Cascade of Kindness
Darren woke on his own the next morning; a novel thing in itself. The small guest room was windowless, tiny dim Starmie-shaped nightlights spaced along the walls, just a few inches from the ceiling, providing just enough light to let someone navigate the room without walking into the furniture, so not even the rising sun had disturbed his rest. A glance at the clock hanging on the wall, even in the room’s artificial twilight, confirmed that the sun had definitely risen some time ago, by an almost embarrassing margin. When he rolled over and sat up in bed, Fox stirred at his feet, instantly rising and stretching.
Still rubbing sleep out of his eyes, and casting nervous glances at the door, ready to leap back towards the safety of the covers should the handle start to move, Darren reluctantly moved the short distance across the floor to the chair where he’d put his clothes in an untidy pile the night before. He wasn’t looking forward to pulling the dusty clothing back on, but he didn’t have much choice at present.
Only when he reached out for the top garment on the pile did his mind catch up, noting that the black boxer shorts were neatly folded, as was every single piece of clothing underneath it (and the dust that had been covering his clothes when he put them there was mysteriously absent), and the towel he’d hung off of the back of the chair had been replaced with a fresh one. His first reaction was to freeze in shock as he processed the implications of this change in his environment. A few seconds later he, in something close to a panic, wedged the back of the chair holding his clothes under the door handle, desperate to guarantee his privacy would at least not be violated when he pulled his now-clean clothes back on. Doing so was a somewhat involved affair, especially when the time came to pull his shirt over his wings and wiggle them through the slits that had been made for them in the back of it. He left his jacket off, like Heather had suggested the previous day, and felt a little bit more secure in himself for being clothed. A little.
When he turned towards Fox, the Vaporeon was grinning at him, its dolphin-like tail wagging.
“You noticed, didn’t you? Why didn’t you wake me?” He’d been able to relax at all because he’d trusted Fox to keep guard, and finding out that the Pokémon had allowed someone to just walk in and take his clothes distressed him more than it probably ought to have done.
The Pokémon’s answer basically amounted to ‘it wasn’t a threat’, and once he’d shared that much Fox refused to say more on the matter, though he continued to look more pleased with himself than he had any right to. Though Darren might intellectually realize that his friend had a point, it still distressed him to have had his personal space invaded while he slept, even for as benign a purpose as cleaning his clothing which he had to admit had badly needed it.
After another half-hour or so spent composing himself, he finally moved the chair back to its original spot and exited the room, looking up and down the hallway to check if he was being watched. When the answer turned out to be ‘no’, he made his way to the bathroom where he’d had his shower the previous night, to quickly answer a call of nature and give his face a fresh wash.
The blond youth with the pair of thin, flexible antennae sprouting from his forehead above his eyebrows that looked back at him from the mirror was barely familiar to him. There was some faint shading around the mirror image’s chin and cheeks that made both of them scowl, but there was nothing to be done about it. It wasn’t as though he’d had a chance to pack an overnight bag before falling down that hole together with Heather in his escape from Officer Jenny’s entirely unfair (except for Fox’s ill-advised assault on her Pokémon) pursuit of him.
Again he ventured out into the corridor, this time stopping and looking, a little lost, down both directions. He thought he could remember in what direction to find the dining room where he’d eaten so well the previous night, but balked at the thought of going there in the hopes of breakfast being served. Expecting too much of his hosts would be ungrateful; they’d already done so much for him he had no right to ask for more. Fox was no help, either, so when Heather passed down the corridor he was still standing in the middle of it, looking lost.
“Did you have breakfast yet?” she asked, as though eating breakfast in strangers’ homes was the most natural thing in the world to her. Maybe it was because to her, these women weren’t strangers, and she might be forgetting that Darren had never met her aunts before. At his headshake, she seized his hand and pulled him along in the direction of the dining room, half-jogging through the hallways like an excited child.
Her Pikachu ran alongside them, bumping into Fox then pulling ahead a little before slackening his pace until they were caught up and repeating the cycle. After a half-dozen such attempts, the Vaporeon suddenly pounced on the Pikachu moments before another collission, and then tore off down the hall with a sharp yip, tail wagging as much as its thick base would allow. Tiger tumbled, came around right-side-up, and took up the chase, the electric mouse Pokémon’s ears perked and tail held high.
Heather laughed as the pair disappeared around a corner, and moments later stopped to open a door Darren was fairly sure did not lead to the dining room. As the door opened, he was proven right; it instead opened into a tiled kitchen, decorated with dried fruits that kept it cheerful.
Darren felt his antennae slicking back against his head as the girl opened a refridgerator and started pulling things out onto the counter next to it. “Are… um… shouldn’t we ask?”
“Oh, I already ate,” Heather chirped, continuing to pull things out. “This is for you. Aunt Daisy thought we’d best let you sleep after the day you had yesterday.”
“For me?” Darren stared. “You don’t need to…”
“Here,” the girl interrupted him, sticking a butter knife into a jar of something that smelled sweet and spicy and fruity at once and shoving it into his hands. “There’s scones keeping warm in the oven. Grab a couple.”
Maybe it was force of habit, maybe it was the realization that he really was quite hungry, but Darren found himself following the command before he could even start to think of a valid protest. And the scones were really quite delicious slathered in the soft brown apple butter. By the time he’d finished his second one, Heather was there with a large glass of milk and a plate of reheated omelette and sausages.
That one she at least let him sit down to eat, finding a tall stool for him and placing him at one of the counters as she shuffled the remaining food away as efficiently as she’d pulled it out. The meal left Darren full, but not uncomfortably so, despite what he’d expected when he’d seen the serving that had been put before him. After loading the plate and silverware in the dishwasher the girl again seized his hand, leading him through surprisingly long hallways to the area just inside the sliding door that opened out to the city.
“I talked to Mom last night,” she told him as they walked. “She promised to help us without telling Dad. He can be… a bit touchy about Team Rocket. Nothing against you, just… Anyway, on the way back to Pallet we can crash at the Pewter Gym if we want, but we still need to spend a couple of nights out in the open. My aunts gave us more than enough food to last the rest of the trip, but we should get going before too long. If we get home before the police starts looking for you this far from Celadon, Professor Oak will try to speak for you, but until then we’re kind of on our own.”
“You’re going to frighten the boy, Heather,” one of the Cerulean Gym Leaders laughed behind them, making Darren jump. “I’m sure you’ll be just fine. I’ll let you leave in a moment, but could I have a word in private with you first?”
The two females, one older and one Darren’s own age, withdrew to a corner deeper into the lobby, and Darren wandered up closer to the door, intending to keep himself occupied with reading the posters and fliers posted on the walls. He didn’t get very far, however, before one of them caught his attention. Pokémon League Championship… If he could qualify for the League tournament, there would no longer be any doubt he was as much of a trainer as anyone else, in spite of his appearance.
A hand on his shoulder jolted him out of his thoughts, making him jump and twist around, eyes wide, to meet the gaze of the pink-haired woman standing behind him.
“You want to try for the Pokémon Championship?” Her voice was kind, compassionate.
“I… yes, ma’am.” Darren nodded, feeling his antennae curl and his cheeks heat. When he continued, his voice was lower. “I want to prove I can be a real trainer, too, in more than just name.”
She smiled at him and took his hand, pressing a small object into his palm and folding his fingers around it. “You’ve earned this for taking Heather safely through the Onix’s tunnel yesterday. I hope you’ll manage to win plenty more.”
He stared at her, then down at his hand, just barely opening his fist enough to peer at the small piece of metal. It was a pin, shaped like a droplet and covered in three shades of blue enamel. Swallowing, he looked up at the woman again, only managing to croak out his words after a few false starts. “Thank… thank you. So much.”
She patted his shoulder. “About time someone showed you some kindness. Take care of our Heather, now.”