Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon.

Thanks so much to Umbree for your review! It's really nice to know that people still read. So, here's the next chapter. I hope that everyone enjoys this because I know I had fun writing it!

Chapter Thirteen: Difficulty Unsurpassed


Willa turned to me, a prideful smirk on her face, her crazed eyes wheeling, "Yep! What do you think?"

"I think you've gone a tad bit insane."

"What?" Willa said, drawing out each letter of the simple word. She scratched her matted hair and, to my surprise, pulled out a twig. It was another question that I needed to ask. What the hell had she gone through to catch that freakin' Zangoose?

"I think you've gone as nutty as a Crobat."

"Hey!" she exclaimed in faux indignation, "I happen to know plenty of trainers with Crobat who are…" she trailed off. "Um, okay. Never mind. Besides, you look like a Aipom's playmate." She gestured to my muddied appearance.

I grinned at her, ignoring her jab, "So are you going to tell me exactly how this all happened?"

Willa smiled back, and I saw the split in her lip as she did so. Blood trickled from the cut and I sighed, "Maybe you need to get checked out, too."

She shrugged, "Yeah. I guess."

"Finally!" one of the nurses not named Joy exclaimed. "We've been telling her that ever since she got here!" The nurse grabbed Willa by her bruised arm and took her off to the back room, Willa laughing maniacally all the while.

I wondered, idly, if she had finally snapped.

Shaking my head, I looked over to the counter. I had healed my Pokemon earlier that day, right after I had captured my first gym badge, so that was out of the question. They had told me that Zeke's Combee sting had completely healed earlier than the nurse in Floaroma had told me, so the bandages were no longer necessary. Ozzy was in better shape than Zeke, due to his type advantage. They were both healed, but I was a little nervous at how Zeke would take his defeat against that wretched Onix.

I turned to the head nurse and booked a room. Looking at Spencer, still latched to my side with his nose in that book, I decided to book one for three. The nurse smiled at me and handed me three keys. I told her to give the third one to Willa - or as I referred to her as "the crazy blonde with the Zangoose" - and went up the stairs into the room.

"Come on, Spencer," I called.

He jolted, looking surprised as I tossed him his key. He fumbled it, not sure whether to catch it or keep reading about the habits of Cacnea, and it clattered to the floor. Spencer pushed his glasses up on his nose and bent over to pick it up.

"I'm rooming with you?"

"Yup, me and Willa." I rolled my neck, feeling the soreness and tension in my body. As well as dried mud. We walked up the stairs a ways before turning down the hall that housed the rooms. I looked out for our room number and finally found it. I unlocked the door with my key and scanned the room.

Two sets of bunk beds, a run in the center of them. A television propped up on a desk that was pushed back against the small window. It looked like the norm for Pokemon Centers. I glanced to the side and saw a door. Bathroom. Shower. Yes, please.

I dropped my pack on the floor by the door and raced to the bathroom. In mere seconds, I was in the scalding spray of the shower, feeling the caked-on mud fall from my body. I took a small bath towel and scrubbed. I went through two of them before looking down and seeing that the floor of the tub was brown with mud. I scrubbed my hair and everything. I just couldn't get clean enough, it seemed. There was even mud in my ear for some reason.

After what seemed like too short a time, I shut off the shower and wrapped a towel around myself. I stuck my head out the door and called to Spencer, "Hey, Spence, could you bring me my…"

I paused. Opened and closed my mouth like a desperate Feebas.

There was a strange man in my room.

I screamed and flew out of the door, grabbing my backpack and pulling out whatever I could find. Where were my Pokeballs? Why didn't I buy that gigantic knife made out of Aggron armor when I had the chance? Stupid! I had left my Pokeballs hooked to my belt back in the bathroom.

"Miss Corrine, it's fine," I heard Spencer say, "he's my dad."

I paused, looked the strange man in the eyes to find that they were the exact same color and shape as Spencer's, and dragged myself and my backpack into the bathroom before shutting the door, face as red as a tomato.

I heard his chuckle as I got dressed. I changed into the only other pair of clothes I had and put my muddied ones into a laundry basket that was hidden in the closet inside the bathroom. I walked out of the bathroom with my Pokeballs firmly on my belt and was prepared to defend why I had looked like someone out of a bad soap opera.

"Erm," I said, trying to get their attention. Spencer and his father were sitting on the bottom bunk of one of the beds and chatting. Spencer looked happy, but there was a strained look on his father's face that I couldn't place. "Hello."

They turned to look at me and immediately I felt my face heat up. Lovely.

"Uh, I'm Corrine," I stepped forward, adjusting the laundry basket in my arms, "Nice to meet you…"

"Mark," he said. "Mark Rollins."

"Nice to meet you Mr. Rollins."

He waved his hand, "No, no, none of that. My son already has a problem with being too polite. Call me Mark."

"Right. Mark." I tested it out. It was weird, calling an adult by name, but Mark seemed very young, so I didn't focus on it too much.

He was tall, towering over me, and slender. His hair was cut neatly and was the color of sand. He had the same hazel eyes as his son, but they weren't obscured by glasses. He was wearing all dark colors, which was probably what caught me off guard when I had first seen him.

"Dad, this is Miss Corrine," Spencer introduced him. "The one I've been texting you about."

"You've been texting about me?"

Spencer ignored me, "She bought me this book about Carlos!" He pointed to the hardcover book on Cacnea and Cacturne I had gotten him. Carlos leaped on his lap at the mention of his name. "Did you know Cacturne hide in the desert and wait for weary travelers - "

"Spencer," his father said, holding out a calming hand. I could see he had experience dealing with the knowledgeable child. "That's really nice, but did you want to head to another city?"

"I was thinking about going to Pastoria first, if that's okay, Dad. You know, they have a Safari Zone?"

"Yeah, that's fine," his father said, giving him a weary smile that was tinged with something I could only barely pick out. Sadness. "Maybe you should go heal your Pokemon first, and then I'll take you."

"Okay!" Spencer exclaimed before wrapping his twig-like arms around Carlos. I had noticed how small and frail Spencer was when I first met him, but chalked it up to his age. The way he was interacting with his father made me doubt even that. He grasped the bag on the floor next to his feet and walked to the door, though I could sense the enthusiasm in his step.

The door shut behind him, and I heard Mark let out a large breath and leaned over, his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands.

"I hate to pry," I ventured timidly, "but…is Spencer okay?"

Mark looked up at me, his eyes looking far too old for his face, "What makes you ask that?"

I pursed my lips. I wasn't really sure why I thought that, but everything just felt off to me. I voiced the observation I held earlier, "It's just…you don't see a lot of parents escorting their kids to gym cities."

Mark scoffed, a bitter smile on his face, but his eyes didn't leave mine. "Spencer is a good boy. He's my son. He's only thirteen."

He must have heard my sharp intake of breath. I'd thought he was eleven when I'd first met him, but to find out that he was indeed only a year younger than me was like a punch to the gut.

"He's always been a sickly child, ever since he was young. His immune system just isn't as strong as some people's. He's gotten better with age. He can actually travel and battle and all the good stuff kids are supposed to do. He's still got bad allergies, asthma. He needs an inhaler with him at all times. He can't walk long distances without becoming very weak and vulnerable to an asthma attack.

"He's also extremely allergic to electric-type Pokemon. With so many Shinx in the area, it's natural for us to be worried. It doesn't take much for him to have an episode. Not to mention the gym in Sunyshore. I dread that conversation. Because I know he'll want to go."

I felt my knuckles pressed against my lips without even remembering making the motion. The waves of hopelessness coming off of this man were palpable.

"Could he travel with us?" I asked him.

Mark smiled, "That's very sweet of you, Corrine. Spencer seems to have taken a liking to you, but I don't think that's a good idea. Do you have any idea what to do when someone has an extreme allergy like that? Spencer could be walking with you and suddenly collapse. A Pachirisu could pop up and send him into one of his allergic episodes. I appreciate your offer, but…I just couldn't do it."

He paused, smiling wryly, "Not to mention that my wife would kill me. This is kind of our compromise, you know. She didn't want him to go on adventure at all, at first. Then Spencer got all indignant and wouldn't talk to anyone for two weeks. Long story short, my wife let him go on his journey."

"That's good," I said, not sure what else I could possibly do. I felt so helpless, that this intelligent boy would succumb to awful allergies and sickness just like that. I wanted to hug him and to apologize for my rudeness toward him. Guilt settled like a stone in my stomach.

Mark seemed to sense how I felt because he then said, "The best you can do is be his friend. He doesn't have many of those. Give him your number when he comes back." He gave a reassuring smile. "He'll light up like a school of Lanturn."

"Yeah," I breathed, convinced. "I'll do that!"

He smiled and stood up, brushing his pants off before musing, "I'm sure his Taillow will evolve soon enough, and maybe when he gets older, he'll grow out of that allergy. Maybe his body will get stronger." He looked at me and continued, "It never hurts to hope, Corrine."

"No." I smiled, "It doesn't."

I walked downstairs to find that Spencer was just receiving all his Pokemon back from the nurse. That didn't take long at all. I figured that with Willa's crazy self being patched up and her monstrous Zangoose needing medical care that things would run slower, but I had been wrong. Everything was moving as fluidly as ever around the small Pokemon Center.

Mark walked over and placed his hand on Spencer's tiny, birdlike shoulder. "Ready to head to Pastoria?"

Spencer's eyes lit up as he looked at his dad just after clipping the final Pokeball to his belt. "You know it!"

"Good," Mark said in a fatherly tone. He led Spencer out the door, and I found myself following.

"Hey, Spencer," I called.

"Yes?" he asked, turning around.

"Get out that phone of yours if you want my number."

Spencer suddenly grinned - lit up like a school of Lanturn, his father had told me - and brought out his small flip phone. I recited my number and he then sent me a text message with his. I smiled back and saved his number in my phone just as he did the same. I looked at Mark, who was smiling at me in a way that reminded me of my own father.

Mark stepped away from me and dug a Pokeball out of one of his deep-looking pockets. He maximized it and threw it in front of him. There was a crack, a flash of light, and a huge Tropius stood in front of us, fluttering the leaf-like wings on its back in an airy manner.

Amazed at the large Pokemon, I couldn't stop staring. A Tropius. I had never thought I would've gotten to see one in person, they were so rare.

"Up you go, Spencer," Mark helped his son on the Tropius' back before turning to me. "This is Lily. Lily, say hello to Corrine."

Lily craned her head at eye-level with me. I was sure my eyes were the size of quarters. Lily chuckled and licked the side of my head as Mark and Spencer laughed. I wrinkled my nose as I tried to run my hands through my hair. Another shower was definitely in order. Mark took his place behind his son, and looked down at me.

"Our house is in Hearthome," Spencer shouted down to me. "Maybe you could visit sometime!"

"Maybe before then," I reassured him.

Spencer's face lit up again. It was something that I was able to keep my emotions in check after all that I'd learned. "Good luck on with your battle in Pastoria!"

"Thanks! Good luck to you, too!"

Mark gave me a smile in parting before lightly kicking the sides of the Tropius. Lily snorted a bit, as if she knew what she was doing, before laughing - or what I thought was a laugh - and rising into the air. I couldn't help but watch the whole thing, mesmerized by every minute detail of the Pokemon I had just encountered.

I found myself staring at the sky for the longest time, until the blue mixed with the light orange of the setting sun. I didn't want to go back inside for some reason, wanting to continue on my journey right then and there, though traveling at night wasn't necessarily the smartest idea. I ran a hand through my hair, balking at the fact that I might still have Tropius slobber there. That was probably what made me turn back into the Pokemon Center and head into my room.

I found the room empty except for the new backpack sitting on the top bunk. Looks like I'd always be demoted to the bottom bunk no matter who I roomed with. Maybe that was just Jared's influence on Willa. Or vice versa.

Oh, wait, there was something else sitting on the bed.

The Zangoose.

I tensed, seeing its angry eyes settle on me. I reached for the Pokeballs on my belt and immediately unclipped Zeke's before throwing it on the floor in front of me. He emerged in a flash of light, facing me, his dark eyes shaded in amusement. I looked up to see the Zangoose had soundlessly jumped from the top bunk and was now approaching me. Not even able to emit a command, I pointed behind Zeke, who reluctantly turned around.

"Dour?" he asked.

"Yeah, I don't know."

"Zan! Zang-oose! Zangoose!" the Pokemon shouted, brandishing those sharp, deadly claws. It approached us, growling, showing needle sharp teeth. Zeke crouched, ready for action in the small, confined space. I saw Zeke open his mouth, saw the fire start to collect in the back of his throat.

"Zeke! Hey, now, we don't want to burn the place down…"

Zeke turned his head quirked a brow at me. I knew that look all too well. The one he gave me when he thought I was being particularly stupid.

"Zeke, just - "

"Hey, hey, hey," I heard a voice behind me. I turned, seeing Willa dressed in pajamas, several bandages crisscrossing her arms and one on her cheek. There was even less green in her hair than before. "What's happening, my Poke-migos?"

I blinked at her, "You! You kept your freaking feral Zangoose out in a room that I was coming back to! It could have killed us!"



"My Zangoose. It's a she."

I blinked, stunned at the lull in conversation before coming back to my anger, "But - but that doesn't matter!"

"It does to her," Willa said dryly, ignoring my outrage. "If you call her an 'it' again, she may just swipe your little face off."

"I mean - "

"I told her that someone would be coming in here. A gawky girl with brown hair, possibly dragging along a Houndour and Psyduck."

"But she - "

"Goose," the Zangoose rasped.

"Didn't mean to look threatening. My bad." Willa said, completely dispersing the situation.

"Sorry," I apologized, feeling like I'd burst a blood vessel over nothing.

"It's fine; I'd have been mad, too, if it were me. Zangoose are notoriously aggressive." She walked over to her bag and brought out her other Pokeballs before unleashing Milo, Gordon, and Lea in three flashes of light. I looked down at Zeke before releasing Ozzy, who looked clueless and intrigued in the new red-and-white addition to our friend's group.

Willa then plopped down on bunk directly beneath the one the Zangoose had been sitting on. Lea jumped up on her lap immediately, while Gordon floated around and Milo curled at her feet, resting his head on her toes. The Zangoose crossed her arms and walked begrudgingly over to her new team, snapping her jaws peevishly at Milo as he raised his head to look at her.

Ozzy quacked and flailed as he ran around me, and Zeke tried to get him to stop by snapping at his tail. While Willa's team looked like they were raised into royalty, my team was composed of complete spazzes.

"This," she began, jabbing her thumb in the direction of the Zangoose, "is Zafrina. And I'm guessing you're wondering how I caught her."

End Chapter Thirteen.