It isn't the strident crack of thunder that reverberates outside the window but the loud bang across the hallway that wakes Paul up. He doesn't budge, just lies still while trying to figure out what had yanked him out of the deep ends of slumber. His mind is clouded, hovering above the thin line between dream world and reality.
Then his bedroom door swings open, revealing a pretty little three-year-old clutching a Piplup doll close to her chest, the small Eevee that's been keeping her company sitting by her feet.
Another roll of thunder rumbles outside, startling the little girl enough to make her jump and rush over to Paul, struggling to climb on the bed. Paul pushes away the remaining vestiges of sleep and reaches out to heave her onto the mattress.
Eevee slinks after her, muzzle stretching into a languid yawn before settling on the floor, somewhere near the foot of the bed.
"Mommy," Cinder says, tears glistening on her big brown eyes. "I want Mommy."
Paul turns on the lamp sitting on his bedside table and cradles his daughter on his lap, hand cupping her small head while the other rubbing comfort on her arm. "I know, sweetie. I'm sorry. Mommy won't be home until this weekend."
"I want Mommy." Cinder continues to whine, pleading for her mommy, and then she begins to sob, completely ignoring the shushing sounds Paul's making. "When is Mommy coming home?"
"Soon, princess. Soon," Paul says softly, brushing his fingers through his little girl's long dark hair.
"But I want Mommy now." She shoves her thumb and forefinger into her mouth. Her body jerks at the shrill sound that breaks through the sky and drowns the sharp pitter-patter of the rain. She buries her face against Paul's chest, the stupid Piplup doll sandwiched between their bodies.
"Don't be such a baby." The voice floating from the open door prompts Paul to snap his head up. His older son is standing there, arms crossed like he's proving what a big boy he is.
"Thunder scares you too, huh Skye?" Paul teases, one corner of his mouth curling up.
His six-year-old son huffs, says, "Of course not," but he flinches when a bout of thunder comes with a sudden boom as if a blimp has crash-landed on their lawn. The boy kicks the door close then practically throws himself next to Paul and Cinder.
Cinder giggles while Paul does his best not to laugh, just lets an amused smile take shape on his lips. "All right, I'll let you both sleep here tonight," Paul says, lifting the thick comforter to let his kids slide underneath. "But don't tell your mother."
"Promise," Cinder whispers in her baby voice while Skye stills and fixes Paul with his I'm-a-big-boy-I-can-worry-like-an-adult look.
"Has Mom called?" he asks, dark eyes filled with worry.
It may have taken a simple 'yes' to assure the boy that his mother is fine, doing well in this weather, but Paul can't bring himself to lie so he shakes his head, says, "No," and let the mask fall, unable to hide his own trepidation.
They're lying next to each other, listening to the echoing sounds of thunder when Cinder says, "Daddy?" and slides her head on Paul's shoulder. Her fingers are playing with the flippers of her Piplup doll, a mannerism she shows when she's scared or agitated. "Where's Mommy?"
Skye is the one who responds, says, "At Valencia Island, on a mission," then tilts his head to gaze up at Paul. "Right, Dad?"
Paul ruffles Skye's purple hair. "Right. When did you become such a smart as—kid?"
Cinder pokes him on the cheek with her tiny finger, saying, "Mom said no swearing, Daddy," and Paul barks a laugh.
"I'll give you two extra servings of pancakes at breakfast if you don't tell." Paul knows that bribing his kids is a big no-no as well, but this conversation is keeping their minds off the lightning that cuts through the sky and the roaring thunder that follows. Hopefully, Paul can keep this up so they will stop worrying over their mother who is undoubtedly caught in a fiercer storm right at that moment, even just for a while.
"Can I have extra pancakes too, Dad?" Skye says, propping up on his hand so he can look down at Paul. "I won't tell Mom you said ass, promise."
"Okay, ranger. You got it," Paul starts to say but his mind makes a sudden halt and he plays back Skye's words in his head. He said 'ass.' "Just. Don't say that word out loud again, okay? Especially with Mom around."
Skye looks confused, face framed with innocence. "How come? I hear Mom call you an ass all the time," he says – straightforward and matter-of-fact and—
"Mom called me an ass?"
"Yup." Skye bops his head in an enthusiastic nod. "When you're fighting."
Paul sighs exasperatedly. "Mom and I are going to have a long talk. Now go to sleep."
Cinder has gone quiet, her eyes closed, lashes fluttering, thumb resting between her lips and Paul thinks she has fallen asleep. Paul starts to hum, a tune from memory. He almost gives a start when Cinder speaks. "Dad, can I go ride Torterra tomorrow?"
"Sure, baby. If it stops raining."
Silence descends upon them once more and Paul mindlessly strokes Cinder's hair, his thoughts traveling all the way to Orange Islands where his children's mother is right now. It was mentioned in the news earlier that the hurricane has hit the archipelago the hardest and all they're having here is monsoon rain.
The rumbling sounds of thunder have gone softer like a lullaby, but it's not enough to send Paul back to sleep. Deep worry gnaws at the back of his mind. Communication has been down in Orange Islands for the past seven hours and no one has heard from anyone there, not even from Professor Ivy.
Paul lays there thinking, remembering, how long ago it seems, when Skye was two and they were in a similar situation. He promised then – more to himself – that never again. Never again.
It must be the rhythmic spattering of the heavy raindrops on the roof, or the lazy growling of thunder that eventually lulls him to sleep.
The next time Paul's eyes crack open, faint morning sunlight is already creeping through the windows. The rain has dwindled down to moderate precipitation and the sky looks less dark than it was yesterday afternoon.
Both his children are still fast asleep, chests rising and falling. Paul plants a kiss on both their foreheads before climbing out of bed. The clock shows that it's quarter past six in the morning. He's not so much in a hurry because he's pretty sure no trainer is silly enough to go through this weather just to challenge him. He makes a mental note to call his assistant, Troy, and tell him to keep the gym closed for the day, just in case.
It's almost eight o' clock and he has enough pancakes on the plate by the time his children come bounding down the stairs and into the kitchen.
"Morning, Daddy!" Cinder throws her arms around Paul's thigh and Paul hoists her up, carrying her all the way to the sink.
"Let's wash your hands so you can eat," Paul says then later seats his daughter on her high chair. "Go wash your hands, Skye."
Paul is cutting a pancake into small little pieces for Cinder when he hears a car pull up at the driveway. Thinking it's probably Troy or someone, maybe even Gary to check how he's holding up alone with the kids (which annoys Paul to no end), Paul doesn't bother to investigate, just waits for the inevitable sound of the doorbell.
The doorbell doesn't ring though. Instead, the front door opens and not a minute later, Pikachu comes running into the kitchen. And Paul hears Ash's unmistakable voice, hollering, "I'm home!"
"Mommy!" Skye and Cinder yells in unison. Skye sprints toward the foyer while Paul helps Cinder get her seatbelt off.
Ash soon appears through the archway with Skye balancing on his hip, and tosses the hooded jacket he's holding onto the counter.
"Mommy, Mommy! You're home." Cinder practically jumps off her high chair and leaps up in Ash's open arm.
"Yes, baby, Mommy's home." Ash plants a kiss on her cheek, asked, "Have you been good to Daddy?" to which Cinder nods exaggeratingly in response.
"Hey, you," Paul says and steps into his husband's space as soon as Ash settles both their kids on the floor. He presses a quick kiss on Ash's lips then regards him suspiciously. "Why didn't you call to let me know you were coming home?"
"Because," Ash presses his lips to Paul's once more, this time lingering longer, "communication is still down at Orange Islands. But as soon as the storm eased up this morning, Brock and I asked Professor Ivy to lend us her speedboat. I was supposed to call you when we reached the harbor but we saw Professor Oak there waiting for a ship, said he was so worried that he planned to go to Valencia himself."
Pikachu breaks the moment, says, "Pika, pika," and hops on a chair next to Skye.
"Right," Paul says. "Let's have breakfast.
At noon, Paul peers into the living room where he finds Ash on the couch with their children on both his sides.
"Were you scared? Did Daddy keep you safe," he asks Cinder, brushing the fringe off her forehead.
"Yup." Cinder holds up her Piplup doll. "And Piplup too."
Ash pulls Cinder up on his lap. "Piplup kept you safe?" When Cinder nods, he adds, "We'll have to call Aunt Dawn and thank her again for giving you the doll."
The storm doesn't let up in the afternoon as expected. Talk about unpredictable. Rain starts pouring heavily again at night, with thunder and lightning to keep it company.
"Remember when we were in a similar situation years ago?" Paul says as he sneaks into the room, ready to call it a night and climbs on the bed after Ash.
"Hm?" is all Ash says, confused, but then his expression changes quickly and he says, "oh," then, "oh yes, I do remember. What about it?"
Paul can feel the sinister grin forming on his lips. "Remember what I told you when you returned home?" When Ash tilts his head, clearly not following what Paul's trying to say, Paul sighs, leans over to give Ash's lower lip a playful nip and says, "I promised I won't let anyone send you off to some forsaken place in the middle of a grumpy weather, told you I'd even fucking get you pregnant again if that was what it would take to keep you home. Safe."
"And that was how Cinder was conceived." Ash's eyes grow wide. "You're not thinking of doing that again, are you?"
"Maybe not." Paul shrugs, eases Ash to lie on his back and covers Ash's body with his. "Maybe I will." He doesn't get any resistance from Ash, nor hear any protests.
Once they've divested themselves of their clothes, Paul does a quick job preparing Ash then he's sliding in and thrusting and making love to his husband.
The soft roaring of the thunder and the ceaseless beating of the rain against the ground drown the lewd sounds that ripple out of their throats.
It's the sharp crack of thunder that wakes Paul up this time, but he doesn't jerk awake – just floats out of deep sleep. He waits for the telltale sound of doors slamming, of light footsteps across the hall. But none comes. Nothing.
"That's some nasty thunder," Ash says, voice still soaked with sleep. He shifts from Paul's side, leaving the comfort of Paul's embrace. "I'll go check on the kids."
"No." Paul's hand curls around Ash's arm. "I'll go check on them. Go back to sleep."
Low, growling sound echoes outside like bowling balls rolling across the sky.
Paul ambles along the hallway, footsteps silenced by his padded slippers. Skye isn't in his room and Paul starts to worry. He tries Cinder's room, hoping his son has decided to be big boy and keep his little sister safe.
Colorful lights dance through the crack underneath the door to Cinder's room. Paul pushes the door open and the soft glow of blue and orange and yellow and green caresses his face when he sticks his head through the gap.
On the bed lies Skye fast asleep with Pikachu cuddled on his right side and Eevee on his left. Infernape is perched on the edge of the bed, cradling a sleeping Cinder in his arms.
"Infernape," the Pokémon whispers and Paul knows it means 'hush, she's fine.'
The sound of the door opening and closing prompts him to look over his shoulder and he brings his finger to his lips when he sees Ash approaching.
Ash doesn't utter a word, just slides next to Paul and peers into Cinder's room. He glides inside and plants a kiss on their children's forehead, whispers, "Good night my sweethearts. Night Pikachu and Eevee. Night Infernape," then joins Paul on the threshold. He slithers an arm around Paul's waist and gives Paul a peck on his cheek. "Let's go back to sleep."