Every Friday afternoon she closes the gym – locks the doors behind her and listens to the way it echoes in the emptiness. She walks to the outskirts of town, greeting those she meets with a bow and a smile. (Everyone knows her now, her name and her face, and she hates it because they don't know her, not really.) Atop the hill with the old red maple tree she calls out her Venomoth, and together they Fly away, towards the looming peak of Mt. Silver in the distance.
Her father never thanks her for the homemade lunch she brings him, but that is alright. She's long grown used to him taking her for granted. He nods at her sagely as she steps into his training room, and she likes to think she can see some semblance of approval in his inscrutable eyes.
They sit together and he asks her how things are, does the house need fixing and has she set out the kotatsu yet, because winter's setting in. It's not so much worry as rote response – this is what a father is supposed to do, this is what a father is supposed to be.
One day he says: "You seem troubled, Janine. Is there a question weighing on your mind?"
Why did you leave, Father? says a hollow voice in the back of her mind. I'm so lonely without you. Please come back home.
But instead she smiles. "No, no, nothing's wrong. Everything is just fine."
He's not an easy man to fool, but she's always had a certain knack for it.
As soon as Janine opens the dojo gate, a PokeNav is shoved in her face.
"Have you seen this guy?" a voice demands.
Janine blinks, struggling to regain her composure. It's not everyday she receives such brusque visitors. (Most of the time they are positively deferential, until they learn that the great Poison Master has moved on, and only his daughter remains to face them in battle. Then they are mostly disappointed.) She recognizes the person on the PokeNav screen immediately – that roguish grin and those determined eyes are hard to forget.
"Gold? I haven't seen him in months… Not since he earned his Soul Badge." Janine peers around at the mysterious visitor and thinks that there is something familiar about him, something she can't place. He's about the same age as Gold, with a sullen twist to his lips and red hair that obscures his features.
"Tch." The boy crosses his arms and scowls. "You're no help at all. I need to find him, understand? I have to return something he gave me. Any idea where he might be?"
"Well… You could try the Indigo Plateau," Janine says. "I remember him talking about wanting to challenge the Elite Four again, to – how'd he put it? – make sure his original victory wasn't a fluke."
The red-haired boy rolls his eyes. "Yeah, that sounds like Gold." He removes a Pokeball from his belt and calls out a Golbat. Its beady eyes gleam as it circles around his head, nervous in the broad daylight.
"Thanks for the tip, I guess," the boy says, and Flies away without a backwards glance.
Janine watches the skies until he vanishes from sight, concealed by the hazy purple silhouette of the mountain.
"I battled an interesting young trainer the other day," Koga says. He sips his tea delicately, hands positioned just so. "He reminded me of you, Janine."
That's it, she thinks. That's what was so familiar about him.
She's seen those same dark eyes in the mirror every day for eighteen years.
It's winter now, and snowflakes dust the branches of the trees. Grass and dead leaves, coated with frost, crunch lightly beneath her feet as she hurries to open the gate.
Her eyes widen just a fraction when she sees who it is. He looks younger somehow, bundled in a warm jacket and scarf. A scrawny little boy lost within the folds. Snowflakes are caught in his dark eyelashes, and his cheeks are flushed from the biting cold. (But his mouth is still set in that same ill-tempered frown. That, at least, has not changed.)
"Oh, hello," Janine says, smiles. "I wasn't expecting to see you again."
He says nothing; simply pulls a folded photograph from his jacket pocket and holds it out for her to take. She smoothes out the creases to find a picture of the boy, and Gold, and a pigtailed girl she's never seen. Gold has an arm around both of their shoulders – a bridge, she thinks, connecting them together.
"Have you seen the girl in this photo?" the boy asks, voice urgent and muffled by his scarf. "It's important. Please."
Janine shakes her head. "I'm sorry. I've never seen her. She's very cute though. Is she your girlfriend?"
The boy's face turns a shade of red akin to that of his hair. "Wh-what?" he stammers. "N-no, she's not my girlfriend! We're just friends, is all! I mean, well – "
"It's alright, it's alright," Janine says, laughing. "You don't have to explain. I was only wondering. I hope you find her, girlfriend or not."
He snatches the picture back and storms off in a huff. She watches until the snow blurs his retreating figure, erasing even his brilliant red hair from view.
"People of Kanto and Johto, meet your new Champion!" The announcer's voice is nearly drowned out by raucous applause and fanfare. Multicolored balloons sail up into the flat grey sky, mingling with the snowflakes that twirl down towards the crowd below. The camera zooms in on the new Champion's face, and Janine marvels at how young she looks, with her pigtails and bright eyes and her coat two sizes too large.
When the camera zooms back out again, she sees a mop of bright red hair moving steadily through the sea of people, towards the dais where the Champion stands.
Janine smiles and wraps her hands around her teacup, letting the warmth spread from her fingertips to her heart.
"You know," she says, "I had a feeling it'd be you."
He scowls and holds up a piece of paper – a Wanted poster, by the looks of it. The man in the photo is cast in shadow, but she can make out dark eyes and a harsh jaw and the telltale red "R" on his chest that identifies him as Giovanni, Team Rocket Boss.
"Have you seen this man?" the boy asks. Where before he was serious and somber, he is now grim, and Janine knows this is no informal errand. This is something more.
"Are you with INTERPOL now?" she asks, trying to lighten the mood, but the look he gives her says that he has no time for jokes.
"No, I haven't seen him. Why are you looking for him, though? Shouldn't you leave the apprehending of criminals to the police?"
They lock eyes for a moment, and then he glances away, towards the glare of the sun as it sinks behind Mt. Silver's rocky crags.
"I have to ask him a question," he says finally. "I have to ask him why… why he left me behind." His voice is thick with emotion, bitterness and anger and resentment, and Janine doesn't know what the Team Rocket Boss is to this boy, only that she can relate.
"I'm sure you'll find him," she murmurs. Hesitantly, she reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. "My father always told me that if two people are connected, they'll find a way back to one another, no matter what."
"Your father?" For the first time, the boy looks past her, peering through the gate at the empty dojo grounds. She wonders how it must appear to an outsider, the old wooden porch sagging with age and her father's garden all tangled and overgrown. She imagines it must look sad. Their once-great clan, reduced to such a pitiable state… If Father came home, he would be very cross with her.
"Where is your father now?" the boy asks.
Janine smiles, small and sad.
"He left me behind."
"It seems like you're always looking for someone."