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Digital-Skitty

Artist | Professional | Literature
Hi. My name is Skitty and I like neon colors.

Quick Guide To My Naming Schemes:
TR = The Rook (series)
PD = Pedestal drabble
RMWJ(D) = Ree Majors' Wonderful Journey (drabble)
PTF = Operation: Poison Tree Frog
HOHW = Hell or High Water ("hell story")

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Mix Group 3 by Digital-Skitty
Mix Group 3
STILL DOIN' THESE ON THE FACEBOOK PAGE

this time, kostya / the rabbit / hanna / tuesday

kostya, hanna > pedestal
the rabbit, tuesday > the rook trilogy
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Thursday, June 12th, 2014



Mika's shoe locker was filled with things. Mostly sealed letters and flowers, but there were a couple small things. A box of sour candy, a tiny stuffed dog, a bracelet set, matching hair ribbons. Hisako didn't go digging, but it was near her own locker, so she noticed new things every morning. She herself hadn't left anything.

It was strange to think about, in moments when she could detach herself from the situation. She knew Mika hadn't been universally liked. There were large parts of her life that she hadn't known about. Several upperclassmen had been fond of her, as had most of the teachers. Hisako couldn't have guessed about her family. And there were the grieving animals at the pet store she'd worked at.

They had known each other for less than two months. All of the supernatural stuff had happened in less than two months.

It was going to be a rough morning. Hisako spent the time before the bell in the bathroom, wiping at her eyes and trying to compose herself. Most of the girls in their grade had become accustomed to seeing her crying in there. Maybe Suzuka as well. Who knew who else.

The first bell rang. She checked her reflection, making sure her hair was still up and the blue door behind her stayed shut.

Not yet, she told herself for the hundredth time. She couldn't face Igor or the assistants yet. On some level, she felt she'd be scolded for ending up with a dead social link, and she couldn't handle Mika being reduced to just that.

Thoughts of the Velvet Room were pushed out of her mind when she entered the classroom and found a note on her desk. Suzuka had her head down, but her nap was feigned, judging on the grin she was trying to hide. Hisako sat down and looked over the folded paper curiously. It just had her name, in hiragana, on the front.

The letter's handwriting was neat, meticulously so. The contents were also entirely in English.

Hisako twisted around in her seat to look at Mathias. He was staring out the window so she couldn't see his face, but she thought his ears looked a little pink.

She stashed the note when class started. It weighed on her mind, half curiosity, half… she didn't know what. She supposed she still liked him, but it was distant, muffled by layers of sorrow and fear. She didn't know precisely what Haruka had told him, just that he hadn't approached them again about the subject. She hadn't thought about his social link since she'd gotten it.

At lunch, she tore the letter back open and began translating. Suzuka tried reading over the edge of her desk, but Hisako moved so she couldn't. It was her note. "Do you want to study in the library after school together?" was all it said. Very anticlimactic. There was a little heart in place of the dot on the question mark. She was pretty sure her face reddened.

"Gonna eat lunch, or are you going to stare at that all day?" Suzuka teased.

"Did you say something to him?"

"Nothing. Don't think Haruka did, either, since this is new. What is it, a confession?"

"No, just… We're going to study after school together," Hisako told her.

"Study, or study?" she said and waggled her eyebrows.

"Regular study! ...I hope." She didn't see why he'd use the verb as a euphemism. They hardly knew each other, anyway.

"Nothing wrong with some smooching to make yourself feel better."

"I feel fine."

"Okay then, I'll go and study with him and smooch him," Suzuka said.

"I-I thought you said it wasn't a crush!"

"Doesn't mean I wouldn't kiss him."

"I'm going to study with him. Me. Maybe I can find out what Haruka told him."

"Girl with a plan! I like it."

"I like girls with plans as well," came the last voice she wanted to hear right then. She fell into Yuri's seat as she jerked away from Mathias, who had sat down in Haruka's seat. Suzuka snickered. The traitor. "How have you two been feeling?"

He knew about Mika, and he knew they had known before it was announced to the school. Haruka, too. Hopefully he just chalked up their prior knowledge to Yuri texting them or something. It was common knowledge that he'd been with Mika when she'd 'collapsed'. It had to work as a cover story.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters?" Suzuka asked.

"Um, yes. A younger brother and sister. Why?" he asked back.

"What's your favorite color?"

"Gold or teal."

"Did your old school have uniforms?"

"Yes."

"Haruka lied," she muttered. "Okay, moving on, what did Haruka say to you to make you stay up late researching foreign mythology in a foreign language?"

"I did my research in both English and Japanese," Mathias said, offended.

"But why?"

"She… told me it was important. That it would help you both. That it meant a lot to her. She would not speak anything else about it."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing else. She had seemed upset, but I now think that was because of Mika-san, right?"

Suzuka patted Hisako's hand. "There, now we know. Plan taken care of. You can get to smoo—" Hisako clamped her free hand down over her mouth. She felt her smile against her.

Mathias looked amused, which was a vast improvement from the calculating look he'd been giving her a moment earlier.

Suzuka licked her hand.

"Eww!" Hisako squealed, pulling away at once. Face burning, especially at the way he covered a laugh, she ran off to the bathroom to wash her hands. She hadn't had someone lick her since preschool. She recognized that Suzuka was physical, and silly, and casual, but that was genuinely disgusting.

She made the mistake of looking up at the mirror as she flicked water off her fingers. The blue door was open. She had never wished for it to open, or even to appear, and had left her Velvet Key at home to try to head it off. But it seemed like they really wanted to talk to her about Mika.

If she didn't go in, they'd probably just drag her in that night. That thought, that she didn't have as much say as she wanted, gave her pause. They weren't supposed to influence her or her journey. That was the point of the contract—'I chooseth this fate of my own free will'. Passing judgment would break that rule. They were there to guide her, and be a social link, and answer questions, but to ultimately stand apart from her.

Unconditional neutral regard. Or positive, in the twins' cases, but it helped a bit to think of them in therapist terms. And if they didn't actually do that and tried to say something bad, then she could bring up the contract. With that in mind, she braced herself, and then entered the doorway. The bright, white lights of the bathroom were replaced by the soft, blue tones of the Velvet Room.

And the twins weren't there.

Hisako deflated a little, off-kilter, at finding just Igor sitting behind his desk, shuffling his deck of tarot cards. "Good afternoon, dear guest. I hope you've been as well as you can be, considering the circumstances."

"I. Um. I think I have? Where are…?" she asked uneasily.

"They're busy elsewhere at this moment. I'm sure they'll find you soon enough. But I am glad to have the honor of your visit myself, for this is indeed an auspicious occasion."

"Aus—?"

"I have figured out the means by which the rogue deity targets beings for possession," Igor said happily. At Hisako's surprised silence, he continued, "It may very well be just a confirmation for you, but in circumstances such as these that are already so vague, anything that we know for sure can be a gift."

"No, I mean, I only had guesses… How does she?"

"She is targeting humans who possess latent Persona gifts. Nearly every human has some potential for one, but few have strong enough potential to manifest fully. I believe she is using this ability as a sort of channel to take over her target body. The good news is that triggering the successful first-time manifestation of a Persona forces her out."

Successful first-time manifestation. They had seen Mika's Persona—Ninhursag—but it hadn't been in time, or done correctly, or something else. Hisako nodded. "Thank you." So there was hope each time Ngeshtin-ana kidnapped someone. But she didn't want that to be any more than once more. "But… Why tell me this? I thought you weren't supposed to influence me."

"I don't think it's particularly influential to give you confirmation on something you may have already theorized," he said, tone light. "Moreover, dear guest, the Velvet Room exists to aid its chosen guest. That means helping in whatever capacity we can, even if our current abilities are truncated. We must not choose or manipulate your path, but we may at least help you make an informed decision."

"Thank you, again. Please continue helping me find answers."

"Of course. Please continue on your journey with my best wishes for your future."

She gave him a bow of her head and left, since it didn't seem like the assistants would show up. It was nice to get a straight answer on something, even if it wasn't outright helpful. But it meant that they had a foolproof way to kick Ngeshtin-ana out of someone.

So why did he make that part sound like a decision?

Her foray into the Velvet Room had taken more time than she'd anticipated, since the afternoon classes had already started. She locked herself in the bathroom stall and flipped through emails and texts on her phone, not wanting to leave school grounds, but not having the courage to show up in the classroom late. So it hadn't been her smoothest decision to date. She was surprised by how little she cared about missing class.

Guilt was becoming a fast friend to her. She scrolled past email over email Haruka had sent that she hadn't responded to. Yet. It wasn't as if she meant to ignore her friend, she told herself. She checked stuff on her phone in the mornings, but didn't have time to respond, so in the afternoon when she did, they didn't have the new icon any longer. And with all of the Mika stuff going on…

And I'm not happy she spoke to Mathias-san about this. She would have gotten around to researching things herself at some point. Well-intentioned, but they were three for three on classmates with connections to the group. Well, they're being targeted because they have Personas somewhere in them. So is it a coincidence that they were all classmates? And does being a social link have bearing on that, or not?

Mathias was now the only school social link she had left. She wasn't sure how many there would be, though there were a lot of tarot cards left. But Haruka, with no social link and an ocean between them, was probably safe. Some consolation. Haruka likely didn't see it that way.

Passing time shut in a bathroom stall was boring. Even she ran out of things to think about; she was only running around in mental circles. They simply had to keep an eye out for horns on anyone, and stop Ngeshtin-ana afterward. Everything else was secondary.

When the last bell of the day rang, she ducked out of the bathroom, and ran straight into Suzuka. "I promise I don't have cooties," she said, and it took Hisako a long moment to remember what their conversation had left off on. "Didn't have to ditch class to make a point, I won't do it again."

"Oh, um, well thank you for not, but I accidentally got caught up." She eyed the students all around them. "In the, uh, blue place. That place."

"The—oh! Anything good?"

"Confirmation on something, but nothing pressing."

"Extra good! Because you have a date!" Suzuka exclaimed.

"It's studying!" Hisako insisted.

"And it's not in the hallway!"

"What are you, my escort?"

The girls were halted in their debate by Yuri all but sprinting down the hall from the opposite direction. An upperclassman vaulted down the stairs after him, skidding a bit as he turned, just as Yuri collided with another coming out of their classroom. The class representative squawked as both boys went down. Mathias and another boy, just behind the unfortunate victim, stared down in fascinated horror as they fought to disentangle themselves.

"Wait up!" the upperclassman called from down the hall. Yuri managed to free himself, nearly losing a shoe in the process, and bolted.

"Does that happen often?" Mathias asked. The class representative, red-faced, shook his head from his position on the floor. "He is very strange. I like him."

"Are you one of Yuri-kun's friends?" the upperclassman asked breathlessly as he jogged up. He had a mop of dark auburn hair and glasses he pushed back up onto his nose. He was still wearing a dirty smock.

Mathias cocked his head. "I… Je sais pas. I would like to be," he replied brightly.

"Those two are," the boy beside him said, pointing at Hisako and Suzuka.

The third-year turned on them and they skittered back reflexively. "You two… Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"Sure. If you answer what that scene was about," Suzuka replied. "I'll turn her your way when we're done, Matt-chan!"

"When did you upgrade to that?" Hisako asked, a little jealous. Mathias waved back with another smile.

"Eh, that's what Haruka calls him," she whispered back. They accompanied the upperclassman out into the courtyard. Suzuka hardly waited for him to speak before exclaiming, "What's up with that?! I've never seen anyone who can make that boy run, aside from…"

"Ah, so you knew her too," the boy said sadly. "I'm sorry. My name is Shunya Morimoto. I'm the president of the Art Club. I'd like to think I know Yuri-kun fairly well, and I had seen Mika-san come in from time to time as well."

Suzuka introduced them both while Hisako tried not to think about Mika trailing behind Yuri in the Art room. She willed her mind away from the memory of Yuri with red paint dripping off of him.

"Is he… doing alright?" Shunya asked.

"As well as can be expected, I guess. I thought he was okay the other day when we hung out, didn't you?"

"Yes, he seemed a little… better."

"Any particular reason you ask?" Suzuka prompted.

Shunya rubbed the back of his head. "Um, well, he sort of… He hasn't been to club meetings since then, which is understandable and I'm not faulting him, but he came in today. Asked me if I knew how to make brushes."

"...Do you?"

"Not really, but I can learn new things, can't I? Thought it might be an interesting club activity next week. B-But that's not—he's always been fairly mild, maybe a little antisocial at times, but he's a really great guy!"

"Yeah, we know that," Suzuka said and put a hand on her hip. She raised an eyebrow. "What happened exactly? We're not used to seeing him so spooked."

"I'm not sure myself. It's why I'm asking you. He came in, handed me this bundle of hair, and acted like he'd stay. I thought—hoped he would. But at soon as he pulled out what he'd been working on, he started swearing and shouting. Ended up dumping paint on the canvas and ripped up another. They were his own works, but he's good, y'know? He usually ends up selling things even if he's not happy with them."

"What were the paintings of?" Hisako asked.

"The completed one was a bust of this man in a headdress and cloak, something he'd been working on in between activities. I was surprised because he doesn't usually draw or paint men unless it's a commission for someone, and even then, he moans and groans all the while," he responded, head tilted in thought. "The other, the new one, I'm not fully sure. It wasn't, uh, Mika-san, that's what I thought it'd have to be to upset him so much, but it wasn't. A woman, dark-skinned, and she had this reddish or purplish hair, and I don't think that was his palette. I'm not sure if it's some anime character or some sort of new idol, but I was just wondering if…" His shoulders slumped and he wrung his hands. "Okay, now I'm just sounding like a worrywart. It was probably just stress. I'm trying to keep things light between us and with the club, but when he acts like that..."

"No, that's probably a reason to worry," Suzuka agreed. "Not that I have any real clue what specifically that was about, but in general, I think he'll be okay? I mean. I'm not actually, uh…" She looked over at Hisako for help.

With a small sigh, she said, "I'm a little closer with him. I don't think I can answer your question, since I haven't seen any of his artworks, but I'll keep an eye on him. I'm sure he's just stressed." I hope it's just stress. But why was he painting Inanna? Enlil is his own, but Inanna isn't, she wondered.

"You've never seen any of his paintings?" Shunya asked in surprise.

"It's just… never come up." Now that she thought about it, they hardly interacted at school, aside from sitting together at lunch. She was curious, that much was true, but she had never thought to bring it up with him. She didn't want to take advantage of how poorly he reacted to being pressured.

"What are you doing next Monday?" he asked, tone abruptly shifting into seriousness. He grasped Hisako's hands and she jumped, then wondered how to pull away without seeming rude.

"I, um, n-nothing, I don't think?"

"Please, come to the Art Club meeting. Ask him to show you his paintings. He usually likes showing them to pretty girls, and you're his friend, so please. I just want him to feel welcome there again, but he won't talk to me anymore."

He released her hands and she quickly folded them behind her back to prevent future touching. Hisako nodded. "I could try. I'll ask him tomorrow or Monday, so it doesn't seem so suspicious." Sure, she didn't even go to her own club meetings, but she could stand to try to help Yuri with whatever had upset him, but she had a bad feeling that it wouldn't be as simply fixed as the third-year thought. And the poor guy wasn't prepared to deal with any issues regarding Personas, either.

"Thank you! I know this all sounds so weird, or nosy, but thank you for bearing with me. I'll see you on Monday!"

As Shunya left them, Suzuka shook her head in disbelief. "Man, I want a cool senpai like that. All the upperclassmen I know are from the team, and they don't worry about me like that."

"I'm sure they care about you."

She grinned, a little evilly. "Hisako-chan, the first time I get a sweet guy like that chase me halfway across the school because he's worried about me, you will be the first to know. After I'm done with him."

"Even before Haruka-chan?" she asked mildly.

"Sure. She'd probably throttle me for scoring a boyfriend before her, anyway. And speaking of scoring boyfriends, you still have your study date!"

"It's not that kind of studying!"

-.-.-

Saturday, June 14th, 2014



"Ma-chan."

Hisako continued scrolling. All of the foreign names were beginning to blur together.

"Ma-chan?"

She found an ancient statuette of Inanna and Ereshkigal. Strange to see them depicted like that, but she could see the similarities. It was also not what she was looking for.

"Hisako," he father said and touched her shoulder. She jumped and nearly shoved her laptop off her lap. Koichi stared at her, troubled, from behind his reading glasses. "Are you alright?"

"Y-Yes, sorry. I was just reading something. Studying."

"It's the weekend. You could take a break for dinner," he suggested. "We could pick something up before it gets dark. Whatever you'd like."

She looked away from the worry in those eyes. He was still walking on eggshells around her. She still hadn't spoken to him about her, about the money, or about anything. And the more time that elapsed, the guiltier she felt about it, so the more she put it off. "I'm not really hungry. Go ahead and eat without me," she mumbled.

He sighed, heavily and sadly. The guilt worsened. "Hisako…"

"You can go back to the nickname if you like," she told him, tucking hair behind her ear nervously, "I didn't mean to ignore—"

He cut her off with a hug. He was an affectionate, doting father, but it still caught her off guard. Emotional strain combined with physical shock soon had tears she struggled to keep silent. He let her go after a squeeze and didn't seem particularly surprised to see her crying. "I'm here for you, remember? Through anything."

Through anything. With those words, the dam broke, and Hisako couldn't hide her shame, her grief, her guilt, anything. She fell into a sobbing half-coherent explanation, and she was positive she was telling him more than she should, but she also doubted he was able to understand her. Koichi seemed content to let her cry herself out, and she small, selfishly logical part of her brain was thankful he seemed to take it all at face value.

She soon cried herself into small hiccups and exhaustion while he rubbed small circles on her back. "Hiding things within you is not always a sign of strength. It's okay to rely on others at times if you can't handle it," he said gently.

"I-I know."

"And I'm your father. I'll worry no matter what, and I know you're strong enough to face whatever comes your way, but I can be here for you, too. Let me be."

She nodded again. "It's just… Mika-chan."

"Losing a friend is always difficult, and I'm sorry she was so young."

"I was… I knew, the day it happened," she said delicately. It was his turn to nod; he probably puzzled that much out from her behavior or her incomprehensible crying. "I knew, but we agreed—we thought it would be better not to—Yuri-kun, he—"

"You don't have to tell me everything if it will upset you again." He took off his glasses and something subtle shifted in his expression. Hisako watched him, half wary, half hopeful. Hoping he'd be able to say some sort of magical father word and she'd feel better. Stupid, she knew, and she really shouldn't be delving too deep into that mess when speaking to him, but…

"I… actually didn't attend the wake," Hisako said awkwardly.

His expression remained neutral, but he arched an eyebrow.

"Yuri-kun and I sat out on the lawn. He and Mika-chan's mother didn't get along."

"It always frustrates me to hear of such things going on during funerals," Koichi said. "You… remember your grandfather's funeral, right?"

"Yes."

She thought he would tell her something about her mother—she had already left them by that point, but had come back for the funeral, to attend with them and to be there for them—but he surprised her. "Your grandmother didn't want any of us there at first."

"But she was…" Her memories of all of the services had been colored by her mother's presence, but she didn't remember anything specific happening otherwise. Her grandmother had been polite, if sad, and had been one of relatives who hadn't skirted around her or her mother.

"It was actually your mother and your aunt Ayuri who convinced her to let us all come together. Families should be together, especially in times of grief. And your grandmother eventually realized that it was about all of us, and your grandfather—not just her feelings."

One of her clearest memories of those few days spent in Otaru was her grandmother telling her how pretty her dress was, and how much she was starting to look like her mother, though she had her father's thick, wavy hair. Something her grandfather had apparently shared in his youth. She didn't recall any sort of strain at the time, but she had been young…

"Does she… still think that way?"

Her father tried to smile, and it came out as a grimace. "No one's perfect, Ma-chan. Not me, your grandmother, your mother, or even you. You just happen to come the closest."

"I had no idea she felt that way," she muttered, unswayed by his words.

"She looked at me and saw her husband and Shoji, and she looked at Ryozo and saw someone who'd escaped. Grief is never pretty, but it can help to share it with people you care about. Your grandmother saw that and let your mother and aunt help her. And, to let you know this story has a happy ending, she's come to terms with a lot of things, and she's told me that she's glad she didn't try to say or do anything at the funeral."

"Is it bad that I want Mika-chan's mother to regret her words?"

"It's human," he replied diplomatically. "I'm proud of you for staying by your friend, though. And I'm always here for you, but know also that these feelings will soften with time."

She only blinked at the flare of light, too tired to be surprised. Hisako shifted to make sure the card wouldn't get crumpled in her pocket, and asked, "Will you tell me more about our family?"

"Of course, Ma-chan," Koichi said and smiled.

"And can I finally get a part-time job?"

"...Yes, so long as you put your schoolwork first. And don't try to sneak money into my wallet anymore."

She wondered if she could use magic to cover her tracks. "Alright."

-.-.-

Monday, June 16th, 2014



"...What are you doing here," Yuri asked with a frustrated, tight scowl.

Hisako beamed up at him, already seated at an easel. She had forgotten to bring it up with him, but she had a back-up plan. "My father suggested I pick up something to do after school to keep myself busy, and since I can't play any sports, I figured a cultural club was the way to go. A-And I already knew someone in this one!" He didn't need to know of her almost-joining the Cooking Club.

Yuri looked around the room, but whether he was looking for someone else to blame or a way to escape, she couldn't be certain. Shunya was deep in conversation with a first-year on the other side of the semicircle of easels, and the handful of other club members already present were busy getting things ready or pulling out projects to work on.

He didn't reply and instead stood behind her, looking at the sketchpad she'd been doodling on while she'd waited. Hisako fought the urge to cover her work, but she managed to meet his eye. "I-I know I'm not very good. But that's why I'm here, right? To learn a couple things."

"Poirier said you had joined the Cooking Club," he replied tonelessly.

How could he—how does he know I'm in that?! she thought in a panic, and then, Did he remember when I mentioned it to him?

She must have gotten a look on her face (her crush remembered a throwaway detail!) because he groaned and pointed at the piece of charcoal she'd picked up. Shunya had just seated her near where Yuri normally sat and dumped a small collection of supplies she could not fully identify in front of her. "You're holding that wrong. You're not a very good spy, are you?"

"I've never had to have a cover story before," she muttered rebelliously.

He showed her how to fix her grip, despite the fact that it blackened even more of her hand, and told her, "You probably shouldn't be sketching with charcoal, anyway. Start with a pencil next time. We have more of those. I'm sure you have enough practice doodling hearts in the margins of your notes from class."

"That's a little mean."

"Then don't intrude on my territory."

"Territory? I came here, wanting to see some of your works, and I'm intruding?"

He flinched back as though struck. "Sorry. Knee-jerk reaction from when Mika would crash meetings. Um, so, really, why are you…?"

"I…" The truth and her cover story warred within her. They sounded like Octavia and Atticus again. "I wanted to check in on you. This seemed like a neutral way of doing it."

"Check on me," he repeated like it left a sour taste in his mouth.

"Yes, well, we are friends. And I've been curious about your hobbies for awhile!" She poked his arm with her cleaner hand. He kindly did not roll his eyes. She risked a glance over at Shunya, who had gotten a little closer but still did a good job at talking to someone else.

"Check on me for yourself? Not anyone else?" Yuri pressed.

"Check on you!"

"We both know I know that Shunya-senpai sent you. I'm just trying to figure out why."

"Because you were painting Personas and got mad at them and an upperclassman chased you across half the building to try to see what was wrong," Hisako said flatly.

"It's not his responsibility—or yours—" he peeked over the easel frame, narrowed his eyes at the club president, then turned the same suspicious look back down on Hisako, "—nevermind. We were friends first, so I'm claiming first rights your loyalty. Please leave."

"That's not how that works!" Hisako exclaimed.

"He's just nosy. Sort of like Sakuraba, except he drags others into it. Don't mind him."

"You were painting, or drawing, or whatever-ing Personas," she said in a low voice. She pointed to a stick figure drawing of Inanna she'd made. "I have a vested interest in making sure you're okay."

"It's nothing Persona-related. All stress, I can assure you."

"That doesn't make me feel better. Is this a part of the grieving process? Is Enlil giving you trouble? And I'd still like to see your paintings, if I may."

"You sound like a shrink," Yuri accused, just as Shunya bobbed up over the edge of the paper.

"Hisako-san, so glad to—"

"Senpai, don't bring my classmates into this."

"You know me, I always want to show off your works!" Shunya replied without missing a beat. "Or I suppose the remaining ones. There's only two left here now, right?"

"I'm entitled to doing what I want with my own—"

"Hisako-san, have you ever painted before? Any sort?" he happily interrupted.

"Um, only in class at my previous schools. It was watercolor."

"Want to see what acrylics look like on a canvas?"

"Don't I get a say in this anymore?" Yuri groused, folding his arms.

"It's my solemn duty as a third-year to make sure my cute underclassmen get all the attention they deserve," he replied and patted him on the shoulder. Yuri glared at him until he retracted his hand. "Right! So, Hisako-san, if you'd follow me to our storage room…"

Yuri didn't follow them; he sat down and petulantly poked at his own canvas as Shunya led Hisako away. She knew he was prone to being a little grumpy, but Shunya seemed to clash against so much of what she knew of him. She didn't know what to think of the situation, or whose side to take, if she was being honest with herself. She was worried about Yuri, for a number of reasons, and Shunya seemed to be caring enough. But he seemed a little pushy and she didn't want to get in the middle of that.

She followed him to a disorganized room full of materials, unused easels, and cupboards. They had to squeeze past a pair of filing cabinets to get to a pile of what turned out to be an array of finished artworks. Shunya carefully lifted a stack of papers off the top, then what seemed to be a painted sheet of glass, and finally reached the canvases beneath.

"So, he normally stores works he doesn't want or hasn't sold yet here—everyone does, if they want to. A lot of them are stored just until the next show."

Hisako gasped as he began lifting the topmost off of the stack. The first was a stunning cityscape against the night sky, with the moon and clouds stealing the attention in the piece. The second and third were both still lives, but one was done entirely in vivid reds and the other in pastels. The fourth seemed to be a remake of something familiar, though she couldn't quite place it, a woman in a lovely gold and white kimono with blossoms as a frame. "These are all so good!" she told him enthusiastically.

Shunya paused, regarding the small canvas he was holding (a high-contrast portrait of a girl she thought she'd seen in the club room earlier) with a thoughtful air. "Yes, they are. Sometimes, it's nice to hear that from someone new, though."

"Sometimes I wish I could draw, especially if it meant I could create such pretty things."

"You could always actually join the Art Club," he said with a grin.

"Thank you, but I'm not sure I could handle Yuri-kun glaring at me the entire time."

"How did your talk with him go?"

"He figured it out pretty much right away. Another friend of ours told him I was in the Cooking Club… Sorry."

"It was a long shot anyway. Thank you for trying, at any rate." He pulled another smaller canvas out of the pile, pausing at it. It was a watercolor, or something similar, that depicted a willow tree overlooking a brightly colored pond.

Shunya looked at it for so long Hisako had to say, "It's very pretty. Is that one of Yuri-kun's?"

"This one was done by Mika-san." He set it down, apart from the others, and gave it one last look before brightening into a smile for her. "I honestly have no idea what to do with it. I'm not sure if I should ask Yuri-kun about it, or if I should try to contact her parents. I'd feel disingenuous entering it into any shows, even under her name, and I must admit, I worry about Yuri-kun finding it without warning. Such are the worries of a club president!"

"I think she would've liked to compete against Yuri-kun in an art show," Hisako said with half a grin.

"I like to think that, too," he admitted. "But the next show our school usually participates in isn't for another two months, so maybe something will happen in that time frame. Sorry—back to digging! That's what you're here for, after all!"

"That, and my failed attempt at being a covert operative."

"If it makes you feel any better, this is actually my Plan B," Shunya said with a laugh in his voice. Hisako peered over his shoulder as he continued sorting through the art.

"What do you mean?"

"He's, ah, a little easy to mess with at times. And if we take long enough in here, he's sure to come in and blurt out something."

A tiny alarm bell sounded in her head. Yes, that was exactly what Yuri would do, but she dreaded his outburst tendency when he was even the tiniest bit worried about supernatural things. For now, they had their secret contained. But she worried about her father, and Suzuka was zero for two on keeping secrets, and Yuri was a walking time bomb…

"Here we go! This is the more recent of the two—he was trying for an art nouveau look, but as I understand it, this was still just an exercise for him, not a commission or anyone specific."

Shunya turned around and proudly offered a larger canvas with a woman in profile on it. She was haloed in blue and gold, and wore long, dripping robes that pooled at her small, blackened feet. She was sure there were layers of meaning she was missing, but she was far from an art critic; she just knew it was beautiful, and she understood why people would want him to paint them.

Yuri barged into the room and said in one, breathless rush, "I've been having nightmares about Enlil and Dumuzi and what we're going to find in Mika's section of Irkalla."

"See? I knew it wouldn't be that hard," Shunya said pleasantly and set the painting back down on the stack. Hisako eyed him nervously out of the corner of her eye, already sweating as she struggled not to show outward panic signs. Yuri's face had drained of color. So much for containment.

-.-.-

Knowledge: ★★★☆☆ (+4)
-Studious

Confidence: ★★☆☆☆ (+0)
-Secure

Charm: ★☆☆☆☆ (+2)
-Awkward

Empathy: ★★★☆☆ (+2)
-Commiserative

Hisako Fujihara's Single Father social link has ranked up! The Star arcana has reached rank 2.
PTF: Chapter 15
First Chapter: PTF: Chapter 1 
Previous Chapter: PTF: Chapter 14
Next Chapter: [next month]

i hated writing this chapter but at least it's over! back to irkalla fun times next chapter
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"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."

"Still shitty."

"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."

"Yeah, fine."

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?"

"Vine!"

"Thought not. Any guesses on when you'll evolve again?" she asked. She missed how her sister stiffened.

"Vine!"

"Whimsi-scott!" Lala exclaimed, pulling her face away from Talia.

"Gant?"

"Talia thinks it's not a trick."

"Li-gant."

"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."

"Bitch."

-.-.-

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."

"Deal!"

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.

"Wha?"

"I've been trying to wake you for twenty minutes!" Maya cried in exasperation. "Good job, Whippy."

"Vine-servine!"

"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."

"Ser!"

"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 fear!"

"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."

Neither moved.

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...
RMWJ: Chapter 37
First Chapter: <da:thumb id="208336167">
Previous Chapter: RMWJ: Chapter 36
Next Chapter: [in a month]

THE THING HAS FINALLY HAPPENED

ALSO HERE IS MY PATREON FOR EVEN MORE UPDATING MAGIC 

NOTES:
+writing baby allen/nathan warms my heart. writing younger lenore and thomas deadens it again. 
+the lala thing has been planned from pretty much the beginning. ree's hard to foreshadow for, though. 
+next chapter is pokemon because i guess every eight chapters is a pokemon chapter. who knew? 
Loading...
oh my god why are these on my profile page

has anyone figured out wtf dA is now
  • Mood: Eager
that thing is a patreon!

For those of you who haven't heard of patreon, it's basically like a kickstarter, except over time and not necessarily for specific, one-time things. In my case, it's for writing! You can pledge any amount you choose, and by default it's a monthly recurring thing, but you can cancel after the month to make it a one-time thing! There are individual and overall reward tiers, you can cancel at any time, it's a super neat thing, etc. (one of the overall rewards is me finally doing a webcomic for that hell or high water script i wrote ages ago)

I'm going to keep writing anyway, but this speeds up the process and takes the edge off of the looming student loans. And I hope to be drawing again soon! I'm pretty sure I have a working tablet again. Fingers crossed!

There's more information, including the specific reward tiers (which have been named and numbered in a way that took way too long considering how much people will care) on the link!

Anyway, if you could pledge (become a patron?), or even just signal boost, I would love you 5ever. <3 <3 <3 (seriously, the smallest reward tier is a dollar.)

(also for other author/artist friends, this is a neat thing and i recommend it)

edit: the first four goal tiers have been covered for this month! this means WEEKLY STREAMS, MONTHLY UPDATES FOR BOTH STORIES, and MORE ROOK LIVEBLOGS!

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:iconawesomeshippuu:
AwesomeShippuu Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Thank you so much for the fav!!! It means a lot to me! :3

I hope you'll have a nice day <3

BTW, Keep up the good work in your gallery :D
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:icon13thprotector:
13thprotector Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the watch friend :)
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:icondigital-skitty:
Digital-Skitty Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Professional Writer
no problem! i'm interested in that original persona thing you got going on, so hope to see more good stuff from you. :>
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:icon13thprotector:
13thprotector Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm gonna have a pic for each character and all major Arcana will be used. I'll give hints to the story as I make posters like the Full Moon and the Eclipse ones. I'll make posters of characters with their persona and their cursed shell arcana.

Also it will be a trilogy series with several spinoff chapters that tell alternate stories and behind the scenes stories. Be sure to look closely.
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:icondigital-skitty:
Digital-Skitty Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2014  Professional Writer
that sounds pretty ambitious, so good luck to you, good sir. how long has this been in the planning stages? is anyone helping you with anything or is this a purely solo endeavor? why will it be a trilogy as opposed to one (longer) story? how long do you predict the first part would be? is this your first foray into persona OC things or no?
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(1 Reply)
:iconnoahverus:
noahverus Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2014  Hobbyist
Thanks for the fave! :)
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:icondeviousluxray-granon:
Been a veery long time Kitten.
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:icondigital-skitty:
Digital-Skitty Featured By Owner Jul 29, 2014  Professional Writer
i have a bad sense of time >o> sorry! (when three months accidentally pass between chapters that take place largely in the same day/week it messes with your perception of everything) 
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:icondeviousluxray-granon:
Hahaha I meant since I'd seen your profile, more like a year and some change hun.
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:iconimmaculatefruit:
immaculatefruit Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
yo, so i just finished persona 4 golden and i thought of you. how have you been? it's been forever since we talked. i've actually re-read The Rook twice too btw. 
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