Notes: Set after Chapter 14, which spoilers for the lead-in. Sort of a companion piece to "Patience", though there's no need to read that to follow what's happening here.
Corphish saw trouble waiting for him at the intersection.
Trouble was deceptively cute and innocuous at first glance. A budew toddled along the well's edge, splashing in the shallow puddles forming in the uneven stones. An electrike kept a lazy eye on her from nearby, stretched out sunning by the dirt path. The overall effect of the scene was somewhat spoiled, however, by their third companion: the squirtle. Completely ignoring the others, she leaned indolently against the watering hole, gazing up the road towards the guild. Upon spotting him, she offered Corphish a quick wave and a smirk.
"...Hey, hey." Frankly, he didn't plan on saying much more than that, because Marcy... tended to grate, even in small doses. He only knew her through Team Hanabi, and he still wasn't sure what Laramie and Ichigo had been thinking when they recruited her. Asking was out of the question, given...
"So where you headed?"
"Huh? Oh... Just down to Craggy Coast. Got a few jobs to run down there, so..."
"Craggy Coast, huh?" Nodding once, Marcy declared "Okay, Craggy Coast it is, then!"
At her declaration, the electrike hopped up, stubby tail wagging, and the budew hopped down and hurried over to join them. Taken off-guard, Corphish raised his claws up.
"Hey, hey! That's where I'm going!"
"Where we're going," she corrected him with a roguish grin. "Or don't you think you could use the help?"
"No!" 'Not from you!' almost followed; Corphish had to bite his tongue hard to keep that from slipping out. Instead he tried, "I can handle this alone, thanks."
"You sure?" Tilting his head, the lightning pokémon added, "Craggy Coast's filled with water-types, right? Anise 'n I'll be really helpful, I betcha!"
"Hey, hey! I'm a member of Wigglytuff's Guild! I don't need the extra help!" Scuttling past them, he turned towards the main town with "Now, I was just going to check my supplies before..."
Shrugging off her friend's protests, the turtle added, "Guess we'll just have to wait 'til Bidoof gets out here, guys..."
Corphish stopped dead in his tracks. Bidoof? They were going to wait for Bidoof?
That... could be a problem. Bidoof hadn't been doing so well lately. Even if he had been, Marcy was still Marcy, and Marcy was about the last thing he needed to deal with now. The beaver tended to be easily cowed at the best of times; while Sunflora was supposed to be partnered up with him today, that didn't exactly fix the problem...
...So it came down to that, then. Either scuttle off and trust his friends to handle it, or take care of it himself. Even if that meant...
"...Okay. You guys really wanna tag along?"
Marcy's smirk threatened to split her cheek wide open. Hearing her chuckle, Corphish almost wished it would.
"Only if you're sure you want us now. You aren't gonna try and ditch us, riiiiight~?"
(Don't tempt me.) Biting back that temptation, the ruffian retorted "I told you, hey hey! I'm from the Guild! Just don't get in my way, and we'll be good, alright?"
"Okay!" and she flashed him a thumbs-up and a cheeky, mocking grin.
"We won't let you down!" the electrike swore, wagging his tail so hard that his whole backside swung with it.
"Oooh, I can't wait!" the grass-type squealed, splashing droplets around her.
"...Okay. Meet you back here in ten minutes." With that, he headed into the main part of town. He'd have to make sure he had enough for everyone; clearly he couldn't trust Marcy to chip in there. None of them were making any move to follow, and if they had a treasure bag, he sure hadn't seen it.
...Hoo boy. This was going to be fun, all right.
... ... ...
He wasn't disappointed.
To be fair, some of them were doing better than others. Jace kept trotting along at a good pace, but clearly hadn't forgotten that they couldn't all move so quickly. In fact, between battles he kept letting Anise balance on his back. Corphish wasn't quite sure how she stayed on without any way of holding on, or how she avoided pricking him, but apparently they'd found a method that worked for them. Plus, it meant they stuck together, making them easier to keep track of.
Two of of three wasn't bad. Except...
Yet another guttural scream announced the turtle's latest attack as she charged through the water full-bore. Her poor target barely had time to start turning before her foot slammed into its backside, sending the spheal careening into deeper waters. Laughing, Marcy splashed along, scanning for any signs of other wilds.
No surprise that she ignored him, really. Frustration, yeah, but he wasn't exactly astounded. Wasn't much point in chasing her down, either; Anise and Jace were doing okay so far, but that didn't mean he was about to leave them alone just so Marcy could lead him on a wild-farfetch'd chase.
Let her run around all by herself. Spared him from having to listen to her 'helpful suggestions', like trying to pre-call his moves for him and chewing him out when he used different attacks. Or shoving past him to charge ahead with a war cry. Or chattering on about whatever random 'advice' popped into her head.
Let her have to play catch-up whenever they found the stairs. If he called three times and she didn't respond, he'd just head down without her. Sure, she'd complain when she finally showed up, but hey hey-! They still had jobs to do, and he wasn't about to shirk his work just 'cause she felt like ditching them to chase down the locals.
He'd already found the way out of this part of the dungeon, but they still had unfinished business here. According to one of his missives, Plusle had gotten hopelessly turned around and couldn't find the exit... which was where he came in.
"You smell anything, Jace?" he asked, glancing back to the electric-type.
"Nope..." Anise was perched on his back again, so Jace didn't shake his head so much as tilt it a little to the left. "Sorry, I got nothing."
"Okay..." Looking across the water, he pointed to another pathway. "Let's work our way around and try that way, then."
This wasn't so bad, he decided. If it was just the three of them, Corphish might even have been enjoying himself. But distant splashing and screaming kept reminding him that this hadn't been all that sweet a deal...
...Wait a second. That didn't sound like her...
"Hey!" Barking, Jace dashed towards the cries, Anise hunching down to try and keep her balance. Corphish followed suit, and soon spotted the source. The little electric-type must have been hiding in an alcove somewhere, but that hadn't lasted. Now Plusle scampered along one of the thin paths that wound across the water, while a growling dratini slithered after him.
"You two stay there!" Charging into the shallows, he added, "If you wanna go for distance, be my guest!"
The electrike threw back his head and howled, while Anise slipped off his back and watched nervously. Corphish wasn't sure if either of them knew any good ranged moves, but there wasn't any time to figure out the ground-bound path. Dratini could be sweet, but they were huge - and in dungeons, all pokémon tended to be aggressive.
Laramie knew Razor Leaf, he knew that much - but Laramie wasn't here. He didn't know what kind of TMs Team Hanabi had collected, or if either one of these two had used any, but...
No time for that now, though. Inhaling sharply, he launched a column of foamy bubbles at the Dratini's head, pushing it back slightly. ...Less than he would have liked, but enough to keep it off the poor Plusle's tail.
"No time!" he barked, scuttling onto the strip of land between client and opponent. "Just stay behind me!"
While the mouse murmured assent, Corphish sized up the dragon, watching it shake foam off its face. No doubt he should finish this quickly, but what would drive it off the fastest...?
Another howl let him know Jace was still watching; he glanced their way, making sure the dragon didn't have any friends headed over. Anise looked perfectly helpless, without any way of joining the fight...
-Raw energy surged over him, completely derailing his thought process while muscles spasmed and twitched.
"Ah - aaahhh!"
Blue, red and purple flashed before his eyes; he could taste purple, sharp and bitter and strong enough to make him cough. Swaying, he forced strength back into shaking legs, shook his head to clear it. Feeling more than seeing his opponent's head lancing in, he reached out and snapped - there! Flesh folded between his claws rather than empty air - judging from the feel of it yanking loose and the dragon's shriek, he'd actually nicked one of its headfins.
Not that he felt the least bit sorry for the overblown snake. Stupid Dragon Rage.
A berry bounced off his claw and landed at his feet. Mentally thanking the grass-type, Corphish snatched it up and bit down, swallowing the Oran in two quick gulps. Wouldn't let him withstand another wave like that, but anything that kept him standing right now was more than welcome.
Something else whizzed over his head, and the Dratini screeched again when the pebble caught it right underneath its left eye. While it reared back, Corphish landed another vicegrip on its belly, squeezing softer white scales until it managed to squirm free and retreated, slithering off on its wounded stomach.
"T-thank you!" Tiny paws touched his shell, and the quivering mouse offered him a relieved smile. "Thank you so much! I..."
"Hey... hey hey, no problem," he cut Plusle off, turning round to face him. Already reaching for his bag and badge, he added, "You ready to go?"
Plusle's beaming smile was quickly lost in a burst of light, and Corphish gazed down at his Explorer Badge briefly before pinning it back down. He could walk this off, no problem...! And anyway, they only had like two more floors to go, and he liked making a full run whenever possible. Felt more complete that way, and nobody was going to claim he'd back down from a challenge...
"...An electric-type? Why'd anyone like that need our help here?"
"..." Squeezing his claws tightly shut, Corphish turned towards the tiny turtle, watching her saunter and splash her way over. "...If a client asks for help, we help them. They could be lost, or tired..."
"But that was an electric-type," Marcy stressed, though she followed that up with a chuckle and "But I guess they're no good at pacing themselves. Kinda like you. You look like crap."
If he clamped his claws any tighter, they might split apart. Rather than answer the obvious barb, Corphish just whirled around and scuttled through the water, rejoining Jace and Anise on the far path. Both of them looked a little put-off, he noted with no small amount of pleasure. So the squirtle wasn't just wearing on his last nerve, then...
...Two more floors. Just two more floors of this.
"Hey! Wait up!" Splashing after them, Marcy sniped, "Maybe I should stick with you guys! I mean, I thought you could handle yourselves, buuuuttt..."
...Two more floors. Right.
... ... ...
By the time they made it back to Treasure Town, Corphish was completely convinced: having allies wasn't so bad, unless one of them was Marcy. Calling her 'friend' or 'partner' or even 'ally' was stretching it: how anyone in Team Hanabi managed it, he had no idea.
True to her word, she'd stuck right by his side during those last couple floors. Before they'd cleared the first one, the ruffian pokémon was completely convinced their old method had been better. Apparently, in Marcy's mind, 'teamwork' meant 'rushing headlong at every pokémon you saw, yelling your friends' attacks for them and acting like you were in charge'.
Did she act like this with Laramie and Ichigo all the time? The bulbasaur might be inclined to listen, but Ichigo didn't seem like the type to put up with her antics. Unless she just thought he'd be easy to bowl over, now that her real leader wasn't around to keep her in line...
Once they reached the crossroads, Corphish offered the others a quick nod and wave before turning towards the Guild. Those stairs looked way too high and far too inviting at the moment; an odd contradiction, but anything that carried him away from her at this point was...
"Hey, hey!" Latching onto his shoulder, Marcy spun him around with a cheery "Where're you going? Spinda's is this way!"
"What? N... no, I have to report in... I have to check on our clients... I have to tell Chatot how we did, and..."
But not even digging his feet into the ground did anything more than leave furrows in their wake as the squirtle herded him over to the Café and all but tossed him through the entryway. One less-than-graceful landing later, he found himself shoved into a seat while Marcy offered the red panda a wave and a cheeky grin.
Bounding over to his station, she left Corphish face-planted at their table, wondering exactly what he'd done to deserve this.
Raising his head just enough to fix the electrike with a look, he muttered, "How do you put up with her?"
"She's not that bad..." Trailing off when Corphish twisted to look at her, Anise amended, "W-well, I mean, she got us together, right? So that was good, right...?"
"Yeah, it's better than sitting around doing nothing," Jace chimed in.
"..." Corphish just frowned. Part of him wanted to point out that he'd already had plans and they'd just muscled in on them, but pity kept him quiet. Even though they'd been the rude ones here, somehow, harping on that felt like he'd be the one being rude.
"..." His expression must have given him away, for the budew bobbed forward in a clumsy bow and stammered, "Sorry... for imposing and all. But..."
"...S'alright. Don't worry 'bout it."
"But...! F-for what it's worth, thank you. We really... really needed to get out there and just do something," and she smiled, trying to be reassuring and apologetic all at once. "So... thanks."
"Yeah, thanks for letting us come along," Jace echoed. "It was fun, right?"
"Heads up!" The back of his chair pitched back, then forward as Marcy rocked past it, laughingly dropping their drinks on the table and sliding them around. Corphish barely avoided smashing his head against the table in the process, but before he could protest, the other water-type had a friendly arm around his back and a glass shoved in his face. "There you go, buddy!"
"M-Marcy...!" Anise protested for him.
Naturally, though, it seemed to fall on deaf ears... or maybe the squirtle simply didn't hear her over her own giggling. Either way, she flopped into the seat next to him and raised her glass high.
"To Corphish! For being such a good sport, even if he is waaaaay too serious!"
"..." Their companions didn't echo her cheer, but Jace still chuckled and Anise joined him in nervous giggling after a moment, raising their drinks as best they good. Ignoring the throbbing pain in his forehead, Corphish merely grabbed his own glass and took a long gulp without even bothering to see what it was beforehand.
...The tartness almost made him choke just because he wasn't expecting it. Didn't stop it from being absolutely delicious, of course; say what you would about Spinda, he definitely knew his beverages. The rich, familiar flavor washed through him, soothing his frayed nerves even while Marcy's constant laughter tugged at them.
When he finished, the turtle was leaning over him - he finally registered that she was sitting on the table itself, rather than taking a chair like the rest of them. Somehow, he wasn't surprised.
"You like?" That barely qualified as a question; her tone suggested she'd be very surprised if he said 'No'.
Which made it very tempting to lie just to see the look on her face. Instead, he just nodded, watching her grin threaten to take off the top of her head again.
"Great!" Clinking the edge of her glass against his, she kicked up her feet and added "It was either that or a Stunner, an' I didn't think you'd appreciate the extra buzz!"
Her own beverage was a glaring neon orange, he noticed when she tilted back and started draining it. A far cry from the cool blue of his smoothie, the pale purplish-pink of Anise's tea, or even the electrike's pulpy yellow brew. She leaned back so far that she slipped, slamming the back of her shell (and possibly her head) against the table, hard enough to shake it, but not enough to elicit more than another gale of laughter.
...Marcy was... very, very strange.
Shaking his head, Corphish focused on his drink, chuckling a little. Apparently that attitude was contagious. Who knew?
Finishing his smoothie off, he set the glass down on the table... then, thinking better of it, took it back before a certain swirling tail could sweep it off the edge and took it over to Spinda's station. The panda scooped it up and started cleaning, offering him a smile and a nod towards his companions.
"So nice to see you having fun! There's been such a shortage of smiles around lately!" he piped, spinning in place.
"...Guess so," the ruffian conceded with a slight nod, following his gaze back to the others. Marcy had stood up and was leading her friends in a cheer, trying to spur other customers into joining in... even though her calls for participation were drawing more stares than cooperation. But the stares weren't stopping her from trying, pumping a fist into the air and cheering herself on.
As he scuttled towards the exit, Marcy slid to the edge of the table, waving and calling brightly, "Hey, hey! Corphish! See you tomorrow, right?"
"...Not if I see you first."
She laughed, not the least bit offended by the rebuff. Of course, that was likely because any harshness behind it was offset by his own knowing smirk. Her merry laughter followed him out, ringing in his ears and warming the air behind him as he left the café.