This is a holiday special of sorts from my other fics, League of Heroes and Hero's Path, which can be found in my signature. While one need not read those fics to enjoy this one, certain things will make a lot more sense if you do. Characters from those fics will be used, and they won't be fully developed here, because, as I have said, this is an extra.
But even if you haven't read League of Heroes... it's still a nice story for this time of year, and will be told in three parts. I hope you will read on and enjoy.
Chronoligcally, this takes place some time after the end of League of Heroes, but before the start of Hero's Path. Now, without further ado, the story opens:
Stave 1: A Night to Remember
In the moments of our lives
The joyous and the tragic
If the truth is to be told
We are all pursuing magic
And the magic we seek
As I’m sure you’ve discovered
Can be found in some places
More surely than others
In the arms of a lover
In the grandest of sights
But the surest place of all
Is in the dark realm of night
And of all of the nights throughout the year
That come gently and leave
None hold onto that strange magic
Like the night of Solstice Eve
And so it is on this night
With all the promises within
As the snow starts to fall
Our story now begins…
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” Cole sang as he fixed tinsel along the mantelpiece. “Fa la la la, la la la la! ‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la!” He took another string from Maeve the Weavile, standing nearby, and set to work on it. “Don we now our gay apparel, fa la la la, la la la la!”
From across the room, Nate scoffed into his mug of black coffee. “Gay apparel. You can say that again.” He pointed with his chin at Xander, who was stringing lights on the Solstice tree.
“Hey! My fiancé gave me this sweater!”
“It’s lame,” Nate retorted.
Mozzeh entered the Council Room of the Tower of the Ancients, a box of ornaments in his hands. He nudged Nate’s back with his foot, knocking him off the container he was sitting on. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, shut the hell up. And start working.”
Nate glared at the Dragon Master, and opened the box, picking out ornaments and setting them aside. “Lame. Tawdry. Gaudy. Tacky….”
“Remind me again why we bother inviting him?” Cole asked Xander as he laid down the last bit of tinsel. Athena, Cole’s Victini, chuckled on his shoulder.
“He’s Raj’s friend, and Raj wouldn’t want to leave anyone out,” the fighting elite four member said, rolling his eyes.
“Got that right,” Raj quipped as he entered, holding one side of a large sofa. “Ah, let’s set it down over here.”
Becca came in holding the other side, and the two of them set it across from the hearth and near the Solstice tree. “Remind me again why none of our manly men here were carrying such large heavy objects?” the Mountain Trainer demanded.
“Because,” Cole replied with a grin, “when I offered, you called me a chauvinist, blasted me with a tirade, and stalked away.” He winked at Masamune the Samurott, reclining near the hearth. The blue water type raised his head from Scathatch’s mane and chuckled. The Zoroark clicked her tongue at him, and he settled back down.
Xander left with a few of his fighting-types to go bring up a few armchairs and a table, while Cole and Mozzeh decorated the Solstice tree. Dracoburn, Becca’s blind Charizard, stood aloofly nearby, listening to Solstice carols on Cole’s iPod. Masamune raised his head again. “Maeve, do me a favor and go change it to the Trans Siberian Orchestra. I’d much prefer their arrangements to this pop music.” The Weavile nodded and darted off to comply.
Cole sang as he worked, though no one else joined in. “I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older. Yes I need a little Solstice, right this very minute, candles in the window, carols at the spinet. We need a little music, need a little laughter, need a little singing, ringing through the rafters. And we need a little happily ever after. We need a little Solstice now!”
Eventually, Mozzeh called out a few of his dragon types to help but ornaments on the higher branches of the fifteen-foot tree. Shiva, Cole’s Sceptile, and Hades, his Typhlosion, lifted smaller pokemon like Athena, Maeve, Becca’s baby Gible, and Raj’s Chikorita up onto their shoulders to help.
Kali the Luxray batted at ornaments that dangled over her head until Scathatch reprimanded her. Cole came across a ruby-red bauble whose hook had broken, and he had no way to replace it. “Oh,” he murmured. “What a pity.” He placed the ornament in the pocket of his coat. Finally, all the decorations were in place, all but the star on the top of the tree.
Mozzeh sheepishly ducked his head and gestured to his dragon-types. “To be honest, I don’t really trust these guys with that.”
Cole nodded, and glanced at his own Charizard, curled in a crescent behind the couch and pretending to sleep to get out of working. “Well, he’s no help at all!”
Masamune stood up and trudged over, shaking sleep away. “Cole, stand on my shoulders.” The Firebrand did, and Thor, his Zebstrika, moved into position to spot him if he fell. Cole reached up, but still couldn’t quite get to the top. The Samurott turned. “Athena, get over here.” The Victini bounded up Masamune’s back and crawled up Cole’s arms. Shiva handed the star up to Cole, who then passed it to Athena.
The little Victini stretched out her arms and placed the golden star atop the towering pine tree. Raj flicked a switch, and the overhead lights of the room dimmed as the tree lit up with the tiny lights Xander and Mozzeh had strung up.
Near the fireplace, Charizard made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a sneeze, and a jet of fire shot out of his mouth to ignite the wood in the hearth. The flames crackled merrily, casting strange shadows all over the room.
Becca flopped into an armchair. “Pretty.”
Nate rolled his eyes. “Tacky.”
Cole slid off his Samurott’s back and glared at Nate, but any snarky remark was cut off by the kitchen door opening with a bang. Kami, Cole’s Lucario, and Analyt, Becca’s Dragonite, hurried out with platters of food. A roast Mareep, two flayed Magikarp, a broiled Tranquil, and all manner of confections made of vegetables and berries were laid out on the table. An oven dinged, and Maeve dashed into the kitchen. With Raj’s help (namely using the oven mitts), she took a large platter of Solstice cookies out of the oven, each made to look like the head of one of the pokemon in attendance. Her dexterous claws had proved to make excellent cookie-cutters.
The bespectacled young man put all the cookies on a glass platter in the center of the table, a place of honor. “Let’s get started then.” He scratched the Weavile behind her head crest. “Everything looks delicious.”
There was a general murmur about Analyt and Kami’s cooking ability (which far exceeded any of the humans’ present) and the six members of the Journeymen league sat down. First, they plated food for all of their pokemon in attendance. Several of Xander’s fighting types joined them at the table, as did the two chefs, and Maeve. Simply put, if it could sit at the table without any other extremities causing it difficulty, the pokemon would. Athena crept up Cole’s chair leg and helped herself to whatever happened to be on his plate.
Becca guided Dracoburn’s first few bites until he was able to locate the plate of roasted meat all on his own. Charizard sidled over, and helped his fellow fire type when Becca moved to sit at Cole’s right hand.
Due to his vegetarian sensibilities, Cole refrained from any of the delicious-looking meat, though he did not begrudge his friends from digging in. And besides, there were many delectable non-meat dishes. As they ate, Raj glanced up. “Cole, I didn’t know you were left-handed!”
The Firebrand glanced down and smiled. “Well, I’m not.”
“But your fork…”
“I’m not a lefty, but I eat with my left hand. I guess I just started doing it back home as a kid because the fork is always on the left side.”
Xander leaned back with a groan. “The fork goes on the left? Arceus, that’s why Christy is always looking at me funny over dinner…”
Raj laughed, and Becca rolled her eyes. Mozzeh paused in the slicing of his Pidgeoto breast. “Ah, and how is the lovely lady, X?”
“She’s great. We’re spending Solstice with her family. I’ll be heading out tomorrow and meet her there.”
Cole nodded with a smile. The core members of the Journeymen were celebrating Solstice now, three days early, so they could then spend time with family (or love interests) on the day of. They would need the extra time between the Tower and the rest of the world to get where they were going.
His sister was back in Kanto, far from the Unova region, but they hadn’t spent a Solstice together in years. As for love interests, well, he certainly didn’t have one of those. Probably, he would just kick back in his villa in Undella Town and ride with Thor down the beach. Sure, the weather would be cold, but Cole didn’t mind. In fact, he was praying for snow so he could go skiing in the days following. Maybe he would call up Lenora and Burgh and Elesa and have brunch with them on Solstice morning… Or he could call up Skyla, Becca’s cousin, and the three of them could hang out in Mistralton. Certainly, he was going to give Brycen a ring to go skiing…
Athena poked him with her finger. “Get more of the Payapa and Magost casserole.” Cole glanced down at his plate to see the generous helping he had given himself smeared on her cheeks. “It’s good and I can’t reach it.”
“Arceus, Fuzzball, aren’t you going to leave any for the rest of us? Or is it all just going to go on your face?”
Raj laughed again when he saw Athena squirming away from Cole’s napkin. Finally, after wrestling with her a little, Cole managed to wipe off most of the casserole off the Victini.
The rest of the meal continued with idle chatter like this, laughing and joking and catching up. When all the plates were cleared, Maeve reverently and solemnly bestowed each of the pokemon the cookie bearing their face, and to each of the humans, the cookie that carried their badge or symbol. Then, her face fell when she realized that in all her excitement, she had forgotten to make one for herself.
Kali, Hades, Shiva and Kami all in unison broke off half of their own cookies and held them out to her. Maeve smiled broadly as she accepted Hades’ offer, but politely declined the others. Cole rubbed behind her ear. “See now? That’s the true spirit of Solstice.”
“I thought the spirit of Solstice was capitalism,” Becca grumbled.
Cole and Raj glanced at each other, while Mozzeh and Xander quickly found their cookies very interesting. Nate nudged his chair back and put his feet up on the table. “Check, and mate. Well played, Becca, well played.” He leaned back, his arms behind his head. “Couldn’t have done it better myself.”
Raj shoved Nate, making the dark-haired man wobble and fall. “Behave yourself, or Father Solstice won’t leave you a thing.”
“You mean the corporate icon? That a soda company came up with?” Nate laughed. “Somehow I’m not worried. And if he does come with a lump of charcoal for me, I’ll bag him for breaking and entering, then regift the thing to Dracoburn.”
Raj shook his head. “Nate, I’m pretty sure I left the oven on in the kitchen. Why don’t you go check?” The dark trainer grumbled, knowing it was a ploy, but with a glare from Raj he complied. When he stepped over the threshold, Raj cocked his head. Kami quickly grabbed Nate’s chair, slammed the door shut and placed the chair under the knob. “Well. That takes care of his pessimism. But Becca…”
Cole held up a hand. “I got this. Becca, Solstice is a time of year for people and pokemon to come together and enjoy each other’s presence. It’s a time of goodwill, and peace, and unity. We spend the coldest, longest, darkest night of the year with others to remind us that it doesn’t have to be so cold and dark. There’s light and hope and warmth in the world too. Solstice helps us remember that.”
“That’s pretty naive,” Becca grumbled. “Considering what we’ve been through. I though you a smarter man than that, Cole.” She pushed her plate away and went to sit next to the fire with Dracoburn. From the way her brow kept furrowing, Cole was certain the blind Charizard was saying something to her telepathically through the link they shared. Ferocity and Scarr, her Garchomp and Salamence, quickly joined them, baby Gible in tow.
Analyt procured a quill pen seemingly from thin air, but in truth from a ridge between his scales. He quickly wrote a fairly sloppy “sorry” on his napkin. Cole shook his head. “I’ll talk to her. But… I need a reason.”
Xander nodded. “On it. Hey, Becca? Can you help out with the dishes? Mozzeh, Raj and I need to go grab some presents.” The three other men quickly made themselves scarce. The pokemon that remained helped the two humans gather the plates and consolidate the debris. They then stacked the platters and walked to the kitchen door.
“I can sort of see where you’re coming from,” Cole admitted as they worked. “It does seem like the world has commercialized Solstice. But if we, the two of us, right here and now, remember the root of the holiday, the peace and love it’s supposed to represent, then… well, it’s sort of a small victory, huh?”
Becca sighed. “I’m sorry Cole, but after the Omega War, and really, now that I think about it, all the bad stuff before that, I have a hard time believing in all that ‘peace and love’ crap. Real life isn’t like all those carols you like singing.”
Cole nodded. “I know. But this holiday… when celebrated right, it helps me to cope. I lost just as much in the War as anyone. More, maybe. And while I have to learn from it, I can’t let it drag me down. I just have to keep going, and live all the harder for the happy things. Like Solstice with my friends.”
“It’s not even Solstice. We’re substituting it.”
“But the principle is the same!”
Kami pulled the chair away from the door, and Nate tumbled out of the kitchen. “Jerks,” he muttered as he dusted himself off. Becca shooed him away.
She glanced at the Firebrand. “So now I’m guessing you want me to go out and ‘find the true meaning of Solstice’ or some Tauros-manure like that?”
Cole shook his head. “No. You don’t have to ‘go out and find it’. It’s inside you.”
“Great. Next you’ll be telling me I need a bloody ‘Solstice miracle’, like this is a TV special or something.”
Cole shrugged as he put the plates in the sink. “If that’s what it takes.”
Becca began scrubbing. “I don’t know. I mean… I’m not like Nate. I don’t despise all this tinsel and happy and caroling and stuff. I guess it’s pretty in a way, and the pokemon all seem to like it. I just don’t get it. It’s an excuse to get presents, is what it is.”
“Not really,” Cole replied, putting two dishes in a drying rack. “It’s about giving.”
“That’s the same thing.”
“No, it’s not.”
“To give something, someone has to get it, don’t they?”
“Well, kind of, but that’s not the point…”
Becca put the last of the plates in the drying rack, toweled off her hands and walked away. “I appreciate the sentiment, Cole. But I just don’t think I can get into the Solstice spirit. Cole, keep Solstice in you’re way, and I’ll keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” he repeated. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone then,” said Becca.
Cole sighed and followed her out of the kitchen. Kali batted at his ankle, and pointed with her nose at the wrapped packages under the tree. Cole laughed and scratched behind her ear. “No, no. We can open those tomorrow.”
Charizard was asleep again, and Cole reclined against the dragon’s warm flank. Raj walked back into the room, laden with presents. His Beartic, Tundah, lumbered behind him, similarly burdened. Cole chuckled when he saw Tundah was wearing a Father Solstice hat, the red cap set at a rakish tilt on the bear’s large head. Raj groaned. “Come on man! I drag all this furniture up here, and you don’t even use it?”
Cole grinned. “Well, the rug is comfortable enough.” Maeve climbed up into the couch next to him, and Athena sat on her lap. Hades, Kali, and Shiva all but collapsed over each other in a heap, lolling about on the floor like a litter of Growlithe puppies. Kami picked his way over them to sit next to Maeve, folding his legs up under him and placing his palms on his knees. A blue aura flared around him for a split second, and he smiled.
Thor nosed at the Solstice tree, bumping several of the glittering baubles, and staring at his distorted reflection. Masamune and Scathatch lay on the other side of the hearth. Nate stared into the flames, stroking the back of a young Sandile, as his Mudkip curled up on lap.
Mozzeh’s dragons reclined in the open space around the room, as did some of Becca’s pokemon. Xander had returned all of his pokemon but Salamence, who snored quietly in the far right corner. The fighting elite glanced up as Analyt came out of the kitchen, a steaming kettle in his hand.
The Dragonite spoke briefly to Masamune, and the Samurott translated. “He wants to know if any of us want tea, coffee or hot chocolate.”
Once everyone had placed an order, Cole held up a hand. “I’ll come help. You might need a set of thumbs, big guy.”
“Drago!” the pokemon replied, raising an eye-ridge as if to say “I don’t need help!”. All the same, Cole followed him into the kitchen, and poured out the requested drinks. The Dragonite carried them out on a platter, but Cole took his own mug of hot chocolate to one of the windows that lined the room.
He rested the cup on the sill, and pressed his forehead and the palm of his hand against the cool glass. Stars glittered in the clear night sky, and the nearly full moon shined down on the dusting of snow that covered the mesa the Tower was built on.
Cole smiled. Even in the relatively quiet and out-of-the-way Undella Town, the glare of lights from the nearby cities still tinged the sky. Only at isolated places like the Tower or his own Flare Gym could the true majesty of the night sky be witnessed. The Milky Way stretched out across the black canvas, spiraling away into the infinite darkness.
“Silent night, holy night…” Cole murmured. “All is calm, all is bright…” Slowly and a little reluctantly he went back to Charizard. The warmth of the fire was nice, and the glow of company pleasant, but Cole yearned to go out for a fly, soaring through the chilly air with the wind in his hair and the breath being stolen from his lungs. Well, maybe later tonight if Charizard felt up to it…
The dragon’s chest rose and fell beneath Cole, the warm pulsing muscles expanding and contracting. Cole rested his head over the fire sac in Charizard’s ribcage, the warmest part of his body, sans the fiery tail. He felt his eyes drifting shut, too, and cushioned his head on his arms.
Raj sipped from a mug of coffee. “This is nice, eh? I’m glad we all got together.”
Nate begrudgingly sighed. “Well, yeah, I guess. But couldn’t it have been an ‘elites only’ thing? Why’d we have to bring the Firebrand here?”
Mozzeh cuffed Nate’s arm. “Because then I couldn’t be here either.”
Xander smiled. “And besides, Cole is an elite trainer. Just because he’s not in the Elite Four, doesn’t mean he couldn’t be.”
“Right,” Cole mumbled through his half-doze. “I could kick your butt any day, Nate. Name the time and place. ‘Sides, being a gym leader is more fun. More mobility. I get to go out and have the adventures, you get the paperwork. Who’s laughing now?”
Raj threw his legs over one side of the chair, and his head dangled over the other. His Chikorita sat on his lap, and his ever-present Accelgor stood attentively by his side. However, even the vigilant bug type’s eyes were drooping.
Becca rocked the baby Gible to sleep. “It’s getting kind of late. I guess… I’ll go to bed now.”
Mozzeh shook his head. “Oh, come on. Just a little longer? I was about to get the eggnog out.”
Cole stood up and crossed to one last box, pulling out three large, foot shaped objects. “At least hang a stocking over the chimney.”
Becca sighed, her shoulders visibly dropping. “Cole, I’m sorry. It just doesn’t seem like Solstice this year.” She turned and walked away, and the few pokemon she had out followed her. Analyt guided Dracoburn out of the room, and away to Becca’s chamber several floors up. The Firebrand sighed, and hung the six stockings himself.
Nate shrugged. “Well, that kind of killed the mood for me. I’m off.”
As soon as the dark trainer left the room, the Firebrand grabbed a handful of coal from the same box as the stockings, and dumped it in Nate’s. “Father Solstice isn’t real, indeed.”
Raj placed a hand on Cole’s shoulder. “I think I’ll take one last drink and call it a night, too. Not much sense staying up much more, eh?”
Xander and Mozzeh tiredly agreed, and the four remaining trainers toasted the holiday before going their separate ways. Cole didn’t stay at the Tower often, but he did have his own room when he did. It wasn’t very large, though, so he returned all of his pokemon but Athena and Maeve. The Victini and Weavile crawled onto the fluffy bed and were asleep in an instant.
Cole strode to the large picture window at the other end of the window. Does this look impressive enough? I hope I have the gravitás… He folded his hands behind his back and stared out at the moonlit world for several heartbeats. Finally, he turned his head slightly to the left.
“I know you’re here. You can come out now. I have a favor to ask.”