I'm so sorry this chapter has been done for a year but I lost my password and could not update until now. I thank you so much for your understanding and readership
Chapter VI: An Unmet Expectation, Reunion of A Bloodline
The battle of words Nathan and I were locked in showed little chance of ending anything soon.
"I could always just eat him and get it all over with," Milo chimed in flatly.
There are many downsides to having a pet. None of those owners guides ever talk about the many methods needed to coax a domesticated meowth off the ceiling upon his first encounter with newly acquired vampiric features and relations.
Hm, now that is a niche reading market if I ever heard of one,
I thought wistfully.
"All right, he may accompany us if you wish it, but I would appreciate it if he did not provide his own atmospheric lighting," said Nathan, adding a mumbled "I am quite attached to it" afterward.
Where Nickel now resided was not exactly the ceiling, but it was as near as a feline who was skilled at leaping from bed to bookcase top could ever hope to get. Of course, the frenzy of pure terror may have helped.
Thanks to Milo's love for bearing his true jaws, the bowl-like shade under the light bulb was now edged on one side with a perfect scratch indentation of ten individual claws. The unreasonable puffball of cream fur ending in a cinnamon roll like engorgement of a brown tipped tail that had once been a meowth hissed fiercely.
My outstretched hand retreated a little, keen cat owner senses were always skilled at telling the moment before you risked a painful clawing.
Not that I would blame him...
My own claws were surprisingly retractable.
It had taken four hours, long into the night yesterday (and five attempts at holding a pen) to even partially began to understand how my emotions and claw withdrawal where somehow linked. While the imprints of my former nails remained, I had been told that skin would never again grow over their slits...
Being able to reduce the long, nosferatu-ish things to small purple nubs that lined up at finger level was a huge blessing.
Thank goodness there is a natural way of hiding them. At best humans might have indentured me to cut hay.
The thought of spending nearly eternity feeding and residing with zoo animals while being saved for posterity filled me with a unique form of dread. I clicked my tongue softly, shifting my weight on the chair Nathan was holding steady beneath me.
"Here kitty kitty, here, come down, we're going to keep you with us." I darted my hand forward slowly again.
"...unfortunately. Just what we need, another male pure," Milo added flatly. "He's going to make us miss the 4:45, you know."
"Oh, is that the ship you were talking about? It's hardly ever on time... pure?" I tilted my head at the unusual use of the word.
"A pure is what we call a normal pokémon. Although it is not the nicest of terms. It is rather like calling a dark skinned Johto islander a—"
I couldn't deny I was a little relieved and amused when the bowl shade under the light bulb gave way just then under Nickels weight, cutting Nathan's expatiation short. The resulting momentum nearly deposed an unhappy, maddened ball of fur squarely on Milo's head. He was surprisingly quick for an oversized boy.
"Meaw... th? " Nickel commented innocently in the rumble, shaking from head to paw.
"Oh, poor baby!" I squealed in standard babyish kitty owner-ese, hopping down to cuddle a bedraggled shadow of my former pokémon.
It was just as well; I had already had enough expatiation in the last two days alone to last a lifetime. Still, it seemed I couldn't help but question more and more.
Everything was so otherworldly, half of it was still swimming around my mind like the waters of that hellish river.
The simple word in question I could feel as it rang again in my eyes. My shaking hands reached to to over-lace Nathan's own as he raised the china cup to my lips.
The blood was a warm syrup, mixed with an odd earthy tanginess.
I tried my best to not think how 'fresh' my elixir must have been to retain its former body's warmth. It was enough of a comfort to see that my arms had stopped retaining water, shrinking back to hug skin to muscle tightly.
"Why did he—"
"He has done you a great disservice."
Nathan began, twisting the frail fabric of the now dry ceremonial dress between his hands. I was silently grateful for again wearing my nurse uniform under the bed's light sheets.
"You see, Bartholomew put you though the water trial rather than that of the air."
I fixed Nathan with a blank look of puzzlement.
This was quite an accomplishment, since I had only regained control of my facial muscles hours ago, after heaving up more water than I cared to remember.
"The trials are meant to awaken the powers of a hatchling Mother. There is one for each..."
"Yes, we share many of the abilities of pokémon..."
Okay, I'll bite, I concluded in wordless irony to Nathan's understanding face. Deciding that it was better for my sanity to bypass the "with great power comes great responsibility" speech, I cut right to the question that seemed would bring the worst news first.
With my luck I might as well get it over with...
"Why is it... so important I have powers?"
I could see Nathan wince, but caught the sweat laced smell of his unease long before the facial movement. This was definitely something he had been stewing over.
"I meant to tell you... so many times... " He said, gripping the half-empty tea cup. "Perhaps it is I who have done you the greatest disservice of all..."
My husband's voice took on a heaviness of tone much too worn to suit his unlined face.
"I was... selfish, this year being the last I could take a wife..."
His green eyes glinted lilac as they darted up at me and then resumed contemplation of the cup just as quickly. "There is... a meeting of our kind.. a great celebration held once every seven years..."
My stomach, having regained sensation after being waterlogged, gave a feeble flip-flop of uneasiness.
"It is called The Gathering, its highlight being a series of organized and free-range... mandatory battles."
He blurted out the last words quickly as if expecting my head to burst into flame. It might as well have.
Words poured from me like an uncorked bottle, put under the pressure of years of hearing others talk. "You... bite me on the neck... marry me God only knows how... drag me out of my nice comfortable life..."
I shuddered a bit, my fury masking my white lie.
"Three months before graduation.. and now you want me to battle for you like some type of... trained pet... !"
I was stopped by his mouth. It was a very good conversationalist, and his kiss soon turned my argument to jelly. Still... it was an angry jelly.
"With me. Battle with me, with us, " he whispered, his aged tone gone and replaced with youthful enthusiasm.
"We are no better, there are no masters here." The shaggy brown bangs of his forehead pressed against my pink in gentle affection. "And if there should ever be, you already far outrank me."
"Geesh Father, but you sure know which side your bread is buttered on..." I heard Milo whisper airily somewhere far away, shoving odds and ends into a large knapsack.
The seaside city of Celadon had long since given up trying to be a historic town. After all, who cared for old buildings with outdated pokeball exhibits of the first settlers when there was money to be made? The area surrounding the port was home to an eternal carnival of shops, balloon venders, and artists water-coloring Machop caricatures of young underweight business men.
With all this advancement and modern convenience, however, ships where still the preferred method of travel. It was true we did have airplanes and even the new shining symbol of progress that was the express monorail connecting Kanto and Johto over the Cancun Sea... but in much the same way as the rough, untamable ground kept cars from being commonplace, so did the wind currents over the Seafoam Islands keep anything but well-trained giant Spearow breeds from traveling the sky.
If we didn't have pokémon I wonder if humans could have even lived here in the first place.
Before I had any more time to reflect on what I knew about this port-side city (useless facts that somehow seemed to shine now like pearls of sanity in the sea of my confused mind) the ship had arrived. The howling of its steam-fed horn sent me diving to catch the nook of Nathan's arm, my other hand pressed in vain over my sensitive ear.
What would have once only been a deafening sound to my ears some months ago was now an unearthly tone that felt as if it was about to puncture both my eardrums simultaneously. I peered over toward the crowded deck with a shaken gaze, my head still ringing.
It's a shame I didn't look up sooner,
I thought in bemused wonder. If all of our kinds' ears are alike...
Driven by some dark, newfound sense of humor I was beginning to grow accustomed to, my mind could not help painting a picture of a good three-fourths of the ships passengers recoiling down toward the deck in pain, hissing with long blood-soaked fangs bared like unholy pokémon based demons, as the few humans gasped in overdramatic terror.
I concluded, shifting my feet nervously.
I had never been good at meeting new people. Maybe it was because I judged them too fast. Maybe it was that most of my childhood friends had been imaginary and not all that good at debate. But whatever the reason for my high level of social anxiety normally, the fact that Nathan had kindly informed me that these strangers would know me as 'Mother' sent my emotions to a whole new level.
Three more people. That would make six of us all together. The basic math did not add up to anymore reassurance in my mind about the likelihood of our group having a chance in this "gathering"... whatever it was.
At least now you'll have a full-belt pokémon team,
my inner voice chimed in a merry tone.
Shut up you.
I answered back with a snap.
Of course talking to oneself was not at all healthy, but given the circumstances I would take any opportunity to vent my frustration I was able to.
"So they're coming by boat?" I asked, trying to make polite conversation after my raging outburst over being told I was indentured to fight. It had lasted a good hour or so since Nathan's kiss, after all, and had carried on at a merry pace until a worried forehead rub from Nickel had snapped me out of that trainwreck of a one-sided argument.
Nathan, true to his long-paused, carefully-worded virtual chatting style I had known him for in all our months of internet interaction, did not seem to be very affected. In fact, all this time he had been sitting with his head resting upon the palm of his hand, lounging back in the recesses of the white cushioned chair with the side of his boot crossed over his other leg like some sort of modern day Tauros rancher. The only thing that betrayed him were his eyes, which although dim and out of focus, would every now and then break from their trance and expose a deep, thoughtful stare.
Something about my tone changing from an angry "how dare you use me as a tool? I'll be happy to relieve you of a few male body parts
" sound to a brisk "okay, if I am going to be a tool, I'm going to be my own, and know about all my attachments
" one seemed to break him out of his trace.
"Yes, the others will be arriving on the liner from Johto this afternoon," Nathan confirmed, tracing his hand around the side of his face to rub his eyes.
"Why are they living in the islands? Wouldn't it be easier for them to live around here? With you two?"
Milo blinked, looking up from where he was shining his enormous shoes, and stared at me as if I had just suggested he wear neon pink boxer shorts outside his pants. "You ever see one of those old horror flicks? The ones with the vampires, and the nosy doctors who find their homes?"
"And what is always their first reaction to seeing the happy little family, all nice and cozy, in one spot?" Milo concluded, raising his eyebrows for dramatic effect.
"They... oh, I see what you mean."
"Let's just say our kind's faith in human coping skills has not exactly grown by leaps and bounds since the time of those pictures," Nathan concluded, reaching out to grab his coat.
And now here we were, standing in front of the ship that, somewhere, contained Nathan's... my... our... children.
Me... a mother. At my age... a mother... my god... I'm not even really a mother... I'm a stepmom!
At that moment every negative connotation I had ever heard about the label from others over my few years of life hit me mentality like a sack of unpolished geodude.
They would hate me. I would say something wrong and they would hate me. Or I would say something right that was wrong to them and they would hate me more.
They would hate me, Nathan's once happy family would disband, and we would spend eternity drinking blood alone out of used tin cans under a bridge somewhere. A silent, lonely marriage of bitter indifference, all because I would say something, because I had to, of course, and they would hate me.
Something inside me wanted dearly to run, hide, and leave a forwarding address not even the most persistent of junk mail catalogues could find their way to.
I did not get that chance.
For undead... or bloodsuckers at least, we blended in with the surrounding mass of humanity surprisedly well. So well, in fact, that it felt even to me like a group of nearly two dozen people were matching Nathan's "I have nothing better to do than walk up and down the pier on a Sunday" pace.
The late afternoon sun reflected off the sleepy waves just starting to be awaken by the wind, painting the sea in earthy shades of orange. Out of the corner of my eye I saw this peaceful skyline marked ever so slowly by three shadows carefully and purposely breaking away from the crowd, their gate like that of everyday tourist on a quest for the nearest vending machine.
Too bad I'm one of those bags of honey roasted peanuts they they have in mind.
"This way," Nathan spoke in an even, matter-of-fact tone, grabbing my hand and pulling me down a side street to the chorus of old tin cans and soggy used gum under our shoes.
The dank refuse of the alley we ducked down seemed to swallow all the clean sea breeze into itself as I struggled to keep up with Nathan's sudden turn. We had jogged down four shady adjoining back streets in this way, like a pack of stray houndoom, by the time Nathan and Milo stopped suddenly, almost sending me flying head first into what looked like ten-year-old garbage.
Milo raised his head with a sharp jerk toward the gaps of sky between the laundry lines bridging shadowed slum apartments. The boys' mouths opened ever so causally, exposing the tips of his true jaws to the light with the same slow movement of reshaping his mylohyiod that still sent a shiver down my hands. To add the crowning touch to this unsettling action, as he inhaled, what looked like a cloudy nictitating membrane slipped over his stone grey iris.
The fire type specialists' favorite nickname for this part of pokémon anatomy echoed in my mind.
At the same time, Nathan was making an odd dance of cocking his head in one direction and then the next, eyes closed, his mouth also agape, the twin length of his fangs half drawn to just barely touch his bottom lip.
Standing in the middle of this odd display, I knew from the heavy breathing sounds behind me the others that I dared not look at just yet were doing the same. Slowly, ever so slowly and awkwardly in comparison to Nathan's graceful motions, I tilted my head to the side as well, closing my eyes.
The world was again a landscape of scent, only this time the scents that I drew upon now where cozy and familiar, like a favorite song I had forgotten.
came that same feeling in unsaid words. ...and they belong of the same.
There was Nathan's scent above them all to my senses, with Milo's smokey one begrudgingly sandwiched behind his, but now there were three others as well. The first, and most pronounced, smelled of fresh green leaves mixed with a light warmth that brought to mind the memory of baking yeast bread. The second's aroma was a strange mix of dry earth and a burnt smell that mirrored Milo's own, but unlike his, this one was of woodland ashes from a fire that had long since spent all its fuel. The last scent was not as strong as the rest, made up of the algae laced smell of the sea, and fainter still, an odd artificial sweet odor.
Something about that mixture made a involuntary shiver run though my body as I opened my eyes to the sound of Milo's voice.
"Human free." He said with a growing smile, a true smile I had never seen before, that tugged at the edges of his demeanor...
Three voices thundered as I was blind-sided by the whip of a drive-by... scarf?
The sky-blue knitted length of the weapon was already draped over Nathan's shoulders and, before I even had time to draw another breath, its gifter was already kissing a very taken aback Nathan squarely on the lips.
My mouth felt a dry as a sea of mixed emotions swam behind my reddening cheeks. The back of the assaulter, around which an acoustic guitar covered with neon colored travel stickers was slung, was all I had at the moment to aim my shocked displeasure at.
The form was an inch or two shorter than Nathan's, but undoubtedly that of a man, lean muscular arms motioning energetically for the confides of a tight sleeveless white t-shirt as if just about to speak when Nathan pushed him away. The man's faded blue bomber-style hat tilted in consideration from my background vantage point.
"Christopher, how many times have I told you never to do—"
The light warm voice that replied was oddly weathered around the edges with a gravely tone. "Aw, but dad, I missed you so much! See? We all pitched in on this, it really does bring out the color of your eyes..."
"I really don't think I need—"
"Oh dad, dad, dad, always with your constant whining ..."
My mind felt fuzzy, still reeling to get a understanding of who exactly this 'Christopher' was. His voice marked him as someone many years my senior despite his youthful torn acid-washed jeans.
"Papa, papa papa!"
A pleading small voice rang out again as all three of us looked down in unison. The tiny Johto islander girl that began in a mess of short fuzzy black curls and a red plastic squirtle-shaped backpack and ended in a white party dress edged with cornflower blue lace tugged impatiently on Nathan's pantleg, hopping from one glossy black mary jane shoe to the next. The quick movement made the novelty marill tail she was wearing bob back and forth under her hoop shirt as she reached upward on tiptoe.
"Papa, I made this for you, papa...." the girl said, proudly presenting a piece of paper. In the dim light I could just make out a series of deeply-penned crayon marks on its other side.
"Did you now? Well, I'll just have to have a look at this masterpiece, won't I?" Nathan said, kneeling down to her level, where Christopher joined them.
"It's a far-out picture, she and Pecival really put their souls into it..."
I used to love those fake pokemon tails when I was little... I mused silently. When I was little...
The profile of the girl's giggling face, her bright black eyes squinted in a happiness that highlighted the glow of her deep brown skin as she spoke words I suddenly could not hear, dragged out a nagging, unsettled, memory. Something... yes, something Nathan had said...
"Ten years is the minimum amount of time before a missing person is declared presumed dead, by which time they will be looking for a much older version of yourself, not the young woman you will remain..."
She can't be more than six years old. How could anyone...?
At this same moment, before I could dwell longer on this upsetting idea, the blur of motion I had seen for only a moment before that had made a beeline for Milo bumped into my ankle. I yelped, rubbing at the burnt spot that seconds ago had been the upper two layers of skin on my fibula.
The inseparable tangle of two growling fire-spitting forms was now making a full-scale uproar, littering the alley with spots of blood and hair. I sidestepped sheepishly away from the miniature world war, catching the edge of my husband's gaze with my look of what I hoped was a bit more than hopeless desperation.
It's okay, he mouthed over the little girl's cuddled body. Both she and the man named Christopher seemed to be preoccupied by what looked like a young marill that had appeared from somewhere in the confines of her backpack and was now snuggling its way under the folds of Nathan's coat.
"Candace, Christopher, Valerie..." Nathan spoke up, gently placing the girl back down to earth. What I could only assume was her pet Marill, now perched atop her head, began to make a spirited game of trying to tug off the still-kneeling Christopher's hat, oblivious to the serious talk around it.
"I have someone very special I'd like you to... Milo, Valerie!"
The dust cloud of limbs, hair and grime that had been building into a murderous volume of snarls and growls from one end of the alley to the next all this time froze in a far off corner. The shadow of what looked like a girl, dwarfed two times over by Milo's sheer bulk, let the side of boy's arm fall from her mouth with a whimper of regret.
"I have someone very special I'd like you to all meet." Nathan began again, motioning in my direction. "This is Yvonne, your new mother."
I felt three sets of eyes fall upon me as they all turned... and the world itself stopped turning, forcing all its heaviest into a knot in my chest.
Don't say anything stupid. Don't say anything stupid. I coached myself silently. And don't hyperventilate here ether. The last thing you need for a first impression is to faint and get pidgey droppings all over your face.
I felt my hands began to tremble as I rung them nervously together, falling back into the one mode that protected me, in some small way from awkward moments: Joydom.
"It's a pleasure to meet you!" I blurted out a cheerfully, bowing my head deeply in the traditional poké center manner.
More silence. More stares as I drew my head up again from view of my hands clasped tightly together over my pinafore.
"Is she really my mama?" The girl asked in a loud whisper to Nathan, behind a cupped hand that did nothing to block the sound but rather, felt as if it amplified it to me prying ears.
"Yes, she is, candy-doll. Would you like to go say hello?" He whispered back just as loudly in a hopeful tone.
Candace returned her gaze to me, a thoughtful hand pressed to her mouth as the marill that had sat atop her head all this time hopped gracefully under Christopher's hat with a chatter of teeth.
Hand still to mouth quietly, carefully, she crossed the short distance between us. Her eyes were focused on me, never weaving, with all the unspoken power of a judge, jury and executioner as she opened her mouth to speak.
"You look funny. You can't be my mama." A blue glint passed over the depths of her pitch black irises. "Real mamas aren't so skinny."
My head started to pound, the invisible punch to my ego sending me reeling, frozen, and at a loss for words.
It's going to be a very very long night...