A low growl rumbles out of Scout's mouth from underneath a piece of poorly-heated hardtack. She grips it hard with her teeth and tries to break it in half, pulling the piece down toward her chest. It snaps and she cries out in exasperation, chewing angrily on the durable cracker. She puts the other part on the dusty bedroom floor and curls her tail around to make it warmer. The sound of determined crunching fills the small room, mixing strangely with the creaks and moans of the old house. Her flame dances when a gust of wind rushes through the dark hallway and makes the rest of us shiver. She doesn't react, too focused on eating to worry about a little cold.
Lenny slides over to her and lies by her tail, watching it bob and flicker. His whole body expands against the uneven floorboards and flattens out, giving him the look of spilled liquid. Scout ignores him at first, but when he puts his face close enough to her that he could be burned she wrenches her tail back and shoots him a warning glare. The crunching resumes and Lenny doesn't move. His eyes follow the little fire and his flattened smile stretches across his wide face. Another breeze flows through the room, and his entire body shudders. His stubby limbs retract into him and he squirms a bit, shaking his spiny back. A tiny pop bursts from his mouth and he attempts to move closer to Scout. She looks down at him and scoots over, her eyes only lingering on his jelly body for a second before she closes them and makes a point of turning away.
The Sea Slug Pokémon makes another popping sound and follows her. She tries to ignore him, but as soon as his slime touches her every hair on her body stands up straight. She jumps to her feet and snarls, eyes narrowed with annoyance. Lenny watches her quietly, smile fading. He sinks further into the ground, looking even more goo-like than before.
Scout's flame sputters and she looks away from the younger Pokémon, swallowing her hardtack and pushing a dejected spurt of flame from her nostrils. Dracula walks over to them and stares at the blob that Lenny has reduced himself to. Scout starts to walk away but Dracula's cool glare holds her back. With unexpected care and gentleness, the Crobat places a cautious wing on the Shellos' slimy head crown. He smiles again and Dracula nods kindly, patting him several times. A thick trail of ooze clings to her furry wing and drips off in large globs every time she lifts it. Lenny makes another popping noise and starts to slide away, his body gradually reforming. Dracula wipes her wing on the floor and tries to give Scout a reassuring look. She's visibly disgusted by the strange gooey substance, but at least she's trying to be friendly.
Scout looks down uncomfortably and Dracula puts her slime-covered wing on the Monferno's shoulder. Then, as if suddenly realizing she has no interest in reconciling her behavior to her old friend, Scout swats the purple wing away and turns quickly. She sits down beside her backpack and starts to sift through it, not needing anything in particular but wanting a way to make herself look occupied.
From the center of the room Dracula watches the Fire-Type closely. Her yellow eyes narrow more in confusion than any sort of anger. She drags her wing against the ground absentmindedly, the sticky ooze gripping the floor and slipping off her. Lenny slides to her side and she smiles amiably at him. He grins and opens his mouth, tongue slipping out and bobbing up and down. He squeals very loudly, causing all the other Pokémon to turn immediately and look at him. Dracula becomes confused, but he makes the same sound again and this time rams his slimy head into her side. She cries out in surprise but accepts him, tentatively wrapping her wing around his small body.
Cheryl's Espeon, Colin, sees their exchange with tired eyes and watches with little interest. Her Chansey sits beside him, playing with the skinny Wynaut running circles around her. Colin sticks a lazy paw out in the Wynaut's path, causing him to trip. The Espeon pulls his paw back so quickly the Wynaut doesn't get a chance to see it. The baby Pokémon wobbles to his feet and looks around confusedly, finally settling on the Chansey for guidance. She motions to Colin, and the Wynaut turns to him angrily.
Colin grins mischievously and the Wynaut jumps on top of him. There's a small, annoyed growl before the larger Psychic-Type decides to play along, flipping over and bouncing the Wynaut up and down with his powers. The Bright Pokémon giggles loudly as he flies in the air over his friend's head, kicking and smiling a broad, open smile with every bounce.
There are several bags of rice lying at my feet, enough for a day or two of food. Despite calling it a "feast," last night's dinner hadn't really been any larger than usual. The only differences were the wine we consumed and the fancy rotting table we all ate at. None of our Pokémon seemed sure of what to do at their seats, despite not having eaten since breakfast. Lenny in particular was clumsy with his meal and spilled a lot of it, earning a sympathetic glance from Dracula and an aggravated glare from Scarlet.
In retrospect, we should've saved some of the wine for later. Cheryl is clearly hung over and getting drunk in a haunted mansion is one of the dumbest things we possibly could've done. But we weren't exactly out of control, and considering we're still alive and have no obvious injuries I assume we were mostly okay. I drank some alcohol back at the lab, but only on occasion and only if our water supply was getting dangerously low. Hardly enough to get a buzz, and never enough to get drunk.
But I assume it was Cheryl's first time, as she seemed disgusted initially and had a hard time until the first couple drinks were down. I told her she really didn't have to drink it if she didn't want it, but she said something about not wanting to let it go to waste and insisting on pouring some more. Now she's half-asleep and sitting beside me with her arms wrapped loosely around her legs. She's leaning on me hard, making it difficult to stay upright. Her breathing is thick and deep in my ear; her body is hot and limp against mine.
I press my hand to her forehead and she stirs, blinking up at me with exhausted eyes. "Hey," she mumbles before closing her eyes again and pressing closer to me. I lose my balance and nearly fall over, my hand smacking loudly against the floor to catch myself. She doesn't seem to notice, her face pushed tightly to my arm. "I don't feel well."
"Yeah, you look like hell. No fever or anything though, I'm pretty sure you're just hung over." I don't feel particularly fantastic either, but she's clearly much worse off. If I knew how to make her feel better I would, but I have no idea how to treat a hangover and I don't want to make her feel any more terrible than she already does.
She groans and attempts to sit up on her own. Leaning on the wall now, she spreads her legs out in front of her and rubs her eyes with her palms. "I've never felt so tired in my life…this was a really bad idea."
"Mhm, glad to see Captain Hindsight is still around to give us advice." She shoots me an annoyed glare from between her fingers and I roll my eye. "Sorry. You're right, though. The wine would've been much more useful in a few weeks when we inevitably have a water shortage."
"Wait," she puts her hands in her lap and confusion fills her scarred face. "We have filtered water bottles, how could we run out of water? Not to mention all those packs I saw in Scout's bag…"
I shrug and yawn loudly, stretching my arms up above my head. "Just a guess. If you assume the worst is going to happen, you'll be more mentally prepared for it when it does."
"Hm…" she bites her fingernail and shakes her head a bit. "I don't know if I like that philosophy."
"It's not really a philosophy, more of a life lesson." Cheryl doesn't bother responding. Scarlet pads over to us and puts her face in my lap, curling into a ball beside me. I rub behind her ears and she purrs loudly, her body vibrating against mine. She glances up at me and I smile, entwining my fingers with her thick mane.
Cheryl draws her knees back up to her chest and rests her head on them. "So…how did you and Scarlet meet?"
I keep rubbing behind Scarlet's ear and she runs her tongue over her nose. "We met in Jubilife. Vol- uh, her trainer decided she liked me better and let her stay with Scout and I." I'm not sure why I feel like I shouldn't tell her about Volkner. Maybe I don't want to hear her get angry about how much of an asinine Champion he was, but then again why the hell should I care what anyone thinks about him? It's not like I'm ever going to see him again.
A bit of surprise breaks through her mask of exhaustion and she narrows her eyes in interest. "You saw another trainer? I thought Jubilife was supposed to be abandoned..."
"It was, he was just passing through." Scarlet yawns and rolls over, stretching her back out over my thigh. I scratch her stomach and she continues to purr contentedly.
"Was it the same person who gave you stitches?"
"Wait, what?" I stop scratching Scarlet and narrow my eyes at Cheryl in surprise. Scarlet glares at me angrily and starts up a low rumble in her throat. "How did you know I had stitches?"
She shakes her head slightly and suddenly looks very irritated. "Because I'm not stupid. The first time I saw you, I noticed those ugly-ass scars on your face. There's no way those are more than two months old. You told me yourself you left Sandgem in late October, so I just did the math and figured you must've had those stitches done while you were in Jubilife."
"But…how did you know the scars weren't that old?"
"I've seen some awful injuries, Jay. I've had some awful injuries," her eyes are harsh and filled with a sudden and unexplained anger. Her face is tight with annoyance, but when her mouth moves the jagged range of scarring on her cheek stays in place. "I've seen plenty of scars."
I bite my lip and look back down at Scarlet. She's stopped growling and is watching us carefully now, her eyes cold little slits. "Well, okay. But…uh, yeah I guess it was the same trainer that fixed my face. I don't think it really matters though."
"It doesn't. I just…" She trails off, the sternness in her voice disappearing. "Ah, this blows. I don't mean to be such an asshole, this headache's just taking a real toll on me. I haven't felt this physically drained in a long time."
"It's fine." I start rubbing Scarlet's stomach again, but she pushes me away with a large, fluffy paw and stands up. She stretches, sticking her tail in the air and yawning loudly. "We'll have to get moving today though…even if we don't feel all that well."
Cheryl groans and buries her face in her hands. I watch Scarlet slink away to the other end of the room, an old pile of glass having apparently caught her eye. Cheryl and I sit beside each other without speaking for a while. I think she's gone back to sleep, but her voice suddenly tears through the quiet. "I don't even know why I want to go to Eterna."
"So you don't have to deal with the people in Floaroma anymore?" I offer, but she shakes her head and keeps talking.
"I mean…yeah, there's that but…what's going to be there that I actually want to see? I thought just leaving was going to be a really good idea and that things would be easier back in the town I was born in but...when I left everyone was…I just don't think I'll find anything good there. It's only going to make me feel worse. Maybe we could just stop there for food and keep moving? We don't really need to spend a night there, do we? After all, I mean, there can't really be anything of interest…" her voice fades away and she exhales heavily, gripping her forehead with her tired, dirty hands.
I don't really know what to say to her. I want to tell her that it will be worth it, that there could still be some remnants of her old life there. But I can't say I saw anything I liked in Twinleaf. I guess I'm still glad I went, but it's not as if I actually enjoyed being there. "I don't know…I went back to Twinleaf, which was my hometown, and…and there wasn't anything left of it. My house was a pile of ashes and the dumb little Magikarp in the pond were massive, undead Gyarados. In fact they- well, that's…you don't really need to know about that." She tries to interject, but I keep talking so I don't have to tell her what happened. "I have no idea what you want me to say about Eterna. All I know is that we need food, and I want to find survivors. They may not be nice, and they may not give us food, but at least we'll know we aren't the only ones alive. And who knows maybe…maybe you will find something you like or remember."
She's quiet for a long time. Then suddenly she leans over, grabs my face and presses her alcohol-stained lips to mine.