View Full Version : The City and The Ghost/ PG-15

2nd January 2012, 6:51 AM
: Author's Notes :

Hello! This is the first time I've posted anything on this site as far as fanfic goes, so please be patient with me as I get used to this site. That being said, I'm not new to writing- I have been dabbling in fanfic for nearly ten years- I began writing at the age of ten and now I'm in college (and still writing).

I will do my best to post a new chapter every week. I have up to 11 on fanfiction.net so if you'd like to check it out there, you're more than welcome. Please be warned that this is PG-15 for a reason- there will be offensive language and as the story goes on, violence (though nothing horribly graphic).

Thank you in advance for reading! I'd appreciate any feedback!

: Summary :

Delaney Caldwell is one of the most celebrated trainers in the region of Sinnoh, known best for taking down Team Galactic. When chaos erupts in her own backyard, she is forced to flee to Unova and rebrand herself as "Christa White", an awkward novice trainer with no friends, a mother who left her as a child and pokemon that dislike her. It's there that the journey really begins.

Chapter 01: Dismantle. Repair.

There were lights.

She knew there were. An inkling of them pierced through her eyelids and she could see them faintly even with her eyes closed. How bright they were, she'd never know. She just couldn't open her eyes, even though, Arceus be damned, she was trying.

Or maybe she was just hoping there was light. Hoping she wasn't in the dark. Hoping that she would see light again, eventually.

She wanted to see Marvel, wanted to know how he was doing. She wanted to make sure the rest of her pokemon were doing okay, that Cyrus hadn’t gotten to them to.

And where in the hell was she? What had just happened? The last thing she remembered was that manicial smile as Marvel fell from the sky…

And then his voice. Where did it come from? He hadn’t been there before. “Delaney, you did it. You did it. Now wake up.” He paused. She could hear a raspiness in his voice, as if he were crying, or about to. Him crying, and over little ol’ Delaney. It was a novel concept, one she may have enjoyed back in the day, when things were still relatively innocent.

Why couldn't she open her eyes?

“Delaney, please wake up,” he urged her, panic rising in his voice. “I can see your chest moving. I know you're alive. Please just open those eyes.”

“Stop staring at her chest, pervert,” she could hear Dax's higher-pitched voice say in disgust. If she could, she would smile. She could just imagine the looks they were giving each other. Dax was surely looking at him, utterly revolted and he was certainly rolling his eyes at Dax, if not burning a hole through him with his glare.

“Really, kid? You think now's the time?” he said, his tone turning icy. “All that matters right now is that she's okay. I don't know how to get her to wake up.”

“Lucas is on his way,” Dax said, more than likely oppressing the urge to ask him what the hell he was doing here. She could just imagine Dax’s confused face- but now was not the time. “He's bringing the authorities with him. That guy Looker is eager to put Cyrus away for a long, long time. I just hope he thought to bring a doctor or something. Delaney's hurt pretty bad.”

“I have to get out of here before they get here,” he muttered. If there was any time to wake up, it was now. This was precisely the moment she had feared- the downfall of Team Galactic was the downfall of him as well. This was the part where he had to get far, far away.

But they knew this was going to happen. He had ruined her, she had ruined him.

But despite knowing this, she still was willing herself to open her damn eyes, so that she could try to convince him to stay, or that maybe she should leave with him. She knew that was useless, though- she could never survive out there, cutoff from her father, her friends, her life. She had known from the beginning that this was temporary.

No matter how brightly the flame burned, eventually the wind would blow it out.

But damn it, the least she could do was open her eyes and tell him goodbye. Tell him to come back for her, or at least write her to let her know he was safe. Tell her whenever he moved on with his life, so she could do the same.

The hand holding Delaney's let go suddenly, and then she knew- this was it. This was her last chance to just open her damn eyes!

But she was no closer to the light than she had been moments (seconds? Hours? How much time had past since she was laying there?) before. “I'm sorry,” was all he could say. “I'll be thinking of you every day.”

And then nobody spoke for what felt like years.

She knew Dax was still there, but even his chipper, energetic self had nothing to say. He didn't grab the hand that he had left abandoned on the ground. He didn't take his post at her side. He didn't even try to urge her awake. It was the quietest he had probably ever been in his life.

The next voice she heard was undeniably Looker's. “Whoa,” was all he could say.

What else was there to say?

When Delaney felt the light hitting her eyelids this time, she didn't have to fight them open. She would've rather had to battle to have to see her perfectly organized room in the late morning sun if she could have just opened her eyes that day, that day that had been approximately two hundred and two days ago. Though these dreams didn't ruin the entire upcoming day for her anymore, so she supposed some progress was still progress.

Not good enough progress, though, in Delaney's book. There were very few possibilities for the upcoming day that wouldn't still leave her with a bitter taste in her mouth. It was unlikely that anybody would be by to visit her (and not like she had a myriad of friends who would want to), so her only option was to fill her day with meaningless tasks that served no purpose other than to direct her focus elsewhere. It had been the goal of everybody involved with her “recovery” (and Arceus, she hated when they called it that- it made her sound like she had a disease, or she was an alcoholic, or something along those lines) that Delaney do her best to try to forget the events of the Spear Pillar and just focus her day on other small things, so that maybe she could transition to a normal, Team Galactic-free life. It was kind of funny, actually, seeing as how she could barely remember the events of the Spear Pillar. It was all that led up to it that had left her jaded.

Step one: go running around route 212 for an hour or so.

Pleased at having settled on a task for the remainder of the morning, Delaney hopped out of the bed, her feet hitting the plush pink carpet under her feet with a satisfying thump. She tossed the purple tank top and white cotton shorts she was wearing off to the side in a crumpled heap and fought the urge to pick them up. She had never liked the idea of anybody else cleaning her room, being a rather clean person by nature, but organizing (and reorganizing... and reorganizing again) her room always sent her off on cleaning fits, especially now that she was home from traveling, and some of the newer maids were complaining that they had nothing to do. She figured that they'd be glad for a break from cleaning the giant (and mostly empty) house, but apparently it had gotten to the point where Delaney was doing their jobs for them and they were worrying that the Caldwell family would render some of them useless and lay them off.

Blake would never do that, of course, and Delaney would never allow him to, but to assuage the younger maids' fears, Delaney once in a while left a small pile of clothing on her floor, or purposefully left a cup on her bedside table, just to give them two seconds of something to do. Annette in particular loved an excuse to go into Delaney's wardrobe to get to her laundry pile and Delaney was happy to oblige... sometimes.

Now that she had nowhere really to go, the only use of her wardrobe was the chest of drawers that held her pajamas, sweatpants and exercise clothes. Delaney wandered over to it and grabbed a black pair of sweatpants and a simple blue t-shirt out of the bottom drawer. She glanced briefly at the rows of expensive jeans, shirts and dresses, but there was really no point in putting them on unless she was having visitors, and by visitors, she meant anybody other than Dax, who was pretty much the sibling she never had. Sure, every once in a while, the somewhat vain blonde boy that she had met on her journeys, the boy who had become her closest friend, liked to remind Delaney that highly-ranked trainers should be doing more than just sulking around in sweatpants and how long has it been since you've battled with your Pokemon? Too long! At that point, Delaney would simply reply that she let them out every single day to exercise and that often, her infernape, Blitzkrieg, went running with her around route 212.

But an hour's run isn't what you've spent months training for, Delaney. Your pokemon should be fighting, and they should be training with the best, instead of sparring with random rich kids that come to see the garden.

Point one: Dax, though she would never tell him that he was right. Instead, she would tell him to shut up, and it was time to wander. The duo had made it a point to explore the wings of the elaborate Pokemon Mansion, the wings that nobody had been in but maids since the house had been purchased before Delaney was born. She was beginning to think her mother had been in some of them, though- once in a while, they'd find a forgotten vase with long dead roses, or daisy, in a corner on a small, dusty table.

'Maybe Annette should go through those rooms instead of worrying about my laundry,' Delaney thought wryly. She slipped the exercise clothes on, debating on whether she should take Blitzkrieg with her or not. She finally decided not to, but mentally promised the pokemon that maybe she would ride her bike up to Hearthrome and take a walk with Blitzkrieg around Amity Square. It was a rather fun time, considering that the main visitors of the park were snooty old city women with their bunearys and pachirisus who did a double take when Delaney walked by with her infernape, though of course, nobody said a word to her. Nobody would dare think of saying anything rude to Delaney Caldwell. Most walked on eggshells around her now, as if just waiting for her to snap. Most seemed to think that she had taken her loss to Cynthia a lot harder than she actually did (in actuality, she was quite grateful- Delaney had never had the desire to be Champion).

Delaney didn't even look at her shoe collection gathering dust at the other end of the room, instead opting to throw on the worn out sneakers lying beside her bed. She glanced in the mirror and frowned a little bit. Despite the relatively small effect that the dreams were having on her now (well, small compared to the nights she had spent over the first couple of months screaming and crying in her sleep), she still looked exhausted. Dark bags were even more noticeable on Delaney's pale face, gathering shadows below her wide violet eyes. She grabbed a comb from a vanity drawer and haphazardly ran it through her long pale hair. When she had been traveling and often in the sun, color had filled her cheeks and her platinum hair had gleamed in the bright light of the day. Now, though, despite how much time Delaney spent running around route 212, she just couldn't get that color back. She seemed as white as a sheet, from head to toe, every moment of every day.

She jogged casually down the main staircase, waving hello to Bridget and Ashlynn who were heading up, more than likely to check on her room. She couldn't help but think to herself that Annette would be disappointed that she hadn't gotten there first.

The petite blonde girl, though, the youngest of the Caldwell family's help, was at the foot of the stairs, waiting for her with a big smile on her face and a small, square box in her hands. Delaney made a mental note to clear her closet of things that she knew she would never wear again and give them to Annette. She had taken a liking to the girl, who had started working at the house soon after Delaney had ended her journey. “Miss Delaney!” she shouted eagerly, despite the fact that Delaney had told her hundreds of time that she could just call her Delaney. “You have a package!”

“Who's it from?” she asked, scrunching up her nose in confusion. It was more than likely Dax, sending her a scarf or a necklace or whatever from wherever he was at. Other than Dax, she couldn't imagine who would want to send her anything. She had been away from training for so long, and isolated from almost everyone, so it wasn't like she had a ton of friends or admirers just clamoring to give her presents. The days of receiving “thank you” flowers and condolence cards were long over.

“I don't know!” the young girl squealed. “It was just sitting on the porch when I went out to ask your father a question.” Annette thrust the package in her hands as soon as Delaney reached the bottom step. Delaney chuckled to herself as she examined the package. Her name and address were printed carefully on the top, but other than that, nothing had been written. “Maybe it’s from a secret admirer! How romantic!”

“I seriously doubt that,” Delaney scoffed as she carefully opened the box, which had been loosely taped on one of the sides. It took her a moment to get enough of it off to be able to open the top, but once the box was open, she only had more questions.

Inside were a pokeball and a note, folded over several times. But which to open first?

Delaney opted for the pokeball, curiosity getting the best of her (though she was dying to know who had sent it, and hopefully the note said that). The idea that a savage beast such as a magmortar or a garchomp or whatever else (Delaney didn't even want to think of whatever else could be) with specific instructions to fry her as soon as it was released crossed her mind briefly. After all, Delaney was most definitely at the top of some **** lists.

Well, that was a risk she was going to have to take. She was just far too curious for her own good.

She hesitantly released whatever pokemon was waiting for her, cringing a bit as a burst of white light was emitted from the ball. The light eventually got smaller though and eventually gave way to a small, blue pokemon that Delaney had never seen before- and this was coming from a girl who had traveled all over the Sinnoh region, battling hundreds of trainers and seeing all there was to see. This would be a much easier task if grumpy old Professor Rowan had just given her a pokedex, but nooooooo. Delaney apparently didn’t warrant one.

The pokemon looked up at her, blinking in confusion. Though most of his body was teal, his head and arms were white. His feet, tail and ears were navy blue. Judging by the baby yellow shell that rested on his abdomen, he was more than likely a water Pokemon. At any rate, he was definitely young and definitely needed some care. Delaney and Annette looked at the little Pokemon, who was staring back at them with wide black eyes. “What is it?” Annette finally asked, her once excited voice a bit quiet. “And who sent it to you? Professor Rowan, maybe?”

Delaney shook her head, a few strands of her ponytail coming loose. “I don't think so. The professor would've had Lucas deliver it, and you know who Lucas is.”

“Well, read the note, silly!” Annette squealed, regaining her peppy demeanor.

Delaney couldn't explain why, but her hands were shaking as she grabbed the yellow piece of paper from the bottom of the box. The edges of one of the side was ripped, as if the paper had been hurriedly torn from some random legal pad. She took her sweet time unfolding the note, though Annette looked like she just wanted to burst.

All of the sudden, she was afraid to find out who it was from.

When she finally finished unfolding the paper, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, mentally preparing herself, though she didn't know for what. Finally, she allowed herself to read the words on the page.

It's an oshawott.

I knew that would be your first question, because I knew you'd want to release the pokemon first. He was given to me by Professor Aurea Juniper and when I first saw him, I thought of you. I'm hoping he'll convince you to listen to what I'm about to say.

Delaney's breath caught in her throat. Two hundred and two days without seeing him, hearing from him. Here he was. Right here. The letters formed the words that her eyes were hungrily lapping up and her brain was trying (but failing) to digest- they were proof that he was alive, proof that he was free. Proof that she was still on his mind, just like he promised.

I know you have questions. I hope one day I'll be answer them, but now is not the time for questions.

You need to leave Sinnoh immediately. You aren't safe there.

I can't tell you why. I can't tell you anything. Just trust me. Get out of Sinnoh as fast as you can. The time will come when you won't be able to.

Come to Unova. Find me.

I hope to see you soon. A.

Delaney hadn't realized that Annette had left until she knelt down by Delaney with a glass of water. She also had realized that she had apparently fallen to the ground, as she was now sitting and leaning against the door frame. “That wasn't Professor Rowan, was it?” Annette asked in a hushed voice.

All Delaney could do was shake her head. She couldn't speak. She definitely couldn't even think.

Come to Unova.

Her eyes wandered around the room, from Annette's worried expression to the still confused look on the oshawott's face to-

“Delaney, is everything okay?” her father asked, offering her a hand to help her off the floor. Delaney hadn't even realized she was on the floor. He was dressed in his navy suit, which meant that he was on his way to an important meeting. Now wasn't the time to tell him about the letter.

His eyes fell upon the small, very confused otter pokemon whose eyes were moving from person to person. “What is this? It's not from Sinnoh, is it?”

“No,” she finally choked out. She cleared her throat. “He's from Unova. He's an oshawott.”

“I'll take a good look at him when I get back. Crasher Wake and I are meeting to discuss the, uh, renovations to be made to one of the lakeside properties.” Or the area where Team Galactic bombed, but you know, tomato, tomAHto. “I'll be back in a couple of hours.” He paused, and took another look at his daughter. “Are you sure you're okay, Del?”

Not that she had answered before, but that was probably a good thing. She managed a weak smile for her father and cleared her throat again. “I'm fine, Daddy,” she responded, clutching the letter in her right hand. “Everything is just fine.”

You need to leave Sinnoh immediately. You aren't safe there.

Well, she was sorry to break it to him, but Unova was not an option. He knew where she was, and where she had been for the last two hundred and two days. Not safe? She didn’t really leave her house! What a ridiculous concept.

And with that, Delaney took off, sprinting from the moment she left her door, even though she had a feeling running wouldn’t distract her today.

7th January 2012, 9:25 PM
Chapter 02: Unsafe Safe

Question: How many roselia in a row can you battle before going insane?

Answer: Apparently 6.

Luckily for Delaney, Annette had decided the best use of her day was to hang out and play with Oshawott. Delaney needed a day to process things, a day to keep her mind active... Mindless tasks to keep her distracted. Sound familiar?

Oh, and for the record? None of those roselia lasted longer than ten minutes in battle with Blitzkrieg. Even as just a time-consumer, it failed.

Due to his teasing attitude and reckless streak, Blitzkrieg terrified the vast majority of the young maids at the Caldwell house, so Delaney had to recall him before she wandered back into the house. Annette was undoubtedly still in Delaney's room with Oshawott, so Delaney figured that was the place to go once she got inside. She jogged up to the front and opened the door, heading straight for the stairs that led to her bedroom.

"Are you going to tell me about this new pokemon now?"

Delaney hadn't noticed her father in the foyer, but there he stood, now out of his navy suit and into a pair of khaki shorts, white short sleeved shirt and a tan sweater around his shoulders. Though it was hot out, Blake was often cold and kept a sweater on him "just in case". He stared up at his daughter, who was staring back at him wondering when the hell he got home and how he got to the front without Delaney so much as noticing (probably in the midst of one of her millions of roselia battles). "We can talk about it over dinner," she said with a shrug as she began heading back up to her room.

"Wake and I grabbed a bite to eat after our meeting, so I'm not very hungry. We'll talk now," he stated sternly in his "Mr. Backlot Businessman" voice. He only used it on Delaney when he was of the utmost seriousness, and apparently, that was now.

Sighing a bit to herself, Delaney went back down the stairs, knowing there was no way to avoid this conversation. "In the library, Del," he said, and began to walk down the west hallway. Of course, the library was where he held the most detrimental conversations, so this was bound to be a doozy. She followed after him and entered the spacious room a couple of paces after her father. It was her least favorite room in the house. Whereas most libraries felt comfortable, like a place to waste the day in a fantasy world in front of a crackling fire, Blake's was more like a second office, a better office than his own official office. His original office at least had traces of him in it, with Pokemon books scattered around and rare, interesting artifacts on display. This had none of those little inserts, just rows upon rows of books Delaney was certain nobody had ever touched. It seemed almost pretentious, which was odd to her because her father most certainly wasn't.

Or at least, her father wasn't. "Mr. Backlot Businessman" was a bit full of himself (though she would never tell him that at the risk of hurting his feelings).

Delaney took a seat in one of the plushy crushed velvet armchairs, hardly feeling worthy to sit on it, much less make herself comfortable and relaxed. She sat up as straight as a pin (like a proper lady, mind you) and tossed her hair behind her shoulder, because it was her father's biggest peeve to not be able to see her eyes when he was speaking to her. She looked him directly in the eye (hoping it wasn't a move she would regret) and simply said, "Ask away".

"Tell me about the pokemon I saw you with earlier." She had said ask away. This wasn't a question. It was a demand. Despite the fact that they were usually on pretty equal footing, as they had been for years, Blake occasionally liked to remind the sixteen year old who was boss.

"It's called an oshawott. It's a water pokemon." At least, she was pretty sure Oshawott was a water Pokemon, but not all Pokemon were so obvious. But even worse than that, Delaney knew her father wanted more information than that, and information was something she just did not have. If Dax was there with his pokedex, he might have been able to pick up something, but Delaney hadn't been chosen for that honor by Professor Rowan. Apparently taking down Team Galactic and saving the space-time continuum didn't even make her worthy of carrying around a small machine, in the great professor's eyes.

Damn that grouchy old man.

Blake took his daughter's silence to mean that she was searching for things to tell him (which, to some extent, was true). "And it's from Unova." Another statement, not question.

"Yes." What more could she say? She didn't know from what part of Unova it came from, if it was rare, how much training it had been through (though he looked very young, so she was guessing not much).

"Who gave you this pokemon, assuming you didn't make a morning trip out there to catch one?" Blake asked, leaning forward across the desk.

"A friend," she nearly whispered. If you could really call him that.

"Dax?" he asked, though he already knew the answer. Delaney knew he knew. If it had been Dax, she would have just said Dax from the very beginning.

Why didn't she just say Dax from the very beginning? Damn.

"No, just another friend that I met traveling," she muttered, lying through her very teeth. She resisted the urge to pull on the tips of her hair as she often did when she was nervous. He would know she was lying if he saw her do that. It had been her go-to habit since childhood.

"Not a gym leader, certainly?"

"No, Daddy. Just another random trainer that I battled one day that I became friends with."

He was anything but 'just another random trainer'.

Blake, however, knew damn well that Delaney wasn't the type to befriend random strangers on the road. She felt uncomfortable around new people, and it took her too long to open up to people. The only close friend she had was Dax. "You do know who sent it, Delaney?"

"Yes," she answered quickly. "I know exactly who sent it."

Blake paused. Delaney could tell as his steely eyes locked with her violet ones that he was decided whether or not this was a battle he wanted to pursue. Yes, there was something she wasn't telling him, but it couldn't be as bad as he thought.

Actually, it kind of was, but he didn't need to know that.

But Blake went in a completely different direction than she expected. "It's not from Lydia, is it? Trying to get you back there?"

The nerves on Delaney's face were quickly replaced with repulsion. "Oh Arceus no, Daddy. You know I haven't talked with her in years, not since before I left to challenge Roark."

Oh Lydia. Hardly a mother.

Not to say she hadn't tried, of course, but her effort was too little, too late. When a fourteen year-old Delaney had begun to receive letters from Unova, she hadn't cared one bit. A page and a half after seeing her once was hardly worth the effort to read and Delaney was too busy preparing to start her pokemon journey to even try to make an effort to write back. Lydia had written three more letters that year, and then they stopped as sudden as they had started. Truth be told, the letters had hardly crossed her mind until now.

"I just thought I'd check," Blake said, looking down and letting his steely approach die down. "One of these days she'll realize that she should've stuck around."

Realization hit the blonde girl like a pick-up truck. "Is that what this whole thing has been about? You trying to figure out if Lydia has been contacting me?"

"Partially," he sheepishly admitted. "And partially just because I worry. You've had a lot to deal with over the last few months, kiddo."

"You don't need to worry about me," Delaney insisted. She didn't add that if one more person said that they were worried, she would likely punch them in the face, considering it was her dad, but seriously. If one more person said that they were worried or concerned, she would likely punch them in the face.

Blake stood up and walked to the doorway, and Delaney followed suit. "Maybe you should go out traveling again. Try your hand at the Battle Frontier, like Dax," he suggested.

Delaney shrugged and walked out into the hallway. Surprisingly, none of the maids were hanging around, pretending to dust. "I don't think so. Traveling has just gotten boring. I need a break from it," she stated. After telling herself that she needed to recover for six months and distract herself, she realized there was more truth than her words to her father than she had wanted to realize. Yes, she had needed time to recover. She probably should have taken that time right after the incident at the Spear Pillar, but after she had been released from the hospital, she had let herself be pushed into finishing up the gym challenge and battling the Elite 4. The first couple of months spent back home were necessary to rest up after all the stress that had plagued her for months. But after that? She could've (and according to Dax, should've) gotten back on the road.

Truth be told, she just didn't want to.

Blake only looked mildly surprised at the statement. "Well I know that if you felt like it, you could probably challenge the gyms again. Wake was just saying earlier today that he's been training hard so that he can ask you for a rematch."

"I'm sure he has," Delaney said with a forced smile, but in honesty? The idea of training and pressuring her Pokemon extra hard for rematches made her skin crawl.

At the end of the hallway, Blake made a sharp right, bypassing the stairs in favor of the door that led to the elaborate back garden. "I'm going into my trophy garden," he said with a gleeful little grin. It was slightly adorable how obsessed her father was with going and playing with the baby pokemon in the back. "Call me if you need to, Delly."

By that point, Delaney was halfway up the stairs, relieved that the conversation was over. "Will do, Daddy!" she called back down, and then ran down the hallway to her room.

She cautiously opened the door... Only to find an incredibly adorable little otter pokemon rolling around her pink rug with a pokemon treat in his hand. Annette sat on the floor, cross-legged and wearing a pair of cutoff jean shorts and a white off-the-shoulder shirt. It was clear she was off-duty, which made it all the nicer that she had stayed to entertain Delaney's pokemon (though it looked like it was Oshawott who was entertaining the young golden-haired girl). "Looks like you two are having fun," Delaney said with a chuckle. The Oshawott stopped rolling around and looked up at Delaney with big, black eyes, blinking as if he was confused as to who she was.

"Oh, he's darling!" Annette squealed eagerly, clapping her hands. "He's been so much fun to spend the day with! It was like I was hardly working!"

She had been hardly working, but Delaney felt no need to point that out. She was just grateful that somebody had taken the oshawott off of her hands for the day so it didn't remind her of...


Annette hopped off the floor and grabbed her purse that was lying next to where she had been sitting. "I hope you don't mind, Miss Delaney, but I need to leave."

"Not at all!" Delaney said, smiling. "Thank you for helping me out today."

"It was my pleasure," Annette said, beaming. "Maybe tomorrow I can help you out again!"

"I would appreciate that," Delaney said, kicking her shoes off by her bedroom door. "Have a good evening, Annette."

"You as well, Miss Delaney!" she said with a bright, cheerful smile and with that, she opened Delaney's bedroom door and began to walk out. The oshawott ran as fast as its flipper-like feet would allow after her. Delaney scooped him up and placed him on her bed.

"You'll see her tomorrow," Delaney irately told the oshawott, puzzled at his behavior. He hadn't shown one bit of affection towards her, yet he was chasing after Annette.

He probably thinks Annette is his trainer.

Delaney nearly facepalmed herself at the obviousness. Annette had spent the whole day playing with him and showering him with affection, while Delaney spent her afternoon running, swimming and battling countless roselia with the help of Blitzkrieg. It made perfect sense why he wanted to leave with Annette.

That didn't mean that it didn't still sting Delaney a bit though. "I guess I used up some of my avoidance on you, too," Delaney said softly to him. "I'm sorry, little guy. The circumstances you came with aren't your fault." She lightly scratched him behind one of his navy ears. "I promise I'll be better tomorrow."

"Wott!" he exclaimed cheerfully, as if excitedly accepting her promise. Delaney smiled a little bit, and continued absentmindedly stroking his head.

"I bet it sure is different for you here. Alex said you came from a lab... No offense, but that sounds kind of boring. At least here there are lots of pokemon to play with. Tomorrow you can meet Blitzkrieg, and Marvel, and Bellby..." Something is not right. Something that she had just told Oshawott was off.

Well, two things, if you wanted to be technical. The first was that Marvel, her brave, kind-hearted togekiss that had taken her home every night while on her journey, was no longer around for Oshawott to meet, thanks to Cyrus. The second was the realization of the fact that she had just spoken Alex's name out loud for the first time in six months.

Both made her rather sad.

Oshawott closed its eyes, laying its head into her hand, totally blissful. Delaney continued to alternate between softly stroking his head and scratching him behind his left ear. "If only you had been here back when I was traveling, Oshawott..." she said, thinking out loud a bit. "You would've liked me a lot better then. You would've had more fun too. Back when I liked to battle, I used to challenge everyone I saw. Now you're just going to kind of sit around here like I do. Hopefully you like to run... But I think you'd have a hard time with that with those short little legs of yours. Maybe we can go swimming together. There's a pool at the back corner of the backyard. It's fenced off so that trainers visiting Daddy's garden can't go in it."

She had no idea why she was babbling so much. Maybe she just liked the idea of being able to talk to somebody again. She hadn't been able to ramble so much since...

Oh Arceus, Delaney, just say it. You already said it once.

Fine. ALEX.

Dax liked talking himself far too much for Delaney to sit there and jabber at him. Instead, he expected her to listen. Alex wasn't much of a talker though, and he always said Delaney's life was so much more interesting than his. He liked to hear her stories. He didn't mind when she told him about the silly things her pokemon did, like the time Blitzkrieg had sparred with a small starly until its angry mama Staraptor flew over and gave the (then) monferno a piece of his own medicine, or when Marvel had been a togepi who had been a little too fond of the fires he accidentally started using Metronome. He told her that she reminded him of a time when things had been far less complicated and far more fun.

Thinking about these talks made Delaney rather sad. They reminded her of a time when things had been far less complicated and far more fun.

She herself was starting to fall asleep as she sat there with her oshawott. "You know, I feel like I need to give you some ridiculously cool name," she told him. He opened one eye slightly and then closed it, as if to tell her to leave it until the morning. She sighed. "Okay, I get it. I think. It's been a long day. Maybe it's time for bed."

Oshawott seemed to happily agree with her. She threw off the white shorts and purple t-shirt she had been wearing since getting out of the pool and pulled on her trusty pair of pink cotton pajama pants, with one of millions of random white camisoles she had lying around. She picked up Oshawott to get him out of her way and crawled into bed under the covers. She put him down on top of the blanket and attempted to make herself comfortable.

To Delaney, there was a magic moment that came each night, the moment where one is just between sleep and dream and the world is all peaceful...


At first, she thought the yell was part of a dream, and she was rather pleased that she was dreaming about something besides a certain incident that had happened two hundred and two days prior. After she heard it again, though, it became all too real that somebody- no, not somebody- her father was about to wake her up and disturb her magic moment.

She shut her eyes tightly and mentally told him to wait until the morning. Blake, though, wouldn't listen to his daughter's unspoken reason and barged in without even knocking on the door- something he had never once done before in all of Delaney's life. He flipped on the lights, to the dismay of both his daughter and the tired oshawott lying to the right of her. "Delaney Christa Caldwell, I know you're awake, or at least somewhat awake. Sit up."

Delaney begrudgingly followed instructions, but that didn't mean that her pillows weren't directly behind her, supporting her elbows as she leaned back as far as she could without her head actually hitting the pillow. "Can't this wait until morning?" she asked sleepily.

"If it could have, it would have," was Blake's quick reply. "I think you need to get out of here."

Delaney sat straight up. "Excuse me?"

"There have been reports on every channel, from Pokemon Watcher to the late-night news. There's been an incident at the prison on Canalave."


"Cyrus is gone, and so are fifty or so Galactic grunts. They managed to capture the commander before she got away." Mars. Cassy. Cassy is her name. Alex and Reina had managed to avoid capture.

You need to leave Sinnoh immediately.

Alex knew about this. She knew he had to. He wanted her to get out before Team Galactic gained back their power, whatever power they had gained, at any rate. The oshawott was an incentive to get her to Unova.

The time will come when you won't be able to.

Blake must have thought her crazy, not responding to a word he said, staring blankly ahead of her as she processed the letter in her head. "Delaney, you get what this means, don't you? They'll come back to power. Nobody demolished their headquarters, or their Eterna building. They don't care about privacy. They'll go right back as if nothing happened."

Sinnoh would be back to the days of having your pokemon stolen as you walked down your street, or Galactic recruiters trying to convince you to follow the almighty Cyrus. Delaney remembered too vividly a day when a couple of punkass grunts had stolen the pokedex of Rowan's assistant, Lucas. Actually, she remembered a lot too vividly.

The three legendary pokemon- Mespirit, Azelf and Uxie. Imprisoned and tortured.

The grunt who had spoken too much of their plan. Disposable. Shot and tossed in the corner of a cave.

Marvel, savagely torn down from the sky by a bloodthirsty weavile as Cyrus watched with a twisted smile on his face.

She had seen things that she could never unsee, as much as she wanted to (though the Spear Pillar was mostly a giant blank to her).

Blake sat on the edge of her bed, concern turning into annoyance, lines popping up on his forehead where there had not been lines before. "Don't you understand? You're their number one target. They're going to want to make sure you don't get in their way again. Cyrus has a score to settle with you."

Finally, something caught her attention. "I'm even stronger than the last time I battled them, Dad. I can take them on again."

"I know you can,Delaney," he began, pacing his words as if that was the only chance he had of keeping calm. "But you won't do such a thing. I won't allow you to put yourself in that position again." This, once again, was a statement. Just as he had earlier in the library, he was exerting his dominance and reminding her that she was the child and he was the parent.

"What are you talking about?" she cried. "Who else do you think will do this? I'm the only one that can beat them."

"The authorities can handle this. Trained professionals who have made it their job to bring down criminals. Not a sixteen year old girl who is clearly still traumatized from all that happened before. You need to leave Sinnoh immediately before they regroup and take over like nothing ever happened."

"Just like the authorities dealt with it before, right?" she said snarkily, losing her cool. "They didn't do a damn thing. They left me to do it. They only had to clean up the damage left after it was all over." It was a sore subject for her, even to this day. She took a couple of deep breaths, trying to regain her calm. Her father was doing the same apparently, trying to keep from yelling back at her. He always had been the calm one in the family anyways. "Leave Sinnoh," she said disbelievingly, more to herself than anybody else. Her father obviously hadn't been the first to suggest it (not that he was suggesting anyways- he was demanding), but the idea sounded just as crazy coming from him as it had coming from Alex. Delaney had lived in the same house all her life. She had never left Sinnoh, not even on vacation. Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Unova sounded so far off, almost like the lands of fairy tales. She couldn't just pick up her life and move. "Where would I go?"

A look of pain crossed Blake's face; one that Delaney knew only came up when it came to one subject and one subject only. He opened his mouth to speak, but Delaney beat him to the punch. She knew exactly what he was going to say, and the idea was so preposterous, so absolutely ridiculous, that she couldn't let the words be spoken aloud. "No," she stated. A statement, not a question. "Don't even think about it. Not gonna happen. No how, no way. No no no."

"Delaney, don't act like a child," Blake snapped, finally losing patience with her. "This isn't a question, it's a statement. You're going."

"I will not go," Delaney argued, blatantly disregarding her father for the first time in her life. "Anywhere but there."

"They won't find you there," Blake insisted. "If they cross over to another region, it's likely that Hoenn will be the first targeted. They have a lot of underwater caverns that can be utilized."

"Then send me to Johto or Kanto. Don't send me to Unova!" she pleaded, despite the fact that Alex was there... If he even was there. What if he had just told her to escape to the first place that popped in his head that wasn't Sinnoh? What if he was actually laying on an island beach in Kanto (if Delaney remembered correctly, they had a rather famous island chain that was said to house a legendary bird) or working at a harbor in Johto? What if he was part of a Hoenn takeover? Then she'd just be simply stuck in Unova. With her.

"You're not going to change my mind, Delly," Blake said sadly as he got up off the edge of her bed. "I don't want you to go either, but as much as I'd rather keep you here, I'd much more rather get you out of this mess before you're knee-deep in it. One of the maids will help you get ready tomorrow."

"Annette," she said automatically. "I want Annette to help me. Oshawott likes her."

"Whatever you want, Delly. Good night. We'll talk more in the morning." Blake kissed her on her forehead and then slowly walked out of the room, turning off the light as he left.

If she had been younger, Delaney might have screamed that what she wanted was to not go to Unova. She might have thrown a fit and turned blue from yelling. She might have argued just a little bit more. But Delaney knew that this was one thing (and probably the only thing) that she couldn't argue her way out of. Blake had made up his mind.

To Unova she would go.

13th January 2012, 5:30 AM
Chapter 03: Shadows and Regrets

"It burns," Delaney muttered bitterly. Was it supposed to feel like this? For all Delaney knew, she was having an allergic reaction to the chemicals in the dye. She didn't for the life of her understand why she was being forced to change so much about herself. She wasn't dumb- she knew that the combination of platinum blonde hair and violet eyes would probably negate all of the effort they were taking to hide her, but couldn't contacts just suffice? After the hair dye, she would never be able to get back to the near white shade that her hair was now.

And brown- yuck. How boring.

"I'm sorry!" Annette exclaimed as she painted another one of Delaney's strands with the color. "I've never done this before. I'm trying my best."

Delaney was pretty much forced to chuckle, if anything, to assure the younger girl that it wasn't her that was the cause of Delaney's irritation. "It's quite alright. You're doing a good job, Annette. I just don't want to do this."

There was silence as Annette finished up her head, a rarity for the younger girl. Delaney had never been around Annette when she wasn't gleefully jabbering away. After about fifteen minutes, the blonde finally broke the silence. "Okay, it needs to stay on for a half hour," she said decidedly. She grabbed her Crosstransceiver, setting an alarm on it. Delaney only nodded, leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes. As one could imagine, she hadn't slept well the night before, once again plagued by the nightmare that always ended the same. This one had begun at a different spot, though, which had been a first, but all of the details had still been fuzzy. She vaguely remembered being somewhere other than the Spear Pillar, a place where it had been hard to breathe. It was almost like gravity didn't exist... But before she knew it, the place had given way to the usual, to Dax, to him.

"Miss Delaney?" Annette finally spoke, though her voice had lost the excitement from earlier. "Can I ask you a question?"

Delaney snapped out of her thoughts, giving up on recalling the weirdness of the beginning of her dream. "Sure, what's up?"

"Does your oshawott have anything to do with why you're leaving?" Annette asked timidly, as if expecting Delaney to explode the moment she stopped speaking. Nobody- not a soul in the house- knew why Delaney was rushing out of Sinnoh. The majority of the members of the household more than likely believed that she had simply wanted to travel again and Unova was her continent of choice.

Ha. Choice. How funny.

"Why do you ask that?" Delaney questioned.

"Because he came and now you're leaving. Or was it the person who sent you the oshawott? Are you going to see them?" There was a pause for a second and then Annette spoke again, her voice getting squeaky. "My goodness, Miss Delaney, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't be being so nosy. You don't have to answer my question."

Delaney was silent for a moment, not angry that she had asked such a question, but contemplating whether Annette could handle the truth of the answer. She was sweet, albeit a bit nosy. And for the first time, Delaney actually wanted to tell her stories. She couldn't tell her father- it would just confirm that she needed to be shipped off (plus there were a few details he probably wouldn't want to know about his daughter). Dax, with his rigid moral code, would never understand, and that just wouldn't do. She wanted somebody who could understand everything- why she didn't want to travel, why she couldn't sleep at night, why she had stopped caring about pretty much everything. It was a long story, and not a happy one, but maybe (just maybe), Annette would want to hear it. "Annette?"

"Yes, Miss Delaney?" she asked. She had begun cleaning up from the hair-dying catastrophe (which was only a catastrophe in Delaney's mind because she hadn't wanted to dye her hair) without Delaney even noticing.

"Would you like to hear a story?" Delaney asked quietly. Beautiflys took residence in her abdomen, nervous at the idea of somebody knowing this particular truth. She had never uttered these words out loud, especially where he was concerned. Not a person alive knew about Alex. Dax had ideas, opinions, but they barely scraped the truth.

"Yes!" Annette said enthusiastically. She took a seat on Delaney's plush carpet. Delaney got down from the chair she had been sitting on to join her.

"You asked questions. You're going to learn the answers to them. But I need to give you a warning. This is a long story. It doesn't have a happy ending. Do you still want to hear it?" It was only fair to allow her the chance to opt out of hearing the story.

"Of course, Miss Delaney!" Annette chirped. She settled down on Delaney's plush rug, long legs crossed and blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. As Delaney looked at her, she suddenly realized that she had no idea why she kept thinking Annette was so young. She was definitely at least fourteen, probably actually fifteen- barely younger than Delaney herself. Over the last few months, Delaney felt like she had rapidly aged. She felt easily twice her sixteen years.

She forced herself to snap out of that train of though. If she was going to tell this story, she needed to get to it and stop procrastinating. "Okay... But you're definitely not allowed to call me Miss Delaney after this. Just the fact that I'm telling you this makes us friends, okay? Very good friends, because I've never told anybody this story, not even my father. I trust you won't tell it to others," Delaney said, looking Annette straight in the eye.

"I promise I won't tell, Mi- Delaney," Annette said, quickly correcting herself. "Your secrets are safe with me."

Delaney took a deep breath and closed her eyes, allowing herself to bring back thoughts and memories that she had pushed away a long time ago. She knew Annette was staring at her eagerly, waiting for the story to begin, but first, Delaney had to find the courage to tell it.

Come on. You can't avoid this forever.

"Suppose you're out in the world traveling," she began. "It's a Tuesday." Why you remember that, you'll never know. "It's cold, it's rainy and it's so foggy you can hardly see your hand in front of your face. One of your pokemon has a pretty bad burn, thanks to some random kid's reckless ponyta. All of your pokemon are tired and scuffed up, and you're too far from the last city to turn back. Despite the fact that you have a lot of money on you, you're low on supplies because you didn't check your inventory before you left."

"Suppose it's one of those days where nothing is going right. You just lost a battle that you should have won, but you weren't focusing. You're tired and upset and there's nothing you want to do but call it a day, but you can't. So you continue on and hope that you get where you're going soon."

"Suppose the rain really starts coming down hard, and you can hardly see well enough to continue on, but you force yourself to anyways. You have to get to the next town for your pokemon. You hate the idea that they're hurt because of you. You don't hear the footsteps approach, but before you know it, a stranger is at your side, offering to share their umbrella with you. You're upset and desperate and you need to get the rain out of your eyes so you can continue. Before you accept the offer, you ask if he has a burn heal and a potion of sorts to spare, because your pokemon are hurt. As he graciously pulls the supplies out of his bag, you can't help but notice that he's rather attractive." Not hot, that doesn't really do him justice. He's handsome in kind of a regal way, with those high cheekbones, his jet black hair and deep blue eyes. "He looks like he's a couple years older than you. You thank him for all of his help, but he brushes you off and then begins to walk forward, once again offering you the umbrella. You accept without hesitation."

"Oh, Delaney, how romantic!" Annette gushed. Delaney knew she would like that part of the story. Annette was younger, and she still believed in fairy-tales, Delaney assumed. Most girls did when they were young, and sweet, and naive- Delaney sure had. She believed that relationships ended up the way they did in romantic comedies. To Annette's credit, Delaney had to admit that the story began that way- it was a horrible romantic cliché, one of the worst that Delaney had ever heard, but at the time, Delaney, like Annette, had totally and utterly swooned.

"He asks your name and asks you about yourself. He genuinely wants to know all about you and the two of you talk, about anything and everything, except for him. When it gets to him, he changes the subject quickly. Before you know it, you've reached the next town and the Pokemon Center. He rushes off before he tells you his name, but just like that it's over. You're rather disappointed. You felt like there was a real sort of connection there." Deep breath.

"Is that the end?" Annette asked, looking upset. "I want to know more about him."

"You'll learn plenty more about him," Delaney said a bit bitterly. "The story's not even close to being over. I told you this wasn't going to be a happy ending."

She continued. "Suppose the next day, you're ready to leave. Small town life just isn't for you, and you need to get to the next town for another badge. As you're heading towards the mountains in the west, you notice Team Galactic is causing mayhem. Even though you're sick of playing hero, you know it's your job to break up this nonsense, just as it has been for your entire journey. But I digress..."

She took another deep breath. This part was one of her least favorites. "Because you're expected to, you head to the center of the town to dispose of them quickly. Them, and their stunkys and zubats and croagunks. They're not terribly original. You yell at them, like always." What you said, nobody knows. "Everybody turns to look at you, most of them with that 'Oh no, you again' look. All except the commander in charge. You've seen those eyes, they talked with you yesterday, laughed with you, helped you. It's the guy from yesterday, the guy with the umbrella. He's wearing a ridiculous blue hat and that stupid uniform that looks like space pajamas, but you would know those eyes anywhere. You know he recognizes you as well. His sentences are getting shorter, his movements are getting clumsy, he's not focusing on anything. Suppose then that his commander shows up. You battle, you win, as always, and as soon as it's over, you split. Because even though this guy didn't have to say anything about it when he shared his umbrella with you, you still feel betrayed that he didn't."

This was the part where she expected Annette to burst out in shock, but she was silent, riveted to the story, blue eyes wide. "Suppose you run as fast as you can out of that small town, preparing to go and get that next badge, but all that's on your mind is what happened and you need to take a rest, think about it, try to make sense of it." You know it's stupid, but you're trying not to cry. "Suppose you're sitting on a rock, and there's no noise besides the waterfalls flowing into the river. Nobody's around you, it's insanely peaceful and it's the perfect place to begin to turn the events of your day over and over again in your head... Until he comes running through the grass, yelling. That damn hat is gone, his stupid pajama uniform is gone too. He looks just like the guy from yesterday, but today, you know better. When he gets to that rock, out of breath and panting, the first thing that he says is that his name is Alex." She could still picture this moment perfectly in her mind. The meditite, the machoke, the chingling, all scurrying to get out of his way. Grass kicked up from his hurried footsteps. The dark-haired boy, one hand on the boulder for balance, cheeks flushed red, perspiration lazily dripping off his temples. A girl with platinum hair sitting straight up, perfect posture, violet eyes narrowed as she watches him- angry, trying to hate that boy, but miserably failing.

"Suppose you tell him that you don't give a damn about any Team Galactic member. After all that's happened with Team Galactic, you want nothing to do with them." You're madder than you've ever been in your life, but you can't figure out why. "You tell him that he probably only walked with you under orders, because you know they're irritated with you. Cyrus certainly wasn't happy after you won that last battle. Not true, he claims. He says as he was walking in the rain, he saw a pretty girl shivering and walking slowly, and when he caught up with her, she looked stressed and worried. He wanted to do something nice and help her, and besides, she was pretty. Anybody would've done the same." Delaney blushed slightly, though the pink in her cheeks didn't even remotely match the red she had turned when Alex had been there, telling her she was pretty... twice.

Deep breath.This is where it gets real. "You're quiet. You don't know what to say, what to think. He sits down on that boulder next to you and looks into your eyes. He says that he shouldn't be talking to you, that he should be furious that you're in their way, but for some reason, he's not. He tell you that you're different and he knew that before he even knew who you were." And then you realize it. You know why you were so mad- because your brain turned into gush the moment he strode up with his umbrella. Your mind fell for a stupid romantic cliché that became completely unobtainable once you saw him in that stupid hat. "Naturally, you swoon. You are a teenage girl after all, and in your mind, this had been an epic love story waiting to happen from the first hello."

"Except it was far from that. It had taken a sharp turn downhill, and there were so many politics and rules and regulations involved now that it was ridiculous. It was quiet on that route, sitting on that boulder. Suppose then he leans forward and kisses you, and it's amazing, and poetic, and all of that junk. Deep down you know that things are about to get horribly, ridiculously complicated."

Delaney paused and closed her eyes again. "How much time do we have with my hair?"

"Fifteen minutes," Annette said with a quick glance at her Crosstransceiver.

"Okay, that should be plenty of time," Delaney decided. "When Alex crossed that line, everything changed." You changed. "You tell him you have to get going. There was a city and a gym waiting for you across the sea to the west." You're running like you always do. "He asks you for five more minutes, but you say no. You need to think. That was the point of coming out here, away from town, anyways. He asks when he can see you again. You tell him that you don't know if that's such a good idea, but he'll make it happen if he really wants to. And with that, you disappear to the mountains of the west, a quick detour to get where you need to go."

"Suppose that you get the town by the sea, spending copious amounts of time in the library studying space and time, trying to figure out Team Galactic, trying to find some way that this can work." You're trying to find a way to get him out, even if it means maybe you're on the losing end. "You battle, you get the badge and now instead of a sixteen year old girl with five badges, you're a sixteen year old girl with six badges... And that doesn't make a bit of a difference to you. You go out to a faraway island and train. You defeat a few Galactic grunts in the cave on your first night there. A couple days later, you hear footsteps, and for the first time since those grunts left, they're not yours. It turns out to be him. He stays with you that night. You ask him about himself and try to figure out why he puts on those stupid pajamas and plays the bad guy, because he's not like the idiot grunts you've battled, nor is he like the other commanders, cold and calculating. He tells you about how he joined as they were first forming. He doesn't try to pretend that he's innocent. He had heard a speech made by Cyrus when he was first recruiting. His father had just died of cancer, and his mother, lost after twenty years of marriage, had turned to the bottle, leaving him to fend for himself. Cyrus's vision of a new world free from the burden of emotion had greatly appealed to him- it was that deep emotion that had ruined his mother and left him alone. He was only fourteen when he joined, and he didn't realize what kind of commitment he was making. Cyrus promised to take care of him as long as Alex did what he asked in return, and the idea of somebody looking after him was enough to win Alex over. He didn't become a commander just by watching out while others did bad things- he stole pokemon, stole money, and even helped hurt some of those who opposed Team Galactic. Only recently had Cyrus gone from being a leader and mentor to Alex, almost like an older brother trying to guide the younger, to a man mad with power. Even before you met, Alex had been growing more and more disenchanted with Team Galactic, but he couldn't figure out how to leave. He knew enough that Cyrus would certainly send men after him to kill him if he simply walked away. You promise to try to figure out how to get him out. You spend the rest of the night talking, and you love how easy he is to talk to. He leaves the next morning, but promises to see you soon. He seems troubled, but you don't know why. After you return to the town by the sea, you meet the professor's assistant at the library, as well as the professor. Your best friend comes to town as well. And then as you're sitting there talking, everything shakes, and you wonder how an island has an earthquake. It's from the mainland- an explosion. Do you remember that, Annette? When Team Galactic blew up Lake Valor?"

"Yes," the younger teen said breathlessly.

Delaney couldn't even look at Annette. "That was Alex." Her mind went back to the empty pit in the ground, pokemon flopping around, desperate for water. She remembered the horrible feeling as she passed them in her attempts to get to the cave, knowing that by the time she left for her next destination, they would all be dead. They hadn't been trained to stay out of water for extended periods of time. The lake was all they knew. They were innocent bystanders. As you were at one point.

"I got on my togekiss and flew to Pastoria as fast as I could and then bolted to the lake," she muttered, forgetting the narrative. "I wanted to believe that it was Cyrus, or Mars, or Jupiter. I wanted to believe that Alex was not capable of something so horrible." The pit of dread in her stomach, the heated fear in her cheeks. "But it was all him, and by the time I got there, they had captured Azelf. Alex was still in the cave when I got there and all he could say was that he was sorry, but how do you apologize for that?" Her voice raised at least two levels in volume and Delaney felt herself get angry thinking about it. "I couldn't even speak; I just cried and wondered how I had gotten myself into such a mess." A drop of water falls on her clenched fist. She hadn't even realized she had been crying. Delaney wiped the tears away and takes a deep breath, regaining her composure.

"Suppose he holds you when you cry, as every good man should, but you don't know if you can call him a good man, no matter what kind of feelings you have for him." Disgust. Loathing. Fear. "You don't even know if you can call him a man, because the look on his face is saying that he's a scared little boy." Pity. Sadness. Compassion. "When your tears cease, you tell him that you have to battle him. You tell him that you can't stop your pursuit of Team Galactic for him. Everybody is counting on you too much. So you battle him, and you win. You show him no mercy. You feel sick to your stomach. You know deep down that this will not end well. Before you leave the cave, he grabs you and kisses you goodbye." It feels more like an attempt at redemption than affection. "You don't know when you'll see him again. You're beginning to think you don't want to."

"Your next travels are to the north, to the land of the snow. Just like the city near the sea, you train a lot, battle the gym leader, and become the sixteen year-old girl with seven badges, which also doesn't make any difference to you." Did any of them? "You meet up with your best friend, who tells you that he was beaten by another one of the commanders, Jupiter." At this point, you know her name is Reina. She has hair like the night and a two year old daughter at home. Cyrus had promised to make sure her abusive boyfriend stayed at bay if she would fight for Team Galactic. "He tells you that all that's left to do is go to the Galactic warehouse in Veilstone, their main headquarters." He makes it sound like that's all that's left to be done, a simple solution. You highly doubt that's all there is to it. It seems like they'll never go away. "So you and this friend of yours go to Veilstone, where the grunts are taking over the city, stealing pokemon from trainers in broad daylight. He's no use to you when it comes down to it though."

"You battle your way through this headquarters with relative ease. All your training up north seems to have paid off- a silver lining to this catastrophe. Then you reach an area of the hideout that you haven't been before. It's dimly lit by blue bulbs on the wall, flickering like they're about to go out. The only people around are horror-stricken scientists with tear-stained cheeks, and they wonder what they've done. You try to question them, wondering if you're about to walk into some kind of massacre, but all they can do is cry. You walk through a door at the end of the hall, and then you understand. There are the pokemon of the lakes, bound and captured, very obviously tortured, weak... vulnerable. And yet again, in middle of the room is Alex. There are tears in his eyes too. This one- it was not him. It was all Cyrus. He says he never thought it would turn out like this. You battle him again, and win with as much ease as before. Before he can stop you, you press buttons on their prisons, freeing them. They vanish in front of your very eyes. He tries to hug you, but you can't even look at him. You leave for a well-deserved rest at the Pokemon Center, but all that you've seen leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth. You want nothing else to do with Alex. Nothing."

"Later that evening, Alex comes to visit, out of that vile uniform. Before you can pull the plug, he kisses you and begins to speak, more distraught, more excited, than you've ever seen him. He tells you that this is it, he's going to leave. He wants to be with you, no more secrets, no more lies. He actually wants you to beat Cyrus and tells you of all the plans, from the Red Chain, to the orbs, to Dialga and Palkia... and Giratina. He believes that if you can win, then Team Galactic will be no more and he'll be free to be with you." All you can think is that now there's one more person depending on you to beat Team Galactic. "In the morning, it's time for you to start training harder than ever with your pokemon. You need to beat Cyrus. You train for days, hating the fact that Team Galactic is getting an upperhand on their plan while you're just training."

"Finally you go to Mount Coronet, and you hike for a few days. Then you reach the top, the Spear Pillar. From there on, you remember very little. You know that you teamed up with your best friend to bring down Mars and Jupiter and you battled Cyrus and won. Cyrus battled fiercely, some of his attacks missing pokemon completely and aimed at you instead. His weavile injured your togekiss badly. He later died. The next thing you remember is not being able to open your eyes. Alex is at your side, even though he wasn't at the Spear Pillar, and he's trying to get you to wake up. Upon hearing the cops are coming, he has to run if he doesn't want to be captured with the rest of Team Galactic. You won, but it didn't turn out like he wanted it to. He's not free. And then it's over. Then six months have passed, and you're still dreaming about those last few moments, willing yourself to open your eyes, every single night."

"And then suppose one day, you go to leave to go out for your normal run and there's a package. It contains an oshawott and a letter. The letter is from none other than Alex, and he's telling you to leave Sinnoh, but he doesn't tell you why. He begs you to come to Unova. That night, your father hears that Cyrus and fifty grunts have escaped from their prison in the city by the sea. He tells you that you have no choice but to leave for Unova. The next morning, he approaches you with a box of hair dye and contacts, and tells you that you'll be recognized too easily. Before you know it, you're sitting on the floor, telling a story you never wanted to tell anybody and thinking about how much your scalp burns... Which is a lot, by the way."

Annette was once again silent, completely bewildered. A few moments felt like forever as the younger blonde girl digested the onslaught of information and after what seemed like years, she spoke. "I think it's time for the dye to come out, Delaney," she said. She got up slowly, and then extended her hand to help Delaney up as well. Annette grabbed the chair that Delaney had been sitting in before she had started talking. The two girls headed for the bathroom to rinse the offending dye out of her hair. After starting the water in the large sink and checking the temperature, Delaney sat down and leaned her head into the sink, calmed by the intense warmth of the water. Annette began to rinse and make sure it was all getting out. After a few moments, the younger girl shut off the water and handed Delaney a black towel. Delaney took it, but she didn't move. "Delaney?" Annette finally asked- her first time speaking since leaving the room. "Were you in love with Alex?"

Delaney didn't respond at first, pondering the question. Despite all that had happened, it was something she had never even asked herself. She had been too focused on everything else while it had been happening, and after it was over, she had tried to wipe it all from her mind. "I could have been," she finally answered. If things had been different.She paused again and finally took the towel and wrapped it around her head. Cover it up, maybe you can pretend it doesn't exist. You can pretend that everything is normal. "That doesn't really answer your question though. I don't know if you could call what we had a relationship, but regardless, out of our relationship, we spent two nights together and that was it. The rest were meetings forced by Team Galactic, other than the first night we met and the night in the cave. If things were as simple as they began, as simple as sharing an umbrella in the rain and talking and getting to know each other, then I would've been absolutely in love with Alex. But things just weren't that easy, Annette."

"I'm glad you told me your story, Delaney," Annette said with a small smile. "All I knew about you when you got here was that you were the girl who beat Team Galactic. You were everyone's hero. But now that I know all of this, I think you're more of a hero than anybody realizes."

The door to the bathroom opened then and the two girls jumped. One of the older maids, Tandy, poked her head through. "Annette, it's four and you're off-duty, sweetheart. Are you going to stay late again today?"

Delaney shook her head, answering for Annette. "No, she's going to go home. She's been a tremendous help today and she deserves a rest after the work I've put her through today," she said, offering the younger girl a smile. "Thank you very much for your help today, Annette. I look forward to seeing you when I return."

The small blonde girl, it seemed, had forgotten that the now-brunette was leaving that evening. "I'll miss you, Miss Delaney," she said, surprising Delaney by wrapping her in a hug. "I'll keep your room nice and tidy, I promise."

"Will you do me an extra special favor and look after my pokemon?" Delaney asked her, drudgingly recalling her father's opinion that her pokemon, the original five, were far too recognizable for her to take with her to Unova. She had meant to ask Annette earlier, but all had been forgotten. "I'll even give you a little something special for it. You can borrow whatever you want from my wardrobe until I get back. Most of it was bought before I began traveling and it's probably a bit small for me anyways."

Annette's eyes lit up. "Of course, Miss Delaney! And thank you. Have fun in Unova!" She hugged the older girl one last time. "I hope you find Alex there," she whispered in her ear, and then broke away from the hug, as peppy as ever. "Bye!"

When Annette departed, Tandy asked if Delaney required anybody else to help her before she left, but Delaney declined, wanting to be alone for the remainder of the afternoon. Her father was at a big meeting with Wake again and wouldn't be home until around six, so this gave her a couple hours to contemplate.

Of course, she hadn't told Annette the entire story. Just about all of it, but there were a couple pieces missing. If Delaney had dared utter them aloud, then maybe Annette would really understand why Delaney had been back at home for six months and not training with Dax. Yes, there was more stress from the Team Galactic incident than Delaney could properly recall, but she didn't remember the bulk of the climax of the story so that alleviated some of the pain. What stuck with her now was guilt.

Suppose that you're laying in bed, and he's laying next to you, his hot breath on your neck keeping you awake rather than putting you to sleep. He's certain that this won't be the last time, that soon, everything will be simple and normal, and every night will be like this, but even though you agreed with him as he planted quick, eager kisses on your mouth, you know damn well that he's quite delusional. He thinks that bringing down Team Galactic will give him freedom. You're nearly certain that the end of Team Galactic will be the end of him as well. Nobody likes a story that ends with the bad guys assimilating into society, becoming fine upstanding people with careers and families... or girlfriends. What they want is justice- the bad guys put in jail forever. Justice is the popular demand, and rightfully so. No matter what you thought of Team Galactic at the beginning, a joke with atrocious hats and pajama uniforms, they were criminals. They had done a lot of bad things that they deserved to be punished for, even Alex.

But this is nice, you think to yourself. His arms around you while you sleep (or while you're supposed to be sleeping anyways), soft breaths as he sleeps right on your neck, nights up late talking, kissing- this is what a relationship is supposed to be like. It's right there in the palm of your hand.

And perhaps you don't want to go to this mountain.

Perhaps you just want to stay there, in his arms and let the world happen around you. Perhaps you don't want this unfair pressure on you, a girl with seven gym badges who can't even battle the Elite Four yet. Where are they in this mess? Why isn't Cynthia battling Cyrus as you lay there? Why isn't Lucien stunning the grunts speechless as he swept their pokemon to the side with his powerful psychic attacks? You're sure challengers of the Elite 4 would wait another day. They would understand that the most powerful trainers in the region have to stop Team Galactic from ripping apart the space-time continuum.

Or if not the Elite Four, why not the gym leaders? Byron, on his remote island of Canalave, rarely challenged, could be ripping through golbats and bronzors and puruglys instead of sitting in his gym, bored because none of the local trainers are strong enough to challenge him. Candice, with her powerful ice pokemon, where was she? She was reading fashion magazines by flashlight, no doubt.

These supposed protectors of the land of Sinnoh, where were they? Why was this being left to a sixteen year old girl?

Would they show up if you failed to?

If you stayed in this bed, hiding out with Alex, would they finally realize that they shouldn't be resting their hopes in you? Would they realize their place in this scheme?

Of course not, Delaney. This is your job. For some reason, you've been selected above the authorities, above the celebrated champions and guardians of the reason to defeat the head of a criminal organization. Criminals. Bad guys.

You close your eyes and hope the morning never comes, hope that you can stay like this. If there was such thing as a perfect moment (which judging by the circumstances so far, there wasn't, but a girl could hope), it was this.

Suppose you woke up and he was gone. Suppose you cried for hours, and argued with yourself about going and training before heading to that mountain. Suppose you decided not to go, not to lead to his ruin.

Suppose you change your mind, because when it comes down to it, what choice do you have? Everyone is depending on you. You head out for your extreme training session anyways. Suppose with every pokemon you defeat, your heart cracks just a little more, because it knows you're one step closer to the end, when you really want to be taking two steps back until you're back in that Pokemon Center, back in those arms.

Suppose when you go back and he's gone, the reality that you just nearly sacrificed the Sinnoh region to Team Galactic for the sake of one single guy, a criminal, a bad guy, hits you like a brick. For the rest of that day, and for the next few days, you can't even look at yourself.

Were you in love with Alex? If you had both stayed, you would have been. If you had not gone on to defeat Team Galactic and he had not gone back to them, you would have. Despite his disenchantment with the team, though, despite wanting to leave, he never would have done it. That's why he clung to the illusion that if you defeated Cyrus, everything would be okay. If he hadn't been a coward and you hadn't had the weight of the world on your shoulders, you would have been very much in love with him. Instead, you can stand to look at yourself in the mirror... Most days.

Delaney removed the towel from her head and despite her misgivings, looked in the mirror. Gone was her long, platinum hair. In its place was dark, soaking tendrils, beginning to frizz a bit at the ends and begging her to dry her hair so that she could see what the true extent of the damage was. This was one step forward that she just didn't want to take. She stepped away from the mirror. She didn't want to gaze upon the girl staring back.

Oh Delaney, what a royal mess.

A knock to her bedroom door brought her back to reality. Delaney chose not to answer, believing it to be the maids once again offering their assistance to her packing. She really didn't want to see any of them. She was perfectly content to spend her last night in Sinnoh reminiscing- it seemed a proper farewell to her journey, to her life here.

The knocking persisted. Delaney scowled and though it was the last thing she wanted, the words "Come in!" escaped from her mouth before she could stop them. The sooner they did the asking, the sooner she could tell them to leave anyways.

But Tandy wasn't the one to walk in through the door. Her visitor wasn't even female. Instead, a tall, lanky blonde boy rushed in, his green scarf flying behind his shoulder in his haste. His eyes searched the room, obviously searching for a fellow blonde, a girl with violet eyes often decked out in blues or pinks. After a couple of moments of continuous searching (Delaney didn't dare interrupt him- he had to get used to it like she did herself), he finally set his eyes on a girl with wet, but dark brown hair, cut way shorter than the last time he had seen her and blue eyes, in a black v-neck t-shirt and pajama pants. "Arceus, this is worse than I thought, Delly. Have you gone effing insane? What is that on your head? Please tell me it's a wig."

Delaney shook her head, wet tendrils flying in her face as she did so. "I'm afraid not, Dax."

"You dyed your hair," he said slowly, as if still attempting to comprehend. "I'm gone for two weeks, and this happens. Delaney Christa Caldwell, what has happened to you?" He had a special fondness for saying her full name. Unlike her father, Dax didn't only say it when he was upset with her; he just said it whenever it was convenient for him to do so. "Is this like one of those rebellion things where you need your hair to match your soul, or whatever those goth kids claim?"

Delaney shook her head yet again, a small smile resting on her face from Dax's dramatic conclusion, trying to think of something to tell Dax. It wasn't like she liked lying to her best friend, but there were some things that were just easier not to say. Luckily, he cut in before she had to. "I was sitting in a restaurant in the Battle Frontier and I saw a news bulletin on the Team Galactic breakout in Canalave. I left first thing this morning and got here as soon as I could. How are you? How are you taking this?" Guilty. How could she lie to such a friend? He paused for what seemed like a millisecond before answering his own question. "Obviously not well, because you're a brunette. And are you wearing contacts?"

Delaney had to chuckle despite everything. A fairly easy existence was going down the drain, but at least Dax was still the same. Cyrus was on the loose, but her best friend was more focused on the woes of Delaney's hair. She was touched that he had thought to come down and check on her, though. "Yes." She paused and took a deep breath. She hadn't actually planned on telling Dax anything, as horrible as that sounded. She had planned on leaving without alerting him and then when the inevitable phone call of where the hell are you came, she was just going to tell him that she had decided to go traveling again after all, which would please him. Now there was no possible way but the truth. She was horrible at lying to somebody to their face (hence why it took her so long to think of something that was not the truth). "I'm leaving tomorrow. For Unova."

"Are you going to start traveling again?" Dax yelped excitedly. "Oh Del, I'm so happy you've finally decided to listen to me and do this!"

"No, I'm not," Delaney corrected him. "I'm going to uh, Nuvema Town." Why didn't you just say yes?

"With Lydia?" Dax shrieked. Though Dax had very well grown up with both parents, his sweet mother Alison and his famous father, Battle Frontier Brain Palmer, he had told Delaney once that not having Palmer around very much had really bugged him up until he started traveling on his own and learned how strenuous a trainer's life really was. He had been able to sympathize when Delaney had told him about the mother who had left for her hometown before Delaney was old enough to remember her much. "You have lost your mind."

"It's not my choice!" she snapped irately. Was anything? "My dad is shipping me out there. He doesn't want me to have anything to do with Team Galactic this time around. He pretty much thinks that Cyrus broke out to go after me. I know, very doubtful, and even if that was the case, I could take him on. My team is stronger than they were before."

"I don't know, Delaney," Dax said, surprising her with his uncertainty (and of course, wounding her pride in the process). "You haven't seriously trained in about six months. And is it really a good idea to be getting involved with Team Galactic again after what happened?"

"I don't know, but it's apparently not my decision to make," she muttered to herself. "I need to finish packing. I'm leaving tonight. Wanna throw me my running shoes from the side of the bed? I know I'm going to get bored and want to go running."

"Tonight?" Dax asked as he went to grab the shoes. He looked at the once white, now grayish brown, sneakers with disdain. "I think you need a new pair of these. They're falling apart."

"No way!" Delaney argued. "I love new shoes, but I bought these when I got to Oreburgh. They went with me on my journey. They're special."

"Whatever," the blonde boy said with a chuckle, adjusting his scarf after handing off the old sneakers to the brunette. A rare moment of silence as Delaney shoved the sneakers into the bag on top of a heap of clothing and Dax fiddled with his clothing, the perfectionist in him coming out as he smoothed wrinkles out of his pants and straightened his jacket. Delaney watched out of the corner of her eye as she folded shorts, sweats and tees. As best friends usually were, Dax and Delaney were two sides of the same coin, overall the same, with their distinct differences. Though their initial meetings rubbed Delaney the wrong way, as their journeys had continued, they had pulled together. Delaney had been originally irritated with Dax's quick speech, lack of patience and brash, almost harsh, manner in which he sometimes spoke, but she had gotten used to it and even come to appreciate it. He complimented Delaney's slow, deliberate speech, even temper and hesitant manner. And with their fair skin and light hair, they looked strikingly similar in the way that couples sometimes do, almost even like siblings, but not quite.

"So whatever happened with the cutie you met in the Battle Tower?" Delaney asked as she grabbed a suitcase and moved on to another section of the room. Silence when Dax was there was awkward. It reminded her too much of those damn dreams- they were the only memories she had of Dax actually being quiet. "Did you ever see him again?"

"No," Dax said, wrinkling his nose and moving to the rug where Delaney was sitting and shoving random items that she might need in Unova in a small pink suitcase. "And even if I did, I wouldn't have made a move in the Tower. That's my dad's turf." Yeah, that would be all Palmer needed- seeing his son in liplock with another guy in his place of employment. Though Dax's feelings about guys were one of the first things Delaney learned about him, his father didn't yet know. "What about you, any random hotties on your runs?"

Delaney shook her head, her now obnoxiously curly (and frizzy) brunette locks spilling into her face. "No, I never stray that far away from the house. No particularly interesting trainers have wandered into the garden either."

"Still waiting for ghosts, Delaney?" Dax asked. Delaney froze where she sat, a pair of shorts hanging limply from one hand. He thinks he knows, but he has no clue. "From the sounds of it, he won't be coming back. He wouldn't dare, if he knows what's good for him."

"I know. Don't you think I know that, Dax?" she snapped indignantly before she could stop the words from coming out, blue eyes narrowing.

"Doesn't stop you," he said with a small chuckle. "I just still don't understand. He wasn't there during the battle. We only battled the other two, the girls and then you battled Cyrus. And then all of the sudden, bam! Random goon with a weird hat pushes me out of the way to check on you."

Dax never failed to bring this up when he came over, and he had been to visit the Caldwell household more than a couple times over the last six months. He was dying to know the details, dying to know all about the random Team Galactic member who had been so concerned about Delaney, but she would never tell. Yes, Dax was her best friend, but he would never understand. From the very beginning, Dax had loathed the organization and anyone who was a part of them. Morality was a black and white issue to Dax, and they were bad. Fraternizing with somebody in Team Galactic was pretty much like battling on their side, as far as he was concerned.

"I told you, Dax, you're making a big deal out of nothing," Delaney muttered, scooting both the suitcase and herself over to the left, towards her bed. She conveniently stuck her head under the queen-sized frame, checking to see if there was anything underneath that she might want to take with her as well as avoiding any questions Dax might throw at her.

"And I told you, Delaney, you're full of it. He knew your name."

"So did everyone else in Team Galactic. And everyone in Sinnoh for that matter, thanks to all those annoying news segments," Delaney reminded him. "You just can't bring yourself to believe that maybe there was one person in Team Galactic that didn't have a heart of stone."

"Whatever, Delly," Dax said huffily, pulling on his scarf. "I just can't believe you're leaving without telling me this story, but I understand that you're a secretive person... Even though I absolutely hate that about you. Just leave the region and don't tell me every detail about this mysterious stranger of Team Galactic that you're absolutely in love with." Dax threw out an exaggerated sigh for dramatic impact and flung himself across the plush rug.

At the words "in love with", Delaney jerked her head up in surprise, hitting the metal frame. She pulled her upper body out from under the bed, rubbing her head and feeling around for a bump. Even though he wasn't looking directly at her, Delaney knew Dax was smirking from his place on the rug. He had certainly gotten a reaction out of her.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said quietly, more to herself than to Dax.

"Delaney Christa, you're definitely hiding something. You weren't like, dating that guy, were you?"

A heavy knock sounded from the other side of the door, and even if it was Tandy or one of the other maids bothering her to help her again, Delaney was extremely grateful for the interruption. She was horrible at lying, especially to Dax. She stood up and went to get the door herself for once. She opened it cautiously, only to come face to face with her father, who recoiled in surprise at the person he was looking at. Despite the high temperature of the day, he was still wearing an olive-colored sweater over his shoulders. "I almost didn't recognize you," he said with a chuckle. "You look like a completely different person." That was the point, wasn't it? He peered in the door behind her, catching sight of Dax. "Back so soon, Dax? I thought you were staying out at the Battle Frontier for a while."

Dax sat up and offered Blake a small wave. "I saw the news and I had to come see Delaney," was all he said.

Blake nodded, understanding exactly what he meant. He and Dax weren't really very good at conversations, but they were in agreement when it came to Delaney most of the time. "Are you almost ready to go, Del? I'd like to leave soon."

"Yeah, I just need to close up these suitcases and say goodbye to Dax," she said, biting her bottom lip. He was really going to make her go after all- Delaney had clung to the small hope that the idea of her living with Lydia would drive him insane over the course of the day and he would change his mind.

"Ten minutes," Blake told the two sternly. "You two would take all night if you could, but if you're going to reach Unova by the morning, you have to leave soon." With that, the older man left and Delaney felt a bit of a stinging behind her contacts. She had hated the idea of saying goodbye to Dax- that was why she hadn't wanted to tell him she was leaving in the first place. The lithe blonde boy got up from his space on the rug and sprung over to where Delaney was standing trying to hold back tears. He slammed the door behind her shut and then wrapped the brunette in a huge hug. A couple of rogue tears slipped out of Delaney's eyes, despite her resistance and she wrapped her arms tightly around Dax's small frame.

"I can't believe I'm not going to be able to barge in on you anymore," the blonde boy said with a chuckle. "You are my home away from home, Delaney Christa Caldwell, and I'm going to miss you. I'm also going to really miss saying your name all the time."

"I'm going to miss you too," Delaney said into his shoulder. "What am I going to do without you randomly showing up and questioning me like I'm in trouble?"

"You're just going to find someone else's questions to avoid," he muttered with a wry grin.

Delaney unburied her head from Dax's shoulder. "You're going to call me still, right? Because I'm definitely going to call you."

"Of course. If I run into that guy somewhere other than the Tower and," he lowered his voice and wriggled his eyebrows playfully, "decide to give him a proper hello, who else do you think I would run to?" Despite the somber mood, Delaney was forced to laugh. "Just try to make the best of it out there. Despite the fact that you'll be with Lydia, Unova still has potential. It might be good for you to get out of here."

Delaney shook her head. "There is nothing good about this place as far as I can tell. Daddy said it was a small town. It probably has like, two houses. And like you said, I'll be stuck with Lydia."

"Just try to keep your head up, okay, Del?" he asked her pleadingly. He gave her a final squeeze and pulled away from the hug. "I've got to go. I'm visiting Mom before I go back up to the Battle Frontier and I have just enough time to get there if I leave now."

Delaney nodded. "Call me?"

"Call you," he promised. With that, the boy with the green scarf opened the door and hurried out of it as quickly as he had come in. Delaney was left with an unsettling ache as she watched him go. She shut the door and proceeded to glance at the suitcases she had packed with dread.

This was it. Goodbye home.