A/N: Finally an update. This chapter is freaking long. ._. I wanted to split it but didn't know where. I'll warn you that this chapter isn't very shippy until the end. I really don't want the romance to develop too quickly, especially when it comes to a dysfunctional couple like these two. The blatant shippiness should come next chapter.

I also went back and edited the last chapter since I didn't like how it went. The only major change was that I completely deleted the scene with Bel; other than that there's no need to reread.

Name glossary fun:

Yungerer – Alakazam

Ligray – Elgyem

Rokon – Vulpix

Agent Handsome - Looker

Hiyappu – Panpour

"Like, it's fine if you wanna talk to Pokémon and all, but when there are humans around, let them know you're busy talking to the Pokémon or they'll think it's rude," I explained. "Ignoring people is rude. It makes people feel bad. Even if they're boring people, you should still listen and respond to what they say as a sign of respect."

"Oh."

"And speaking of which," I continued, "I know you can talk to Pokémon, you know you can talk to Pokémon, and the Pokémon know you can talk to Pokémon. But, y'know, most people don't know you can talk to Pokémon, and unless you can prove it to them like you proved it to me, they're not gonna believe you even if you tell them. I certainly didn't."

"You thought I was lying?" N's lips stretched into a frown. Clearly he was very offended.

"No," I said honestly, "I thought you were on drugs. No offense."

"Why did you think that?" His frown deepened.

"Because most people who think they can talk to Pokémon are."

"I didn't know you didn't believe me back then." N seemed troubled by this.

Now he was making me feel bad, again. "Well, I believe you now. That's all that matters, isn't it?"

N disagreed. "The past does matter."

"Sorry." That was all I could think of to say.

We were nearing the restaurant in which we were to meet my friends. We'd spent the past couple of hours catching up. It turned out that N knew about most of what I'd been doing – apparently my cartoon and a few other interviews with me were broadcast in Kanto, which was where N had been. Apparently, after he and Zekrom had flown away, they had landed on the first place they'd found once Zekrom got tired – Johto. There, N had wandered aimlessly for a few days talking to people's Pokémon until some kind soul noticed that he didn't belong there and took him in. That kind soul noticed how good he was with Pokémon, and, knowing that N wanted nothing more than to help Pokémon, referred him to a Pokémon orphanage in Kanto. N had lived and worked there for the past year. Apparently, that orphanage also had some kind of a rule that volunteers could only work a certain number of days per year, so N's boss temporarily kicked him out, which is why he flew back here, deciding to take advantage of the spare time to study humans. In the process of getting this information, I had to interrupt him, like, three hundred times to remind him I was there, because he was directing most of his words to Peanut and kept pausing to "listen to" Peanut's comments, getting sidetracked, and not noticing when I asked him something. He'd been carrying Peanut himself, by the way.

So finally I told him it was time for Lesson 1: Basic Conversational Manners. Which was where we were now.

"Anyway, we're here," I said, wanting to change the currently-awkward subject. "Now that you know how to listen to people, you can put your knowledge to the test by engaging in polite conversation with my friends. Come on."

I swung the door open and held it while N hesitantly entered the restaurant. The Waterside Diner is a semi-formal kind of place; fancy enough to be decorated nicely and have good food, but casual enough that you don't have to wait to be seated. I didn't know if anyone else was there yet, so I led N down the walkways, scanning the tables for my friends.

"Me and my friends don't see each other as much as we used to," I explained to N, somewhat sadly, "so we made it a tradition that we all go out to eat somewhere once a month." I caught a glimpse of my brother's distinctive Poké Ball hat. "Oh, there they are."

N followed behind me as I led him towards the table. Bel, unsurprisingly, hadn't yet arrived. Blair was munching on onion rings and facing the door, so that we were behind him. Cheren was facing us, but had his head buried in the menu and didn't see us.

Blair turned around as I approached. He started to mumble a greeting but his eyes widened in the middle of the word as he noticed N. "How's it go – whoa! What's he doing here?"

"Blair!" I scolded. "Don't be so rude! I invited him, of course!"

"But what are you doing here?" Blair repeated, directing his question towards N. "How – when – I thought you left the region!"

N glanced at me helplessly and I jumped into the conversation. "Haven't you ever heard of a vacation? N came back to visit and we ran into each other and decided to hang out." I addressed the explanation to both Blair and Cheren, who had done a double take at the sight of N and was now following the conversation curiously.

"It's been a long time," Cheren said calmly. "Nice seeing you again, N."

I turned around to tell N that now was the part to say "Nice to see you, too!" only to discover that he was literally hiding behind Peanut. He was holding it up against his face and ducking down.

"N, what's wrong?" I asked.

He didn't say anything.

"Hey, N, it's okay. My brother was just surprised to see you. You're more than welcome here. Come sit down."

I promptly sat down next to Blair, because I knew it would probably be awkward if N were sitting next to him. I patted the seat beside me and N hesitantly climbed on next to me, putting Peanut on the table in front of him. Okay, that was a little weird. But Peanut liked being out its Ball, and I didn't want to criticize N too much when he was already not feeling so well, so I didn't say anything.

"So, any word from Bel?" I asked, hoping that shifting some of the focus off N would make him more comfortable.

"She's on her way. I just called her," Blair told me.

"You would call her and not me," I teased. Blair had been crushing on Bel for years.

"Shut up."

A waitress came by. "Uh, sir? Sorry, but it's part of our policy that Pokémon be kept in their Balls here."

N clutched Peanut possessively.

Please, don't let him get into a debate about the morality of Poké Balls here! I thought. I grabbed its Ball out of my bag. It probably wasn't good to keep it out too long, anyway. Peanut got in weird moods when it was out too long, especially when in human buildings."Peanut, c'mere! Quiet time!"

"But it needs freedom!" N protested.

"No, what Peanut needs is a nap," I interrupted, trying to lighten the mood. "It's been out of its Poké Ball getting wound up all day. Good-night, Peanut!" Peanut disappeared from N's arms into its Ball.

N frowned at me. "It didn't want to go back."

"Well, it needs the rest," I argued. "When it gets sleepy, it gets cranky and starts spitting water on everybody. So, I don't care if it didn't want to go back, it has to."

"Okay, then!" the waitress said before N could argue back, giving us weird looks. Yeah, it was a weird conversation."May I get you two something to drink?"

"Lemonade, please!" I said hastily.

"And you, sir?" She slightly emphasized the sir when she looked at N, as if to say See how good I am by speaking politely to the customer even though he's a weirdo who puts Pokémon on the table?

"Water, please."

"All righty. Be right back."

The waitress disappeared and the table again fell into an awkward silence. Well, of course. N had never learned how to interact with humans, Cheren was the most introverted person I'd ever known and mostly just spoke about whatever was on his one-track mind (in other words, Pokémon battles), and I was outspoken and outgoing but not particularly good at making casual conversation. Of the four of us, Blair was the only one with any social skills, and Blair, uh, didn't really like N all that much. We lived separately now, but Blair had traveled with me from Nuvema Town to Nimbasa City, so he had encountered N twice. While I had always thought of N as a harmless eccentric who said some weirdball stuff but was nonetheless a likeable person, Blair automatically hated him because he seemed to be on drugs. When I mentioned that he had dragged me onto a Ferris wheel, told me he was the "king" of Team Plasma, battled me, and then started rambling nonsense about catching Zekrom and taking over Unova, Blair flipped his nut and gave me a long lecture about how associating with him was dangerous and that he was probably trying to rape me. Whatever N's actions were, Blair always seemed to interpret them in the most malicious way possible. By the end of this whole ordeal, after I had told Blair the whole story about what had happened between N and me, and Ghetsis and the legendary Dragons, he seemed to gain a bit more understanding. Evidently he was still a little suspicious, though.

Okay, with all this in mind, I probably should not have invited N to join us so soon - or, at least I should have called ahead. What can I say? I like surprising people, and sometimes my urge to mess with my friends overrides my common sense.

The waitress came back with drinks in large plastic cups and straws. We were still waiting on Bel, so we told her to come back later to take our orders, and began poring over the menus.

I picked up my straw. I had an idea.

"Watch," I whispered to N. I tore one end off the side of my straw and blew the wrapper at Cheren. It hit him square in the forehead, and I laughed while Cheren rolled his eyes.

"Really, Whitlea? How old are you, six?"

"Here, N, you try it! It's the most important part of eating out with friends" I said eagerly, ignoring him. "Rip the end off the straw wrapper and blow it at my brother!"

"Why me?" protested Blair.

"'Cause you were being rude. This is your punishment."

"Is this really number one rule for eating dinner with friends?" N asked dubiously.

"Of course! Actually, it's the number two rule. The number one rule is to chew with your mouth closed. Anyway, give it a try."

N ripped one end of the straw wrapper off, put the other side in his mouth, and blew. I leaned back, but Blair looked N straight in the eye.

Nothing happened.

"It's not working!" N exclaimed.

"Oh, no! Oh, you didn't check both sides of the wrapper for holes, did you? You must've ripped off the wrong side. Darn it. Forgot to mention it. My bad."

"Does this mean I fail already?"

"No, of course not! You tried your hardest!" I assured him. "I didn't mention to look for holes. Here, I'll give you a chance to make up for it! Now watch this!"

I stuck my finger over one side of my straw in my drink and then lifted the straw from the cup. The lemonade remained in the bottom half of the straw. I pointed it in N's face. "Look, it's magic!"

Cheren rolled his eyes again. "That trick was cool when Professor Araragi first showed it to us in elementary school!"

It actually did amuse N, though, and he started playing with his straw the same way.

"Bel's here," Blair said.

Bel was at the entrance, so we both waved her over. She lit up when she saw us,

but, like Blair, did a double-take when she recognized N. To her credit, she was polite about it, actually reaching out to shake his hand and introducing herself. "Whitlea's told me about you," she said.

"And I know about you," N replied. Yes. Yes he did. From stalking her. Or, rather, telling the Shadow Triad to stalk her. Which Bel knew about, because I'd told her.

Luckily, Bel just smiled in response. She wasn't the type to hold a grudge.

Bel was more talkative than the rest of us, so things got a lot less awkward now that she was there. "What do you guys wanna eat? I think I want a B.L.T. That's my favorite type of sandwich. Or maybe I should get a salad. What do you think?"

"B.L.T. But I prefer burgers myself."

I looked at N, who was staring at his menu intently. "What are you gonna order, N?"

"I... don't know what any of this is," N confessed.

"You don't... know?" I asked. How in the world do you go through life without knowing what a burger is? Or a salad? What in the world did he eat?

"Actually, I can't... read."

Oh. Oh. That explained it. My fist clenched around my cup; I felt a familiar anger welling up in me towards the sick people who had been using him all his life. They'd never even taught him to read! Of course they wouldn't. Literacy was considered the key to free thinking. They couldn't have their little brainwashed tool actually forming his own opinions, could they? And what would it matter that his lack of knowledge to read would completely screw up his adult life? He didn't even have a "life"; all he had was a "purpose", like some kind of inanimate object. After he ressurected Zekrom, they didn't give a crap what happened to him. Even trying to look at it from those pathetic lifeforms' point of view made me sick to my stomach.

Even though N was here, I'd been trying not to think too hard about Ghetsis and his followers too much. I still couldn't even hear their names without seeing red. And getting angry right now and potentially bringing up negative feelings was probably not the best thing to do right now, since N was already kind of nervous and sensitive. I took a deep breath and said calmly, "Well, then, I guess that's something else I'll have to teach you."

I looked at N, then at my friends. They all seemed to catch the same meaning as I had from N's words, and looked genuinely upset. Even Blair was looking at N sympathetically. N himself fingered his napkin, avoiding everyone's gaze. He looked... ashamed. I felt even sorrier for him. It wasn't his fault he didn't know.

"Yeah, Whitlea can teach you!" Bel chimed in enthusiastically. "I'll help!"

"I... would like to learn," N admitted. "I know a little bit. One of my friends, Yungerer... taught me a little bit. I'm not smart like Yungerer, though, so I didn't learn very much."

Wait... he learned from a Pokemon? I knew some Pokemon could read, but I'd only heard of their trainers teaching them - not the other way around.

"Oh, Yungerer!" Bel chimed in. "Professor Araragi I are working with one right now! The smartest Pokemon! I think she said they're from, like, Kanto or something?"

"My friend was from Johto," N said. "It was one of the... abused Pokemon that Team Plasma took in... but it always broke my heart, because it would keep teleporting back to its abusive trainer whenever it sensed he was in trouble... and one day, it just stopped coming back. I still don't know what happened to it."

That was... horrible. To watch a Pokémon remain loyal to an abusive trainer like that... it would be heart-breaking. I would've asked the Pokémon to teleport me with it, so I could find the trainer and punch him in the face.

"So, I would like to learn," N continued. "I think that Yungerer would want me to keep learning. But when Ghetsis caught me drawing my ABC's..." The way N flinched instead of finishing his sentence sent chills down my spine.

My fist clenched again. Ghetsis. I would do anything for the chance to personally bash his rotten face in. No death could be painful enough for that sick excuse for a human being. I impulsively sprung to my feet. "That's it!" I said with determination. "N, you are totally learning how to read, and when Agent Handsome catches that shriveled-up dying foot fungus who's going around in a Snuggie maurading as a human being, and puts his sorry butt in jail, N can personally stand in front of him and read him his death sentence!" I slammed my fist on the table.

Everyone was staring at me.

"Shriveled-up foot fungus?" Cheren questioned.

"It's a good insult," I defended. "Except for the fact that a foot fungus is not as ugly as Ghetsis!"

There was more awkward silence. People at other tables were gawking. I sat down. N looked very, very uncomfortable. Don't tell me he still felt loyalty to that sicko.

"If you want to, that is," I added. Guess I shouldn't be pressuring him into taking revenge.

"R-right..." Bel said awkwardly. "Well, before all that, N... why don't you let us know what you do know? What did Yungerer teach you?"

N looked reluctantly from me to Bel, then decided to answer her. "Not much," he admitted. "I'm not smart; not like Yungerer. But it did teach me numbers and those kinds of things - I really like numbers, and the sages let me keep learning math even after they wouldn't let me learn how to read, because math could be a useful skill that could help me find the formula to make Pokemon into perfect beings, whereas reading was useless and could make me waste my time and just a distraction from helping Pokemon - so I know numbers, and I know letters, though I probably forgot some of the capital ones, and I learned how to my name... that kind of thing."

Well, the last part wouldn't be too difficult.

I guess Bel's motherly instinct kicked in from there and she started writing out letters on a napkin. I kind of zoned out. Yeah, Bel would make a better English teacher than I would. She had actual patience, and she was better at seeing things from other people's points of view and explaining things clearly. Meanwhile I was hungry and distracted. Finally the waitress came and took our orders.

Things went pretty smoothly from there. N tried to order a salad, but I made him order a burger, too, because it bothered me how skinny he was. Bel started planning to go to the mall to go to Toyland after this and buying one of those alphabet books – you know, "A is for Apple" or something – and other books that we could use to teach him. Blair and Cheren got into a conversation about whether Nimbasa was more well-known for the Battle Subway or Pokémon Musicals, and I got bored of hearing it, so I distracted everyone by stealing Cheren's chips, which made him really mad since Cheren is a health nut and he already had the calories all planned out and he only got to eat chips, like, once a year, and so I off a part of my hamburger and put it on his plate to make up for it, and so he got mad because I'd already bitten off of my burger and he might catch my germs.

"Whitlea!" Cheren whined. "Now you ruined all fries!"

"I'll buy you some more, geez!" I defended. "Anyway, if you're not gonna eat rest of those, can I have 'em?"

"Whitleeea!"

"I'll take that of a yes," I said, and grabbed a few more.

"Don't!" Cheren argued, snatching his plate away from me. "You ate too much already! You don't wanna end up with high cholesterol, do you?"

"Oh my gosh, Cheren, I'll be fine!" I tried to grab his tray out of his hand but he held it just out of my reach. I wiggled my fingers at it. "Don't waste them! There are starving children out there!"

"You getting fat will not help them," Cheren argued.

"Why do you care if I get fat?" I retorted. "Maybe then at least I'd get boobs! I mean, not that it bothers me that I don't have boobs. It's not like I want a boyfriend or anything like that. But still!"

"Um, we're kind of in public," Blair interrupted, embarrassed.

I leaped for Cheren's plate and he calmly whipped it away while I fell forward onto the table, over my empty water cup. "I'm just looking out for your health, Whitlea," he said calmly. "Eating browned potatoes causes cancer."

"Whatever," I whined, face down on the table. I turned my head to the left and saw... that N was also face-down on the table, asleep.

I sat up and gripped his shoulder. "Earth to N. Hello, hello?"

He sat up suddenly, and looked around in a panic before his eyes fell on me and he settled into mere confusion. Then he blinked and shook his head.

"What happened?" he asked, not totally awake.

"Nothing, really. You were only asleep for a minute or two. Do you fall asleep a lot?" I was incapable of falling asleep before midnight, so I didn't get it, but Bel had a tendency to drift off whenever she sat down for too long. I wondered if N was like her.

"No..." N answered. He still seemed sleepy. This would not do.

"We still have to go to the toy store and buy you a book, OK? And you have to come. And it has to be today. Because otherwise I will get impatient."

"All right..." N mumbled, closing his eyes.

I caught him before he fell back onto the table. "This is no good."

And that was why we dragged N out of the restaurant loaded on coffee.

(-o-)

Note to self: do not N coffee and then take him to the mall. His whole mood changed. Suddenly he was skipping everywhere. Yes, skipping. Also, he wanted to stop and look at everything, and I mean everything. I wouldn't have expected it seeing as he's been living in the real world for several years now, but I guess he'd never seen a mall before.

"Oh! The stairs move!" N exclaimed quite loudly.

"Yeah, it's called an escalator," I said, aware that a few people were staring.

"Why do they move like that? Why is it right next to a staircase? Who operates it?" N started skipping towards it and I ran after him.

"So people don't have to walk. The staircase is for the health nuts like Cheren. I don't know."

N was standing at the front of the down-escalator that led to our floor, watching the stairs fold down and disappear. "Such elegant formulas..." he mumbled. He was kind of in everyone's way. People kept shoving past him to get off the escalator. He totally ignored them. I couldn't help but find this amusing.

"What happens if you fall over and your finger gets stuck in between the stairs?" N questioned.

"You die." My mom used to tell me that when I was little because I always tried to sit down on the escalators and she wanted to scare me out of it. Actually, come to think of it, I couldn't see how it would kill you. Break your arm, maybe, but not kill you. Whatever.

"I want to go on the escalator," N announced. "I've calculated that the chances of spontaneously falling are incredibly low. The only thing that would cause a sudden fall like that would have to be an earthquake, and earthquakes in Unova are practically unheard of. I often forget that, since Kanto has minor earthquakes almost every week, but Unova hasn't had in earthquake in my lifetime. Furthermore, if Unova were to have an earthquake strong enough to throw off a human's balance, that earthquake would likely also throw off the delicate equation that is utilized by escalators, therefore, I would be safe. And there is no guarantee that a fall would result in limbs getting stuck, so I want to ride the escalator!"

"Sure, N. You can ride one," I said, trying not to laugh. Maybe it was horrible of me, since it wasn't his fault that he'd never seen an escalator before, but I couldn't help but find him funny.

"Come on!" N grinned and proceeded to run... t up the down-escalator

I gasped and ran after him. "Wait, N!" I took the stairs by twos and finally caught up to him as he tried to shove past an old couple who were riding the correct way. "Sorry!" I called out to them. Some people paused at the top of the escalator, saw me and N, and opted to take the stairs .

I grabbed N by the hem of his shirt. "We're on the wrong one," I told him.

"What do you mean?" he asked. Then he seemed to notice we were getting pulled back down. "Oh, we have to keep moving." He charged forward with me dragging along behind.

I stopped him when we got to the top. "You're not supposed to go on the escalator that's moving in a different direction, dude. Especially when there are other people on it."

"Oh." N frowned, realizing his mistake. "I apologize."

"No big deal." I grinned. "Actually, I've always wanted to do that. I even tried once, but then mall security saw me when I wasn't even half-way up and then they kicked me out of the mall. So this time, we got... and you're not listening."

He was looking around his new surroundings. "Oh! fountain!" he exclaimed, and set off skipping after that. I smacked myself in the forehead before chasing after him.

"Fountains are really pretty, aren't they?" N asked, staring at the sculpture of a Hiyappu using Water Gun. "But this sculpture is inaccurate. Pokémon can't keep spitting water, or else they'll run out. Also, it has no reason to keep spitting water. Hiyappu only use water for practical reasons, such as to defend themselves in battle or to cool off in the heat. So clearly the person who made this statue does not know anything about Pokémon, or the laws of physics. But I like watching the water. I like water."

He seemed to have calmed down just a little bit, so I took the opportunity to sit down on the ledge of the fountain. I couldn't resist dipping my hand in and feeling the coolness against my wrist. It was a hot day, even indoors.

Naturally, N took this as a cue to freaking jump into the fountain, splashing me. Startled, I lost my grip on the rail, fell backwards, rolled sideways to avoid cracking my skull, and fell in.

"Augh!" I shouted as I sat up. Dang it. I was soaking wet. I gasped and climbed out, dripping. Fortunately my bag was safe; I'd put it down on the ground. "N, you can't just jump into the fountain! I know because I tried it once, and then mall security kicked me out of the mall before I made enough money for the candy-dispensers." I twisted my ponytail, wringing it out.

"Why can't you go in?" N questioned, making no effort to actually, you know, get out.

"I... I don't know? I guess they don't want people to drip all over their mall and make it slippery."

"But... you just jumped in."

"I fell!" I argued.

"Why?"

" Because you startled me! Now get out!"

N obeyed but made no effort to dry off. "I didn't know."

I couldn't help it; I threw my head back and started laughing. "I guess we can thank Kyurem that this mall has such lax security. Gee, whiz."

N did not share my sense of humor. "Why are there so many coins?" N asked.

I looked down. "People say that if you throw a coin into a fountain, one of your wishes will be granted."

" Why do they say that?"

"I don't know. People just like to say it."

"That's flawed logic. There is no way that putting a coin in a fountain could in any way make your wish come true. Unless you wished for the fountain to be full of coins, anyway."

"Of course, N. No one really thinks that. Except little kids, maybe. People just like to do it for fun."

"Why do they say that if they don't believe it? That's lying."

N had never had a chance to make a wish and hope for it to come true. He'd never known that simple childhood thrill. It made me sad.

"Well, for one thing, the money goes to charity, so it's not like it's a total waste. But also, people just... want to believe, sometimes," I explained quietly. "Even if they know that throwing a coin into a fountain won't solve their problems, they like to pretend it will. It just feels nice to have a dream."

"Of course it does," N said. "But only if you make that dream come true. Otherwise..."

Without knowing it I had rummaged through my pocket and found two spare PokéDollars. I held one out to N. "Here. Just make a wish. Maybe then you'll see."

He took it hesitantly and looked at it. I looked at my own. What if I really did have one wish? What would I wish for? It shouldn't be something I couldget with money, since I had plenty of that. Boobs? A boyfriend? Those were stupid. Knowledge? Talent? The ability to speak any language or play any instrument? But if I wanted those bad enough, I could develop those skills. And then there were the cliches like world peace. But forcing people to be peaceful through supernatural means wasn't right, either. When I was a little kid I used to wish I could be a superhero. But I didn't want that anymore, and besides, I was as close to a hero as I was gonna get. My life was all I'd ever dreamed of. I already had more than I could ask for. So the best wish I could think of would be a wish on another's behalf.

Then I remembered that the fountain was not really magical and that this didn't matter, anyway. Still, I took the time to think, I wish that N will have fun making a wish beforetossing my coin into the water. N followed suit.

"Whatcha wish for?" I questioned. I didn't feel like telling him that whole catch about how telling someone your wish voided it.

"...It's pointless," N hesitated. "I know it doesn't mean anything..."

"I just want to know," I said. "It doesn't matter if it never comes true."

"I know, but it's... a stupid thing to wish for. It doesn't matter anyway." He wasn't looking at me while he was speaking.

"It matters to me," I countered.

His brow creased slightly. "Why?"

"Because I want to know how your mind works," I said bluntly.

His expression didn't change. After a few seconds of not reacting, he said in an embarrassed tone, "I wished Zoroark was here."

Zoroark. I remembered a Zoroark. He'd used one in our final battle. It was the only time I'd seen one in person. Was N still releasing Pokémon? I'd assumed he'd keep those that had been with him. "It's not?" I questioned.

"No," N confirmed. He didn't say anything else.

"...Why not?" I prompted after a few seconds of silence.

"It made new friends in Kanto. It wanted to stay behind with them."

"What friends?"

"Pokémon friends, at the shelter. Like Persian and Butterfree and Rokon. Especially Rokon. Rokon was just a baby, and Rokon's past was a lot like Zoroark's, so Zoroark started tending to it like its own young. It didn't want to leave it behind when I left, so I let it stay behind with it when I came here. My other Pokémon all love Zoroark, too. So they didn't come, either..."

"So you miss your Pokémon?" I asked sympathetically.

" Yes. I only have Zekrom with me. But it's not just that. I keep worrying. The last time I left Zoroark behind, he was with Ghetsis. Now it's with my boss. My boss is a good person, at least I think so, but... I thought Ghetsis was a good person, too. I keep thinking about Zoroark, even though we've only been apart for approximately thirteen hours..."

"...Thirteen hours?"

"...Approximately."

"You mean you just got here? How long had you been here when you saw me?"

"Half an hour."

"Well, no wonder you were falling asleep! You must be experiencing some major jet-lag!" I don't know a lot about Kanto, but I know it has a massive time difference. And unlike on a plane, you cannot sleep while riding a legendary dragon. You'd fall off. That combined with how upset he was about being separated from his Pokémon explained a lot about his weirdly sensitive mood. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"...Did you want me to?"

"Well, if I'd known why you were so tired I wouldn't have dragged you around the whole city..."

"Right now I'm not tired at all," N informed me. "Besides, I can't sleep when it's noisy. That's why I was waiting for nighttime."

"Yeah. Let's get this business over with before the caffeine crash. Also, this is Nimbasa City; there's always noise." I thought for a second. "Do you have somewhere to stay?" I didn't want to abandon him to fall asleep on a park bench here. Not only was that uncomfortable, but in a city like Nimbasa, it was asking to get robbed, or worse. Wouldn't want to find N's body in a dumpster, or anything like that.

"There you guys are!" I heard Bel's voice before N could answer. She and the boys came running up the escalator when they saw us. "We were watching a homeless guy do Pokémon impersonations and then you two were gone."

"Why are you both all wet?" Cheren asked wryly.

"We fell in the fountain," I responded in a matching tone.

"I was afraid you were trying to teach N your evil ways, having him steal money from charities." Cheren smirked.

"Okay, that was five years ago!" I protested. "And I didn't know the money went to charity!"

"Sure, sure." Cheren smiled at N. "Don't believe anything she says, N. She's a known fry-stealer; she tells nothing but lies!"

"She does?" N asked, alarmed, while Blair gave him a you-cannot-possibly-be-serious look and Bel giggled.

"No, N. Cheren is just playing around," I explained, before pulling my wet cap off of my head and flinging it at Cheren. He dodged easily. "See, Cheren! You're confusing him!"

Cheren picked up my cap and threw it back at me. "Your aim is terrible. How did you ever catch any Pokémon?"

I threw it back, this time hitting him in the arm. "Shut up, Cheren! At least I don't look like a Caterpie!"

"Caterpie?" N questioned. "What's wrong with looking like a Caterpie? Caterpie are beautiful! Also, Cheren doesn't look like one."

"Inside joke," Cheren said quickly. "From eleven years ago."

"No, let me explain!" I said brightly, grabbing out my wallet. "Look, look! It's a picture of the four of us when we were in elementary school! See, when Cheren was little, he had this ugly bowl cut that made his head look really round, and big round glasses, and sometimes he wore yellow overalls with a green shirt. That, and the cowlick that he still has, made him look like a Caterpie, so when I used to pretend to be a superhero – Pokégirl – I made Cheren pretend to be my sidekick and I called him Caterpieman! Haha." I shoved the picture in N's face. "Doesn't he look like a Caterpie?"

"No," said N. "Caterpie are smaller. And they don't have arms and legs."

Bel giggled again and I tried not to face-palm. He said it like we didn't know that.

"You four have been friends for a really long time," N said quietly as he looked at the picture.

It was of the four of us sitting under our favorite tree by our house. I was dangling off one of the low branches "like a superhero." Blair was looking at me with an obviously annoyed expression, and Cheren was posed properly with his arm around Bel, but just looking at the camera with his mouth open and no expression on his face. Bel was spacing out, drawing in the dirt with her feet and getting her shoes all dirty. I loved this picture of us, snapped accidentally when we weren't done posing, because it captured our essence perfectly.

"Yep! Since kindergarten!" I said proudly.

"When is kindergarten?"

"...It's a grade. You start it when you're five," I said. I have to teach N a out Unova's public school system, too?

"That seems like an unusually long friendship," N said, his eyes moving from me to each of my friends with a renewed interest.

"Yeah, I guess it is," I agreed. But we hadn't been spending as much time together lately. It made me sad, though it was just as much my fault as anyone else's. "... let's move on." I spun around and jumped onto the border of the fountain towards Toyland, motioning for the others to follow.

"Don't fall in," Cheren teased as he caught up. I stuck my tongue out, but couldn't help grinning. Cheren had been a lot more cheerful and interactive these days, after a long period of being mad all the time and not caring about anything but winning battles. It was great.

(-o-)

You know how I said you should never give N coffee and drag him to a mall? Well, especially give N coffee and drag him to a toy store. I thought we could just take him to the books and let him pick them out, but when his eyes widened as the automatic doors opened to reveal a child's paradise, mountains of toys, toys, toys... it was obvious that was not going to happen.

I remembered the feeling I got when I walked into his bedroom and saw a miniature version of Toyland, complete with a moving train set and a block sculpture. The guy played with blocks. That had stuck with me. I knew there was nothing wrong with acting like a kid every once-in-a-while – I still watched Ariadosman cartoons, after all – but there was a big difference between watching cartoons and having a train set in your room that you play with in between stages of your plot for world domination. But then, it sounded like N didn't have a lot of choice. If I was stuck in that room long enough, train sets might start to seem fun to me, too – at least compared to the alternatives. He couldn't read books and he didn't seem to have a television,so perhaps that was all he had to do. So I hadn't thought about it very much since reuniting with him. He had freedom now, so I hadn't expected him to still care about toys.

Apparently, I expected wrong. N stopped to look at every single thing. Finally I got Peanut out of its Ball so N would be too focused on the Pokémon to care about the model cars and plastic block sets with pictures of airplanes on the front. It worked for a few minutes, but then a stray ball came rolling down the aisle. N stopped it with his foot and began twirling it on his finger, which caught the attention of Peanut, who jumped out of my arms and knocked the ball off of N's finger. I tried to keep them moving towards the book section as the two of them tossed the ball back and forth to each other, but then Peanut used Water Gun on the ball and sent it flying down the aisle. The chased it into another aisle, and by the time we caught up to them, they had found a whole pen, as tall as N was and as wide as an elevator shaft, full of plastic balls that they were "liberating" and sending down the aisles. Yeah. Giant sweatdrop.

"You know what? On second thought, Cheren and I can pick a book and you guys stay here and clean this up. Bye!" Bel grabbed Cheren by the arm and began dragging him in the other direction, doubling over in laughter as Cheren reminded her that she was going the wrong way.

Blair and I exchanged looks. Blair's was considerably more annoyed.

"Okay, Peanut, no more circus time," I teased, lifting it off of the exercise ball it was balancing on. "Hey, N, people could trip on these; help me clean up." Fortunately N didn't resist the request; he and Peanut even made a game out of retrieving balls and tossing them back into the ball pen. I couldn't help but laugh as N tossed a ball too hard and ended up having to follow it down into another aisle yet again. I guess it was just cute, the two of them having so much fun doing something so simple. But of course, by the time I caught up with him, he had found the blocks. There was a bucket full of loose ones; someone had made a simple house out of them and left it on the tile. Blair and I watched from afar as he dropped the ball and ran.

By the time we reached him, he had a solid foundation for a castle. Peanut again jumped away and ran to join his new friend, knocking over what existed of N's creation.

N frowned. "Aw, now I have to start over!"

Peanut chirped an apology.

"Um, how old are you?" Blair asked rudely.

I elbowed him in the side, but N didn't catch the sarcasm. "Twenty years and eleven months," he said of-factly.

Blair choked. "You're twenty-one?"

Even I raised my eyebrows a bit. I knew he was probably a little bit older than me, but the actual number still sounded hard to believe.

But of course N wouldn't listen to a human for too long. He was busy tickling Peanut's nose with his ponytail.

Blair and I exchanged looks again. I grinned. "He can drink soon."

A look of horror appeared on Blair's face, and I laughed.

"That is a bad idea, Whitlea," Blair scolded. "Anyway, have fun playing with blocks. I'm gonna go find Bel and Cheren now. Hey, Bel!"

"You guys, come here!" Bel's voice was nearby. I could see the bookshelf right around the PokéDoll Alley, so with one last glance at N and Peanut, I went to go find my friends. Peanut bounded after me.

" I found the perfect book!" Bel exclaimed, holding out a book titled, A is for Ariados. "See, it has all these Pokémon or a Pokémon move for every letter of the alphabet!"

I took the board book and flipped through it. "Looks good," I approved.

"Oh, and here are a bunch of books for beginning readers." Bel gestured to Cheren, who was carrying a stack of colorful paperbacks. "I think N will like them, since they're about talking Pokémon. Oh, and we found some CD's with spelling songs, and a board game to teach how to sound out, and..."

Her enthusiasm was contagious. In the end we filled a shopping cart full of books and materials in every media format imaginable. I didn't mind, though. I had plenty of money.

I gave Bel some money and went to retrieve N while the others checked out. But he wasn't where I'd left him. I went back and got Blair to help me look.

"Why did you leave him alone, anyway?" Blair accused as our eyes swept the aisles.

"He's a grown man! He doesn't need me to baby-sit him!"

"Are you being sarcastic?"

I punched him in the shoulder. "What's so wrong about playing with toys, anyway?"

"Nothing – for a three-year-old."

"Okay, it's weird, but he's not hurting anyone!"

"Yet."

I frowned. That was genuinely hurtful. "Right, you've been acting passive-aggressive like this all day. What is your problem? Why do you assume the worst about people just because they're different from you?"

Blair scowled. "Gee, I dunno, maybe because he stalked you, kidnapped you, harassed you into summoning a freaking dragon to save the region and lured you into his 'castle' where you almost got killed!"

"He didn't know any better!" I argued. "He didn't know his father wanted to kill me! He saved ! If he hadn't healed my Pokémon beforehand..."

"Yeah, and if it wasn't for him, you wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place," Blair interrupted. "Besides, that's not even the point. The point is the way it affected you! Remember how you couldn't sleep for months because you were so scared that Ghetsis was going to break through the window and murder you in your sleep? Oh, and don't forget how Cheren hid away in a cave for a year because he blamed the whole thing on his weakness. Not to mention how Bel never forgave herself for having her Pokémon stolen by his minions!"

I bit my lip. He'd hit a nerve. I always tried to pretend that the whole castle experienced hadn't affected me. I hadn't really been hurt by it, after all. And yet the image of a middle-aged man in a Snuggie screaming about eliminating me still showed up in my nightmares.

But so what? I was strong. I could deal, and, more importantly, I could forgive. "I don't regret anything that happened," I said honestly. "And N was a victim, too. You'd know that if you'd seen his face when Ghetsis was yelling at him. The way he looked after he lost. He didn't know what to believe anymore."

"There are no excuses," Blair said stubbornly.

"I had no idea you were still this angry. Just don't take this out on N, okay?"

"Then don't expect me to get along with him, either."

"Well, no." I frowned. "He's my friend, and you better treat him with respect. And if you hate him so much then why are you even here?"

"Because I'm the only one with a brain," Blair argued, "and I refuse to leave my sister and friends alone with a guy who has previously stalked them."

I better not tell Blair how I found N today in the first place. "Look," I said. "I'm just trying to help him out. He doesn't have anywhere to go, he doesn't have any social skills, and I'm afraid he's going to get in trouble somehow if he's left alone here. I know he's not going to hurt anyone. So that means I'm not going to let anyone hurt him, and that includes you. Okay?"

Blair glared. "Fine. But once we're getting out of here you better me what's really going on, all right? I mean, I don't even know where weirdo came from, and suddenly I'm eating dinner with him? I think I have a right to be concerned."

"Fine," I agreed. I was about to leave, but then a thought entered my head. "By the way, if N is on the other side of the aisle listening to what you said, I'm going to kill you."

"I don't give a crap what he thinks, but thanks for the warning."

I would have responded but couldn't think of anything to say but "You're welcome", which could not possibly sound menacing enough to match my mood, so I left him there and kept searching. "N? N? Hey, I'm sorry about Blair. He's a douche? N? Hello...?" After a few minutes of searching I began to seriously consider talking to the employees to put me on the loudspeaker and call for him there.

This was weird. After a few more minutes I was seriously frustrated. I'd searched the whole store several times and there was no sign of him. Could he have left the store? Was he hiding somewhere? I was about to turn back to find my friends and let them know he was missing, when something caught my eye. The PokéDoll Alley – three small shelves placed together to form a box shape, all of them covered in PokéDolls. A few minutes ago it had been organized neatly. Now all the dolls had been knocked off the shelves and were filling the alley, creating a pool of plush toys. Could it be...?

I moved in to investigate. I didn't see N, but... wait a second. Was that a clump of green hair I saw?

I moved in closer. I caught a flash of gray that was probably his shirt, an inch of pale flesh underneath an Arbok doll, toes of gray shoes poking out from a cluster of toys. Yup. It was definitely him, fully submerged in a sea of plushies. "All right, dude. Very funny. it's time to – oh."

I yanked away the life-sized Entei plushie over his head to see that he was curled up in the fetal position, clutching a life-sized Zorua plushie, fast asleep. A quiet "Awww!" escaped my throat. I couldn't help it. It was... he was... adorable.

I knelt down beside him, quietly removing another large plushie from the top of him. He shifted, curled up tighter, adjusting to the cool air. He looked so calm. I couldn't bear to wake him up.

"Whitlea? Did you find him?" Blair's loud voice came from behind.

"Shh!" I said quietly, placing my finger to my mouth. Blair stopped talking but trotted up beside me.

I expected him to say something witty about freaks falling asleep in the toy store but he just stared for a minute. Maybe even Blair noticed how cute he was. Finally all he said was, "Bel and Cheren are done checking out. You ready to go?"

"I... I guess so. I just don't wanna wake him up," I whispered.

"Where is he gonna go, anyway?" Blair asked.

This was not going to go over well. "I was thinking about taking him home. I mean, we can't just leave him here."

Blair didn't start screaming in protest, but let out a very frustrated sigh. "Fine. Whatever. Let's just go."

We were quite lucky. Bel, who had been doing research on Pokémon breeding, happened to be carrying a Ligray that knew Teleport. After paying for the Zorua plushie (N still hadn't let go of it), the four of us carefully lifted N off the ground and teleported us and our books into my room.

"Put 'im on your bed, Blair," I said. I was holding N by the shoulders, while Blair had his legs. Despite how skinny N was, he was starting to feel heavy.

We quite un-gracefully deposited N on the bottom bunk. N twitched a bit, but didn't wake up. A whole night without sleep plus a major caffeine crash must make for a pretty deep sleep. I carefully removed N's shoes and gently lifted his head to place Blair's pillow underneath it. I noticed Blair was watching me intently.

"I'd put him in my bed, but it would be difficult to get to the top bunk," I apologized. "You can have my bed tonight if you want it."

"Just wash it sheets afterwards," Blair said flatly. "He's covered in dirt. And this is only for tonight, understand? Anyway, I'm gonna go downstairs and explain to Mom why there's a strange older man sleeping on my bed. So she doesn't have a heart attack or call the police, or something. Later, Cheren. Bye, Bel! Oh, and come right down when you're done, Whitlea. Don't forget what you promised."

"Bye," Bel and Cheren said in unison as Blair left.

"You really do have some explaining to do," Cheren said quietly as Bel placed the new books on the shelf.

"I know." I sighed. "Thank you guys for being understanding. Blair was just being a douche."

"He's just worried about you. About all of us," Cheren pointed out. "If you two hadn't noticed, he was really bothered by the fact that we went through so much without him even knowing."

"I know."

"I have to get back to the lab," Bel said cheerfully. "Professor was expecting me an hour ago. I'll see you guys later."

"And I'm leaving, too. I'm getting sick of you people. I'll call you when I'm not sick of you anymore. Good-bye."

"Bye, Bel. Love you too, Cheren," I said as my friends left. They closed the door behind them, and I was alone.

I stood to leave and give Blair the dreaded explanation (could I tell the story without mentioning the stalker-ish part?), but paused for a second. I could hear N breathing softly. Something compelled me to look over him one last time. The Zorua doll rested between his arms. A strand of green hair fell across his forehead and in front of his nose. He kept blowing it away as he exhaled and then breathing it in again. His nose twitched when the hair fell back against it. I giggled and then reached out to brush the offending strand of hair away.

His hair was soft. Okay, I probably shouldn't have done that. I was touching his hair while he slept. Now who was the stalker? I guess we were even; he hides in a bush and follows me, and I watch him sleep. Oh, well. I bite my lip to hide the embarrassed grin that was forming and went to go face my family.

"Sweet dreams," I whispered as I closed the door softly behind me.

Notes: Burgers have been mentioned in Pokémon games before. I imagine they're really eating soy burgers and veggie bacon. The alternative is just too disturbing and I didn't want to deal with the internal anguish N would certainly feel if he were to ever discover he had accidentally eaten a Pokémon. So. Yeah. Veggie burgers.

Whitlea is so flat. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's a little odd that the eleven-year-olds are all bigger than her. Anyway. I imagine she's a bit sensitive about it. Just a little.

Cheren, and Blair/Black/Touya to a lesser extent, tend to get cast as the bad guy in Ferriswheelshipping fics. I'm not trying to make Blair into a bad guy, but I don't think most people would be thrilled if their sisters and friends were hanging out with someone like N, so I had Blair be suspicious. And I imagined Blair to be the kind of guy to say really harsh things when he's mad, so in this chapter we have him acting like a total douche.

Ugh there's something about the transition in this story so far that seems weird to me. I can't pinpoint it, thus I can't fix it, but something feels really off. If anyone has noticed what I have or has some advice, please let me know!