Fox had eventually tired himself out playing with the Gym’s mascot Pokémon in the pool, though he stayed in Vaporeon shape as he settled in by Darren’s feet. Darren couldn’t be sure without asking — and was wary of doing the asking in front of so many strangers — but he guessed that the Eevee was remembering how Darren had cautioned him about letting others know about his ability.
Darren himself was, slowly and awkwardly, eating his share of a dinner generous enough that it almost made him feel full just looking at it. It wasn’t that he’d been starved, not most of his life, but the food he’d been served had often been bland, and always the kind of dish that could be made and served to many people at once. The difference made him self-conscious, and he kept watching Heather out of the corner of his eye to make sure he didn’t accidentally offend someone with his table manners.
The story the girl’s aunts managed to drag out of him was an abbreviated version of what he’d told Heather earlier, glossing over some points he worried they’d react badly to. He probably needn’t have worried, but the three sisters were nice enough to him that he kept expecting the next blow. He also didn’t mention that Fox was anything other than what he presently appeared to be — the fewer people that knew how valuable his Pokémon was, the better.
When dinner was over, Darren found himself yawning, as much drowsy from having eaten more than he was used to as tired from the exertions of the day. He blushed when it was noticed; tried to apologize for his rudeness but was cut off before he could finish formulating his apology. One of Heather’s aunts — he couldn’t seem to attach their names to their faces, nerves and weariness conspiring to muddle his memory — showed him to a room not much bigger than his… cell? in the Team Rocket headquarters had been, but infinitely more comfortably furnished, while Heather excused herself to make a phone call.
As much as Darren wanted to just let himself fall onto that so-inviting bed offered to him, he realized that after spending most of a day walking (or riding) through tunnels, he really ought to try to get clean first. On his shy inquiry, the kind woman who’d shown him to the guest room produced soft, fluffy towels and showed him to a tiled room only a few doors away, inviting him to use the shower or the bath for as long as he wished. It wasn’t until Fox’s shoulder pointedly nudged his leg that he remembered to say thank you. In response, the woman simply patted his shoulder and told him he could use more kindness in his life.
She left him, and Fox padded into the bathroom with him, the Vaporeon’s claws tapping lightly against the tile while his own, larger claws clicked louder when they fell flat against the ceramic surface, sounding more like heels. The door locked, or he probably wouldn’t have dared turn on the shower and peel out of his dusty clothing — he would have liked to get that cleaned, but it would have been too much to ask. He reached in with a hand to check the water temperature, and satisfied that it was pleasantly warm, he stepped in under the spray with a soft sigh.
That warmth soaked in through his skin as he worked the water into his blond hair, helping him relax and reminding him just how tired he was after the day. Fox rubbed up against his leg, crooning softly about two things at once — half of what the Eevee-that-was-currently-a-Vaporeon told him was just talking about how he’d enjoyed playing with Dewgong in the Gym’s pool, while the other half was a mix of reassurances and cautioning. Darren only half listened to either, but was glad that Fox worried enough about him to bother nagging him about finishing up and getting back to his room before he fell asleep.
Darren might be tired, but he wasn’t that tired.
He somewhat reluctantly stepped out of the spray as he reached for the bottle of shampoo he’d been given blessing to use. As strange and awkward as it felt to be using someone else’s toiletries — disregarding that he’d never owned much of anything such, but at least when he’d needed it he’d been given small single-use bottles with the names of hotels he’d never seen printed on them — he’d have felt worse crawling into bed dirty, so he squirted some of the floral-scented gel onto the palm of his clumsy left hand, re-capped and replaced the bottle, and started to work it into a lather in his hair. When he’d just evolved, he’d hurt himself more than a few times doing that, before he got used to having lost the fingers of his left hand for claws sharp enough to scratch his scalp if he wasn’t careful. Now, he let his right hand do most of the work, being very careful with his sensitive antennae, and once he was done, reached for a bar of soap with a similar floral scent as the shampoo had had. Fox tittered something about it, and he flicked a handful of suds from his hair onto the smug Vaporeon in revenge.
“I’d rather smell like a Bellossom than be dirty,” Darren muttered as he lathered up the soap and started on cleaning his body. His skin was, for the most part, not as dirty as his hair had been, but he still wanted to get as thorough a wash as he could, not knowing when he’d next get the chance. “I can’t invite myself into people’s pools to get clean.”
Fox’s indignant reply made it very clear that far as the Pokémon was concerned, he’d been invited by the Dewgong. For all Darren knew, that might well have been the case; he hadn’t been paying much attention to the strange Pokémon in his jitters about the new situation.
Once he was satisfied that he was clean, he dried off, wrapped the towel around his waist, and picked up his clothes. After listening at the door for a few moments to be reasonably certain the corridor outside was empty, he slunk out and returned to the small room with the oh-so-inviting bed. After a few moments’ hesitation, he left the pile of clothing on a wooden chair standing near the door, draping the wet towel over the chair’s back, and slid under the bed’s pleasantly cool covers, lying face down to give his wings as much freedom as they could get while still being covered.
He absently noted Fox curling up on the bed by his feet, and then succumbed to sleep in the bed’s soft embrace.