Unlike most of my writing, I'm posting parts of this before it is complete.
Chapter 3b: Tides, concluded.
-3b- Tides, concluded.
"Finding Burner" read a note that Joe wrote and placed on the living room coffee table. He entered the kitchen, where Grace had finished her lunch, and recalled her. Joe wanted her to help him search, but walking would be much slower than riding.
Joe traveled in a widening spiral, starting at his home and working outward. He released Grace every few blocks to scan the area psychically, but she could provide no help. On his seventh lap, he passed by something unusual. A riolu with a blue ribbon bow on each of her aura sensors, traveling alone and carrying a cardboard box. Curiosity forced him to peek inside as he overtook her; the box contained canned food. Distracted by the mystery box, Joe was not looking across the street, where a corner-property featured in clear view a backyard decorated with a small shed, numerous patches of burned grass, and a carelessly cast-aside rake.
Joe's journey carried him farther than he expected Burner might have traveled. Desperate for a drink beyond his frugality and hopeful that an overheard conversation might provide a clue, Joe stopped-in at the Rennin Game Corner. There, Joe paid too much for a soda and released Grace, letting her sit on his forearm like a bird of prey and letting her help herself to part of his drink while she surveyed the room for anyone thinking about a run-in with a torchic.
She did not sense anyone with knowledge useful to their mission, but she did signal Joe to cross the room. There, he found a flip table being swept clean. The croupier collected the blue-backed cards into a square plastic case that held the remainder of that deck and deposited it into a collection bin as he reached for a fresh deck from a dispenser. As he shuffled the new deck's purple-backed cards and began dealing them into an array on his table, Joe approached and addressed the player.
"Oh, hey Matt. What's up?"
"Level seven. Four more wins in a row, I can buy needed T.M.'s."
As soon as the dealer finished, dials beneath glass windows in the table's surface clicked and ratcheted to indicate how how many cards in each row and column could end Matthew's run. The table did not use fancy cameras or electronic displays to communicate with its player; that left too much opportunity for technological failure. Like pinball machines of yore, the whole system functioned with nothing more complicated than electromagnets, silver-plated gears, and ratcheting tumblers. All of the game machines were old-school devices. Neither nuclear attacks nor aspiring hackers stood a chance of compromising a Game Corner.
"Are the other guys around?"
Matthew selected another blank card, and the table rolled up the hand's outstanding value. "Park."
The croupier did not bother to look at Joe to admonish him. "Spectators are not to bother our customers. Please leave if you are not here to play, yourself."
Short of Burner showing up and starting a brawl, Joe figured that no one at the park would be of any help. Running out of ideas, Joe traveled out to Rennin Pokecenter to see if anyone there could help. He considered asking if there was a protocol for finding pokemon that wandered away, but also considered that he might be declared an un-fit trainer for losing control of Burner so easily. The issue weighed on his mind as he rode there.
Joe sat on a bench seat and read brochures while Grace monitored the room. He found the pamphlets to be enlightening, which meant that either they were intended to cover everything, or that he knew even less about pokemon than he thought. His reading was interrupted by Grace, who sensed someone with an orange chicken on his mind.
Orson emerged from the hallway that led to examination and treatment rooms, carrying in his arms Picket, whose wing was tightly bandaged. Joe rose to approach him, but felt himself being forced back down. It was actually very little force, but applied in a way that pushed him off-balance. He gave Grace a confused glance as he fell back into his chair. She turned to face him and he saw that her expression was quite discouraging; the face of a ralts that sensed a strong negative emotion nearby.
The old man awkwardly took a few forms from a nurse at the counter and began walking across the lobby toward the center's front door. He spoke to his bird with a snarling tone. "Can't fly for ten days; damn magic healing machine ought to do the whole job. If I ever find out whose torchic that was I swear to--"
Joe approached the counter and got the nurse's attention. "Hey, uh, I'm a new trainer so sorry if this is a dumb question. Doesn't the machine fix pokemon injuries? His bird was still all bandaged up."
The nurse replied with a smile, which seemed rather out of place when talking about critical wounds. "It can reconstruct broken bones in a balled pokemon's stasis image, like in that case, but the cells still need to grow together and heal naturally. Until then, it will be fragile and very sore."
A smooth way of finding out if she knew anything did not come to his mind, so Joe just asked outright. "Do you know what happened?"
She continued smiling, but also raised her right index finger, pointing upward and slightly outward, wagging it slightly at Joe's question. "I'm not allowed to discuss a trainer's personal details." After a pause, she added, "but, as a matter of public safety, I can say that he and his staravia were assaulted by an owned pokemon near the intersection of Hazel Street and Rutherford Lane. If we get a second report, we'll put out an advisory to the police so they can send a trapper to bring it in and charge the pokemon's owner."
Joe did a pretty good job of not making it obvious that he was swallowing hard. Grace could sense his nervousness directly, but the nurse did not show any sign of suspicion. He exited the center and took off on his bicycle again, recalling that he already checked Hazel and Rutherford. However, it was the only lead he had to go on.
James pulled into his driveway and approached his home's entrance. Sitting on the welcome mat and leaning against the door was an orange and yellow bird of moderate size.
"You seem to think you belong here."
The reply came carried upon a croaking fundamental tone, its speaker still getting used to his new larynx and syrinx. "I do."
James stood over the combusken and unlocked the door. "Then you belong inside, don't you?"
Burner toured his home as he had when he first arrived, with Joe's room being his destination. It was smaller now that he was larger; the upward shift of his perspective made him wonder what the place would look like when he transformed again. Burner entered Joe's room with a bound and a beak's idea of a smile, but found it empty and turned about, leaving his elevated emotion behind.
"Master Rainier! Where are Master Joe and Grace?"
James left the kitchen holding a can of soda and a small pad. "Finding you, says this note. Not doing a good job of it, since I found you first and I wasn't even trying." He tossed the paper back on the coffee table as he sat and turned on his television.
Burner picked up Joe's note and spoke unevenly. "I thought he didn't want me around." The combusken sat opposite James on the love-seat. "I thought I had to ask him what he wanted me to do for him, now that I can talk to him."
Channels flipped with a regular rhythm as James took another swig. "That boy never knows what he wants, and he lets the good things he has get away from him, too. Understand that, and you'll have a pretty good picture of him."
Burner watched the stations flip by as he reflected on Joe's motivation behind yesterday's threat of being locked in his ball. Was he acting solely on emotion and impulse? Loyal pokemon trust their trainers to always have a plan, for in battle, they both have to.
Once Joe arrived at the intersection, he parked his bike and looked around. This time he did notice Orson's scarred back yard and cursed the riolu that distracted him. Grace was still glowing from her re-materialization as she turned to the wooded reserve and stared into it.
Joe looked down at her teal horns from above and commented, "I guess we ought to go in and check it out. It's the only place we haven't been, today."
Grace did not seem to hear him.
Pushing through the foliage was tiring, but it was not dense enough to do more than provide resistance. Grace followed closely behind, using her telekinesis to hold some vines and branches out of her way while she wove through and climbed over others. A small clear patch near a tree was surrounded by tufts of brightly-colored down. Joe found one that carried a small blood stain, causing him to worry that Burner may have picked a fight that was bigger than he could handle. He stood again, noticing Grace pushing on ahead.
They crossed Mendel and Lawrence Lanes before entering the block of reserve nearest to Joe's home. Joe tried to get Grace's attention a few times, but she did not stop walking until she entered a strange area. About ten meters across, most of the scrub had been apparently flattened against the ground or ripped up and thrown to the side, with branches littering the ground. A few trees stood within the circle in silent defiance, but the canopy above was thinned, with broken stubs sticking out of nearby trees' trunks below a certain elevation.
Grace walked around the circle, stopping in certain places to sniff a leaf or just touch the ground. After one lap, she began pushing through the bushes again. She got a short distance ahead of Joe; when he closed the gap, he found her standing still, clutching a blade of grass in her hand. There was no visible evidence that this place was in any way significant, but he had seen her like this once before. Not wanting a repeat of that incident, Joe sat against a nearby tree and waited. He had learned that he did not need to offer her his sympathies for her to know that they were available.
Not much time passed before Grace walked over to him and reached upwards. He picked her up so she could touch his temples. What he saw, he could not describe. He knew that he was seeing what she saw, somehow, by standing here and touching this ground. Thoughts, sensations, hope, despair, sadness, and a faint hint of satisfaction; it was an incomprehensible mess, but Grace somehow understood it, and behind it all he could feel her behind this transmission, knowing that he would not understand it, but wanting him to at least be familiar with it; the ghostly psionic remnants of her past life after it left her in Joe's care.
Emerging from the woods, Joe remembered that his bicycle was now three blocks away, and took to the sidewalk to return to it. Grace was clearly distracted and moving slowly. He offered to recall her, and she accepted with calm resignation.
Tired from head to toe, Joe stumbled through his home's front door and walked with a weary gait through its living room. With his attention focused on the mixture of sweat and forest debris that coated him lightly, Joe did not even notice the meter-tall fighting fowl sitting on the couch beside James, watching a poorly-dubbed film that exhibited scenes of choreographed combat.
It pursued Joe as he staggered by and called out. "I'm sorry I did wrong things, Master. Please, tell me why they were wrong."
Joe stopped and turned at the bizarre and unfamiliar voice that addressed him. Although Joe had researched Burner's developmental path, he wasn't prepared for the orange chick that he once carried in his hands to be what it had become. "Oh, wow. You're--" Joe was honestly struck dumb, but he could tell by the look in Burner's eyes that the next word Joe said would be remembered forever, and chose very carefully. "--impressive."
Burner squawked gleefully and hugged Joe tight. Finding difficulty in breathing, Joe commented that Burner was as haggard from ploughing through the reserve as he and Grace had become, and suggested they get cleaned up.
Burner sat upon the toilet's seat as Joe showered first, answering his pokemon's questions as best as he could through a plastic shower curtain.
"Master Joe, which--"
"Just 'Joe' is fine, Burner."
"Joe, which pokemon am I supposed to fight with? I fought with Sam and it was okay, but then it wasn't okay, and I can't fight with Grace or you get mad at me."
"You have to ask if it's okay first."
"Before I changed today, a man and his pokemon fought with me. They didn't ask if it was okay."
"That's different, I think."
"I agree. How long are you going to put me in my ball?"
"What do you mean?"
"You said you were going to put me in my ball until I learn to behave."
"Oh. I'm not going to, if you apologize to Grace."
"I will, Mas--Joe. But, how long were you going to punish me?"
"I don't know. I was just mad and worried that you might've really hurt her."
Joe finished his shower and toweled off before stepping out from behind the curtain. He then released Grace to clean her up, too. She brought fragments of the reserve with her on her feet, on her dress, and in her hair. Once Joe got Grace washed and dried off, he sent her out, not knowing how the shower's third customer would react.
"Okay, it's your turn, now." Joe directed Burner to hop into the tub and took up the hose-mounted shower head, warning Burner as he picked a few leaves and a twig out of his feathers. "I know you're a Fire-type so you're probably going to hate this, but try to stay calm. I don't want to get hurt."
Burner seemed incensed by the remark. "I'll never attack you, Master!"
Joe accepted Burner's promise, but he remembered many stories he had heard about docile pokemon accidentally harming--sometimes killing--their trainers, and held his breath as he turned a stream of water on the monster that stood in his bathtub.
Nothing happened, aside from water contaminated with dirt and little bits of plant matter finding its way toward the drain. After his first complete rinse, Burner demanded that he be given the shower head and, after a few fumbles with his novice and inexperienced fingers--inadvertently spraying water across the room--Burner left Joe with nothing much to do but draw the shower curtain and read the label on his shampoo bottle. A good thing, since he had never before noticed the warning that indicated that it was suitable for humans and many pokemon, but not those that had feathers, were verdant Grass-types, or were prone to chemical allergies.
"Okay, this stuff's no good for you, so you're clean enough until I buy something you can use." Joe took away the shower head, which disappointed Burner, who had just discovered that it had an interesting pulsation setting, and began to towel him off.
The towel was only good for water clinging to his surface. Burner ruffled up his feathers and elevated his body temperature, evaporating the water that reached to his flesh.
With the evening came bed-time. Previously, Burner was Grace's excuse to sleep beside Joe and eavesdrop on his deepest thoughts and dreams. However, a half-meter-long bed was unsuitable for a one-meter-tall combusken.
"I can't sleep here now, Joe. Grace is small enough for this bed. We should switch, or both sleep with Master."
James appeared at the door and vetoed that idea. "Maybe you haven't noticed that your arms have paring knives at the ends, now. One dream about those ninja movies and you could tear my son and his sheets to ribbons."
Burner's posture sagged and he made a low sound that only a chicken can make.
James again provided on-demand bedding. For want of reasonable options, an old, thick comforter from the closet folded into a make-shift futon in the space between Joe's bed and Joe's video games.
As Burner settled down and Grace sat on her bed, pouting slightly at sleeping alone again, James commented before turning out Joe's light. "You're turning my house into a dormitory, son. You know both of these pokemon are human-size when they're fully-evolved."
"At least they aren't bigger than that, right?"
"Right. Since they aren't, you can spend the next few afternoons getting the storage room cleaned up and organized so they'll have a place of their own to sleep, unless you are going to start putting them in their balls at night. Goodnight, boys." James turned off the bedroom light, and went to bed himself.
A levitation-assisted hop brought Grace atop Joe's bed. Excuse or no excuse, if her future was to be sleeping on the other side of the house, she was not going to sleep on that pillow and crate tonight for any reason short of James himself putting her back inside her ball and binding it shut.
Joe was not bothered as she snaked up against his upper chest. He had not seen a nightmare since she entered his life, and aside from their first morning together, always awoke feeling refreshed.
Synchronizing with Joe's mind as it sorted through the day's events, she detected a moment of opportunity when his subconscious saw fit to contemplate Grace and Burner as they would be in their final evolutions. She took command of her simulacrum when the ideas of their future forms and current sleeping arrangements mingled within a forming dream.
Joe saw himself awakening, and finding not the short and childlike ralts he knew in his arms, but a long, lithe, and narrow form. He felt a crystalline lump pressing against his body, just beneath his rib-cage. Grace hummed a high tone and shifted, reaching for his cheek with her near arm while slowly turning her body beneath psychically-lifted sheets to face him.
"Good morning, Joe." Grace's bright smile and deep eyes gave him the same feeling he felt the first time he stared into them.
Grace filled the void of Joe's pause. "Happy." She pulled his body against hers and kissed him gently on his lips; he was still stunned and did not really react. "Aren't you happy?"
"Uh, yes. But, what happened? Last night, you were, little. I thought you had a middle form you had to go through, first. And, you can't talk."
"Not yet, but your mind knows that I will be able to, someday, and that's enough. You have the disc that Percy's uncle gave you with Burner. He can talk now, so he won't need to use it."
"Burner?" Joe sat up in bed and looked across his room. On his floor lied a blaziken, twitching his legs with tiny kicks and mumbling something about ninjas.
Grace sat up, too. Her right arm extending behind Joe's shoulders and neck and her left reaching across his chest to meet its counterpart, she pressed her head against his. "I just wanted you to know, even though your father will want me to sleep in the other room, I think waking up like this every morning would be a lot nicer. Don't you agree."
"I think so. But, you're--" Joe pulled away a little bit to turn and face her, but his gaze wandered downward. "--like, a woman; in my bed."
Grace giggled. "You will want a woman in your bed someday, right?"
Joe blushed. "But, you're also a pokemon."
The weather outside Joe's window suddenly shifted from clear daybreak to a gloomy overcast sky, lowering the light level in his room and dulling the colors within it.
"Since we first met, I've always been a pokemon, and you've always wanted to keep me near you. Will that become a problem somehow, just because my body will change and become like this one?"
Joe looked into her eyes and admitted, "I don't know. People say things, strange and sometimes bad things, about trainers with gardevoirs. Until I figure that out, I don't know if something is wrong or not."
Grace kissed Joe again, a little more deeply and forcefully, while she leaned him weightlessly back down onto his bed. She settled in next to him and drew the sheets over their bodies. "Forget about people; let's think about ourselves." She could sense his brainwaves shifting; this dream was beginning to collapse and would fragment within seconds. He felt her grasping his hands with her own and drawing them to her ventral sensory horn. "Joe, I do want to become this, and I need your help. Help me grow stronger, Joe. Let me fight for you."
When Joe awoke for real that morning, it was instead a combusken on his floor, kicking the air and muttering about ninjas. Joe was thankful that Burner apparently lost the instinct to shout at the sunrise when he evolved. Grace woke up to the racket of Joe's unfocused thoughts, and kissed him on the cheek while he watched his cock spasm. Joe pulled back slightly with surprise and looked into her eyes. It was not the face of a gardevoir this time, but he knew that one day it would be again.