A/N: I have no explanations for my fail. Here is the final installment to the 'Disillusions' trilogy; if you haven't read The Good Fight and The Mighty Fallen, then this isn't going to make much sense to you!
A reminder that this series is set in a live-action-orientated Pokemon world, and hair colours etc have been tweaked accordingly.
Rate PG-15 for swears, violence and death. Much thanks to IC Ghost and Psychic for betaing!
~ THE FOOL'S PARADISE ~
His fingers lingered on the mouse pad, wanting and yet not to click the button and finish the search. The three pages sitting by his computer caught his eyes, not filled with words, but with pencil and lines. Sketches.
He was pretty good at drawing, in fact, remembered enjoying it when he was a boy, but then things had happened and he had lost interest in anything except training. Everything he sketched nowadays had to do with crime and cases, and he hadn’t drawn for fun in years. He wasn’t sure he could draw anything out of his own head anymore—wasn’t sure he wanted to. Nothing that came out of his head now could ever be anything but horrifying.
Maybe that was why his therapist encouraged him to draw every time they met. That was where these sketches had come from—to make the man happy and stop him from psychoanalysing too much. There were some things Lance still wasn’t ready to talk about so casually. Not even in therapy.
So he’d drawn images of the kids’ faces—two or three or four times until he’d actually managed something that wasn’t grotesque and bloody and dead—and hadn’t known what to do with them, because he wasn’t sure he wanted to show them to anyone. Then he’d realised that he still didn’t know who the kids were, that now he had the pictures he could scan them and do a search for the trainers’ IDs.
And that was the part he was stalling at, because he knew the pictures were good likenesses (the ones that weren’t bloody renditions of their lifeless corpses) and he knew that he was likely to get a hit and he wasn’t ready for that.
He was just tired of not being ready. Of not being able to.
Then his phone rang and, feeling weak with relief, he removed his fingers from the mouse to answer it.
* * *
“Falkner Arrington speaking.”
“Falkner, it’s Karen. Do you have some time to spare?”
Falkner sighed, making the phone crackle with static. “I’m not on call unless it has to do with the Patterson case, Karen.”
“It does. Listen. Patterson’s arraignment is coming up.”
Already? The bird trainer’s heart lurched and he automatically turned to glance at his date-time clock, set over the door to his tiny office. Through it, and beyond the rafters of the gym’s ceiling, there were flashes of movement visible—his gym trainers—and he turned away again to avoid being distracted. “That was sooner than I was expecting. Lance sent in his paperwork, then?”
“Yeah.” Her voice was tight. “His report gave us reason to move it up. We’ve got him, Falkner. We’ve got the bastard for first degree murder. Three counts.”
Falkner’s heart skipped, this time, and hurried he closed his office door with an unintentional slam. “Three murders? Where’d Lance get that kind of evidence?”
“He saw it. He saw Patterson murder three kid trainers.” She said it bluntly—the only way she could have said it. It didn’t make it any better. Falkner could only draw in a breath and run a hand through his hair, his stomach clenched and mind flashing back to the way the man had been acting.
“He saw it,” the bird trainer said in a low voice, “but could he have stopped it? Karen—”
“I know,” Karen cut in. “He could have—he was in the right place at the right time. He chose not to, to maintain his cover. Patterson’s lawyer is going to jump all over him, and you know that if the press gets hold of this they’re going to run it into the ground—”
He knew. Lance was the League’s golden boy; he had been when he became a member of the Elite Four and was especially so now that he was one of the few reasons the League had survived the Rockets’ fall, and nothing would ever change that, not even this. That still wouldn’t keep him from coming under fire, wouldn’t stop people from questioning whether his judgment was being compromised, whether he was still fit to lead. It was a pressure that Lance didn’t need. (Even if it might have been true.)
“What do you want me to do?”
“Patterson’s lawyer is refusing to let him be tried in absentia,” Karen answered, sounded frustrated. “Says we only have circumstantial evidence of the murders and Patterson has every right to be there to address the rest of the charges.”
“Technically he’s right,” Falkner pointed out. “Eyewitnesses aren’t reliable by law.” Even eyewitnesses as credible as Lance. But they did have circumstantial evidence of the other murders Patterson was suspected of. The combination of the two, plus the fact Patterson was a Rocket and had been involved in the lab’s running, was enough to put him away for a long time if not for life. The only thing he could hope for was an easier sentence or better accommodations than the Cianwood Detention Centre.
“I know. So we don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to keeping him out of the room.”
“Not even to keep vital information out of Patterson’s hands? Where did this happen?”
“The depot,” Karen confirmed his thought. “That’s how we managed to make it a closed trial. But Patterson knows everything he’s being tried for so he should already have guessed that someone was in the depot, and since he’s going to jail regardless the judge felt it wasn’t worth the risk of a public outcry.”
For the first time in the conversation, Falkner felt a genuine surge of anger. “Public outcry? He’s a Rocket!”
“A Rocket, maybe, but a murderer only by circumstantial evidence,” Karen said tiredly. “You know how much people are questioning our justice system since it came out about Giovanni, Falkner. We can’t afford to let people question whether we’re being biased, even against the Rockets. It’s a sound political decision. I hate it, but it is.”
“So Patterson’s being tried at the Plateau.” Wonderful. There would be escape avenues galore by the time they got him there from Cianwood.
“Cross-regional case, he has to be. Koga suggested putting him under air-escort. Clair’s agreed to send some of the Clan’s tamers along with. He can’t get away, Falkner. I don’t—” She stopped and took a breath to finish in a softer, but tighter, tone, “He can’t get away.”
Falkner took a breath of his own. “Is Koga making plans to raid the depot just in case?”
There was a snort, this time. “It’s Koga. I think he knew about all this before I ever got the report. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been making plans since then.” Her tone turned bitterly ironic. “He pointed out that if we raided the depot now there’s a good chance we’d find the trainers’ pokémon there—and possibly their bodies—and probably security footage.”
“Koga doesn’t lie,” Falkner answered hollowly. He was rarely wrong, either.
“Well, I wish he’d fucking hold the truth back a little more often.”
“He recommended against that action?”
“He said the depot is too important a tactical advantage to risk at this time, given Patterson is going to go to jail regardless.”
Sounded like Koga. And it rankled, but Falkner had to agree with him. They depended on the depot too much to give it up for something they were likely to get anyway … no matter what the trainers’ pokémon were going to suffer in the Rockets’ hands. Collateral damage. “Does Lance know?”
“I doubt anyone’s told him.”
But he probably knows anyway, Falkner translated. He’ll just read the reports and let them make the decision over his head, and pretend it hadn’t occurred to him. And everyone else would think it was his.
Not for the first time, Falkner was exceedingly glad he was only a gym leader and yet still wished, with that familiar pang of grief, that his father hadn’t died and made it necessary quite so early.
“I’ll brief my gym trainers. When Patterson needs to be moved we’ll be ready.”
“Good. You’ll be working with Chuck and Bruno, obviously. Surge is still on downtime. I’ll fax everything over.”
“Got it. Thanks.” There was a click as Karen hung up, and Falkner followed suit, turning to the fax machine as it purred to life.
* * *
Koga paused outside Lance’s office door. It looked like every other one on this floor, in this building—the League had long since learned that advertising the boy’s workplace was a recipe for disaster. The bureaucrats had squawked at the inconvenience. There were times when Koga wondered if Lance even noticed. Better that way, perhaps; he wasn’t attached to any single room. For him, it was just a place—as it should be.
He knocked. There was a rustle, and then he heard Lance say, “Come in.” His voice was tight; surprise or tension? Both.
The ninja slipped inside, closing the door behind him. Lance was already standing, leaning with his fists on the table. He looked tired—a given—and that brand of tension that was a combination of dread and anticipation. He was aware, then.
“He’s here,” Lance said. It wasn’t a question. Koga inclined his head; Patterson had arrived by prison truck four minutes ago.
The redhead’s eyes flickered toward the window. He didn’t move, but he stared, lost in thought, his eyes turning blank and hollow. A dangerous state of mind—now, of all times, Lance needed to be focussed.
“When are you required?”
Koga knew, of course, but it made Lance snap back to him, and the boy blinked wordlessly as he sought his way through whatever his thoughts had been. Then he took a deep breath, lifting a hand as if about to scrub his face before he seemed to forget the intent mid-motion and it merely hovered in midair instead.
Koga nodded once. “This is not the first time you have been called as a witness, Lance.” Most of the past year had been one continuous medley of trials, and Lance had been present for many of them.
“I know.” His expression was resigned, exhausted.
“Do you know who they were yet?” ‘They.’ The victims.
A flinch, that time. No, then. And his report was more than descriptive enough to be able to narrow the list of potential victims down; Lance was many things, but he was not unobservant. Tracking them through the League registry would be even easier. “The jury will want to know, Lance.”
“Are you going to tell me?”
He sounded a mixture of afraid and hopeful, his expression guilty and grief-stricken and almost relieved. As if it would make things easier for him to be told—to have that decision made for him. Even though he was right to assume that Koga knew who they were, he should have known him better than that. The ninja turned around, reaching for the door, and spoke over his shoulder as he left.
“Look for yourself.”
* * *
It was dark in the gallery. He hadn’t bothered to put the lights on; he was the only one in there. A closed trial couldn’t have a public audience. It was kind of musty, too. Absently he made a mental note to suggest it be aired out. There was only one window, after all, and it looked over the courtroom.
Lance rested his forehead against the window, his palms pressed against the glass, closing his eyes against the prickling in them and letting out an unsteady breath. There was movement in the room below him, but the trial hadn’t started. Not yet. There wasn’t even anyone in the room who would be involved in the proceedings.
He swallowed hard and didn’t open his eyes. He hadn’t been here, yesterday. He could’ve been—he probably would have been alone again, even—but he hadn’t been. Instead he’d been doing something else.
Doing what Koga told him to do. Looking for—
click and a gunshot and blood-red
There was a quiet snick as the door closed, and Lance tensed, his eyes snapping open.
“It’s just me.”
Karen. He relaxed again. He could handle her presence.
Lance didn’t hear footsteps, but he felt Karen’s hands on his back, sliding around his sides so her arms could wrap around his chest, and then the weight of her head on his shoulder. His skin prickled slightly and he let out a breath, letting his eyes shut again. Just as well they were alone; no need for the persistent gossip about the nature of their relationship to strike up again.
He didn’t know how long they stood there together, but the warmth of her at his back was comforting, and even more because she didn’t talk. Clair was sometimes too worried—he felt as though she was always looking at him sidelong, just waiting for him to crack. Karen had stopped doing that. She just held him, now.
It meant that he didn’t quite forget where he was. Not that he was entirely certain if he could forget where he was, because below him was the place where Patterson would be sentenced to jail, but it was still a place in hell. It was just a different room. (Not concrete and huge and bustling and underground.)
“Aren’t you supposed to be downstairs?” he asked, voice muffled against the glass.
She shifted without letting him go, just enough to lift and tilt her wrist so she could see her watch. “Soon.”
“Has anyone gone to speak with—”
His throat closed on the words, and there was a beat of silence.
Lance nodded without lifting his head or opening his eyes. He didn’t try to talk again. Didn’t think he could even if he wanted to. They knew what had happened to their children. Someone had gone.
But it hadn’t been him.
His throat tightened and his eyes prickled, pooling with heat. Karen gripped him tighter for a moment and then let go, pulling away. He felt her hand on his back for a moment before it lifted, but didn’t hear her footsteps move away—just the snick of the door. He could pretend she was still there, even when she was down below.
He didn’t need to open his eyes; there were speakers in the room. He could listen to it all first. Maybe tomorrow he would work up to watching, so that by Friday he’d be able to stand down there himself and not shatter.
I’m not ready for this.
“We bring this court to order …”
* * *
The first thing Falkner heard from them was a babble of voices coming from somewhere down the hall. There were many shushes, and even more “you shush!”es, and quite a few variations of “come on now, kids, if you don’t do better than this they’ll never let us in the courtroom” before Falkner rounded a corner and found himself face-to-face with a horde of munchkins and a rather exasperated-looking man with a green mohawk.
The fact that Sidney actually looked exasperated said quite a bit.
There was dead silence the instant Falkner came into view, and the man found himself the recipient of ten variously guilty, shy and defiant looks—and one grateful adult one.
“Falkner!” Sidney beamed and spread his arms as if for a hug.
“You’re here to watch the trial?” Falkner asked at large, ignoring the other man and unable to keep the note of disbelief from his voice.
“We just wanted to show our support for Unca Lance,” said one of the girls, the end of her plaited hair pressed so hard to her mouth that Falkner wouldn’t have been surprised if she swallowed it. Falkner wasn’t sure which one she was; he hadn’t spent enough time with the munchkins to be able to tell them all apart.
“And Dad does have clearance to be in the courtroom,” said one of the older boys defensively. “You know, since he’s a member of the League.”
He’s nuts. Ruthlessly suppressing frustrated annoyance, Falkner turned to look at Sidney, who had dropped his arms and was running a hand sheepishly over his strip of hair.
“You want to take your kids into the same room as Lance and Patterson at the same time?” he asked sharply.
“Not a good idea?” Sidney guessed with a wince.
The bird trainer gripped his arm and dragged him down the hall, trusting that the idiot’s oldest kids were savvy enough to keep the rest from eavesdropping. “Did you even read Lance’s report?” he demanded.
Sidney rolled his eyes. “Yes, Luv, I managed to traverse the lava-field of Tohjo’s bureaucracy to get hold of a report about a case I’m not involved in using a boat made from my Hoenn League licence—”
“Your analogy broke down before you even started talking,” Falkner said flatly, but his chest loosened. Sidney liked cheering people up and making them feel good, but he wasn’t always practical and didn’t always think things through. Still, it would have been a short-sightedness beyond even him to take his kids into the courtroom despite having read up on the case’s background.
But he’s right; there’s no way he could’ve gotten hold of the casefiles. Tohjo security regarding ongoing cases had always been tighter than Hoenn’s, even to other League reps. It was one of the things that had kept the Rockets from completely taking it over.
“Patterson is being tried for the murder of three children, Sidney,” Falkner said in a low voice, “and Lance witnessed it. You still think it’s a good idea to take your kids into the courtroom?”
Sidney had already paled so quickly that it looked like he’d been exsanguinated. “How did you guys manage to keep that out of the press?”
“We moved Patterson’s arraignment up and barred them from the courtroom based on sensitive intelligence,” Falkner said, and then sighed. “Listen, if you go to your lodge after the trial I’ll direct Lance your way. Okay?” The dragon tamer was going to need the support afterward, if he was willing to accept it from Sidney and his kids of all people.
“Alright. Hey, Falkner?” Falkner stopped, already half turning away, and glanced over his shoulder at the taller man. Sidney looked serious, a strange expression on a face more inclined to perpetually grinning, smiling or smirking. It was made stranger by the look in the man’s eyes—not hard, not even hollow—just blank. “Take him down hard.”
A dark smile ghosted over Falkner’s lips. “We intend to.”
“Are you ready?”
Lance jerked in surprise, his breath catching in his throat and hands flying to his back and his side, where his pokéballs and sidearm should have been, before his mind processed the voice. “Don’t do that.”
“Did you not hear me coming?” Koga asked with deceptive mildness, matching the redhead’s pace, his hands folded behind his back.
Lance didn’t answer as he turned back to the cobblestone path, absently brushing away some leaves falling from the overhanging branches. He had no time and no room in his mind right now for the ninja’s subtle, ceaseless lessons.
This would be Patterson’s final day in court. All the days beforehand had been leading up to it, really, but today was it. Patterson would be jailed on the weekend; no one had any doubt of that. The only question was where and for how long. Even the CDC had a minimum security section, and unless Patterson was charged for even one murder chances were that’s where he’d be put.
“Are you ready?” Koga repeated the question. Lance wished he’d go away.
Didn’t have much of a choice, though, did he, and he didn’t need Koga to tell him that. The redhead wished the man would give up on his ulterior motives for once, and as the path they followed skirted the office building toward the courthouse, south of the detention cells, he began to hope the ninja had.
Then: “You don’t have your pokémon with you.”
“Karen felt it would be an undue reminder.”
A reminder of his power. He could have saved those kids. He knew it. Patterson knew it. The judge would know it. So would the jury. Karen had told him that wearing his pokéballs would encourage the people in the room to think of him as the Champion, while leaving them behind might serve as a reminder he was only a man and could do only so much. It had made sense when she explained it, but with that intangible sort of logic that he didn’t quite understand. He trusted her judgement.
Even so, Koga raised an eyebrow, and Lance sighed. “I still have my backup.” Even though weapons were supposed to be barred from court. No one was going to know; it was under his clothes. Security would have probably let him through with it anyway, since—
Gunshots and the sound of a pokémon roaring. Lance’s hands jerked for weapons both there and not, his heart racketing up to his throat, and he hit the ground off the path—of his own volition or because Koga had knocked him down he wasn’t sure. Either way, his gun was in his hand and Koga’s forretress had appeared in a flash of light, but the redhead’s mind was already ticking over the sounds. Too far—too far away to be at me—
He pushed himself up and pressed himself against the tree he was under, gun at the ready.
“Stay down, fool boy,” Koga hissed.
“It wasn’t directed at—”
Gunshots again, most definitely nearby but not near enough, and without thinking he pushed himself to his feet to bolt in the direction of the sound, ignoring Koga’s snarled order behind him.
The shots were coming from the direction of the jail.
His feet pounded the turf as he wove between the trees, and although he couldn’t hear Koga he saw a flash of purple overhead and knew the ninja was close behind. The redhead burst out of the garden in time to see a Jeep screech around the corner of the carpark and into the drive. Plainly-clothed people were still half climbing into it, one of them blond—Patterson.
One saw him as they passed and shouted. A grimer or muk rose up to the car’s edge and Lance dove to the side to avoid the splatter of Sludge Bombs, rolling and coming up crouched by a tree, gun up and cocked. He fired at the same time that there was a shouted command from behind him and a streak of purple.
At least one of the Jeep’s tyres exploded, sending it fishtailing. The ground shook and a massive stone shape erupted with a bellow from the ground in front of it before the driver could regain control. The Jeep collided nose-first with one of the onix’s segments, its front crumpling like paper and rear lifting off the ground before back falling again.
For a moment there was a lull, quiet enough that the sound of alarms in the buildings was audible. Lance’s heart was pounding and he was still breathing hard from the run, but he stood and moved cautiously out into the open to cover the Jeep. Onix leaned threateningly over the vehicle, half coiled around it; out of the edges of his vision Lance saw Golbat flitting above and Bruno approaching from the carpark with a band of security guards.
Then there was a burst of muddy purple from the centre of the crumpled car which splattered across Onix’s scarred face and eyes, and the snake jerked back with a booming cry. The ground lifted with the recoil, its tail lashing underground; Lance staggered, cursing. There was movement in the Jeep but Lance didn’t see what happened next—he just heard gunfire as he was knocked to the ground from behind and something shot past, something large and round and spinning that made the bullets ricochet off its surface. Forretress.
He rolled and came back up to his feet, and then there was a hand on the scruff of his neck, yanking him toward the cover of Onix’s huge body.
“Idiot!” growled Koga in his ear. The ninja shoved him down against the pokémon and vanished out of sight toward the Jeep, bathed in the glow of a pokéball’s light. Lance took a deep breath and realised he was shaking; whether it was adrenaline or something else, he didn’t know. His heart was racing hard enough to make him feel slightly sick. This hadn’t been what he expected when he got up this morning.
Stupid, stupid to run toward a fire-fight without my dragons. It had just been instinct to do so, with his team or without it.
Shouts and gunshots rang from the other side of Onix’s body; from the sound of it the remaining Rockets, however many there were, had called out their full teams. The ground kept jolting as Onix tried to dodge the attacks concentrated on his head without depriving the League reps from their cover. Even so the bulk of his segmented body shifted under Lance’s back, and the dragon tamer pulled away as it jerked violently, avoiding being flung aside.
He straightened and caught sight of movement out the corner of his eye, away from the fight. Lance turned, relief suffusing his limbs, expecting reinforcements—
He saw Patterson making a break across the drive, in the direction of the courthouse and the League district gates.
The redhead didn’t think; he just bolted after the man. The door Patterson shoved open bounced closed and Lance shouldered through it, colliding with the wall with his gun raised. The sound of the shots was nearly lost in the blare of alarms inside the building and they impacted the far wall as Patterson ducked around the corner. Lance hissed in lieu of a curse and followed, his ears ringing.
He caught a flash of Patterson’s back before he vanished again around a corner, but when Lance got around it himself he found the corridor had intersected and skidded to a halt against a wall, breathing hard and reviewing his mental map of the courthouse. There was an exit onto the boulevard running alongside the district wall just down—
Screams and gunshots, audible even over the alarms, and Lance bolted down a hallway. He nearly collided with someone but didn’t see who, because all of a sudden he was surrounded by sobbing and white-faced children and an equally white-faced man leaning against the opposite wall—
Several of the kids screamed again when he burst into the intersection, but Sidney looked up, his eyes feverish with pain and urgency, one hand clamped down on his thigh and the other arm held in a death-grip by half his teary-eyed kids. “He took Adam!”
“Down there,” Cameron said shakily from where he was sitting against the wall, clutching the twins to him, and pointed. Without a word Lance dodged around the group and ran, hell-bent, for the staff exit he knew was in that direction, snatching up his phone from his belt and hitting the speed-dial.
“Falkner, I need you!” he shouted as soon as he heard it pick up, rounding the corner and seeing the door swing slowly shut ahead of him. “Call the paramedics to the courthouse, southern wing corridor E, and get in the air, Patterson’s got a hostage!”
He hung up, shoving the phone back onto his belt, and slammed through the door shoulder-first, sweeping the gun around to clear immediate area before focussing on ahead. For the first time since they’d entered the courthouse he saw Patterson clearly, saw Adam’s grey face as he was dragged along, and his gut clenched. Part of him was distant; the rest was so tight he felt like he should have been frozen even as he pursued, his heart pounding his ears and lungs burning.
There was a squeal of tyres and a police car careened around the corner to come to a sliding halt, narrowly avoiding a car on the end and blocking off Patterson’s escape into the lot. The tight clench in Lance’s chest eased slightly, even though he should’ve known the cops would have been covering the exits as soon as the alarm was tripped. It didn’t change the fact that Patterson had Adam, was yanking him to a halt against the wall separating the district from the boulevard, using the boy to cover him as much as possible.
“Stop,” the Rocket commanded, one hand twisted in the boy’s collar and the other holding a gun to the back of his head. Adam’s face was grey, his eyes wide and cheeks tear-streaked, and his pleading gaze locked on Lance as the redhead came to a halt a dozen feet away. There were quick footsteps as the police officers approached, but they, too, stopped before they got too close. Lance’s eyes flickered in their direction; both had their firearms ready and one had a growlithe loose at his heels, snarling at Patterson.
The Rocket wasn’t looking. He was watching Lance, breathing still hard but slowly easing, and when the redhead shifted his gaze from the cops to the Rocket their eyes met, grey with blue.
The dragon trainer nearly flinched. His breathing was easing but his heart-rate wasn’t, and now he wasn’t in a headlong rush he had the time to look at Patterson and remember the last time they’d been face-to-face had been—
gunshots and red and children lying spreadeagle on the ground
—bastard I’ll kill you—
right there in reach be so easy
His hands trembled and his heart pounded in his ears, the world around him warping until he wasn’t sure if it was an alley he was in or a hangar or how many kids there were—
The officer’s voice made it snap and it was just the alley, just the alley and Adam and Patterson and two cops, but he was still hot with rage and breathing too fast.
“Uncle Lance?” Adam whispered.
He closed his eyes and inhaled unsteadily. Can’t shoot. Don’t have a clear view. Can’t shoot him. Don’t do anything.
He couldn’t shoot him. He couldn’t do anything.
Hurry up, Falkner.
“How did it feel?” Lance’s eyes flew open to find the man looking at him with a mild air of curiosity. It chilled the redhead, made his stomach twist. “Letting three children die when you could have saved them. I’d have done it. I just wouldn’t have thought a non-ninja League representative would.” Now he just sounded—
He sounded impressed. Lance felt the blood drain from his face, standing frozen by Patterson’s gaze and Adam’s hard flinch.
“Uncle Lance—?!” The boy’s voice cracked, a jumble of terror and pleading and horrified realisation.
“Jason Patterson,” said one of the police officers, cutting in. Lance twitched with a sharp inhale, half snapping out his standstill. “You’re already under arrest on multiple charges. Don’t make things worse for yourself. Let the boy go.”
Patterson’s eyes slid over to the woman. “I’m speaking with the Dragon Master.” His voice was mild, but there was clear dismissal in the way his gaze shifted back to Lance.
The redhead couldn’t look away. He felt like a mess of a pounding heart and tingling adrenaline wanting to move do something now, barely restrained in his skin. He didn’t know what he looked like from the outside.
His phone vibrated silently on his belt, hidden by his body and his jacket, and his heart skipped a beat. Falkner. His mind abruptly cleared, the overwhelming heat and raging memories pushed aside. One.
His chest had loosened enough that he could let out a long breath, forcing all his tense muscles to relax.
“Get down,” he barked over the sound of the door slamming open far behind him, and dropped to the ground.
Something big and brown and feathery plummeted out of the sky, colliding with Adam and knocking him down. The boy’s cry of surprise was lost in the sound of gunshots and the sharp crack of a ricochet, and Patterson’s body jerked.
Lance shoved himself to his feet, glancing quickly over at the officers—confused-looking, but both on the ground and conscious; good reflexes, both—before making for the wall, ignoring the shouts behind him. The pidgeotto turned sharply at his approach, lowering her head and spreading her wings protectively over Adam, but Lance didn’t look at her, holding his gun raised at the blond slumped against the wall.
Growlithe was already standing over him, snarling, but the redhead could see that Patterson wasn’t going to move again. Not with that bullet hole in his head. Lance exhaled shakily; his limbs felt rubbery with adrenaline and numbness, and as he stared down at Patterson he was surprised to feel—nothing. His body still pounded with heat and his heartbeat, but his mind was still sort-of clear, and he holstered his gun, turning away.
One of the officers was already at Adam and Pidgeotto’s sides, helping the former to sit up and keeping him turned firmly away from the body. Lance moved over to the pokémon to crouch and hold out his arm, and with a clack of her beak the bird stepped up onto it from the grass, holding one of her wings oddly. There was blood on her feathers.
She’s hurt? Lance ran his fingers gently through her feathers to move them out of the way, but she’d only been clipped by Patterson’s bullet. It would keep her grounded for a few days but nothing more serious than that, and—
Sidney shot past in a whirlwind of motion and a burst of air—Sidney on his shiftry, that is. The man’s leg nearly buckled when he pushed himself off the pokémon’s back, but he shoved himself forward as if the momentum mattered more than remaining standing and half collapsed at Adam’s side.
“Dad,” was all Adam managed to say before he was swept up and clutched to Sidney’s chest. Lance jolted as he realised the boy had wound up looking straight at him over Sidney’s shoulder. Adam flinched as their eyes met, his expression mingled fear and relief and hollow realisation.
The redhead looked away first.
Lance turned to find Falkner beside him, his rifle slung over his shoulder and his skarmory behind him, scratching irritably at the grass. Behind him Lance could see the other officer meeting with more police and paramedics (and further behind them a pair of exasperated-looking security guards trying to hold back half a dozen munchkins), and knew the scene would be swarming in only a few seconds.
“Pidgeotto’s been winged,” he said. “It’s not serious.”
Falkner nodded and lifted his arm. “Thank you.” With a trill the bird hopped over, uninjured wing flapping lightly, and nuzzled the man’s shoulder. “Koga and Bruno got the others. Two fatalities, one human, one pokémon, both on the Rockets’ side.”
The—oh. The Rockets who’d tried to break Patterson out. “Alright.”
Things were still strangely clear. It wasn’t like that night at the lab, when he’d been on a precipice. This time he was in a pool of stillness. Vaguely aware of Falkner watching him carefully, the redhead took a tense breath, and when he focussed on the conversations happening around him they weren’t just a buzz of background noise to his mind.
Sidney’s unceasing murmur was loudest. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you—”
Lance’s stomach uncoiled, and when he inhaled again it felt as if the tension had been sloughed off, as if he could move without it being mechanical. “Come on,” he said. “I want to see what kind of damage the prison received and if they need help keeping the Rockets under guard.”
He turned away toward the door, and although he could feel Falkner’s eyes on him he was still too wrapped in a blanket of calm to care.
* * *
“—fire-fight in the League District on Friday has resulted in a call for a blanket declaration that Rockets in cross-regional cases be tried in absentia. Although Karen Delaney has already spoken to reporters regarding this issue, for the first time in nearly a month Champion Lance Blackthorn will address the citizens of Tohjo—”
The radio clicked off. “Thank you,” Lance said without looking away from smoothing down his clothes as he studied himself in his bedroom mirror. He wore his dress uniform, blue and piped with gold trim—something Karen had commissioned for him once it became clear he needed something formal to wear in front of the press rather than his flightsuit or his battle outfit. Less practical than either of the others, even if it had been cut to allow room for bulletproof armour underneath the jacket.
And it was nothing like a Rocket uniform. It set him apart, not let him blend in. But at least it was his. He was still trying to decide if that was a pro or a con.
There was a clink of buckles as someone picked up his cape from the chair and Clair stepped into view behind him, lifting it to settle it over his shoulders. He let her, watching her buckle it on without really paying attention at all, and after a moment his gaze shifted back to himself.
Tall, formal—‘noble’, some magazines had called him. Outfit crisp, face impassive, hair slicked back.
Is this one better? he wanted to ask Clair. Is this reflection better than the one I broke last month?
He didn’t say anything. She finished smoothing down his cape and just stood for a moment behind him, her hands on his shoulders. For a moment he thought she was going to say something—but then she smiled a little weakly, squeezed his shoulders, and left.
He heard her exclaim as she almost ran into someone on the way out, heard someone else enter, and the door clicked shut. “The auditorium’s pretty well full,” Karen said, sounding mildly harassed. She clicked her tongue as she came beside him. “You’ve been running your hands through your hair again, haven’t you?”
Lance blinked and looked at his reflection again. He must have; his hair was displaced. He didn’t remember doing it. He submitted to her tug on his collar, bending his head so she could smooth the strands back down even as he said, “You’re going to get gel on your hands.”
“It’ll wash.” She ran her fingers through his hair again for good measure, a little more slowly, on the edge of intimate, and ducked her head to peer into his face. “Are you ready for this?”
Automatically Lance glanced toward his lodge computer and the sticky-note on the monitor with three separate addresses scribbled on it.
Satoshi Sarah Wendell
“I’m ready.” He turned away from the mirror. “Let’s go.”