Merry Christmas, one and all! Hopefully you've had a good haul of presents this year. For those of you who have never delved into Project Valentine before, this is a little Christmas special involving several of the characters from that so-called delightful set of one-shots. No romantic antics will be going on here, however. Just antics. And an Evil Dragonair.
Without further ado, I present to you: A Christmas Carol!
Over an average, mostly unimpressive suburban neighborhood, evening had fallen. So had the snow, though, reflecting the fading light in its usual wintry way and causing the area to seemingly glow in the light of the lampposts. Even now the snowflakes continued to float down in droves, piling unendingly on the ground in little rolling hills two or three feet high. Christmas lights were beginning to light up all across the neighborhood, dangling from housetops and tree branches alike. As a car crunched its way down the snowy road, a song drifted from one of the unimpressive houses, easily heard in spite of the fact that the singers clearly weren't straining to be heard.
"Sing a song for Christmas holiday, sing a song for Christmas cheer~"
The snow sparkled magically in the car's blinding headlights, even as it hit a patch of ice just a little too fast and smashed ungracefully into an inconveniently placed lamppost.
"Sing a song for love and laughter, in this lovely time of year!"
In one of the narrow spaces between the houses, a shivering little girl in clearly inadequate clothing sat with her back to the wall, arms wrapped around her knees as she fumbled with the matchbox in her stiff fingers. A scowl appeared on her face as she dropped it in the snow again, rebelliously ignoring the disapproving looks her parents were giving her from a nearby house's window.
"Sing for trav'ling friends and family, tra-la-la-ing on their way~"
A fairly average-sized group of people stood on a gloomy and ominous-looking front porch, shivering slightly in the cold as they all helped to hold up an enormous bowl full of lavishly frosted Christmas cookies. One of their number hesitantly rang the doorbell; several crashing thumps echoed inside the house, and the door was flung open by a beefy man whose out-of-date clothes were splattered with suspicious-looking stains. Noticing the cookies, however, he instantly lit up, revealing a smile of nauseatingly rotten teeth. Hiding the stained chainsaw behind his back, he reached out, took the bowl of cookies with one large hand, and beamed at the relieved-looking visitors before stepping back inside and shutting the door against the cold.
"Sing for merry Christmas miracles, sure to come on Christmas day!"
In the somewhat spacious living room of an especially average-looking house, which was an impressive feat on its own, stood a brilliant green evergreen tree decked out in every ornament imaginable: oodles of golden, silvery, and copper tinsel; strings of white-as-snow popcorn; scores of shiny baubles of various colors; figurines of Santa Claus, reindeer, snowmen, gingerbread men, homeless men, elves, angels, kids in toboggans, people drinking coffee, and babies with halos, all draped on slender strings from the tree's needle-covered branches; a white-robed figure of an angel sitting at the top, perched precariously; and, of course, the glowing bulbs of Christmas lights, strung together on thick black wires. Presents lay around the tree's base in piles, from enormous boxes sporting huge bows, to tiny crumples little packages that left nothing to the imagine whatsoever as to what might be inside.
As if all that wasn't enough, two Pokemon were attempting to place even more decorations on the tree: a Leafeon, a fox who happened to be wearing a red-and-white striped scarf, had a Wynaut standing on his head. She was reaching out towards a branch with one of her long ears, which was holding yet another ornament.
From a cushy chair nearby, someone grunted irritably. "Keba, tell your stupid choir to stop screeching."
"Sing a song for snowflakes drifting, sing a song for fire's glow~"
"What? No way," Keba said, keeping his eyes on the tree as he carefully leaned forward, helping to extend the Wynaut's reach. "They help everyone get into the spirit of the season! Nothing beats carolers during the holiday, after all."
"Sing a song for all who celebrate—"
"EEEEEK!" the choir members shrieked, as an enormous candy cane flew out of nowhere towards them, swinging left and right at them. In a mess of motion, they milled around in terror for a few amusing moments before rushing out of the living room and towards the front door, waving their song booklets around as though the place was covered in bees, dear Arceus.
"Spaghetti booger monster," a young man exclaimed, stepping out of a nearby room, "I said don't eat the clocks with your kumbaya digital watch, you shark-eating pl—"
The choir members, of course, ran him over. He didn't seem to mind this much, fortunately.
The door slammed. The music had of course stopped, which may or may not have been a good thing depending on one's point of view, and Keba and the Wynaut were still staring at the other figure, who had not left her seat and was still psychically wielding the candy cane.
"Kwoya dai?" Chia the Wynaut asked, tilting her eternally-smiling head cutely.
"Why'd you do that?" Keba asked, sounding hurt. His leafy ears drooped slightly, as if discordant noise could wither them.
Slowly the figure stood, white skirt billowing dramatically beneath a stick-thin body. In the hallway, the candy cane fell to the floor with a clack.
"Because they were annoying," Gira the Gardevoir retorted, gripping the blanket draped over her torso more tightly. "And besides, if you were going to make a silly statement like that, you could at least not make it sound like a challenge. It's too tempting that way."
"But … but …" Keba faltered at the sight of her impassive stare. "But the Christmas spirit!"
"It's pretty bloody hard to have any Christmas spirit when amateur jackals are shrieking in your living room."
"They were one hundred percent human!"
"Yes," Gira agreed, drifting over to the window as snowflakes continued to fall past, creating yet another layer of snow upon the ground. "That's what worries me."
Keba was spared the headache of trying to figure her statement out when an insistent buzzing went off, echoing softly in the room.
"Ah," Gira remarked, turning around as she pulled a sleek cell phone out of who knows where. "Who's calling … Team Conundrum? I thought they were on that emergency mission business …"
"Gira!" a voice exclaimed as soon as she'd pressed Talk. At least, that's what she assumed the voice exclaimed. What with all of the static and howling and screeching on the other end, it was quite difficult to tell. "Gira, we need you to teleport us back to our home base. It's getting really, really bad up here, and I think we're not gonna be able to finish this."
"Yeah," another voice chimed in, barely audible. "I guess we figured out why this place is called Mount Phail."
An exasperated, garbled sigh. "That's not very funny, Roger!"
Gira rolled her eyes, then remembered that they couldn't see her expression. "Let me guess. You're only calling me because you don't think you'll be able to get back by tomorrow?"
"… Possibly. But it's still really bad up h—"
"Hera, listen to me. Is this as bad as the Dark Future? Or Temporal Tower? Or Spacial Rift?"
"… No …" Hera admitted reluctantly.
"Just as I thought. Hera, your client is counting on you. And really, if you think your Christmas is going to be bad up there, just think about what he's going through."
"It's Guildmaster Wigglytuff!"
"But … but what about us?"
"I'm pretty sure the exact date you celebrate Christmas on doesn't matter."
"It does if you want to buy the best cakes!"
"Roger, shut up." There was another, drawn-out sigh. "All right, Gira. We'll stick with this. But you'd better damn well buy something good for us when we get back."
"Duly noted." She hung up, feeling a twinge of satisfaction.
"That," Keba breathed, "was the cruelest thing I've ever heard."
Gira stared at him. He stared back. Chia, whose eyes were always closed, may or may not have been staring at anything.
"You can't just force people to miss Christmas by working!" the Leafeon protested, sounding as if he were about to cry. "It's cruel and unnecessary, and it's also just not right."
"Keba, you weren't listening to the other half of that conversation. You have no idea what's going on over there."
"Yes I do! Team Conundrum has to undergo lots of tedious missions that aren't worth it, probably to pick up bows or something for some random Pichu, and aren't even going to get paid enough for it! And they won't be able to get out of it now, all because of you!"
"I think," Gira said, clearly undisturbed by the rising pitch of Keba's voice, "you should go and lie down, Keba. The world is still going on, Christmas or no."
"But it's Christmas!" Keba fairly shrieked. Gira raised an eyebrow at him, and the Leafeon, blushing as he realized what he'd just done, forced himself to take a calmer tone. "Sorry. But it's Christmas! It's that time of year when you help everyone you see, let trapped mice go back to their holes, let soldiers go home to their families, and other heartwarming stuff."
"And I suppose we should also let dangerous criminals go home to their families?"
The doorbell chimed, its echoes driving Keba to a confused silence. Chia tilted her head to the side cutely. "Hoo da?"
"Were we expecting anyone?" Gira asked Keba, glancing from him to the general direction of the front door and back again.
Keba shrugged, nearly unbalancing Chia. "I don't think so."
Frowning slightly, Gira floated down into the hall, Keba cautiously following. As they went, they passed by their trainer, who was lying on the carpeted floor with his usual loopy smile plastered to his face. "I got a lurvely bunch o' coconuts, chum," he told the ceiling happily. "Deedle doo deedle doo, there they are, a-standin' in a row, dun, dun, dun. Big 'uns, small 'uns, some as big as an 'ead … other words I don't know, da dun dun dun …"
Naturally, they ignored him.
Upon opening the front door, Keba was surprised to see a violently shivering serpentine figure dressed in tattered clothes, holding out a bowl in his tail. "Pennies for the poor, eh, gov'nor?" he asked. "On'y I reckoned that such kind folks as y'selves might 'ave an 'eart in these tryin' times. Why I remember a day when my own fam'ly took a toll, itself …"
As the visitor continued his sob story and Keba's eyes grew wide with pity, Gira couldn't help but facepalm. "We didn't even give you our address, you lunatic," she snapped.
"Ah, but I knew this'd be a place of list'ners, di'nt I?"
"Sure you did, Bernie."
"Damn!" the Dragonair muttered to himself, glancing about. "They saw through my disguise. This isn't going as planned. How in hell am I supposed to garner funds for my evil plans now?"
"For starters, you could stop discussing your plans to yourself at an easily audible volume," Gira answered helpfully.
He frowned thoughtfully. "True," he agreed, nodding, "but that's not nearly as fun as mauling innocent civilians to death. Such as yoursel—"
"Hilarious though you might be," Gira commented, as the bruised Evil Dragonair cowered beneath the floating, slightly smudged candy cane, "you must realize that not everyone is as idiotic as other people you might've come across. Now listen here." She waved the candy cane slightly, and he instinctively yelped. "You're going to leave. And here's how that's going to work: you're going to stop harassing us, you're going to slither off this porch and down the driveway, and you're never going to come back. Otherwise I'll have to borrow a certain shaving tool from one of our neighbors, and you can bet your scaly invisible ass that you'll wish you'd never been conceived."
"Urgh. Fine," Bernie grunted, floating off of the ground before turning around, bowl still gripped in his tail. "And I don't slither, I fly. Have a nice fricking life."
"Well, that went well," she remarked almost cheerfully, watching the thoroughly humiliated Dragonair vanish into the snowy night before happily slamming the door shut. "Time for a more banal evening. That's the kind you like, right Keba?"
She glanced to the side, then frowned upon realizing that he'd vanished. Where had he …?
"Here it is!" the Leafeon exclaimed, staggering awkwardly back towards the front door on his hind legs while gripping a Tepiggy bank in his front paws; on his head, Chia was desperately clinging to his ears in an attempt to stay on, but it didn't seem to bother him. "I knew I'd find my life savings somewhere! … Wait …" He paused mid-step, realizing that the door had been securely shut and locked. "Where'd he go? Ooh, I know, he's in the dining room drinking hot chocolate, isn't he?"
Gira gave him her I-am-not-impressed-with-your-attitude look. "Keba," she said in a voice warning him that he seemed to be lacking common sense, "that was Bernie. You know, Bernie the Evil Dragonair? The one who almost crashed your plane that time when we went to Middle-Earth, and you ran into the nice witch?"
"Ice witch," he corrected. "Although she was nice, too, and she didn't mean to imply that she wasn't …"
"The point is, he was trying to scam us in order to get money for his own nefarious schemes."
"But it's Christmas!" Keba protested. "We could at least cut him a little slack for the holidays!"
"Keba," she said, glaring at him, "he was going to murder us where he stood."
"Well," Keba replied patiently, "Santa would just put him on the naughty list, wouldn't he? Then he'd get coal for Christmas!"
Gira facefaulted. Chia stared down at her in apparent confusion.
"Christmas," Keba continued, getting a starry look in his eyes. "It's the greatest time of year because we make it the greatest time of year. I mean, it isn't just all this decorating and baking and singing and celebrating opening presents we do, it's the goodness we share with everyone we meet. Say what you will about summer days of sun and beaches; Christmas is definitely the best day of the entire y—"
"Good for you, Mister Redundant. But I think you're getting a bit carried away with this."
He blinked. "No I'm not."
"Oh yes you are. Look, we put all this stuff up—" She gestured towards the living room, still full of glittering objects and lights. "And for what? One day, one day, of what you're looking forward to, and it's full of shredded paper, disappointed kids, and uneaten food. Which is not a pretty prospect for me, since you know Steve isn't going to be cleaning this place up any time soon. Actually, I don't even get why we do these things. Seriously. I mean, who's this Chris guy, anyway?"
"Gira, I think you're missing the p—"
"And it's not like Christmas is the best holiday ever," she went on, waving at him to be quiet. "There are plenty of other holidays going on this time of year too, Christmas just overshadows all of them. Like Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Boxing D—"
"I celebrate on Hanukkah sometimes, singin' ayyyyyoooo, spin the dreiiiiiidel—"
"Would you all kindly shut up?" Gira faily barked, cowing the choir into compliance. "… Wait. How did you get back in here, anyway?"
The choir members glanced around at each other, then collectively shrugged.
Keba watched as she shooed them out, feeling himself frown in disbelief. This isn't right, he told himself. Gira should be assimilated into the overall Christmas cheer, not poke holes in the logic surrounding it. Just because she's a tiny bit of a jerk for the rest of the year, it doesn't mean she should be like that for Christmas too. Maybe … maybe someone should do something about this. Someone like me.
Dun dun dunnnnn
"Keba," he heard Gira call, "if you're planning something ominous, stop it. Those dramatic chords keep shaking the house, and you'll end up knocking your precious tree over. Plus, remember last time there was a dramatic chord? That lightning bolt set the house on fire."
But Keba had made his mind up. Bowing his head down to safely lower Chia to the floor, he knew that he had to be the one to change this situation.
And he knew where he would have to go.
In the depths of a shady studio in the snowy streets of Follywood, a cluster of various people and Pokemon stood crowded around an austere wooden desk. The general dark and ominous feel that was usually present, however, had seemingly vanished, replaced by a brightly-lit Christmas tree sparkling at the center of the room. Naturally, this did nothing to reveal the author's face, which was thrown in shadow as always.
"Excellent," the author muttered, peering at her visitors over her steepled fingers. "For a while I feared that this would be a terribly bland season filled with cheesy, plotless one-shots that all had to do with unexpected reunions and mistletoe and hot chocolate and misplaced alcohol and 'Christmas presents', if you know what I mean. Luckily—" She gestured towards the figure standing beside her desk. "—this one has informed me that Gira decided to open her mouth and cause dissension. So this holiday season, we will plot to form a plot!"
Somehow, everyone present could tell that she was smirking.
"Which wasn't really necessary," the informant put in.
"Hm?" The author shifted to face him. "What wasn't really necessary, exactly?"
"This whole informant business thing," the other replied, looking a little nervous. "I mean, this is your story, and you knew this was going to happen, so you didn't really need me to come and tell you that Gira was being like … being Gira."
"Well, I know that," the author retorted, sounding exasperated and probably rolling her eyes. "But I needed something to kick off the plot! Honestly, it wasn't as if I could simply start this off by having you all swarming around her for no apparent reason. Everything happens for a reason, even eldritch abominations."
"Of course it does," he said, pointedly shifting his gaze from Mystery Incorporated, who had been forced into wearing reindeer antlers, to Team Conundrum, who had been frozen in a giant ice cube.
The author, of course, ignored his sarcasm.
"Why do you keep referring to him as 'the informant', anyway?" Marvin asked. "We can all see it's Keba, and the readers already knew it was Keba, except for the ones who're just reading this to see if Ash Ketchum is in it. Is it for the sake of drama, or what?"
The other visitors stared at him, or rather, they stared in his direction.
"… What?" he asked. "I'm not that scary, am I? I'm just supposed to be dangerous. Sheesh."
"Where did you come from, fiend?" New Bus the Lucario asked heroically. "And more importantly, what do you look like? This is very awkward, talking to an original character who not only has never appeared in the main story in the first place, but hasn't even been described at all in this story!"
The fool has a point, Mewtwo agreed, crossing his withered-looking arms. For all we know, you could be a venomous Venustoise, or a tyrannical tree, or an evil elevator, or a leprous lamp, or a transforming truck. The lack of description isn't helping at all.
"Ah, right," the author said. "I knew I was forgetting something. But actually, you were right, he is an evil elevator."
The visitors truly saw Marvin for the first time. They jumped backwards in horror.
"Come on, really?" he asked, his voice sounding extremely strange from having to constantly move his doors open and closed every time he spoke.
"Y-you have, like, teeth in there!" Gardenia squeaked. Roark patted her shoulder, looking highly nervous himself.
"Yes," Marvin agreed, licking the huge, sharp objects on the roof of his mouth with the tongue-carpet resting on the bottom. "Yes, I do. I have to eat somehow, duh."
"Roi'll rake ruh rairs, ranks," Turtwig mumbled.
There were a few moments of awkward silence. Someone coughed nervously.
"Anyway," the author said, "I summoned you all here so that I might … deal with Gira's problem. I find her lack of faith disturbing, and we will correct it immediately. Now, I will need you three to be the ghosts and drag her around, you guys over there to try and guilt her with the one bit, and so on. And … there, information's in your heads. You know what you have to do. Get to it!"
The crowd began to disperse, its members muttering to each other. Even Marvin was leaving through the door, a fact that nobody tried to think too hard about.
"Uh," Volkner remarked, as most of the other characters started to file out of the room, "you didn't give us anything to do." He gestured around at the rest of Mystery Incorporated, who nodded in agreement. "Was that an oversight?"
The author seemed to be grinning widely. "Nope."
"Okay … then why did you bring us here in the first place?"
"To give Roark a cameo," she replied. "I'm a fangirl, after all."
The five of them facefaulted.
"Now shoo," she ordered, waving her hands vaguely. "I have a scheme to put into motion, after all. Tonight, everyone will help to coerce Gira into the power of the Christmas spirit, and I … I shall be in control of it all. Ahahahahaha."
"Not everyone," Candice reminded her.
"Oh, well, yes," the author said dismissively. "Don't feel too bad about it, you certainly aren't the only ones being left out. I'm sure that some other author out there will be nice enough to write a Christmas one-shot about you. Probably. Possibly. Potentially …"
"I doubt it," Roark remarked sensibly. "They're probably all writing about Ash."
"Well, of course they are!" she exclaimed, directly contradicting her last statement. "It's all a very silly business they're running out there. It's why he won't be appearing in this story."
Several readers pressed the back button in disgust. Several others cheered, accidentally spilling cider all over their keyboards.
"I do feel bad for Misty, though," she admitted. "The poor girl is being twisted into some sweet little angel for all the hundreds of occasions … anyway, get out, the show must go on and all that."
She watched them leave, then leaned back in her chair and smirked. Just as planned …
"Rit's rot ruh right rhing," Turtwig commented as soon as Mystery Incorporated had stepped out of the dark little studio, back onto the streets of snow-covered Follywood. Business was especially good this time of year, they knew – characters of all kinds grouped together on the sidewalk, discussing recent stories they had starred in. Perhaps the fic authors got a break from school or work in order to celebrate the holidays, but it meant the characters worked extra time. And that was rarely any fun.
"Sorry, little guy," Volkner told the turtle patiently, sticking his hands in his pockets. "Never can understand you. Hey Paul," he added to a lavender-haired person who had just emerged from a studio; the younger trainer, who had for some reason been transformed into a female sugar plum fairy, could only shrug in reply before moving along, clearly embarrassed.
"Rit's rot ruh right rhing!" Turtwig repeated, a little more vehemently this time.
"Like, what isn't the right thing?" Gardenia asked, kneeling beside him. "The Gira plot?"
"Reah," he grunted. "Rhat."
"Oh yeah," Volkner agreed vaguely, watching Paul flutter away in his (her?) sparkly dress. "Bit of a problem."
"But what are we supposed to do?" Candice asked a bit nervously, glancing between the men of the group. Because men are obviously able to take care of every problem in the world, that's why. Even menstruating women. "Can we take on the author's plot?"
"No," Roark said, "we can't."
Everyone sighed. A snowflake fell on Turtwig's nose, and he sneezed.
"At least," the redhead went on thoughtfully, "not alone …" He rubbed his chin. That always works.
"You mean we need someone to help us?" Gardenia asked.
He nodded. "She said something about three ghosts," he explained. "And if she's planning what I think she's planning, there's only one group of people who can help."
"Oh great," Volkner muttered, catching on. "Not them."
"… The Ghostbusters," Gardenia and Candice stated flatly.
"Da da na da, da … da da na da, da ..."
As if on cue, a much-made-over ambulance came tearing around a corner, music blaring from a loudspeaker on its roof as its tires sent a wave of snow all over several characters who shrieked in protest and from the sudden cold.
"Da da na da na da … dadadada dana da! If there's something strange … in your neighborhood … who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!"
"Why don't we use a theme song?" Candice asked planitively.
"Because it'd nowhere near as cool as theirs," Gardenia replied, sighing.
"If there's something weird … and it don't look good … who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!"
The ambulance skidded to a stop just in front of Mystery Incorporated, and five figures jumped out without missing a beat: four human men with their hands on their hips in a businesslike stance, and one green jelly-like little Pokemon that floated roughly level with their heads, giggling happily.
"Put the Taboo on our name," Giovanni explained, noticing the others' stunned expressions. "Like in the seventh Harry Potter, where they could track you and hunt you down when you said the name."
Several more readers left the story behind in disgust, having not yet had a chance to read the awesomeness that is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Others cheered, because they have.
"Some job too much for the great Mystery Incorporated?" the ex-Rocket leader added with a sneer. "Leave it to the big boys. We've dealt with things that'd make your brains melt."
"We've defeated eldritch abominations too!" Volkner retorted defensively.
"Maybe they just wanted to talk to us," Bruno said reasonably. "For fun."
Everyone ignored him.
"Look," Roark said before any real fighting could break out, which admittedly would be very entertaining. "We're dealing with a Christmas carol parody here, and that author is behind it."
Blaine blinked. "Oh dear."
"We can't do this on our own," Gardenia added. "But neither can you guys, so don't get all, like cocky or something. We'll need to work together for this to happen." She paused for a long moment, then frowned. "I can't believe I just said that."
Brock nodded. "Sounds fine with me. Can I kiss you when you're done?"
The jelly-like Pokemon zipped through the air towards him, opened its tiny mouth extremely wide, and latched onto his head. He shrieked, running around like a headless chicken.
"Well, the night's wasting," Giovanni commented, ignoring Brock and Daburan's antics. "We may as well get this little thing out of the way." He turned towards the ambulance, pulling open a door and stepping in. "Climbing aboard?"
Mystery Incorporated glanced amongst each other, shrugged, and followed the Ghostbusters into the vehicle. Even Brock managed to run inside while running blindly, much to the others' surprise.
And then the adventure, to put in a cliché, was on.
"Gira … Giiiiira …"
Bloody hell, Gira thought to herself, pushing herself to a sitting position in her bed. This was obviously a dream, but it didn't stop it from being incredibly annoying. Almost as annoying as not finding Keba anywhere; he was usually the one who tucked Chia and Steve in for the night, and she most certainly did not appreciate doing that task herself. Particularly with Steve, who lately seemed to think that caterpillars in his ears were hilarious.
"Excellent," said the hooded figure beside her bed. "You're a ridiculously sound sleeper for a psychic."
"You're ridiculously short for a burglar," she countered evenly, attempting not to let the comment get to her.
"Not a burglar," the other stated, lifting tiny hands to through back its hood.
Gira stared as she registered the Pokemon standing there. "Interesting," she muttered. "So that's what a Snivy looks like."
The Gardevoir blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You will call me Smugleaf," the little reptile explained, "because it sets me somewhat apart from all those other Snivy, and in any case it suits my nature to a T." She paused for a moment, then added, "Oh, I am so tempted to call you peasant right now, but that's the penguin's gig. And I certainly will not fall into the trap of following in his footsteps, for everyone hates him except for Japanese five-year-olds. But that's an aside. Follow me, Gira Gardevoir, and we shall embark on a journey to examine your many sins."
Gira stood up, hands on her hips. "Excuse me?"
"Your lack of Christmas spirit," Smugleaf went on, turning and walking towards the window, "is apparently caused by some sort of miserly spirit that has taken its place, worming around inside you like an evil parasite. Of course, I could care less whether that's true or not. The point is, we're going to see how you got this way."
"… What," Gira said.
"Come along," Smugleaf said imperiously, seizing the Gardevoir by the hand and dragging her out to the window. "While it's still Christmas Eve."
And they walked straight through the window.
If Gira hadn't already known she was dreaming, she might have been utterly astonished to see that, rather than standing outside in the deep white snow, they stood in a surprisingly clean-looking bar full of people dancing around. A few others watched them from tables or the bar, while the bartender merely filled tankards and plucked bottles from shelves.
"No bar fight," Gira noted. "Well, that's original. Is all this supposed to mean something?"
"Hush! And listen," Smugleaf ordered, directing her attention towards a young couple sitting at a table.
"Oh, Gira, my love," the male, a Gallade, was saying dramatically. "'Tis a wonder that I have not as of yet fainted, for thy eyes have the luminosity of not one, but two suns hanging in the sky, and it is all I can do to stand the wondrous brightness and return it with my own feeble stare."
The Gardevoir sitting across from him giggled. "Sir Gallantree, you are so funny!" she cooed. "We may even get married, I think!"
"What," present-day Gira said flatly. "The. Hell."
"You had a love," Smugleaf said airily, gesturing at the two, who were now holding hands. "It was all so romantic and fluffy—"
"Like hell!" the Gardevoir scoffed. "This scene never happened. That relationship never happened. Sir Gallantree is nice, if a bit naïve, and he sure makes a better hero than New Bus or Steve or Ash freaking Ketchum. But do you honestly think I'd do something as stupid as act like that around him?"
"Ah, it's how things would have turned out," Smugleaf amended, hastily choosing a new tack. "If you'd listened to your idealistic side rather than the cynical side. Or the id instead of the superego, or something along those lines, and you would've been so much happier like this if—"
The little lizard flew perhaps fifteen feet before smashing into the far wall, which she bounced off of and onto the floor.
"Not quite the same as a giant candy cane," Gira remarked, looking at the chair she was psychically wielding, "but it works just as well. Really, Smugleaf? Is this some kind of joke? Leading me around in some crazy-ass dream when all I want to do is sleep peacefully, because obviously everyone but me gets what they really want for Christmas, deserving or not … making it seem as if I acted like some giggly girl? That behavior disgusts me."
"But it's romantic," her past self told her.
Gira blinked. She glanced around the room, noticing belatedly that everyone was watching the scene. "Aren't you all supposed to not notice I'm here?" she asked.
"It's a dream," the bartender said with a shrug.
"Excuse me," called a voice by her feet. Glancing down, she noticed another small hooded figure standing in front of her, somehow managing to keep its face in shadow in spite of staring almost directly up at her. "Hi. Can you follow me? There's something I wanna show you too, except it's not as cheesy as this, although I didn't put it together, and Smugleaf didn't put this together, so don't blame her, and you didn't hurt her that bad, did you, she's really not very bad when you get to know her and she didn't really want to do this and I hope she's okay and you better come because it's going to—"
"I'm coming," Gira sighed, growing annoyed. "I'm coming."
"Yay!" the hooded figure exclaimed happily, darting towards a bar wall and stepping straight through it. Gira, seeing what she had to do, followed easily.
Everyone left in the bar was silent for a few seconds.
"That part didn't work, did it?" May asked, feeling highly relieved that she could finally stop dancing.
"Of course it did." Drew, her dance partner, smirked at her. "We danced, and I proved that I'm better at dancing than you. Just like everything else."
Growling a little, she seized his wrists and flung him over her shoulder, smashing him into the bartender and making them both collapse behind the bar.
"Ow," they groaned.
"Whoa," everyone else stated collectively.
"How—?" Kate began timidly.
"Munchlax," May explained, flexing her arms. "Carrying him away from trouble, food, burning buildings … it builds muscle."
Everyone nodded at this wisdom. Then they paused, listening as music floated inside from the street.
"Da da na da, da … da da na da, da ..."
"Bugger," Smugleaf groaned, twitching on the floor. "Bugger, bugger, bugger."
"What?" everyone asked.
Then the doors burst open, and ten figures charged inside.
"I'd use this moment to whip out a cheesy one-liner," Volkner remarked loudly, as he and the other seven humans readied their strange-looking machines, "but I need to figure out how this works."
"As long as you weren't planning on whipping something else out," Brock said with a slight warning tongue. Blaine stifled a snicker.
The machines whirred to life, emitting colored beams that froze Smugleaf in place, lifted her into the air, and dragged her into a nearby metallic box, trapping her inside even as her last words were heard ("I'm not an actual ghost, damn it!")
The newcomers glanced at each other.
"Not bad," Giovanni remarked, nodding slightly at Mystery Incorporated. "Not bad at all."
Gardenia nodded, grinning. "One down, two to go."
And so they left, equipment slung over their shoulders as if they meant business. Which they did.
"This was fun," a voice giggled, before past-Gira's face split open along a zipper to reveal a grinning Delcatty. "Can we do it again sometime?"
"Here we are!" the second hooded figure exclaimed, skipping around excitedly. "Told you I'd get you here, huh?"
"We just walked through a wall," Gira pointed out, glancing around at the new scene.
They now stood near the front of a spacious mall, one Gira recognized from hours of excruciating shopping. It was one of those malls that was open all the time: light poured out of its lavishly decorated windows, revealing the nutcrackers and electric trains on display. Snow continued to drift down, coating everything in yet another fine layer of powder. Footprints and paw prints had almost been filled up completely with snow; the mall was still open, true, but no one passed by that way: the streets were silent.
"So it's nighttime," Gira stated, gesturing upwards at the dark, cloudy sky above. "Hooray. Can I go back to my room now?"
The figure shook his head, dislodging his hood to reveal another Pokemon with a size similar to Snivy's. "No," he told her, turning and trotting past a mall window, "there's still more for you to see. I'm Tepig, by the way," he added, as she decided wearily that there was no use arguing here and floated along just behind him. "And my friends call me Tepig, but you can just call me Tepig. It's a nice night, yeah? I kind of want a third dinner right now, that'd be really delicious, but I guess there's Christmas breakfast to look forward to, and man, is that the best! Except for Christmas dinner. And dessert. Dessert is so awesome, it's the best."
Tepig abruptly skidded to a halt, sending snow flying everywhere. Gira, slowing her own motion more gently, stared ahead to see why her companion had stopped. "What is it?"
He inclined his head towards the next window ahead, ears flopping. "See him, looking at the stuff in the window? That's Keba. He lives with you and Steve. Which is weird."
She ignored him, instead watching the Leafeon stand there in the gradually rising snow, staring at the objects within. "What's he doing out?" she asked no one in particular. "He's supposed to be home by now, the idiot! I don't know how long it's been, maybe five or six hours, but he's going to freeze to death out there and then I'll have to fill out a stack of paperwork five yards tall, because you know Steve won't be doing that! And that'll be the least of it. Better bring him h—"
"No!" Tepig exclaimed, swiveling around and positioning himself directly in front of her.
She raised an eyebrow.
"I mean, uh … it wouldn't do anything. Because, like you said, this is just a dream, and even in a dream like this, we're just ghosts. Except not really, since I'm the ghost here and you're not, so that wouldn't work. It'd be more like … we're shades. Yeah, that's it. We're shades, and so we can't do anything. Whooooo …"
"Will you stop it?" she asked, cutting his ghostly sound off. "I talked to one of them in the last part, the one with Sni— … er, Smugleaf. So that isn't going to work."
"But … but, it has to work!" Tepig exclaimed, starting to sweat. "He said it would, that it would be the only way for you to see all the Christmas spirit and I just said all that out loud, didn't I."
"Bugger indeed." She looked back up at Keba, who was clearly pretending not to notice she was there. "There's the bugger, right there. Keba. Trying to force me to act abnormally cheery and happy and whatnot." She shook her head in disgust. "Sorry, Tepig, but I don't intend to let this work."
"Oh." Tepig sighed, ears drooping. "Well, at least go on to the third part."
"Ghost of Christmas Future, right? Will he be huge, ominous and shadowy?" Gira scoffed, turning away from the Leafeon, who glanced over at her anxiously the second her back was turned. "Probably not scary. Nothing is, actually, after Chia threw that tantrum a couple years back. That wasn't fun to clean up—"
A movement caught her eye. Looking down, she noted yet another hooded figure looking up at her, again much shorter than she was. He certainly didn't look particularly imposing.
"Tepig took off, didn't he?" she asked nobody in particular, not looking around to see if she was right.
The hooded figure shrugged. "Wott," he replied, before turning and waddling through the mall wall.
Gira sighed and followed, leaving a disappointed-looking Keba in her wake.
Meanwhile, a couple of streets down, the small form of Tepig continued to bolt away from the scene, panting like the pig he was. He'd heard the rumors about Gira, same as anyone else, and he really didn't want to be caught up on the wrong end of her wrath, especially on Christmas, when everyone kept bringing up how cool it would be to have a pig with an apple in its mouth on the table for dinner, and nobody'd done it in years but that didn't mean it couldn't happen, and he sure didn't want that pig to be him because it'd be painful and anyway if there was going to be an apple in his mouth he was going to eat it, apples were super delicious, and he hoped he wouldn't get whacked around like Smugleaf had because that would hurt—
He squealed in surprise as beams of light suddenly shot out from multiple directions, freezing him in place and leaving him helpless to do anything but watch as he was dragged over to a box and forced inside, the lid snapping shut above him. "Ack!" he cried out, "not an oven, please!"
"It's not an oven, pig."
"Smugleaf? Hey Smugleaf, I'm in here too!"
"I shall put in a good word at the Obvious Department for you."
Outside, Bruno wiped a trace of sweat from his brow. "Wow," he remarked, "the pig's face reminded me of … something. There was supposed to be an apple …"
"We're always late," Candice said, slinging the equipment over her shoulder, "but at least we got him. Two down, one to go."
Gardenia frowned. "I said that last time."
Candice looked over at her. "… Your point?" she asked, causing everyone to facefault.
"The graveyard," Gira said in a dead even tone, "was my favorite scene."
The hooded figure only walked on, glancing behind him to make sure she was following. With a sigh, the Gardevoir floated behind, skirt rustling in the slight breeze.
They were walking through a dismal looking building, one with a long, grimy hallway lined with lockers and banners and Christmas decorations, but noticeably no windows. The end of the hall seemed to be nowhere in sight, but there were plenty of humans hanging around, and Gira caught snatches of their conversations as they passed.
"… stupid degree," Dawn was saying. "But hey, you know what? It's better than looking at your smirking face all the time, Paul whatever-your-last-name-is. You don't even remember my name."
"Lucky for me," Paul remarked sullenly, hands in his pockets, "because I don't care."
"Whatever." Dawn half turned as if to leave. Then she paused, considering something for a moment before swiveling around and bashing him across the face with the books in her arms, sending him slamming into the lockers.
"!" he cried out, causing many to stare due to his seemingly irreproducible exclamation.
"That's for being a jerk to everyone," she told him, sticking out her tongue. Then she turned around and walked away, finally feeling content.
"That's not so bad," Gira remarked as she and her guide left the scene behind. "Anything worse you're planning to show me?"
"Wott," the other replied.
Just up ahead, a door flew open, and a young man was sent flying out of it. Rather than smashing into anything, however, he simply bounced off of the lockers on the opposite wall, staggered to the other wall and bounced off of those lockers, and continued the vicious cycle ad nauseum.
"Look at that guy!" Keith exclaimed, pointing at the young man as he passed. "What kind of college let him in, honestly?" He blinked, frowning as he thought over what he'd just said. "… Oh, right. This one. The one that let me in. Um …" He walked away, looking highly disturbed.
"Who is … that's Steve!" Gira exclaimed, staring as if the young man were a rabid goat. "What's he doing in college?"
"Wott?" the hooded figure asked, as the echoing noise from the repeated locker bouncing started to build.
"Iiiiiiii live!" Steve shouted, cackling wildly. "Iiiiiii surviiiiiiived another full MINUTE! Of SCIENCE! And said, 'What a good boy am I, is Steve, what'." He touched a lump on his head subconsciously, still laughing. "What they, what they talking about? I didn't discover any cancer, no I didn't, no Steve didn't, one Steve limit they said, and I'm the Steve, whoo, can't love one and still have fun!"
"He hasn't changed a bit," Gira remarked, gazing at the young man almost fondly. "Except for the college thing, which it looks like nobody's going to explain. Can I go home now?"
"Wott," the other replied, throwing off his hood to reveal his big-eyed, whiskered face.
"Oh, right," she realized, "an Oshawott. No wonder 'wott' is all you can say … well, it's been nice talking to you, sort of, so if you could just point me away …"
Oshawott looked extremely disappointed, but nevertheless he raised a stubby arm and pointed it at a nearby elevator. "Wott," he told her.
"Thanks, bud," she said, patting his furry head before floating over to the elevator, jabbing at the button. Soon enough it opened, she moved inside of it, and its doors slid closed, taking her away.
"SOMEBODY SHOULD'VE HIJACKED THE P.A. SYSTEM!" Blaine shouted as he and his other teammates sprinted through the hallway, machines in tow. "THEN WE COULD'VE HAD OUR THEME SONG BLASTING OVER THE INTERCOM WHILE WE'RE RUNNING THROUGH THE HALL! I'LL MAKE A NOTE, GIOVANNI, THAT THE NEXT TIME WE BREAK INTO A SCHOOL, WE GET OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT!"
"Make it so!" Giovanni called back. "… Engage."
Everyone else stared at him, somehow managing not to trip over the students diving to get out of the way.
"… We needed a Star Trek reference somewhere," he explained, triggering several groans.
"No no no, don't facefault!" Roark exclaimed. "He's going to get away!"
"Wott, wott, wott, wott, wott …" Oshawott was chirping, waddling in the other direction as fast as he could.
"You know, somehow I think we'll get to him without much trouble," Volkner commented. Roark just rolled his eyes.
He was right, of course. Soon enough the ghost hunters had surrounded the little otter, trapping him in their beams of light and dragging him over to the box. "Wott!" he exclaimed, just before—
"Bugger, they got to Wott, too."
"Hey, now all three of us are in here! Just like the three musketeers!"
"Silence. Listen here, we've failed the author. To be perfectly honest, we were pathetic." A dejected sigh. "We'll never get into a story again."
"Hey, cheer up! We'll be fine, see, look at it this way, we did what we were supposed to, we had personalities, which is incidentally a lot more that plenty of other people can say, and we're cute. At least I'm cute, and Wott is cute, and you're probably some greasy teen's fetish fuel, but hey, you know, I guess in the end we really are all cute. Somehow. And it's not like they're going to roast us for Christmas dinner. I'm pretty sure they won't. Probably not. But if they do, I'm not going first. I like my rear."
As the elevator descended, Gira realized immediately that she'd made a mistake. Of course, perhaps it was the teeth jutting down from the roof that gave it away.
"Brushed them this morning," explained Marvin the Evil Elevator through the speaker. "You know, since it's almost Christmas. Say, how are you, anyway? Hope it's been fun, because I haven't eaten in a whole twenty minutes, and I have to say, I'm freaking starving. Not that eating you is going to be that great, you're probably even bonier than those humans. Still, there should be a nice French flavor going on there …"
He chuckled to himself for a moment, before wondering why her weight had stopped pressing down on his tongue-carpet. Lifting it around to lick the interior of his car, he soon came to the surprising realization that it was emptier than his stomach, which of course lay in another dimension nearby.
"Damn Teleport," he muttered, remembering what he'd learned about Gardevoir from the author. "Those Psychic buggers."
"Huh." Gira blinked, staring down at her sleeping self. "I would've thought that she would make teleporting impossible. Meh. Might as well try and straighten this out before I hurt my head thinking too much about how I can be awake and touch things and be asleep at the same time."
Saying such, she lay her hand on her own sleeping form's head, closing her eyes and concentrating. A few seconds later, she felt a strange rushing sensation, as if she were being borne up from the depths of a lake, and she felt herself inhale sharply. Opening her eyes, she found herself staring up at the ceiling, blankets covering her body.
"Huh," she said again, glancing to the side to make sure her own self wasn't standing there. "That wasn't too bad. And there's still plenty of hours left before Keba wakes up with his excited shrieking. Might as well just settle back down …"
But then a memory floated to her mind, one of Keba staring into the mall window in the dream. And then another one, from the previous day, one involving the Leafeon, a stepladder, and the angel he was trying to stick at the top of the Christmas tree. Words could not describe the amount of sheer fail involved. Still …
"If he's still mad about me not getting him anything for Christmas," she muttered to herself, "then it might be partly my own damn fault that I haven't been getting a lot of sleep tonight. But it's also his fault for going all out with the retribution … but still … hm. I think I just might win this war yet."
And smirking to herself, she pulled herself out of bed, teleporting away.
The faint light of far-off sunrise had just started to color the Follywood horizon when the crowd was summoned to the dark studio for the second time that night.
"Well," the author remarked, clasping her hands together as she looked at the ragtag cast of characters, "I'm pretty sure we can call that a success."
The others stared at her.
"… No it wasn't," the nameless bartender remarked.
"What he said," Dawn added, although she smiled at the cast on her hand. Paul, whose entire head was wrapped up in gauze, scowled darkly at this, but said nothing.
"Like, why are we here?" Gardenia asked nervously, realizing that she and her companions were practically in the middle of the scene. "We … um … had nothing to do with anything. Yeah, that."
"On the contrary," the author replied. "You had everything to do with it."
Several agonizingly long seconds passed.
"It was his/her idea!" the eight humans suddenly shouted, each pointing at someone else.
"Roh, roy," Turtwig muttered. Daburan just giggled.
"Please, settle down, all of you," the author said calmly. "Perhaps it is time I told the truth."
"… The truth?" everyone asked, suddenly worried.
"The truth," the author repeated. "You see, the real goal of my plan wasn't to infuse Gira with Christmas spirit. I'm not particularly into Christmas myself, it's a rather silly thing and I'd much rather simply sleep … Anyway, my real goal was to shoehorn Roark into a bigger role in this story somehow. And by forcing Mystery Incorporated to take action against my fake goal, I most certainly succeeded."
There was, of course, a collective outcry of surprise and half-hearted anger.
"Now listen," she went on, cutting the characters off with a wave of her hand. "I'm sorry to drag you into this meaninglessly. Sort of. But everything worked out, an entertaining story was told, I got some good old fetish fuel for myself, and no morals were learned overall, so I'd consider this a job pretty well done, wouldn't you?"
They mumbled in grudging agreement, except for Roark, who was still looking horrified at the new development.
"Anyway, feel free to go back to Animeland for the rest of the day, or whatever," she said. "I've no use for you at the moment. Toodle-oo."
And the characters sighed and started filing out, knowing that there wasn't a lot much else they could do in this situation anyway.
"So listen," Giovanni spoke up, sticking around with Mystery Incorporated for the moment. "You kids did alright. Even if you were bigger pawns than grunts, but that's a different head to crack. Point is, it was fun working with you for a night. But, that doesn't mean we'll be going easy on you. Got that?"
Volkner nodded. "Got it."
"Excellent." He turned, waving for his companions to follow him.
"Abye," Daburan chirruped, kissing Turtwig lightly on the forehead before floating off to follow the teens' rivals, giggling.
"… Rhut?" Turtwig grunted, cross-eyed with confusion.
Mystery Incorporated chuckled as he stumbled around a little. Most of them, anyway.
"Like, come here, you," Gardenia laughed, scooping the little Pokemon up in her arms. "Time to call it a night. Or day. Or whatever."
After even they had gone and the room was once again quiet, the author sighed in satisfaction, propping her feet up on her desk as she leaned her chair further back into the shadow. "Unova starters," she said to herself, staring at the ceiling. "That's what I was forgetting … Well, they can stay in that box for a while longer, right? Nothing to really worry about …"
"CHRISTMAS IS HERE! CHRISTMAS IS HERE CHRISTMAS IS HERE CHRISTMAS IS HERE CHRISTMAS IS HERE CHRISTMAS IS HERE CHRISTMAS IS HERE CHRISTMAS IS HERE!"
"Ka wat pass?" Gira heard Chia call from her room.
Groaning, the Gardevoir shoved her head under her pillow, hoping to muffle the noise. Keba was probably freaking out upon seeing the stockings hanging over the fireplace, filled to the brim with candy and other little goodies. Just like last year, she thought. And the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that …
Her door slammed open, bouncing violently off the wall.
"Gira wake up!" Keba shouted, leaping directly onto her bed and bouncing around like a hyperactive toddler. "Gira wake up, Santa came, Santa came, Santa came!"
"Ugh …" She groaned, pushing herself out of bed. "What the hell. Fine, I'm coming."
"Yay!" he squealed, leaping around in circles as if trying to chase his leafy tail.
When they at last arrived in the living room, wrapping paper had been strewn all over the floor. This was partly due to Chia, who had already unwrapped half her presents and was now examining a thoroughly doomed iPod, and partly due to Steve, who had somehow managed to get through the padlocks Gira had put on the closet in order to retrieve the many rolls of unused wrapping paper, and was now constructing a paper mache toilet out of them. Somehow.
"Preseeeeeennnnts!" Keba exclaimed happily, leaping towards the piles under the tree. His eyes darted around, searching for a tag with his name on it. Then he spotted one, and pounced on it eagerly, practically ripping open before realizing that it read "To Gira, from Keba".
"Calm down, Keba," Gira ordered, prying the present away from him.
Resignedly, the Leafeon took a deep, deep breath, closing his eyes for a second before resuming his search. Christmas, after all, was serious business.
"What the …" He froze midsentence, staring at a package he wasn't sure had been there the previous night. Curious, he picked up the rather messily-wrapped gift, blinking in surprise upon reading that it was to him, from Gira.
"Well?" she asked him.
"You … you … you actually got me a gift after all?" he asked, staring up at her with wide eyes.
"I know what you did the other night," Gira told him, eyes stern and narrow. "So I got you something when I finally woke up. I can't have you harassing me along with the rest of the world, after all."
Gripping the present, he managed to slither back out from underneath the tree before reaching Gira. "Thank you," he murmured, surprising her as he seized her in a hug.
"Daw!" Chia cooed, staring at them happily. She was smiling, at least.
"You can laugh!" Steve shrieked at his half-finished paper toilet. "But I know where you hid your stuff, you asinine vulture!"
After what seemed like an inordinately long time, Gira finally pulled away. "Well?" she asked again, raising an eyebrow. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"Hm?" He blinked, then followed her gaze to the wrapped gift. "Oh! Oh, right!"
And he tore into the paper, his claws busy shredding the wrap away, his eyes wide and alight with anticipation. If he had been just a little bit less focused on opening his present, he might have gotten a little nervous upon noticing the evil little smile that Gira took a few seconds too long to hide properly.
"Cool!" Keba exclaimed, brushing the last bits of gift wrap off of his present. "The complete boxed set of …" He squinted to read the title. "Huh. 'Helium Exodus Televangelion' … that's a weird name. But what does this have to do with angels? Those look more like giant robots to me."
"Their angels are different," Gira explained, keeping a deceptively straight face.
"Hm." His eyes roved across the box, reading thoughtfully. "Looks pretty interesting. I might watch in a couple of d—"
"I think," Gira interrupted, "you might want to start watching it right now."
"Because it would amuse me."
He glanced from the DVD box, to Gira, to the box again. "… Okay. In h—"
"Your room," she interrupted. "We don't want to give Steve any ideas."
He tilted his head to the side, confused. "Why would this give Steve any ideas?"
Shrugging, Keba picked it up in his front paws, carefully standing up on his hind legs. "Okay then," he conceded. "See you in a couple of hours, then. And Gira?"
"I'm …" He glanced towards the carpet. "I'm sorry for getting you into that mess the other night. I just thought that … I just thought you'd like the Christmas spirit as much as I did."
"It's fine," she said, shrugging. "No harm done."
Keba nodded, then staggered unevenly down the hallway towards his room.
"At least," Gira added to herself as music randomly began to play, "not yet … oh, what the hell? Who let the choir in here again?"
"Sing a song for snowflakes drifting, sing a song for fire's glow~"
"It's just for a couple stanzas!" Keba called out.
"Oh, go watch your mecha anime!"
"Sing a song for all who celebrate, heav'n above and earth below!"
It was still snowing outside. After all, it would surely be blasphemous for it to be sunny or rainy on Christmas Day. Not that Australia seemed to mind this arrangement much.
"Sing for choirs of heav'nly angels , peace on Earth, good will to men~"
Peeking out the window, Gira watched neighborhood kids play in the by now incredibly deep snow. One of them, she noticed, had been outfitted with a scuba mask. The others were watching him enviously as he rolled a huge snowball to form a snowman's head, and it was all but inevitable that he was going to be mauled for it eventually. Not that she minded. Who needed a moral, even on the holiday?
"Sing for hope and joy and laughterrrrrr … sing this carol once again!"
The choir took a deep breath, just before the readers finally reached the end of the page.