Caught in the Whirlpool
Kyuumaru was soaked to the bone and more physically miserable than he'd been in years. The house that he'd run to didn't look familiar to him, but it was in the right place to be the Uzumaki Clan house that always was the home of the gym leader. But whether or not it was the house that he was looking for, it was shelter and with the rain coming down as it was he would take whatever he could get.
Once his scratches at the door had been answered, the ninetales pushed past the teenage boy that let him in and stumbled into the warm and dry building interior. Not far from the doorway, he found a room full of humans. A lot of them possessed the physical characteristics that he associated with Mito-sama's clan, but the rest clearly weren't Uzumakis at all.
He blinked at the exclamation from several adults and after a moment's hesitation set the zorua pup down with a weary wheeze.
"Kyuumaru's all wet!" one of the women gasped, and the humans' shock seemed to be shattered.
"Get more towels," another woman—the one who was not Mito or the other Mito—ordered. "We need to dry him off."
The adult humans stirred into action, rubbing him with damp towels while one scrambled off to fetch dry ones. Kyuumaru relaxed into their ministrations with relief. The sooner he got dry, the better.
"Be careful of that ear," Not-Mito warned.
Through the clump of human bodies that surrounded him, Kyuumaru saw the zorua held in a blond boy's lap being attacked with another towel.
"Mr. Namikaze what's going on?" a non-Uzumaki girl child with pink hair asked.
"This ninetales is highly territorial as I understand, and he supposedly never leaves the hill that he lives on," a non-Uzumaki man answered. "Although, this is the second time that I've seen him away from his home…"
Kyuumaru studied the blond man and belatedly recognized him as the man that he'd assumed was untrustworthy and trained the bratty ninetales that had torn his ear. He was troubled by the stranger's presence in what should be an Uzumaki bastion. The three unknown children also baffled him, but the adult was the one that really held his attention. Were they welcome guests, or—
I can't worry about it, Kyuumaru thought and closed his eyes. I'm stuck here until the rain stops. We're all stuck here.
The ninetales allowed himself to be led to a corner where a spare sheet was made into a nest for him to curl up in. With most of the water removed from his coat all but one of the humans left him alone. The last human, a woman he vaguely recognized as Akane, knelt beside him and brushed his mussed fur with a grooming brush.
"Poor Kyuumaru," she cooed as she worked. "Soon you'll be all dry and handsome again."
I'm pretty sure that I remember her. She would come and brush me and plead with me to join her little pokémon dance troupe. …How silly.
"Ah! So this is Kitsune?" Not-Mito—Kushina remarked as she peered at the unhappy black fur ball in the blond boy's lap. "You need to thank Kyuumaru for catching her for you, Naruto."
"How do you know that ninetales's name, Mom?" the boy asked.
Kyuumaru's ruby eyes darted between Kushina and the boy as he compared their features.
He must be adopted; he doesn't look very Uzumaki-ish at all—
"He's a living family heirloom, as your mother put it to me," the blond man told the boy—Naruto.
…Oh, the ninetales blinked as he looked at Kushina, Naruto, and the man. Maybe he isn't adopted, then.
"Yes, he belonged to an ancestor of mine," Kushina nodded. "There are some pictures around here—"
There was a bright flash and a terrible bang—
All the lights went out and the house was plunged into darkness.
"Ichi-Tora, Ni-Tora, go get the candles and matches."
Kyuumaru rested his chin on the edge of his makeshift nest and sighed.
At least this terrible weather makes it very, very unlikely that I have much to fear from vandals going after the shrine while I'm stuck here…
Senkou let himself out of his ball just as hazy morning sunlight pierced the clouds and filtered in through the windows. None of the humans bunked down in the living room or the ninetales nesting in the corner were awake and so he was careful not to wake them as he stretched out and sniffed around. He found Kushina's stash of pokéballs and upon examining them he found that Uzu-chan was already out and about somewhere.
The jolteon grinned and found the backdoor through the kitchen was loose. Shoving it open, he trotted outside onto the squishy ground. The rain that had ended the search the previous day was long over and gone and it looked like this day was going to be wonderful, if a bit muddy.
Circling the house, he kept his senses alert for Uzu-chan's presence. He'd been meaning to spend time with her ever since he'd been paired with her in the double battle. It had been great to fight by her side again after so long and he was eager to talk about it with her. And maybe if he paid her a few (well deserved) compliments she would warm up a bit more. She'd turned so cold after her evolution…
:Mmm, that feels nice…:
Senkou's ears perked up at the familiar voice and zeroed in on a tract of long grass a few yards down-slope from the house. He bounded down towards it and pushed his way through the vegetation into an open sandy spot—
:And how about this?:
Uzu-chan lay completely flat on her belly on the sand, eyes closed in bliss. Pressing along her spine with its front paws was another vaporeon. It was a stranger, a real prime specimen without any scars or imperfections, and…it was a male.
:What is going on here?: Senkou demanded as he stepped out of the grass, small electric charges crackling over his spiky fur.
:Who are you?: the strange vaporeon countered, narrowing his dark eyes.
:Oh go away, Senkou,: Uzu-chan sighed. :Can't you see that we're busy?:
:Busy doing what? And who is he?: Senkou asked, waving a paw at the stranger.
:My name is Aquarius and I am giving dear Uzu-chan a massage,: the male vaporeon informed him with a glare. :Now please accept her wishes and leave.:
:"Dear Uzu-chan"?: Senkou repeated darkly, a fresh wave of sparks dancing over his pelt. :Who are you to call her that?:
:I have her permission, which is the only permission that I need,: Aquarius replied tartly. :Now leave before you make her tense and undo all of my work.:
:You leave, you—:
:Shut up, Senkou!: Uzu-chan snapped. :I like Aquarius. I like him a lot more than I like you. So beat it so that I can get my massage!:
Senkou's anger and outrage at the other vaporeon for moving in on Uzu-chan drained out of him in a sudden icy rush. Uzu-chan wasn't just being cold to him; she was shunning him in favor of one of her own kind. The sparks ceased arcing on his fur, his ears drooped, and he slunk off without another word.
He slunk back towards the house, stopping when he found a nice-sized flagstone to lie upon. With a moan he lay on his side and threw a paw over his eyes. The sunlight that struck him felt lukewarm and he imaged his own personal clouds of misery coalescing over him.
I knew Uzu-chan wasn't very keen on me, he sighed, but I was sure that I could get her to warm back up to me if I was patient…
Senkou sighed again and wondered how long it would take to die from his broken heart.
On the living room floor, Naruto shifted in his sleeping bag. His arm flopped into his backpack with just enough force to knock it over. It was unzipped and a few of the pokéballs that had rested just inside of it rolled out. One of the pokéballs twitched, then popped open and Vee the eevee appeared in a flash of light.
He looked around in amazement at his new surroundings, taking in every little detail. Naruto, Sasuke, and Ken-Ichi were sleeping on the wooden floor in sleeping bags. Sakura was curled up on a love seat under a handmade quilt. Two adult humans that Vee didn't know, one with hair a lot like Naruto's and another with very long and very red hair, were out cold on a creaky bed that had been pulled out of a couch. And nested in a corner of the room in a pile of swirl-patterned cloth was a monster that looked like Demon, but was the wrong color.
Vee picked his way around the sleeping bags and crept up to the sleeping yellow fox—
:No, let him sleep.:
Vee paused and looked back to see Eve sitting by Naruto's backpack.
:We don't know who he is,: she said. :Let him sleep.:
:Aw,: Vee pouted.
:Come here,: she beckoned.
Still pouting the young eevee trudged to her side and sat down so that she could groom to the top of his head. Eve's tongue was warm and gentle, steady and comforting. His pouty mood eased away and he leaned into her flank with a happy sigh.
:I love you,: he chirped.
:I love you, too,: she said as she finished and patted his shoulder with her paw.
:Let's play!: Vee decided.
:Not in here,: Eve told him. :Everyone else is still sleeping. They won't be happy if you wake them up.:
:Play, play, play!: Vee sang as he bounced in circles.
:Yes, yes…um…: She looked around, sniffed at the air, and settled on a direction. :This way.:
Vee pranced alongside her as Eve cautiously padded through the house. They came to a rickety door that rattled slightly as they approached it. When Eve pressed on it, it sung outwards and let them out into the morning sunshine.
:Whee~!: Vee cried and bounded off onto the lawn.
The grass was short, springy, damp, and cool. Heedless of Eve's calls for him to wait he dove headlong into the tall grass the fringed the long. The ground started to slope downwards and the sudden drop made him slip, trip, and tumbled nose over bushy tail—
Vee shook his spinning head and pushed up off what he'd crashed into. It was yellow, spiny, but soft instead of sharp. And it was warm, alive.
The little eevee stumbled back a step and blinked as the large yellow spiny thing moved and resolved itself into a monster. There was a spiky white ruff around its neck, it had long ears, slitted black eyes, and long thing legs. The yellow creature was laying out flat on a stone and looked like it had been sleeping.
:What's the big idea?: it grumbled sourly. :Couldn't you leave me in peace?:
Something about the new monster tickled the back of Vee's brain. Something about how it looked, how it sounded, how it smelled, made him tingle and think hard. He was sure that he'd seen it before…in some of the many dreams that he'd had while still in the shell.
Before he'd hatched his whole life had been drifting from dream to dream. There had been the waking dreams where he'd floated in darkness and heard Naruto's voice muffled and faraway. There had been abstract dreams that even now that he'd hatched made no sense. There had been the pink-mist dream where he had seen Naruto for the first time. And then there had been dreams where he had seen two beings…that had…
:What?: The yellow monster blinked, lifted its head, then sat up to look down on Vee critically. :What was that?:
:Papa,: Vee repeated.
He had no idea what it meant. It was just something that popped into his mind when he'd had those egg-dreams. For some reason one of the dream-monster-beings reminded him of the creature staring down at him.
:Eh?: the spiny yellow monster cocked its head. :Wha—:
:Vee!: Eve cried as she pushed her way through the tall grass to the flat spot with the flat rock where Vee and the yellow monster sat. :Where are yo—eep!:
The yellow creature looked towards her, did a bit of a double-take, stared for a minute, and then put all of its attention back on Vee. It stood up on all four legs and lowered its head to sniff Vee's fur. Vee sat very still and waited, tense and unsure.
His egg-dreams about Naruto had seemed real, like a promise of the future. When he hatched, he was certain that he would see the source of the voice that he heard through his eggshell. And the pink-mist dream had only reinforced his expectations by allowing him to see Naruto before hatching.
But the other dreams about the mystery monsters had been so…fuzzy, so faint, that he never imagined he would meet either of them. Now one of them was here in the flesh and very real. This "Papa" monster was important—Vee's instincts screamed it—and he hoped that it would like him…
:…It smells as if I should know you,: the yellow monster murmured as it finished its examination. :Your name is Vee, is it?:
:Who…who are you?: Eve squeaked. :What are you?:
:I'm Senkou,: the yellow monster answered, not even glancing in her direction. :And I would happen to be a jolteon.:
:Papa?: Vee piped up hesitantly. :…Play?:
:Sure, Son,: Papa smiled, :let's play.:
Eve retreated to the short grass near the house and watched as Vee played tag with his sire down-slope. They were mostly hidden from her sight by the tall grass, but every now and then one of them would leap into the air. Vee was having the time of his life, laughing and giggling as he scampered around…
They're bonding; I shouldn't get in the way.
Parents were important. Hers had loved and protected her for the early months of her life, and taught her essential survival skills. So it was great that Vee had found his sire and that they were getting along. She was happy for Vee.
…I kind of wish that I could play, too.
:What is all that racket?:
Eve's ears twitched at the unexpected voice and she turned her head to see two new monsters emerging from the tall grass. They were sleek and blue with fins, flukes, and frills. Their general features brought to mind both Senkou the jolteon and Dawn the espeon, which made Eve wonder…
Is this another of the paths of evolution that Dawn mentioned before?
:Senkou's just being a clown again,: one of the blue monsters sighed, shaking her head. :Ignore him. That's what I do.:
:I bow to your wisdom, dear Uzu-chan,: the other blue monster replied, dipping his finned head in a sort of gallant gesture.
:Thank you, Aquarius,: Uzu-chan smiled as the pair continued on to the house. :Now how about we—oh!:
The two blue creatures halted at the sight of her and Eve cringed under their startled stares. In the Safari Zone there had never really been any shock from her friends over her silvery fur, just the acknowledgement that it was special. But outside of the Safari Zone everyone always seemed to stare like her pelt was shocking.
:Hello,: the female, Uzu-chan, greeted with a polite nod. :What's your name?:
:Eve,: the gray eevee squeaked.
:What a beautiful name,: the male, Aquarius, remarked. :Yet you seem sad. Why is that?:
:No need to be shy,: Uzu-chan assured her. :We won't bite—promise!:
Eve squirmed anxiously and wished that someone else that she knew was close at hand. :Well…w-well…:
Vee skittered through the tall grasses and burst out onto the short-clipped lawn. Half a moment behind him came Senkou the jolteon. While Vee was running flat out, Senkou was deliberately holding down his own speed so as not to catch the little eevee too quickly. They zigged and zagged and did a few loops before Vee came within inches of colliding with Aquarius.
:Hey! Watch where you're going!: Aquarius snapped.
The young eevee screeched to a halt and was surprised to find two new monsters for him to meet. His sudden halt caused Senkou to stumble and fall as the jolteon strove to not trample his offspring.
:Hi!: Vee chirped between panting breaths. :Friends?:
:Please watch where you run,: Aquarius said frostily. :You nearly collided with me.:
:Play?: Vee asked, eyes shining with hope.
:Didn't you listen to a word that I said?: Aquarius frowned. :No, I have no interest in playing with you. I want you to be more careful.:
:Lay off him,: Senkou scowled as the jolteon regained his feet. :Vee's just a hatchling.:
:If he's so young, then as the adult you ought to behave more responsibly,: Aquarius countered.
Senkou narrowed his dark eyes and electrical sparks crackled over his spiny pelt.
:Papa sparkles!: Vee squealed in delight.
:"Papa"?: Uzu-chan repeated, eying the young eevee sharply. :Why on earth is he calling you that, Senkou?:
:Why do you think?: Senkou responded. :He's a hatchling eevee that has shown up when Naruto is present and he smells sort of familiar. Put that together and what does it mean, hmm?:
:I love Naruto!: Vee declared, wagging his fox-like tail.
Uzu-chan hesitated before edging close enough to examine Vee's scent. As she studied him, Eve watched as Vee really took note of the water monster. He gazed at her wide-eyed, much like he'd stared at Senkou, and Eve began to wonder.
:…Mama?: Vee wondered.
:Yes,: Uzu-chan said with a slow smile and started to tongue-groom Vee's ear. :That would be me.:
Vee made a happy sound and hugged her foreleg. Uzu-chan pulled him close and relaxed into a maternal mode. Senkou looked immensely pleased. Aquarius seemed displeased and disgruntled. And watching the mother, child, and proud father, Eve felt like she was sitting yards away from them instead of only a few feet.
Eve had prepared herself to look after Vee and teach him all the things that a human wouldn't—couldn't—teach him so that he would grow up to be a proper pokémon since he didn't have parents…
…But now her purpose was pointless.
And she felt twice as lonely as she had before as she watched Vee's family, and missed her own.
What am I going to do now?
Kyuumaru had meant to slip out of the house as soon as the rain stopped, but when he woke up the weather had long blown over and warm morning sunshine stabbed through the windows. All of the humans were up or getting up and the air was filling with the smell of toast and frying eggs. The children that had slept on the floor were now all sitting on a bed that had magically folded out of the larger couch and were pouring over the pages of a large book.
"All of these pictures are from the walls of your grandfather's gym?" the girl with pink hair and green eyes asked.
"Yes," the oldest boy nodded. "When the gym was rebuilt after a fire a couple of different artists were commissioned to decorate the place with scenes and portraits that depicted the clan's history."
"That's so cool!" the girl gushed.
"I guess," the older boy shrugged. "Grandpa thinks a lot of it was a waste of money that would've been better spent on practical things."
"Who's this?" the blond boy asked as he pointed to something on the next page.
"That is the first Uzumaki and all of the pokémon that were allied with him," the oldest boy replied. "Nobody remembers his name anymore but he was one of the local legends."
"He had a red gyarados?" the girl wondered.
"Yeah, it used to terrorize the local fisherman—tore their nets, sank their boats, smashed their docks, and stuff like that. The Ancestor marshaled his monster allies together one day and battled the red gyarados king as a terrible storm rolled in from the deep ocean. In the end he fought the sea serpent with his bare hands until it relented, and he made it his subordinate." The teenager snorted. "For a long time after he died nobody really believed that that gyarados was red until science proved that such rare gyarados really could exist."
"Hn," a black-haired, black-eyed boy snorted, clearly not impressed.
A page was turned and the girl pointed excitedly. "Who is that?"
"That is a more recent ancestor, Mito Uzumaki," the older boy answered. "She sort of straddles the line between being famous and infamous. People like to focus on the good things that she did, but they still whisper about her more scandalous traits."
"Like what?" the blond wondered, rubbing at a cheek that bore faint scars that suggested whiskers.
"She never married or had children, she traveled extensively, and she trained all of her monsters for battle," the older boy said. "There was one story my dad told me about her where she defeated three Kurohi men and they were convinced that she couldn't be a woman—that she had to be a man dressed in drag." He rolled his eyes. "If she was a man in drag, she was the most beautiful woman that I've ever seen!"
Kyuumaru made a quiet snort of agreement. Mito-sama was no man! Those fools were just sore losers. They didn't hold a candle to our skill!
"I don't see how any of that was scandalous," the blond boy frowned. "She sounds pretty normal to me. Why do all the people in Uzu no Kuni have such weird ideas about what girls are supposed to do?"
"It's not weird to us," the teenager shrugged. "It's just the way that things are; it's normal. When we visit the mainland and see how people live in other countries, we think that's weird."
The blond boy frowned. "But—"
"Breakfast is ready!" a woman's voice called.
Almost as one the four children abandoned the couch bed and scrambled for the kitchen.
Kyuumaru waited a moment before slowly rising out of his (sinfully comfortable) bed-sheet nest. He stretched out thoroughly and then padded over to the bed. Leaping up onto the mattress he crept over to the book which had been left open and studied the picture that they had been discussing.
Long ago he had sat with Mito on several different occasions to have portraits painted. But this image wasn't an oil painting or a reproduction of the portraits that he knew about. It was an image of a tile mosaic that not only portrayed his Mito-sama, but all of his old friends…and himself.
So this is in the gym now? He cocked his head and stared intensely at the image, doing his best to commit it to memory. I had no idea…
It really has been a long time.
Shaking himself out, he hopped down to the floor and headed towards the front door to make his exit—
"Ooh, cinnamon rolls?" a man cried from the kitchen. "I want five!"
"Don't be a pig, Arashi!" a woman's voice scolded. "And they're not even baked yet! Egg your eggs first."
Kyuumaru paused…and started to drool.
Mmm…I think returning to the shrine can wait just a little tiny bit longer…