"...Magma and Aqua, huh?"
Lee nods, but remembers that Birch can't exactly see him on a normal phone. "Yeah," he says, glancing over to the rest of the people in the Rustboro Pokemon Center from his spot in the corner. "Sorry Professor, I just sort of... forgot in all the excitement of the last few weeks."
"It's fine, Lee." Birch says back. The professor is quiet for a moment, seemingly troubled. Then he lets out a sigh. Lee can vaguely hear the man stroke his short beard in thought. "I can't very well force this issue, law enforcement is out of my jurisdiction, but I'm going to tip off my League contact that Magma and Aqua may be a bigger threat than originally expected."
Lee blinks. "You can't take this to the Elite Four or Steven Stone?"
"I can, but its going to look very suspect if I say my newest trainer unearthed two terrorist organizations without any proof. We'll have to do this the old-fashioned way. There are a lot of channels this has to travel through before it reaches their level, and the League may start an official investigation. They'll want as much detail as possible, so review what info you can give without outing your origins beforehand."
The zoologist frowns and rubs his face when the action pulls at his scars. "Huh. Bureaucratic red tape. Guess it can't be escaped anywhere."
The professor laughs. "The only certain things in life are death and the government being filled with bureaucratic busybodies, or something like that. I'll get it sent up asap, and Lee?" Birch's tone shifts. "I don't want to put more responsibility on you, but steer Brendan away from trouble, please? He's my only child."
An anxious lump forms in Lee's throat. "Of...Of course, Professor. I'll do my best."
Birch is silent for a few seconds. "That's all I can ask, really. Thanks for letting me know about Aqua and Magma. Stay safe, Lee."
"Same to you, Professor," Lee murmurs, pulling the phone away from his ear and ending the call.
Lee looks to his shoulder where Vulpix lays draped in her usual spot. "Yeah, I do believe that they're still going to be threats, even with the League aware," he murmurs, too low for anyone sans Vulpix to hear. "Trouble has a way of being persistent like that."
The little vixen frowns and flicks an ear, perfectly mirroring Lee's own expression.
"Whats with the gloomy staring contest?"
Man and fox break their eye contact to look to the side, where Zinnia strolls up. The woman stops before them and puts her hands on her hips. "Well?"
Lee grumbles and glances at the time on his phone. 4:34 pm, it reads. "Just thinking is all. I don't think the robber today is the last we'll see of Magma, so we should keep an eye out. That's what my call with Birch was about."
Zinnia scoffs and shakes her head, but stops halfway through the motion as if second-guessing herself. "Right, sure..." she replies with a slow nod, her suddenly intense eyes boring into Lee.
Lee breaks the impromptu staring contest quickly and looks away, nervousness bubbling in his stomach from Zinnia's unexpected focus. "Yeah, uh..."
'That wasn't suspect, was it? I know she's already on to me for knowing her tribe, but a warning about criminals is worthy of scrutiny?'
The dragon tamer eases off her glare and leans back some, stretching her arms up and letting out a yawn. "I dunno about you two, but I could use a nap after today."
"Hey! It's you again!"
Lee glances around Zinnia to the voice that called them and snorts past the sudden guilt he feels. "Good luck with that. Trouble just walked in," he tells Zinnia, who blinks and turns around.
Walking into the Pokemon Center and heading towards him and Zinnia is none other than Ash and his friends. Ash and Pikachu lead with May and Max on his heels. Brock brings up the rear just a few steps behind.
'Why did it take them so long? We've been in Rustboro for a week now. Does the anime meander more than I remember?' Lee idly wonders.
"It's good to see you again, Lee." Ash greets with a smile. On his shoulder, Pikachu offers his own greeting with an enthusiastic "Pika!"
"Is this the kid you didn't want to travel with? He doesn't look like much." Zinnia bluntly asks Lee, making Ash's smile falter.
Lee elbows Zinnia in the side, making her hiss. "Can you not be rude for like five minutes? I said, and mark my words, 'A grown stranger traveling with children is going to look very strange' and I stand by that. Ash and his friends are a good sort." That restores Ash's smile.
"So how was your trip through the woods?" Lee asks, then his eyes move to Brock and Max, who look back at him curiously. "And who are the new faces?"
"It went swell!" Ash replies, a beaming smile on his face. "We had a blast! We met a ton of new pokemon and people, and on the way in we passed by a huge tree that fell. I didn't find a Treecko like I wanted, but I did find this great Seedot!"
Again, Lee's guilt at taking Ash's-HIS Treecko is like a strike to the gut. "Hah... That's great."
The young Kanto trainer then turns to his friend. "Oh yeah! You've met May-"
The girl in question offers a short wave and a quiet "Hi..." to Lee and looks away, a pink blush painted across her face.
'Please don't tell me thats what I think it is...' Lee hopes to himself, feeling Vulpix's amusement bleeding over to him as May nervously twiddles her fingers. Zinnia glances at Lee with a smirk, telling him she noticed too. 'Fucking really?'
"-This is Max Maple, May's brother," Ask introduces the smaller, bespectacled boy, totally oblivious to May's fidgeting. "He wants to be a pokemon trainer one day too, so he tagged along for our journey to see what it's like."
The small boy steps forward, smile fading as he's seemingly intimidated by the scarred man and red-eyed woman before him. "U-uh. Nice to meet you..?" He mumbles, raising a trembling hand to shake.
From Lee's shoulder, Vulpix huffs, drawing eyes to her before she leaps to the ground soundlessly. Max's intimidation is quickly replaced by wonder as the vixen walks up to him, seating herself and holding up a paw in the classic 'shake' pose.
Max is quick to take the offered shake with a budding grin, and when Vulpix doesn't protest, reaches out to pet her. She even makes a show of leaning into Max's hand. Behind him, Ash, May, and Brock brighten up at the sight.
With a short laugh, Lee takes the reigns of the conversation once more. "It's nice to meet you, Max. You've obviously met Vulpix."
The young boy nods, reluctantly pulling away from Vulpix to adjust his glasses. When his hand leaves Vulpix, she leaps back to Lee's shoulder, silently grumbling about her now mussed fur.
'Love you, Vulpix.'
Her grumbling continues for a moment before she acknowledges the message with a little touch of mental affection.
"And this is Brock," Ash finishes his intros, raising a hand to the tanned teen behind him. "He's a good friend I've been traveling with since my first circuit."
Brock steps forward with a hand ready. "It's nice to meet you. I've got a Vulpix myself, and it speaks a lot about you that she's so calm around strangers."
Lee takes the offered handshake with a small grin. "I assure you, she makes it much too easy for me. A normal Vulpix probably would have torched me by now."
Brock laughs. "Well now that we've got that out of the way..." He turns his eyes to Zinnia.
"Oh no..." May mutters, turning her embarrassed visage away in advance.
'So he's already done this several times, eh?'
"Who might this lovely flower be?!" Brock exclaims, rushing up to take Zinnia's hand, drawing the eyes of the entire Pokemon Center. Lee can already feel his face heating up in second-hand embarrassment as Vulpix just stares.
"Uhh..." Like most of Brock's 'victims', Zinnia seems stunned initially and takes a hesitant step back. "Zinnia is the name."
"Zinnia..." Brock gushes with a goofy smile. "A beautiful name for a beautiful woman..."
A moment later, Zinnia's face takes on a sickly sweet, almost vile smirk, one promising mischief. "Brock, huh?" she swoons in a manner only a love-struck fool would believe. "Oh, goodness me I've needed a man like you," she slowly looks away, a dusting of red lighting her cheeks. "The boys I've been traveling with can't appreciate the company of a woman, a woman with needs like me."
Ash's crew look on, all of them visibly confused by the turn of events, and none of them getting Zinnia's undertone.
Brock, however, does. Even squinting, his eyes light up like Christmas came early. "I-I'd love to provide for you in any way I can!"
Zinnia leans in, unsubtly puffing her chest up to push out her bust against her already tight shirt. "Really?"
"Really!" Brock agrees, head little more than a blur as he nods along.
"Well," Zinnia coyly looks away with a smile. "There is this TM for Dragon Pulse in the Pokemart..."
Zinnia yelps when someone grabs her cloak and physically pulls her away from Brock, leaving the tanned teen dumbfounded.
Lee turns, finding a scowling Brendan with the end of Zinnia's cloak balled up in his hand. "Don't try and pull that on the poor guy! He obviously doesn't know any better!"
"You little shit!" Zinnia whirls around to pull Brendan in a headlock with an irritated growl. Brendan struggles and cries out in pain when the draconid woman drags her knuckles across his skull in a violent noogie.
"Let go of me, woman!" Brendan coughs as he tries to pry himself from her grasp. "Ever heard of deodorant? Your pits stink!"
"Fucking..." Zinnia redoubles her abuse, making the young Birch flail.
Lee turns to the now sobered Brock and the rest of the kids with a fragile smile. "This is what I travel with. Fun, right?"
May takes her hands off of an annoyed Max's ears with a frown. "Foul-mouthed, more like."
"Oh, get over yourself, girly," Zinnia says, finally letting Brendan go. The boy grumbles and takes off his hat to fix his hair as Zinnia levels May with a raised brow. "Hang out with Mister Henson here for any length of time, and you're going to hear a real potty mouth," she points a thumb at Lee.
May's ire settles in record time as she glances Lee's way. "W-Well, a little is okay I guess if it's not too much..." She murmurs, looking down at her feet and poorly hiding her pink face.
Lee stifles the instinctive response to call Zinnia something unflattering and just sighs. "So, Ash. Taking the gym challenge in Rustboro?"
"You know it!" Ash grins, Pikachu adding his own short cry to the reply. Ash's grin falls a little when he pulls a little card from his pocket, a gym acknowledgment like Lee and Brendan got. "We have to wait five days though..." He mutters.
Brendan finally finishes fixing his hair and joins the rest of the group's little circle. "Yeah, there are record numbers of trainers starting this year," he says, replacing his white beanie back onto his head. "The wait times are expected to only go up as the year goes on."
Ash groans and slumps. On his shoulder, Pikachu pats his trainer's cheek with a paw to try and console him.
"That's pretty inline with my time as a Gym Leader," Brock chimes in with a nod. "Though, I think Kanto has a larger population of trainers than Hoenn, so give or take a few days."
"But I didn't have to wait for our battle?" Ash turns to Brock, a look of confusion overtaking him. "I didn't have to wait in all of Kanto, or Johto for that matter."
Brock nods. "Professor Oak's Lab Trainers get moved to the front of the line for a lot of services in Kanto and Johto, so every time you signed up for a Gym battle, you got the next spot. Hoenn doesn't practice that."
"What?!" Brendan squawks. "Why don't we get that here?! What a jip!"
"Well, I'm rearing for a battle now!" Ash looks directly up at Lee, who feels himself shrink. "I really want to see what Seedot and Taillow can do. What do you say?" On his shoulder, Pikachu's cheeks spark in anticipation.
"Fine by me."
Everyone turns to Zinnia, who smiles and takes a single step forward. "The boys had their fun with the Gym and the crook we busted, but I haven't had a good battle since I battled Lee back in Oldale. If you want a fight, then it'll be with me. I want to see what a Lab Trainer under Professor Oak can do."
The Kanto-born trainer grins and doesn't protest the opponent change at all. "Awesome! Around the back of the Pokemon Center?"
"Ash," Brock gently starts. "We need to have our pokemon treated by Nurse Joy first, remember? We were just on the road for a week."
Ash pulls the brim of his hat down over his eyes sheepishly. "Ah, right..."
"Whats this about a busted crook?" Max asks, looking towards Zinnia, who in turn glances at Brendan.
Brendan grins, dipping a hand into his bag to pull out the now scuffed badge case to show everyone. "Some dork looking to impress a gang swiped my badge, but me and Lee ran him down and beat him in a two-on-two pokemon battle. You shoulda seen it! My Marshtomp and Lee's Treecko stomped his Houndour and Buizel easy."
"We won because he was a poor trainer with weak and malnourished pokemon," Lee dryly interjects, raining on Brendan's parade and making the boy turn to him with a betrayed look. "If he had been a bit more competent, or his pokemon in better health, we could have been in serious danger, Brendan. I want to keep my near-death scrapes as infrequent as possible, thanks."
"What's wrong with a bit of danger?" Ash asks, sounding genuinely confused. He crosses his arms with Pikachu mimicking him. "We've been in a bunch of near-death situations before and gotten out just fine."
"I'm sorry, what?" May quietly asks behind him, looking over to Brock, who just chuckles nervously and shrugs.
Lee pinches the bridge of his nose and screws his eyes shut. 'That's because you and your friends have plot armor, Ash.' Outwardly, he sighs and opens his eyes again. "We won't keep you guys all day. We've got a few things to do today before we get back on the road," Lee shoots a look to Zinnia and Brendan from the corner of his eye, and thankfully, both get the hint and nod along. "I gotta admit, I'm looking forward to Zinnia and Ash's match, so-"
"Oh shoot that's right!" Ash needs no other prompting as he rushes to get in line for the Nurse's desk.
As he sprints to the end of the line, May turns to Brock with unease plain on her face. "Brock? What was that about the near-death situations?"
The older teen sighs and shakes his head. "Don't worry about it, May," he says, walking to join Ash.
"Normally when you tell someone don't worry about it they're going to keep worrying," Max dryly comments as he and his still unsure sister follow after Brock.
Lee, Vulpix, Brendan, and Zinnia are left alone in the corner of the Pokemon Center.
"Yeah, now I know going with you was the better option, Lee," Brendan says after a long moment.
"Near-death being common for him?" Zinnia wonders aloud. "I know Oak has made some badass trainers over the years, but that seems a little..."
Lee just slowly shakes his head and reaches up to stroke Vulpix under her chin. "Now you see why I didn't want to hang out with him?" He asks, looking back to the group of kids nearing the front of the Pokemon Center line. "We're already been in a hospital fire and nearly been killed by a sky-scraper sized tree. I'm already over my quota of dumb shit for the next decade."
Less than an hour later, both groups of trainers were outside behind the Pokemon Center at the property's sole battlefield.
Standing across from each other, Ash and Zinnia both grin widely, Ash's an innocent expression of happiness while Zinnia's is much more savage, almost manic.
Off the side, Brendan, Lee, Vulpix, May, Pikachu, and Max stand as Brock moves to take the referee spot at the side of the arena.
"Why is this Zinnia lady so eager to battle Ash?" Max turns and asks Lee and Brendan with a raised brow. "She knows he's an expert trainer with like two leagues under his belt already, right?"
Brendan nods, focusing on the upcoming match with unusual intensity. "That's precisely why. Zinnia is a Dragon Tamer. Dragon-Types grow fastest in battle, and the more desperate the odds, the better the progress."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but Ash just caught the pokemon he's about to use, right?" Lee asks, getting nods from May and Max. "Let's hope he's great at planning on the fly, then. If not..."
May, who is holding Pikachu, looks his way. "If not..?"
Lee grunts. "This will be a short match. Zinnia should not be taken lightly."
At the side of the arena, Brock takes his place. "This will be a standard two-on-two match between Ash Ketchum and Zinnia. Trainers may substitute. Matches will go one-on-one until one trainer is down two pokemon. Challenger chooses first."
"Alright!" Ash takes a pokeball from his belt, complete with a dramatic hat-turn, and lobs the ball into the field. "Taillow! You're up!"
The pokeball splits open with its distinctive pop, and in a flash of white, a fluttering Taillow takes form over the field with a shrill tweet. The bird looks back to Ash, who smiles in return.
"A bird, huh?" Zinnia remarks, pulling her own pokeball from her cloak. "I'll answer in kind. Swablu! Out you go!"
Zinnia's ball is thrown just as high as Ash's was, snapping open to release Swablu in a flash of light. She trills out a light note and locks eyes with Taillow, who glares back.
Back down at the sidelines, May gasps, her eyes practically shining. "It's so cute! What is that pokemon?" she gushes, freeing an arm from holding Pikachu to pull out her Pokedex.
"Swablu, the Cotton Bird Pokemon. Swablu is a cleanly pokemon that often lives in or near cities. If it's cotton-like wings become dirty, Swablu will diligently wash them in a source of clean water." The dex rattles off a little blurb and displays more details to May on the screen.
"Ready?" Brock asks both trainers, raising a hand.
"Ready!" Ask calls.
Zinnia's grin just widens.
Brock's hand chops down. "Begin!"
"Mist!" Zinnia cries.
Swablu rapidly flaps her wings, expelling a Mist so thick and opaque it looks as if it could be cut with a knife. The Mist slowly rolls over the field, more a cloud than a mist, engulfing Swablu and making its way to Taillow.
Ash doesn't sit idle for long. "Taillow! Blow it away!"
The little bird cries an aggressive chirp and flaps his wings as hard as he can, kicking up a miniature gale around himself. The supernatural Mist barely even stirs, however, instead crawling forward lethargically.
"Wha..?" Ash blinks as Taillow trills loudly and tries again, only to get the same ineffective result
"What gives? Taillow should be able to blow Mist away easily. It's just water vapor." Max exclaims.
"Yeah, what's up with that?" May chimes in, shyly looking up at Lee. In her arms, Pikachu looks just as bewildered.
When Brendan looks to him for an explanation too, Lee wracks his brain for an answer. Vulpix is quick to nose his cheek and telepathically offer what she remembers from reading over his shoulder. "Well, this is just speculation, but Swablu might be overcharging Mist with Ice or Water energy, giving it much more substance than normal. A smart move, considering Taillow is much faster than Swablu, and a beefed-up Mist is a serious speed-bump."
"But if the Mist is that thick, how is Swablu going to fight from inside it?"
Zinnia's grin takes on the same feral look it did when she and Bagon battled Vulpix. "Dragon Pulse!"
The inside of the Mist glows an ominous blue, then a second later a stream of wild, whirling blue shoots out of the cloud, engulfing Taillow with frightening accuracy. The bird screeches and flails, diving out of the Dragon Pulses way and looking painfully crispy for the effort. For a second, Swablu can be seen hovering in the cloud through the hole Dragon Pulse made before the Mist closes around her.
"What?!" Ash yells, his confusion is swiftly traded for alarm. "Taillow! Are you okay?!"
The second Taillow takes his eyes off the Mist to turn to Ash, Zinnia barks another order. "Dragon Pulse!"
The cloud glows blue, and once more a stream of spinning dragon fire shoots from it like a flamethrower, heading straight for Taillow.
"Taillow, watch out!"
Taillow spreads his wings to escape, launching up and away just in time. The Dragon Pulse hits the ground where he was a half-second later, heating it to red hot after just a few seconds. All the while, the Mist grows and eats more and more of Ash and Taillow's side of the field.
Lee watches the match closely, idly noting May and Max's wide-eyed expressions. 'I've seen Zinnia use this tactic a few times, but never with this much... hostility? She stopped using it altogether when Marshtomp learned Foresight and when you proved you could evaporate her Mist.' Vulpix silently agrees on his shoulder, pressing her warm, furry cheek to his as he thinks. 'How is she seeing in the Mist anyway? It's not Foresight, Swablu can't learn that... Or can she? Sounds would be a bit muted in the Mist as well, so it can't be pure hearing...'
Taillow flits through the air in a panicked, patternless flight-path as Dragon Pulse attacks shoot from the Mist, nearly hitting him every time.
"Taillow!" Ash cries, suddenly looking determined. "Dive into the holes that Dragon Pulse makes in the mist! Then use Wing Attack!"
The bird rolls out of the way of another Dragon Pulse and charges right for the barely visible Swablu in the mist, his wings glowing a bright white.
Zinnia's grin doesn't waver in the slightest, in fact, it grows. "Swablu! Hit and Run!"
Swablu trills and dives into the thick of the Mist, Taillow just barely missing her. Taillow halts and hovers mid-air, looking around as the Mist closes around him.
Brendan hisses and Lee frowns. 'Bad move.'
Once Taillow is obscured, there is a loud thwack and startled tweet in the cloud, rapidly followed up by another, more violent THWACK and a pained cry from Taillow.
Taillow is struck over and over again by Swablu from inside the dense wall of fog, and each time Taillow's cries sound lower and lower until the noise comes from ground level, then...
Battered and bleeding, a barely conscious Taillow is ejected from the fog, skipping across the ground, once, twice, then sliding to a stop on Ash's side of the field.
"Taillow!" Ash screams, his face screwed up in panic.
May and Max lean forward, their whole forms radiating anxiety. Even Brock's stoney face is creased in concern.
The bird pokemon's eyes snap open, taking on a determined glint. With sheer force of will, he rolls to his feet and stands, panting harshly as he does so.
Mist begins to fade, revealing Swablu still unharmed and hovering mid-air, but her tiny chest huffs and puffs rapidly.
'I can't imagine that Swablu has the best stamina, but does holding Mist really take that much effort?' Lee idly wonders.
Vulpix purrs in her chest. Unbidden, images of Swablu's Dragon Pulse attacks come to mind right in the mental junction between Lee and Vulpix.
"Taillow, are you okay to keep going?" Ash asks uneasily, clenching a fist.
Taillow turns to his trainer, the bird's eyes saying everything.
Zinnia, surprisingly, doesn't jump on the opportunity Taillow presents by turning away. Instead, she slowly frowns, a sharp contrast to her earlier visage. "You're on the ropes. What's your plan?"
'Wrong thing to say,' Lee grimaces. 'I can feel Ash's plot armor activating now.'
"Easy," Ash smiles as his eyes glint with determination. "We can be tricky, too! Taillow! Use Double Team!"
Taillow opens his wings with a loud cry, ghostly illusions taking form around him and obscuring the real Taillow. Taillow's cries seem to come from every single copy in a calamitous din.
"Now, Quick Attack!"
Zinnia openly scoffs. "Hyper Voice," she orders.
All of the Taillows rocket at Swablu from the front, appearing as if a whole flock decided to descend on a single pokemon, and all of them stop dead when Swablu opens her mouth and screams.
Lee flinches at both the sudden, ear-splitting noise and the phantom pain he feels from his wincing Vulpix. He brings a hand up and helps her press her ears down flat.
May and Max both yelp and clasp their hands over their own ears. Pikachu can't shoot May a look for dropping him because he too is too busy covering his long ears with his face twisted in pain. Brock simply winces and powers through it despite being closer.
Ash and Taillow...
Ash grimaces, but Taillow's doppelgangers vanish as he practically seizes mid-air. The horrid sound coming from Swablu visibility distorts the air, no doubt shaking Taillow down to his bones. He falls from the sky rigid as a corpse. It's only halfway into his fall that Swablu finally abates her attack, letting Taillow go limp. With a sad thump, the bird pokemon crashes to the earth and does not rise.
One, two, three...
"Taillow is unable to battle," Brock begins, frowning as he rubs an ear. "Zinnia and Swablu are the winners."
Ash presses a hand to his forehead and gently rubs it, no doubt trying to ward away a headache. "Wow, that was some attack..." He murmurs, drawing Taillow's ball. The unconscious bird is sucked back into the pokeball as a mass of red light. "You did great, Taillow, take a long rest," Ash lets a thin smile rise to his face and he palms his next pokeball. "Seedot, you're up!"
With a throw and pop of a pokeball, a rather ordinary Seedot takes form on the field, blinking and looking back to Ash.
'This is Ash's ace replacement?' Lee wonders, feeling a bead of sweat run down his face. 'Or are things so out of wack now that he'll have some other ace?'
Zinnia stares at Seedot, then with a second's lag, pulls Swablu's ball from her belt. "I'm subbing. Swablu, return!"
As Swablu is returned, Brendan loops up to Lee with a grimace. "She's not about to use Shelgon against a Seedot, is she?"
"What's a Shelgon?" Max asks, he and May turning to Brendan and Lee.
"A powerful Dragon-Type pokemon, the second of three evolutions in the Salamence line," Lee supplies, watching Zinnia draw a new pokeball. "But Shelgon against a fresh Seedot would be laughably one-sided. So..."
Zinnia throws the ball in her hand. "Out you go, Goomy!"
In a flash, the tiny, slug-like dragon takes form out in the field. He burbles and looks around, eyes landing on Seedot. Goomy quivers and sinks in on himself.
"That pokemon looks like a booger." Max blurts. Goomy seems to hear the boy as he sinks lower into himself with a sad coo.
Zinnia scowls and shoots Max a narrow-eyed glare, making him stiffen. "Goomy, get ready."
The little slug reluctantly rises back to his full but diminutive height, looking at Seedot with open apprehension in his beady eyes.
"Second match, Goomy versus Seedot, begin!" Brock chops his hand down.
"Seedot, start us off with a Tackle!" Ash takes the initiative.
"Goomy-" Zinnia can't get her full order out as Goomy squeals and sinks in on himself, shivering as Seedot sprints forward. Seedot hits Goomy head-on, but largely slides off Goomy's slick skin. Enough force is still transferred to knock Goomy back and make his body jiggle in place.
Zinnia growls. "Goomy! Dragon Breath!"
Goomy shivers and opens his mouth, a tiny green flame forming inside. He rears his head back and throws it forward, shooting a weak plume of dragon fire.
Seedot sidesteps out of the way without prompting, letting the Dragon Breath scorch the ground where he stood.
"Looks like we're the faster ones this time!" Ash exclaims, visibly pleased by the turn of events. "Seedot! Keep the momentum going with Rollout!"
The Acorn pokemon mutely falls to his side and begins to spin laterally, becoming a brown blur and throwing up rocks and dirt in short order.
Goomy squeaks and again tries to sink into himself.
Seedot shoots forward right at his foe, and Goomy either can't or won't dodge. With an almost cartoonish splat, Seedot runs over Goomy and leaves the little dragon crushed flat on the ground. With a weary coo, Goomy slowly pulls himself up again only for Seedot to make a wide turn and run him down again with another splat. This time, Goomy refuses to get back up, staying little more than a puddle.
With a sigh, Zinnia runs her hand through her hair and looks over to Brock. "Call it, loverboy. Goomy decided that he's done."
"Uh, alright," Brock unsurely looks at Goomy, who still hasn't gotten up. "Goomy is unable to battle, Seedot is the winner."
Seedot cancels Rollout and stops on Ash's side of the field, taking a few dizzy steps before righting himself. Behind him, Ash pumps his fist with a cheer. "Way to go, Seedot!"
Zinnia returns Goomy to his ball and looks down at her hand. "C'mon, Goom. I know you can do better. Next time, okay?" She shrinks the ball and returns it to her belt, hand going back for Swablu's ball before she stops. "Hey, Ash?"
"Hmm?" The younger trainer responds, giving her his attention.
"Let's call this a draw," Zinnia closes her eyes and lets the hand hovering over Swablu's ball drop. She re-opens her eyes and levels him with an even look. "End it with a win and loss for both of us, yeah?"
"Uhh," The young Ketchum blinks, obviously caught flat-footed by the offer. "I guess that's alright..."
"Why take a draw here?" May wonders aloud. In her arms, Pikachu looks up at her with a blink.
Brendan rubs his chin with a hum. "Dunno. Swablu would have kicked Seedot's rear up and down the arena, and I know she's not doing it to be nice..."
"Alright, Seedot. You did a great job. Return," Ash holds out a pokeball and Seedot is safely stored away again. With the pokemon put away, Ash turns to Zinnia with a bright smile. "Good match," he says simply, holding out a hand for a handshake.
The tanned woman regards his hand without moving for a second, then takes the offered handshake mechanically. "Yeah, I guess."
Ash's smile falters somewhat at the answer.
The pair of trainers separate, and after a few awkward parting words, the groups split, Ash and his friends leaving to find a hotel for the night as Lee and co watch their retreating backs. Several times though, Ash looks back to Zinnia, who pretends to not notice.
Before long, it's just Zinnia, Brendan, Vulpix, and Lee behind the Pokemon Center.
"I'll go ahead and ask what's on all our minds," Brendan starts, looking towards Zinnia with a raised brow. "Why did you give up?"
"It was a draw, not a forfeit," Zinnia shoots back. She crosses her arms and frowns. "Swablu would have gained nothing from that battle. If it wasn't going to help her grow, then why bother?"
"Fun, maybe?" Brendan dryly replies. "A lot of people and pokemon battle because it's entertaining, y'know."
The draconid woman rolls her eyes. "Curbstomps aren't fun. Unlike you, I don't like my pokemon thrashing the defender in one hit. I was expecting... More."
"He did just catch those pokemon," Lee chimes in, looking between his two friends. "A fresh Taillow and Seedot aren't going to be a match for..." He pauses. "A trained Swablu," he sidesteps Goomy's embarrassing defeat at the last second. "Give it time. They'll become powerful pokemon. I doubt this is the last time we'll run into Ash and his pals."
Zinnia's un-ladylike snort tells Lee how much she believes him. "So, what's the plan from here?"
"Unless anyone else has business in Rustboro," Lee pulls his phone from his pocket and opens a map, using two fingers to zoom in on a little island. "We'll leave tomorrow for Dewford. The ferry port to Dewford Island is south back through Petalburg Woods, but Treecko will be about to cut down our travel time to just two or so days with his know-how of the forest, assuming we don't find anything interesting enough to stop for. From there, it'll be a day's ferry ride to Dewford."
The news of going to Dewford seems to pull Zinnia from her funk. She grins and her ruby-colored eyes sparkle. "Beach trip you say? Sign me right up!"
"Sounds fun!" Brendan agrees. "I bet Marshtomp would love some open ocean to explore, and the Granite Cave there is said to have Aron in it!"
Lee smiles at the enthusiasm and tilts his head to look at Vulpix, who returns his look with amusement dancing in her chocolate eyes.
"Bright and early tomorrow, then."
Consciousness comes slowly to Lee, as the first thing he notices is the smell of a spice with no name intertwined with inoffensive hotel shampoo. His eyes crack open lethargically, Vulpix's head tuft of crimson fur partially obscuring his vision of the darkened hotel room. A deeper breath through his nose tells him that the spice and shampoo smell is indeed Vulpix.
The vixen's slow breathing tickles his neck from her spot on his chest, muzzle nestled to the crook of his neck. The blanket over both he and her is overkill, as Vulpix's toasty pelt warms him better than any covering, making him almost uncomfortable with the blanket added.
Lee pans an eye around, spying Treecko laying at the foot of the bed with his arms behind his head, the slow rise and fall of his chest telling Lee that the tree gecko is in dreamland.
To the right of the bed and perched on the back of one of the hotel room chairs, Corvisquire sleeps with what has to be the most peaceful face Lee has ever seen on him. He has to blink to confirm his blurry eyes weren't just playing tricks on him.
Finally, to the left on the other bed, Brendan and Marshtomp sleep haphazardly, the boy and pokemon a sprawl of limbs and coverings. Shroomish, sitting on a claimed pillow, rests with much more dignity.
Blindly grasping for his phone on the nightstand, Lee clicks the power button, seeing '6:55AM' stare back.
"Time to get up I guess," the man grumbles. He gently strokes the back of the fox on his chest. "Hey, love. Time to get up. Long day ahead of us."
Vulpix's brown eyes blink open slowly. She stands on Lee's chest and yawns, doing a full-body stretch before pulling herself out of her trainer's grasp. She hops off of Lee as he leans up and surveys the room. The movement wakes Treecko, who goes from asleep to conscious in a heartbeat. Lee stands and regards himself in the mirror of the vanity in the corner. The scarred, wife-beater-and-shorts clad man staring back looks like he needs some caffeine, more sleep, or both.
Lee turns away pads forward as quietly as he can, silently thanking the nameless designer on this earth that made kitchenettes standard in hotel rooms. He gives Treecko a pat on the head as he passes, prompting the lizard pokemon to bat at his hand in annoyance, and hooks his fingers in the top-loop of his backpack by the bed, bringing it with him.
The kitchenette in the little hotel room is equally small, being little more than an alcove with a minifridge, a small sink, a two-burner stovetop, a coffee maker, and a toaster.
Not much, but hotels that cater to trainers know their clients need only the basics.
Lee fills the coffee maker with the crummy hotel-provided grounds and turns it on. Afterward, he digs in his bag and pulls both a small pan and a large pot out, setting them on the only two burners. It only takes a nudge to pop open the mini-fridge, as it's filled to bursting with a medley of meats, vegetables, eggs, and a container of various berries.
'Just looking at all this makes my wallet sting,' Lee muses, eyeing the berries in particular. 'Love hurts.'
The kitchen prepared, the man sets about making a week's worth of food for his pokemon and breakfast for the whole group. Vulpix and Treecko lounge on the bed and watch, speaking lowly to one another.
The smell of cooking food rouses Corvisquire and Shroomish after some time. The crow pokemon looks around, his usual scowl setting into place as merely being awake ruins his day. Shroomish, meanwhile, just watches patiently.
Brendan and Marshtomp are the last to awaken, bedraggled boy and pokemon sluggishly rolling out of bed and walking like zombies towards the smell of breakfast.
"About time you two got up," Lee says, scooping some of the scrambled eggs in the small pan out onto a pair of paper plates. Brendan and Marshtomp take the food without much of a reaction, both blinking blearily. Brendan also takes the steaming styrofoam cup offered to him and absently takes a sip, only to recoil in disgust.
"Euh! What is this, boiled dirt?!" He cringes down at the cup of coffee in his hands. It's already lightened by a considerable amount of milk and sugar.
"Free is free, kiddo," Lee says, putting the spatula in his hand down to take a sip of his own, darker brew. He forces back a grimace when it goes down like... boiled dirt.
There is a knock on the hotel room door. "I smell food! Let me in!"
Treecko rolls his eyes and hops to the floor, walking over and opening the door in his trainer's stead. Zinnia, still clad in her nightclothes of a cut-off t-shirt and shorts, glides right past Treecko with Shelgon following shortly after.
Lee mimics Treecko's eyeroll and hands her a plate of breakfast with a cup of coffee.
In nine seconds flat, the tanned woman scarfs every bit of food on her plate down and drains the whole cup in one pull. "Ahhh! That hit the spot!"
"Well, that was disgusting," Lee sighs and turns back to the stove, turning the heat on the large pot of omnivore mix off as he pulls ziplock bags from his backpack.
"Real lady-like," Brendan agrees with a snort.
Zinnia smirks and turns her nose up after tossing the cup and plate in the trash. "You two wouldn't know a real lady even if one came up and kicked your ass."
"Right..." Lee mutters. "Anyway, does everyone have everything they need? Once we're in the woods, there is no resupplying without a huge detour." Inwardly, he wonders if the Super Potion he bought the day prior is overkill.
Certainly felt like overkill on his bank account.
"We've got everything," Brendan says, forcing the last of his rancid coffee down with a shudder. Marshtomp warbles in agreement. "Gunna go get ready now!" He turns and scoops up his backpack, quickly producing bowls of food for Marshtomp and Shroomish before slipping into the bathroom. The sounds of the shower starting follow shortly afterward.
Zinnia scoffs. "Even if I didn't, I'd make do. This is a beach trip we're talking about! I'm not delaying that."
Behind her, Shelgon nudges her leg and growls.
The dragon-tamer sighs and slumps. "I'll run to the Pokemart and look to make sure I didn't miss anything." She turns back to her pokemon with the beginnings of a pout. "Happy?"
Shelgon's growl sounds particularly pleased.
"Alrighty," Lee looks to his pokemon. "Anything we're missing?"
Corvisquire clicks his beak with narrowed eyes as if saying 'I would not tell you if there was.'
Treecko simply shakes his head.
Vulpix is silent for a moment, and Lee can feel her mind churning through a checklist. As fast as she started, she makes it to the bottom of the mental list and shakes her head much like Treecko.
"Alrighty, then," The man turns to the still steaming omnivore pokemon food and bowls out two servings for Vulpix and Corvisquire as Treecko's veggie mix just comes off the stove. "Eat up and roll out."