Fox’s Time To Shine
Breakfast, shared with their hosts, was both tasty and filling, and Darren easily settled into his appointed role drying dishes during the cleaning-up when they were all finished. It made him feel accepted, and helped soothe some of the insecurity about his own nature that the previous night had sparked. More food was packed into Heather’s bag, and Brock even found a slightly beat-up old messenger bag for Darren that he packed with a flashlight, some odds and ends, Pokéchow for both Darren and his Pokémon, and a few sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.
Darren wasn’t quite done in Pewter City, however, even as it was getting quite obvious that they were going to be ready to continue on their way soon. He glanced over at Heather, trying to spot some kind of sign that he was doing the right thing and getting nothing; she was focused on Albion, talking with a speed as though she had a dictionary’s worth of things she needed to share with him before she and Darren got back on the road. Well, then. He could do this on his own.
“Excuse me, sir?” he said, to catch the Gym Leader’s attention. “I… I’d like to try to… You’ve been very kind and hospitable! I really appreciate that! I don’t want to seem ungrateful or…”
“You want to challenge me?” Brock smiled at him, put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Darren, you don’t need to apologize for that. It’s my job. I just need to see-”
Heather obviously had been paying more attention than Darren had given her credit for, as she cut the adult off. “You don’t really need to see his Trainer ID, do you, Uncle Brock? I told you, Team Rocket stole his Pokédex; we’re going to talk to Professor Oak when we get back to Pallet, to get that all sorted.”
“I guess not, but you’d better get that sorted out before you go on a Pokémon journey in earnest. Albion?”
The blond youth nodded with easy confidence. “I can handle this.”
Darren’s confusion must have shown on his face, because Brock, leading the way through the house to a door Darren hadn’t noticed the previous night, explained: “Albion’s going to take over as Gym Leader here when I retire. You don’t mind if your match is against him rather than me, do you?”
Darren thought back at the previous night, and how embarrassed he’d been by the Gym Leader’s son at the dinner table, and shook his head. “Alright.”
“I’ve never had anyone like you in the Gym,” Brock continued, seeming to be as much musing to himself as speaking to Darren. “Do you fight, yourself?”
Darren shook his head. “I mean, I could, but… I want to be a trainer, not a Pokémon. I’ve got Fox and Starlit.” It sounded better to mention them both, even if he knew the Blissey was unlikely to come out of her Pokéball.
“Well, good luck to you, then.”
The door in the back of the Gym Leader’s home opened up into a large, open room, with bleachers hiding in the shadows along one long wall. It wasn’t very different in layout from the indoor arena Darren had trained in as he grew up, though that one hadn’t been built up to resemble a rocky landscape. With confidence he wasn’t sure he really possessed, the half-Dragonite youth walked over to the white semicircle on the arena floor that marked the challenger’s spot, Fox bounding along beside him.
“This is the real deal,” he whispered to his Pokémon, his friend, and the Eevee nodded. “We need to try to win this. I know you’ll do your best.”
The foxlike Pokémon nodded at him, its jaw set, and then stood, ears pricked up, looking intently at the other side of the arena, where Albion was stepping into the Gym Leader’s area at the other end of the arena, flanked on either side by his Raichu and the Elekid that had played with Fox and Tiger the previous night.
It was Brock, not Albion, who stated the rules of the battle, and he did so with authority that resounded throughout the mostly-empty Gym. “This is an official Pokémon League Gym Battle; Albion Stone representing Pewter City Gym. You will each use two Pokémon. When either of you has recalled two Pokémon from battle due to injury, the match will be called.”
For a few moments, all was still, the tension almost tangible in the air. Then, both trainers sprung into actions, virtually simultaneously.
The two Pokémon leapt from their Trainers’ sides, charging towards the center of the arena. Albion’s Raichu made better time than the small Eevee, reaching the evolution Pokémon and shoving it in passing with a sudden flash of speed. It wasn’t a solid hit, but it still knocked Fox off-balance for a moment, long enough for the Raichu to skid to a halt on the rocky floor, turning towards her opponent, sparks dancing around the electric pouches on her cheeks.
The Eevee shook his fur out, then kicked up a cloud of sand in the Raichu’s direction, for a moment forcing her to back up, rubbing her eyes with her forepaws. Again, electricity crackled around her cheek pouches, but this time, it built, forming a bright bolt of energy that streaked straight for the center of that cloud.
When the dust settled, it revealed a Jolteon with the same white patch on his forehead as the Eevee that had been there a moment earlier, wearing a smug grin on his face and looking as though the attack had, if anything, been invigorating. The two Electric-type Pokémon stood still for a few moments, sizing each other up. Fox stood as tall on four legs as Cloudia did on two, and neither of them was visibly hurt, at least not yet.
When the Raichu started to move, so did the Jolteon, bowing down over his forelegs and arching his back up, a shower of small, sharp pins coming loose from his spiky fur and flying towards his opponent. Far from all of them hit, and taking the time to use the move slowed him down. Enough so that the next crackling bolt the Raichu sent his way crashed into him head-on, knocking him back half a step but leaving him looking none the worse for wear.
“Cloudia!” Albion shouted from his position at the other side of the arena. “Electric moves won’t be any use against a Jolteon!”
It had only taken that moment of distraction for Fox to get close enough to kick at the other Pokémon with his hind legs, knocking her off-balance. As she got back onto her feet he danced away, yipping what Darren understood to be teasing taunts at his opponent. He wasn’t sure what his Pokémon had in mind, but it was clear that Fox at least so far was more than capable of handling the situation on his own.
As the battle progressed, the Raichu did manage to get a few hits in on the Jolteon, but her eyes were still watering from the faceful of sand she’d gotten at the beginning of the match, and she wasn’t hitting as often as she should. Any time she did hit, it was at the price of another hit from the Jolteon.
When the quicker, four-footed Pokémon sank its teeth into one of her forelegs, discharging a jolt of electricity into the wound, she cried out in pain, instinctively trying to jolt her assailant back. All she earned for her trouble was a kick that sent her tumbling across the floor back towards her trainer; the message in that move was clear enough. Even in her roughed-up state, though, Cloudia returned to her Pokéball under as loud and fussy protests as she could manage when recalled.
Fox backed up, closer to his Trainer, though not crossing that white line painted on the floor, as they waited for Albion to send out his second Pokémon. The Elekid ought to be no more troublesome for Darren’s Pokémon than the Gym Trainer’s Raichu had been; if anything, less.
What entered the arena was not the Elekid.
“Go, Rock!” the white-haired youth shouted, holding up a Pokéball, and with a loud, rumbling battle-cry, an Onix materialized in the red light among the rocks strewn about the arena.
“Fox, Magical Leaf!”
Darren vaguely heard his opponent sputter a confused protest as the Jolteon in the arena glowed and shrank, then grew again, leaves sprouting from his legs, head and neck and the color of most of his body fading as the fur grew shorter and denser.
Darren winced as the Onix raised most of its rocky body off the ground and rushed towards the ground where his Pokémon was standing like a felled tree. Glowing leaves materialized around the Leafeon as the Onix’s heavy body came closer, hitting the rocky surface of the larger Pokémon in a barrage that didn’t quite manage to change its course. All Darren could do was hope his friend would be able to weather a single such hit — he was convinced the Onix wouldn’t get a second chance. Fox’s yelp as the heavy Pokémon crashed down on him was certainly just as defiant as it was pained; the currently-Leafeon wasn’t ready to give up the fight quite yet.
“Bind!” came the command from the other side of the arena, and rock slid against rock with a grinding, gritty sound as the Onix moved to obey, wrapping its string-of-boulders body around the much smaller Grass-type Pokémon.
All it accomplished was reducing the distance Fox’s glowing phantom leaves would have to travel; green light practically channeled into the Onix’s body, and it shuddered for each new attack. The coils of its body, which were supposed to squeeze its attacker tightly, were shaken by a tremor, and its great head fell over the rest of it, maybe in a last desperate attempt to hit the Leafeon.
Bright red light, and like that, it was over.