another hug. "Though I thought the fancy chocolates would be nice as well."

"They look divine! My wife and I will probably finish them off in five minutes," Elm laughed, and Kris and Spike joined in. "Would you like me to examine your Pokemon while you're here? My wife is busy baking and the kids are watching a movie, so I have a few minutes to spare."

"Oh, sure!" Kris said, and fetched the six PokeBalls she had on her out, while Elm went over to the PC so he could retrieve the seventh. What she presumed to be Magcargo's PokeBall sat on a shelf to the side, looking lonely amongst all the paperwork. "I have never really trusted the doctors they have up at the Johto League. They seem to focus more on fixing the Elite Fours then caring about mine. They probably think…" but Kris trailed off at this, looking glumly at the tiled floor as the dark thoughts came in, and Spike moved closer and put a reassuring hand around her shoulder.

"Magcargo is doing a lot better since you last saw him though," Elm said as he returned with Noctowl's PokeBall, grabbing Magcaro's on the way. "His shell has fully sealed itself, and in most places the outer layers have grown back as well, so he is well on his way to being able to battle again."

"Excellent!" Kris said, and in order to try and shake herself from her mood, she excitedly released all six of her Pokemon, followed by Noctowl and Magcargo as the others all formed together. Meganium, Ampharos, Kingdra, Miltank, Latias and Espeon were all smiles when they had formed, and quickly reunited with their fellow team mates as well as greeting Kris, Spike and Professor Elm.

"Oh Magcargo, you look so wonderful!" Kris cried, getting emotional as she went down on her knees and beamed at the Lava Pokemon. Magcargo's shell had been badly shattered during his last encounter with Gold, and Kris was pleased to see that, though it was mismatched in thickness and colour, it was nearly fully healed, and Magcargo was smiling once more.

"Ma Ma Cargo Ma!" The Fire type said with his dropping smile, and Kris dared a burn in order to give him a tender hug. The other Pokemon descended upon them, and Kris and Magcargo became crushed as the female team showed their affection for the lone male, and Magcargo was overjoyed with the attention.

"I remember when you hatched from your egg, I was so happy, and I knew for that moment that you would be a powerful Pokemon!" Kris said, wiping the tears away. "Once you have healed properly, you will be able to battle with us again, and you can help me defeat my next challenger!" The Pokemon all cheered, and Kris smiled with them all, even though on the inside she felt sick in the stomach, the worries of her future coming back to her.

"Kris, Kris Soul?" A voice called out, and Kris looked over her Pokemon in surprise, staring at a brunette teenage girl standing in the middle of the lab, a beam across her face to match the bright red and blue of her outfit. "Oh my gosh, it is you!"

"Lyla Christopher!" Kris cried, and rushed forwards to give her old acquaintance a hug. "I don't think I have seen you since the New Year's Day markets! My god, that seems like ages ago! How are you? How did your journey go?" Kris immediately regretted the question, as she realised that if she had become Champion, than Lyla, who was older and had started before her, had failed in her journey. But her old idol continued to smile, brushing it aside.

"Oh, it was interesting, you could say," she explained. "We became caught up in a bit of what Team Rocket was doing, so that was all sorts of crazy, but I managed to earn all of my gym badges! I have not faced the Elite Four yet, I wanted some time to unwind and to train my Pokemon, so we are working towards the next Johto League instead. Then when I win, I get to battle you, you big old Champion!"

"That is if I can hang in that long!" Kris laughed, though no one noticed the awkwardness in her stiff chuckle. "I would love to battle you at some point, maybe in a month or two? Just an unofficial thing, a spot of fun –"

"What about official?" Someone said from behind, drawing everyone's attention. Kris had forgotten that she had heard two voices, and saw that the second person was another familiar face, a good looking, dark haired boy of Lyla's age: Charles Golden, Lyla's travel companion and another school peer of Kris'. She had never really spoken to him, but in such a small town like New Bark, it was easy to know everyone's names.

"Hey Charles, how are you?" Kris said, trying to sound friendly, but she saw a determined, almost angry look in Charles' eyes behind the smile he was wearing, one that instantly worried her. It was noticeable, as she felt her Pokemon draw closer, and heard Spike move forwards, whipping his staff out from his coat.

This one is angry, not purposefully with you, but with the fact you are Champion, a voice whispered, and Kris felt the familiar chill of Latias entering her mind. It appears he battled the previous Champion… Lance, that is… and suffered a severe loss, I can feel his rage. He wants to battle you.

But I can't, Kris thought, and she struggled not to shake as Charles moved forwards.

"I'm good, how are you?" He replied, looking tense, and ignored Lyla as she moved forwards fearfully to grab him. "Since you're here in town, is it possible for me to challenge you to a battle?"

"A friendly one?" Kris asked nervously, but Charles shook his blonde head.

"No, a Championship Battle!" He said eagerly, the light showing in his eyes. "I lost to Lance a few months ago, probably around the time you started your journey, from the sounds of things. I went to Kanto to train, and returned to find two people had become Champion during that time, so I became more determined! So, will you do me the honour of accepting my challenge?"

"I am sorry, but I am not sure I am allow –"

"It is acceptable for any trainer with all the badges that previously defeated the Elite Four to challenge the Champion should they be encountered in public and there is a proper battle field nearby," Charles explained. "It is in the Johto League Rulebook."

"There is no battle field around here," Spike said, stepping forwards now so that his presence was known. "A Johto guidebook stated how the town is lacking in facilities for Pokemon and trainers except for this lab."

"The local school has a new battle field that opened just last week," Charles explained with a smile. "I believe your winning money went towards it, Kris."

"That was Gold's," Kris said, stepping backwards. "His parents did not want the reminder, so they donated it to the school and various charities, I believe… but none of that is important, I am not accepting your challenge, I am sorry. You can battle me –"

"You have to accept my challenge though, that is in the rules as well!" Charles said huffily. "Professor Elm, do you have a copy around? The Champion needs a refresher."

"Hey, leave her alone!" Spike snapped, whipping his staff around at lightning speed and held it a metre in front of Charles as a warning.

"It is the holidays, it is my time off, I am spending time with family and friends," Kris said, beginning to shake worse now, Meganium rushing towards her looking concerned. "I am sorry Charles, but I cannot battle you!" Charles instantly looked stroppy, and it was clear that 'no' would not work.

"Why do you get any time off when you haven't even battled anyone since Gold?" He snapped.

"I said lay off her!" Spike snapped, and he smashed his staff against the tiles, leaving a crack.

"No need to fight!" Professor Elm exclaimed.

"You may be fancy with a big piece of wood, but let's see how well you go against my Pokemon!" Charles snapped, advancing forwards with a PokeBall appearing in his hands. Spike smiled and pulled his lone one out, and Kris knew that the two would descend into a fight if left to it.

"There is no need to battle him!" Lyla said, pulling Charles backwards, but he shook her free.

"I know there isn't, but Kris is refusing to battle me for no reason –"

"I AM NOT ALLOWED TO BATTLE!" Kris screamed, and everyone fell silent. She was not aware of the amount of noise that there had been, and it was almost overwhelming at first, but the gates had opened and now she could not stop. "I am technically not even Champion! They are letting me keep the title and the apartments for the moment for the necessity of having one, but there is a large possibility Gold cheated when he battled Lance, so until the investigation is complete, I am not officially Champion. That means I cannot battle ANYONE, except, funnily enough, for Lance, who is arranging a massive battle that is going to be televised worldwide, as he wants to prove that he is still the true Johto Champion! I should be putting all my attention into this, but a gym leader in Kanto that just happened to be Red's best friend died a few weeks ago, so Red has disappeared to mourn and there is no Champion for the Indigo League, and they are trying to get me to sort everything out even though I am not technically Champion, and I just can't take it anymore! So excuse me for not wanting to battle you Charles, but I have had a hellish year fighting a lunatic that I probably created in order to get a title that has blown up in my face, so sorry that I want to spend the FUCKING HOLIDAYS IN PEACE!"

Kris paused for a second, letting what she had just said sink in for everyone, and giving herself a moment to realise what she had done. Then she turned and ran towards the doors, leaving the shocked trainers and Pokemon behind. The doors quickly slid open, revealing it was lightly snowing once more, and Kris stumbled out into the snow, her head starting to spin slightly as the sick feeling in her stomach reared up once more. She was not supposed to have told anyone all of that information, especially not two basically random trainers, and Kris wanted to rush in and take it all back, but no one was going to believe it was a lie, not when she was borderline crying.

"Kris, wait up!" Spike yelled from behind, and Kris turned back as she struggled through the fresh layer of the snow, her feet slipping and sinking into the wet patches. The Dragon trainer ran forwards, moving at lightning speed, while Kris' Pokemon poured out after them. "Kris, stop, we need to talk about what happened!"

"Why bother?" Kris snapped, struggling to hold the tears back now. "There is nothing to talk about! It was a mistake, I never should have said any of that, and I certainly cannot keep talking about it!"

"I know, but you did, there is no taking it back!" Spike said, and caught up to her and grabbed onto her shoulder in a tender way to stop her moving. Kris turned towards him and saw that he looked genuinely concerned, causing her feelings to stir once more. "Why didn't you tell why you weren't being allowed to battle? I knew about the stuff with Lance, but I did not know it was getting this bad, or that stuff with Red and the Indigo League. You should have come to me!"

"What was I suppose to say?" Kris cried, shouting it louder than she had intended. "I went on this journey to become Champion, thinking it would make everything in my life better. Instead I just fought a lunatic who tried to destroy me at every opportunity, and it turned into some quest to outdo the other. My whole fight with Gold poisoned my journey, and it has seeped into this Championship. He may as well have stayed Champion with all that has happened since I won! I have not had a proper battle since I defeated Gold, even though I yearn for something to get rid of the taste of that sour victory, and I want to talk to people about it, but who can I? I kept talking to you in the gardens because I knew they'd be listening to my complaints if we stayed inside, but I never knew just where they were following me. And what can I say to my mother? She knows the stress of being involved with the Championship, she tried to warn me and I ignored her. I can't turn back now and beg for her advice, especially now that she looks like she is dying all over again! Everything is just one giant mess, and I can't take it anymore!"

A moment later, Kris, breathless and tearful, collapsed forwards. Spike caught her, and the two sunk to the ground together. She wrapped her arms around him and let her emotions pour out, unable to hold them back any more. She heard the sound of feet crunching snow, and Kris felt the presence of her Pokemon as they came towards her. Meganium's head nuzzled against her shoulder, Ampharos gave her a brief hug, Noctowl stroked her with her wings: only small things, but each one made Kris feel a little bit better. Yet nothing would remove the crushing, dreadful weight of what her dreams had turned into. Finally, after what felt like hours but must have only been a few minutes, Spike lifted Kris up to face him, smiling kindly, and he brushed away the tears.

"You cannot let them control you or do this to you," he said. "For now at least, you are their Champion, and you should be able to do what you want, when you want! A bunch of people who probably couldn't even train a Sentret have no right to take away your rights and privileges and make you feel this terrible, while at the same time trying to make you into a Champion for a completely different region!"

"What choice do I have?" Kris moaned. "I can't come back here, I can't tell my mother what happened, but if I stand up to them, they can easily strip me of my title and banish me from the Complex and end themselves of the stress I am causing!"

"You are stronger than they are," Spike said, and leaned in, his voice becoming barely a whisper. "Fight back, and you are bound to win." Kris wanted to reply, but Spike turned and planted his lips on hers, and she instantly fell silent. The Pokemon gasped and whispered in shock, but Kris ignored them, entering a world where it was just her and Spike, with none of the issues and none of the drama, just the two of them alone at last. She embraced their second kiss, and let the sensation spread throughout her body, never wanting it to end. However, after an eternity, Spike broke away, a nervous smile across his face, leaving a warm tingling on her lips.

"Risky move," Kris said, feeling her face blush just as brightly. "I am the one with all my Pokemon out and surrounding us. If they didn't approve, you'd be in for a world of pain." Spike laughed quietly, and Kris leaned forwards, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. "Luckily, I approve, so they must do as well."

"Gani Mega Mega Niuum!" Meganium said, and the Pokemon all laughed. Spike looked nervous, but Kris smiled and got back to her feet, and extended a hand to help him up. She felt brighter now, overwhelmed with delight at that kiss, but the depression of all her issues lingered. Spike seemed to notice this, and smiled brighter, a twinkle in his eye.

"You are a fighter Kris, you have the strength to stand up to anyone, and it is time you remembered just how powerful you are!" He said. Kris raised an uncertain eyebrow, but Spike simply laughed and grabbed onto her hand, pulling her forwards through the snow, and Kris let herself run after. All eight of her Pokemon chased after as well, ignoring the falling flakes that landed on their bare skin, all of them wondering just what Spike had in store…

"I am not going to do this."

"You have to, it is the only way!"

"Surely there is someone else I could do this with. Why am I not facing you Spike?"

"Oh, don't treat me like I'm some delicate little flower! You may be Champion missy, but I can beat your behind into the next century!"

Kris was taken aback by this, but Spike simply laughed as Hanoko banged her walking stick into the snow. Leafeon and Glaceon stood before her, looking just as determined as their trainer as Espeon and Miltank moved forwards. Kris had wanted to use Magcargo as he and Miltank had not been able to face off with Gold during the last battle, but the Fire types shell was still too weak, so sending Espeon against other Eeveelutions was a sensible alternative.

Though Kris was still not certain about the battle. Spike thought that a new battle and a possibly win would help rejuvenate her and get her back to her old self, but Kris was doubtful, especially facing her grandmother. While Hanoko may be made of tough stuff, her Pokemon had certainly seen better days, with Kris only seeing the Verdant and Fresh Snow Pokemon using their attacks once on Gold. Hanoko appeared determined though, and Kris knew she could not really back out of this.

"Alright then, let's try this," Kris said, stepping forwards half heartedly. There was no one about except for her remaining Pokemon and Spike, who stood between her and Hanoko, serving as the referee. The snow had picked up again, forcing the rest of the small town inside. Kris knew her Pokemon would rather be somewhere warm and had offered to withdraw them all, but they all wanted to stay and support her, which already had lifted her spirits. From the frosted window, Persephone was watching with a bowl of warm soup, Hooty at her side, stating that she had to listen out for the timer as she cooked the dinner. Kris was doubtful, wondering if she was staying warm for her health, but shook the thoughts from her head as Spike began to speak.

"This is a two-on-two double battle between Kris Soul and Hanoko," he said, smirking slightly at his over seriousness. "The first person to defeat both of the opponents Pokemon will be declared the winner. In order to give her an advantage over the Champion, the challenger Hanoko shall move first! Let the match begin!"

"Advantage? Pah, who needs that!" Hanoko scoffed, though she still focussed on her granddaughter, gearing up to move first anyway. Kris knew that she would have sent the first order whether it had been her turn or not, and chuckled to herself. "Wipe that smile off your face missy!" Hanoko snapped. "I won't take your insolence! Glaceon use Hail, and Leafeon use Swords Dance!"

"A defensive ploy, interesting," Kris said with a nod. "Espeon, you use Future Sight on Leafeon, and Miltank, you can use Brick Break on Glaceon!" The Future Sight would work best on Leafeon, as she would be weakened by the Hail by the time the attack would be initiated, though Kris wondered if the Grass type would survive until then. She appeared a bit weakened as she spun around, swinging her tail and legs, building up strength throughout her body.

"Glace!" Glaceon said, a small ice blue ball forming in her mouth. She fired it up at the already grey clouds, and the ball opened and spread across, adding a frozen sheen to the clouds. Chunks of ice began to fall across the battlefield with more power than the snow, and Espeon and Miltank began to look uncomfortable.

"Miltank Mil!" Miltank said defiantly, and she marched forwards, left arm raised to strike Glaceon down, leaving Espeon to fire a glowing ball from her jewel into the sky, forming the future attack. Miltank crossed the field uninterrupted, and raised her arm even higher as she approached Glaceon. The Ice type simply stood there, staring patiently up at Miltank, and Kris tensed up, wondering if she would fall already.

"TANK!" Miltank yelled, and brought her arm crashing down. However, at the last moment, Glaceon jumped backwards, and Miltank stumbled forwards without a target to strike. Hanoko laughed as Kris looked stunned, and she suddenly realised what had happened.

"Snow Cloak!" She gasped. The ability caused the ice within Glaceon's body to react with the falling hail, allowing her to move swiftly in order to evade attacks. Kris should have remembered this, as it was Glaceon's only ability, but she had been too focussed on what she thought would be an easy battle.

"Sorry sweetie, but you'll have to try better than that!" Hanoko laughed. "Blizzard Miltank and Leaf Blade Espeon!" It was as a switch had suddenly been switched, and Kris was left awestruck as the two Eeveelutions lunged forwards: Leafeon and Glaceon moved swiftly into their positions, looking rejuvenated and ready to fight. Kris realised that this was all a trick on Hanoko's part, making Kris think that her Pokemon were weaker than they truly were. Leafeon looked completely different as she leapt across the snow, her tail straightening like a sword and glowing a bright green that glittered off the hail. Miltank and Espeon looked just as stunned, but Miltank became distracted as she watched Leafeon fly past, forgetting her own fight.

"WATCH OUT!" Kris cried, but Glaceon was already upon Miltank, mouth opening wide. A frozen storm erupted out, engulfing Miltank with snow and ice. Kris had to shield her face from the onslaught, and did not see Leafeon again until she was right near Espeon.

"LEAF!" She cried, swinging her tail around before Espeon could move. It cut across her and sent her sprawling backwards through the snow, disappearing amongst a flurry of white flakes. Kris was stunned, not quite sure what to think of this sudden turn around, and Hanoko's laugh cackled from across their makeshift field.

"That's what happens when you think little of your opponent!" She laughed. "Imagine if Steven Stone challenged you to a battle and you had no idea who he was! You'd get slaughtered in seconds underestimating someone like him, and you are just damn lucky that I am going soft on you!" Kris had never really thought she was being ageist, but now that it had been put out there, she could find no other way of describing her actions. She stared ahead, wondering where Miltank had gone, and was stunned to find a giant block of ice right where she had just been.

"Miltank!" She gasped, staring at her frozen Pokemon as Glaceon emerged smiling from behind. Kris knew how bad this looked, and stared across at Spike and her Pokemon, their stunned reactions proving her theory. I should not have underestimated Hanoko, that is not what a real Champion would do, Kris thought, looking across at the battle as Espeon struggled to get up as hail continued to pelt her. If I want to keep my title, I really need to learn to focus more and think more of my opponents… maybe this battle won't be as pointless after all.

"Kris has run out of time to give her command, so the turn goes back to Hanoko," Spike said, and gave Kris a look that basically said 'get it together!' Kris smiled and nodded at him and stared back towards the battle. She took in that Leafeon was close to Espeon, with Glaceon standing further back by Miltank as if waiting to pounce upon the ice block.

"Let's see if you learnt your lesson! Leaf Blade and Shadow Ball on Espeon!" Hanoko cried. Kris nodded to this, having expected a Special move from Glaceon, and stared down at Espeon. The Sun Pokemon looked concerned, but Kris smiled at her, hoping to instil some confidence.

"We can do this, don't worry! Use Psychic to get rid of Leafeon," she commanded. "Miltank, if you can defrost, use Milk Drink to get your strength back!" There were no signs of the ice breaking yet, so Kris focused back on Espeon. Leafeon was racing towards her, seemingly unafraid of the potential attack to come. Espeon was poised, ready to move at any moment in case her attack failed.

"ESPEEE!" She cried, her eyes flashing the brightest pink. Leafeon paused, suspended in mid air as if frozen in time, a slight pink outline around her body. Then there was a flash: Hanoko gasped as Leafeon soared back towards her, landing with a thud and rolling through the snow. For a moment, Kris beamed with victory, but than Glaceon leapt forwards, ready to take up the next part of the fight.

"Eon Glace!" She cried, and a ball of black-purple energy shot from her mouth. Espeon had no time to get away and was hit directly in the ribs, making her cry out as she was pushed through the snow. Kris was concerned about how weakened she looked already, but was satisfied to note that Leafeon was not struggling to get back to her feet as well.

There has to be some sort of way to stop both attacks, Kris thought, looking around at the field, but all she had to work with was all the snow and Miltank's frozen body. However, looking between the two, an idea quickly formed, and Kris' face lit up with delight.

"Shadow Ball and Leaf Blade again on Espeon!" Hanoko cried. She clearly did not see Miltank as a threat as she was now frozen, and Kris knew that this would be her downside.

"Espeon, jump behind Miltank and then use Psychic on the snow, pushing it towards Leafeon!" She shouted. Espeon pushed herself back to her feet and quickly understood what Kris was planning, and ran towards the safety of Miltank before either of Hanoko's Pokemon could react.

"Peon Esp!" She cried once she was in position, and her eyes flashed pink. The glow extended across the blanket of snow and ice, and suddenly it was lifted up, rising up like a frozen tornado, and Leafeon stopped dead in her tracks, the glow fading from her tail. Suddenly, the snow shot forwards like a torpedo, striking her where she stood, releasing a gust of wind that made Hanoko cover her face for a change. Kris was delighted with the success, and was even more proud when she saw Glaceon's Shadow Ball explode against Miltank, unable to phase through her body.

"Interesting move," Spike called out. Kris smiled and did a fake curtsey, and was pleased to see that Leafeon looked dramatically weaker, and Glaceon appeared irritated and confused over the situation. Hanoko frowned, but her eyes twinkled, and Kris knew that the old girl was not done yet.

"Leafeon use Sunny Day, and Glaceon use Blizzard on Espeon!" She cried. Kris was taken aback: why change the weather when Leafeon had the strength of her Swords Dance and the Hail was allowing for perfect Blizzards? It seemed mysterious, but Kris refused to let it get to her, and already knew how to work things to her advantage.

"Espeon, I want you to take the Blizzard but use Signal Beam on Leafeon," she commanded. Espeon looked shocked, and the rest of Kris' Pokemon murmured in similar feelings, but Kris gave her a tiny wink. "Trust me! Miltank, if you de-thaw, Brick Break Glaceon again!"

"Leafe!" Leafeon cried, and an orange ball formed in her mouth. She raised her head to the sky and fired it, where it soared up and spread out exactly like Hail, except this time it with an orange-red glow like fire. The Hail instantly stopped, and glorious sunshine was unleashed upon the field, so realistic that Kris was tempted to remove her winter coat that was suddenly suffocating her.

"Espe!" Espeon cried, and her jewel lit up like a rainbow. A second later, a strong beam was unleashed, and Leafeon was blasted once more off her feet by the Bug-type move. Kris was delighted, but even more so when she heard a loud cracking noise, and looked around to see Miltank breaking free from her frozen prison. Glaceon looked worried as the ice shattered, no longer having the protection of Hail and Snow Cloak to save her, and she quickly unleashed her Blizzard. Kris tensed up, watching as it curved around Miltank and went straight for Espeon. The snow storm struck and Espeon skidded through the snow as she stood her ground. This time, the attack did not freeze its target, which was both a relief and a slight disappointment for Kris.

"TANK!" Miltank cried, and she brought her fully functioning again arm crashing down, hitting Glaceon on the head and pushing her backwards. At the same moment, there was a bright flash, and the Future Sight suddenly dived down, hitting the already battered Leafeon. The explosion caused snow to fly across both of Hanoko's Pokemon, covering them, and Kris, her team and Spike all watched, wondering if either of them had fainted. However, once the flakes had settled, both Leafeon and Glaceon were standing once again in their starting positions, looking entirely unfazed.

"Impossible!" Kris gasped as Hanoko laughed croakily.

"My Pokemon are much stronger than you may think," she purred. "They have fought plenty of battles and know my strategy by heart! I have spent decades tricking my opponents by changing the weather, making them think I am planning one thing when I go in a different direction!" Kris could remember Steven Stone commenting on this when they met him in Olivine, and smiled, pleased to see her grandmother was spritelier than she had imagined.

"And I see you told Espeon to take the Blizzard," Hanoko said. "You thought that if Espeon became frozen, her Synchronize would freeze Glaceon as well? Well, if a Pokemon is asleep or frozen, than Synchronize does not pass that along, so you were being very foolish!" Kris was shocked, not aware that her strategy was not only obvious but incorrect. What sort of trainer had she become? She should have known these things! Hanoko's smile faded as she contemplated her next move. "I am sorry to have to do this, my dear, but I feel as though you may need it. Blizzard and Solarbeam, go!"

That's what she used on Gold, Kris thought instantly, and she quickly grasped the seriousness of the order. "Milk Drink and Psychic, protect yourselves!" She cried, but it seemed too late: as Miltank glowed white and tried to regain her strength, Leafeon absorbed in sunlight and Glaceon readied her Blizzard. Espeon moved forwards with glowing eyes, hoping to protect them both, but Kris knew it was futile.

The two attacks were fired simultaneously, one a glowing, dazzling beam of concentrated heat, the other a snowstorm originating from the depths of Glaceon's Ice-fuelled body. They moulded together, twisting and entwining, very different attacks merging together. Kris was forced to jump as the combined attack exploded largely into Miltank, but the resulting shockwave was enough to create a flurry of snow and blast of heat that struck Espeon. The blast hit Kris, and she cried out as she landed in the snow and rolled backwards, her eyes burnt by the strangely mixed explosion, and it was nearly a minute before she could get back to her feet.

It became quite clear that Miltank and Espeon had been overwhelmed by the attack: both Pokemon were slumped on the ground, struggling to get back up, and their injuries were hidden by the snow that had landed on them. They both looked unlikely to survive another attack, and Kris felt terrible, knowing that this was her fault, knowing that she should have never underestimated Hanoko. But Kris knew that this loss went back further: she had let the stress of the last few months get to her, and it was affecting her Pokemon. She had been unable to train properly, especially over the last month, and the signs were definitely showing. Spike was right… if I am ever going to be able to fight back against the Pokemon League, than I need to remind myself how strong I am.

"Looks like you were right Spike," Kris said, moving towards her Pokemon to help them get up. "I really did need this fight." Miltank and Espeon looked wearily at her as they stood, and Kris' guilt grew as a result. "Don't worry, we can pull through this, as long as you still want to battle."


"Esp." The two smiled and nodded, and Kris beamed back, proud at their commitment, and she stood and stared back at Hanoko. It was clear that the only way to beat their combination moves was to fight back exactly the same, though Kris had not thought of any combo moves in months, as all her battles from now on were meant to be single battles.

"Megani Mega Ganium!" Meganium shouted out from the sidelines, and the rest of the Pokemon let out a chorus of cheers, urging their trainer and comrades on. Kris smiled warmly back at them and managed to catch Latios' eye. The legendary was floating slightly above and away from the others, most likely deep in thought. She smiled at Kris and gave her a wink, her other eye flashing a bright pink, and suddenly Kris knew what she had to do.

"Tough Pokemon you've got there!" Hanoko called. "Let's see if they survive the next hit! Same move, go!"

"Miltank use Hyper Beam, and Espeon use Psychic to strengthen it!" Kris shouted. Spike and her Pokemon all looked stunned, though Kris did not let it get to her, hoping it would work. Solarbeam and Blizzard were quickly readied by their respective Pokemon, and Miltank moved determinedly forwards, opening her mouth wide as white energy started to form. Espeon's eyes flashed pink, and the growing ball began to glow as well.

"MIIIILLLL!" Miltank cried and she unleashed the beam at the same time as Glaceon and Leafeon initiated their attacks, which instantly fused together. Kris watched tensely as the pink and white beam soared across the field, and gasped as it collided with the SolarBlizzard. There was a bright explosion, followed by a shockwave that shook the window from which Persephone was watching from. The other Pokemon became lost behind a glowing sphere of light and energy that formed in the middle from the radiating attacks, a sphere that quickly began to swell. Miltank and Espeon stepped backwards as the mixed attacks approached them, and suddenly it burst like a bubble, unleashing a second, multicoloured shockwave that nearly knocked Kris flying. A low rumble like that of an airplane sounded, and Kris was concerned, wondering what exactly this attack had created.

It faded as quickly as it had appeared. Kris straightened up, quickly seeing her Pokemon were still standing, yet the bright glow hid the fate of Hanoko's Pokemon. She blinked to clear the white spots that had burnt their way into her eyes, and began to make out two figures before her, but were they standing or lying down, she was not certain…

"Glaceon and Leafeon are both unconscious!" Spike exclaimed. "The battle goes to Kris!" Kris was taken aback, and for a moment she was not sure entirely sure what to say, or think, or even feel. But then a feeling of joy and celebration spread throughout her body, and Kris leapt up into the air, cheering and whooping with her Pokemon, and rushed forwards to hug Miltank and Espeon.

"You two were brilliant!" She shouted, and they cried out in their ways and hugged her back, nearly pushing her backwards into the snow. Kris simply laughed, savouring their emotions that she had not felt for months. "You are both definitely getting a Christmas present tomorrow now!" She said, and her other Pokemon all cried out in shock at what she was implying, which only made Kris laugh more. She began to wonder if she looked a bit insane laughing so much, but Kris simply did not care, and let her laughter reach up to the snowy clouds above.

"Well done dear, I knew you could do it!" Hanoko said, appearing suddenly over her. Kris' joy dimmed at this, feeling sorry for her grandmother, but it must have shown on her face as Hanoko scoffed. "Do not pity me, deary! I have battled plenty of Champions before in my time, and none of them have shown such an amazing turn around like that before!"

"Your Pokemon just seemed so strong though!" Kris said, and Hanoko laughed croakily.

"I have trained them to appear that way!" She said. "If your Pokemon look weak at the wrong time, than your opponent will know that victory is certain and will have no fear in facing you. You thought my Pokemon still had plenty of life left, and that made you nervous. Just another one of my little tricks, one you should look into when it comes to facing the only slightly stronger opponents you will see in the future." Kris was stunned at all these tricks of Hanoko's, but she laughed and pulled the small women into a hug, nearly swinging her around in her delight.

"Thank you, I will remember that!" Kris said, and turned to Spike: he was beaming brightly, clearly pleased at how well his idea had gone, and Kris had to agree now that it had been a wise idea. "And thank you Spike, I think a battle was just what I needed to clear my head and get me thinking straight again!"

"I really just wanted to see you smiling again, to be honest," Spike said, blushing slightly and making Hanoko scoff indignantly, "but if you're feeling better as well, than that is really an added bonus!" Kris struggled not to blush herself, only imagining what Hanoko would say, and instead she turned away from them all.

And that was when she saw a limousine.

Only one family in the entire town would ever have need of a limousine, and Kris was well aware of whom that was. Her joy slipped away as she watched the car slide through the ice before turning away towards the giant mansion to the north, and she almost began to feel sick again. However, Kris knew that she could not appear weak, just like Glaceon and Leafeon, and she was not about to let her happiness be taken away again. She had only just cleared her head, and now it was time that she fixed the mistakes of the past.

"Where are you going?" Spike cried as Kris began to walk forwards without a word. She glanced back briefly and flashed him a smile as she signalled for her Pokemon to follow.

"It is time I faced my demons."

Kris had been in awkward situations before, but not like this.

She sat on a couch opposite Harold and Henrietta Hartley, feeling under dressed against his three piece suit and her sparkling red dress. The Champion had caught them in the middle of their preparations for a Christmas gathering, the limousine Kris had seen bringing family members up from the small jetties that bordered New Bark Town and Route 27. The two both looked nice, but their faces were a mix of anger, surprise and the same feeling of awkwardness Kris felt, which was perfectly acceptable considering she had blown up their entrance hall on her last visit. It was a miracle they had even let her inside the house and property, but it seemed Henrietta had made Harold allow her in, as long as she came alone and did not cause any trouble.

"I love what you've done with the place," she said, trying to break the ice. She glanced to the right at the entrance hall, which had been redone in a largely black and gold theme that encompassed the tiles, the banisters, the artwork and even the chandelier. The living room had been redone as well, painted a very contrasting cream white with black wooden fixtures and black and gold furniture. A Christmas theme spread throughout the house and property, largely through oversized decorations, enough tinsel and lights to decorate every house in New Bark and Cherrygrove, and so many trees that Kris could tell a large number of Hoothoot, Pidgey, Spearow, Sentret and Rattata would be going cold in the nearby forests.

"Ah yes… it is quite nice," Henrietta said, almost as if she was being forced to say the words. "We have some lovely contractors who did the work in only a few weeks. Of course, we had to pay extra, but we have the money." She stopped, paused for a moment as if considering her next words, and suddenly kicked into hostess mode. "Do you want something to drink Krystal? That coat looks far too thin to provide much warmth. I can make you some tea, or maybe a hot –"

"Shut up for five seconds Henrietta!" Harold suddenly snapped, and his wife felt quiet like some tamed Chansey, reverting back into her awkward state as if she had never said a word. Kris instantly felt worse about being here, especially now that Harold was glaring up at her with thin, beady eyes, a look that could send a Tauros fleeing for the hills. I am the Champion, I have faced worse… you defeated the son, now face the father…

"What exactly do you want?" Harold asked coldly. "We are very busy at the moment with the rest of our children and family all here for the holidays, as well as the issues we are having with Ethan. Just say what you want to say so you can leave us alone before you blow our house up again!" Kris had expected hostility to some degree, but the anger Harold possessed was rather overwhelming, and she was beginning to wish she had never come. But she knew that if she left now, she would never be able to come back, and she needed to say her words in order to move on.

"I just want to say that… I'm sorry," Kris said, forcing herself to stare the two directly in the eyes when she spoke. "I have no idea how much of a role I had to play in Gold and his breakdown, but I know that a lot of it is my fault. Maybe if I had let him win more often, or I had pointed out his deterioration to someone that could have done something about it… there are a million things I feel I could have done, and even though I hated Gold, I do not wish what had happened to him upon anybody. So… I am sorry, I wish I had done more to help him… somehow." Silence followed her words as Kris waited for them to say something. Harold did not change his expression in the slightest, but Henrietta briefly managed a half smile as her eyes began to get watery, staring down at the coffee table before them.

"So what, you came here to clear your conscience, is that it?" Harold asked with a touch of venom. "We don't need your pity, Krystal! We spent years trying to protect you from what Ethan did to that Ruby girl, but as soon as you worked it out, you went and destroyed everything! The reason why Ethan fought so hard against you was because you were a constant reminder of what he had done, something he had tried for years to make amends for. All the therapists we sent him to told us so, and when I consulted some of them over the past few weeks, they all agreed that your appearance in such a big stage of his life would have been damaging to his recovery and could have led to his breakdown!"

Kris felt as though she had been slapped, and could not quite take in what was being thrown her way: was he actually blaming her for everything that had gone wrong with Gold?

"Darling, we should not blame the poor girl for… everything," Henrietta said, giving Kris a judging look. "Ethan went too far by drugging his Pokemon, and that happened before he fought Lance, that had nothing to do with Krystal. I think that Ethan is just a bit disturbed or upset, and he took his emotions out on the wrong people."

"Don't be ridiculous!" Harold snapped, leaping to his feet and staring angrily down at his wife. "Of course it had to do with the girl! He wanted to be better than her, and becoming Champion had to do with that!" Kris was not going to sit there and take all the accusations flying her way, and she stood up herself, trying her best to look intimidating.

"I may be partly to blame, but you cannot throw it all onto me!" She said, keeping her voice calm. "I know that Gold felt out of place amongst this family, being in some awkward position where he could never live up to his older siblings or get attention away from his younger siblings. Maybe if you two didn't pop out more children than was necessary, Gold would have not thought it necessary to try and prove himself by going on his journey. The only reason why I would be to blame is because Gold saw me as the one person that stood in the way for him completing his goals, and he did his best to try and destroy me. Like I said, if I had lost a few more times or been more helpful, than he might not have become as obsessed –"

"See, your admitting you're to blame!" Harold shouted, face turning as red as the baubles on the tree behind him, veins popping out in a festive green. "How DARE you try and blame us, when Ethan clearly wanted to defeat you and would go to any lengths to do so!"

"It is not as if I forced the drugs down his Pokemon's throats!" Kris snapped back, struggling to keep her cool. "Gold made his own decisions, I made my own choices, but the decisions you two made all those years ago, with Ruby, your children and your treatment of him!"

"I WILL NOT HAVE YOU SAYING THESE THINGS IN MY HOUSE!" Harold screamed. "GET OUT YOU MISERABLE, UNGRATEFUL BRAT! GO BACK TO THAT DYING MOTHER OF YOURS AND LEAVE US ALONE!" Kris was taken aback by this, and before she could stop herself she swung a fist.

"FATHER!" Someone yelled from behind as Harold went tumbling back to the couch, clutching his face. Kris wondered who had done it before she noticed the pain shooting up from her hand, and saw a group of people stampeding in, briefly recognizing Chantelle and Winston in their own fancy dress.

"Bitch!" Harold snapped, clutching his bleeding nose and staring viciously at Kris. "Looks like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree! Your father was always rotten –"

"Same goes for you and Gold!" Kris hissed before she could stop herself, making the gathering family members gasp. Harold pointed a blood covered finger towards Kris and readied his next statement, but Henrietta suddenly stepped forwards.

"ENOUGH!" She screamed, her voice echoing shrilly inside the confined space, and everyone fell silent. The matriarch looked haggard, suddenly looking a lot less glamorous than she had when the conversation had begun. She stared between Kris and her husband, struggling to fight back tears, and instead turned to her family. "All of you, out, now! I won't have our Christmas tarnished by this!" Henrietta flailed a pointing finger back towards the other rooms, and most of the party left. Chantelle and Winston lingered though, moving to the archway that divided the rooms, waiting to hear what had to be said. Henrietta noticed them but ignored them, turning back to the two before her. Kris tensed up, wondering if she was about to be yelled at again, regretting coming here. However, she was completely taken aback as Henrietta began to cry.

"She is right Harold, this is all our fault!" She wailed, clutching her head in her hands. "We never did truly love Ethan, did we? Not after what happened to Ruby! We got him out of any charges, it seemed like the right thing to do, but how could I look him in the eye after that…"

"Henrietta, pull yourself together!" Harold said, almost scoldingly, but Henrietta continued to weep, the tears streaking down her hands. Kris felt uncomfortable, not sure if she should comfort her or not, and was relieved when Chantelle rushed towards her mother, while Winston passed some tissues over to his father.

"You can't blame yourself Mum!" Chantelle said as she hugged her mother. "No one could have predicted how Gold would have turned out! And he wouldn't have known how you felt anyway, so –"

"He did," Kris said, knowing the reaction it would get, but she knew that she had to say something now if she ever hoped to leave her achieving her original intention. "During those last few minutes of battle, Latios made some sort of psychic connection with Gold, and I was able to see some of his memories. You doubted he was ever going to succeed in his quest, didn't you? Don't deny it, I saw it, which means Gold saw it to." Henrietta stopped crying for a moment and looked up at Harold, whose face was largely obscured by blood soaked tissues, but his eyes showed shock and, for a moment, remorse.

"I came here today because I want to make amends for any mistakes I have made this past year so I can go into the New Year with my head held high," Kris explained. "I know that I am partially responsible for pushing Gold towards what he did, and I need to get that feeling of guilt off my chest. But Gold…" Kris paused for a moment, shutting her eyes as the memory of what had happened two weeks ago came back to her: a wide, crowded room, cameras flashing, dozens of people separating the two of them… yet Gold had managed to see her…

"I cannot say what I want to say to Gold's face," she said, forcing herself to carry on. "There is something wrong with Gold, there probably always has been. It is just that his journey… I guess you could say our journey… it managed to bring it out. It could be our fault, it could be your fault, but mostly it is Gold's fault: he made his decisions; he cannot give us all the blame. I just wanted to let you know that I am sorry, and I hope you do not blame yourselves too much either. None of us will be able to move on if we give ourselves all the blame." With nothing left to say, Kris turned and moved towards the entrance hall. No one tried to stop her, the four Hartleys all frozen as her words washed over them. Kris was not quite sure how to feel, wondering if they were going to react, but refused to look back and demand a reaction. It wasn't until she had nearly opened the door that she heard a noise from behind, and Kris glanced over her shoulder to see Henrietta had gotten to her feet, moving slowly and uncertainly towards the archway.

"Kris… thank you…." The look on her face was awkward behind her smile, and Kris could tell that there was more she wanted to say but could not quite find the words. Yet Kris knew what she meant, and she smiled at her as she swung open the door, walking out of their home with a lot less weight on her shoulders than she had entered.

In her own way, Kris could now be at peace with Gold.

It was getting dark as Kris and Spike arrived back at the Soul household, with Meganium walking alongside for comfort. Kris was keeping her other Pokemon inside their PokeBalls for protection from the snow, but Meganium was happy to be near her trainer and friend, and Kris enjoyed having her about. A chill hung in the air, and the snow was still falling, albeit lighter than before, yet Kris felt warmer inside than she had in weeks. Her talk to the Hartleys had not gone according to plan, yet Kris felt as though part of the burden she had carried for so long had been lifted, and knew there was only one thing she had to do to clear her mind.

"You are going to have to talk to your mother," Spike said as they crunched over frozen grass, their faces illuminated by the living room lights shining through the window.

"I know," Kris said, but she did not feel as afraid anymore. She knew how it felt now to face your fears and get words off your chest, and knew it was the only way for her to move on. Kris wanted to form her words first before she spoke, so she paused by the door, stroking Meganium, staring across at the snow covered ornaments, various thoughts crossing her mind. Spike reached out and grabbed onto her free hand, a slight smile appearing across his barely lit face.

"You can do this, there is nothing to be afraid of anymore," he said, and Kris smiled and nodded, and leaned in for a kiss.

"Not when I have you and my Pokemon with me," she said as they pulled apart, tasting his warmth on her lips. Kris let go of his hand and gave Meganium a hug, and then opened the door and stepped into her house, determined to fix things.

"There you are dear, dinner's nearly ready!" Persephone said as she saw Kris walking in to the kitchen. "I just need to finish roasting the vegetables and warming the bread up, and things will be done!" She shoved the trays into the oven, closed the door, and turned smiling to face her daughter, but paused when she saw the serious, uncertain look on her face. "What is it, what's wrong? Did Harold and Henrietta react badly to what you had to say?"

"No, nothing like that, they… she was understanding," Kris said with an awkward smile, and she moved towards her mother and wrapped her arms around her, pulling her close. "I am sorry for not talking to you over the past few weeks, I should have called, I should have –"

"Oh Krystal, you have nothing to apologise for!" Persephone said, laughing slightly. "I do read the newspapers and watch the telly, I know some of the stuff you must be going through! And you have been gloomy all day, so I had to suspect something was up!"

"I should have been the one to tell you," Kris said, pulling away from the hug with tears in her eyes. "You warned me what it was going to be like to be Champion, and I ignored you, thinking it would be easy. And then everything turned to crap, and I could not call you and admit I was wrong… I didn't want to burden you with all of it, and for a time I did think I could handle it, but I can't… not on my own!"

"Krystal, you can always call me, and you know I will never point out your mistakes!" Persephone said, brushing the tears away. "I am your mother, it is my job to leave you to work out what you've done wrong yourself!" Kris laughed, and Persephone managed a warm smile as well. "Come on, we have a few minutes before the food is done, so if it'll make your feel better, tell me everything!" Kris took a deep breath, controlling herself once again, and then she opened her mouth and let everything spill, and could not stop when she began.

She explained about how Gold was being investigated and likely charged with cheating and potential abuse of his Pokemon. This had led to an inquiry as to whether he should have ever become Champion, and if Kris should therefore remain in her role, which was causing Lance to arrange a public battle against her but Kris was not allowed to help plan it. While this was all happening, the Indigo and Johto Leagues were in serious discussion as Red, the Kanto Champion, had disappeared following the death of one of his friends, and they wanted Kris to Champion over both regions until he had returned, even though the investigation meant she could not formally battle anyone until her Championship was confirmed.

"It is all just so stressful, with them trying to make me do things but won't let me do others, turning me into a puppet that they have to use rather than want to use," Kris said after five minutes of straight talking, her throat getting sore from her leakage of information. "I have lost the will to battle, to train, to do anything except let myself be dragged around to meetings where I have to sit and listen, or remain in my room and wait to be given my fate. It is too much to handle really, and no one thinks I am deserving of the title! The doctors ignore my Pokemon as they see me as some sort of visitor, all the journalists are doubting whether I deserved it, even though I busted a gut battling Gold…" Kris paused for a moment, letting her mother, who had to sit down at a kitchen stool, process all the information. Gold… the key to all of this, isn't he?

"I have only seen Gold once since the battle, asides from on TV," Kris continued, talking slowly, thinking her words over first now. "He had to come in to answer questions directly to the Board. There were all these journalists there trying to get a photo of him, I think it was first public appearance for a few weeks. He was being led by two burly security guards across the main building, the one that has all the offices and leads to the Elite Four Battlefields. I stood at the top of the staircase, as I had nothing else to do and I wanted to see Gold for myself, basically to double check he was a real person… He looked up at me, looked past all those guards and the people surrounding him, through the flashing lights, ignoring everyone else… he sensed me, looked up at the staircase and smiled… It was sadistic, it made me want to throw up the way he smiled: it was such a triumphant smile, as if he had just won something, but his eyes… they were just so… evil! He was happy to see me, happy to see what his issues had put me through, but he still hates me, he wants me dead, I can tell…"

"Honey, don't speak like that!" Persephone said, getting up again and pulling Kris into a hug. "Don't let Gold get to you! He cannot hurt you anymore! He is a disturbed little boy that has a lot of issues to work through, and you cannot let him get to you. Don't blame yourself for anything he did."

"I don't… not anymore…," Kris said, hugging her mother back. "It just pains me that I let all of this get to me, that I let him take control of my journey and turn it into this… this thing were my life has been flipped upside down, where I make myself ignore you for weeks to hide my guilt and failure, even though your –" Kris paused, realising what she had been about to say and stopped before she did. However, Persephone smiled sadly and gave a very brief nod.

"I am getting worse, I am sorry to say," she said, her voice cracking slightly. "The doctors are not entirely sure what has brought it on, but it is possibly just some sort of virus that is upsetting my body. You do not need to worry, I am sure it will pass! I wanted to tell you, but, rather ironically, I could not bring myself to call you, not when you should focus on securing your hold on the Championship and getting past all of those horrors!" Kris smiled, sick of talking and unable to think of anything else to say anyway, so she simply kissed her mother on the cheek and gave her a hug.

"Thank you for being so supportive," she said.

"I will always be there for you dear, no matter what happens!" Persephone said. "Now you know I love you, but I am pretty sure I've burnt the bread while chatting to you!" Kris laughed as her mother rushed to the oven, and she moved back to the living room, smiling to herself as she nestled down on the couch.

"Megani Mega?" Meganium asked, and Kris nodded, stroking her starter up and down the neck, the one friend who had been through it all with her.

"Never better," she replied, and leaned against her as she watched Spike and Hanoko bickering over who deserved the prize in a Christmas cracker. It seemed so simple, something so childish, but to Kris, it reminded her simply of home.

She knew that there were people who didn't want her to be Champion, thousands of people thinking she was undeserving, wanting it to go back to Lance. Kris was certain that some people even wanted Gold to go back to his title, idolizing him too much in the few short weeks they had known him and turning the idea of their golden Champion into something he was never going to be. But as long as she had her friends, her family and her Pokemon by her side, nothing that they said or did would ever get through to her. Kris had settled her demons, she had put Gold in the past, and she had the strength and courage again to stand up for her rights. She had fought hard to be Champion, and she was not going to let a few judging people stand in her way.

A clang came from the kitchen, and Kris, Meganium, Spike and Hanoko all turned around, wondering what it was.

"Persephone dear, are you alright?" Hanoko called out. They waited for a response, but nothing came, an eerie silence filling the house.

"Mum?" Kris cried, getting nervously to her feet. She rushed towards the kitchen, fear spreading throughout her body with every beat of her heart. The first thing she saw was the oven door was hanging open, letting the warmth into the kitchen. Kris' eyes went to the tray of vegetables upside down on the floor, they food crushed and gathering dirt. Shaking, horrified, Kris turned around, her eyes travelling up her mother's outstretched legs, her apron lying crumpled at a strange angle to her body, her hands out as if too break her fall…

"Mum…," Kris said, whimpering. Spike pushed her aside as he rushed in, yelling at Hanoko for help as he went down on his knees. He turned Persephone on her back and cried out questions, trying to get her to respond, but his words faded into nothing. Kris stared at her mother, laying there as if she was sleeping as Spike began to push down on her chest, praying that she had only fainted or collapsed, that this was not serious… but Kris was never that lucky.


Our proper epilogue will not be out for a while, but I do hope you all enjoyed this one, and a Merry Belated (or really early!) Christmas to you all