To say Norman wasn’t popular in Team Rocket was an understatement. He did as he was told and kept to himself. He had few connections within the organisation and didn’t see the need to broaden his horizons. Hardly anyone could recognise his face and those who did would only groan about the stick up his ass. There was a rumour that he was close to becoming an Executive, though anyone caught whispering about such nonsense were put on Archer’s shit list.
Why he was ‘best pals’ with a scientist working in Goldenrod City was beyond anyone’s understanding. Maxie Matsubusa was nothing special in the seemingly endless lines of scientist, but Norman had decided he was worth his time.
Not that Maxie would ever complain. Norman kept the Executives off his back and showed a genuine interest in his personal studies. Anything to distract him from the damn Mew Project. Besides, it was nice to have someone within Team Rocket to be able to rely on.
Even so, that didn’t mean he expected to Norman to show up in his lab with a six-month-old baby in his arms.
“This is my daughter, May,” he said, as if that explained everything.
Maxie nodded slowly, wondering if he’d had enough coffee to deal with this. “Right...”
“Say hi, May,” Norman said, taking one of her little hands and waving it.
Without even meaning to, Maxie waved back.
After that day, Norman was never seen without her. May was usually strapped to his chest, waving at passing grunts. Petrel was especially fond of her.
“Awh, she looks just like you!” He said one morning, lowering himself to be at eye level with May and attempting to make her laugh. Norman muttered something about how yes, children generally look like their parents.
Despite Petrel’s best efforts, May just stared at him blankly. He was about to give up when she grabbed his beard and yanked. Hard.
The sound Petrel made was inhuman, but it made May burst into a fit of giggles.
Thankfully, Petrel took it in good humour. “She admires it!” He claimed, though somehow Norman found himself disagreeing.
The other Executives were less than thrilled with the development, but as long as Norman continued to maintain the same work output, they couldn’t really complain.
May just became part of the routine.
Norman brought her to visit Maxie every few days. Every time, she would hold out both arms to the scientist until he gave her a hug. He was clueless as to why she expressed such affection towards him.
“It’s because she likes you,” Norman insisted, “you’re basically her uncle by now, anyway.”
Some part of Maxie wanted to protest, but the way the girl would stare up at him with huge, adoring eyes was enough to keep it down.
It was a few months later when Norman did something unexpected once again.
“Can I ask you to do me a massive favour?” he asked, not looking up from May who was asleep in his arms.
Maxie frowned. “Depends what it is.”
“Archer roped me into a mission to Cinnabar Island. I need you to take care of May for a few days, week at the most.”
There was a beat of silence before Maxie sighed and reached up to readjust his glasses. “I’m thoroughly convinced that leaving me in charge of your child is a bad idea.”
“Who else can I leave her with? Ariana is out of the question and Petrel will definitely want to keep her if I let him anywhere near her again.”
“What about Proton?”
“I wouldn’t trust Proton as far as I could throw him.” Norman smoothed out the little bow in May’s hair. “Honestly, you’re probably the only person she won’t throw a fit with.”
A little groan came from May as she stretched out. Norman’s expression didn’t change as he lifted her to rest against his side, her head on his shoulder.
“Think about it,” he said, pushing up to his feet, “I’m heading off on Friday, so I’ll need an answer by then.”
Maxie didn’t even have a chance to say a word before Norman was heading out, May poking her head over his shoulder to wave as they disappeared into the hallway, the door clicking shut behind them.
The lights in the lab suddenly felt significantly harsher as Maxie sunk back in his seat. He rubbed a hand over his face and let out a long sigh.
It wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter, he couldn’t exactly leave May with someone like Petrel, but that didn’t make him feel any better about the prospect of caring for a small child.
Of course, this was when he realised that he couldn’t go back to work with how harshly his hands were shaking. His nerves frayed much too easily.
After a quick glance around to make sure the lab was unoccupied, he took the Poké Ball from his coat pocket and released Numel into the room. The creature blinked slowly, wobbling on groggy feet. Maxie smiled, lowering himself to his knees to pet the Pokémon’s head.
“Sorry, did I wake up?”
Numel huffed, but pushed their head into their trainer’s hand. Maxie chuckled softly, nuzzling his forehead into the Pokémon’s nose.
“Urh, hey, is Norman in here?”
The voice was so sudden that Maxie let out an undignified squeak. In his hurry to stand, the back of his head slammed into the desk with a loud thud. His ears were ringing as he clutched his skull, letting out a anguished groan. He was vaguely aware of a person crouching at his side.
“Shit, you okay?”
He tried not to flinch when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be fine.”
It was only when he opened his eyes that he realised his glasses had fallen off. He cursed under his breath, fumbling around with all the grace of a Magikarp.
The person at his side pressed them into his hand. “I got ya.”
Maxie muttered his thanks as he pushed them on and finally got a look at them. He momentarily forgot how to breathe.
The man crouched beside him was probably the most beautiful man Maxie had ever seen and he was certain that he would probably start crying if he had any less self-control. He did not, however, have enough self-control to stop himself from gaping for as long as he did.
“You sure you don’t have to go to the medical bay? That was a pretty bad lookin’ bump.”
“I’m fine!” Maxie yelped, covering his face with his hands. “I just didn’t sleep very well last night.”
The man laughed, and the sound warmed something in Maxie’s chest. “If you say so,” he said. The grunt stood, offering a hand to help up Maxie. The man’s grip was strong, the heat a nice contrast to how cold Maxie’s hands always were.
After another long moment of staring at the man, Maxie cleared his throat and looked away. “Sorry, can I help you?” he muttered.
The man grinned. “The name’s Archie. I was told-” He did a quick glance around the lab. “-that I could find Norman here?”
Maxie felt his heart rate finally starting the settle. “You just missed him.”
“That sucks.” Archie waved his hands quickly. “I mean, it sucks that I missed him. But I guess I got to meet you so that’s cool.” His eyes darted around, unable to settle on one point. “Ah jeez... Sorry that was kinda forward-”
“No, no, it’s alright, honestly,” Maxie said, fussing with the hem of his lab coat.
A grunt from the floor caught their attention. Numel was pouting, headbutting their trainer’s leg and huffing impatiently. Archie gave the Pokémon and pat on the head.
“Awh, hey little fella,” he cooed, “sorry did I interrupt cuddle time?”
Maxie folded his arms. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he grumbled, “I was just about to feed him when you barged in.”
“That’s a shame,” Archie said, “there’s nothing better than a good cuddle with your Pokémon. I do it all the time with my Carvanha!”
Suddenly Maxie was very concerned. “Don’t they have extremely rough skin?”
Archie shrugged. “Yeah, but they still deserve cuddles, right?”
“Well, yes, but-”
Archie shushed him. “They can’t help their rough skin. They’re just big babies who want hugs.”
Maxie stared at him for a long moment, feeling the colour return to his cheeks. Why was this man, who could most likely snap him in half without too much effort, so adorable?
“Anyway,” Archie announced, “as much as I hate to leave ya, I gotta take off.” He frowned for a second before he snapped his fingers and met Maxie’s eyes. “Oh yeah, I didn’t catch your name, did I?”
Archie opened his hand and started trailing his finger over his palm. The movements were rapid, but flowed smoothly. Maxie frowned.
“What are you doing?”
“Huh?” Archie stared blankly for a second. “Oh, I kinda picked it up from a friend of mine. She always said that if you write someone’s name on your hand three times you’ll never forget it.”
Maxie hummed. “Nice sentiment, though I am unsure of how it would work in practise.”
“Hey, it hasn’t failed me so far.”
Once he was finished, Archie headed out. He paused in the doorway before turning back with a grin.
“By the way, I think you’d look way cuter with your hair down.”
In the next second, the door had been slammed in his face.
Maxie grumbled as he went back to his desk, glaring at the door for a full minute before the tension bled from his shoulders. He looked down at his palm. After a short while, he started tracing the start of an ‘A’.
“-And she needs a nap at one o’clock or she gets grouchy by bedtime. Hey, are you listening to me?”
Maxie perked up. “Yes, of course,” he lied.
Norman narrowed his eyes, but decided not to comment.
Maxie had never been fond of water, especially not a force quite as unforgiving as the ocean, but he begrudgingly accepted the invitation to see Norman off. The sea air made him feel physically ill, and the way a particularly high wave would crash over the pier was, for lack of a better word, terrifying. He just hoped that the way he’d plastered his back to the wall was subtle enough to go unnoticed.
Keeping May up this late would certainly backfire, but so long as she got the missed hours back somewhere Norman didn’t mind too much. Maxie, who was aware that he was the one who would have to deal with it, struggled not to take it personally.
Grunts milled around them, loading the stolen fishing trawler for the trip. Maxie was certain he’d seen Proton hanging around, but had managed to avoid the Executive so far.
A long yawn rose from May and she nestled herself further into Maxie’s side.
“Don’t worry sweetheart,” Norman said, a rare smile crossing his features, “you only have to stay awake a little while longer.”
May whined, reaching out to grab at her father’s sleeve. He let her grip his thumb.
“Thanks again,” he said without looking up, his voice somehow lacking in its usual firmness, “I know sort of sprung this on you last minute...”
Maxie shook his head. “You can make it up to me some other time. Besides-” He ruffled May’s hair. “-she’s not so bad. For a child.”
A rare chuckle rose from Norman. “Kids, eh? Who’d have them?”
The pace of which the grunts moved suddenly increased tenfold and Norman let out a long sigh. He shouldered his duffle bag. “Looks like we’re heading out.”
“Will you let us know when you arrive?” Maxie asked as May squirmed in his hold.
Norman shook his head. “Can’t. Complete radio silence. Proton is going to kill someone by the end of it.” He leaned down to press a kiss to May’s forehead. “Be good, alright?”
She only huffed.
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” Maxie chuckled.
With a nod, Norman turned on his heel and followed the grunts on board the ship. He didn’t look back.
It was two days since the mission was supposed to end and Norman still hadn’t returned. Maxie didn’t find himself as concerned as he thought he should be. Missions went sour quite often. Arrests were growing increasingly common with how much of a nuisance Team Rocket liked to make themselves.
No one had sent Maxie any updates. Not that he expected them to, no one ever went out of their way to tell him anything, but he thought that he would’ve heard something by now.
He was brought from his thoughts by the sound of May muttering in her sleep, strapped to his back and drooling on his coat. It was more practical to have her there rather than leaving her in a corner of the lab to make a mess.
Maxie briefly considered waking her up when he heard yelling in the hallway. He lowered his papers and paced across to the door, poking his head out and frowning.
There were few people Maxie was truly intimidated by. Executive Proton was not one of them. He was nothing more than a brute who used threats of violence and blackmail to get his way. Maxie avoided him out of spite rather than fear.
Proton was berating some poor grunt, most likely just because he was bored and not because the grunt had actually done anything wrong.
“Go on, get out of my sight,” Proton said with a wave of his hand. The grunt scurried away with their head low.
Maxie waited until the grunt was around the end of the corridor before he decided to approach.
“Sir?” he asked.
The Executive’s head lulled back, and he let out a groan. “What do you want?” he grumbled as he turned, eyes narrow, hat sat at a skewed angle.
“I take it the mission was a failure,” Maxie said slowly. Proton’s laugh made him shudder.
“Yeah, you could say that.” Proton took out a packet of cigarettes. Maxie wanted to remind him that there was no smoking in the labs, but decided against it. “Archer probably set us up, but I can’t take that shit to the boss without any proof.”
With a frown, Maxie said, “do I dare ask for the details?”
Proton simply shrugged. “Lost some guys. No big deal, grunts like that are disposable anyway.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand?”
“Huh?” Proton noticed May and chuckled. “Oh yeah, Norman left his brat with you. Hope you’re ready for the long haul.”
Maxie felt his blood run cold.
“I should really be going,” Proton said, making little effort to hide the smirk spreading across his features, “Get back to work, Matsubusa. Don’t want that cute kid to go hungry, do you?”
Without giving Maxie an opportunity to respond, Proton headed off, rooting in his pockets for a lighter. Maxie only realised he was still stood in the hallway when May started crying.
The next week was a blur. Between working on the Mew Project that Archer kept pushing and making sure May was content, he barely had a minute to himself.
Not that he minded too much. Maxie preferred it to being left to dwell in his own thoughts.
He finally understood why parents became hopelessly obsessed with protecting their children from every potential threat, regardless of the intensity. It wasn’t like he was making an active effort to hover, but he found dangers in places he wouldn’t even expect them.
Part of that was certainly because he spent most of his time in the lab, May desperate to touch anything in reach.
The best solution seemed to be talking. It could amuse her for a good hour or two if he just kept voicing his ideas to a toddler who couldn’t yet engage in intelligent discussion. It was like having a lab assistant. A nonverbal, not very helpful lab assistant but she kept his spirits up and that was the most he could ask for.
Considering he was mostly parenting through guess work, he was impressed with how well he was doing.
That was, until May figured out that her real father wasn’t coming back.
May rarely cried. She preferred to voice her discomfort through whines and gentle prodding until she got the attention she needed.
But one night she wailed and howled for hours with no end in sight. No matter what he tried, Maxie couldn’t get her to settle. He would just have to wait until she tired herself out.
Even if it took all night.
There was a pounding at his front door and it took Maxie a solid five minutes to finally work up the motivation to answer it.
A brute of a man stood in the doorway, his face creased from decades of scowling. Maxie had never spoken to him before, and he was glad he had put off introducing himself to the neighbours for so long.
“Would you shut that damn brat up?!” he yelled, “Some of us need to sleep!”
Maxie wanted nothing more than to tell the man where he could stuff his complaints, but he forced composure. “I’m sorry,” His voice was strained, “But she’s a baby. Babies cry-”
“The damn thing needs a muzzle!”
The door was slammed in his face and there was a small dip of silence before May started up again.
Maxie decided he wasn’t getting anywhere and he pulled on a coat, lifting the shrieking girl into his arms. It took him a solid minute to wrestle her into some warmer layers and he left his apartment.
By the time he had reached the street level, May’s screams weren’t quite as intense, but she was still sobbing fiercely and burying her face into his shoulder. He rubbed her back and tried to soothe her, but it wasn’t enough to quell her tears.
The night air was cool and dry, but he’d rather stay outside rather than risk another encounter with a sleep-deprived neighbour.
Of all the people he expected to run into, Archie certainly was not at the top of the list.
“Didn’t know you lived ‘round here,” he said as he approached, still in uniform. He had likely only just got off his shift.
“Oh, I’m urh...” Maxie gestured clumsily towards his apartment block. “Over there.”
Before Archie could respond, another high-pitched wail came from May. She wriggled in Maxie’s grip and pounded her tiny fists on his shoulder.
“Got your hands full?” Archie asked, his expression making it evident that he was trying his damnedest not to laugh.
Maxie deadpanned a, “you could say that,” before he went back to trying to hush her. “She’ll tire herself out... eventually...”
Archie let out a light chuckle and shook his head. “Didn’t know you had a kid.”
“She’s not mine,” Maxie said. His lips tightened as he reconsidered his words. “Well, she is now,” he admitted, “her father left her with me.”
Archie nodded, but didn’t push any further. Maxie was thankful for that.
They stood together for a long while. Maxie wasn’t keeping track of the time. If May weren’t still sobbing her little heart out, he would’ve been able to appreciate it a little more.
Archie cleared his throat, a cloud of breath rising in the night air. “Can I have a try?” He held out his hands.
Maxie considered it for a long moment before he nodded. “Be my guest.”
With a level of care that Maxie didn’t know a man of his size could be capable of, Archie took May and brought her to his chest.
“Hey there, little lady,” he said, rubbing her back as she squirmed, “I’m sure Max would really appreciated it if you’d let him sleep.”
Maxie snorted, and would deny he ever made such a sound until his dying breath.
Between his soft voice and gentle swaying, Archie easily lulled May off to sleep. Maxie would’ve joined her if he hadn’t caught himself. Once she was finally snoring, Archie carefully passed her back.
“How on Earth did you-”
“Oldest of five.” Archie grinned. “You learn a few tricks.”
A fond smile graced Maxie’s expression as he glanced down to the girl sleeping in his arms.
“How about you?”
“Huh?” Oh no, how long had Archie been staring at him? Maxie wished he could hide his face.
“You got any siblings?”
“No, no,” Maxie said, “it’s just me.”
“Awh, thought you’d be the baby.”
Maxie scoffed. “Of course not.”
A little whimper made both men freeze. May shifted, but remained asleep. Maxie let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“I suppose I should get her back inside.”
“Urh, yeah...” Archie scratched the back of his head. “I’ll... see you at work then.”
Being cautious of how May was positioned, Maxie fumbled in his pocket for his keys. Between the dim light and his own poor eyesight, he spent more time than he would’ve liked with Archie hovering awkwardly at his side.
When he finally fished out the elusive keys and got the door open, he offered a weak smile. “Goodnight, Archie.”
“Please, call me Maxie.”
That stupid smile made Maxie want to huddle under his duvet until his stomach stopped doing backflips.
“Sure thing, Maxie.” The name sounded natural on Archie’s tongue. “If lil’ missy wakes up again, you know who to call.”
Maxie could only nod, not trusting his voice.
With that, Archie turned and headed off down the street. He stopped briefly and turned back, offering a wave and a toothy grin before he carried on. Maxie watched until he was out of sight.