Not for the World

By: Matthew "BlueWay" Novel

December 24th

7:02AM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

"I don't want you here." Cheery words from her former boss, in the most wonderful time of the year. Then again, Janie McCain hadn't exactly left the Celadon City Police Department on good terms. It involved said boss's windows getting broken in by her, storming out of the office while her badge was lodged into the department's only working printer. Eventually she did have to mention this to her subsequent employer, but she didn't get fired (or hired) because she was bad at being a police officer.

"Still haven't apologized you prick." She agreed. Her accent was thick with Celadon, almost like the Mafiosos of yesteryear, her voice high and bright and, when she yelled, it sounded like glass breaking. Her fair skin had been liable to that dangerous middle ground between tan and burn in the dryer seasons, but she had thick skin that, on her head at least, framed by short, dirty blonde hair. They told her she was much too pretty (sexism in the workplace was oh so subtle) to cut her hair like she did: like a man, her eyes seemingly always furrowed and her lips thin enough that some doubted blood rain through them. She was in a profession that was more masculine than most, so her button nose had taken a hit and there was a slight marring on it from a punch a perp tossed at her.

"The hell did you just say?" The beat of the helicopters dropping them off and then subsequently powering down had hid all of her words as she opened the door to the cabin, the pilot giving them a thumbs up that it had been okay to disembark.

That side of the Cerulean River that year had been wet and damp, the lack of snow at least welcome now to McCain as her boots hit the grass of a region she hadn't step back on in years.

She was twenty-eight now, five years since she left and five years running she had been a Pokémon Ranger of the Fiore Region. It was a move, undoubtedly, but new starts and beginnings was something she needed. Hadn't meant she made amends, but the fact that her old boss was here and she had been jet lagged as all hell, picked up from Vermillion City's port and flown out to where she was now, it soured her usually less-sour mood, an unkind face put on her.

The ear protection she wore in the chopper had been discarded back into it, if only after she had removed the ear protection of one of her loyal partners.

She had never been a Pokémon trainer, never had the time or the true drive to embark on any sort of journey. Still, it didn't mean she was totally uninitiated, having done community service in her teens in Celadon's Gym. They told her she had been enough of a lass to join the gym and its beauties, but she declined. Still, she didn't leave that particular portion of her life completely empty-handed.

The Grovyle that had exited behind her had been about 3/4ths her size, and she herself had been a healthy 5'7. Larger than most examples of his species, but "Hops", as was his name, had a more privileged upbringing than most. Between being a Gym-bred Pokémon and stuffing himself silly in her parent's family restaurant, he was a tad bigger than most of his kind.

He was never claimed in the conventional sense by McCain. No Pokéball was needed at first. She was there when he was hatched, and he had been raised by her as community service after 'accidentally' trespassing on the gym in the first place. Annoyance turned into genuine care, and as far as Gym Leader Erika could recommend on McCain's behalf, she would've been a good guardian to Hops.

"You ever imagine being a Flying-Type, bud?" There had been a stalk of wheat in Hops' mouth, the Grass-Type having picked that up as his tic. It hadn't exactly been cheap, but McCain could afford. The lizard had shrugged in an apathetic head tilt, offering half of the stalk to her. She took it handedly, chewing on the head and beginning that process of turning gluten into gum in her mouth. "Ain't that bad. If you were a Staraptor or something we could be flyin' everywhere. Ain't none of this airplane or chopper bullshit."

She knew her partner better than he would appreciate though, at least when it came to giving him a hard time. She knew he had gotten a little pale around his eyes when he flew, and that the knuckles before his long fingers became white. It was a natural Grass-Type fear: toward anything that involved flying. Quite frankly she saw it as adorable, tugging on her dear Hops' cheek as he swiped her hand away.

Her old boss had stepped in front of her. The old man hadn't gotten any younger in her half-decade absence, but maybe it was because he too had been liable to the fact that this was happening at 7AM and no coffee had been around. He wore a suit that seemed to crumple around him as he moved, despite its fit. He was dressed up for something far more formal then this, but yet his badge still hung on his belt. The job had stressed his hair out, wrinkles forming to shape his face as a perpetual crinkle. He had been the chief in charge when Team Rocket made its final play at the Silph Co. years ago, and had been on call for assistance when they came back from the dead in Johto, trying to use radio science to brainwash Pokémon to do their bidding. There was a great deal expected from the man who had personally hand-cuffed Giovanni after he was found hiding out in Vermillion City after the attack, and his personality showed it.

Chief Sevson didn't see McCain as prudent to his interest or health, with the way she had conducted his orders when she was on the force. A different chief had hired her out of the academy after all. The man looked like a Snubbull made man, and he snarled like one. "Come on, McCain, I don't know why the hell the other chiefs and the DA wanted you on this, but I'll take great pleasure in throwing you in a shit show."

The helicopter pilot from the Cerulean PD, a Pidgeot tattoo sleeve adorning his exposed arms had waved the two off. He'd be waiting for them, as was his orders.

"Look Sevson," the three of them started walking as McCain talked, the Pidgey and Spearow that had been awake looking at them from the trees surrounding the clearing. "If you really don't want me here why was it your office that put in the transfer request to Fall City?"

Lunick, her CO, hadn't been happy that he was losing her during the holiday season. With such high transit rates for cargo and what not for gifts, Pokémon smuggling was at an all time high, and McCain was in particular needed for the more… dangerous situations.

"Overruled." Sevson said once, stepping over a bush and revealing a dirt path forward. Vaguely, McCain had thought that these paths were what trainers on their journeys went on all the time, but there had been an air of isolation surrounding that one. "We wanted to keep this in house, or at least, in region, but well, something came up that would've made that hard."

"Oh yeah?" McCain pocketed her bare hands in her leather jacket's pockets, a slight red hue to it the most that her current boss had gotten her to wear. "Me and the department back home haven't heard squat."

Sevson nodded as he saw Hops step ahead. There was a certain air of danger that the Grovyle felt. It was in his instincts, but Sevson knew better, he already was down this road last night when the 911 call was made and the responding officer alerted him to the situation. "For good reason. This isn't the sort of thing we want broadcasted. This is on a need to know basis."

"But it involves the Rangers?" McCain took the straw out of her mouth as she paused on the path, and Sevson looked back at her, exasperated. She had never seen him walk this fast in her life.

"Yes. Now come on, when you learn who else is involved, you'll want to put a little pep in your step too missy."

The gluten from the straw started to form in her mouth, she coming to, habitually, match the chewing motions of her Pokémon. Still she didn't move. "I still don't have jurisdiction here. We aren't International Police."

"Christ- Just look." Sevson chopped his hand at her, his other hand dragging down his face. "Just come with me McCain. I don't want you here, but I think you need to be here. And if not me, a whole lotta other people."

There was a sincerity in Sevson's words that McCain had only seen once before, and that had been when he was telling her off. It really must've been serious. Then again, she never underappreciated how serious Sevson took the situations given to him.

Hops and McCain shared a look, it was one that was of agreement. The cocksure smirk that McCain had on her face for the entire time back in Kanto so far, just in the presence of her ex-boss, it melted away.

"Fine, fine." She held up her hands. "Lead the way Chief." Sevson's eyes had gone wide, finally getting what he wanted for all of McCain's dragging, but it did nothing to keep her complacent. "Who's we anyway?"

"A lot of people. My department. Cerulean PD. Indigo League. Rangers. The Feds…"

A puff of air, her frosty breath, came out of her mouth. It was almost a pout. "You're making me feel special Chief."

Distantly Cerulean City could be heard, the way a city awakes and the sound that the Pokémon who were acquainted with urban life had been a tell-tale sign that, even during Christmas, there was a day-to-day routine for some. The river had however provided a large enough distance and a big enough obstacle to keep their current location relatively hidden.

This area hadn't been untouched however, it was just a secret unto itself.

Only now did McCain notice the "keep out!" signs written along with fines and jail time.

Cerulean City was built at the eastern-base of Mount Moon, the outcropings of rocks and hills that eventually built up to the Kanto Region's main mountainous area starting on this side at the very lip of Cerulean. That's why McCain had been led into the shadow of one of those said rocky hills, a chill in the air manifesting in the frost of her breath. Hops had fallen back in line with, perhaps to leech off her body heat, perhaps for something more.

There had been something more ominous about this area than the surroundings of an idyllic forest let on. The ever present, and yet unseen, population of Pokémon faded away, leaving the forest dead.

Vien Forest in Almia had suffered a fire a few years ago, and, distantly, McCain remembered the feeling she had when she was among the few responders after the disaster to help with relief efforts. It felt dead. Here, without the ash of the skeletons of once healthy trees, that feeling pervaded her as she was led through by Chief Sevson.

The very light seemed to dim as the forest got thicker, all leading up to an entrance to what she only assumed to be a cave, the size of a small shack. And before that entrance: a flash of orange; a young woman clad in a hoodie and jeans. College age. Surrounding her had been figures, clad in black and muted colors. The mouth of the cave had been cordoned off with police tape, some officers on guard, all those there waiting awarded with McCain's arrival.

All eyes were on the Ranger and her Grovyle as they emerged from the forest. The young, orange-haired woman approached her first with authority that betrayed her looks.

"Janie McCain. Ranger Union." From her back pocket she flipped out a leather wallet, flaps falling, ID card verifying. Old and worn, it had been sat on for the good part of a decade by her. That wasn't the only thing the younger woman caught as it was open. She saw a picture held in that wallet of McCain and a man, black and white, held in one another's arms and obviously having a good time. In another photo: a Treeko, and McCain as a young girl, the Pokémon perched atop her head.

Bright blue pupils looked up into McCain's muted green, she, trying her best, to really mean what she said: "Merry Christmas! Name's Misty Williams. I'm Gym Leader for Cerulean City."

McCain's eyes flashed with familiarity, extending her hand as the Gym Leader met her half way for a firm shake. It very much was firm, despite her size. "Ain't it Waterflower?" She asked, the younger woman shrugging. It was a question asked of her more times than she cared to answer, but then again this was the first time in the longest while she had to talk to cops.

"That's my family's stage name when we're using the gym for shows."

Admittedly McCain had felt a tad dumb. "Ah."

Maybe her sisters would've introduced themselves to the authorities with their fake names, but the reason she hadn't had also been the reason she had been put in charge of this jurisdiction of the Indigo League.

She was flanked by people that not many in Kanto or Johto had known existed, their name plainly said on the patches on their shoulders: The Gatekeepers. Soft-shell tactical jackets hid tactical vests beneath them, rowed with everything they needed to keep areas within the Indigo League that even veteran trainers had no reason to access. There was a line in that world between adventure and secrets to be kept safeguarded, and that line was defended by a handful of people that the Indigo League saw fit to run security.

One of those lines were drawn in the perimeter around Cerulean Cave.

On their vests had also been items that had, to the public, faded into a certain obscurity. Any child in kindergarten would, thanks to any amount of action movies or videogames, know what a gun would look like. They could draw crude blocky versions of them with crayons and what not, but to see one, and the even lower chance of even handling one, it had been out of the public consciousness.

That was why it had been a blue moon over Cerulean when half a dozen young men and women who looked like the type to be security forces had wielded black rifles and shotguns, magazines and shells mounted on their vests as, oddly enough, an array of Pokéballs were also mounted, either on their chests or on their battle belts.

They had surrounded Misty as if a VIP, and, in a certain sense, she had been. Aviators or cloth masks had covered their faces. Not because they needed the particular added sense of coolness or aesthetics, but because it had been a bright and chilly morning, the river that separated the caves from the rest of Cerulean foggy and, well, misty.

"Don't be intimidated, these guys wouldn't hurt a Cutiefly." She smirked. "They hadn't even needed to use those things in years." A finger of hers was gestured to the guns, but McCain needed no explanation.

Regular cops hadn't even been issued handguns nowadays ever since the public whiplash that she had been a part of. Growlithe or any other amount of canine Pokémon had been sufficient enough, and, at the very highest, pepper spray or tasers were used otherwise. Then again McCain hadn't exactly been a regular cop. That was why the Rangers took her in. 'Just in case' was the reason for much of her postings as a Ranger. Her right hand had gone to the right flap of her jacket, opening it up to reveal a leather array meant, in the end, only to holster the tools of her trade: A pistol.

Nine-millimeter parabellum. Black, metal, wooden grips picked out and sliced by Hops himself. 9mm Hi-Power. Thathad been the name of that particular model. It was her duty gun as one of Celadon PD's SWAT Officers. Special Weapons and Tactics. Only for the most dangerous of suspects and Pokémon gone rogue. She was one of only five people in Celadon licensed to carry a gun at the time. One of maybe several dozen in all of Kanto, most of them being the same as her or the Gatekeepers before her apparently.

Misty seemed surprised that McCain carried, and it drew the attention of the Gatekeepers. Concern had written on their faces. The former cop knew the look. It was shared with elite trainers who came across others who had a party that shared a particular Pokémon: When they were that high up on the food chain certain trainers thought themselves the only one's worthy of training, say, Garchomp or Sevipers.

McCain could only flash a placating smile, letting the flap of her jacket fall only to open the other one and drawing the implement the other side of the holster carried: It was red, held like a remote with straps to be attached at her wrist, a top like device at the lip of it. "Ah, it's alright, I use this one now mostly."

Standard issue for every Ranger out of their school: A Capture Styler.

"I've seen what Rangers look like," Misty tilted her head at McCain, intrigued, uncomfortable even for a reason McCain couldn't place. "Aren't you supposed to be wearing those jackets with the-" She gestured at her shoulder, faintly making a circle.

McCain racked her head in response, pocketing her hands again. "I'm plain-clothed right now. The uniform doesn't really hide me, you dig?" That and her current Ranger rank was at a current, out of lack words, standstill. She wasn't too proud of it but she knew the politics.

"And McCain here has been told to keep a low-profile coming in." Sevson tipped his head at the young woman.

Misty's face hardened, nodding in agreement. "For good reason."

"Didn't know Gym Leaders had any business at a crime scene." McCain pointed at the yellow tape and the boys in blue, arms cocked akimbo otherwise. This really was a crime scene, it dawned on McCain now. "Where are you even here anyway?"

"The Cerulean Caves, and that is why I'm even here. Indigo League personnel are given authority over any sites deemed off-limits by the Indigo League and the Federal Government." She talked big for a twenty-year old, McCain had noticed, but she deserved it apparently, and if she was put in charge McCain had no reason to disagree.

"Cerulean Caves?" Darkness ruled what she could see, looking into the cave. It called for her Styler. It had been a multi-tool that, every once and a while when she left it for maintenance at her station, a few new features would be added. It had been both annoying and helpful to some extent, but at the end of the day she didn't like relying on it, or anything else that was in her leather shoulder holsters. The Styler had come out, the straps of it hanging loosely until she had wrapped the device like a gauntlet around her left hand. The top, the capture disk, emitting a bright light from its bulb as she held her hand to aim, the bright beam aiming inward. "Ain't never heard of it."

"It's purposeful." Misty went on as the Chief went to reconnoiter with some of his men, posted on guard. "The League uses this area as a preserve of sorts, for Pokémon who either can't cohabitate with humans or for-" The Gym Leader stopped herself short. "Well, Pokémon who think themselves too dangerous to be discovered."

Hops had stared into that cave, his very skin pricked at an unidentifiable force he could not name if he had to. There was an intense darkness that came from it, and the coldness of his breath hadn't been from the temperature.

Some of the Gatekeepers, they too had done the same, wary of it, almost… fearful? That was the word McCain used as she spit out some of the chaff from her stalk.

Still her eyes had been splitting attention between the cave and the Gatekeepers themselves. She never much liked anyone who carried a gun, herself included. To use one meant that everything else had failed, and that a more regrettable side of human action needed to be taken on. To be a person who had been so imbued with such tactical nature; "operators" as they used to call these type of gunfighters, there had been a certain aura to them that rang out from their gear and how well it was put together in order to create the most efficient way to kill someone.

She would know. She once was adorned with the title of Captain attached to the Special Weapons and Tactics team of Celadon. She dressed the same way and the ghost of that gear had been over her body everyday she allowed herself to think of the incidents where it came away bloody.

"Who died?" The words came out bluntly. Misty looked at her blankly, and although she didn't say it loudly, the words spoke volumes. Even Chief Sevson turned back around to look at McCain, staring down whatever her Grovyle had been. She didn't get an answer after a few moments, looking back to Misty. "Who died?" She asked again.

"Did you-?" There was confusion on Misty's face.

Ah right. "I'm guessing." She admitted. "I was a beat cop for a few years, and after that, I kicked down doors. I don't beat around bushes, sweetheart, so uh-" She wiped the cold sweat that had perspired on her, between having a flannel on beneath the leather jacket and the nerves that were being stepped on right now by said cave, it was understandable she had one. "I just got that feeling."

"Like a Mandibuzz, eh?"

McCain's eyes glazed over. "What?"

"Vulture-like Pokémon, they come from Unova."

"Ah, right… I'm not too big on Pokémon as a whole. My husband is the one that was a trainer." In the morning light Misty could only now notice the flash of a wedding band on McCain's finger. It was golden, encrusted with what looked to be amber stones.

"He his then?" Misty pointed to Hops.

McCain shook her head proudly. "All mine." Her hand ran the back of his neck fondly. "Rangers allow one personal Pokémon for partners. He's mine. Always has been."

Hops shot a look at her, words in his language falling out his mouth as he spoke to her. "I know, I know, you're your own man." She talked to him. "You're still mine though. Always will be."

There was a playfulness in the Grovyle's small punch to her side, but nothing she couldn't handle. Misty always enjoyed seeing trainers be honest friends with their partners. Too many had seen them as tools, as Pokémon first. To see someone who hadn't been a trainer act so well, it gave her some merry hope that Christmas Eve that the world would be okay despite whatever happened in that cave.

Still, there was no use staving off the inevitable, Misty turning to the police chief. "Chief Sevson?"


"I'm taking her inside now."

The Chief flashed a thumbs up, going back to talking with his officers still securing the entrance, vaguely talking about clean up for the crime scene. That's all McCain could hear as one of the Gatekeepers approached her, a rifle in one hand for himself, another for her. She only knew this when he offered it to her.

"You know how to use one of these things?"

CAR-4. .223. Red dot optic had sat on top of its flat rail system with a flashlight also attached.

It was in her hand and she had thrown the sling over her body, racking back the chamber half way to see if brass had been loaded. It had been. That was her answer to him. "What do I need this for?"

"Danger." One of the Gatekeepers finally spoke out. "Leader Misty already told you, some Pokémon here don't take too kindly to humans."

A Pokéball had been tossed up in the air, the sound of it popping followed by that familiar sound of the form inside said Pokéball spilling onto the ground into its true self. About the same size as Hops.

The Grovyle snapped to the bright white. He was never one for battles, or, at least, he was never into regulation Pokémon Battles, but still he knew what it usually meant when a Pokéball was popped. Gut reactions, knee jerk moves. It kept the mind healthy and the wits sharp. Sharp enough for Hops to be right before a Golduck. Misty's Golduck. It had seen battle, undoubtedly, faint scars seen past feathers. That kind of ruggedness was what Misty depended on as the Golduck took count of where he was at. Just like Hops and McCain before him, the Golduck could only with a certain amount of dread, look into the abyss that had been Cerulean Cave. It squawked several times at its trainer, understanding why it was woken up that morning.

The two Pokémon sized each other up, coolly, Hops taking the straw out of his mouth. If it came down to a fight, the Grovyle knew who was more liable to win, and the two Pokémon respected that in each other in a subtle fist bump.

Before anymore impromptu greetings could be had the sound of more Pokéballs popping had surrounded the area. For once though, the Pokémon that emerged were almost as fierce as their trainers. Arcanine, Aggaron, Nidoking, a Lucario; fierce Pokémon that would otherwise only be seen in veteran trainers.

They were veteran trainers, McCain realized. Trainers first perhaps.

The Gatekeeper that had talked to her had again spoke, his hair had been slicked back aggressively, his eyes hidden behind aviators. He was a younger man, obviously, but his body had looked like that of a man who had trained for at least thirty year prior. He seemed like he could fight his Lucario to a standstill. "When you're in there, you stay behind us. If we fire, you can too, but only if we do. But if we do, please, don't shoot any of my team in the fucking back." His voice dripped of the islands off the Galar Region

If McCain hadn't been awake yet, she had been awake now, harsh words ushering her coherence up and out. To hear someone be concerned about her shooting someone, it was a thought. Misty didn't seem to mind however. There were more important matters to attend.

The Gym Leader gestured with her off hand. It was time to head back into the belly of the beast. "If you would, Ranger, follow me. We need to get you up to speed."

December 24th

8:13AM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

Cave crawling was part of the job she came into after police work. Her jeans had been padded on the inside for the harsh edges of glass, steel, or rocks if it came down to her crawling. Her gloves had been worn down to the last stitches of fabric on cliffs half a world away, an atmosphere up it felt. She was used to the rough and tumble of being an outdoorsman now. Being a Ranger kept her on the move more than she had as a cop, and because of it, she had been long used to these sorts of locales. To do it with a rifle in her hands however, it had been a new experience altogether. What little difficulty she did have in those wet and dank caverns were amplified only because the Gatekeepers had no difficulty at all walking through the slippery and jaggy surfaces. It was a dangerous locale, but that hadn't been where the threat of lethality lain.

"Usually caves like these are teeming with Pokémon." The deadness of that entire area, both inside and out of that cave had picked at McCain's mind long enough. She didn't enjoy it. Not when that day, of all days, was supposed to be a day she was, according to society, supposed to be unconditionally full of cheer. "What gives?"

Misty answered promptly. She too was having some difficulty, but her footing had been better than McCain's. She knew the layout of the cave too well. "We have a mutual friend in here that is in charge. He's keeping the cave quiet while we start our investigation."

"Gatekeeper?" One of them had sniggered at the assumption that said mutual friend had been a Gatekeeper. "Oh what? He Red himself then? He ain't just chilling up there on Mt. Silver like half the damn documentaries say he is?" There was an annoyance in McCain's voice.

"Nah, Red's up there, Ranger." That same slick Gatekeeper responded as Misty's Golduck, using some sort of Telekinesis, did away with a rock formation blocking their path. The only real illuminating light that hadn't been some sort of refraction off the streams inside the cave had been either head mounted flashlights or McCain's own Styler. That being said there was ambient light in the form of crystals. Blue, luminescent. It reminded McCain of the moon on the clearest nights. What the hell were they she couldn't guess, too proud to ask and really not too inclined to care. "Who else is gonna keep watch on-"

"Shush you." Secrets were often in plain sight, the lesser mysteries that the authorities often chased after were solved by such details. Misty, for whatever the secrets the Indigo League had itself, wished to keep them secrets.

Slick had provided most of the chatter on the way down. He knew the danger enough that, to him, there was no immediate danger. So he passed it with talk. Of Christmas, of gifts, the relationship he had with the rest of his squad very apparent as the usual rainbow of feelings and emotions that grew out of groups like that were played out like cards. Some were annoyed at him, some had fed into his words, and some blocked him out as they concentrated on the fact they were knee deep in the dark.

"Long as you guys ain't doing anything illegal, ain't my problem." Then again just looking at these people, McCain felt that duality of the law. They looked too scary to be peaceful, law abiding or law enforcing. Chewing the wheat had become a forgone conclusion, sitting on her molars as she clenched her jaw on many a wet surface, let alone think about what legal rodeo included them, two police departments, and the Feds.

The Cerulean Caves were nothing more or less than a labyrinth, albeit one that the Indigo League had its pulse so rather tightly. There had been infrastructure in there: set up camp sites, ladders to lower levels, spare supplies built into steel cases for any who would find themselves in here. It only highlighted how separated this place was from the world. Only Mt. Coronet seemed like a more dangerous place, and even then, the threat of Pokémon there had been unique in nature. She was in the last year of her Captainship on the SWAT team, not that she knew it, and as Team Galactic threatened to tear reality inside out, there was a request to send her team out there before it was too late.

Some trainers had a hand on it however.

The paths were still dangerous here, no flat surface for sure footing in one speck of those so-called lanes of travel except for momentary reprieves dug out by those that came before them.

Hops had, while waiting for Misty's Golduck to clear the way, let his nose look. The Pokémon himself had no trouble. He was nimble as befit his ilk and his pads were sticky when prompted. His species were hunters among the Hoeannic Ecosystem, senses made and formed for the sake of finding their prey. He might've been cold-blooded, but only physically, using his senses only to, at that moment, sniff at the air.

A few chirps, here and there, emanated from him thoughts forming into a coherent statement. All of it understood by McCain. The language of Grovyles hadn't been an easy one to learn, but, as with most Pokémon, trainers often picked up the tongue.

"Yeah. I smell it too." McCain almost emulated her Pokémon, using her nose as she leaned against one rock wall.

It was almost scary that particular stench that pervaded that air: the other Pokémon had been more familiar with. It was intoxicating almost.

"When I first was assigned here by the league, after a year or two as serving as Gym Leader," Misty started, a seriousness coating her words thickly. "They had me camp out for several days in here to get to learn the place. I had to of course, given my new duties, but it's that smell- Stays with ya, you know?"

Blood. It smelled like blood mixed with moss.

"Yeah. I know." McCain's words were haunted by herself.

The slick Gatekeeper breathed harshly, sadly. "The Pokémon here, originally, were from Team Rocket a few years ago. The ones they stole, forced to fight illegally or used for hard labor, the League put them here after Giovanni was arrested." McCain recognized the accent if only because a few immigrants in Celadon had come from Galar, and it stuck in her mind. "No one could rehabilitate them, and if we pursued the euthanizing option it'd put Kanto over its annual limit and then for the next five years."

It was cleaner to put them down, that much McCain could understand. She had shot dead more than her fair share of feral or raging Pokémon who had either enough of abusive trainers or otherwise sought to do harm to Celadon. Then again, the way their society had been, to make such an option a norm would be to trod on ethical questions that were better off unanswered.

A question whom the mutual friend that tended to this cave often thought about.

"They fight a lot, don't they?" McCain asked, seeing the tell-tale signs of battle scratched across those stony walls. Violence for violence was the rule of beasts, and despite it all, Pokémon were still just that: monsters.

Misty nodded. "It doesn't help that this League and those worldwide use the Cerulean Caves as a proverbial dumping ground for similarly-cased Pokémon." There was bitterness in her words and McCain couldn't help but feel sorry for the young woman. It was in part due to her age, what history McCain did know of hers because of either tabloids or rumors that her husband picked up on the trail of his own journey (left behind to take up the mantle as Gym Leader as her sisters galivanted across the world with their beauty), but mostly because of this: Misty just outright reminded her of her husband.

Responsibility, the worry of those she was in charge of; Misty Williams was getting old, and leading men and women with the ability to kill, it wrote on her face. McCain had seen it done over the years, right in front of her.

"Rumor has it a few of the Shadow Pokémon from Orre that were too far gone are also in here." Another Gatekeeper commented, a cigarette they had been smoking offering only the slightest hint at her facial features. The crashing of rocks denoted that the way was clear, and the group moved on forward at Misty's lead.

It was an odd comment however, keeping McCain stay on her feet still. "Shouldn't you know? It's your job after all?"

Slick shook his head as he passed her. "We can't afford to have an armed guard on the entrance 24/7. We only emerge from our cabins if our motion sensors get tipped off, and even then, if they're quick enough they can leave before we respond. Usually wandering trainer see the signs and scamper off, but uh, for those who know what this cave is about they just drop the cargo and leave."

"No official form that the other regions can fill out? Not even any manifests?"

Misty shrugged. "If it were that easy. Hoenn, Sinnoh, and Kalos are usually good about alerting us and we approving it, but the Orrians and Unovans among others like to play the plausible deniability game, and, to be fair, our mutual friend doesn't mind it. He tries his best to help any and all that come here."

Hops touched the ground, and the faint impression of a mark left behind by what appeared to be a Rhydon was there with a deeper impression of a Scyther beneath it. "I suppose me and Hops are privy to this information now because…?"

"Context." The Gym Leader was more than polite. "Besides, according to Chief Sevson your confidentiality oaths are still in play from your time as a Celadon police officer."

McCain rolled her eyes, walking back up to speed.

"Why'd you leave anyway? When we heard your name get brought up we asked around. Said you were a pretty fine officer, our material, even." Another Gatekeeper poked at her. With the way their masks had been on their faces she couldn't tell who had been speaking, but she answered. She wasn't afraid of her past, just not proud of it.

"Didn't agree with the PD's policies when I left. Is all." A boldface half-truth, half-lie.

"And so you hopped over to be a Ranger? Why not another PD?"

Her husband asked that question almost everyday. Sometimes it was out of pettiness, sometimes it was out of wist, but either way it was a question she was very familiar with. "Rangers act toward the best, social good. When I was a cop, I protected and served, there's a… difference, ya feel me?"

"Watch it." A hole in the floor the group curved around, going deep and down.

If she was being brought here because some idiot fell down a hole she would've been a little mad: it was wasted time, and the last time she investigated a death had been five years ago.

"Besides, I don't think the Indigo League would like someone like me."

"Yeah?" Misty seemed interested.

McCain nodded, checking back to see if Hops was still near. He had been, just shy of hopping on her back like he had on the more tiring treks of hers. "I don't have an official license for Pokémon ownership… At least, not for the class Hops is on."

"We have the ability to fine people you know." Slick said again, teasingly. In the back of her head she also was reminded they had the ability to shoot people at present, and in the abstract sense of the word.

"Eh, Hops just follows me around wherever I go and I feed him. I don't own him."

"So no arguments if I-" A Pokéball came out. "Tag him and bag him?"

McCain shot daggers at Slick and Hops had been liable to shoot his Bullet Seed in sync. "I'd shoot you dead, if you try."

December 24th

8:45AM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

Misty clambered over the last outcroppings of rock, and suddenly, the rock floor beneath them had felt refined. "Alright, we're coming up on the place now. It's your show the second you get a hold of it."

McCain knelt down, finger tips feeling the smooth sheen of the floor. This had been a Pokémon's doing, as far as she could tell, the clean cuts were from any number of Fire-Type Pokémon paired with those who biologically had access to blades. Scyther, Kabutops, Honedges, the list went on in her head, remembering what sparsely she remembered. Her husband had a PokéDex she flipped through on lazy days when he visited her in Fiore. "What's the big secret anyway?" She raised herself up, rifle still ready. It had been a while since she had been offered a full-length assault rifle, and the times she had to use one as intended she could count on one hand.

"If we told you, you'd be asking questions we don't have answers to." Misty went on again. Ahead: the faint sound of activity. First, they had heard from the cave, not one Pokémon sighted since they entered barring their own. The artificial hum of a generator came with the artificial glow of floodlights in the distance.

Wherever they were, it had felt like ruins, but made as is. It screamed to a lack of resources; to make do with what they had.

In the dark of that cave vague forms of buildings, huts, rooms and places carved into the walls and stones. Someone, something, lived here. Where people lived then, people were liable to be killed. That was the reality of crime after all. Even Pokémon committed crimes on their own that she had to respond to.

Pokémon knew how to live on their own, and this had been proof. The world over, she had seen these types of colonies. Some had been dedicated to one species and one species only, some had been communes, managed not unlike a town of human sort. McCain had been guest in many as a Ranger. To be a Ranger meant that Pokémon recognized a certain character within one; word traveled somehow and the Rangers were always around to help those places where Pokémon made their own societies.

And in any case: they had come before man, and, McCain had figured, they would be here after man.

A whistle emanated from one of the Gatekeepers as they approached the source of light and sound, and one was sent back in response. Following the shrill noise, after an hour of pure cave trekking, they had made it.

"He calls this town-square." One of the Gatekeepers said as an asides to McCain, those same blue crystals jutting out and making lines like the veins of the cave itself.

A stream made its way around the edges of the cavern, foot bridges made with driftwood and abandoned signs connecting the affair into a tangible affair that could very much be seen as a town center. Where they were had creeped on the uninitiated, the Ranger and Grovyle only now noticing the open space they were in had been the size of a football stadium, sounds echoing in subtle harmony with the running of water.

It was peaceful, but the feeling that they had been trespassing kept McCain's hand on her gun and Hops with his head on the swivel.

Three figures emerged out of the dark, approaching them from the seeming bubble of light that the stands of floodlights offered.

"We still good?" Slick called out.

One bothered Gatekeeper grumbled. "Cold as shit. You bring coffee?"

A thermos was thrown and the three figures cheered.

"We also brought a cop."

"Ranger." McCain corrected. Contrary to popular belief there was a difference. Any other words she had to say had been stayed as the light took them, flashlights off, and everything had been laid before her, frozen in time minus the dignity given to the shape of a man, face down in the stone.

Someone had indeed died.


A white cloth had draped itself over a body, the slight draining of a red color coming out beneath it and in the center, not runny, but still, courtesy of the cave, moist. It was blood. Actually blood.

She guessed it had been a man, by its size, but made no assumptions as her eyes scanned the area again. Not for danger, but for clues, hints, anything that she could draw without anyone saying anything.

Gatekeepers sipped their coffee as Golduck disappeared back into its Pokéball with Misty, the rest of the Pokémon still on guard. Battle had been written on all of their figures: The Lucario owned by Slick had one of its eyes faded and its chest spike chipped. Elsewhere: an Arcanine was missing a patch of fur while a horn was missing entirely by a Houndoom. Scars, lost fingers or claws, chunks of flesh missing, it all screamed toward Pokémon battles that had not been fought for the sake of fighting. They had been fought for the sake of survival and violence.

"First time this has happened while I've been in charge here." There was disappointment in the Gym Leader's voice, almost as if she held blame. McCain could only offer a hand on her shoulder, a nod.

"What happened?" McCain still asked.

She sat down on a rock, wicking some pebbles out of the tread of her boots. "I think it's just better if you looked."

Right. As was the reason she was dragged out this far on Christmas Eve's Morning. She could've been back in Fiore, getting the house back in order from its usual chaos to put on something presentable for her husband and to enjoy the holidays. This came first before she was able to clock out however from the station.

With concern, she glanced at Hops. He was too young, in her opinion, to be anything more than her ride-along while she was a cop. As a Ranger she had been more willing to have him by her side, always, but that only meant she had wondered if-

She reached deep down in her pocket, pulling out a red and white orb as she threw the assault rifle on her back. "You can go back in, if you want."

She offered him an out. All she got had been a reassuring squeeze on her forearm as he guided her arm to put the Pokéball away. Of course, he had been registered to a Pokéball under her ownership. He just didn't like to be in it.

Alright then. There was a switch in her head that flicked. It was off usually, her concerns and liabilities as a Ranger having overwritten her sensibilities as a cop with time, but she kept it all in her back pocket like an extra magazine for her gun (which there had been even now). She steeled herself to see the sight of a dead human being again, creeping forward as the Gatekeepers looked on, the light given by the floodlights harsh, but all revealing, focused on the scene of the crime.

Kneeling down, she smelled nothing but the cave as her hand held the white sheet. In one move, it had been sent up and out.

McCain had wondered why Misty seemed so uncomfortable when she mentioned that she knew what a Ranger looked like. She'd seen one before: in fact, she'd seen the dead one before them.

That signature red jacket with the rank on its shoulder hadn't done much to cover up the three bullet holes on the man's back, human blood much darker than the shade on the Ranger Uniform, even for how faded this was. That was the first thing she noticed as her gaze drew up to the back of the man's head. Thankfully-

"No GSW to the head." She stated, not to anyone in particular, but as a note.

Gunshot wound.

The man's head had been covered by a scruffy brown, but there had been blood pooling at his face, the man face down against rock. McCain wanted to move, to see what face was left, the man obviously having fallen hard on his face when shot, but there more pressing matters as she drew the entire sheet off of him.

A Pokémon Ranger was dead, and he deserved nothing less then all due process for his justice.

Janie McCain did her job as she stood up, an old checklist in her head gone up and through.

"Who found the body?" Questions were going to flood all those present and she would not apologize for it.

"Our mutual friend. He should be here in a few minutes." One of the Gatekeepers who had remained with the body answered. Mutual friend had been a choice word, but McCain could deal with the ambiguities.

"Okay. When was this?"

"He came and tried to contact me last night." Slick had stepped forward, "But uh- I was knocked out cold." His aviators had come off and revealed a very blackened eye, highlighting a face that looked very much like a cat, scowled. "Was my shift last night on the grounds and I didn't see the punch coming."

McCain had drawn a notepad from her jacket's a pencil afterwards as a new section was started, the Styler on her wrist turned on and recording. She would have to thank Professor Hastings for the capability later.

"Attacked? By a human? Human fist?" McCain pressed, leaning in to get a look. The Gatekeeper pulled back however, hand up.

"Yeah. I know what the fist of a man feels like, not a Hitmonchan or anything like that" Slick admitted, his aviators slid back on. "No one should know we're out here, and we dress like this so, if we zip up, it's not exactly showing that's were loaded. By the time I woke up rest of the guys were already pressing into the caves to catch whoever gave me this." The black eye had been rather gnarly, McCain not faulting the man to hide it.

"So, your friend has details on finding it then? When he found it and how he found it? Do any of you know that?" She prodded for details, hand writing, but head up and looking.

"The Gatekeepers woke me up around ten last night, if that means anything, to bring me out to the body." Misty corroborated, McCain nodding in understanding.

"Look, before I get to it then," Procedure rushed by her head as her notepad was set at her hip, pen paused. She was once slated to be a detective, maybe referred to the International Police if all went well, but alas her career, initially, ended up a little more violent. "Was this body touched by any of you? Who was the first responding officer?"

"Negative ma'am, and first responding officer is you." One of the Gatekeepers gestured with their weapon at McCain.


"You are, ma'am. Celadon and Cerulean PD don't have any officers certified for these kinds of environments, and any who are in Kanto or Johto weren't responding till, I wager, this morning, now… It's Christmas, after all."

McCain breathed out annoyed, the gluten in her mouth spit out, only to be tucked behind her ear. She had a fade, a week or so ago, but she didn't often had time to attend to her hair, the blonde strands that did grow out giving her a rather fluffy, uneven buzzcut, working well with any helmet or hat she was expected to wear on the job. It also meant that anything she was chewing on could be saved without an unfortunate incident hair wise.

Her phone came out, camera swiped to as she turned around, aiming it at the body as she did a clean sweep, every angle she could in every degree.

"Done this before, Missus McCain?" Misty saw the routine that she went through, flipping through the photos to assure herself that she had what she needed. She paused only for a moment, being referred to like that.

"Call me Ranger or Jain, Miss Williams. Only Sister Harvey at my boarding school or my stock broker calls me that and I don't think you're either." Before anyone could make any quip at that she continued along, pocketing her phone. "So, you found him, like this?"

She insisted, gaze casting across all twelve Gatekeepers. All of them nodded or affirmed. "Haven't touched him, and we stayed on guard all night to make sure none of the locals did either."

There were no locals to speak of, but she appreciated the effort.

"Is this all contained here? Have you all found anything else?"

Again, they all shook their head in a unified answer. "We didn't go looking. Ain't our job."

"Fair enough." Again, her phone came out, turning to Hops. "Take this, go around, see what you can find. If you find anything grab a picture and uh-" To the Rangers surprise a handful of baggies had come out. "You know the drill."

With a playful salute, phone and bags in hand, Hops had gone off. The other Pokémon seemed weary but McCain did her best to persuade, looking back down at the body. "He's done crime scenes before, with me as a Ranger. Don't worry about him… Never a dead man though. Worst is a dead Pokémon, but well, nature is nature."

Slick clicked his tongue. "Ain't nothing natural about this."

"Don't need the commentary." She kneeled back down over the body, photos taken, latex gloves out of her jacket. She was well prepared and her jacket had a lot of pockets. Nothing in life was easy but she figured having everything but the kitchen sink would've done her well. She remembered too often, as a Ranger, coming across a crime scene and, without the ease of use of having a police cruiser to store stuff in, she had to improvise much to the chagrin of her superiors. When they went on with a snap, that was when she first touched his body, pausing when she felt that his body had been the temperate of the area.

It never got easier.

"Ranger Janie McCain, Grade 7. First reporting on the scene of an apparent homicide in Cerulean City, Caves adjacent to the city, further details listed in written report. Photos of crime scene taken beforehand, now examining." She spoke aloud, recorder picking it up. With one heave, his identity was revealed, his body going around, chest up toward the murky ceiling. "Parker you old bastard. Had to come running din't you?"

She said his name like a whisper. To see a body she recognized, eyes wide open, in pain, the front of his chest pooled with blood and his face cracked open from a split in front, hitting a rock on his way down, it pained her. His hands had been tucked in his stomach, clutching in pain it seemed, rigor mortis keeping him holding himself. Gently, McCain's hands closed his eyes.

"Did you know him?" Misty asked, over her shoulder. She was taking her first sight at a body, shot to death, rather well.

With one hand McCain backed her off. Shaking her head, she continued to speak into her Styler. "Victim is an adult male, mid to late 40s. Three GSWs to the back and blunt trauma to the head and face, probably from impact with the ground. Initially identified as a Pokémon Ranger, Rank…." She peeked at his shoulder. "Rank nine. Performing look up now."

She patted down his jacket, finding what she was looking for with little difficulty. It was this Ranger's Styler. Flicking it open, going to who it had been registered to, it had been confirmed. "Styler identifies victim as Ranger Preston Parker of the Oblivia Region. International Jurisdiction. Last contact appears to have been… three weeks ago."

Dead Rangers were never heard of. Pokémon usually saved them in their most vulnerable moments.

McCain turned to Misty, in the same move looking for boot prints to see where Parker had come from. No dice, the ground had been wet and no imprint was left, the note taken in her pad. "He's one of the older Rangers. Came from Johto, was a trainer for a long time and would do much of anything for 'em."

"Happen to know his ID number as a trainer?" Misty might've recalled him.

McCain shook her head, but patted around his body, slightly lifting it to gain access to his jacket. He was the sentimental sort enough to- McCain gave out a breath in surprise as she drew a hard case from his jacket, the symbol of the Indigo League on its worn metal. She opened it, rubbing her fingers over the case and knowing the decades it must've served to. It was a larger one, larger than her own wallet and thicker than most small books, but there was a reason to it as its contents were revealed.

He traveled far and wide. Hoenn, Kalos, Sinnoh, and the Sevii Islands among others had made their presence known as she opened it. Badges. Sets and sets of badges held in plastic pockets.

"He was a good one." McCain held onto his Styler while she placed the hard case back into his jacket, another bag from herself brought out and the device turned off, sealed up. She had fiddled with the plastic bag, weighing it faintly in her hands as she considered, remembered, the man it belonged to and whose body she stood over now. "In Ranger school he was a guest instructor on Pokémon pacification without a Styler. I didn't know him that well but he was one of the few Rangers that was gifted an international writ of passage."

She remembered the notes she took more than him, but he was an enterprising man: looking for any excuse to leave the classroom and get out and about. Wanderlust had been ingrained in this man and, like many carnal desires, it ended up destroying him. She could only assume that he was here because he was on a case and, independent as he was, he did it alone. Every Ranger had an Operator, back at HQ as their link back to base for messages and advising. Every once and a while McCain listened to her own give out office gossip.

Apparently, Parker's Operator was a very happy man: he came in to work and did nothing, only to be paid for it.

"I'm getting to old for this," Andrade would tell her during McCain's usual call-ins. "Maybe I can get Gruber to replace me. He's basically robbing us, might as well make him work for it!"

McCain would have to call Andrade when she got out of that place to talk about Parker unfortunately, and she didn't look forward to it. It never got easier to tell someone about the death of someone they knew.

Misty tilted her head as a phrase held in her mind captive. "What's that? The writ of passage?"

The Styler was pocketed and replaced by McCain's ID book, shown to Misty again as her index finger tapped on a detail tab called: JURISTIDCTION. "I'm currently only supposed to be in Fiore's domain of legal justice, even though the rule of law the Rangers use is international. Takes a lot of votes and a lot of politics for a Ranger to given a blank check to charge people and pursue investigations internationally. Must've helped that he had been a trainer."

The very fact he had been one clicked a switch in McCain's head, the woman crouching back down and going to his pants. Back pockets first: bulge of a wallet, taken out. Feraligatr skin, blue. Contents nothing out of the ordinary. Money, a condom that was sat on for far too long to trust, coupons and cards either for credit or debit. It was returned and his other pockets yielded nothing but lint and his personal phone. No charge.

His belt was more interesting.

Clear as day: six empty Pokéball holsters.

Silently, she swore to herself as she leaned in and read their names. Of all the people that would suffer from this, his Pokémon would suffer most. "Observation: No Pokéballs present on Ranger Parker despite presence of utilities."

"Wasn't us." One of the Gatekeepers spoke up and out, a cup of coffee being shared around.

McCain made no comment as she gripped the cold flesh of his arms, unfurling them to his side. Despite this, there still had been a Pokéball on his body.

Broken, but it had been one.

It fell out of the crook of his stomach, held desperately by him as his arms fell away.

Even without being a trainer McCain knew what that type of Pokéball was. Counterfeits of it had been turned up by her personally on port authority raids: the dream of any Pokémon trainer to have in order to catch whatever they wanted. It was a power so potent, the implications too high, that their production had been outlawed outright.

"Hey! Any of you got a camera?" One of the Gatekeepers stepped forward with their own phone, seeing exactly what McCain saw on top of Parker's stomach.

"Holy hell. Couldn't afford one of these things, and Santa no longer visits my house."

The photos that McCain took had been for regulation. She couldn't touch them if she didn't record how they were found. "Thanks. Text it to Celadon PD's tip line, note badge number…" She reached far back in her memory as she tried to remember the digits on her police badge. "5921"

It had been split in two by its hinge, the steel and glass insides stained with blood and dew. They were weighty, each half weighing as much as one Pokéball on its own. She verified as much as she drew Hops' own, popping it open and observing the insides of it on her own as she palmed over one of the halves.

Despite never really using it, she kept up maintenance on the ball, so much so that she had a hunch as she looked on what had been the inner lip of the ball, scanning for a string of numbers.

"Each Pokéball, upon leaving Silph Co.'s production line out in the Sevii Islands, is stamped with an ID number, correct?" She talked to herself, finding the numbers on the Pokéball she owned. It was a technique that she was made aware of in Celadon City. Sometimes it had been a Pokéball left behind in an assault, and they needed to track who had used the Pokémon and the Pokéball. Sometimes it had been simple lost and found cases, nothing more than a database lookup through Silph Co. services to track who purchased the ball.

Even if the broken object had been a Master Ball of all things, there was a standard that Silph Co.. kept up.

"Found a Master Ball. No serial number."

"Scratched off?" Misty asked, leaning in. A Master Ball was a rare sight nowadays.

"Nah. I'd see the abrasions. Nothing." The Master Ball was bagged, blood and all. "Note: Master Ball has been found on the scene, broken by its hinge and… seemingly, without an ID number. Ranger Parker was clutching this as he died it seemed."

All for the record, morbid as it was.

Even more morbid was McCain unbuttoning Parker's white undershirt, bled through red: three exit holes in his chest.

"Rounds went cleanly through," Clean was an oxymoron, but the amount of flesh ripped off by the exit had been minimal. Only holes, the size of her thumb, remained. "Suggests murder weapon was a pistol cartridge… and that the rounds are still around here."

Pebbles and rocks would've made whoever was going to be forensics here a nightmare to find, but it wasn't her deal.

The exit-wounds had cut through his lungs, and based on the red stains that dripped from the corners of his mouth, his nose, and how stained his teeth had been, he died sucking on his own blood.

"Gr gr groo!" McCain snapped around to the sound. It had been Hops in the distance. Ushered forward and away she had gone to him, a few dozen yards away as Misty and Slick trailed, the rest taking post.

She couldn't even imagine running through this place, but Parker had known his footing. Had he run into that cave to hide from his attackers? Or had he known something else buried within? Had he known of this 'town', hidden with the caves? "How many entrances are there to this place?" McCain asked.

Slick had taken a glance around as they made it over the rocks and boulders displaced for the sake of development. "Asides from the way we came in? Can't say, our mutual friend likes keeping that info from us just in case poachers pose as us."

It was curious that that of all things had been a threat. "I'd like to have a word with this person then."

"Many people would." Envy. Envy was on his voice. "God. I would love to just have him to myself."

"Do you?" McCain tipped her head at him.

Slick clicked his tongue again. "He ain't ever give me the time of day, I can tell you that. I'm not saying I deserve it, but heck, I've kept his shit clean for the last two years."

"Do you ever shut up, Sergeant?" Misty bit at him like a proper commander. She was his commander.

No one talked like Slick without being some sort of prideful. It was a dangerous personality to be sure, but he was in good company: with dangerous men and women. His Lucario was like a ghost, following them, five meters behind always. One glance of her shoulder and that was the most excuse she was going to give the Lucario. Out of sight, and out of mind: that was the wish both she and the Lucario wanted.

She threw a thumb over her shoulder in a vague gesture. "He's quiet."

"Yin and Yang." Slick played with his thumbs to demonstrate, circling upon themselves. "I got all the talk, he got all the walk. Ain't that right buddy?!"

No response.

McCain turned around for a moment, trying to see his face past the aviators. Strong jawed, but a weak chin oddly, hidden by a growing beard that was too groomed to have seen much rough action. "What's your name? Didn't catch it."

"Hollande. Don Hollande." There was a growl in his voice: it spoke to a man whose language he spoke now wasn't his first.

"You were assaulted last night?"

There was a hint of hesitation in his voice. Embarrassment perhaps if McCain could gauge. "Look, in truth Gatekeepers posted here are more about keeping Pokémon in, and not people out." he answered.

"Fair enough, but they got you off guard, so I'm going to need a statement from you."

Hollande paused, but shrugged. "You approve of this ma'am?" He looked back to Misty, as did McCain. Misty could only give her a pensive look.

"I'm going to have to send it up to the top." She breathed in frustration. "Tops, I mean. The Gatekeepers have their names classified in government documents."

"Ah, so not the first time they been up to stuff like that?"

It was Misty's turn to shrug. "Maybe. I dunno. When I was sent their duty roster over fax all their names were blacked out."

The roll of McCain's eyes was seen even when she was up front. "Charming."

It was an opening to another system in that cave that they approached, only highlighting how easy it had been to get lost in it. What they really approached however had been…

With his long fingers Hops had been snapping photos, the flash going off disorienting in bursts. When it did go off in the dim light, what was revealed had been even more disorienting:

Crushed, split, destroyed. Halved and quartered and dusted. More Master Balls. A massacre of product that, although to the uninformed, would seem like pure litter, was hardly that:

Depending on who you asked, the Master Ball graveyard had either been priceless, or several million dollars.

100% was worth a million. If McCain found sleeping pills that would 100% work on her, she would've given up half her damn salary, that was how she saw eye to eye with such extravagances, even in this graveyard Hops had been the center of.

A drawn-out whistle, and then another click of the tongue, Hollande's aviators taken off of him like a hat held in mourning. "Someone meant business."

"The hell do you got in here?" Pure confusion. It came from McCain as she twisted around, looking to both Misty and Hollande. Her mind stretched for a legendary Pokémon she knew and wouldn't butcher its pronunciation before her mind settled on one, remembered in her Catholic school's gospel book by her. As Man was made in the image of God, so too had Pokémon been made in the image of: "A Mew?"

Everyone but her and Hops had tensed.

If McCain would've leaned in and seen the Master Balls, she would've recognized the tell-tale sign of Psychic pressure: telekinesis creating ripple patterns that were unable to be made by physical means.

There had been a battle there, and like all battles, there had been a victor.

The protective case on McCain's phone fell in muted clatter as Hops saw something behind them all. He was usually good at protecting McCain. "You're my sixth sense, you know that?" She told him once, having stopped a Muk from swallowing her in Fall City's sewers. Even with six senses Hops could do nothing as something in the shape of a monster levitated behind them all, and he could be nothing but be frozen as the cold came.

It was the cold felt from the electricity in the air, translated to all there like the way flesh aches on a cold floor. It hurt, and when all three of them turned around to confront its source, they came across their mutual friend.

Their presence had, physically, bigger than a man. Maybe Bruno of Elite Four fame might've been a good comparison, but still, the Pokémon was all muscle. Its proportions were all wrong, tail curling from its stomach to the back, the impression of a grown fetus striking all those there as its skin, appearing so very soft, eluded all notions of any sort of gentleness. Purple and pink, its hands were three fingered, balled pads at the end of each. That was obviously not how it interacted with the world however as it floated. Its cold eyes blazed with a striking purple, and of all the people there, it looked right back into McCain as it cast its shadow over her.

She never wanted to put a hand on her gun more than at that very moment, but she knew if she did, she'd die. She'd crumple to the ground just like one of those Master Balls.

Wordless, she took one step back, as if to fully encompass her vision with the being before her.

She'd seen Entei, Suicune, and Raikou in the forests of Fiore at the corner of her eyes, only whenever Lunick was around, as if they'd owed him. She had seen Lugia on her honeymoon in Fula City, emerging from bright blue ocean waves as the city paid tribute to it, it graciously accepting it. She had even touched its stomach, after giving it her offering of (family recipe) a loaf of bread. The legends of that world were tangible, in some fashion. The paintings of the Cro Magnons of the Regis survived to that day, protected by those surviving Regis in fact. Every once and a while, in the city of Alto Mare, the glimmer of a Latias or Latios would be caught on security camera. Team Plasma's Genesect were being hunted down every day by bounty hunters. For all the myth and legend that surrounded some Pokémon, enough of it was true that it made McCain believe that there wasn't anything she couldn't understand in some way. That the mystery of Pokémon could be solved like any case file she had. Her husband had made a career out of it, and so she didn't think herself phased by the unknown (or the Unown).

Standing here however, feet away from the first successful abomination of mankind, made by men and women who had defined her first few months as an officer, she was faced with finality.

Telepathy was a fickle thing, spoken not with sound but with the idea of thoughts and sentences, beamed directly into the mind of the receivers. There had been another Ranger whose partner had been an Abra, and, quite frankly, their ability to conduct conversation had been a creepy source of workplace drama at the station in Fall City.

The back of her neck felt the cold as their words passed by her.

Its mouth didn't move. "In the years since my birth, since I was freed, I made sure to do the best with the life that has been given to me." Male and female voices, without identity, in her head. Indistinct.

One cursory look around and McCain knew it hadn't been lying.

Hollande had lost his breath, only to take some back in before shakily saying: "Helluva task."

It nodded once, folding its arms.

"There would be some in this world who would impose on me however, still. It is… trying." They spoke in deep tones in her head, and, evidently, in Misty's and Hollande's too. She felt the two fingered hand of Hops grab her forearm, reassuringly.

In her boots, McCain made fists with her toes before finally speaking for the both of them:

"I- I heard rumors but I didn't think you lived."


December 24th

9:30AM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

Evidence was bagged, questions and statements were collected from the Gatekeepers, but they yielded nothing. And even if there had been something, it was minimal compared to what McCain would learn from a Pokémon born of science and sin:

"Mewtwo." She said its given name as he floated over Parker's dead body, its own gaze casted on his uncovered body. They looked up at her when she spoke, and it still chilled her. Misty had probably been more rock solid than Brock in Pewter. She had been used to Mewtwo at this point, far more comfortable with their presence than Hollande and the rest of the Gatekeepers as they kept their gazes held down around him. Just like Misty said, it had become McCain's show, sending a few of them back out to fetch McCain and the coroners. Hopefully Cerulean PD had been up and ready to work that Christmas.

"Yes?" The singular word rocked her brain and everyone around them. It would be impolite to keep the psychic talk hidden in plain sight.

"What happened here?" This was the first she asked of them. The Gatekeepers didn't dare ask, but some had silently guessed.

Its nostrils barely moved as it breathed, speaking again to her. "Do you know why I'm here?" Answering with a question had never been a good start.

"No." She entertained them.

It wore a tattered cape around their shoulders, beneath that: a simple shoulder bag. They didn't reach into it, but its psychic powers drew six objects from it all the same.

Six Pokéballs, old and worn. Parker's. They came out of the bag, only to float before McCain as she grabbed each one. For a moment, she considered releasing all of them to grab their side of the story, but Pokémon in Pokéballs weren't exactly the most lucid or coherent of witnesses. Besides, she had empathy. Empathy enough not to release them before the body of their loving trainer. Handing them off to Hops he had been more than happy to bag them. The Pokémon around had known exactly what Mewtwo was capable of.

"In this cave, I have made a home for those like me." Emphasis lain in their last words. Like it. "Those who can no longer live, peacefully, might find solace here with me and those that have been healed."

Like a snowball, slow albeit, McCain had settled into talking with the myth before her, notepad up and out, her Styler's recorder turned off: useless when it came to conversation like this. "I know what type of Pokémon you speak of. I've faced them before."

"Have you?"

It wasn't her place to be interrogated. "What happened here, Mewtwo?"

Hollande seemed to flinch at how McCain spoke to it. As if he knew something she didn't, or he respected the Pokémon too much to hear her speak like that.

Mewtwo did nothing however, looking off into the cave before returning its steel gaze at her.

"Late evening, yesterday, one of my scouts saw… him, this Pokémon Ranger, running into the cave. He was screaming, trying to warn us."

Parker's body had its white sheet returned to him, awaiting the coroner. "About what?" McCain looked to Parker, expecting him to answer almost.

"He knew I was here." There was concern, if McCain could place it, in its voice. "He was warning me that people were coming for me."


The evidence bags of Master Balls had been too much for McCain to carry on her, instead left besides Parker's body.

"To catch." Clarification, and it made sense. "But I paid no heed immediately. My goal was to hide the other Pokémon here."

"Are they safe?" Mewtwo tilted its head at her. It was a question they didn't expect.

"Hidden. I wish for you to leave this cave as soon as possible. This… undue stress is not good for some of those here."

She shook her head, her sensibilities as a cop returning to her. "Can't do that, this is a crime scene. We have to proceed at all due speed, so who knows how long this'll take."

"We'll be out of your hair as fast as we can." Misty had cut in, a stern look shot at McCain. "I'm sorry, Ranger, but there is a way things work here. None of us are supposed to be this deep and, well, we're guests." Fear? Was that fear in her voice?

The pen in McCain's hand stopped. The note on the destroyed Master Balls underlined, three times. "You sound like you understand fully that this Pokémon here can protect itself Gym Leader." She rose her voice at Misty before turning back to Mewtwo. "And if what I know is true about you… What did you have to worry about with these men?"

Implications upon implications. McCain didn't give a crap about what Mewtwo was putting down with a dead Ranger at their feet, even if she knew that they knew what it was like to kill. She had never killed in revenge. The Pokémon before her? They were accused of doing so, a long time ago.

There was a sizing up happening, between a woman who had stared down Tyranitar and lived and a Pokémon whose very existence meant that mankind could play god. "The men came in behind him. I never got a good look at them, but some of my scouts, they were familiar to them."

"Familiar?" McCain shook her head, returning on track. "We have any descri-"

"Team Rocket."

McCain's eyes widened as her head snapped up from her pad. "Are you-"

Images were beamed into her head. Shared images. Blurry, but distinct. Ski masks.

Black uniforms, red Rs. Tacky, but it meant something to some. Enough that they went out and did their deeds in them: a message, and a symbol, rolled up to intimidate all.

She saw it as one of them did it: from the eyes of a Pokémon. And yet she asked-

"Was what I just saw reliable?" She blinked back into her own vision, she figuring it probably wasn't permissible in court. "I know some of the Pokémon here were abused by Rocket. Any men in black could trigger false memories."

Mewtwo paused. Obviously, it had never been under the questioning of the authorities. This wasn't the first time she had to press a Pokémon though. As far as Bad Cop/Good Cop routines went, she was the Rangers only Bad Cop on hand who had experience, at least at her station.

"I did not see them myself, at least, at a distance where I could look at them and confirm they were who they were."

"No one else was close enough?"

"We keep away from all humans who do come in here." The Pokémon warily looked at the Gatekeepers, at Misty, and then, finally, at McCain. "The less they see of us, the better. If the world knew who lived here, people like the One who Came Before would come and challenge us all. They would not like what we'd do."

"There was someone else?"

Ancient history. "Red." Misty spoke. "We're lucky it was him. He came in to catch him. Used a Master Ball too. I think Mr. Silph awarded him one when he broke Giovanni's siege on the tower a few years back."

Mewtwo dipped deep into his lungs to speak. "It's why I know what to do."

A long time ago, in another era perhaps, a young Pokémon trainer went by the name of Red. Many trainers had tried to beat him and that many trainers were cast down in defeat. He was a curious case, a man of few words now, and less when he first started out. He was a good man, as far as anyone could tell though. It was all sport for him, and that meant rolling in one day to Cerulean Caves on the heels of a rumor that he had picked up during his beatdown of Rocket. Mewtwo had come here, and, using a Master Ball, caught them.

Only to release them minutes later.

That drive, to prove to yourself that you could do it, it was admirable. Though how it manifested in Red, it was a force of nature.

Perhaps that's why McCain had been the way she was: chip on her shoulder from a delinquent childhood, wanting to prove to the world she could be the best damn cop there was, even if it meant she killed someone.

"So you weren't close enough to ID but were able to crush their balls, is that right?"

She was hesitant to write down Mewtwo at all in her notes. She could keep secrets, she had discretion. Psychic Pokémon involved, was what she wrote instead.

"From the dark. They were distracted. Surrounded him where you found the debris. I took my opportunity to minimize danger to my own." When a Pokéball explodes, it wasn't pretty. A pop, some glass and shrapnel. Like many flash grenades she'd use throughout the years when the door hinges were blown off and the shotgun was used as a key. If Parker was surrounded when the balls went off he could've fought his way out, scooping up evidence.

"He was shot to death." Her pen poked paper. "If they had him surrounded why didn't they shoot him there?"

"They didn't have guns." Mewtwo stressed.

"Any Pokémon?"

"No, just themselves and their balls."

"So when he ran then they decided to shoot him in the back?" Something didn't add up. "And, I think most pressing of all, you didn't do anything to stop it!" Her voice rose like a crescendo, echoing throughout that cavern.

She had no tolerance for the inept, for those who would standby as evil did its way with the world. Pokémon or man, it didn't matter, there was a choice that had to be taken and some people knowingly did not choose at all.

He was a coward.

"I'm not." Their hands curled into a version of a fist. They read her mind.

"You let a man die."

The world caved in on all of them. Not physically, but mentally. The pressure of talking like this and what was being said flooring all those there. It was a privilege to be there, Hollande would say. To be in the presence of legends, and yet McCain showed this kind of gall. Misty pocketed her hands, only to grace her own Pokéballs. She felt a fight coming on, between a headstrong woman and a Pokémon who could crush her with its mind.

She meant no harm though. She was just doing her job. Even Mewtwo felt it as her thicker eyebrows curved down.

"You, you are a Pokémon Ranger, yes?" McCain nodded, thumbing her notepad away as they spoke to her. "You promote life and harmony between man and Pokémon, and yet you carry that."

She felt the tug, her jacket making way as her pistol levitated out, held by a blue film. Telekinesis, coming from the Mewtwo. She, in a yelp, grasped back at it, but the unseen force took it away until it had been in reach of Mewtwo itself.

The Gatekeepers had tensed, their Pokémon and their weapons held and ready.

Its hands were never meant to held a gun, but it rested in its palm, the item looking as if a toy.

"Hey! The hell do you think you're-?!"

The gun exploded. Not in fire or in a concussion, but part-by-part. Like a blow-up diagram she had seen of machinery meant to designate part numbers and what, exactly, had been broken. Nowadays it had been as easy as letting a Rotom hijack said machine and diagnose what was wrong, but Professor Hastings had always seen to it that a Ranger knew how to disassemble and reassemble their Styler by hand in the case of field malfunction. The same thing went for her gun as the pieces levitated in air, each being observed by Mewtwo.

"To promote peace, you must carry something meant to bring death?" There was judgement in its voice, but yet still McCain stepped forward, even as she felt a tug by her Grovyle, begging her not to.

She answered this question before, a decade younger. Even after everything she had done, she still held onto it. "It is a failure if I do use this thing."


There was a calmness in her voice. A peace that he wanted to perpetrate himself to those he cared for. "A failure, in the world, the situation, the people. I don't want to use it. But sometimes I have to." There was solemnness in her words. Words that carried weight. "I deal with bad people who do bad things."

"Like create me?"

McCain scrunched her nose. "Yeah. Like create you."

The parts of her pistol floated in the air, used as a meditation perhaps.

"Those bad people came for me."

"I know."

"I could've stopped them."

"Know you could've."

"But I've killed before, and I told myself I'd never do that again."

They were born on the Cinnabar Islands, off the coast of that region. Team Rocket funding some yet to be known party into R&D of a manmade Pokémon of flesh. The research site went up in flames, and about a month after the entire island was buried beneath a volcanic eruption. Violence was this Pokémon's mother; the artificiality of going against nature itself being its nature. Several dead had been found, burnt to a crisp inside that lab. The identity of Mewtwo brought forward into the world by some leak memos seized by the police following Rocket's downfall.

In another life, McCain might've entertained trying, somehow, to press charges toward this being before her, but didn't kid herself now. The idea of Mewtwo killing those who created it had been a sympathetic thought, if not realistic, but again even when it came to animals, there needed to be proof.

In any case, the Mewtwo before her now had lived a life, experienced itself and the world, and was at peace with it in some regard. At least to the regard that made them more about rehabilitation than revenge.

"You did, by not stepping in and saving Parker." It was an accusation. More than that, it was true.

"I had my friends to take care of." He was ashamed, but he knew his priorities.

McCain pocketed her hands. "I know." It was said with understanding, a rock by her feet kicked at and sent down range, eyes drawn to her feet. She let out a grunt in aggravation, blowing hot air out of her nose. "If you were a man, you know I'd be reacting differently, to all this."

Mewtwo looked down at her, unscrupulous eyes still looking her over. Like the eyes of God, judging her. It was judgement that defeated people. She remembered that quote from some book, long ago, mopping about in the library. She didn't judge herself, and she didn't take the judgement of those well. To be in law enforcement meant to understand that the laws of society necessitated the division of power that she had a hand in. She was not judge, jury, or executioner. She had just served the laws of the people, for the people.

She didn't serve Mewtwo; she didn't care for what they thought of her.

There was a murder in their cave and she had been called to solve it. She owed it to another Ranger.

She held out her hand. "My gun?" Slowly, slowly, the gun returned to itself, piece by piece in his palm first. "And what happened? After you blew the balls?"

Floating back to her, her pistol was held in her grip, grasping it from the air. She cycled one round by hand, dropping the mag before thumbing in the racked round in the top, inserting it back in as she sent the slide forward, reholstering. Mewtwo had been the only other Pokémon to touch her gun. Hops knew how to use it, as much of an oddity as that was. He had fingers, and was always by her side. It made sense.

"He ran to here. Shots came and hit him the back. I saw him die, I didn't see the shooter. They didn't touch his body." Ground zero was Parker's place of death, and it felt like a hole that McCain was sinking into. Hops kept his Pokémon in their capsules, safe. "I only removed his Pokémon discretely. They came in here, looked around, and then they left. By the time they left I had sent one of my scouts to… him."

Hollande raised his hand, gesturing to his eye. "And you know how I was. After that they just set off the motion trackers and the lot of us came running, woke me up, and we found him watching the body when we got here." It was the first the Gatekeepers and Misty were hearing of the fact they were Rocket grunts. "God damn. I might as well retire, getting knocked out by a Rocketeer."

Misty thumbed her chin, concern on her face. "We haven't had a report on Team Rocket for years. Not since Archer was nabbed in Goldenrod." Mewtwo agreed with her.

"Yes. I concur with Parker's warning. They knew I was here."

"Someone can't keep a secret then." McCain looked to the Gatekeepers, they not catching what she meant. She would need their names and history. Anyone who knew Mewtwo's existence would be combed over. The very idea of that- She paused. This case really did go to the top.

Mewtwo stirred, floating, ever so slightly, toward McCain. Hops had reappeared suddenly, in front of McCain, between her and it. Protection. This Pokémon saw fit that McCain would not be harmed, and in that moment, it fell victim to an entire conversation in a flash, mind and mind connected as McCain saw Hops lock up and then soften his stance.

Mewtwo's eyes changed their gaze at her. They knew now what to expect of her.

Hops nodded to a question unheard by anyone but him and Mewtwo, and that was that.

"I trust you'll keep my presence, and my intentions here, a secret?" No one had heard it but her and Hops.

McCain's hand reached for her heart, her palm pressing on it, her face easing and placating. Bad cop was a face she put on, not who she was. She was a Pokémon Ranger for a reason. "I promise." She meant it. Meant it enough to not say it, but think it. He understood. "This is a good thing you have going here, I wouldn't do anything to bring this place harm or trouble. Not without the due process of the law."

The first hint of any facial movement on Mewtwo: a raise of their eyebrow. "Tell me, in all of your years doing what you do, does the law apply equally to us?"

"All I know is that a bullet will me as easily it'll kill you. It's that equality I like to think about."

Mewtwo paused. Looking at her. Looking at her as if she were a Pokémon herself. She had done wrong, like many of the Pokémon there, but there was an old saying an Arbok among his care liked to say to those who couldn't forgive themselves: "Pokémon do bad things because master bad. Pokémon not bad." Maybe it was the same for any master-servant relationship. Maybe McCain would've been one of his own, in another life, if her soul had been in a different body. It liked to think souls were the only thing the scientists of Rocket did not put in them; that it was theirs to take care of, to build.

"Please leave this place, as soon as you can." As ghostly as they appeared, it had disappeared in a flash, melting away into the air. With one last word however, they had their empathy. "I'm sorry for your loss. Preston Parker was a good man."

As if it knew him, McCain sourly thought before mentally hitting herself. Cynicism had no place in her life now, but it came back like serotonin in her brain, automatic, without regard to how it happened.

Mewtwo was right though. Parker was a good man.

She looked down. Her hands had their way with the notepad and she hadn't even known: writing out enough to work with again.

With one last sweep visually, she knew where the rest lay: not here at least. Forensics would sweep for the bullets and anything they'd miss. She had leads to follow and people to report to.


"Yes Missus McCain?'

"It's Jain. And I'm going to need signed statements from all of you. Don't give a shit about what's up top, I need it right here, right now. I might not be able to take a statement from Mewtwo, but everyone can corroborate what he said here together." She ripped out pages from her notepad, walking around, shoving a paper in each person's hands. There were no immediate complaints, but soon enough she heard the scoffs.

"You think this'll hold in court? Seems rather ramshackle."

"Got a reason why you don't want to be on the record?"

One of the Gatekeepers whistled at McCain's persistence and she marked it well. These people operated higher than most. It was in her experience though that the law was the common denominator.

December 24th

10:42 AM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

McCain had been escorted out, and the walk back had been a breeze, her mind barely coherent as she reviewed her notes. Misty and Hollande walked her out, on the way, passing by Cerulean PD going in the opposite direction. Hops had hung onto her back, having had enough of the cold stone floor and wanting her body heat instead. He deserved it, as competent a partner he had been.

Her hands had been full and what they had been full with was an ugly combination of murder and the reemergence of Team Rocket of some form apparently. There had been no chatter in any organization about them as far as McCain would remember, and their MO here, it seemed… rough. Rocketeers who had been hunted down following Silph Co.. had resorted to violence, to weapons, but none had done so just to murder a man like had happened here.

"Saw your piece, Ranger." She was brought out of her thoughts.


Hollande gestured to her holster hidden by her jacket. "Your gun. I don't carry a pistol, but I can tell you take care of yours. Sexy. Wood grips and all."

"Huh, yeah." She glanced down at his hip, and where there would usually be a pistol there was a cut down shotgun. She recognized the sort. A "Masterkey" as they would call it for reasons that included locks and buckshot. His rifle had been rifle caliber, same as the one she still lugged on her back. It was scary to her how natural the feeling was to have one on her again. "Is it true, like she say?" McCain gestured to Misty, "You guys don't use them much."

"Not at liberty to say Ranger." He shrugged, and only then as he moved his hands did his sleeve ride up, oddly colored shotgun shells held by a bracer on his forearm. One had been missing.

When they arrived the sun had been bright, but not warm. The cold nip of winter was there despite the greenery around. It especially hadn't been warm as Chief Sevson approached them again.

"See what I mean now?" He tilted his head at her.

She nodded respectfully at him. He was right. "Yeah."

Misty let the sun and the milky blue sky take her in, breathing in fresh air. Out of that darkness she resumed her youthful energy, stretching her arms as she wiped them dry from dust and wet, done with crawling on rocks and ledges for a while. "Cerulean PD and your men have it, Chief Sevson?"

He crossed his arms across his chest, curtly pursing his lips. "We've got it, Miss Williams."

There was a smile of relief on her face. "Okay. I've got a Christmas show at the gym tonight and I have to get ready for that. Can't really deviate my schedule, ya know?"

A small hand was offered back out to all around, Sevson first, then Hollande, lastly McCain. "It was nice to meet you Jain. Thank you for coming down here."

"My pleasure." She lied, taking her hand. Misty's other hand went up to Hops, lazily dozing, his cheek rubbed and he purring graciously.

"If you're every around, just uh, give my ticket people one of these." Misty struggled in her back pocket to flip out her wallet. Three slips of paper with "VIP" on them and the logo of her gym. "You, the Hubby, and Hops, if you ever want to come see one of my shows. Promise I'm alright, compared to my sisters."

An amused breath came out of McCain as she held the tickets in her hand. "I don't doubt it. Thank you."

Again, the Gym Leader's hand went into the back of her pants, drawing a Pokéball, Golduck called out and ready. "He's my ride across the river." She flashed a peace sign as she stepped away, back into the brush. "Again! Merry Christmas!"

Faintly Hops had given her a wave off, the daze of stepping out of a cave coming through McCain's mind like a bad hangover. When her mind cleared the mouth of the cave had picked up activity, tents and awnings put out as men and women in blue with their Pokémon set up for a quick operation to recover Parker's body and survey the site. "What's Celadon PD doing here, Sevson?"

Sevson thumbed back to the trees where they came from hours ago. "I was hitching a ride last night with Cerulean PD after I attended the usual Holiday Banquet they hold for the other PDs. Gatekeepers rose us on the horn and I checked it out. Had a few of my guys come down here to establish this site and, well, it was convenient when it was reported that a Ranger was dead that you were in my department."

McCain paused, taking Sevson by the shoulder and pressing. "You know about who is in there, right?"

"Yeah." Sevson seemed distant as he shook her off, holding on that word. "Not everyone here does, so uh, keep your mouth shut. Follow me."

Before she followed McCain turned back to Hollande, the man on orders to return back into the cave upon dropping her off. He tipped his head at her, the flash of his eyes, bruise and all, seen by her. He clicked his tongue, speaking in his sing-song voice. "Stay warm, Ranger."

"Get your eye checked up on. I hear Nurse Joy knows how to treat people too, you know."

A glob of spit was thrown toward the ground by the Gatekeeper. "Sayonara." His back was turned to her, disappearing back into the dark.

December 24th

11:03 AM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

There was a tent for the Celadon PD set up and, just a moment before she stepped in, she had wondered if anyone was still in the department and on call for this. Obviously no one in the tent had been happy being deployed on Christmas, but there cheer was built up just a little as they saw an old friend step through.

In truth only three or so of the dozen people from Celadon PD had recognized her, but that was all she could handle right now.

"Looks like the Ghost of Christmas Past has come for us." McCain faintly smiled as one of the rookies turned beat cop she knew called her out.

"Hey Jimmy." She looked around and saw the faces that knew her. "Rose. Packie."

They all went for the handshake or hug but Sevson warded them off. The tent had laptops, maps of the cave, theories on dry erase white boards of diagrams of the crime scene deep within the caves. It didn't concern her at the moment. She had enough of a lead to go hunting already and, if there was anything important, they'd ring her probably.

Sevson patted the desk. "We're putting you in charge. Detective work. Homicide desk. What you always wanted, right?"

A map of the Kanto region and a list of known Rocketeers still alive or seemingly not causing trouble had been up. That's where Sevson led her too, the table in the center of the tent as the rest had their own stations and busy work to do. This kind of gross surveillance was one of the reasons why she left the department: listing out names and people, children of said people and acquaintances on sticky notes. Addresses, towns, jobs and occupations, all spelled out with their names and photos if they had them. With a Rocket related-case in play the PDs of Kanto weren't messing around, for good reason. They didn't want a rookie trainer upstaging them again, after all.

This wasn't the way however.

"Not homicide." McCain spit out. Hops had been more than happy to exchange pleasantries with former "aunts and uncles" as they were to him. The department always treated him well. Looking over the map the information overload had been all encompassing, too much and in the wrong direction in her opinion. They started in broad strokes while she had something a little more intimate.

There was a detail, on those Master Balls, which had stuck in her mind. Though her mind was what it looked like if shit really did hit the fan though. Maybe it was the melodic typing on one of the laptop keyboards that brought her back from her investigative thoughts. When they were together in the same bed, her husband often worked on his laptop late into the night, the rhythm her lullaby.

What was important was the case in front of her, and she said it aloud.

"So a Pokémon Ranger gets shot while running away from thugs with Master Balls in the middle of what is essentially a Indigo League black site, all in the presence of a Pokémon that the entire world thinks is either dead or never existed at all, and said Pokémon's testimony says Rocket grunts came in here with a bunch of these Master Balls to capture him." The Ranger sat in the hardly comfortable plastic chair by the table, her feet only now beginning to ache as she recounted what exactly she was in. She had hardly gotten any sleep on the flight over and thus she was about eight hours into a day that started at 3AM, having departed Fiore at midnight.

Jet lag hadn't even hit her yet and she was looking for it over her shoulder as if she was in witness protection.


She waved off Sevson as he offered a paper cup. "Nah. Messes with my stomach. Got any candy or some shit?"

He shook his head. Best he could offer was a donut, and, in that moment, she had appreciated being back in the jurisdiction of cops as she bit into the much too cold pastry. It tasted like the station still used the same doughnut guy after all these years. There were certain aspects of the job she missed: the fact her work area was constrained to only Celadon and not an entire damned region, the bad coffee and the familiarity of her beat lulling her into a comfortable existence. Celadon had never been a particularly dangerous place, but there was always flare ups between the casino, the department store, and just youths that she used to be mucking about bored.

That's how it was during her first two years on the job that is. Before Rocket changed it forever.

She munched on her donut as Sevson looked at some of his geared-up men enter the cave, escorted by the Gatekeepers. "No matter what the fuck I do I always end up cleaning up old Giovanni's mess." He sputtered, less than happy and nursing his own coffee.

Giovanni was sitting pretty in some way-too luxurious cell in a prison in Orre. The Orrians knew how to hold a prisoner, and had been half a world away, so he had been transferred there after some tricky judicial crafting that found that Giovanni routed illegal funds through a charity in the region. It worked out well enough: keeping him away from his followers.

Not that there had been that many left, McCain presumed until today.

When Rocket fell apart for the first time following the Silph Co. takeover, PDs throughout the Kanto region had mobilized to track down any grunts involved and trying to lay low before they disappeared into the populace. The fear, a fear that had been proven right years later when Rocket reorganized in Johto, was that Rocket would simply lay in wait until Giovanni (or some other figurehead) would come about to lead them. Chief Sevson among others had sought to pre-emptively strike.

The first time McCain was involved in it had been before Silph Co., when Celadon's beloved Game Corner was revealed to be a front for Rocket. When all was said and done by a good Samaritan the world would eventually come to know as Red, the facility beneath still needed to be cleared and any Rocketeer left down there had been like a cornered Rattata.

One crash course in gun handling later and McCain had been pressed into service as the first of Celadon's City new SWAT division, going down into that facility with nothing but a helmet, Kevlar vest, and a shotgun that had been old enough to know what the world before her parents had been like.

Everything had gone down hill from there. New problems arose after Rocket fell, crime that necessitated a role that she had fallen into came up more and more as violent crime skyrocketed because of ex-Rocket grunts. Sooner, rather than alter, she had become Captain to a SWAT division nearly a dozen strong for a jurisdiction that covered both Celadon and Saffron in a joint task force.

Her first kills had been remembered: her first kill on a man, first kill on a woman, and first kill on a Pokémon. She had hardly believed she was capable of it, but in each case, she was in the right according to those who were to judge.

Perhaps it was the problem she had, becoming a veteran SWAT operator, that led her to eventually leave; that what happened during the last raids had only been a breaking point on top of a cancer.

"No-knock raids tend to create more messes than it cleans up, you know." She was due the spite, five years later and in a mess she didn't want to be in.

For all the pundits on the news media would say about the militarization of police, she could offer no rebuttal. She had been the reason why it happened: she proved it a solution. That's why she had been flown out every other week it seemed when she was in the Celadon PD to conferences around the world to talk and elaborate on how exactly she was so effective at kicking down doors and blasting perps.

She had been in the eye of the news as the news three times in her life: the first time it had been as a child, having broken into Erica's gym on a dare. The second time it had been because she, as the same person, had become one of the youngest people to ever enroll in Kanto's Police Academy, becoming a rising star in the ranks of Celadon PD. The last time had been on a much more sorrowful note.

"You're the one that shot them, McCain." The Chief reminded her of why she had left, all those years ago.

"Piss off, Sevson." He shrugged at her bite.

"I'd love to but I have a job to do, as do you." He flipped open a paper folder and looked into it. "The only way any of the agencies or entities that have a hand in this would be happy is if you were on the case. And last I heard from this Lunick guy, he says you're all ours."

She groaned again, hand running down her face as the weight of her holster made her slump in her chair. Distantly someone was playing Christmas music too loud in their headphones.

It wasn't the most beautiful time of year, and all she wanted was peace in her life.

Why the hell did you become a Ranger then?! Her inner monologue, combined with a conscience that had never rewarded her for anything.

So I could find it, that's why! She answered back. The answer she had to live with.

Yes. She did have a job to do. "Did we comb the area around? Motion sensors catch anything?"

"Gatekeepers and the Indigo League are keeping that and anything related under wraps for now. "Processing" they say, but they're just playing hard to get." Sevson responded. "Something they don't want us to know perhaps?"

McCain shook her head, finishing her doughnut. "The only reason why Mewtwo is known to exist to the public, to me even, is because Cinnabar PD leaked documents on it. They might have a reason why they're keeping stuff like this close to chest." She might've said that too loud as some in the tent did a double take, Sevson putting a finger to his lips quieting her.

She only flicked him off.

Sevson gruffed, pulling a chair himself as he traced his eyes across known Rocket assets across Kanto and Johto on that laminated map on the table. "You know the PDs have changed since then. We aren't just a bunch of Jennys and volunteers. You made sure of that."

She should've asked for coffee just so she could throw it in his face.

There were men like Sevson in that world that she, didn't exactly despise on principle, but could find herself being opposed to on a personal level. No one would ever contest them of not doing their jobs. It took only someone who had been on the inside however to know if what they did to do their job was wrong though. A true perspective: one that McCain, in this insistence, knew best.

"Don't like the Gatekeepers here." She started, flipping through her notes, listing weapons they had on them. No one carried an SMG or a pistol so she didn't exactly think they did it, as extreme a thought that was. "Who gets chosen for the job of defending something like this cave, and gets knocked out by a punch?"

"They're only human, and to be frank, this seems like a cushy gig. Run off curious trainers and anyone else who wanders here and get paid what I only assume is a lot from the Indigo League."

"They ain't recruiting criminals, are they? Soldiers from defense forces?" That side of the planet hadn't had an operating military in years. Self-defense forces in the case of another battle between Gods, like in Hoenn, sure. But actual militaries? No need.

Sevson threw his hands up. "Wish I could tell you McCain, but they're milky. Still, if they had a hand in this I would imagine the Indigo League is calling up the International Police and investigating it internally. We'll get the scraps."

"Right. That still leaves the bunch of supposed Rocket grunts and the Master Balls."

"Black is a popular color if that's what you're saying. Anyone can wear black and call themselves a Rocket thug." Sevson had spoken truth.

She had a point back. "Not everyone can just throw Master Balls. I counted at least twenty. I didn't even know that much existed." That's where her mind concentrated: on those balls. Thank God Red had already did that one-trick-Ponyta on Mewtwo for him to know the "danger" of them.

Sevson nodded. "I heard some of the details from the Gatekeepers radio chatter. But go on about that."

"I saw 'em Chief. Master Balls. No IDs. Someone must've run a private line with Silph Co. machinery… and the material and money needed to pop out that many? It smells foul as hell."


For a moment they paused. McCain really had to think about it, about where Master Balls had come from… about where Red had gotten his apparently.

"Hey! Packie!" He was still Celadon PD's historian hopefully, McCain yelling out to him as he was chatting and catching up with Hops.

The two looked over. "Ye? What'cha need Captain?"

She chuckled as she walked over. It'd been years since she was called that.

"Can you bring up the post-action debrief on the Silph Co. Tower raid? Did Rocket grab anything on the way out? Those we didn't catch that is?"

The short man had nodded, going to his laptop as Hops returned to her, sipping on a coffee himself. She had given her Grovyle an eyebrow raise, but he shrugged. She could grill him for sipping that shit later.

Sevson tapped his finger across his cheek, looking at the Rocketeers in the wild along with McCain's train of thought. He knew what she was implying. "None of these fine folks here, the ones that participated in the Silph Co. hit grabbed much. Asides from a few stray items that weren't bolted down, some loose change, money and valuables that were on the hostages."

Rocket was sloppy, first time through. A lot of hostages ran before they could be locked down. In the end only a few floors were taken by Rocket. No firearms, just Pokémon and threats. McCain remembered watching the siege at home. She remembered with as much exasperation as anyone that a young boy was reported in saving the day.

"…But we did see tampering with the inner vault." Packie pointed out.

"A vault?" McCain leaned her chair over to get a look at the document on Packie's computer. He still stank like shit but he had made a side gig out of helping the region's main professor on his ranch in Pallet Town with his Tauros, so he smelled bad for a reason. A god reason at that. The police department outside of the SWAT division had been the same, good-natured people as always, and sometimes McCain wished she remained with them. Responsibility had shoved something else in her lap though.

"Yeah." An eraser end of a pencil poked at archive footage, a red-haired woman standing before a large, embedded vault near the top of the tower, baked into the structure itself. She was dressed in white, her grunts surrounding her poking at electronics, consoles, and the vault itself to see if there was any give. Unfortunately, the design had been several tons of steel forming into a door that was like revolving door, locked in place by- "Electromagnetic locks hooked up to the city grid, backed up by seven different other security failsafes and measures."

"Who's the broad? Seems familiar." McCain referenced the woman.

Sevson answered with familiarity. "She was a part of Archer's partial revival in Johto. One of Rocket's main executives. Evidence points toward her being Giovanni's main squeeze."

"Name would be nice." That's what she was looking for.

"Ariana Del Lobo."

"She on that list?" McCain thumbed back to the surveillance map.

Sevson coughed, amused, and then annoyed. "She cut a deal with Goldenrod PD, and is in witness protection. We ain't got a read on her."

"Witness protection?" It was an odd idea. She'd never heard of one of Rocket cutting one. Even the lowest grunt, when caught, didn't have enough pull to be worth it.

"Yeah. Bitch's lucky, I can tell you that."

A dead end then, at least for now. Next came the vault and the reason she asked in the first place. "We ever learn what was in there?"

Packie shook his head, glancing at some of the written documents. "They never made it in, and we didn't have a reason to go looking. Evidence still points Giovanni taking over because Mr. Silph was withholding research on, well, some sort of black project we still don't have the warrant to ask about, related to Cinnabar Island. Maybe it was Mewtwo, who knows."

Mewtwo did, but then again no one in there seemed to know as McCain glanced back and Sevson held a finger to his lips again. Maybe Rocket had got a contact back in Silph, and the vault carried a run of Master Balls that weren't on the record. Maybe the original press for them. Maybe something egregiously illegal regardless, Rocket seemed awfully interested in it, only leaving it when Giovanni made the call to abandon and scatter the building.

In that glance he held with her, Sevson saw something more however. He was a detective after all, nearly three decades into it. He remembered who McCain was.

"Your husband, he still works for Silph Co., right?"

Daniel McCain. Danny. Childhood friends. People knew how that story went the second that phrase came out either of their mouths. He spent his younger years as a trainer in the Kanto region before he was hired as a field consultant by Silph, and then, finally, a researcher with a PokéDex. This was the same time McCain left for Fiore.

They married young. At 21. They felt it right then, and they still felt it right now, regardless of… difficulties, in the last few years.

Mentally, she kicked herself, this was the first time back in the region in nearly half a year and it had been for work, not for him. She hadn't even thought of visiting him now that she was there.

Hops seemed annoyed at the mention of him, but McCain, she softened, just the smallest of nods. "No one has the tech to make Pokéballs, McCain, with Silph knowing. They're a big enough company for something like that to happen without the higher ups knowing. Maybe some corrupt managers." He knew exactly what he was asking her without saying outright. "Whatever happens here, I think Silph is a good place to start. Get a read on those Master Balls. Someone's gotta know."

McCain raised an accused eyebrow on behalf of her husband. "And you want me to use my husband to get in?"

Sevson shrugged. "Good suggestion."

It was all too convenient that she was here now, that she was called. If she wasn't on the table before, she would've been now. She was a Christmas gift bundled up for Kanto's law enforcement and she couldn't be more aggravated by it and how it manifested.

Still, her job was her job, so she swallowed the spit in her mouth and did it. "Am I working this case as a cop, or as a Ranger? Because as far as I care I'm not at liberty to be a cop anymore and I have no jurisdiction here."

She patted Packie's shoulder as she broke off from him to in front of Sevson.

"That'd be true, but consider yourself deputized." A gleaming object was thrown at her, the shape of a shield, the size of her palm. She knew what it was by the way it felt in her palm, knicks she hadn't felt in years on her finger tips. She looked at the slice of metal in her hand, the emblem of a Pidgeotto framed by the words: CELADON POLICE DEPARTMENT across the top, ORGANIZED CRIME DIVISION along the bottom. The numbers on the badge: 5921. Before she could ask why he still had it: "We keep it framed in the Academy for new SWAT rooks usually."

She rolled her eyes. "Lovely." Pocketing the old item into her wallet, where it had ridden all those years ago, she got started. "Why is this out, anyway?" She motioned at the table and the map.

"We're going to check up back with them, after we're done here, see if they know anything while you work the Silph angle. Call into the station for reporting and updates, our secretary is still Amber-Mae… Do you remember how to be a cop?"

It was an insulting question but he didn't fault her old chief in asking. "I didn't bag up half the crime scene without knowing what to do, Chief."

"I'm glad to hear. That helicopter pilot will take you where you want. Welcome back to the fold, McCain. Get busy and stay out of my sight."

And she wasn't too happy about it, running her hands through her hair as she was drowned in the old business. She could have a tantrum later, in whatever hotel room she could get. She was going to write off a good amount of stuff as business expenses under Sevson's name as some petty payback, but whatever the case, she owed it to Parker and the Rangers as a whole. That reminded her…

When she walked out of the tent, destination in mind, parting words kept her bitter: "And McCain! Merry Christmas."

Danny. Her Danny.

The statement on Yin and Yang earlier from Hollande about him and his Lucario reminded her about what kind of relationship she had with Danny. As kids, his family often came into her family's diner for weekend breakfast, and, sooner rather than later, the two looked forward to those days where they could hang out. He went to the public schooling system while she was stuck in Catholic school, and quite frankly it showed with both of them: the freedom Danny had in his education was reflected in his, as she joked with him often as a child "dorkiness". She said that all while in a hoodie too big and a cap on her head that was tilted sideways like any number of cholos, she, at the time, tried to emulate. It was a reaction to being tied down and uniformed up by a school who held her too close to their regulations.

And yet, despite it all, he stuck with her. She hung out with all the wrong people, sans him, and in the end that was what counted for her as the cops nailed her for breaking and entering into Erika's Gym and he alone stayed to console her after the fact.

Opposites attract had been how many a misguided observant would describe how a domestic abuse victim had stuck with their domestic abuser. She would disagree with it entirely, but had her asterisk thrown on it: Opposites were attractive.

For her, it meant that his measured steadiness when it came to her had been soothing to her fiery mean streak. He cared for her, and, for that, she loved him back that would only make sense, to her, if she had an entire story to describe it.

This hadn't been that story however.

This hadn't meant he was bone dead boring however. When he battled with his Pokémon, he matched her intensity.

"What do you see in me?" She asked the quiet night after they both slipped out of their respective senior proms. For her, she hadn't been allowed to take a male date, and for Danny, he wouldn't take anyone but her, but wasn't allowed to bring someone from out of his school. Dolled up to the nines in a black dress that sparkled, he couldn't have been more of a sap with his answers as they laid on a secluded patch of woods on Route 16.

"All the stars, for the rest of my life." She had poked a hard finger into his chest as she stifled a laugh. So he had gotten straight to the point afterwards after their giggling: "You amaze me with how far you've come, for yourself, and, I like to think, for me-"

She might've ended up a thug, susceptible into recruitment into Rocket if she had gone down the path she did without him, after she was released from the station and promptly grounded, awaiting for the community service that would result in her coming to care for Hops. That is if it hadn't been for him, despite his "dorkiness", hop the roofs of Celadon just to climb onto her fire escape window and tearfully break down to her about how much he worried for her. That had been when they were both ten, of all things.

They were eighteen when the declaration happened.

She held his face, silent tears running across warm cheeks on both ends. "It is. Almost all of it. For you. I love you."

"I love you." He said in response as they both lain on grass that was far too comfortable to be real (maybe the cinnamon whiskey she had smuggled from the diner had helped that). She smushed her forehead into his own, his faint freckles scrunching as his face smiled, same as her, as big as it had ever in his life. The desire to be close, closer, made her roll over onto him and tilt her head just right, her body to press against him just right, for something that needed to happen to happen.

First kisses were what dreams were made of, proven true then and there. In that moment, she thought she didn't care what her life was going to be as long as he had been there. If only she knew.

She was bathed in moonlight in that twelve o'clock moment and he had been in her shadow.

Where his hands went next as she found herself, inadvertently, pinning his shoulders down and disheveling her dress down about tits high, had revealed they had loved other parts of each other as he went for the feel and she wanted nothing less.

Hops and Coda, his Jolteon, hadn't been too happy about how they rolled around on in the woods that night and why Danny couldn't return his tuxedo and there had been rips on McCain's, then Janie Thorpe, dress. ("How'd you know?" She asked, realizing that neither she nor Danny told their Pokémon about what they did on prom night. The answer Hops gave back was that some of his friends on Route 16 had watched. She slapped him for that answer.)

As she walked back to the helicopter, she thought of Danny, the sad realization that this had been the most she had thought of her husband for months.

She felt the pinch on her left arm. Hops wanted to talk.

"What?" He spoke in his tongue to her as she responded, his tone tired, a little disappointed. "I thought I-?"

Her jaw clenched whenever she was anxious, and most of the time she was anxious, a rarity for the headstrong woman, it had been because of the current state of her marriage. That's how Hops caught her distant in her eyes as they walked.

Hops hadn't liked the current status as much as anyone who knew. Asides from work, the two adults didn't have many friends. Because of work. Still he was biased. Biased, and he had many opinions that could said as such, he sided with McCain. He blamed Danny for not visiting more often. He was the one with the more civilian job after all. If also anything, he missed his "sister". Coda had been about three days older than him, hatched as an Eevee and spending most of the time in the Thorpe Diner with the Treeko that had been Hops.

Maybe the reason she and Danny never entertained kids was because they had two already in the form of a Grovyle and a Jolteon.

It definitely wasn't because of work.

"I'll- Yeah. I'll just tell him that I came here to surprise him." It was a weak excuse, and Hops talked down on her because of it. "We're both shitty at this long distance marriage thing, alright? Don't blame him more than me."

Just like the marriage counselor said in their session (It was more a conference call).

Hops growled, one eye squinted at her. "He doesn't call because he works overtime. Important stuff, alright? Just like the Master Ball."

She was only like this, guard down, obviously out of her element, with Hops. He knew her tics, her weaknesses, her failures. He owed it to her to call her out on it.

"Reminds me..." Her Ranger Styler was held in her hand like a walkie talkie as she drew it, the speed dial to her Operator pressed down. Even Rangers worked on Christmas, not just her. "Operator here. Go for ID."

"Ranger McCain, authenticate three-four foxtrot charlie."

"One moment… Authenticated. Patching you through to Mister Andrade. Merry Christmas!"

She was Jewish. Not practicing, but her family observed enough to not to account for Christmas. Nowadays she was too busy to celebrate Christmas, as much as she considered it.

She heard a grumble, the tale of a man who had been taking his sweet time as coffee on the other end was sipped at. McCain could only remember the time he had done that routine while she was being attacked by Hyper Beams and Hydro Pumps from irate Gyrados. In honesty she had like Andrade as her operator, but there was certain times his laid-back "I can't be a field Ranger anymore so I'm just an Operator now" schtick was a tad annoying for someone her age and speed.

"I was wondering where Lunick sent you last night, Janie." He teased in a way only a father could. He had two children, and he made it a habit whenever she stopped by HQ to talk to her about them and his family. She appreciated it, gave her perspective and thoughts that stewed in her own head sometimes.

"Merry Christmas, Andrade. Any updates for me?"

The shuffling of papers. "Your marriage counselor called. If you want to go past the first session, you're gonna have to pay up." Hops held in a laugh as she kicked dirt in his direction.

She had hoped he hadn't said that out loud or that the rest of HQ's operators had been at home, skipping work. It made her cringe, half because it was intensely private and the other half because she was in part ashamed.

When the love of her life was a region away, and she was a cop and he a top researcher for Silph, times to catch up were few and far between. They both had good jobs that turned into careers. Then again it had been only McCain's whose path that put her at risk of death or gross injury… that and she was the one that moved away in the first place.

She felt the pressure on her forearm again as Hops walked off a distance to probably take a leak. He knew she needed her privacy as she let out a groan she didn't know she was holding. He would give her more of a hard time later, hopefully with Danny in the room. "Anything else Chigurh?"

"Let's see… Uh, Solana left a message, invited you to take a few months off and spend it at the Ranger School. Apparently, they want to train more recruits on how to handle uh, deadly weapons."

Her influence followed her it seemed, and she damned not throwing away her gun in the same breath she threw away her badge. "Tell her I'll get back to her on that, but say it in a sorta mean, stand-offish way."

"Roger dodger. Any updates for me?"

Where could she start? "I'm working this Christmas, probably into New Years. I'm in Kanto, actually."

"Ooo. Look at you, moving up in the world. You get the writ of passage when I wasn't looking?"

She grit her teeth. "Uh, not exactly. I'm on a murder case. Jointly handled. Kanto PDs, Indigo League, and who else knows. I'm on op sec right now so I can't discuss, but I'll type up next time I'm on an encrypted line, that is if Lunick isn't already on top of the paper work."

"Murder? Christ. Man or Pokémon?"

There was no stalling. She had done this talk a handful of times before and it never got easier. "One of ours, Chigurh."

There was a pause, a coffee cup in the background was set down. "Fuck."

"Yeah. Is Gruber in?"

Realization. "Aw god dammit. Was it Parker? I told Gruber to call him every single day whenever he went off on these cases abroad but- God dammit."

"He have family?" Of course he did. McCain felt foolish asking. His family had been in six Pokémon that were both evidence and witnesses.

"I'll ask but- Jesus Christ McCain, you know what you're getting into out there?"

"I do." She pulled out her pistol again, taking count of her ammo as she depressed the magazine release and counted bullets. She had three mags on her. Two sat in her back-left jean pocket. 10 rounds per mag. She carried always. No reason not to, and the amount of times where she had to use it as a Ranger she could count on one hand. She kept up her practice, but she practiced more with her Styler now. No matter the case, this gun had drawn blood, taken lives before. It was ready. Was she though? She couldn't answer it to herself, but she answered her operator. "I can handle it, Andrade. Just put me on the clock. I've got leads and I'm following."

"Alright then, I'll play this right, by the book. Where you going Janie? For the record."

She heard the chopper powering up in the distance, the clouds forming up top spoke of snow that was just a little late for Christmas Eve's Day. There was a new nip in the air though, and it hadn't been of the cold. No colder had the air been on her flesh save for the warmth of the gold ring on her ring finger. It was encrusted, not with jewels, but with stone. It had been the coated with a Fire Stone. It was his idea, and she had loved it more than she had words to describe.

She loved him, and it hurt her with their situation.

"I'm going to see my husband."

December 24th

2:16 PM, Kanto-Johto Standard Time

A young man stands in the shadow of where his legacy began. Faintly, he heard Christmas music. Twenty years old and the way he stood was heavy, burdened with life by the slump of his shoulders and the scowl on his face.

Frosted windows panes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the tree. It was Christmas, and families, couples, walked about him as he stood in the shadow of a jewelry store right across from the Silph Co. Tower. He showed up early. About six hours early.

Bundled up in a heavy field jacket and a scarf, gifted to him by a girl he loved, taught him how to love, it was white with red stripes. Just like most of her clothing. Her favorite color combination and people had mistaken him for a candy cane. The fact he had blood red hair didn't help as frost chilled his breath.

He could take the cold though. He could take anything. What was going to happen meant everything to him. There was no other way.

The pain he felt now by standing in that cold was only a fraction of the pain he could imagine one of his closest, oldest friend had felt. For that, he would deal with anything, and do everything. For his sake.

He had overcome everything his life had given him, turned out a better man because of it, but in the end the old demons had to be confronted. The tower that shadowed over him, one hundred stories tall and the peak of that city's skyline, it hadn't been the place was business was conducted at the cutting edge of technology. At least, not to him: to him, this building was a monument to the failures of his father.

The reason why he was here, it had been complicated, but he couldn't help but feel compelled that, by taking it on now, he could forever overcome his past.

A vibration in his pocket. His burner phone rung. He answered.


"The last of my men have regrouped. The operation is go. You better show up or we're coming for you next."

Humph. "I'm already there. You better come through."

"I wouldn't miss this for the world."