Like any good story, reports of Ree and Scott's first date varied depending on who was the one telling it. It was a cool day in November, sunny, and they went out to eat and then went for a walk afterwards to continue talking. That was about all they could agree on.
Scott had worn his aviators. Ree had been initially impressed, but had to confess that he did look a little tryhard with them on. (He had worn them for the sunlight, yes, but also so she wouldn't see him staring down her neckline or at the way her hair curled over her ears.)
Ree had dressed up. Scott had thought she had the best legs on any girl he'd seen, and that she had quite the eye for winter fashion. (Maya had dressed her. Ree had been uncomfortable and chilled the entire time. She never wore the outfit again.)
Scott maintained that he'd ordered pizza and Ree had ordered a cheeseburger. "I remember being surprised. Usually girls don't go for that on a first date," he argued. Ree usually smacked him by that point.
Ree argued that they'd both had pasta. She had something with vegetables, and he had spaghetti. "I remember because he spilled it down the front of his shirt." And Scott usually rolled his eyes and accused that of being her, not him.
Scott said they walked around in the park, to enjoy the mild weather and sunshine.
Ree said they walked around in a mall, to stay warm and look at the Christmas decorations.
And even their own stories changed when asked what they talked about. They agreed they had walked and talked for several hours, and probably covered a variety of subjects, but neither could concretely pin down anything.
The actual story went as this:
The day had been chilly but not cold, and the sun was out, reflecting off of the bits of snow already on the ground. Scott had braided his hair and worn his aviator sunglasses and a button-down shirt. Ree had put her hair up and had been uncomfortable in a knee-length dress over a turtleneck and leggings. They had actually both ordered breakfast items and shared crepes from a stand for dessert.
They had walked through the park to get to a mall, where they found an arcade right away and spent the remainder of their date trying to one-up each other (and trash-talking so foully that they got kicked out within the hour). After that, they had tried ice skating downtown, stopped by a game store to preorder something Ree had forgotten was coming out in December, and headed back to Scott's so he could introduce her to his pokémon.
And it was nice.
Chapter Thirty-Six: Ree Majors' Wonderful Journey Of Tears and Gunfire
"Hubba hubba," Ree said with a wide, lecherous grin.
"Hanging around you is simultaneously great for my ego and going to give me nightmares," Allen said with a twitch and a nervous smile. He had his back mostly to her, but still held his shirt in front of his chest, almost shyly.
If she wasn't with Scott... Well, still probably not. "I'd rather you have nightmares about me than Maria."
"Uh, wow." He dropped the shirt and smile, instead frowning at her. There was something dark in his eyes. "I appreciate the... protectiveness? But let's not talk about that."
"Couldn't handle the mood being all sparkles and light. Although your back muscles might sparkle. Maya's pretty good around you now, but fuck—I will pay you to flex in front of her. I'm sure she'd explode on the spot."
"I hope that's not a euphemism."
"Can I pay you to flex in front of me?" she asked with a pout.
"I don't want to reward you when you're kind of being a little shit."
"I didn't get the bat."
"And I'm going to be paying for that. I meant talking about... nightmares. And Maria. I don't like you talking about either of those things," he admitted and sat down on the edge of the bed, beside her. But he didn't look at her. Up closer, she couldn't pretend it was still sparkles and light; his bandages were dirty with sweat and blood, he badly needed to shave, and he looked so tired.
"I'm sorry. I won't."
"Thank you. I know the other day... It must be tough for you, too. I mean, I guess you knew her, shit, I was the one who introduced you two," he groaned and ran a hand over his face. He kept it covering his mouth, making his following words muffled. Ree leaned in reflexively. "You knew Maria, too, and I'm sorry for discounting that, but fuck, Ree, this was mine. This was my mess and my friends and my career, not yours, s-so—"
And then he was blinking, trying to hold back the tears that were already coursing down his cheeks. Startled, Ree froze. She was not used to seeing grown men cry, least of all ones as strong as him. She reached out, placing a hand on his shoulder, but he just jerked away from her and put his back fully to her. She let him, unsure of whether to leave him or stay. She was bad with crying people, Maya aside, and that was only because she brought out her protective instincts.
"You can... You're allowed to be selfish. It can be yours," she offered. His shoulders shook a little but he remained silent. She wasn't sure if he was still crying. "I won't talk about her. I didn't really know her, and I won't dig into it. I'll forget any of it happened."
He laughed, short and rough, and said, "Goddamnit, I shouldn't ask you to do that."
"I'll do it anyway."
Grief, she knew, was weird. He had been betrayed and lost a pokémon. He'd botched an important job. And while she had been in the middle of it, it hadn't been her problem. Maya's international affairs, Kev's family problems, and Allen's old friends, and she'd just happened to be in the area when it all collided. None of it was really hers, not in the same way it was theirs.
But what was hers was Scott, and Mitzi, and her vendetta against Antoine Pollock. She didn't like it when people messed with her problems—nothing had her hackles up faster than people judging her—so she should really, really learn not to stick her nose so far into others' issues. Too bad it took making Allen cry for her to actually learn that one. It was worse than seeing Maya cry, or her father. It was some sort of twisted, gut-wrenching mixture of the two.
"I'll come back in a little bit. You, uh, need anything?" Ree asked, scrambling towards the hotel room's door.
He caught her by the hem of her shirt. He tried to smile for her, and his eyes were already dry, so there was that. Fast crier. She was inappropriately jealous. "Don't let me chase you out of your own room. Plus, you promised to help me change my bandages."
"Yeah, I noticed they're a little red." A little more respectful about others, but still generally tactless. She was okay with it.
"A little blood is normal, nothing to be worried about."
"You sure? I don't think stitches are supposed to bleed." She'd had them before, and there had been some bleeding there, but she had figured it was because of her generally reckless approach to life.
"If it's just red, I'm not worried. If it starts coming out green or yellow, then you have my permission to get Lenore and let her scream at me." After a beat, Allen added, "She used to be a field medic, you know? For the UFOs. I met her during training. ...She knew Maria, too. And Sara Grace."
"Allen, you don't have to earn the right to be the most affected by something. You went through some shit. You're gonna go through more shit if you get infected."
"Wouldn't be the first time," he drawled as she pushed him off the bed, up onto his feet, and pointed him towards the bathroom.
"You turn into a cynic when you're depressed, huh?"
"Depressed? Me? Never," he scoffed.
"Well if I'm going to be the bitch in this situation, I'm not going to half-ass it." Ree forced him to sit on the toilet and she looked at his little bag of medical things, already on the sink. "So you keep moping, I'll stay out of it, but it's my turn to show you some tough love."
"Have you ever, uh, changed bandages before?"
"I once had Whippy wrapped up for something. Did it myself. ...Can't remember what for, but he turned out fine."
"I like to imagine I'm made of pretty strong stuff—"
"Says the guy who was just crying."
"Wow, rude. Can we pretend I never showed emotion around you and you go back to being dumbstruck by my arms?"
"And your chest."
He put a hand on her shoulder, keeping him at arm's length, and fixed her with a serious look. A serious look that, combined with his disheveled appearance, mostly made him look like a cliché video game antihero. The unfair thing was that it still worked for him. "I'll show you how. You're not playing doctor with me for practice."
She tried her damnedest, but she cracked a smile at that. "Since I'm pregnant, I don't think I need too much more practice." Ah, fond memories.
"That's not what I—" Allen cut himself off with a sudden look of horror down at her belly. "Holy shit, you've had sex."
She fell back against the bathroom wall, howling with laughter. This was about twenty times better than Tori's similar realization.
He colored and scowled at her. "Don't laugh at me, you're barely eighteen! It hadn't occurred to me that you had any sort of regular sex life before this accident."
It took her a bit to regain her breath, and she choked out, "It's only four fucking months too late to be chastising me for that."
"God, did you even know how to use protection?"
"I'm a teenager with the internet and, contrary to popular belief, a brain. We were using condoms! In general. And anyway, how old were you, huh? Military-type training while a teenager, I bet you were doing all the girls between drills!"
He blushed again. Ree decided a blushing man was a vast improvement to a crying one. Not that she necessarily meant to create that distraction, but in all fairness, he brought it up first.
Wait, that was a pretty dark shade of red. "...You do like girls, right?" she asked hesitantly. She had never actually gotten an answer from him on that...
The image of a younger Allen in uniform with another guy in uniform almost did her in.
"Do we have to be having this conversation?" he asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Holy shit, yes we do. Maya's going to pop if you've been hooking up with equally hot UFOs."
"You certainly know how to change around a conversation, huh?" She nodded. Gritting his teeth, he said as fast as humanly possible, "I am not gay, but I'm not straight. I hope to Arceus above I was younger than you were the first time I had sex, and yes, it was with all the cute little soldier boys and girls. I am not giving you details. Consider this an apology for inadvertently digging into your sex life."
He didn't need to apologize for that, but what didn't know wouldn't hurt him. This time, anyway. "Can I tell Maya?"
"It's not a secret."
"So, you and that smoking guy? Nathan?"
"I am not giving you details!" he exclaimed and, amusingly, his cheeks flushed a little again.
She almost opened her mouth to ask who else. Almost. But then she remembered the two women whom Nathan had looked so distressed at seeing.
She didn't ask. She could learn from past mistakes.
"Got anyone now?" she asked instead.
"I can't help but notice a lack of bandage changing and far too much schoolgirl gossip."
"You said you were changing yourself, and don't try to make this about girls. I know for a fact dudes gossip just as bad, too," she said and threw the roll of gauze at him. He caught it after it bounced off his nose.
"Shouldn't you be calling Scott?"
"Consider this conversation emotionally bracing for me. So, eye on anyone?"
He let out the longest sigh she'd heard from him yet. "Yeah, I guess. But it's just my eye on them, it won't become anything. And I'm not telling you who because I don't want you getting into more trouble."
"Which means I know them," Ree declared.
He smacked his face against his palm. She was victorious, yet again. Allen completely avoided any personal talk from then on, but she did learn how to change bandages around someone's chest, so it wasn't a total loss. She would gladly put her hands all over him in the name of learning. Emotionally bracing.
Because even she knew she shouldn't be groping other dudes when she had a boyfriend. It wasn't as if she was without remorse for it. But she was weak, so weak, and thirsty as hell without Scott around. She could only blame part of it on her undoubtedly haywire hormones. So she felt bad about perving on Allen, and then perved on him some more in order to cheer herself up. And so the cycle continued.
Allen was the one to break it, of course. He pushed her phone into her hand, pushed her down onto the bed, and then locked her in the room. Not that she couldn't break out—she didn't think he was fully wise to her window trick yet—but she was adult enough to face her boyfriend. Totally.
Her guilt towards Scott outweighed her own fear of the conversation. She owed it to him. She owed him so much more than running out on him.
And she was trying to be a better person, wasn't she? With that resolution in mind, she dialed his number, flopped back onto the bed, and put him on speaker on the pillow beside her.
Her boyfriend picked up on the second ring. "I was wondering if you'd be calling," came his voice, with a particularly cool tone.
"I deserved that."
"...How is Maya doing?" Scott asked.
"Better, mostly. Better now that she's been out and about a little. It comes and goes, I guess... Grief, right?"
"I suppose. I'm glad someone is there for her."
"Don't use my sister to get snippy with me," Ree said, throwing her wrist across her eyes. Her other hand absently rubbed at her stomach. A definite bump there.
"You're right, she doesn't deserve that."
"Yeah, I deserve the bitchiness, but don't act like it won't piss me off. What all did your dad say?"
There was a pause on the line. "Not much," Scott said after a rustling noise. "You and Maya, traveling with two other people with a fantastic lie. Asked me a ton of questions about whether or not you got into more trouble. Have you gotten into more trouble?"
"Just the usual amount," she replied vaguely.
"So, why did you call?" Scott asked, a little meanly. They didn't fight often, and even rarer were the times when she clearly knew she was in the wrong. None of it sat well with her, but she struggled to keep her temper in check. He had a right to be miffed.
"Can't I call my boyfriend?"
"Oh, can you?"
"Cut the shit, Scottie. I know I'm fucking up right now, but you don't have to throw it back in my face."
"Don't I at least get that much?" he asked in that same light, curt tone. There was more rustling noises in the background. "It was one thing when it was just you, but now Maya? My dad? Why is it just me you're avoiding?"
"It's also my parents," she said lamely.
"Great, so I'm in the same boat as your parents."
"It's most everyone from home. That's why I left. I left instead of—"
"Instead of just having the courtesy of dumping me to my face?"
The silence was loud in her ears. "...Scott, I-I don't want to break up with you."
He exhaled like he'd been holding his breath. "I don't want to break up with you, either," he mumbled. "Just... Carly was spouting her usual shit. And then I get a call from dad and it just... It's been months. What else am I supposed to think?"
"I'm just out doing the trainer stuff. I'll be back afterwards."
"This isn't some sort of business trip or military deployment. I know you're you, but you can't just... up and leave and not tell anyone. And expect everyone—expect me—to be okay with it."
"...I know. Does it help to hear that I'm sorry?"
"...Only slightly," he grumbled with a pout that was audible even over the phone.
"I'm sorry," she told him sincerely.
"Still only slightly. What am I supposed to do, Ree? I love training, and I wouldn't hate keeping up that game of tag we had going on, provided it ended. But if you're serious about keeping me away... And with the band stuff picking up again, I should just stay home."
"So I should just stay home, is what you're saying?"
It would be best for her to say yes. She would have one less source of stress and wouldn't have to keep such an eye on her travel plans. But that would hurt him, it would hurt her, and it would hurt their already breaking relationship. And Ree was a creature of emotion, not logic.
But it was so tempting to say yes and have one less worry.
Scott saved her from having to choose an answer. "Well, with everything snowed out, I'm not sure I want to go on too many more adventures. You're going to stay out through the winter?"
"Y-Yeah, can't be that hard if I avoid the north, right?"
"Just be careful," he said and sighed.
"I'm serious. The weather can be a bitch when you're living out in the woods, and you don't exactly have a cold-proof team, right? I can't be mad at you if you're in the hospital with hypothermia. Be careful and at least follow whatever advice Maya gives you."
"I will." She thought about adding in that he could give her advice, and she'd gladly follow his words, but the conversation was rapidly boiling down to Scott versus training, so she refrained.
"...Ree, I think..." He pulled the phone away to groan in frustration, but she still caught it clearly. "I think we—ugh. Just. Good luck out there. Be careful, stay safe, stop making me think of your parents. Bye."
He hung up before she could answer. Maybe for the best. Her throat was tight and her eyes burned, but she wasn't crying, nor any more upset than she had been leading up to the call. And he hadn't been as mad as she would've been, had their situations been reversed.
Not that he would ever have this problem, she thought bitterly. No, because she was the one who had the uterus, and she was the one who would ever have the issue of something growing inside of her.
A text beeped on her phone. It was from Scott. "i think we should go on a break"
She typed out a vague agreement she forgot as soon as she closed her phone again. So that was it. It wasn't technically a break-up, but it was damn near close. Scott would give her space and she didn't have to feel so guilty about it. It was probably for the best.
That was all she could tell herself: it was (probably) for the best. She had more freedom to move about as she pleased, Scott didn't completely hate her for it, and she could buckle down and focus on her team.
So she kept telling herself that, as she released Whippy and cried into his scales, and well throughout most of the night, even after Allen peeked back into the room. He was better at comforting than she was, anyway. At some point, she was pretty sure she stumbled through a sobbed explanation, and he had soothing words for her, but most of what she remembered from the crying fit was how tightly Whippy hugged her back.
"So, how did everyone sleep?" Maya asked cheerily the next morning. Three identical groans answered her. Ree and Allen had alternated keeping each other up (or merely uncomfortable; more than once Ree had flopped over him to seek more comforting in her drowsy craving for male affection, and he snored and sleepwalked, of all things). Both of them looked up at Lenore in sleepy confusion.
"I can't sleep well in hotel rooms," she mumbled, trying to hide her eyes from the overhead lights with her bangs. "Especially not alone."
"Alone?" Ree whipped her head back over to her sister and glared. No wonder she was in such a good mood. "I spent most of the night an emotional wreck and you were off with a new dude of the week?"
"Not week! I've known him for years, we get to see each other every few months—"
"We're switching back tonight!" Allen declared. He put his arm around Lenore's waist and pulled her against his side. She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Why were you an emotional wreck?" the doctor asked, not deigning to address him.
"Yes, I was going to ask that too," Maya added.
"After you were done preening," Ree hissed, betrayed and hurt and incredibly, deeply jealous. Allen tugged Lenore down so he could whisper in her ear. Her eyes went wide and she covered her 'oh' with her hand. Ree scuffed the floor with her shoes and grumbled, "Yeah, me and Scott are on a break now. But it's whatever. It's easier this way."
To her sister's credit, she hugged her at once. Maya was a pretty good hugger, too, and as much as Ree liked Allen, it felt a lot nicer to get a hug from a fellow female after the night before. Lenore patted her awkwardly on the shoulder, and Ree was okay with that, too.
"I'm not gonna start crying or anything. ...Again. I just want to go battle some stuff—and you!" Suddenly remembering, she whirled around on Allen, jabbing her finger up in his face. "You owe me a gun lesson!"
"A what?!" Lenore squawked.
"I think we're all a little too sleep-deprived to have this argument right now."
"I'm not. I slept fine!" Maya chirped. "But I'm—"
"Maya, the big sister in me is happy for you, but right now I'm just a pissed off pregnant girl who is on a fuckin' break with her boyfriend. I will punch you in the face the next time you bring that up."
"Roger that! But I need to know what's up with the gun thing, too."
"It's an okay thing!" Allen continued backpedaling as Lenore actually advanced on him, using her superior height to intimidate him. It worked embarrassingly well. "I've got this under control! We had a, uh, deal, and it's between us, and it's all cool!"
"I would not refer to that girl as 'okay', 'under control', or 'cool' when combined with the mental image of a gun. What exactly are you doing, Allen Pershing?"
"W-Well, you see—"
"Yeah, I'm really interested in the catch here, too." Ree folded her arms across her chest. "Let's see how you defend this to the good doctor."
"Don't you get smart. You're not getting any sort of weapons training, much less firearms," Lenore snapped at her.
"Hey, we had a deal!"
"An incredibly stupid deal! Pershing, just you wait until your superior officer hears about this—and on sick leave, too—"
"Hey now, the sick leave doesn't negate the fact that I am legally trained to handle and carry weapons." She backed him up against a wall. He paled as she towered over him, six and a half feet of sleep deprivation and anger. Ree didn't envy him, but she knew some excuse was coming, and if it was good enough to get Lenore off his back, then it was probably her cue to start in on him.
"Ree, why were you two discussing guns?" Maya asked as she pulled on her sleeve.
"I was going to pick up another bat. He didn't want me to, and he suggested that as a trade. I'm still trying to figure out the bullshit in it but he seemed legit."
"Why do you want to learn how to use a gun?" she pressed. Ree tore her gaze from the arguing adults and instantly regretted it; Maya was using her Cute, Sad Little Sister eyes. She cringed and looked back at Lenore and Allen (who had dissolved into panicked, incoherent whining when unable to come up with a defense he could use without pissing Ree off, apparently), but the damage had been done.
"I just... He offered the deal. Was a little bitch about me getting a new Sophia, too, so I just sort of went along with it."
"Does this have to do with anything that happened in Castelia?"
"...No." And normally she was such a good liar.
"Guns are dangerous, Ree. And you know you're prone to violence and have a temper. I don't want you getting near them."
"Pokémon are dangerous, too, remember?"
"Pokémon have wills of their own. Most of them have the sense or compassion not to unduly harm humans, and even if they do, well, we have pokéballs. It's been a legitimate form of defense against bad pokémon in the past."
"Not all people have the sense or compassion not to fuck with others. I'm not going to become an expert marksman over the course of a couple sessions of training, Maya. It'll probably just be stuff like how to handle the recoil, basics in aiming, and maybe stuff about cleaning and making sure you don't shoot your foot when you holster it."
"All important lessons!" Allen squeaked and made a break for it. He ducked under Lenore's arm and hid behind the Majors sisters. "Look at this cute face. Do you want your precious mother-to-be to shoot herself in the foot?"
Ree swatted him away before he could pinch her cheeks. "I'm not keeping it, I've told you before."
"C'mon, Lenore, don't you trust me? Don't you trust these cute faces?" He poked Ree in the back until she broke out into a grin to match his. Maya leaned up in their space with her own smile as well but Allen pushed her back down and out. "This isn't a two for one deal. I'm not going to be responsible for mini Ree."
Lenore responded by taking out her phone, sliding it open, and dialed a number. She pressed it to her ear and tapped her foot as she waited. "Oh, hello, Leland. ...Er, yes, I'm doing well, but I was only calling to—"
"Don't do that!" Allen yelped and dove for the phone. Lenore held it up out of his grasp. "Okay, okay, I'll tell you!"
"Tell me?" She arched an eyebrow. "I want you to stop, not tell me your rationale."
"It's a really good reason. You'll agree with it." He gave Ree an unsubtle look. "But in secret."
"No, I really wanna know this reason, too. Let's hear it."
Lenore slid the phone closed without saying goodbye. "No one's going to be happy if this is some sort of trick, Allen."
"Ugh, would you just listen to me for a moment?" He yanked her down to his level so he could whisper in her ear. It wasn't a very long explanation, not enough time for Ree to march over and force her way in, but whatever it was, Lenore was satisfied by it.
Which meant Ree wouldn't be.
"I still don't approve of this, but I can see your logic in it. And it's not as bad as I'd—rightfully—feared."
"I swear, Allen, the second I figure out the catch in this, I'm getting a new bat and shoving it up your ass."
"We had a deal," he repeated with a beam. "But for now, brunch. We have an appointment at the range at two."
The shooting range was a surprisingly loud building on the other side of Undella, and not because of the gunshots. There were more pokémon there than she'd anticipated. A guard with a gothitelle looming beside him checked them as they entered, checked their teams, and she supposed she shouldn't be surprised at the security. Allen spoke quietly to a well-built woman who met them soon after, and all of them walked into a private adjoining room.
"Alright, miss Majors, my name is Hiranna, and I'll be helping you while you're here. Have you ever handled firearms before?" the woman asked without further ado.
Ree looked over at Allen; she hadn't expected an interrogation. "Uh, water guns. Video games."
"So, no. I understand this will be primarily about safety and working with handguns."
"Yes," he replied. "And I'm just here to supervise. I'm UFO Captain Allen—"
"Jim already told me," Hiranna said flatly. "And he told me this is a bit of an unorthodox arrangement. I don't care about the details, I just care about doing my job, and making sure no one gets hurt or gets stupid because of this."
"Well, that's why we're here. Safety first and all that," Ree butted in. "So, first lesson time?"
Hiranna's mouth twitched in a way that probably meant a frown. She wasn't very expressive. "First lesson then. Both of you, pokémon out."
"You're a trainer, aren't you?"
"Then your pokémon are your teammates. You're part of a team with them, and if you're getting trained, so are they."
"That's how it works, Ree," Allen mumbled, digging pokéballs out of his pockets. He released his pokémon, the first time Ree had gotten a good look at them all. Five pokémon, conspicuously missing Tranjero, lined up at a version of attention, and she realized she would have to deal with the embarrassment of letting her hooligans out to compare themselves to the trained pokémon of a military person. He had a samurott, something huge and prickly and metallic, the audino and beartic she'd remembered, and then a tiny, fluffy rufflet chick.
Ree glanced behind Hiranna to make sure the door was shut. It was, and while it muffled some of the noise from outside, it didn't completely cut it out. "You could've warned me about this part. I hope you're both ready to babysit..."
She let Whippy and Harper out first, hoping they'd be the better behaved ones, but boy, did she get that one wrong. The servine slithered up her side and curled himself around her shoulders, peering over at Allen's team with polite but obvious curiosity. Harper settled down on the leafy part of his tail, coolly looking over the room.
And then they heard the first gunshot from outside the room. Whippy tensed, and having a reptile made almost exclusively of muscle coiled around her neck during that almost choked her. Harper launched off of him with a shriek just as Ree fell to her knees. The tranquill flapped around the room with panicked squawking, Whippy huddled at far into Ree's shirt as he could get, and Ree rubbed at her throat and tried to figure out why Harper was the one freaking out.
And then she remembered.
"Shit. Harper, it's okay! It's okay, harpy, it's just—fuck." She returned her after she banged into the light more than once. Whippy trembled against her chest. Allen knelt down beside her, emanating concern, but she waved him off before he could start. Instead, she looked up at Hiranna. "So, I didn't know my pokémon would be in on this, and I not only didn't warn them about this, but also, my tranquill has been shot before. Is there anything we can go over today and then I go back to my room to talk to my pokémon about this?"
"Your other pokémon?"
"Uh, not all that good with guns, either, probably." Whippy was still half in her coat. She wasn't even sure Harper would be okay after an explanation and a lot of cuddling. In no way would Unika be good with sudden, loud noises, and that was if she didn't recognize the sound, too. Lala and Whippy were the only ones who stood chances of getting to the standard of Allen's team, and it would not be soon.
"Please come prepared tomorrow, then. We do offer courses specifically for gun-shy pokémon, but they're much more time-consuming than what I understand you're looking for."
"Do you want to do that? We can stay in Undella longer, it'll be fine through the winter—"
"No, just this thing you have. I'll talk to them tonight." She didn't necessarily want to blame Allen, but she sort of did. She hadn't thought about pokémon being part of it, though it made sense in hindsight. It sounded like something he should have mentioned to her at some point. "Can we do anything else today?"
"...Yes. Return your servine and we'll go over the basics of structure and handling."
"Ser!" Whippy poked his snout up out of her boobs to give her a huge-eyed plea.
"Is it okay if he stays out?"
"If you think that would be best," Hiranna said mildly.
If he was willing, she might as well take advantage of it. He had already stopped jumping at every noise outside, though he was glancing over at Allen's pokémon every so often again. "He can stay. He'll behave himself."
The first day turned out to be a three-hour session dedicated to utterly boring Ree. She wondered if Allen realized most of the technical information was going in one ear, out the other. She was allowed to handle and look over empty pistols, which was about the most exciting part, unless she counted Whippy gradually getting used to the noise of gunshots.
Allen tried to impress her with his speedy dismantling (and reconstructing) of another gun, which would have been neat, if he hadn't tried to point out all the pieces and parts to her. Hiranna had tried to do the same thing with similar effects on her attention span. They did show her other types of guns, too, and it was cool until Allen swatted her hand for trying to touch the shotgun. They showed her a large variety of firearms, not just pistols, but wouldn't let her handle them, so what was the point? She already knew what they all looked like from video games.
So the first session ended with the grim prospect of Ree having another talk that evening she didn't want to have. Allen offered to buy her ice cream, but with the weather, she wasn't feeling it, and she wasn't feeling his guilt, either. She did, however, stop to buy Harper a treat. The candy shop had a wide selection of imported poké puffs, so after some flip-flopping over flavors, she just got a dozen of assorted types. She probably spent more than she should have, but she and Maya could go out a battle a couple of tourists after dinner if necessary.
After her talk with her team. The battling would have to start again the day after. Why is being an adult full of serious talks I don't want to have? she lamented to herself.
Allen and Maya had already moved their stuff into their new rooms, and it wasn't difficult to talk her sister into giving her some alone time with her pokémon. She made sure the doors and windows were shut, just in case, and released her four.
Harper was puffed up to about twice her normal size, but she stayed on the bed where she'd been put. With a happy squeal, Unika wriggled over and hovered beside her. Lala gave the bird a strange look, but her concern was lost when she spied the box of sweets in Ree's lap. "Whim!"
"Yes, we get some treats. But in a moment—goddamnit, in a moment!" She barely got the box out of the way in time to avoid Whippy's attempted nosedive. She eventually had to pass out one to each of them to keep her starter out of the box. Harper's feathers smoothed out and she calmed down after sticking her beak into the frosting. Unika just zapped hers repeatedly. "Do you guys have to undermine my every order or decision? No wonder no one respects me as a trainer..."
"Whimsicott-si-scott," Lala replied diplomatically around the puff in her mouth. She had more frosting in her fluff than anywhere else.
"Right. Whatever you said." She was catching onto a lot of Whippy's language and gestures, and Harper made a point to be easy to read. Unika was a hyperactive mystery and Lala was just... difficult for Ree. "Look, we need to have a talk. Harper and Whippy already know what this is about, but this coming week, we're going to be undergoing some training. Together, I guess."
Unika somersaulted through the air. Harper gently drew her back towards her treat with her wing, and shot Ree a severe look. "Tranquill?"
"Yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't mention it before. Honestly, I didn't know you guys would be in on it. It's gun training, not our usual training. And no, you guys won't actually deal with them. I guess the people in charge want you to be unafraid of gun noises and stuff... From all of the lecturing today, I'm sure it can all be boiled down to 'know how to deal them and respect them'. I'm already pretty over it. But it's not a bad idea to learn something like this, for any of us. And they can't give me textbook knowledge for the rest of the time. Eventually I'm gonna get to shoot a gun!"
Ree grinned, but then caught Harper's expression. She sighed and dropped the smile.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I shouldn't be excited. If it makes you feel better, I'm not as excited now as I would've been just starting this journey."
"Whim-si," Lala scoffed.
Unika sparked at her, but Harper quickly drew her back. Lala growled at them, then toddled over to Ree's other side to try to swipe more poké puffs. Ree moved the box away—the suspiciously lighter box. She peeked inside, then peered at Whippy over the lid. He had green and brown frosting smeared over his claws, and she had definitely given him a pink one. He donned his best innocent look and hid his claws behind his back.
"You guys are worse than children, honestly. If the pregnancy didn't do it, you would definitely have me swearing off kids forever." She idly wondered if Scott would ever want kids, or if his pokémon were unruly too, but that led down a dangerous path of thoughts. "Whippy, no more sweets. Lala, stop snarking at them or whatever the fuck you're doing. Harper, sorry. Unika, it's dead, stop zapping it. We good? Good. Now tomorrow, we're all going to the range, and we're going to get used to dealing with guns. Best behavior, even if you're scared, okay? These people are safe, and they're professionals, and no one will get hurt, I promise you. And if everyone behaves, then we can pick up more of these, since someone helped himself to about half."
Lala smacked Whippy's tail. Unika squeaked at him. Harper and Ree facepalmed in unison.
Whippy insisted on being worn like a very heavy scarf. Lala wanted to touch everything. Harper was demonstrating nerves of steel and had planted herself on the light, not moving a muscle. And Uni, in the universe's most ironic twist yet, was the best behaved.
The gunfire didn't bother her, she stopped touching things after being told once, and she was fascinated with how everything worked, not to mention all of the people and the pokémon. With so much stuff going on, Ree had been a little worried about overstimulating her, but it almost seemed like it helped. She had plenty of things to look at and comment upon and try to exchange static with.
Eventually, the team calmed. Whippy wasn't the threat of snapping her neck, Lala became bored and tried to nap in the corner, Harper stayed up on the light, and Unika tried floating up to sit with her. Allen's beartic helped her up. Just when they were getting bored or tired enough to behave, Hiranna decided Ree was allowed to shoot her very first gun.
She didn't shoot herself in the foot. Harper didn't panic. Whippy only scratched her a little when he was jarred by the recoil. It happened, and her team came out whole.
Ree breathed out a sigh of relief. "Happy you didn't bruise anything in the recoil? It is a handgun, but it can still catch beginners off guard," Allen said, sidling up as he pulled his protective earmuffs off. How he could somehow look good in them and orange safety glasses was beyond her, but she was ninety percent sure that was just her libido at that point. Being on break with Scott sent her hormones through the roof, and yet, none of it was aimed at him anymore.
Not that she wouldn't have taken him up if he offered—
"Do you ever wear shoulder holsters?" Ree blurted out.
Allen blinked, taken aback. "Um. Yes. Is this related to girl things or gun things?"
Ree imagined Scott in shoulder holsters, orange glasses, and little else. "Do you ever get really horny while handling guns? I mean, I've read stories like that, and I think there was a porn once, but I hadn't thought it was real. I don't really like guns all that much. It's making me super worried for my team in ways I hadn't thought of, and I don't like that, but oh my god y'know when you get a really good shotgun or sniper rifle in a game? It's like that. Except with guys."
"Let's take the gun away from the jittery teenager now," Allen said, prying the pistol out of her hands and handing it off to Hiranna.
She took it and solemnly told them, "I've had women orgasm after shooting a gun here."
"Shit, are you serious?" Ree asked with barely restrained glee.
"Let's make sure she's not one of them! I didn't sign up for that."
"You sure enable most other things up to that point—"
"I'm sure regretting it now!"
"There's nothing wrong with being attracted to power, or having a physical reaction to an outside stimulus. I'm here to teach safety, not shame."
"Well, Ree needs a hefty dose of both."
"Hey, I've been doing good. So's my pokémon. I think I'm entitled to some hot daydreams."
"Not while you're handling firearms you're not."
"He has a point there. Your mind must be focused while you're here, to the best of your abilities."
They had to take a small break before Allen judged Ree serious enough to try shooting again. She was actually a decent shot for a beginner, something both he and Hiranna remarked upon, but what else were all those hours in Call of Duty and Fallout good for if not teaching her how to aim a gun? Some video game logic applied to real life.
They let her empty two clips and nothing went wrong. Ree was a happy camper, until she realized that the next lesson wasn't more aiming and shooting. "This is a self-defense course! Of course we're going to do a rundown on nonlethal targets."
"Bullshit! If I wrestle a gun away from a crazed killer, I'm putting it between his eyes!"
"That's murder, Ree! Aim for their legs! Please!"
Okay, so she probably wouldn't shoot someone in the face if she had the chance, even if it was self-defense. But his insistence on 'teaching' her morals while hypothetically defending herself, her fetus, and her team grated on her. She'd do whatever it took to stop someone with a gun from hurting her or her team. She didn't have to be told (over and over) to avoid the bloodiest and most violent reaction.
He'd agreed to let her take all those courses, and yet he still thought of her as some sort of monster thirsting for blood. She still hadn't figured out the catch, either. She was definitely learning valuable information about guns and that included handling them. And they only had three days left.
That night, Maya knocked on the door before poking her head in. It was nearing midnight. "Ree, still awake?"
"Wasn't expecting you home so early."
"Well, neither was I, but here we are. How was gun school today?"
She groaned and rolled over onto her side, halfway onto a sleeping whimsicott. "Shoulder holsters."
"Don't crawl into bed if you're still smelling like sex. I'll hump your leg like a wild herdier, I swear I'll do it."
"You're gross. Scoot over."
"At least shower."
"I didn't have sex with anyone, Ree," Maya said with an audible eye roll. "Jeez, is that all you think I do?"
"You're two for two on nightly visits to your boy toy. What else am I supposed to think?"
"Well, tonight was different. All parties stayed clothed."
Ree grunted. She didn't have anything else to say to that. Her younger sister was still out getting some semi-regularly, and she was stuck with a devious UFO piece of eye candy and a boyfriend on a break. And she was supposed to go to dinner with said not-boyfriend's father tomorrow night.
"Maya, have you ever shot a gun?"
The answer took a bit. "...Yes, I have."
"I don't tell you everything," she said at once, defensive. She pulled off her pants and snuggled down underneath the covers, her back to her sister. "I was... There was a pokémon poacher, or hunter, I'm not sure. And he dropped his gun, and I picked it up, and I fired it. That's all."
"Uh, no, that's not all."
"It missed. Badly. But it spooked his rapidash and it gave Bo the chance to get me away from them. That's it. I turned in the gun at the police station the next morning. Guns aren't worth all the paperwork."
"Oh." Ree petted Lala, who snuffled in her sleep. So her sister had dealt with guns before. It sounded like the sort of situation Allen wanted to prepare her for. So she'd be prepared in the future, her pokémon would be okay with the sound of guns, she and Scott were on break, and everything was changing to be more and more serious and responsible. She hated it.
"Any other questions?" Maya asked, annoyed.
"Think I can guilt Allen into wearing shoulder holsters?"
"That's mean, Ree."
"I haven't been feeling too nice lately. Think Scottie told his dad about us?"
"If he did, we could probably get out of that dinner. But I'm not gonna bring it up, so have fun with that."
"If we dose me up on slushies, I could just fake sick."
"You would be sick."
"...I really don't want to do that tomorrow. I really have nothing to lose at this point by ducking out of it."
"Then ask Scott to ask his dad. Or get his number, I don't know."
Talking to Scott was even less appealing than talking to his father. Ree fell asleep in a grumpy mood because of it.
The next day's lesson was indeed dedicated to nonlethal shooting. Something else Ree knew plenty about due to video games, although her knowledge was admittedly fuzzy. And it got even more confusing when they started throwing common pokémon body types into the mix. It was fun to pretend like she was a super assassin preparing to take down any target, but that soon lost its charm with the sheer amount of information Allen wanted to drill into her brain. Even Hiranna seemed a little concerned about his thoroughness.
At one point, she wondered if he realized she could just use the inverse of the knowledge he was giving her to figure out how to kill people or pokémon.
The dinner that night with Martin Felton was blessedly only half awkward. The girls dragged Lenore and Allen with them, both to act as a conversational buffer and to show him that they weren't being held under duress. Allen was fine going out, even dressing up a bit (and making the girls do the same). Lenore was less pleased with the alomomola sushi.
Ree didn't have to fake sick because her doctor did it quite well. At first, she was even concerned, but then she found Lenore simply sitting in the restroom instead of puking like she'd excused herself to. "Wow, hadn't pegged you as, well, me."
"I wanted to spare your body another night with insufficient nutrients."
"I'm sure that's just it."
"I really don't like sushi. I assume you will agree with this cover story?"
"Just so long as I don't have to hold your hair back for you. You are alright, right?" Ree asked, suspicious and uncertain. She looked a little pale, but it could've been the dim lighting.
"I'm fine, but thank you for your concern. How long do you think we should stay in here?"
Their answer arrived in the form of Maya, who burst into the bathroom with an exclamation of, "Doctor Coracks, are you—oh, you are okay. Are we playing hooky in here or what?"
"Did you just leave Allen alone with Mr. Felton?" Lenore asked.
"I'm sure he can handle himself."
"He's still injured and was under suspicion."
"That's Scott's dad, not a foreign agent."
"I worry," Lenore said flatly and stood back up. She flipped her long hair back over her shoulders and rinsed her face with water. "I suppose we should be returning. Does this look sickly enough to bow out?"
"Looks pretty good," Ree said with a thumbs up.
"You're seriously playing hooky?" Maya asked.
"I really don't like sushi," the doctor repeated.
They bowed out of dinner before dessert, although Ree made sure to box up their meals, even Lenore's untouched sushi. Martin let them go. He seemed to have been just as awkward as the girls had felt, but Ree hadn't been sure if he knew about her and Scott or not. She hadn't dared ask.
The Majors sisters spent the rest of the evening eating leftovers and painting their nails, since they didn't have much else to do. Maya apparently had enough of a reputation already to deter most battles, which was useful sometimes, but not when they were bored. Or needed to train. While Ree was cautiously happy with her gun course, she felt antsy going without battling for so long.
But at least her nails were going to be pretty again.
It soon devolved into painting their pokémon as well. Lala refused to have anything to do with them, at least until Talia asked nicely, and then she was all for it. Whippy had been curious and eager from the get-go and ended up with all of his claws, front and back, neon green. It matched pretty well.
Unika started crying when she realized she didn't have anything to paint, but Ree, in a moment of genius she was proud of, soothed her by offering to paint some of the scales on her tail. It didn't quite stick that well and had trouble drying, which meant the tynamo had it smeared over half the hotel room within the hour, but at least she was happy. Ree just had to remember that little things helped just as much as the big things. Uni wasn't that scary.
Harper seemed a little warmer towards her, too, after Unika had been painted. The tranquill ended up with sparkly purple nails and almost orange on her beak, but she snapped at Maya when she tried to dab some on. That sent Unika into fits of high-pitched giggling, which had Zara (almost all of her spines either orange or purple) cackling, who made Talia start laughing, and she dragged Lala into it, and pretty soon the girls had more laughing pokémon than they knew what to do with.
It was a bright spot in a life that had become pretty grey, so Ree shouldn't have been surprised when something happened to interrupt it.
"What's that noise?" Maya asked as the laughter started to die down. Mordecai raised his head, ears pricked. Lilith got to her feet, hands cupped around her antennae. "It sounds..."
Ree cupped a hand around her ear. It was coming from outside, in the hall or another room, not outside the building. It wasn't an alarm, unless it wasn't in their room, but it sounded similar. But it was very faint. "Dunno. Kind of annoying now that you pointed it out, though."
Just as she reached to turn up the TV, with hardly a knock, Lenore burst into the room. With the open door, the noise sharpened, and Ree recognized it a split-second before Lenore spoke. "Tranjero's back!"
"Tranjero?" Maya asked.
"Allen's elgyem!" Ree shouted, scrambling towards the door. Lenore disappeared again with a swish of her black hair.
"Oh my god! That's what's making that noise?!"
Other guests were looking out into the hallway, on a spectrum of irritated to scared. Lenore had left the door open, and the sound carried. Ree and Maya ducked in at the same time, curious pokémon on their heels, to find Allen, half-dressed and teary-eyed, next to a screeching bundle of blankets. "Y-Yes sir, just now. On his own," he said into a phone. He raised a hand when he noticed the girls enter, and pointed to the pile.
"He just teleported back in, unaccompanied. He's still making that sound. I think he's still injured," Lenore said, trying to keep her voice down but having to raise it to be heard over the noise. "Allen's on the phone to his superior. This vacation might have to be cut short."
"No sir, I did not see any new wounds on him, just the reported gunshot wound."
The screeching abruptly died. Allen fumbled the phone in his haste to uncover the elgyem. His audino dove into the blankets with him.
Lenore took the phone as the man fought to get all of the blankets off. Tranjero peeked out, with that same hole in his head, but otherwise in one piece. He turned to look at Allen, then raised his arms, like a child wanting to be picked up.
"This is Doctor Lenore Coracks—yes, I'm with Pershing. The elgyem stopped making that noise, but he still seems to be conscious and moving. Advise."
"Oh my god, Tranjero, what did she do to you...?" Allen whispered as he pressed his fingers lightly against the injury. The psychic twitched, then his eyes flared. Allen slumped onto the bed and his audino squealed in fright.
"Allen!" Ree started forward, but Lenore held out an arm.
She had the audacity to roll her eyes, too. Ree would have punched her, had her phone conversation not remained so calm. "Yes, the elgyem is still conscious. He's knocked out Pershing. I have two civilians with me. Ree, Maya, why don't you two quietly return to your room?"
"But Allen—!" Maya squeaked. With jerky movements, the elgyem climbed over Allen's body until he was sitting on his chest. Tranjero then curled up and began humming.
"We're dealing with an injured, conscious psychic, so please don't try to take him from his handler."
"But Allen!" Ree insisted.
"An injured, conscious psychic whose last memories of his original handler were that of said handler getting injured on duty. Hopefully, he's just reading Allen's memories and taking stock of his body. He'll be fine once he realizes he's had medical attention."
"He knocked him out!"
"Allen's mind has been trained to handle that. And UFO elgyem are trained to take out overly emotional personnel in case of injury. He probably tried to teleport him out of here, but couldn't with another body," Lenore patiently explained. Ree would have demanded more answers, had another pair not appeared on the scene in full uniform. The man pulled his goggles off, letting them hang around his neck, and took quick stock of the room, eyes narrowing briefly at the two girls behind Lenore. His beheeyem clung to his waist almost shyly. "Becker, right?" Lenore asked, drawing his attention.
"Lieutenant Colonel Luca Becker, ma'am. I'm here to pick up Pershing and his returned elgyem." He looked over Lenore again, like he was trying to place her. "And you three are...?"
"Ree Majors is the girl he was assigned to while he was working with me. The younger is her sister, Maya Majors. They're both legal trainers."
"And you are?"
Lenore crossed her arms. "Doctor Lenore Coracks, OB/GYN and retired UFO medic. I have Leland Aminov's personal permission to utilize Pershing in guarding this girl and myself while in the field. Is there anything else, or would you like to help us with this elgyem?"
Luca's eyes widened at her name. "Y-Yes, sorry, I was just making certain of the situation. I'll be taking Pershing and his pokémon. Do you know if he has any other trained pokémon with him that aren't on his body?"
"The audino is his. Are we allowed to accompany you?"
"Not me. I'll send word for someone else to pick you up at the pokémon center or the police station, if you have a reason to accompany him."
"No, we'll... Tomorrow morning. All of his other pokémon should be in his bag there."
Luca nodded and his beheeyem scooped all of his things together with telekinesis. The man reached out tentatively with a gloved hand until he made contact with Allen's foot, and then they all disappeared.
"So, you're hot shit, huh?" Ree asked without preamble.
"He seemed to respect you an awful lot. You're retired UFO?" Maya added.
"I don't suppose I can herd you back to your room without answering, can I?" The girls shook their heads. Lenore massaged her temples and ground out, "Yes, I used to work with the field operations. My husband and I garnered a bit of a reputation and a healthy track record with our missions. I retired, and now I work in the private sector, although I'm not above using my ties for personal projects, as you can see."
"Husband?" Maya asked, starry-eyed.
"I retired. He didn't," Lenore said curtly. "Now please, back to your room. We'll see what Allen's situation is in the morning before we plan anything else."
They, and the pokémon that had followed them, were shut out of the room. They trudged back to their own room to find Unika had spread more nail polish on their pillows. "...She doesn't wear a ring, does she?" Maya asked after a beat.
"No, she doesn't." Ree had known she'd worked with the UFOs in the past, but she hadn't known Lenore had been important or well-known. Had she outranked Allen? Maria? That other guy? ...And she retired, alone, to work as a baby doctor.
They went to bed soon after that, not saying much else. Ree slept fitfully, worried about Allen and regretting eating that sushi after all. The following morning wasn't much better.
"There's no need for all of us to go. I'm just going to talk to Allen and Leland. The vacation's over, that's it. It's not an emergency," Lenore said as she put her hair up in a clip.
"What about my gun lessons?!"
"What about—" Maya cut herself off. Ree gave her a confused look.
"Allen said he talked to the instructor, so you are free to finish your lessons. Honestly, we're not your parents, nor your babysitters. The vacation was pleasant while it lasted, but now we're back to work, so please remember to take your vitamins."
"You're just ditching us here?!" Ree growled.
"Yes, I am. Allen's leave was almost up, anyway, and he's healed enough to go back on active duty if Tranjero can. We'll be back for your next appointment, which should be in two weeks. You can text or call me to let me know where you'll be—"
"I'm going with you!" Maya declared. Lenore and Ree wore matching expressions of incredulity, the former paused halfway to pushing glasses onto her nose.
"He's at the UFO headquarters in Opelucid, right? I need to get there, too, and with the weather getting snowier, hitching a ride with your psychic transport is my best bet."
"I am not some shuttle for teenage girls. The UFOs aren't, either," Lenore replied, still nonplussed by her abrupt persistence.
"I have eight badges."
"That legally doesn't mean anything."
"I have eight badges and I'm going to enlist."
Lenore's glasses slid a little down her nose. "You... what? I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"I'm going to enlist with the UFOs," Maya repeated clearly. "I have eight badges, they'd be frothing at the mouth to accept me. I was going to ask Allen about this later, but if you're ditching us, I'll just go along with you now."
"Uh, Maya, where the fuck did this come from?" Ree asked in an undertone.
Lenore groaned at her phone beeping. "Well, I'm running late, so you two can talk this out yourselves—"
"I'm coming with you."
"Like hell you are!" Ree barked.
"If you don't take me along with you now, I'll just go to the Undella police station and talk to someone there. They'd just send someone to pick me up there. Like I said, they'll be tripping over themselves to accept me," Maya said.
"Good, then do that." Lenore shoved her glasses back up, pulled her coat on, and strode away without a single look back, leaving the two sisters alone with a lot to talk about.
Next Chapter: Well, that just happened. Allen's back on duty, Lenore's out of the picture, Ree has to finish training, and Maya evidently wants to join the Unovan Field Operations. Sisters are supposed to talk about things! Or so says Ree, but Maya's acting pretty tight-lipped about it all. So that leaves Ree down one boyfriend, one bodyguard, one doctor, and potentially down a sister... What else can she lose?