"I wish the Unovan Field Operations were half as glamorous as it's made out to be," Thomas said through a frozen grin. He waved to all the recruits, most of whom stared back with starry eyes.
"Oh, it was made out to be glamorous? I must have missed that memo," Lenore hissed back. She wasn't even trying to smile.
"At least we're on training duty for the month." The organization was being exceedingly kind to the couple after their loss earlier in the year. That meant just about everything but active duty. Right then they were on loan from the UFOs to a general training facility; less than half of the teenagers they were looking at would actually join the organization. Probably most would head to the police or private sector. Lenore would have rather been elbow-deep in pokémon guts if it meant she could do something again rather than sit and stew. But it was training, so maybe one of the kids would give her that opportunity soon enough.
With their record, they should have just been given the extra time off if they wanted to waste their time.
A gun went off. There were two yelps, one bird squawk, and four panicked elgyem who teleported their new handlers completely out of the situation.
"Can we train the new-new recruits instead? They're smaller, and cuter, and haven't had weapons training yet," Lenore asked.
"All UFO recruits, return your elgyem!" another instructor shouted. There were several flashes as pokémon disappeared out of the crowd. It didn't seem like there were that many of them in that class.
"That's now how the medic is supposed to act. I think someone might be bleeding," Thomas shot back as one of the other instructors rushed over to make sure everyone was okay. "We're not doing a very good job at making these kids want to join the UFOs, are we?" He still didn't move to help anyone, but did take off his goggles, and hung them around his neck while he rubbed at his eyes.
"Contacts bothering you?"
"If we're not in the field, we shouldn't have to be in full uniform. Let's start a petition."
A young woman and her elgyem teleported back into the building, onto the stage right behind the couple. Several of the nearer recruits jumped at her sudden reappearance. "Are you bleeding?" Lenore asked archly.
The girl blinked her mismatched eyes, then shook her head quickly. "No ma'am!" She then saluted. Lenore had to turn away while she rolled her eyes. The young woman then jumped off the stage just as a darker-haired girl of the same age came running through the crowd.
"You took my elgyem!" she accused as the psychic pokémon launched itself at her.
"You pushed me into it!"
"How many more do you think we're missing? I hadn't thought to put locks on any of the kids yet, so we might have to hope they can make it back on their own," Thomas wondered aloud.
"Delgado, off! Return your elgyem and get over here!" one of the instructors howled as the girls got into a fistfight.
A pair of boys returned next, one clinging to the other tightly. The elgyem attached to his pant leg seemed to be his own, at least. The taller of them tried to pull himself away, to no avail. "Stop dragging me places with that dumb thing!"
"Why do they even train everyone together?" Lenore asked flatly.
"I think it has to do with costs and the military not liking the organization."
"Well maybe if they didn't let Leland handle—"
"Come on, Nora, be nice. We're supposed to enjoy our month of babysitting."
"Pershing, return the elgyem! Back in line! And Delgado, I am not warning you again!"
"I'd rather be dead," Lenore said flatly. Thomas took her hand and squeezed it. She returned the move, but it didn't help her mood.
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Ree Majors' Wonderful Journey Of Saying Goodbye
"So, when exactly were you planning on telling me about this little idea of yours?" Ree asked.
Maya fidgeted under her gaze. "Um... When I hit Opelucid?"
"And why did you decide to join the UFOs? You already have eight badges, is Victory Road that tough? Become a champion and you'd be set!"
"It is hard," she grumbled. Ree raised an eyebrow. "I wanna see you in—awhile and see how you like traversing Victory Road. But it's not just that, anyway."
"Then what is it? Did Allen's glamorous chest wound or Lenore's sad story inspire you to throw your life away?"
"Throw my life away?! Is that what you think they're doing?" Maya demanded. Before Ree could backpedal, she got up in her face and jabbed her finger into her sternum. "You get a lot of perks from hanging around with them, privileges you're not even aware of, and now you're saying it's a waste?"
"That's not what I meant. Allen is—he's built for this sort of thing. And, anyway, Lenore left that life behind for a reason!"
"She still signed up to begin with."
"So she had a good reason. That's what I'm asking you! What's your good reason?"
The anger left her frame and her shoulders sagged. Maya folded her arms and turned from her sister. "...I stand a better chance at getting Edgar back this way. Field operatives have some power, not in the way regular trainers, even strong trainers, get. Legitimate power. Power to look up names in databases and teleport across a country to find someone."
"That..." It hadn't occurred to her that Maya was operating with less information than she was. But why should she? Ree had gotten the name from Maria—from a UFO. Lenore, with her own connections, confirmed it. Maya had been working on her own. But now, admitting she knew was admitting she had been (accidentally) withholding information. "That's kind of a shitty reason for signing up with a military branch."
"They're more like the police, anyway."
"I can track down the man who killed Bo and took Edgar. I can avenge him and get my other pokémon back. You've done far worse for far less, Ree."
"Never anything long-term!"
"You have tried to join the military."
"But I never succeeded! That's the difference between us. You actually succeed at shit."
"This isn't some whim I came up with just now. I've been thinking about it for awhile, even if I didn't talk about it with you. This is my life, and it's my decision. While I value your input, it's still ultimately mine to make."
That was so tactful and diplomatic of her. It made Ree all the more frustrated with her. "What if I helped you track this guy down? You know, if you join them, and you manage to find him, they're not gonna let you—"
"Not gonna let me what, murder this guy in cold blood? That's not what I want, Ree! I just—I want Edgar back! First and foremost, I want my pokémon back, beyond anything else." She scrubbed at her eyes, which were red but dry. "My team is—I think we can almost recover from this if I can just get him back. But I can't be down two of my powerhouses, and it's driving me up a wall. Every little fun battle we get in here? Nearly sends me into a panic attack because most of my strategies are shot. Yeah, I can power through things, and I can rely on the rest of my team to... The rest of my team. The rest. That's why I need to do this, Ree. For the rest of my team."
Maya turned and ran from her. Ree didn't follow her. She sunk down where she stood, pulling on her hair, torn between understanding her sister and not wanting her to end up like Allen or Lenore. Injured and betrayed, or bitter and widowed. She'd probably be good at being a UFO, too. She was a great battler and worked well with others, once she got past the shock of seeing cute guys. But Ree couldn't even use that against her. Guys in uniform were probably a big factor on why she was joining up with them instead of anything else.
But she only had four pokémon. As she'd said, two of her strongest were gone. It'd be months before they partnered her with an elgyem, and those weren't meant to be battling pokémon. Who knew when she'd be able to get Edgar back.
She'd let her sister cool off, and she'd try to do the same. She still had two more lessons to go to. She had to explain the situation to Hiranna, but the woman took it in stride. Ree had to wonder if she was ever fazed. She got to shoot again, however, which let her burn off her tension in probably the second most wonderful way she knew. She made a mental note to stop in at ranges in the future when she was mad and just shoot. Like video games, only better. The force of the recoil, the ringing in her ears, the smell of the guns, she could really get used to it all.
She had never given much thought to actually owning a gun before. Gun laws were incredibly strict, and she didn't exactly have the patience to sit around and wait for paperwork to go through. She probably had to undergo more training to open carry, too. Or would concealed be easier? She didn't know much about the legality of it all, and she was too intimidated to ask Hiranna.
"Are you gonna tell me what the catch is? I know Allen set up some kind of negative to this."
"I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about."
The rest of the lesson was about disarming armed people. Guns were really only effective in certain circumstances, and she'd likely just come up against people with handguns, so that was what they focused on. Ree only daydreamed a little about parachuting in to disarm a sniper to save a politician. Or a gym leader (except Elesa). Or Scott. And then they'd smooch, and get back together, and her shirt would be artfully torn from a prior fight, and he'd—
"So was the operative in charge of keeping you focused, or is it a coincidence that you're only now making kissing faces at the glass?" Hiranna interrupted.
"I... really like glass, okay?"
"Please stay focused while you're here. This is important."
She'd already lost Scott, and now she was about to lose Maya, too. That alone didn't cause her as much terror as she would have thought. She'd been training without her sister before, and she could survive again afterwards. Maya putting herself in danger and making a big move for her future were more worrying. Especially with only four pokémon. The badges were a status symbol. A great one, but something that wouldn't keep her afloat in battling forever.
Just like her badge from Elesa. Yes, she'd beaten her, and she had badges past it. But she wouldn't be able to replicate it. Not without Mitzi, even if she had Unika now. Well, okay, maybe the tynamo could help with the damned emolga, but the fact of the matter was that Ree knew that badges didn't necessarily equal current strength. Once push came to shove, she wasn't sure how Maya could hold up.
Maybe she'll be disqualified from joining, Ree thought, not without a little hope. Eight badges looked great on paper, but once they battle-tested her, they'd see the discrepancy. And that made her feel like an asshole. She was hoping that her little sister's crippled team would stop her from pursuing a way to regain a lost teammate.
Maya wasn't in the wrong. She knew that. She just had to accept it.
"What if they disqualify you?" was the first words out of her mouth when her sister finally returned that evening. Ree wrinkled her nose at her disheveled appearance. She smelled like too much body spray, vanilla and something flowery, clearly to cover up other things. "Fuck, Maya, come on. Really?"
"Yeah, I did. And they won't disqualify me, I have eight badges."
"If they test you in a battle..."
"Which they will," Maya pointed out as she unzipped her boots. She hefted one, like she was debating throwing it at Ree's head. "I'm not completely up to snuff, but it doesn't mean I'm weak. And you forget, they accept other people, too. They'll accept way weaker trainers than me and just put them through extra team training."
"But they'll notice the discrepancy in your reported strength and actual strength. They might get suspicious."
"Then I'll tell them the truth. I'm sure I'm not the only one to join up in search of someone. And it's not like losing pokémon is the rarest thing on the planet, either. Teams change all the time."
"How..." It probably wasn't the amount of pokémon she had, but the strength of the team. But it wouldn't hurt. "How strong do you think you have to be to skip the team training bit?"
"I'm sure there's some no matter what, just to iron out the kinks with anyone. But I don't know the exact methods or anything. I was just hoping to hit them hard and fast and cross my fingers."
"I know the strategy well," she agreed, heart still heavy. "...Tomorrow's my last day of gun training."
"I know, that's why I haven't left yet. I'm really curious about the catch, too." Maya sat on the edge of the bed next to her, and looked down at Lala and Whippy, who were nestled up together under Ree's arm.
She released her own pokémon, and immediately the whimsicott leapt out from under the servine, upending him with a squeal on his part. "Scott!" Lala declared, throwing herself at Talia and nuzzling into her neck. The lilligant wrapped her arms around her and made a contented humming sound.
"That's gonna be heartbreaking tomorrow," Maya said and sighed.
Ree eyed them. "...Yeah." She knew she'd see her sister again, whenever she got breaks or went on leave. ...On leave. She's actually serious about doing this. "Maya—"
She cut her off by shoving a stapled packet of papers in her face. She reeled back so she could properly read them. UFO enlistment paperwork. Filled out. With a stamp on top saying 'CONFIRMED'.
"Filled it out today and I'm leaving the day after tomorrow. I'm at least locked into testing and more paperwork. Does that show you how serious I am?"
"Maya, if I were that serious about stopping you, I'd just tell mom and dad," Ree quietly told her.
She didn't have anything to say to that.
"On that note, I am not the one telling them," she added.
"You're keeping a secret pregnancy from them, so I think I get to keep a secret enlistment from them."
"Mine has an expiration date. Yours is... longer."
"Just five years for the first enlistment. And there are ways to get out if I absolutely have to. It's not like they'll take me out behind the barn and shoot me if I want to leave." Maya flopped back onto the bed, narrowly missing the grass girlfriends, and they hopped onto her chest for snuggle time.
Just five years. Right. Ree could hardly think ahead five months, much less five years into the future. Whippy looked up at his trainer with big, hopeful eyes, and she caved in and laid down so he could snuggle up on her, too. She wrapped her arms around her starter and resisted the urge to sigh. What had caused her life to head in such strange directions?
"Would you want to do this if it weren't for Edgar?"
"...I'm not sure. It's not as if I haven't thought about it before. I like the idea of doing something for other people. Doing escorts for the government or stuff like that, it's sort of neat at first, but all of the shadiness surrounding it is gross. Something legitimate would be nice. Legitimate and not for myself."
"There's nothing wrong with doing something for yourself," Ree pointed out darkly.
"No, there's not," Maya granted. "And maybe that's why I'm doing this now, rather than later. It's for myself now. Before I guess I thought I'd become a champion, be a minor celebrity for awhile, and then join up with something like the UFOs and jump straight into the high ranks. I figured earning badges could be a shortcut to anything I wanted later in life."
"It can be. And at least you were thinking about the future."
"Let's change the subject?"
"Depends what to."
"Wanna place bets on what you think the catch is on this gun training?"
"If I had any solid guesses, I would've accused him of it already. I'm getting the training, Maya. You can't do take-backs on knowledge. And now, without him here, I'm still getting it. So whatever it is, he doesn't have to police it or see through."
"And the lady in on it doesn't seem in on it?"
"No, the woman's like a block of granite. If it's something joke-y, she wouldn't play along. She admits it's unorthodox, but that's it."
"Your pokémon haven't caught onto anything? No guesses from them?"
"I... haven't really asked them. But I don't know what they could figure out that I couldn't." She looked down at the servine sitting on her chest. "Any guesses, mister?"
"Thought not. Any guesses on when you'll evolve again?" she asked. She missed how her sister stiffened.
"Whimsi-scott!" Lala exclaimed, pulling her face away from Talia.
"Talia thinks it's not a trick."
"And that's the trick."
"I wish I could understand them as well as you can," Ree groaned.
"You're doing very well already. And some people are better with some pokémon than others. I think it's why I'm so drawn to grass pokémon. Isn't that right, girls?" Maya cooed and buried her face in fluff and leaves.
Ree privately wondered if practicing with Maya's team helped her with her own. Especially Bo; she could understand Whippy fairly well considering how hard it was to read his expressions sometimes. And she was no stranger to pidove, even if Harper had outgrown that. Lala and Unika were the harder ones to understand, and maybe that just boiled down to inexperience. The thought was a little reassuring.
"Could you imagine being born as one of those people who understands all pokémon? Or have a talking pokémon?"
"Says the girl with—who had a psychic."
"Edgar only translated himself and other pokémon sometimes. He was sort of a brat. And that, too, depends on the pokémon and their skill level. He could never really translate dark pokémon, even if he tried..."
"Maybe you should be a pokémon researcher, with this fount of knowledge you got goin' on," she said dryly.
"You're telling me you haven't learned about pokémon things in the course of your journey?"
"I learned that servine can eat fine with three fangs."
"Ree, what did you do to him?!" Maya rolled over, accidentally rolling on top of the two grass pokémon, and shoved her fingers in Whippy's mouth to expose his teeth and gums. He squirmed and whined, but didn't try to bite or claw her. "How did that happen?!"
"He got a cavity! And don't look at me, I was unaware of it. Look at the fluff monster you're laying on."
"You let her do this?"
"It was her idea, then one of Harry's pokémon helped her with it. He hasn't really seemed to mind it since then, and he's been mostly remembering to brush." He'd been remembering when she'd remind him, anyway.
"You... have him brushing his teeth? With a toothbrush?"
"Yeah, Lala and sort of Harper too. Harper doesn't have teeth, but it's all or nothing. We haven't been doing it much since Uni joined up, and I have no idea how we're gonna get that started. Might have to wait until she evolves. Don't they grow arms?"
"Looks like you still have plenty to learn," Maya grumbled. She flicked spit off her fingers as Whippy poked his tongue out at her.
"You do, too. ...Have fun in training, Maya."
"Not leaving for another two days."
"I just wanted to tell you that."
"...Thank you, Ree. It means a lot."
"Still won't field with mom and dad for you, though."
Ree completed her gun safety lessons. Her pokémon were used to the sound and sight of guns, she knew roughly the pieces and make-up of common types of handguns, and she knew how to get guns out of people's hands (and some pokémon, too). Unofficially, she also knew how to lethally shoot humans and several types of pokémon, and her aim wasn't too bad, either. She'd have killed to get the chance to shoot a shotgun, but they didn't encourage that in shooting ranges, apparently, and most definitely not for her. She'd just jump into the gun range in the next town she visited. No big deal.
"Did you even know what the catch was Allen had?" Ree asked as she packed up her things. She felt oddly proud of herself. Not that the lessons were difficult, but she got them done, and without her quasi-military guardian breathing down her neck. She was safer. Probably.
Hiranna rolled a pokéball back and forth on her thigh. "I believe so."
"...Are you gonna tell me? It's really a moot point now."
"It is," she agreed.
"So, are you gonna? Pretty please? I was a stellar student, I at least get that much."
"You didn't hear it from me, then."
She stood up and hooked the pokéball onto her belt. Ree handed over the goggles and protective earmuffs, eager to see what it was. Even if she wouldn't like it, at least she'd know. And without Allen around, she could go off and get a new Sophia, anyway.
Hiranna led her, for the last time, down the hallway and back out into the entryway. Ree looked around. "Okay, so... tell me? And aren't I supposed to get some sort of certificate or something?"
"No, you won't."
"What—that's the catch, isn't it."
"Yes. This was all unofficial. You'll have to go through the same regimen again in some other city if you'd like the government to recognize your training." So it was a hassle and a stalling method. Not as bad as it could have been. Hiranna crossed her arms and continued, "Which you won't be legal for in six months."
"What?!" Ree screeched.
"You've been blacklisted. You have the baseline training in case of emergencies, but you won't be able to prove it for another half of a year."
That was some major stalling. That was well after she'd be done with the baby thing, and Allen would feasibly be out of her life, so she could understand some level of his logic. Which only infuriated her further. "Is there any way to get rid of it? What if—what if I need something in an emergency?"
The woman shrugged. "I can think of very, very few emergencies in which you personally would need a firearm. Which, by the way, won't happen for another year. You've also been blacklisted from buying guns. As I understand it, that one was more difficult for the operative to pull off. You should be proud of the lengths he goes to—"
"Son of a fuck! That little shit! I can't believe he just made me waste my week—we were in Undella, I could've been doing anything else—"
"Please have your tantrum outside. It was a pleasure training you." She didn't sound very sincere. Hiranna all but pushed her out the doors. "I hope to see your business again. In six months. Don't extend your blacklist in that time."
Ree screamed at the winter sky.
Maya found Ree in the only big Undella sports store, swinging around baseball bats to test them and generally scaring the rest of the patrons. "So, how bad was the catch? That bad?"
"I've been blacklisted."
Maya snorted and tried to hide it with her hand. Ree glowered at her.
"You, uh, didn't see that coming?" she asked.
"I didn't know it could happen. It's the training and from owning a gun."
"That's probably for the best."
"I wasn't in a rush to go off and clear out a gun store!"
"Just a sports store."
"I'm serious! I don't like guns, except in Fallout and Mass Effect and sometimes Call of Duty. It's a love-hate relationship there. I'm not going to rush out and get one, not when I know what sort of trouble they invite, and not when I know how easy it can be to disarm someone who has one. And not with all the paperwork. But still! Just! Once!" She punctuated each word with another swing of the latest bat. "I'd like to not have someone believe the worst of me! Just. Fucking. Once."
"He did it to prevent temptation, not because he thought you'd become a serial killer."
"I can handle that myself! ...Most of the time." She slumped, tears suddenly stinging at her eyes. The bat clattered to the floor. "I'm overemotional and dumb as fuck but I'm not a monster, Maya. I want someone else to believe that."
"No, no, of course you're not. You don't have to convince me of that. I'm your sister, so I already know you're dumb, but you're a good person underneath it. And a great trainer. Just be glad you have some knowledge of how to better protect your team now, yeah?" Maya said soothingly as she picked up the bat and shoved it back in the nearest rack.
"It's just not fair. I don't mean to be an asshole! I just—I want to keep people I care about safe—I don't mean to fuck up all the time—" She was actually crying, trying (and failing) to stifle sobs.
It was a little thing, she knew. Allen was trying to keep her safe, and in an ultimately passive way. But he took the choice out of her hands, because he thought she wouldn't make the right one. He didn't trust her. And Scott and her were on a break, and Kev was still mad at her, and Maya was making a huge life decision, and Tori had left, and Mitzi had died, and Harper had been shot, and—and she was sobbing and hyperventilating in the middle of a sports store.
"Are—Can I help e-either of you?" a sales associate meekly asked.
"Ah, yes, we were just wrapping this up," Maya said with a smile. "We'll take that bat there and be on our way out."
She gave the bat to Ree after it was paid for, herded her out the door, and down the sidewalk. She hugged Sophia IV to her chest and bawled. It wasn't fair, none of it was fair. And she hadn't asked for the boatload of extra emotions to make it all feel worse.
"Would a shopping trip make you feel better?" Maya asked as they made their way downtown. "We'll both have to get some new gear."
"Y-Yours will be issued to you," she accused.
"I do need a couple of things. And you need to winterize your gear. The backpack is staying, though."
The awful neon pink and orange backpack could stay. Ree noticed her coat was still a little light for the chill wind, but she had figured layering would fix the issue. An actual winter coat would probably be wiser. Maya led the way to a thrift store and Ree worked on getting the plastic off of her new bat. She didn't feel guilty in the least for getting a new Sophia immediately after her lessons finished; Allen probably knew she would have, anyway. The grip was padded, but the metal itself was already cool from the outside air. That might be an issue in the future.
The girls managed to get Ree a coat, although it was difficult to find one long enough to be worthwhile. She ducked out of getting a hat, scarf, or mittens, since Harry had more than covered that for her. But she did get some more pants, including some leggings to layer underneath jeans. She was going to miss the warm winter nights, safely inside. Not that she wouldn't spend the majority of the cold months in cities, but she had to get out of Undella. It was turning into the capital of bad memories.
Not quite as bad as Nimbasa. But close.
They hit up a couple more shops before dusk forced them back to their room for the night. When the sun set, the temperature dropped. Ree was a little shocked at how fast winter was really closing in on them. Over dinner, Maya lectured her on keeping grass pokémon safe in cold weather until she was blue in the face. She guessed that some of it applied to Harper, too, since she shared the weakness, but at least she was warm-blooded. Neither of them knew what to do with the tynamo.
But she seemed pleased that Whippy had a scarf. "Some day, I really wanna meet this knitting girl. This is seriously nice!"
"He's had the scarf for awhile, you've seen it on him."
"With how fast you rip, tear, burn, lose, and generally go through clothes, I'm surprised he's kept it this long. You could get little leg warmers for your tranquill. And maybe like... a tube for the tynamo? Didn't you say you can make stuff that holds an electric charge from mareep wool?"
They both looked over at Unika, who sparked, pleased by their sudden attention. "Ty!"
"That's an idea. I'll ask Harry about it next time I talk to her." She tried picturing Harper wearing tiny leg warmers. The mental image was hideously adorable. She had to get some. "Just make me a list, and I'll go out and get everything tomorrow before I leave town. I should have enough to grab it."
"Lala should be okay, since she has all of her fluff, but maybe mittens and booties if you're outside for long periods... Whippy, too, does need more than just his scarf. Especially if he'll be walking in snow. Something for his tail—you can kind of curl the leafy part up, but make sure you unwrap it from time to time so he can get some sunlight—and maybe something for his hands."
"He'll be evolving soon enough, which is why I haven't wanted to get a shitton of stuff for him. Harper, how much bigger are you gonna get?" She knew how big serperior were, but she didn't know much about what her bird would end up as.
Evidently, neither did Harper. She rustled her wings in a bird approximation of a shrug.
"I've seen unfezant, and they're pretty big. Like, this big." Maya held her arms out, far enough that Ree had trouble believing her. Harper as a tranquill was already large. The two exchanged a look. Unika zoomed back and forth between Maya's hands, squealing excitedly at the size.
"I guess that'll be a bridge I cross when I get there. Until then, itty bitty leg warmers. And booties for all." Ree sat down and watched as Talia tried to wrap Lala up in one of Maya's scarves. The brown and green stripes really worked for her. "...Are we going to talk about the main issue tomorrow?"
Ree and Maya had been separated often enough that they knew their goodbye wouldn't go terribly. Sad, and there would probably be tears, but it was nothing new to them. Lilith might shed some tears for Ree, and Unika may or may not miss her new playmates. But then there was Lala and Talia.
Either they were not as sharp as the girls thought (unlikely), they had very selective hearing (maybe), or they were deep, deep in denial (likely). Ree knew Lala was clever. She had to know there was a time limit on her relations with Talia. And the lilligant seemed smart, too, although admittedly she didn't know very much about her. She'd always kept to herself during Maya's visits home.
The way Lala peered at Ree out of the corner of her eye tipped her off. Oh yes, they knew. They knew and they were just ignoring the problem. That might work for Talia, who would probably just say her goodbyes loudly and sorrowfully but ultimately gracefully, but Lala... She was more devious than that. Devious and sly and even cruel at times. Not that Ree was worried about her safety, but she was worried for what Lala was planning. There was no way she wasn't planning something.
But she was zero for one on figuring out others' tricks lately.
Then again, she was motherfucking Ree Adelaide Majors. She was known for many things; she was loyal to her sister, pretty tricky herself, unpredictable to any outside viewers, and above all else, impulsive. On some deep, base level, she'd known for awhile that it was probably coming. Maya was going to leave. As Ree exchanged a cool look with Lala, she wondered if she was as difficult to read as she hoped. Or maybe it'd be easier if she were readable. She wasn't built for loud, messy emotions. They overtaxed her. But she supposed they'd find out tomorrow morning.
Sleep was difficult that night, but when it came, it was blessedly heavy. Ree didn't stir again until Whippy smacked her in the face with his tail.
"I've been trying to wake you for twenty minutes!" Maya cried in exasperation. "Good job, Whippy."
"I know she wouldn't."
"You can understand him?" Ree sleepily demanded.
"Not perfectly, but I, well, did have a servine, even if it was a couple years ago now."
Curse her dumb, tired self. Rubbing at her face to make sure she wouldn't bruise, she scooped up Whippy with her other arm. He was getting bigger, as a servine. That wasn't something she had necessarily counted on. "D-Day, huh?"
"Yeah. I'm mostly packed. I was just hoping you could come down to breakfast with me."
"Let me put on pants."
She ended up putting on pajama pants to go down to the cafeteria, but that early, she was far from the only one. Lala and Talia were inseparable, all but sitting on each other, and Maya ended up having to bring them a plate of food to share to ensure they were fed. Ree had to (again) fish Whippy out of the chocolate chip pancake dish at the buffet bar.
Maya's pokémon were all fairly awake, considering the time. They probably would've gotten used to it, she supposed, and for awhile, she had been doing pretty good, too. But sleep schedules were easy to mess up. Harper was still dozing lightly, head halfway tucked under her wing, and Unika was nestled up beside her, snoring. Whippy was well on his way to a sugar high and Lala seemed decently conscious, if she leaned a little heavily on the lilligant beside her.
Ree looked at the grass pair across the table from her. Evaluating. She imagined Lala gave her similar looks when she wasn't making sad lovestruck faces at Talia.
"Aren't you going to eat anything?" Maya asked as Ree rolled around the same hard-boiled egg yolk she'd started with.
"I could ask you the same. You've snuck all your food to Mordecai, and unsubtly at that." The sawsbuck snorted and flicked his ears back, but didn't look at all embarrassed at being called out.
Maya shrugged. "I don't want to get sick, and I guess I'm nervous. Should I be nervous? Not that I regret this! I just..." She ran a hand over her face and dropped her voice into a whisper. "What if the officer who escorts me is really cute. What if I lose it, Ree. What if I turn into an awkward mess?"
"Right. That's what you're worried about."
"Legitimate, but still kinda silly." Her little sister glowered at her, but Ree just gestured vaguely with her fork, not at all intimidated. "Okay, so you babble and apologize too much when you are approached by a hot guy. But it wears off, we both know. And it vanishes instantly when you're in a battle. So think of whoever picks you up as your next challenger."
"That probably won't work."
"Won't hurt to try. Don't know what else to tell you this early in the morning, kid." It felt incredibly weird, calling her 'kid' when she was about to enlist in a semi-military organization. Or was it more like the police, or rangers? She had to do more research, especially for when her parents would inevitably call to scream in her ear about how she let Maya do it.
"My team is still... I'm nervous about battling, too. I'm not sure it'll work as a distraction," she confessed.
Ree's heart clenched. Right. "...Your team is pretty awesome, anyway."
"Y-Yeah, I guess so. I'll just keep my mind on coming up with different strategies. Mordecai is still a pretty heavy hitter, and Talia's always been good for support, but I don't even know what kind of battles they'll test me in, and I'm not used to asking Lilith to solo. Mordecai and Zara, probably, but Lilith isn't made for longer battles and Talia is a little..." Maya trailed off and sniffed.
"You'll do fine."
"Probably, yeah. Just nerves. I need coffee."
"Yeah, caffeine will definitely help your nerves."
Maya gave her another sharp look as she went to fetch her drink. With her gone, Ree looked over her team. Four pokémon. Good pokémon, true, but unbalanced, and not just because she specialized in grass pokémon. Mordecai had to be the new tank, Lilith was a bit of a glass cannon, Zara was middle-ground, and Talia was support. None of them were particularly fast, and grass had a lot of weaknesses to dodge.
She came back with her drink, declared breakfast over, and they went upstairs to finish packing. Ree still had shopping to do, and Maya added to her list, and then tried to give her money. Ree wouldn't take it, despite all of Maya's pleas. She even tried to give it to Whippy. "He'll just eat it."
"Then it'll be your waste."
She had to snatch the wad of bills from her servine to prevent just that. They fought the entire way down and out to the police station, where Maya would be picked up. Ree stuffed money back in any pocket she could reach on Maya's coat and bag, whereas Maya kept shoving bills at her pokémon. Lala's fluff became a very expensive hiding spot.
"It's ten 'til. We should... probably get to it."
Talia threw herself at Lala with a snotty, wet sob. So much for grace.
"Oh, jeez," Maya said and gave a little sniffle herself. She stepped up and wrapped her arms around Ree in a solid, full-body hug. She was going to miss the nice hugs. "You take care of yourself, and of them, and of your baby. I swear, Ree, play it smart and you can do this. I know you can. Don't take stupid risks, and try to get someone to take care of Skyla or Brycen for you. G-Get winter clothes, and I'll try to write you letters to pick up in pokémon centers, oh, it'll be like a scavenger hunt..."
"You take care of yourself in training or basic or whatever it's called. And you give 'em hell for me, okay? I know I'll do fine, but it's you I'm worried about," Ree murmured into her curly hair. Maya nodded into her shoulder.
They separated, though Maya kept her hands on her shoulders, holding her at arm's length. "Field for me with mom and dad as long as you can. I don't care what level of bullshit that entails."
She couldn't help but grin. "Shit, that's a lot of freedom. You sure?"
"Yes. Set phasers on maximum BS. And I'll keep this secret of yours so long as you stay smart about it, okay? The second you get into an emergency or serious trouble, and I'm pulling out all the stops to help you."
"I guess that's fair."
It was remarkably similar to their usual goodbyes when Maya would go out training, even with the added weight of the pregnancy and enlistment. It was Lala and Talia who made things different. They were still laying on the ground, using the whimsicott's fluff as a pillow. Unika seemed to want to join them, but Harper kept a wing around her (in spite of the static) to give them their time together.
There was one long, steeling moment that seemed to stretch out forever. Then, Ree pulled the pokéball from her pocket and pressed it into Maya's hands.
"What is—oh my god. No, Ree."
"She's fast, and she's probably my strongest battler. It'll be better than starting over from scratch," Ree said quickly, trying to get it over with before she could dwell on it further. Talia slowly raised her face from Lala's ruff and they both stared at the tall girl.
"I told you to stop giving me pokémon," Maya said sadly.
"You think I could break up those two so soon after me and Scott?" Ree said, unleashing her strongest weapon. Her sister crumbled before her. "I've given this some thought. Don't worry about me. She'll stay nice and warm with you in the barracks or whatever, and she's a decent pillow, too, which I know you'll be missing. And she's smart, she's so smart, she'll work in your team great, I know it."
"What about your team?"
"I can't deal with it all grass-heavy like you could," she said and put up a braver front than she felt. "You said it yourself, I couldn't really use her for Skyla or Brycen, and I'm gonna catch a new pokémon soon, anyway. I'll send you pictures of whatever it ends up being right away."
"What about your team," Maya repeated, some strength coming back into her voice.
"I... They've always bickered, so maybe this was for the best?" That part would be hardest to articulate. It wasn't that Ree disliked Lala—she loved the fluff-ball dearly, despite her mischievous ways—but in a lot of ways, she didn't click. She still had issues understanding here, whereas she'd picked up on Whippy and Harper much faster, and she fought with the others sometimes a little too fiercely for Ree to feel entirely comfortable.
She'd miss her. So much. It wouldn't be like Mitzi, since they'd see her again and she'd be alive and gleefully causing mayhem elsewhere, but it would be another gap in the team. But she was serious about catching another pokémon, and if she wanted to use her winter break wisely, she had to think about balancing out her team.
Maya could handle her better, anyway. She was experienced, even if Lala was headstrong, and she had Talia to help her. And Ree really, really couldn't stand to think about those two moping and pining for each other, only visiting each other every few months, if they were lucky. It did remind her a little too much of her and Scott, but not as much as she wanted Maya to believe.
"Hey, she was named after your doll, too. Maybe it was fate," Ree added and shrugged.
"This is the last pokémon you're ever giving me. It's a bad habit of yours," Maya grumbled and hugged her again. It was telling that she didn't put up more of a fight. Maybe she was worried about getting there on time, or about breaking them up, or maybe she really did need the help for her team.
"I have lots of those. But okay."
"...Thank you, Ree. But still—stay safe and smart out there. And get winter gear for the rest of your pokémon, unless you plan on foisting them all upon me."
"No, probably not today. I'm all tapped out for altruism."
"I'm not a charity case," Maya said and punched her in the shoulder.
"No, you're going to be late for UFO enlistment. Have fun with—" Ree suddenly staggered; three grass pokémon pelted at her with their full weight. She did a double-take, then squinted down at Lilith's added force. Talia was full-on crying (still not gracefully), Lilith was squealing and wanting to be picked up, and Lala was hiding her face in her pant leg.
She couldn't hold all three of them. But she tried. Maya stopped them from falling over when Whippy jealously decided he needed in on it, and they ended up sitting on the cold concrete in a pile. Ree probably didn't cry. She was pretty sure Lala didn't. They clung to each other, silently, with the other grass pokémon swarming over them both.
It felt like no time at all had passed when she gently detached Lala from her coat. "Come on, you're with Maya now."
"Scott." She looked up at her, gratitude shining in her eyes. "Whimsi-cott."
"Still barely understand you. But I'll see you again. Have fun with Talia and have fun with Maya being the one to police you two."
"Are you Maya Majors?" The girls and pokémon jumped when a man broke into their conversation. Maya, already reddening, nodded. "I'm sorry, but we should get going. We were meeting inside."
"A-Ah, yes, sorry! Sorry, I knew that, I was just... I'll get going now," she replied meekly. He nodded and disappeared back inside the station. She extended a hand down to Ree. "I gotta get going, sorry."
"Don't apologize to me. Or him, for that matter, or anyone. You gotta go and kick ass now. Don't apologize for that."
"It's a habit," she mumbled.
"I'll break my habit when you break yours."
"That's a deal, then. And you know how well you're doing with those," she said, smiling, already doing better.
One more hug, from Maya and Lala both, and then they were gone, inside the building. The November air felt colder without them, even if Ree knew that was stupid.
As they got to walking, her three pokémon trailing quietly behind her, Ree startled them by bursting out laughing. "T-Tranquill?!" Harper asked in concern.
"Maya forgot she shoved all the money she was trying to smuggle with me in Lala's fluff," she explained and laughed harder. She was laughing so hard she was crying. Surely it was that.
Next Chapter: That happened, and now Ree has to live with it. How will the rest of the team handle it? And how will all of them handle it when someone new breaks into their lives, so soon after Lala's departure? Whippy learns how hard it is to shoulder the role of the protector, the hunter, and the strongest, whereas Harper has to deal with the emotional fallout of Ree's decision and Unika's adjustment to being out in the wilderness again. They both have their work cut out for them, but someone's gotta be the responsible one on the team...