Five Times In Which Zach Doesn't Get Hurt (And One Time He Does)

1. "Wait, you want me to what?" Zach asks, momentarily relaxing his grip on Ike. As a result, the shinx bounds forward and pounces on Kostya, eliciting a harsh, panicked cackle. "Stop it!" He dives back into the fray before Carlita offers her 'help'.

"Kickboxing," Nick replies with an easy grin.

"Kicking!" Carlita squeals. At least it distracts her from trying to punish Ike.

"I figure, you know, it wouldn't hurt to learn a little self-defense. You're kinda small and you tend to get hurt a lot."

Ike zaps him and he can feel his hairs stand on end. Something smells charred.

"A lot," Nick repeats.

Zach vividly remembers trying to learn fighting moves from Carlita before. He thinks that time he broke fingers, or was it his wrist? Nick insists that learning from humans is the better idea, and it is. For Zach.

Apparently, Carlita was a better teacher than he'd thought. Or maybe he can simply take a hit better. It's Nick who ends up doubled over after a practice round, wheezing and bleeding. And okay, maybe he shouldn't be laughing at his best friend, but who knew that Zachary Jones would trump Nick Sayre?

2. "This place is huge!" Nick shouts, cupping his hands around his mouth. He can swear it echoes back at him.

Hanna preens, proud of this. "Of course it is. Normally it's full of people, but daddy's company is having two conventions at this hotel this week. And it's not hard to convince a bunch of old men not to bother with the pool for a couple hours," she says and drops off her bag onto a pool chair.

It's early evening, the sky still orange and red, and the hotel is a grand thing with an even grander pool. It's half indoor, half outdoor, connected by a small underwater tunnel that Nick immediately heads towards.

"Pokemon are alright, right?" Zach asks nervously, rolling a pokeball back and forth on his knee.

"Of course," Hanna replies with a long, happy sigh. She tilts back and floats on her back, skin already tinged pink. It's a heated pool, and she insists it has mineral water as well. The opulence and fanciness set his teeth on edge. "Des might not like it, but maybe the heat will pacify him. I think one of the connecting rooms is a sauna, but that may be a bit too humid for him..."

"What are you waiting for?!" Nick shouts across the large pool, standing on the edge of a low diving board. He bounces on it like an excited child. Or like Carlita. Zach shakes his head, but can't help the smile. Hanna definitely giggles. "Let's race or something!"

After explaining to Carlita that running around the pool is a bad idea, and making Ike promise and swear that he absolutely will not even think about discharging the tiniest bit of electricity near any water, Zach slips into the warm water. It definitely feels nice and all of the stress melts away. He keeps near the edge at first, keeping an eye on Des to make sure he's alright (he does stick one foot into the warm water, but backs off with a rumble) and glaring at Ike when he gets a little too frisky in repelling Kostya's haunting.

But then Nick manages to sneak up on him and dunks him, and it turns into a splashing contest. Hanna gets dragged in and soon it is a race, or marco polo, or a Jaws reenactment.

And Zach reminds himself how to have fun. Des doesn't drown; he curls up next to Isabella and they talk for most of the evening. Ike doesn't electrocute anyone; he tries the sauna once, but after it makes his fur stand on end, he has much more fun stalking around the edges and batting at anyone who comes close.

Hanna shows off her milotic and they take turns getting rides or trying to race her, but that is what ultimately gets them kicked out. Nick, competitive as he is, tried to coax Chase into the water. Wet dragons don't turn out to be happy dragons. Zach laughs and laughs when, for once, it isn't him or his team that leads to the end of the fun. Hanna and Nick act guilty all through their late dinner, and he still bursts out laughing when they overhear any of the hotel staff asking how part of the heated pool froze over.

3. In a world where everyone is happy and whole and together, Nick is a stealer of kisses.

Hanna has always been more worldly; she drifts from Nick as she learns more and more from Jude, and she needs no lessons in romance from a boy. She needs no lessons on anything. She grows into a trainer with badges of her own—trailing behind the boys, but never far. And she has the knowledge, from Jude, that neither of them fully commit to picking up.

Zach, on the other hand, has always been naïve. If not naïve, then trusting, and if not trusting, then perhaps sheltered. A competent trainer, but not socialized for human interaction. Part of it is Hanna's fault—Jude and Zach never completely get along, and more fighting just scares the younger boy off after awhile—but a larger part of it is Nick's fault. Too much, too fast.

"I just wanted you to ask her out! It was practice and she was cute!" Nick calls fruitlessly. Alice hisses down at him. She, her trainer, and the ghost are all in a tree, hidden (mostly) from prying eyes.

"She is into girls!" Zach calls back down, sounding pained. Still. He's so sensitive, too sensitive, too empathic.

And entirely too focused on the rejection part of it. Nick runs a hand through his hair, putting the other on his hip. "You lose some battles, right? But you still learn from them."

"You are not going to tell me that getting turned down for a dance is like a pokémon battle!"

"But it kind of was!"

"I don't see how anyone so—" Zach cuts himself off and Kostya titters.

Nick arches an eyebrow. Odd. "...So?" he prompts.

"So charismatic," Zach tactfully continues, "can possibly think of asking girls out in terms of pokémon battles."

"Well it helps when you're as dashingly handsome as I." No response, not even ghostly laughing. Okay, it was a weak joke, but Nick doesn't know what else to do. He hadn't been expecting the girl to come out like that. "One loss doesn't mean you're broken! Come on, we can try again."

Still silence from the tree.

Nick rolls up his sleeves and starts climbing. He gets halfway up before the ghost 'accidentally' cracks one of the branches supporting him, and with a yelp, he falls. Zach flails and tries to grab him, but that only ends up with both of them in a heap on the ground. Nothing broken, and not much bruised besides his pride. He hadn't fallen out of a tree since he was nine.

"Still hung up on getting rejected?" he asks brightly, not moving.

Zach, on top of him, shakes his head without bringing his face out of the fabric covering Nick's shoulder. "You're the one who was teasing me for it."

"Me? Teasing you?"

The silence was pointed.

"Okay, fine, but I wouldn't tease you for something like this."

Zach mumbles something into his shoulder.

"What?" Nick asks, confused.

"You're the one saying I should have a girlfriend, or—or a kiss, or at least a date. But I don't even care about that sort of stuff, Nick, I just want to hang out with everyone and continue training for the Elite Four."

Nick, being Nick, only hears that first part. "I never said you should have a girlfriend. Maybe a kiss, because kissing is great and you're kind of getting on in your years."

Zach hisses at him like Ike, crawling off of him.

Nick doesn't let him get far. He grabs him by the shirt collar and brings him forward, crushing their lips together. And then he releases him before he gets attacked by Alice or something.

There is a beat of silence. Zach steadily reddens.

Kostya lets out a high-pitched laugh.

And then Alice attacks him.

Zach doesn't talk to Nick for over a week, but it was totally worth it. At least he's finally gotten less awkward about the girl issue. And if he continues to blush every time Nick winks at him, then that's just a hilarious added bonus.

4. "Oh yeah? And how would you act like me?" Nick asks with a leer. Maybe he's a little drunk, maybe Archie should stop buying him drinks, but he can't resist impressions.

"Seriously?" Zach snorts. He's always a little sharper around people who have been drinking, but it doesn't kill Nick's mood. It certainly never hampers Archie's. "Oh, look at me, big bad trainer. I have a pretty dragon and a puppy dog and I make aaaall the ladies swoon. And every time the Twilight Zone comes on, I have to drag everyone within earshot to come watch it, even though I've already spoiled the episode for them!"

Archie laughs until he spills his drink. Zach leans back in his chair with a triumphant smirk. "He's got you there, I think. Though it's not just the ladies who swoon."

"He's an equal opportunity piece of eye candy," Zach says and shrugs.

That has Archie laughing all over again, and this time, not even Nick can resist a chuckle. "Fine, then I'm gonna act like you."

Zach arches an eyebrow, arms crossed, looking an awful lot like Hanna. Maybe he should do an impression of her next. Archie scoots around to the other side of the table, leaning in with an eager grin.

Nick reaches over and takes the glass of water in front of the brunet. Clearing his throat, he then released a girlish squeal. "Eek, water! Oh no, the bane of my existence! It's going to give me nightmares about Crasher Wake or splash me or something!"

Archie manages to spill the rest of his drink and Zach turns a charmingly irritated shade of red. It's probably a little stupider than Nick would have otherwise liked, but it wast the only thing that came to mind.

"Wait, I know how to do a really good Nick impression," Zach says, and it's in a tone that should have warned Nick. But he only grins.

Zach leans over and kisses Archie full on the mouth.

And then, he stands up and makes to leave. "And now I'm just going to leave and let you ruminate over that. Don't drunk call me at four this time, either of you."

After he leaves, Archie turns to Nick and asks, "You kiss and leave, or am I allowed to get my hopes up?"

"I think he was just trying to make me jealous." Alcohol has slowed his thought processes and Zach acting bratty further soured his mood.

"Ah, so you like to make him jealous." Archie nods sagely and leans back in his chair. "...All the more reason to get drunk off your ass and drunk call him at four."

5. "Why in the name of everything legendary did you think this was a good idea?!"

"Cossette wanted a smeargle!" Zach all but sobs, trying to claw his way free from the mud. The marshy qualities of Route 212, which he had once sworn off, had sucked him down once again. And he had the courtesy to drag Nick down with him.

"I'll have Harlan make eggs if it'll mean we can just leave!" Nick growls, trying to dig his boot out from the muck.

"I don't think Ike would like that," Zachary muses. He simply lays in the mud, face-down, and it's actually alarmingly good camouflage with how muddy he is.

"Then get them to start making kittens or pups or whatever." Nick wades over to him and pulls him up out of the marsh. "She should pay you extra for the mud wrestling."

"She's not paying me, she's just—she asked, but Jude said—it's complicated, okay?" Nick doesn't like the way he dances around the topic. He understands that Zach has taken the blonde girl under his wing, a lot of trainers do that, but the way she has him wrapped around her little finger...

He's not jealous, he tells himself.

Nick whistles, but Serling doesn't appear like normal. She could be too far away, or she might not have heard him over the storm. It started to thunder soon after they had arrived. He doesn't have any flying pokémon with him, just Chase, but the large dragon would only sink faster than they were. And Zach had left Alice with Cossette and Jude, mentioning something about an egg she had claimed as hers.

"This was a terrible idea," he groans.

"I'm sorry," Zach says sadly, but at least he's moving again. He dives down into the mud to retrieve his shoe—and sock—and tries to lean on Nick while he pulls them back on. But that only pushes them both further into it and they have to fight their way back up.

"I think it's getting deeper."

"I really wouldn't doubt it if we managed to find the only case of quicksand marsh in all of Sinnoh."

"Okay, seriously, I will talk to Harlan about this," Nick begs, quite sure that it wasn't up to his waist a moment ago. "She'll pass along some very nice moves to any kids she has, promise!"

"It's not that—Ike would—don't decide these things for your pokémon!"

"I'll buy her a smeargle myself."

"No!" Zach says, too quickly. He turns, pouting, and adds, "I want to do this myself."

Nick frowns. "Yeah, okay, but getting stuck in this muddy tar pit isn't the way to do it. At the very least, we're getting out of here and regrouping. Now come here, we only have one shot at this."

He pulls Zach close, fighting against the marsh as well as the boy's disinclination towards physical contact, and releases Vasudeva. The magmar snarls as he begins to sink into the mud, but grabs them both and teleports before he can get stuck, too. They reappear in the Pastoria pokémon center with a sizable amount of mud.

The Nurse Joy doesn't stop giving them the evil eye, but at least they're out of the marsh. Zach ultimately catches a smeargle in another part of Pastoria's outskirts, and Nick sullenly trails along, wishing childishly that he could ask him for such favors.

1. Zach wakes up with a jolt, and is scared to find himself covered in a cold sweat. His heart is hammering in his chest and his mind replays the nightmare. Intruders into his dreams were not new, would never get old, but it was rare these days to find one so cruel.

It's been three years since Nick died.

He sits up, covers his eyes with the heels of his palms, and tries to calm his breathing. Once he's sure he's not going to burst into a fit of pathetic crying, he draws his knees up to his chest and sets his cheek on them. The dreams of Lola and Nick and the white thing had slowly dropped off since the events of Stark Mountain and since he became the Champion, but every so often, he'd have a bad night.

But this was beyond a bad night.

Ato is dead, Who is dead. Lassie and Kamala have been dead for five years. Jacques can't intrude, and Kostya hadn't in months. He laughs bitterly; he's had more things in his head than he can even properly recall. Why bother trying to identify his intruder?

It was just a stupid dream. A stupid dream that never could have happened, because when has his life ever been that happy?