The Onix made good on her promise, letting Darren, Heather and their Pokémon off along Route 4. The entrance to her tunnels was hidden among trees and tall grass just south of the actual path. Heather claimed she recognized her surroundings, however, so they bid the wild Onix farewell and made their way through the vegetation after Heather recalled her Charmander.
“We’re almost at Cerulean City,” Heather informed Darren. “We can visit my aunts at the Cerulean Gym; beats spending the night on the road.”
Darren felt his antennae slicking back against his head. “Will… won’t I be a problem?”
Heather shrugged, continuing through the brush. Tiger had tried to ride on her shoulders the way Fox had done on Darren earlier, but neither of them was used to it, so the Pikachu had eventually settled for bounding along behind his trainer, before the vegetation flattened by her passage could stand back up. “I wouldn’t worry. My aunts are the nicest people in the world.”
“I just don’t want to cause any more trouble for you.”
“Nothing to worry about on that count in Cerulean. It’ll be worse when we get back to Pallet — if you’re coming with me, of course.”
Darren shrugged. “I don’t know where I’m going at all, to be honest.”
“Not at all?”
He shook his head. “I’ve only been out of the Team Rocket building a handful of times that I can remember, and never this far away from it. Most of my life I’ve been training.”
“Training? For what?” Heather sounded and looked honestly confused, and then, when Darren pointedly flexed his wings and his clumsy, clawed left hand, her expression turned to embarrassed. “Oh. Right.”
“It’s alright,” he sighed, part of him hating the words he had to say, yet knowing they were true. “I’d kind of rather have people need to be reminded I’m part Dragonite, than having to remind them it’s not all I am.”
Heather’s notion of what constituted being ‘almost at Cerulean City’ turned out to be a little optimistic; it took them the better part of an hour to make it to the city limits. As buildings rose on either side of them, far from crowding the streets like they did in Darren’s hometown, but still acting as a reminder that they were re-entering civilization, Darren felt himself tense up against his will. It didn’t get better as they came closer to the center of the town and started seeing people. People who, of course, stared.
He spotted a familiar blue uniform on a green-haired woman, and would have bolted if Heather hadn’t reached out and squeezed his arm. “This isn’t the same Officer Jenny that chased you in Celadon. Relax, or you’re just going to make her suspicious.”
“Everyone is suspicious of me already!” he whispered back, his antennae quivering. “I’ll wait outside town.”
“Nonsense!” Heather’s grip shifted to his hand — his right hand, his one good hand — and she pulled him along down the street, ignoring both the looks she was getting and the way Darren strained against her grip. “We’ll be at the Cerulean Gym in a few minutes; don’t be silly.”
This time, her estimate was on the money. It wasn’t even five minutes until Darren could see the sculptured stylized wave and Dewgong over the Celadon Gym entrance. Large, full-color posters were fixed to the glass doors that slid apart as they approached, and Heather dragged him along too fast for him to get more than a glance at them. He was still trying to take in his surroundings as she lead him along a corridor seeming to run along the outside of the round building, windows on one side and, behind thick glass, water on the other.
Apparently Heather knew where she was going, because before Darren really knew where he was or what had happened, they stood in a large room, bleachers on either side of it and a large, rectangular pool in the middle. When it became evident that they weren’t going further for the time being, Fox jumped down from Darren’s shoulders, running towards the pool with a cheerful yip. Between one step and the next the Eevee glowed and grew, reaching the water’s edge as a Vaporeon, its fish-like tail swaying from side to side in excitement.
Something moved in the water, ripples moving in Fox’s direction. A yard or so from the edge, a white horn broke the surface, followed by the head of a Dewgong. Apparently Heather was familiar with the Pokémon, because she walked up to the edge of the pool, crouched, and reached down to stroke its head. “Hello, Dewgong. Are my aunts around?”
The white sea lion Pokémon nodded, then turned and dove back down into the pool, its tail fin sending a spray of droplets raining over Fox and Heather before it disappeared completely. After a moment of hesitation, the Vaporeon dived in after it, disappearing under the surface just like the Dewgong had.
“We weren’t expecting you, Heather,” a voice said from behind Darren. “Did you get a new Pokémon?”
“Aunt Daisy!” Heather was on her feet and half-running across the wet floor towards the woman who had spoken — a barely middle-aged blonde woman with the same green eyes as Heather, who bore her years impressingly well — and throwing herself into her open arms. “I… didn’t know I’d be coming; it was kind of a sudden decision. Fox is Darren’s, and we found a tunnel from the archeological digs outside Celadon.”
The woman looked over at Darren, and he squirmed under her gaze, feeling obligated to apologize for his Pokémon’s presumption in diving into the pool after the Dewgong. “I-I’m sorry about Fox’s behavior, ma’am. He doesn’t meet friendly Pokémon very often.”
“And I’d guess your Pokémon isn’t the only one unused to seeing a friendly face.”
Darren stared down at his feet, feeling his face heat. “I suppose…”