Outside Petalburg City
The smell of a freshly cooked meal made Rai's mouth water to the point where he was mildly surprised he wasn't drooling all over himself.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the kind of spread Jeanne had laid out on the table for lunch. He hesitated for a moment in the door as he just watched the family all scurrying about each other with their own tasks to finish putting the meal together. A familiar hand, large and warm, was placed on his shoulder as if to ease him into the house, comfort him or reassure him that it was okay to enter and sit himself at the table as the rest finished their preparations. Forrest had no problems joining his family, but Rai felt like an intruder on the scene in front of him. He had to wonder if this was how life was all the time for them.
He had to stamp those thoughts down quickly before the jealousy (already budding behind the longing feeling of homesickness) wormed it's way any deeper under his skin. Though, it wasn't until Kye poked his head out from under the table and ran over to gleefully headbutt him, while looking dirty and tired from his day training with Forrest's Pokemon, that Rai actually remembered how to move.
However, he needed no help remembering how to eat, and it was nearly painful for him to keep from inhaling the hoagie in front of him. He had to remind himself to tear off tiny pieces for Kye, waiting quietly with his head in Rai's lap for any scraps despite already having been provided food while he and Forrest were on their walk. Rai had a sneaking suspicion his Pokemon had likely been begging from Jeanne all along, but after weeks without a real meal, he couldn't quite blame the fire-type.
The cheese mealted over the warmed shaved steak perfectly. Of course, these products had been shipped from Johto, but the chemical-free preservation techniques kept the traditional tastes in tact. The hint of sourness with the salty wholesome flavor of the cheese perfectly complimented the savory and juicy steak. The sauce, likely having been made from the steak, itself, added some spice that matched perfectly without overpowering the pallet. It reminded him of the Olivine Grille, where he'd used to go with his mother and sister when he was a kid...
The bitterness of the beer went so well with the heavy and hearty tastes of the hoagie. Being a Double Hoppip, it retained the lightness of a regular Single Hopp but definitely hit his liver much sooner. He wondered if this might have been something his father might have drank...
His muscles continued to relax and as he ate. The reflexes in his arms slowed to a pace of contentment.
Good as the food was, Rai found his appetite suddenly draining away as they all started discussing their plans for visiting family back in Johto. Envy hit him like stampeding Ryhorn as he listened to the kids' excitement over the possibility at seeing their aunts and uncles. The feel of warm, rough scales under his fingers helped the smile on his face feel somewhat genuine as he scratched his Pokemon in silent appreciation while Forrest and his son discussed more training for the afternoon. He wasn't particularly thrilled at the prospect of more training, but it was familiar ground for him. He knew he could use it and he'd seize the opportunity so long as it was in front of him.----------------------------------------------
Rai had been in his share of gyms in his life. Underground, usually sweltering hot and equipped with cobbled together - sometimes homemade - weights if he was lucky. The only thing Forrest's personal gym had in common with those "facilities" was the fact it was situated underneath Forrest's house. Oddly enough, it felt like there was more space down in the basement-turned-gym. Every square inch was being utilized for one style of exercise or another, and some of the equipment he barely recognized seeing it in actual working order.
Reality snapped back when Forrest handed him two twenty-pound dumbbells after stepping off a small platform. The word "dips" echoed in his ears and he realized what Forrest meant for him to do. Fear and frustration both surfaced. That was a sure way to get his calf to cramp again. He was sick of being babied and being meticulous and purposeful in his recovery.
But he found himself rising and falling gently, floating up and down. He realized he was staring at Forrest and Jerrek when Forrest gave him a little nod of some kind of acknowledgement that he was performing something properly. It's not like he didn't know how to perform basic exercises.
After the second intercepted staring, he realized his calf was flexing and stretching without issue. He could also feel how tense the muscle was, itself. Using his calves slowly and with purpose told him how badly he'd let his condition become. Rai let out a mumbled curse at himself, both by the relief he was getting from the exercise as well as irritation by Forrest's comments earlier and how right he was.
"You're slouching," Forrest said.
Rai felt a hand on his lower back and abdomen before he registered the voice and flinched slightly at the physical contact. He shifted his body to correct his form, though he didn't even realize his posture was incorrect - though he was usually a stickler for such things.
"Come on, straighten out." Forrest's voice lightly boomed, more commanding now.
Rai's brows twisted slightly and he looked toward Forrest who, even though he was on a platform, was still taller than him. He met a face with a level of concern and confusion that seemed to match his own.
"Hmm," the man hummed in thought. "I thought I noticed something during our walk. Your slouching only got worse at the table too, which I just let go..."
He was clearly talking to himself, assessing Rai's condition as if he was a problem to be solved. This was not something he was keen on experiencing.
Forrest's hand raised up to his shoulder blades and directed him in shifting his spine in, what he felt to be, strange ways. "Shift your shoulders back," "bend forward at the hips," "twist at the hips," "bend back at the hips."
And there it was. A major cramp that snapped his back to a forward position. But Forrest quickly wrapped an arm around his chest from behind and placed the other along his lower back. An Icicle Spear dug into his abdomen and he almost screamed in pain and begged Forrest to release him. The man just shushed him and told him to breath, which only caused more pain. He tried to fight the grip, but his arms were pinned under Forrest's and the pain was too great to do anything other than cry out in misery.
"Relax your abdomen!" Forrest bellowed, more commanding now than before. "Enough crying about it fight through the pain! You're only making it worse for yourself!"
The shouting triggered his instict to get mean, to get aggressive and angry. He even bent back what he could himself and let out a roar.
"Good! Breathe in deep and let it out!"
The encouragement was drowned out by the pain and adrenaline flowing through his body. His face, once white, was now turing red with fury. He roared a few more times until the pain subsided and he could feel Forrest's hold around his torso begin to ease.
"Keep breathing deeply. With your diaphragm." Forrest's voice was calm, now.
But Forrest kept his hold while Rai learned how to breathe again. It seemed he'd subconsciously changed his breathing habits due to the paralysis so his body only had to deal with one issue at a time. He cursed aloud to himself again with a light chuckle of relief.
"Good," Forrest said, returning the chuckle. "Now, keep this posture," he said and began to move his arm away from Rai's chest slowly and gradually.
A hand pushed his chest back two or three times. The spasm wasn't completely over and needed to be worked on diligently to be completely relieved. Focusing and relaxing at the same time was also an issue for Rai. His mind always raced, and usually with volitility.
He found himself on the floor in an empty room when the pain subsided enough that he could comprehend reality. Rai's head shifted to either side and discovered he was on a thin mat just the size of his body laid out upon it. He tilted his head forward, his gaze shifting from the ceiling to the wall in front of him. He met his own face in the mirror that covered the entire wall. He then saw Forrest a few feet next to him and spotting the boy who was performing some impressive yoga techniques.
"Ah, good! You're conscious..." Forrest chuckled out louder than Rai anticipated. The mixture of surprise and glee in the man's tone concerned him some. "-Was worried I'd have to get Jeanne..."
"- the fuck...?"
"Now it's time for some easy stretches," Forrest continued, seemingly unconcerned that Rai was exhausted and ready to pass out again from it. "Just do some pelvic tilts and tell me how that feels."
Forrest explained to flex his abdomen and push down his lower back while in his current position. The exercise, if it could even be called such, was so minimal, but Rai could tell that such a minor movement helped gain control of his muscles back. Another curse exhaled through his mouth while the large man hovered over him.
"How did that feel?"
"Fine-" Rai said with some dissatisfaction.
"Good. Can you roll over?"
With a groan and a grunt of both pain and irritation, he twisted his body quickly just to get this torture over with. But a hand pulled on a shoulder he had raised off the ground, holding him in place. His abdomen began to scream, so he allowed the hand to pull him back down onto his back.
"Slowly," Forrest chastised, once again demeaning him in a way that made him visualize just the kind of swing he could take at the man's jaw without hurting himself from this position. "You're going to set yourself back if you push too hard. You clearly can't handle being injured very well. You need to do what I say."
Rai chest growled with anger and frustration and his eyes rolled under partially pulled eyelids. He complied and moved slowly and deliberately onto his side and then gently lowered himself onto his chest, having, then, to shift himself over onto the mat.
"Good. Any pain?"
"No," he found himself scoffing.
"The truth-" Forrest said, demanding and impatient at this point. Rai's skin spiked and began to burn in defense.
"Sure," he spat back.
"What kind?" the man said, as if implying Rai should have known to describe it.
"Sharp ache..." he said, growing impatient himself.
"Where?" Forrest asked, continuing the paternal condescension.
"Abs and calf," Rai found himself almost shouting at this point.
Forrest just hummed, considering the answer.
"Do some press ups and hold them for 5 seconds. Extend as far as you can and try to push a little further each time, but don't push too hard or too fast. You'll cause another spasm. Keep going until I get back."
He then left the room Rai could see was the gym he was in earlier. He could now tell he was on the other side of the basement. Looking around, it was completely empty save some other yoga mats. Exposed showerheads were on the back wall. It seemed this space could work for both a dance or a yoga studio, not that he'd had any real experience with either. Now he was forced to into practicing yoga. But Rai understood that stretches were as important as hard exercise. He just never thought about it for physical therapy that he seemed to find himself in against his will.
His arms burned while they slowly rose and fell his torso. He was used to push-ups, but these press-ups only worked his arms and stretched his abdomen more than he thought necessary. But it felt good. His muscles twitched occassionally, but nothing that proved threatening or he couldn't end up controlling with enough concentration. Rai just pushed through the exhaustion and pain of the endless press-ups to prove to himself and to Forrest that he was strong enough to not need any more of this silly therapy.
That thought made him pause mid-press.
It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the help. Actually, he would have loved nothing more than to just deck Forrest once if it meant he’d shut his mouth about not pushing himself too hard. But as much as it hurt his pride to admit, Rai shuddered to think how much trouble he might be in right now if he and Kye had been on their own. This ordeal hadn’t been anything like his normal fare from the Pits, where he might limp home bloody and bruised but ultimately still the master of his own body. Now every twitch his muscles made had him held hostage to the fear that they would seize into a rock hard lump under his skin.
But why in the hell was Forrest doing this in the first place? These people had opened their home to him. They were feeding him and his pokemon better than they’d had in months or maybe even years. He’d offered taking him along to Mauville Island. And punishing as this whole exercise felt to his still unsteady body, Rai knew he’d come out stronger for the effort. And that’s what he couldn’t wrap his head around. There was no way it was out of some misplaced comradery for a distant shared homeland.
Nearly a decade ago, he’d sat among the ashes of the only life he’d ever known and watched people he’d always been told he could count on simply walk away without so much as a backwards glance. Sure, on the surface they wept, they talked about how sorry they were for his loss, how they would be there if he ever needed anything at all. It hadn’t taken long for him to realize what an empty gesture that really was.
The world didn’t work like that. Nothing was free and he’d spent those long years since learning that lesson over and over again. Most people made it obvious, some took a bit of reading into, but everyone wanted something. The fact Rai couldn’t work out what Forrest was getting out of this set his stomach burning as he reluctantly resumed the floor-presses. He wanted to prove he was better before Forrest changed him mind about bringing him along on this little camping trip, no matter what it was that Forrest might be getting out of this whole endeavor.
He strained to listen for the sound of returning footsteps, ignoring the rivulets of sweat that dripped to the mat under him. Better judgement screamed at him to leave it be and nevermind what Forrest’s reasons were for offering a helping hand when he so clearly needed it. But when the heavier sound of footfalls drew closer to him, Rai couldn’t help himself any longer. He needed to know.
“What are you getting out of all this?” Rai grunted, kept his gaze down at the mat as he continued his exercise, "I haven’t done a damn thing for you or your family. And until Mauville turned upside down, you wouldn’t have known me from any other bastard off the street. Why the hell are you helping me like this?”
The large man seemed to ignore him. Instead, Forrest set up a yoga mat for himself and began to do some poses quite unlike Rai's. Did the paralysis make him deaf, now?
"Get into a push-up position and stretch your calves," Forrest said through a pose and solidifying the fact he was ignoring the question.
Rai was about to get up and cuss the old man out and charge at him with all he had when Forrest's voice pushed through the space and off the cement walls.
"I'm not getting anything out of this." The words cut through Rai's abdomen like Razor Leaf. "You haven't - and I know," he added with an utter lack of care about the topic.
It seemed like an hour passed until Forrest answered the last question. "Because I can."
Forrest shifted slightly into a new position. "And what does it matter to you whether or not I'm getting anything out of it? Why so bitter about being shown generosity and hospility? What's damaged you so much that you can't accept assistance when it's been offered so openly and without condition?"
That was probably the closest thing to "offended" Rai would ever hear from Forrest. Still, it sounded accusatory and almost condescending. There was softness, though a disappointed tone hugged the man's words. But Rai could tell he struck a nerve since one of his own nerves was struck back.
"Fuck you, ol-"
"Get up and shower off," Forrest said with a boom, interrupting him and suggesting the questions were rhetorical or simply that Forrest didn't care to have Rai explain his suspicousness of Forrest's actions.
An argument wasn't going to be beneficial right now. Rai understood his situation and how his outburst might cause him to miss out on getting to Mauville Island. So Rai just sighed and cursed under his breath as he released the pose he was in.
The large man dropped his shorts and hung them on a hook. Rai was surprised for the lack of towels in the immediate area. Were they supposed to air-dry, or something?
Forrest shut off his shower head just as Rai prepared his own. Without an attempt to dry off or cover up, he opened a small cubbie Rai hadn't noticed before. The man walked over to the floor-to-ceiling mirror and looked at himself with a scrutinizing eye and a pair of scissors and a comb in one hand and trimmers in the other.
Even wet, the ends of Forrest's hair were seared and misshapen. It fell to the middle of his shoulder blades, but gave the impression it could have been twice as long. The large and callused mitt that held the trimmer placed it on the floor to then grasp the comb to go through the sopping hair and shake what moisture he could to get a better assessment of what he might want to do with it. A couple more shakes of his head and another pass with the comb seemed to spark the decisions to pick up the trimmers and shave the left side of his head clean to more closely match the right side of his head. He cleaned up the right side and worked at the back of his head, creating a V that reached the bump on the back of his head.
The trimmers were then retired and the scissors were retreived from the floor while the comb worked through what hair he had left. It was combed forward and backward and to each side as he examined what what the shortest section to which he had to trim. It was decided to be shorted just above the shoulder. Forrest's hand worked with notable skill, blending and layering the hair to give some volume that was naturally lost. The burnt ends were removed and gave some kind of life back to the hair as it slowly dried. Forrest passed his hands through the hair and examined the shaved parts for evenness. Without being able to see, he seemed quite able to shave the V perfectly on the back of his head.
Rai was impressed, amazed at the skills this man seemed to possess. Even something as mundane as cutting one's own hair, apparently, fascinated him. He was also surprised to see how much it began to curl as it continued to dry. He then found Forrest's eyes on his own and winced in subconscious embarrassment.
"Want me to do you?" he asked with a lifted chin, gesturing the comb and scissors in his hand toward Rai. "I can do whatever, unless you want to do it yourself."
Rai's hand automatically went to his own hair as he raked his fingers through the strands and tried to guess how long it had been since his last real haircut. He could feel the crackling bits at the ends where the high voltage charge had actually caused the tips to burn a little. He caught the tiniest glimpse of himself there in the mirror where Forrest stood, and couldn't quite remember the last time he looked so bad. He certainly couldn't remember the last time he felt this bad.
He was a mess of half-healing cuts and bruises from head to toe, almost to the point where Rai had to wonder if his natural skin tone wasn't the ugly shades of mottled green and purple that covered him in massive splotches. He knew full well Jeanne and Forrest were probably responsible for some of the more severe looking spots healing up as well as they were, as much as it irked him to admit. But his hair was doing him no favors. It was a ratted mess, even with the help of a shower, and long enough that he could actually get a grip and give it a firm tug. His pride screamed to ignore Forrest entirely, or at the very least, decline the offer with an accompaniment of a few choice explitives, but he doubted it would phase the man in the least.
Besides, now that he was aware of it, the burnt hair made his scalp itch.
"It couldn't hurt," Rai relented after a moment, telling himself that this was only because he was far too tired to argue with Forrest any further. "But if you shave a mohawk or something stupid, Kye'll give you a permenant bald spot."
"What do you want?" Forrest asked as he began to comb through Rai's hair.----------------------------------------------
"Hell, I thought I hurt this morning..." Rai sighed, slipping into a seat on the porch. He ached, but his arms and legs felt boneless rather than stiff and immobile. He scrubbed his head with his fingertips, shaking out more loose hair from his trim and abscentmindedly ran the pads of his fingers across the short bristles.
"But it's a good sore now, right?" Forrest said, his voice sounding tired, now, as they relaxed on the porch in the shade of the afternoon.
"There's no such thing as a 'good sore,'" Rai huffed, rolling his eyes, though he was weary enough that there was no venom left in his words. "Pain is pain, some just hurts less than others."
A bottle hit the arm of his chair with some force that took Rai's attention away from the scenery. A cigar then found itself in front of him, and Rai didn't have the mind to refuse, having not had one for a few years, now, and welcomed the luxury.
Rustboro Wharf - Rustboro City
The hollers boomed through the night and into the day. Metal scraped against wood and ropes were pulled taut or snapped. Planks slapped against the docks as a constant percussion to the almost-overwhelming symphony. Everyone worked hard and together and there was a strong sense of community amongst the laborers employed by the Fairfax Association. But that didn't mean there was dissatisfaction and contempt.
The gray clay-concrete walls of the storehouses made for a rather monochromatic and dull atmosphere. Splotches of white excrement were the only contrast upon the buildings throughout the Wharf. The pathways were barely wide enough to two men abreast. Hiding in the mazes of the alleys was a struggle only for the fact one could easily get lost. The textured cement pathways dissuaded walking without proper foot-wear, but that didn't deter some of the more sea-hardened individuals.
The only interest in the Wharf was a single wooden spire that shot up past the rest of the storehouses. The planks looked of a rich mahogany with steel structure beams painted black. Red velvet curtains would peak from behind windows and lights would be seen on throughout each night. Access to this building was highly restricted. Walking past it was reason for termination.----------------------------------------------
"Mr. Fairfax - sir..."
"Shutchyer fuckin' mouth, boy!"
"The Sire wishes to speak with you about your contact in Slateport."
"Out with it, you fucking dickless priss..."
"ahem...Yes, well, I verified he was hired by your mother, but only because of the digging I had to do of how he got here. The Briney Marina is now short a Briney becuase of that -"
"I don't need a fucking sob story, Buxs. Did you terminate the contact?"
"sigh...That's all I needed. We know there's another contact out there, though. Someone native to Hoenn, or that's what we're led to believe. The only lead we have are the Pits. So get back to Slateport and report back when you've found them."