Love Lost, Chapter 1a: Concessions.
Two humans and three Dark-types, approaching from the east.
A gardevoir used her psychic powers to awaken the ralts that slept in her arms and against her breast with a message: "It's time to run again." She teleported herself alone to a high tree branch and looked across the canopy. Lake Muramis would make a natural barrier since she could glide above the water's surface, but if they carried surfing pokemon, that would not matter. She needed something that could discourage them, like human eyes that would summon authorities. The city lights of Linalool were too far away; these trappers would cut them off. She teleported down and took up her daughter again. East to Rennin felt like her best option.
Underbrush slowed her progress. She relied on telekinesis to help push it out of the way since her arms were occupied. A faint flash made her check behind herself. Another flash, from a burst of flame. Fire from a Dark-type, most likely houndooms literally blazing a trail.
She covered a mile before losing enough ground that one of the men ordered his favorite dog to rush ahead and attack. It seized her by her skirt and tried to pull her down by clawing his way up, digging his claws through the membrane and biting her just beneath her dorsal sensory horn while exhaling flame. Shifting her daughter to her right arm, with a vocal outburst she swung her left palm back behind herself. Crackling with electricity to paralyze the houndoom, she stunned it long enough to let her telekinetically sever a small branch from the nearest tree and bring it down upon the dog's curled horns.
The gardevoir and her daughter continued fleeing as the dog's owner flicked the locking tab off of a healing spray. The other man and his bitch took lead of their chase.
Peering over her mother's shoulder, the ralts focused on the man pursuing her. She saw him raising something in his hand. Connected with her daughter's mind, the gardevoir recognized it as a weapon and turned to face him, sacrificing precious distance by stopping. She raised her palm when she felt his mind become satisfied with his aim. With a slight push to one side, his tranquilizer dart harmlessly whizzed by both pokemon's heads. Both the shooter's bitch and the other man's second dog surged forward on command. The gardevoir spun about and gazed forward, hoping to isolate a teleportation target. She caught a hint of a roof through the trees a hundred meters away. It would have to do.
She stumbled when they re-materialized and almost slipped off of the roof's age-loosened shingles. Panting heavily, she sat and struggled to recover her composure. The leap depleted what remained of her stamina. Rennin was still miles away; reaching out with her mind, she could feel its pokecenter's teleportation reception room's silver markers. Maybe she should have used them. She hugged her daughter tightly as she started moving again, gliding from the top of the abandoned cabin but being pulled by a stronger gravity than she would have liked; she was too weak now to fully resist its pull. No, if she went there, they would both be taken into custody. Were they of undesirably common species they would surely be released, but not her kind and especially not her daughter's kind—she would get 'placed.'
Carlos exchanged his dart gun for his telephone. "We got a problem, Mr. Max. She popped somewhere out of sight and we've lost the trail."
"Good. A long teleport is an act of desperation. Onyx will fly over the area. You keep moving and when Onyx reports, I'll adjust your trajectory."
The gardevoir re-connected with her daughter's mind and tried to comfort her as she was becoming anxious. They had never before needed to run this far for this long. She really wanted to calm her with a promise that everything would be alright, but that was impossible. She knew that everything would not be alright, and the ralts knew her mother's mind too well not to recognize a fabricated emotion.
By the time the gardevoir came within sight of Rennin's city limits, she was so focused on keeping her daughter calm that she did not even notice the shadow of a murkrow passing overhead. She racked her brain to remember how humans laid out their communities with the goal of plotting a path that would maximize distance, minimize travel time, and keep her and her daughter from being noticed while forcing the poachers to reveal themselves. It would not be easy.
A nondescript truck outfitted for off-road travel was waiting for the men when they emerged from the forest where it was divided by Route R–L's automotive path. The hunting party leapt into the back and the vehicle tore away, headed westward. Its driver, Maximilian, shouted through the cab's opened rear window. "Onyx spotted her going to Rennin. I'm dropping you off at the welcome sign. Lose those weapons; if you meet up with Johnny Law, you're just trainers looking for nocturnal species as long as you've only got pokeballs and flashlights on you. Mister Well isn't going to be contributing anything more than what will cover a trespassing charge to your legal defense fund if you screw up."
Acting as though he were actually tired, Joe bade his father goodnight.
James replied, "See you in the morning," and selected a film to view during the period between now and the nightly news, although he never tuned in for that. He saw no sense in hearing news at a time of night when your only response will be to go to sleep nonetheless.
Joe lay in his bed silently and watched the glowing gap between the bottom of his bedroom door and the top of his bedroom carpet till light no longer reached through it. His father turned off the living room lights whenever he put a film on, granting Joe an opportunity to play a video game, sans sound, safely for about an hour. When the film ended, Joe's room would receive a final inspection as his father retired to his own bed. That timing was about right, as the boy tried staying up later in the past and paid for it when morning came; not only by suffering exhaustion, but by bringing his nocturnal antics to his father's attention.
Any sound that was not a faint click coming from his controller's contacts was a potential alarm that would require Joe to assume an appropriately restful appearance in as few as five seconds, unlikely as it was that his father would check on him before the film concluded. It was faint and distant, but Joe's state of heightened awareness detected a noise. His reflex to turn off the screen and leap into bed failed to trigger, though, because this disturbance was happening behind his home.
Joe approached his eastern window and saw nothing noteworthy beyond its glass; just a waning gibbous moon hanging above a number of stakes strung with faint pink polyethylene ribbon that indicated where a swimming pool was to someday be constructed once the necessary funds could be secured. The ribbon was once a bold red, before a combination of direct sunlight and indirect procrastination left the tape to fade beneath a couple summers' suns. Joe intended to resume his game, but the noise returned and on second glance he noticed a shaking within his home's southern hedge row.
Opening his window, and then leaning out through it, Joe looked to his right and witnessed a gardevoir's milky-white face emerging slowly through the bushes. He noticed three unusual things about this pokemon. First, that it was looking behind itself, apparently concerned that it was being followed. Second, that it was seriously injured, with blood splattered across its limbs and body and running in thin streaks down the dress-like portion of its flesh. Third, that it was cradling in its arms a ralts of quite uncommon appearance. Even beneath pale moonlight, Joe could tell that its hair was a cerulean blue, and that its sensory horns were a turquoise green.
The gardevoir crossed Joe's backyard with gentle steps, attempting to make no unnecessary sounds as it walked, apparently unable to levitate as its kind often could. It was not paying much attention to the house, but sensed Joe's presence after he reacted with startled concern when the gardevoir, looking back once again, tripped and fell over one of the destined pool's survey lines. Lying almost flat on the ground, elbows dug slightly into the soil where its arms protected the ralts from most of their fall's force, the pokemon quickly turned to face in Joe's direction and noticed a little light that emanated from his video game's screen.
As the ralts gathered itself up after its tumble, Joe sought to hide. However, his effort proved futile as a Psychic-type did not need to see him to force a telepathic link into his mind; it already knew exactly where he was. He felt the gardevoir's presence strengthen until it became dizzying and confusing, seeming to spread throughout his entire brain. Once it intensified enough to rival the worst headache that Joe had ever endured, the sensation stopped and in his mind he heard only silence for a moment before the pokemon transmitted a message to him. It did not speak so much as force Joe to think of, and hear, the words that it selected.
"Forgive me for doing that to you. You are too young, but I see no other way to protect her. Take care of her for me, do your best; I can promise she will always be there for you."
The gardevoir placed its hands over the ralts' horns for a moment. The ralts seemed to struggle and panic briefly before calming and looking down at the grass. With tears welling in its eyes, the gardevoir concentrated and teleported the ralts onto Joe's bed before limping away.
As Joe turned away from his window and looked at the ralts that now sat upon the foot of his bed, timidly drawing her limbs against her body, he felt the gardevoir enter his mind one last time.
"Shut your window, hide her from view, and pretend to be asleep. They will follow my trail and pass her by."
The gardevoir seemed to gather a second wind and finished crossing Joe's backyard, mantling the barrier that stood between his father's property and his northern neighbor's. As it fled, it no longer bothered to look behind itself.
Joe shut his window, turned off his game, and beckoned a very reluctant ralts to join him near the head of his bed. Her reluctance evaporated when they both heard the sharp bark of a houndoom informing its master that it had re-discovered its quarry's trail. Joe held her like a doll and drew his covers over their bodies. Together, they endured two minutes of nervous suspense before noises from the bushes announced the arrival of a pair of poachers and a trio of houndooms.
Both male houndooms were eager to follow a trail of blood leading across Joe's backyard, but the female stopped near a survey stake and sniffed the air. She looked at Joe's window and growled lightly, hoping to get her master's attention. Carlos approached Joe's window and shined a light inside, but there was nothing alive within but some sleeping kid. He hastened to rejoin his partner, and the female houndoom slowly followed behind him.
The houndoom understood. She knew in her heart that if she had a pup to protect and was being pursued, she too would make the hard decision to draw the danger away at a cost of abandoning her offspring and gambling her own life against highly unfavorable odds. The blood on the grass was warm, fresh, and strong; the other houndooms were too enthralled by their chase and a dream of bringing down the green gardevoir to notice as she had that their true target, the blue ralts, could be smelled faintly in the bushes, and strongly where the grass was crushed and more-heavily stained, but could not be detected at all beyond that point. Feeling a tiny sensation of sympathy, she decided against making any further effort to communicate her deduction to her master.
Creeping relief was the only sensation that Joe and the ralts in his bed felt as they lay still and listened to the commotion outside fading northward. One distant voice, probably belonging to Mr. Finnegan, hollered out, asking, "What's going on out there?" and warning, "You best be getting off of my land!" Even after the commotion was gone, the pair still lay still, too nervous to move, until Joe heard his father carefully open the bedroom door.
"Dad, I have a question," Joe asked.
James exhaled softly. "You're supposed to be asleep."
"I got woken up. Some guys were in the backyard with dogs."
"I heard them, too. They've moved on. Go back to sleep."
"Dad, I have a question."
James exhaled sharply. "Make it fast."
"If I wanted to get a pokemon, would that be okay?"
"Most of those things are pretty dangerous, and you know how I feel about kids making them fight. If you're going to get one, you're going to wait until you're old enough to take care of it right."
"I don't want her to fight. I just want to take care of her."
James held his breath for a second. "Take care of her? Okay, what are you trying to question me into?" He turned on Joe's bedroom light and saw a ralts in his son's bed, covering its face to guard against sudden illumination. It was dingy to say the least, and had small red smears on its body, although it did not appear to be injured. "What the hell are you doing with that in your room?" James paused. "And, how did you find one of those?" He inflected his sentence's final word with a strange tone, one flavored with incredulous disbelief.
"Those guys were chasing her mother—I think it was her mother—through our backyard. I looked outside and she saw me and told me in my head I had to take care of her."
James thought over his son's story. "I guess that would explain why those guys were trespassing all the way down the block. Okay, but just for now. We'll find out who it belongs to and get it where it needs to go. And, don't keep it in your bed. I'll make up something to put it in for tonight. The last thing I need is my kid getting mixed up with pokemon." James completed his sentence after he left his son's room. "Especially that kind." When James returned a few minutes later, he had with him a shallow plastic crate designed to carry bottles of soda, an old pillow, and a towel to cover the lot. "There, it can sleep on that. Now, you get to sleep. It's way past your bedtime."
Joe carried the ralts across his room and placed her upon her new bed. She climbed off and started wandering around the room the second that Joe turned away to switch off his light. He replaced her and tried to instruct her to sleep there, but she seemed to either ignore his words or not understand them, instead taking interest in anything but her bed. Giving up, Joe crawled back into his own bed and brushed away some of the dirt that she brought into it. There were now a few stains caused by gardevoir blood that had transferred to Joe's sheets via an innocent ralts. Joe fell asleep wondering if that gardevoir got away safely, and if so, if she would come back for her daughter.
When he awoke the next morning, Joe felt numb. He thought that perhaps he rolled over funny and cut off circulation to an arm or a leg, but that thought vanished when he realized that he could hardly move his body at all. His eyes twitched upward. He saw a blue semi-circle slowly lean into his field of vision from above his head, and noticed that the only things that he could feel were two tiny, warm palms on his temples. His thoughts shifted to the many warnings of the perils of pokemon ownership that he had heard since he was just old enough to learn what a pokemon was, as he was now being attacked—or at least subdued in a strange way—by one. None of those warnings covered this specific behavior. He then realized that his alarm clock had not yet sounded; without any ability to do much else, Joe wondered what time it was.
The blue semi-circle continued to lean forward slowly until the ralts' body arched over his forehead. As gravity pulled her light blue hair away from her face, Joe saw for the first time her emerald eyes in their entirety. His worrying mind cleared for a moment, thinking only of how beautiful her eyes were, despite her seemingly concerned facial expression. With his thoughts shifted away from his paralysis and potential to be late for school, and toward a candid and flattering opinion of her appearance, the ralts suddenly smiled, giggled, and took her palms away from his temples. Instantly, Joe was able to move normally again. He sat up and turned back to address a monster still kneeling on his pillow.
"What did you do to me while I was sleeping?"
The ralts grinned and gestured by waving her hands from her horns toward his temples and back again.
Joe felt as though he did not sleep at all that night. According to his alarm clock, he was about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. While he was up early, it was not by enough to lend a clue to why he felt so tired. He accepted the time as a boon, planning to invest it in a quick shower for himself and then a bath for his guest.
When James arose, he was somewhat surprised to find that his son had beaten him to their bathroom. "You're up a little early, aren't you?"
"She woke me up. She was—," Joe caught himself before admitting that his mind had been probed by two different pokemon between last night's dinner and today's yet-to-be-prepared breakfast, "—wanting to play, I guess."
James looked to his left, toward Joe's room. The ralts was batting the door back and forth between her palms. "Uh-huh. Hurry it up, I've got places to be today, too."
After his shower, Joe yielded the facilities to his father and poured himself a bowl of cereal. Not wanting to risk a mess, he added no milk to the cereal that he provided for the ralts. She did not seem to think much of her breakfast's flavor, but she ate it all and got Joe's attention to gesture a request for more.
Still fifteen minutes ahead of the game, Joe carried the ralts to the bathroom so that she too would begin this day cleansed. Dirt washed away easily, but the blood stains were stubborn. Red rings marked the edges of otherwise-lifted splotches, as scrubbing forcefully enough to remove their borders made the ralts cry out in pain and pull away from him. Joe realized that despite its clothing-like form, she clearly felt with her gown as much as any other part of her body. He apologized as he reached out and placed two fingertips on her right temple to bid her to face him.
The ralts placed her palms on his forearm and hummed a gentle sound before offering her skirt to him again for further cleaning, but Joe felt that she had endured enough.
Joe checked a clock as he exited the bathroom. He was now a little behind schedule after having been well ahead. James entered Joe's bedroom, following a ralts that was dragging a soggy towel across his carpet. "I see you got it presentable. Now, what are you going to do with it?"
"You said I couldn't keep her—"
"Today. While you're at school. You can't leave it wandering around the house all day while we're gone; that would be begging for any of all kinds of disaster. You can't take it to school with you, either. I guess you'll just have to turn it loose in the backyard where you found it." James turned to leave. "Goin' to work. Don't forget to lock up."
Joe looked at the ralts, looking at him, looking concerned. He took up his backpack and sat on his bed to think. First to mind came places to try to hide her from his father, but that would be a future problem. He had about six minutes to leave before risking a tardy slip. There was a daycare not too far away, but he could not get her there and himself to school in time, today, and the thought of her being thrown in among a group of unfamiliar pokemon brought him to shudder. Those that naturally pick fights were usually kept separated, but things happened to pokemon in daycare sometimes, and there really was nothing to do about it.
Joe needed a friend, a pokemon person—"Percival!" He ran to the telephone and called a home three mailboxes north of his own.
Mrs. Finnegan answered on the third ring. "No, he left for school a few minutes ago. Why aren't you on your way? Yes, I heard the noises last night. Hubby went out the back to yell at them. You've got to be kidding—certainly, bring her over; and hurry up, school ain't waiting for you, boy."
Joe rushed out through his front door with a heavy backpack bouncing behind him and a lighter ralts bouncing before him in his arms. He knocked on the Finnegan's front door and was met by both Mrs. Finnegan and Sam, Percival's recently-evolved grovyle.
The ralts was not at all happy to be handed over to a stranger yet again. She tried to climb free of Mrs. Finnegan's grasp, and shrieked as Joe exited for school. He turned back around and performed her hands-between-temples gesture while promising to be back that afternoon. She only calmed down after he leaned close enough that she could place her palms on his head while he repeated himself.
Mrs. Finnegan entered her home with a distressed ralts while Sam shut the door. "Percy's not going to believe it when he finds out that Joe caught a wild shiny." Inside her living room, she set the ralts down beside Frankie, a mareep, who was intently watching television and did not notice the guest until a commercial came on and he turned to a nearby plate holding a few leaves of lettuce. He stared at her for a moment before consuming another portion of his snack.
Focusing to get a read on the lamb, the ralts learned that he did not think much of her, in any context.
The day-to-day of classes was unchanging. The only variety in the day appeared during the students' allotted half-hour of lunch time. Joe breached middle-school table selection protocol and sat with the trainers-in-training. Finding a break in their conversation about the cost–benefit ratios of various sources of vitamins in a pokemon's diet, Joe captured Percival's attention and told him the story of how he came to have a ralts for a roommate.
Seated across from his neighbor, Percival expressed his doubts, which doubled when Joe mentioned off-hand that she did not wear her species' usual coloring. "I don't believe any of that," he scoffed.
"It's true," Joe re-affirmed, "she's blue."
"I don't believe it. Someone probably just dyed her hair and turned her loose to make a fool of a sucker."
"Can their spiky things be dyed, too?"
"Well, hers are green, so they must have used too much dye."
Terrance, seated beside Joe, interjected. "Yeah, maybe someone put a bunch of food coloring in her water dish. Anyway, if you don't want a silly-looking one, I'll trade you for it."
Percival hung his head. "Joe, if you aren't just screwing with us, you don't want to trade her for anything."
Joe drank his orange juice. "Well, you can see for yourself after school. I left her with your mom so she wouldn't be alone all day. Dad was trying to convince me to release her in the backyard."
Taken aback, Percival considered the consequences of such an act. "That would suck. Ralts and a few other Psychic-types are lucky to survive on their own when they're young or untrained because they have few or no offensive skills. They can run away, maybe teleport once or twice, and use a few mind tricks, but if those aren't enough and they can't find a place to hide, they're in deep trouble."
Joe finished his lunch and rose to discard his tray. "She's not totally helpless. I woke up paralyzed this morning."
The table discussed that comment in his absence. When Joe returned, Percival sought specifics. "Was it an electrical sort of thing?"
"No, she was holding onto my head."
Percival and the rest of his table spoke in unison. "Syn-chro."
Joe asked what their joke was about. Percival hoped to down-play it. "Oh, nothing. It's just that tracers are much better for fighting."
Terrance interjected again, continuing Percival's statement. "And, synchronizers are much better for between fights."
Percival bit his tongue, finished his carton of milk, and left to clear his own tray.
Terrance leaned against Joe with a grin. "If you're into that sort of thing."
Joe did not catch his insinuation.
"And, even if you're not, she might change your mind for you."
He and the rest of his table once again spoke in unison. "Syn-chro."
The table's conversation drifted freely thereafter, spoken in the tongue of pokemon owners and battlers and thus leaving Joe behind, until a bell sounded to signal the lunch period's end.