Whelp, once again fanfiction is screwing with the reviews. I don't even get it anymore. Oh well, at least this chapter will have some movements in the plot. Time for Blake to leave the hospital, and decide his next move. Hopefully, he can resolve everything in an acceptable way.
As for the Best Girl nominations, still going strong. Anyone else left to add?
Currently Nominated: Sango, Cynthia, Elaina, Kate, Dakota, Ayame, Marion, Kitty, Serefina, Madison
Pokemon Academy: Beginning of Beginnings
"Coming to see me the moment you are discharged, is it? One would almost think we were engaged to be married."
Blake was sitting in the Gardening Club's clubroom, drinking tea with Alcea. Kate was uncharacteristically absent, so it was a rare occasion where Alcea was brewing her own tea. It was far better than what Kate usually made. She explained to him that this was a special herbal tea, designed to soothe a sore throat. And true to her word, he felt the pain in his chest lessen the more he drank from it.
"There's a few things I thought we needed to talk about," Blake explained. "To start… my father has given me permission to continue attending classes at the Pokemon Academy."
Alcea raised her eyebrow. That was quite a good bit of news indeed. She took a sip from her tea.
"And yet… you're still troubled, is it?"
Blake nodded glumly.
"Even though I got permission to stay, he still…" Blake sighed. "…The engagement isn't called off just yet."
"I see…" Alcea murmured. "So, halfway there for you… but our goal is not yet accomplished, is it?"
"We need to come up with a way to end this engagement while still making it so our families can save face," Blake explained. "My side will go along with it, so the real difficulty here will be convincing your parents."
"Oui," Alcea agreed. "Unfortunately, getting them to agree to call off the engagement is easier said than done. They want to use the marriage as a way to tie me down more completely, so I don't end up getting separated again."
Blake was reminded about what Richard had told him about parents wanting to protect their children. Alcea's parents were no different in that regard.
"Alcea… what if you just told them that you didn't want to get married?" Blake asked. "That's what I did. I told the truth, and after we talked things out my father agreed to let me stay. Maybe if your parents can see that you don't want this marriage, our families can work out a way to call the whole thing off."
"Oui, talking would be the best course, but in the end… I do not think it will accomplish much," Alcea admitted.
Blake sighed. It seems they would have a lot of work ahead of them.
The two sat in silence for a while longer, continuing to sip their tea.
"I have an idea," Alcea began, setting down her cup. "There's something that we forgot in all the commotion."
"Oh?" Blake raised his eyebrow.
"My match with Holly," Alcea reminded him. "It was postponed due to recent events, but will be held at the end of the week. We might be able to use that to our advantage, oui?"
Blake considered that.
"What do you mean?" Blake asked.
"Holly was opposed to our marriage," Alcea reminded him a second time. She had a scowl on her face. "And that was before her… feelings began."
The way she said it made it look like she wanted to throw up. She resisted her compulsion to vomit, and continued.
"I'm considering offering her a proposition," Alcea said. "To my family, as well. Adjusting the terms of our agreement. If she is capable of defeating me, then she will become your fiancé, and not me."
Blake thought that suggestion was completely dumb.
"How does that benefit me?" Blake asked. "Then I still have to marry your sister."
"Holly is a child," Alcea reminded him. "By the time you have graduated, I am certain that this precocious crush of hers will have passed."
Blake frowned. That made sense, but he felt that this was postponing the problem, rather than solving it.
"Are you sure?" Blake asked. "It feels like this won't go well. Are you sure your parents will even go for it? I thought they wanted you, specifically, to get married."
"True," Alcea admitted. "And I cannot say for certain how they would react to the notion of Holly seriously considering marrying you. They might reject it out of hand. But if she and I both explained things, and she says she wants to marry you and I say I do not, that will solve the business arrangement side of things. A Harker and a Vermeil will still be married, after all. Then, they might be willing to reconsider tying me down. A long shot, is it? But still a viable option. And so far our only viable option."
Blake didn't want to admit it, but he thought she might be right.
"And it is not like you will marry her, after all," Alcea reminded him. "You are well aware how poor of a decision that would be."
Blake gulped. Suddenly, her magic soothing tea wasn't doing its job as well.
"I guess we'll have to go with that, then," Blake sighed, nodding his head in agreement.
"Excellent. Is there anything else?" Alcea asked.
Blake nodded. There was.
"It's about what you mentioned before. Caelia, and the fire."
Alcea's expression darkened.
"…What about it?" Alcea asked.
"I spoke to Sylvia Driscoll," Blake said, the discomfort on his face showing the voracity of his statement. "And she said that she had knowledge about what happened, and that I should talk with Caelia about it."
"…I see," Alcea said, taking another sip of tea. She drained her cup, and reached to pour some more. "That… makes sense."
"I don't think that Caelia would have done it," Blake said, reminding Alcea of the conversation they had had earlier in the day. "But I do think that she knows something."
"Earlier, I had Kate follow Caelia from the hospital," Alcea informed him. Blake's eyes widened.
"And? What happened?"
"She saw her meeting up with Caelia on campus," Alcea said.
Blake frowned, his suspicions seemingly confirmed. He didn't want to suspect Caelia. He really hoped that Sylvia was just messing with him, in the way she always did. He wanted to believe that Caelia wouldn't do something like that. He could got to Sylvia to ask her… but he really, really did not want to beg. And if he or Alcea tried to compel her some other way, she could easily say that she was just messing around, and she didn't know anything. If he wanted to know the truth, he'd have to play ball, or ask Caelia himself.
"Just meeting? She didn't see anything else?" Blake asked. Alcea frowned. That look on her face… it looked like she was… embarrassed?
"Er…" Alcea mumbled, averting her eyes. Her cheeks turned a little pink.
She hung her head.
"As it turns out… after seeing the two meet, Kate felt a wave of nausea come over her and collapsed," Alcea sighed. "She lost the two after that. Quite unfortunate…"
Blake laughed, in spite of himself. Kate was supposed to be keeping an eye on them, and had messed up. For some reason, he found that hilarious.
"I believe that it is possible that Sylvia might have had one of her pokemon use a non-damaging move like confuse ray to disorient her," Alcea sighed. "But I cannot prove it, of course."
"It does confirm that there was a connection there," Blake sighed. "Alcea, if possible… can you do me a favor?"
"What is it?" Alcea asked.
"I'd like you to hold off on any sort of investigation," Blake replied. "The authorities will be looking into that, after all. In the meantime… I want to speak with Caelia myself."
"Absolutely not," Alcea denied him. "If she is responsible for this incident, then meeting up with her will only be a bad thing. She might try to hurt you again."
Alcea remembered her own fight with Caelia. She was not the kind of person who had rational discussions when she was upset. She didn't want to think about what might happen to Blake if she really was the one who set his boat on fire. Especially if he went alone.
"She won't," Blake replied. The look on his face was resolute, even if he wasn't entirely certain of what he was saying. "I believe that she won't. And I believe that she has the right to give her side of things. So that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to go to her and talk to her."
Alcea considered him for a moment. That look in his eyes… Even if she forbade it, it wasn't like she really had the authority to do anything. Students had the right to speak with whomever they liked, and she had no real right to ban one student from interacting with another without cause.
"If you really wish to… then I won't say anything," Alcea agreed. "But please, be careful, Blake. That girl… even if you don't think so, I believe that she could be very dangerous. So be careful."
"I will," Blake nodded. "And as for Sylvia…"
"She's a member of the Eight Leaders now," Alcea sighed, sipping her tea with one hand and massaging her temple with the other. "That means she's my responsibility. I'll try to see what I can get out of her. Does that sound like a plan?"
Blake nodded. He drained the last of his tea and swallowed, the ache in his throat slightly abated from the tea's healing properties. He rose from his seat, ready to go talk to Caelia. Well, not exactly ready. But willing. This was something that he had to do.
"Good luck," she whispered. "I will go speak with my family."
The two parted ways, heading off to their respective difficult conversations.
Blake stood outside of Caelia's door, and took a deep breath. It hurt. The effects of the tea were already wearing off, and he was coughing in pain.
There was no response, which was to be expected from Caelia. He called for her next.
"Caelia? Are you in here?" Blake asked. "It's me, Blake. I *cough* wanted to talk."
Still no response. He waited for a little longer, and then leaned in, pressing his ear to the door. He heard the sound of water running. Was she in the shower? He should come back later, then. As he was stepping back, he heard the water switch off. He began coughing, choosing to wait out in the hallway. After all, he could wait a little bit for her to be-
A few seconds later, the door creaked open and Caelia stood in front of him, staring up at him from behind a mess of wet hair.
Blake's face turned bright red. She was dripping wet, and not even wearing a towel as she stood in the entryway, looking calmly up at him.
"Er, Caelia…" Blake stuttered, averting his eyes from her body.
"Heard you cough," Caelia said quietly. "Better now?"
"Uh, yeah, they let me out, um, could you… put clothes on?!"
"B-because you're naked!"
"Is that a problem?" She asked. "This disgusting body of mine-"
"Just-! Just… let's get out of the hallway!" Blake interrupted her, looking back and forth down the hall to see if anyone was coming. He wasn't doing anything and he still felt like a pervert, just being alone with her. He grabbed her by her good arm and pulled her into the room, slamming the door behind him.
Caelia didn't really have a reaction to Blake's forcefulness. She just stood there, dripping wet, staring at him with an empty blue eye. She stared at him silently, almost compelling him to look at her. His eyes moved, of course, to the most obvious parts of her body, her burns. Her face was covered by her shock of brown hair, concealing those scars, but the rest was clear to see. The burns on her arm and chest were a fierce, angry crimson from the hot water, standing out against her otherwise pale flesh. He could also see that the burns began to taper off at about her thigh, which he hadn't noticed before, spider-webbing out across her belly and… other places. He could also see parts of her skin peeling. It wasn't a very pretty sight.
She was still looking at him. It was clear that she wasn't going to stop until he said something.
"Caelia, um… can you please put some clothes on?" Blake begged, averting his eyes from her chest.
"It bothers you?" She quietly asked him. Her voice almost sounded sad.
"We've discussed this," Blake sputtered. "Modesty! Seeing you naked is just…"
"Not burns?" She prodded. "But… other places?"
"Just cover your chest and down there at least, please!"
Because he was covering his eyes and facing away from her, Blake didn't see the small smile cross her lips. She walked over to her closet and found a ratty hoodie that was at least partially acceptable. No strange odors besides the smell of mothballs. She pulled it over her head, not even bothering to towel off first. The grey jacket was a lot bigger than it needed to be, so it covered her body without needing anything underneath. That being said, the hem was dangerously high, and if she sat the wrong way it would almost certainly ride up in a way that was not appropriate.
Blake let out a sigh of relief and opened his eyes. Her legs were bare, all the way up to her thighs, but fortunately everything important was covered. His heartbeat slowly returned to normal.
Caelia was still staring at him. She brushed her hair out of her eye to get a better look, showing traces of the burned edges on the right side of her face.
"Look, um, I came here today…"
Blake was still a little flustered. He wanted to sit down, but Caelia's room didn't have any chairs. Probably because sitting wasn't any more comfortable for her than standing. Briefly, he wondered if she could sleep standing up. It's not like it would feel any different after all, right?
In truth, Caelia's room had come with a chair, but said chair was covered with greasy old pizza boxes and worn clothing that had congealed into a solid mass in the corner of her room.
"I wanted to talk to you about the fire," Blake finally admitted. He searched her expression for any indicators that she might know something. But as usual, her face was almost impossible to read when she kept her calm, a remnant of her many years feeling nothing at all. She only stared blankly at him.
"I… I heard from Sylvia Driscoll that you might know something about it," Blake continued. Still no reaction. "You know Sylvia, right? She was the girl you faced in the Fall Festival Tournament, the blonde?"
"Right, well, she said that if I wanted to know more about the fire, then I should come see you," Blake explained. "She said you… well…"
Blake's voice trailed off, and he sighed, which turned into more of a wheezing cough at the end. He shook his head.
"Look… Alcea Vermeil… she suspects that you might have had something to do with setting the fire," Blake explained. "She was afraid that your desire to keep me here… might have caused you to do something drastic. I-I'm not accusing you of anything, but…"
THAT got a reaction.
"No," Caelia snapped, her voice louder than Blake had heard from her out of the dark. "No, no, never. Never hurt Blake, can't, wouldn't, Blake, precious, can't… still need you, no, wouldn't ever… couldn't hurt you, won't!"
She shook her head, frantically, her eye sparking to life in fear. She stepped closer to him, almost afraid. It seemed that she desperately worried that he thought she was responsible for doing that. Seeing that look in her eye… that was enough to reassure him that Alcea was wrong, that they were all just worried about everything for nothing and overthinking it.
"I didn't…" Caelia pleaded, staring into his eyes. "I wouldn't."
She kept repeating words along those lines, shaking her head. Blake gave her a reassuring smile.
"Don't worry, Caelia, I believe you."
"…Really?" She asked.
"You said you wouldn't hurt me, and I believe you," Blake shrugged. "That's enough for me."
"…Thank you," Caelia said, nodding. It was a small smile on her face, but a smile nonetheless. That might have been the first time Blake had ever seen her smile, he realized. Even so, it only lasted for a moment, and her face locked back into its emotionless visage.
"Then… about Sylvia," Blake continued. "Can you tell me what she meant when she said I should talk to you about the fire?"
"I can," Caelia replied.
Blake frowned. The implication of his question was that she would continue explaining. But she didn't seem to be picking up on that, or she was being intentionally obtuse.
"Then will you?"
Caelia's expression didn't change, but she shook her head, causing Blake's frown to deepen.
"Why not?" Blake demanded, trying hard not to sound angry. "If you know something, then please-"
"You aren't in danger," Caelia said. "Fine now. Don't worry."
"But I still don't know why this happened," Blake said. "Please, Caelia, if there's something going on here… my foster father and I, Sephiria, we all could have been killed."
"Sorry," was Caelia's only response.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry…" Caelia muttered over and over. "Sorry, sorry, sorry…"
All she was doing was repeating "sorry" over and over again, without a hint of emotion in her voice or on her face. It was almost like she was numb to the entire thing, a far cry from the desperation that was in her voice before.
"Why are you sorry?" Blake asked. "I thought you said you didn't do anything."
"Didn't, wouldn't, but… my fault, mine, sorry, didn't want this, never wanted… I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"
Caelia stumbled away from him, falling down onto the floor. She was trembling. Blake rushed over to her side. Luckily, she'd landed on a pile of clothes so she wasn't injured at all.
"It's okay," Blake reassured her. "Just calm down…"
"No, my fault… shouldn't have…" Caelia shook her head. She wasn't even looking at him now.
Blake considered what she was saying. Caelia had insisted that she wasn't the one who had set his boat on fire. But now she was apologizing and saying that it was all her fault. That didn't make logical sense, which meant there was something else going on here.
"Caelia… did someone tell you to keep quiet?" Blake asked. "You know who did this, don't you?"
Caelia didn't reply, but she had stopped repeating her apologies, choosing to fall silent entirely. She still wasn't looking at him.
"Can't say, won't say," Caelia finally answered, her voice still hollow and numb.
"But I need to know, Caelia," Blake insisted. "If they try to go after me or my family again, then-"
"Won't," Caelia replied. "Won't hurt you, can't. Protect you."
"So they won't try to hurt me again?" Blake clarified. "Because why? Because you're protecting me now?"
"Won't let them hurt you," Caelia repeated.
Blake was beginning to form a picture in his mind. Whoever this person was, they had attacked him and his family last night. And Caelia clearly felt guilty about it. She knew who this person was, and… what? Had made a threat? A deal, of some sort? To keep them from going after him again? That was probably why she wouldn't say anything, talking about it might violate whatever sort of deal it was. But why had he been the target? Was it Sylvia? Was she the person that was threatening him? She was certainly that sort of person, but he couldn't imagine even her resorting to something like this. Sure, the was a garbage human being, but a killer?
One thing was clear, though, whatever was going on was making Caelia very, very afraid. She was trembling in his harms, even if she didn't know it.
"Caelia," Blake said, the girl slowly turning her head to look at him with her empty eye.
Blake gave her a warm smile.
"Thank you for protecting me."
That was what she needed to hear right now. Whatever was going on, she was clearly blaming herself. And Blake needed to let her know that it wasn't her fault, and that he was grateful to her for helping him. If Caelia was happy about his words, it didn't show on her face.
But inside, she felt relieved. She wanted to cry, either tears of joy or tears of regret. But she couldn't. When was the last time she remembered crying? What did crying even feel like? A lifeless doll like her didn't cry. So while Blake pulled her in for a hug, she stared at the wall, empty of feeling like a doll, and let him try to comfort her, as foolish of a task that might have been.
So Blake has gotten a little closer to the truth, but he's not quite there. In the meantime, the battle with Holly will soon be underway!