Frantically, he dashed towards the Pokémon Center. When he came inside, Rachel was slouched miserably on one of the velvet armchairs. Nurse Terri had been rubbing her back soothingly when Kurt came in.

"You too?" she asked knowingly. "Blaine is pretty tough. Don't feel bad for losing to him, honey."

Kurt rolled his eyes at this insinuation. "For your information, I just won against Blaine," Kurt snipped, feeling his chest shift mysteriously when he said the Gym Leader's name. Rachel's eyes snapped upwards, her mouth falling open, and Terri began imitating a Magikarp.

They babbled aimlessly all the way up the elevator, mostly consisting of Rachel switching between asking Kurt about Blaine's various facial features on scales of one to ten and asking for battle tips. He indulged her until Kurt swiped the key in the door, shooing her away with the promise of fresh food from the market after he had some time to himself in the shower.

Kurt chuckled as she skipped through the bathroom door to her own room and sighed.

He was going to be a Pokémon Master.

That felt good.

But not as good as the feel of Blaine's hand in his.

That spurred him into motion; he raced around the room, forcing himself to think of other things (things such asEevee and Pavarotti and Potions and Pokémon Centers and gelled hair and hazel eyes and oh. Fuck. ) as he gathered his things from around the room — towels, toiletries, fresh pajamas and underwear — before slamming the door shut in the bathroom and blasting the hot water.

Somehow he had gotten it into his mind that if the water was hot enough it would numb his brain, but it unfortunately heightened his senses. And made it so the only thing he could seem to think about was the Dalton gym leader.

It was just so difficult to get those eyes, sparkling with life and scanning over Kurt, out of his head. It really was juvenile; Kurt should have thought of things such as future gym battles, and his plans for tomorrow and the next town to pursue but none seemed to be as crucial to Kurt's brain as a certain someone's mega-watt smile.

God. Why did staying on the Pokémon Master track have to be so hard?

… Literally.

Kurt left the shower more frustrated than he entered it, toweling off and dressing quickly. But his fuming emotions dissipated once he opened the door to his room to find Rachel in her pajamas and ready to eat; the entirety of the feast Kurt had purchased laid out on the floor.

"Ready to celebrate?" Rachel grinned.

"Rachel, this is-" Kurt smiled, joining her on the floor. "This is- wait, didn't you have to cross the bathroom to get in here?"

Rachel shifted nervously. "I didn't linger," she said vaguely.

Kurt pushed aside her strange quirks in favor of the scrumptious food in front of him.

They sat cross-legged on the floor, laughing and flicking food at one another. They did a dramatic reenactment of that dog movie — Vulpix and the Snubbull — by slurping a spaghetti strand until they reached the middle, and they fell back, hysterically laughing until they were coughing and crying.

"I'm so tired," Rachel complained as they lay on the floor. Kurt was focusing on perfectly balancing a breadstick on his nose.

"I'm not," Kurt said, the breadstick losing its equilibrium and falling to the floor. Rachel snorted and Kurt glared at her. "What?"

"You don't want to sleep because you'll just dream about Blaine," she sing-songed, and he rolled his eyes, not wanting to admit that she was probably right.

"Whatever, Rachel."

"I totally understand, Kurt. I used to feel the same way about Finn."

Kurt gagged slightly, sitting fully upwards so he could mime heaving. She crossed her arms, glowering at Kurt until he was finished. "That's disgusting. That's gross. He's just this enormous pile of boy," Kurt whined. "Not to mention he's my brother."

"And what is Blaine?" Rachel asked, her voice hurt. Kurt raised an eyebrow. "100% man?"

This caused Kurt to laugh incredibly hard, his guffawing becoming contagious until Rachel joined him.

The next morning, they said goodbye to Nurse Terri, keeping it brief so that she wouldn't get weepy on them. She seemed the type.

"Where are we headed next?" Rachel asked interestedly.

"Haverbrook," Kurt replied, pulling out his town map. "I think we should restock on Pokémon food before we go."

"I've got that covered, I got some last night."

"Where do you find time for all these errands, Rachel?"

"You called me Rachel!" she trilled happily. Kurt looked at her strangely. She smiled shyly at him. "You've always called me Berry. I don't know. It's nice."

Kurt didn't know what to say to that, so he just gave her a smile as well.

"The city limit is up ahead," Rachel commented, looking up the brick pathway. Everything in the town seemed to bepaved with bricks. "We have to make our way through Route 393, and cross Lake Parity on the ferry."

"Sounds good to me," Kurt responded, and took her arm in his. They began to strut down the path in a strange skipping formation, laughing when they failed at recreating the "Wizard of Kanto" scene.

"Wait!" came an urgent voice from behind them.

Kurt and Rachel stumbled around, arms still linked and smiles still wide to address their caller.

But Kurt's smile dropped immediately and he suddenly felt quite off-balance indeed.

"God, you guys skip so fast," Blaine Anderson panted, coming to a halt in front of them.

Kurt kept his mouth shut tight for fear of blubbering words spilling out.

"Blaine!" Rachel said, a little too loudly. "How nice to see you again!"

"So you two are together then," Blaine said, attempting a connection.

Kurt said "No" at the same time Rachel said "Yes" before switching positions immediately.

"I mean," Rachel interrupted as Blaine chuckled, "Yes, we are traveling together."

"But we're not together," Kurt finished.

"He doesn't roll that way," Rachel stage-whispered.

"Rachel!" Kurt squeaked.

"So we play on the same team," Blaine said, looking a little too much like an excited puppy for his own good. Kurt stifled his joy by observing him carefully and for the first time realized he was not in his uniform. He thought theprepster-cardigan look rather suited Blaine. So did dark skinny jeans, and high-tops. In fact, he thought homosexuality rather suited him as well…

"So," Rachel said brightly, wrenching Kurt away from his borderline-creepy once-over of Blaine, "What's up? Why are you here?"

"OK, this is going to sound weird," Blaine warned, his voice deep, his head lowering mischievously. "You're going to have to hear me out."

Kurt would listen to anything Blaine said if he kept talking with that voice. Rachel nudged him violently with her elbow.

"Yes, OK. What's up?" Kurt blurted. Blaine took a deep breath.

"I'm not cut out for being a Gym Leader," Blaine declared. Kurt's eyebrows must have hit his hairline. He glanced over at Rachel, who looked similarly surprised. She also looked rather scandalized; understandable. It seemed like Blaine was throwing away what was her dream. "As I said, hear me out. My dad kind of pushed me into doing it. He's a big funder at Dalton, it's big money politics, things like that.

"Anyways, I never got to go on my own journey. I was given my Pokémon. I didn't even get a chance to catch them myself. The only reason they've gotten so strong is that I've sparred them so often against Wes, David, Thad…" He listed a few more names, counting them off on his fingers. He shook his head, dropping his hand. "I don't want to stay so sheltered. It's all I've ever been. It's ironic that I give out the Warbler badge like it's something to be proud of when I'm most ashamed of being a bird stuck in a cage."

Kurt nodded, not fully comprehending the depth of Blaine's emotion. Blaine smiled, the grin coming out a little crooked.

"So, I was inspired yesterday. I figured some things out, talked to David, and Wes… reevaluation." He winked at Kurt, and Kurt's face went so red that a Cherrim would pale in comparison. "So, it all comes down to this. My dad's not going to be happy about it but… I wanted to ask you two if I could come with you."

It was silent among the three of them for a moment. "You… come with us?" Kurt choked in disbelief. Blaine shrugged.

"I like you a lot, Kurt," Blaine said seriously, and Kurt had to steel himself from swooning. "And Rachel… you have a lot of enthusiasm." Rachel huffed and folded her arms, but she smiled. "I don't know who else I would want to travel around with."

Silence again. Rachel elbowed him again, and Kurt nudged her right back, just a bit harder. Kurt inhaled shakily.

"We… well…"

"We would love to have you, Blaine," Rachel said quickly, interrupting Kurt's stammering. Blaine's face split into an enormous grin.

"Really? Wow, that's great! You guys, I'm serious right now, you're not going to regret this. I'll help you out however I can, and I'm a pretty good singer so we could sing songs while we walk and stuff…"

Rachel's eyes lit up and she began chatting animatedly with Blaine about different songs, and what key he sang in. Kurt stayed shellshocked. Blaine looked up at him and offered him a genuine, fond smile that Kurt couldn't help but return.

"You make me feel like I'm living a Pokémon dream-"


"I can't sleep, let's train away and don't ever look back, don't ever look back…"

"My heart stops when you battle me-"

"Just one move, now baby I believe…"


"Let's train away and don't ever look back don't ever look back!"

So it turned out that Blaine was a nice addition to the team.

Once Kurt got the fact that Blaine wasn't a gym leader anymore into his head, it was easy to enjoy his presence, not feel pressured to impress him as a superior anymore.

Though he did have a strange urge to impress him in other ways.

That didn't prove to be hard though, because Blaine was instantly impressed by Kurt's singing voice. And his battle style. And his Pokémon. And just Kurt overall.

If Kurt didn't know any better, it was as if Blaine admired him. Ironic, considering that Blaine was the ex-Gym Leader.

After they had travelled for about two hours on the Route and had just gotten ridiculous with their three-part renditions of popular songs (some of their personal favorites turned out to be Pokémon Dream and Hey, SoulSkiploom), they stopped for some lunch by the very edge of the lake.

"The ferry doesn't arrive until five," Kurt read from his guidebook. "So we have a while to go."

Rachel bit her lip thoughtfully as she poured juice from the Thermos into each of their tin cups. "What's the next Gym's type?"

"Psychic," Blaine and Kurt said at the same time. Blaine cracked an enormous grin at Kurt, who returned a faint one back and ducked his head.

"Psychic, Rachel," he repeated.

"…Are you worried?" she asked, face concerned. Kurt raised an eyebrow.

"Why would I be?"

"Psychic moves are not usually that strong," Blaine began to say. "But what's really the thing about them is that the Pokémon themselves have really high Special Attack ratings. So when they hit you with, say, Confusion, it hurts."

"But that's not what I meant," Rachel said quickly, shaking her head. "The thing about Psychic Pokémon is that… well, they're fast, and that's what you've based all your battles on, Kurt."

Kurt staying silent at that, looking at the plum juice in his cup. He swirled it around once and chugged it. "I'm not worried," Kurt affirmed. "My Pokémon are strong."

"You only have two of them," Rachel pointed out, and Kurt shot her a look. Blaine shrugged.

"That's all you need. It's not about the quantity, it's about the quality." Kurt felt himself glow with pride at that.

There was a crash of glass. The three of them looked up, over to a seemingly-abandoned fishing shack. Blaine had leapt to his feet.

"Do you think someone's in trouble in there?" he asked anxiously.

"Blaine, stay out of it," Kurt monotoned, motioning for Rachel to refill his cup. She dutifully complied.

"I think we should check."

Kurt groaned as Blaine made his way over to the shack. He stood as well, helping Rachel up.

The shack door burst open, and there was an angry, drunken yelling.

"So ungrateful!" came a slurred voice.

"Whatever, old man," came another, obviously sober voice.

Kurt knew that voice.

David Karofsky emerged from the dilapidated shack, tossing a Poké Ball up and down. Upon spotting Kurt, he laughed aloud.

"What the fuck are you doing here, fag?" he spat. Kurt flinched, and he could have sworn he heard Blaine actuallygrowl.

"I see you've gathered your little posse here to back you up. What, you're not afraid are you?" Karofsky sneered.

"Do you really have a right to be insulting me when you're the one who forfeited our last battle?"

Karofsky grabbed Kurt by the scruff of his collar.

"You listen here, fancy-"

"Knock it off," Blaine positively snarled, throwing Karofsky's hand away and shoving him a few paces back.

Karofsky looked ready to jump Blaine but paused once he got a good look at him.

"Wait a minute," he frowned. "You're-"

"That's right," Blaine glared at him. "I remember you now. I don't think I've been so disgraced to win a gym battle against such an uncultured swine. And if you were treating that man in there or Kurt here half as rudely as you were treating me-"

"What are you gonna do?" Karofsky shot defensively, but Kurt could see the fear in his eyes.

"One bad complaint from me of you to the Pokémon League and you'll be out of the running, stripped of your Pokémon and your right to adventure. And you're lucky I haven't even done that yet; the way you treat your companions is despicable. Don't push me."

Kurt stared, wide-eyed, at Blaine. Was this the same guy who had just been singing pop songs three minutes ago?

Karofsky looked as if he wanted badly to punch something. Specifically Kurt, the way he was eyeing him, but he restrained himself, letting out a shuddering breath and brushing past all three of them.

"Tell your fancy friends to mind their own business next time," he said as he shoved past Kurt with such a force to send him stumbling back into Blaine's startled arms. "Especially your boyfriend."

"You are just a horrible person," Blaine called as he made to launch himself after Karofsky, swaggering down the path. Kurt pulled him back, patting his shoulder.

"He really, really isn't worth it," Kurt soothed, and Blaine's shoulders sunk minimally.

"Who was that?" Blaine asked, a note of irritation still in his voice.

"Just a guy from my hometown. Ignorant," dismissed Kurt, waving a hand in the air. "The guy will probably try andgo around the lake now. At least we have a time advantage over him."

Rachel was shaking beside Kurt, so he put a hesitant hand on her shoulder. "David is scary, isn't he?" she said, her voice wobbling. Kurt shrugged.

There was a rustling in the cabin. Three heads turned to see an overweight man with an indigo-colored bottle dangling from his hand.

"I try to do one nice thing, and this kid breaks my booze," he muttered. "Kids don't have any respect these days."

"Sorry about that," Blaine apologized.

"Who the fuck are you?" snapped the man. Blaine looked extremely taken aback, his eyes widening and geometric eyebrows scrunching. He obviously was not used to rude adults.

"That guy was some asshole from my town. What did he do to you?" Kurt asked the man. The man grunted.

"My girl left me a few years ago. Standing at the altar," he grumbled, taking a swig from his bottle. Kurt raised an eyebrow; what happened to answering questions? "I'm ready to start over now. I drowned my sorrows for a few years."

"You're drowning them now," Rachel pointed out, and Kurt groaned. The man glowered at her and then focused on Kurt.

"As I was saying, I'm starting over now. I wanted to find some good trainers to take my Pokémon before I head toJohto," the man said.

Kurt's eyes grew wide and he squashed the grin that threatened to break his face.

"Well, I just got my first Gym badge," Kurt said quickly. "First try, too."

"Did you?" the man asked, blearily looking at Kurt's face. "You know what? Come inside real quick."

The trio looked at each other before walking inside the shack. Everything was musty, and dark. The man set the bottle on the table. It read Drüle: Essence of Gloom. Kurt suppressed a gag at that.

"Here," the man said. "My last one. This one was a bitch to catch."

He tossed the Poké Ball at Kurt, who caught it after a brief fumble. "It's yours. Just remember Ken Tanaka when you face the Pokémon League with it."

Kurt nodded dazedly. "You remember Kurt Hummel when I beat the League with it," he said, prompting a snort from the alcoholic. The man waved his hand, dismissing them from his shack.

"Get out of here now. I got to clean up this booze."

The three Pokémon trainers didn't wait another moment before leaving the cabin. Kurt looked at the Poké Ball wondrously.

"I wonder what it is," Rachel put in. Kurt shrugged.

"Throw it in the water and find out, Kurt," Blaine suggested.

"Couldn't hurt, I guess," Kurt said, and strutted to the edge of the water. He twirled the ball into the air. "Come on out, whoever you are…"

The beam of white energy zigzagged into the water and before them materialized —

"Wow," Blaine suppressed a laugh.

"That's…" Rachel trailed off.

"The ugliest damn thing I've ever seen," Blaine giggled.

The Feebas bobbed in the water furtively. "Baaaaaaassssss," it croaked.

Blaine and Rachel burst into hysterics and Kurt frowned at them, leaning down on the bank to beckon the fish towards him. "Now now," he reasoned. "Have you both forgotten the potential this little guy has? You laugh now but I assure you, you won't be chuckling once I beat you down hard with a Milotic."

Blaine stopped laughing immediately, cringing in upon himself just slightly.

"That's right Mister Fire-Specialty," Kurt held his chin high, standing up to poke Blaine's nose. "You thought you got beat bad yesterday? Well…" he trailed off suggestively, raising an eyebrow and turning back to Feebas, leaving Blaine helplessly speechless.

"I think you're lovely, Feebas," Kurt cooed.

Feebas croaked appreciatively.

Rachel giggled as Blaine cleared his throat awkwardly. Kurt returned Feebas to its Poké Ball and busied himself with checking its moveset while Blaine and Rachel gathered their stuff.

"It only knows Splash and Tackle," Kurt complained, putting a clenched fist against his hip. Blaine snorted, but put his hands up in surrender when Kurt whipped around to glare at him.

"There are always TMs," Rachel said meekly, and Kurt sighed.

"Yeah, but I don't have any money to buy TMs."

"I do," Blaine piped up, but Kurt raised an eyebrow.

"I doubt it. Your dad's not going to be happy with you leaving the Gym, right?" Kurt brought up. Blaine's face fell and he looked to the ground. Immediately Kurt felt a rush of guilt. "Oh, Blaine, I'm sorry…"

"No, you're right. But this is better. I really am taking my own journey without help from my family," Blaine attempted, but he still didn't look as chipper as he had before.

Kurt felt the guilt settle deep in his gut and it was silent between the trio until the ferry arrived half an hour later. Poor Rachel fidgeted the entire time, scratching the back of her ankle with her other foot.

"The ferry!" she shouted suddenly, and the boys looked up. There it was; it was a magnificent affair, with enormous white water wheels and an impeccably sparkling deck. Rachel rushed to the turnstile as a crew member descended from the ship, and paid him for three tickets. She motioned to Kurt and Blaine, who rushed to her side.

"Welcome to the S.S. Evans," the crew member said optimistically. "I'm the First Mate, Sam."

"Nice to meet you, Sam," Rachel said, smiling sweetly. Kurt rolled his eyes and Blaine raised his triangular brows.

"Sam? Like Samuel Evans III?"

The Chief Mate immediately flushed high on his cheeks. "Uh, yeah…"

"We went to school together!" Blaine said excitedly. Sam looked at him confusedly, but his eyes lit up.

"You're Blaine Anderson! Man, I thought you were a Gym Leader now!"

"Not anymore. As of today."


Kurt and Rachel looked at each other. Rachel shrugged, and began walking in front of the chattering private school kids. Kurt glanced at the two boys briefly, feeling his stomach twist for some reason. Suddenly he wasn't so fond of Sam.

"Yeah, we just couldn't afford it anymore," Sam was saying. "And we had the ferry to look after. It's a pretty lucrative business, seeing as there's no competition…"

"I get it, I get it," Blaine replied.

Kurt and Rachel walked along the edge of the ship, looking over the edge of the railing at the swishing water. A few more passengers boarded the ferry, then Sam drew up the bridge. The smokestack on top of the boat let out a plume of steam and a deafening roar before the waterwheels began to turn. Glancing over the edge, Kurt saw that the wheels were being helped to turn with the aid of Water Pokémon.

"Sam," Kurt interrupted distractedly, not thinking about whether Sam and Blaine were still conversing. At all. Sam stopped talking at once.

"What's up?"

"Are those Water Pokémon yours?"

"Hm? Yeah, they both are. That's my Spheal and my Buizel," Sam answered genially. Kurt nodded.

"Do you make them do that work?" Kurt asked. Sam looked confused for a moment, but then his face turned stoic.

"No, I'm not forcing them to do anything," he said plainly. "They like when the ferry goes fast, so they just like to give it a little kick-start. Really helps us out too."

"I didn't mean to insinuate—"

"Nah, man, it's cool, I'd probably ask the same thing," Sam interjected, and his wide mouth twisted into a smile. Kurt awkwardly smiled back. Rachel was pinching the bridge of her nose and taking deep breaths.

"Word filter. Use it," she hissed at Kurt once Sam had walked back to the captain's booth. Kurt was horrified; hewas being told to shut up by Rachel motherfucking Berry. What had the world come to? He was the polite one, theclassy one…

"Kurt," Blaine pulled him aside. "Be cool, okay? Sam's a really nice guy."

"I am the epitome of cool," Kurt said coldly, not sure where his passive-aggresive streak was coming from. "I just wanted to make sure that he's not abusing his Pokémon."

"Abusing his- Kurt," Blaine made an irritated face. "Please."

"Sorry for assuming the worst," Kurt said incredulously. "I'm sorry that I've had to grow up among oafs like DavidKarofsky who instill that in me."

Blaine's look of anger deflated immediately, and Kurt only had a split second to take in the pain registered there before the boat lurched with a sickening, muffled crash.

"Holy shit," Sam hissed, scrambling to his feet and leaning dangerously over the edge. "Shit, shit shit, shit shit!"

Kurt, Rachel, and Blaine hurried over to join him, dodging the amounts of panicking ferry-goers on their way.

Kurt gasped.

The side of the ferry bore a gaping, shattered hole where one wheel used to be, a suspicious looking torpedo bearing a mysterious crest in its place. The shards of the wheel were sinking into the ocean and the ferry was beginning to suffer, rocking dangerously to and fro. Sam's Spheal was propelling itself in panicked circles, in shock from the impact.

"What the fuck was that?" Kurt yelled, extremely frazzled.

"Spheal, return! You too, Buizel!" Sam shouted, pulling out his Poké Balls and returning his Pokémon. He turned to the trio. "Shit, this is not good…"

Sam's dad, the captain, came running onto the deck. "What hit us?"

"Someone fished us, Dad, we have to get to shore now," his son said urgently, and his dad nodded. Immediately both Evans men extracted their Poké Balls, throwing the Pokémon into the water.

An enormous splash overtook the ship as three Wailmers hit the lake's surface. Kurt gaped and flicked water from his fingers. Blaine shook like a wet Houndour.

"Come on, everyone!" Sam yelled to the Pokémon. "We need to get this ship as close to the shore as we can!"

The Pokémon made various sounds of assent and began to push the boat forward. People on the deck were beginning to panic, and Captain Evans furiously tried to calm them down. The boat was sinking rapidly, but it was speeding to shore faster than it had pre-torpedo.

"Is there anything we can do to help?" asked Blaine fiercely. Sam shrugged helplessly, his hands finding his blonde locks and pulling.

"We just need to get to shore faster."

"We should send out a flare," Blaine said immediately, and Sam nodded. Without a second of hesitation, Blaine sent his Pokémon onto the deck. "Ember, everyone. Straight up into the sky."

Houndour, Growlithe and Charmander jumped past Blaine, running to the top of the captain's cabin. They tilted their heads upwards and blasted fireballs into the sky in perfect formation.

"Thanks, Blaine," Sam said quietly. Blaine just clapped him on the shoulder, not saying anything. The guilt that Kurt felt at that moment was so all-consuming that he had to brace himself against the vibrating white railing. Rachel patted his back, her face anxious.

"Unload anything you can," Captain Evans barked at Rachel and Kurt. "Anything that isn't necessary to getting this boat to the shore."

Kurt and Rachel were off in a flash.

Out went the spare towels, chests of food, free-standing chairs and tables.

"Lifeboats and life preservers," Sam called out to no one in particular. "Just in case." Blaine, who had just ran over to help Rachel and Kurt, sped off in the opposite direction to open a trunk at the end of the boat and fling out theinflatables.

These turned out to be of no use, however. After floating the boat just essentially more without unnecessary baggage, they made it to the opposite bank just in the nick of time. Sam sprinted to the side of the deck that they had originally boarded, flinging open the door and jumping out to the bank to lead the ferry to the dock as best he could.

"Everybody out, NOW," he projected over the panicked thrum of the crowd.

Captain Evans ushered the ferry guests into a somewhat orderly queue and they piled out, some slumping onto the ground in relief and some taking off on the path that would lead them to the next town. Blaine called his Pokémon back and he, Rachel, and Kurt were the last to leave the sinking ferry just as the police motorcycles arrived.

"Officer Olivia at your service," said the pretty woman with a severe haircut leading the crew. "How may I be ofservi- oh." She cast wide eyes at the failing boat.

"What sort of town are you running here, Newton-John?" Captain Evans bellowed angrily. "We just got torpedoed. Is there an undocumented naval war going on the lake that I haven't heard about?"

Officer Olivia rubbed her forehead tiredly and glared at the sea captain. "We have been having a lot of vandalism lately."

"This isn't vandalism!" Sam burst. "You call sinking a ship vandalism?"

"I never said that," she said coldly. "But the vandalism here is getting worse. And we can never catch who does it. They made an entire building collapse last week. They just kept chipping away at this one wall… we didn't realize until it was too late."

Everyone was stunned into silence.

"Was anyone hurt?" asked Kurt.

"Four. It was an office building at three in the morning, so three security guards and one dedicated worker. But no deaths," the police officer replied. "But this isn't our main problem. The amount of stolen Pokémon…"

"Stolen Pokémon?" Rachel squeaked, and the woman glowered her into silence.

"Yes. I'd bet anything they were torpedoing you to hijack the ship. Your ship is well-known for utilizing Pokémon for help on board," Olivia explained. "All we can do is investigate the matter as deep as we can."

"You better," grumbled Captain Evans. Looking between him, Kurt saw that Rachel was trembling and Blaine was grinding his teeth. He sighed.

"Sam!" came a sudden female voice.

A purple blur flashed past Kurt and latched onto the blonde seaman. "I heard the blast, it was a bitch to get in here… Are you OK? Are you hurt?" asked the young woman, clutching at Sam's face and turning it from side to side to look for bruises.

"I'm fine, 'Cedes," Sam said warmly. She sighed and slapped him lightly on the back of the head. "Ow!"

"Serves you right for worrying me like that! What the hell is wrong with you?"

"We were torpedoed, Mercedes…"

"And you haven't called me in two days! Some boyfriend you are," she huffed, and Sam laughed beneath his breath. He enveloped Mercedes, hugging her tightly, and Kurt looked away from the intimacy of it. "Oh, man, Sam… I was just worried outta my mind."

"I know, I'm sorry."

Mercedes looked up and spotted the trio. "Who are they?" she asked bluntly. Sam straightened and gestured to each of them.

"This is Blaine. I went to school with him, he was a Gym Leader back in Westerville. And his traveling companies."

"Companions, sweetie," Mercedes corrected distractedly. She looked straight at Kurt, raising an eyebrow. "Boy, I know that is not Marc Jacobs' newest collection."

Kurt's eyes widened and his hands flew to his soaked coat. "How in the world…?" Kurt wondered, and a huge smile broke out on Mercedes' face.

"I make it my place to know fashion, baby. You work it out, too!"

Immediately Kurt responded with an enormous smile. "I'm Kurt Hummel," he introduced happily, and she took his hand.

"Mercedes Jones."

Kurt's enthusiastic reply was lost in his throat when Sam lay a hand on his shoulder.

"There will be plenty of time for chit chat back at our house," Sam said, glancing at Blaine as if to sternly say 'Yes, you will be staying at my house.' "But let's try and get all of these people to the Pokémon Center to dry off and recover."

"Deal," Kurt said, jealousy of Sam evaporating in light of his new friendship. Mercedes linked her arm with his as Kurt, Blaine, Rachel, and both Evans men lead the group onto the path leading into Haverbrook.

Kurt could definitely see with his own eyes what Officer Olivia was talking about. The path took them through a small park of a forest, and not only were the benches littered with graffiti, but the trees were carved obscenely deep as well. In fact, most of the graffiti seemed to contain, in one form or another, a very familiar crest…

"Rachel," he muttered.

"I know," Rachel frowned. "The vandalism is just horrible, and we aren't even in the city yet."

"Did you get a look at that torpedo?" Kurt looked at her seriously.

"The crest," Rachel nodded stoically in return.

The trees filtered out and they finally reached the city. Kurt could have sworn he heard Blaine audibly gasp behind him.

It was a sight to see.

All of the buildings were extremely low, but they had roofs that twisted in a way that reminded Kurt of soft-serve ice cream. The cobblestone streets twisted and turned throughout the entirety of the town, which was, from the look of it, very hilly. The entire city seemed to be downhill of the enormous mountain that shadowed it, which Kurtinstinctually knew to be Mt. Intensity.

Rachel gasped in horror, and Kurt looked at her strangely. She pointed a shaking finger towards the town. Squinting, Kurt noticed what was the problem. Every building was coated in a cherry red "C." Some were just remains, seemingly blasted from the inside. A lot of them had eerie indigo burns along the walls.

"Is this town safe?" Rachel asked Sam shakily. He visibly swallowed.

"It gets worse every day," he said sadly, and Mercedes subtly took his hand in hers. "You know the Gym Leader doesn't even take challengers anymore? A lot of the trainers that would come, whether they lost or won, would get jumped as soon as they left the building and have their Pokémon stolen."

"Who is doing this?" Kurt demanded angrily and Sam's eyes darted up to meet his. He glared.

"Don't you think that if I knew, I would do something about it?" he growled, and Mercedes held him back by the shoulders.

"Whoa, big man, careful there," she soothed. She looked to Kurt apologetically. "Everyone who's gotten jumped doesn't talk about it. Too scared. I would be, too. But Rumba was a real legend around here. He's deaf, you know, and all his students are deaf too. Now they don't have a teacher 'cause he's too scared of the repercussions."

"That's just awful," Rachel whispered. Kurt glanced at Blaine, who was glaring at the ground with his fists clenched. He hadn't known Blaine for long, but he was already amazed by his righteousness.

"Well, let's get into town," said Sam, obviously exhausted. They began descending a set of steps into Haverbrook. Kurt's mind reeled with what he could do to help the town, especially the Gym Leader.

"Don't bother," Mercedes said softly to Kurt. She'd separated from her boyfriend. "It's tough for all of us right now. The best thing for you to do would be to continue on your journey and come back when things are figured out. Get your Badge then."

"I couldn't do that!" Kurt exclaimed, scandalized. Both Blaine and Rachel looked at him, alarmed, but he just waved a hand dismissively, shaking his head. He lowered his voice. "No, Miss Jones, I couldn't do that."

"The hell? Miss Jones? Hell no did you just call me Miss Jones." She smiled winningly at him. "It's Mercedes."

"Mercedes, then," Kurt tried, a smile creeping to his lips. "I couldn't just… leave this town. I mean, if things are so bad here, then everyone's in danger, right? Besides, Blaine is obviously cooking up some sort of scheme to help you guys out. Look how focused he is."

Mercedes whistled lowly. "He's your boyfriend?" she asked knowingly, and Kurt flushed a bright red. "Oh, I knew it!"

"No, he's not!"

"But you definitely want him to be, don't you?"

Kurt just moaned, embarrassed, and rolled his head backwards. Mercedes snickered good-naturedly.

"Here we are," Officer Olivia stated, stopping outside a rather shabby-looking Pokémon Center on the top of a hill. The one-story building housed several soft-serve-looking roofs, and pieces of the outer plaster were crumbling away. It was, admittedly, the best-looking building in the entire town.

The crowd filed wearily inside, and Kurt, Rachel, and Blaine were surprised to see that Nurse Terri was welcoming the guests inside.

"Nurse Terri?" Kurt asked once they reached her, and she flailed her arms slightly in surprise.

"Oh- I- well- no," she stuttered, eyes shifting suspiciously from side to side. "You must be mistaking me for my…uh- Sister. Yes, my sister. One of my sisters. There's one of us in each Pokémon Center, didn't you know?"

Kurt noticed she had begun to sweat in her flush. He rolled his eyes but before he could call her bluff she was muttering a sketchy excuse about restocking Pokéfood and scuttling off behind the "Employees Only" door in the back.

"Wow," Blaine beamed happily, "That's really cool how she has a bunch of sisters."

Rachel and Kurt looked at Blaine incredulously.

"Oh Blaine," Kurt sighed, shaking his head in disappointment and placing a hand on his shoulder to lead him into the hall where the rest of the crowd plus the Evans' and Mercedes had disappeared, Rachel tagging along in their wake.

"Everything seems to be in order." Sam folded his arms, glancing around the Center. "Everyone has dissipated. I mean, we did what we needed to: get them across the lake." He sighed heavily, sitting down on the the edge of a love seat. Mercedes sat beside him and rubbed his back. Exchanging glances, Kurt and Rachel drew closer together. Kurt leaned over to Rachel's side.

"Do you want to leave them alone? Sam's not looking too good," Kurt suggested, and Rachel nodded. She quickly repeated this to Blaine, who shook his head.

"I'll stay here. Could you pick up some Super Potions for me?" Blaine asked distractedly. They watched Blaine pull up a Poké Ball-themed ottoman and sit in front of the couple. Kurt bit back a sigh and let Rachel tug him along.