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The boy walked up to the counter wearing a backward hoodie with a bulbasaur glowering out from inside the hood. He handed over a piece of paper.

My bulbasaur Hyacinth started coughing yesterday night. Can you check his throat? I think he caught a cold. He has no allergies I know of.

"Well, sure," Emily said. "It's probably damage from a chest hit, though. You should be careful when battling with small pokemon like these."

The boy shook his head and showed her his notepad. He hasn't been in any battles recently.

"Sure," Emily said again, because "Do you seriously expect me to believe you?" was considered poor customer service. "And your other pokemon?"

Just this one.

"Even if your other pokemon aren't injured - " she started, because the assumption was another one of those polite fictions in front-desk work.

I^ Just ^have this one, the boy amended.

"What, really?"

The boy nodded.

Emily actually looked at him for the first time in the conversation. The boy was slouched down, like he was apologizing for taking up space, something she'd only ever seen from much younger trainers. Could he have just started...? As the still glowering bulbasaur blinked, she realized its eyes had a teary shimmer to them. "Hm... Bulbasaur, could you open your mouth for me quick?"

The bulbasaur made a sort of whining growl with its mouth shut. The boy tapped it on the bulb, and after a moment of delay, it opened its mouth. She peered in. "Oh, that does look a bit red." It closed its mouth again with a snap. "Cheer up, you'll feel better soon!"

The boy worked its claws out of the hood and placed it on the counter along with a pokeball, a coloring book and a box of crayons with Hyacinth gets bored easily written on it. "And your license?"

He pulled out a card with a piece of paper taped to the back. Christopher Greenfield. I go by Kit.

"Okay then, Kit, this shouldn't take too long."

The boy nodded. He took his license back and headed to one of the couches, which he sagged into as if suddenly exhausted. Maybe he wasn't used to carrying the bulbasaur around like that.

She headed through the doors. Behind her, someone coughed loudly.

#

The zubat sent itself flying into his ponyta's face with more force than he'd have thought possible, knocking the weakened pokemon off-balance. The ponyta stumbled back a half step, her rear leg hitting a stone. She struggled for a moment to remain balanced, then collapsed onto the jutting rocks.

John whistled. He really hadn't been expecting this when he'd seen the girl standing around in front of the signpost like a lost kindergartner. He watched the zubat land clumsily, one wing evidently sprained or broken by its attack. "You're good - you're amazing," he said. "I've never seen anyone so in-sync with their pokemon. It's like something out of a TV show. How long have you been doing this?"

The girl smiled. It was dazzling. ~Thank you,~ he heard in his head. ~I hope to be a great trainer. First, though...I still need to figure out the map.~

"Oh, right."

He took it from her and spread the paper out on the ground. "Right, so...okay, we're here." He pointed. "Which is kind of the middle of nowhere, but it's surrounded by a lot of somewheres. Hearthome City is down and up this way, along with the pass between the mountains, and Pastoria is to the east. And if you're some sort of champion hiker, you could just head up and cross the mountains yourself. I wouldn't recommend it normally, since it's hard going and there's tough pokemon on top of that, but you seem more than able to handle yourself!"

~Thank you! And thank you for the help. I have trouble reading.~

"Oh? My cousin's got problems with the letters moving around too. He wears special sunglasses, says that really helps, filters out extra light or something." He pointed on the map then tracked backward. "Nearest pokecenter is here by this road, you should stop off and ask if that'd help. It'll be hard traveling if you have trouble reading maps."

~I'll do that,~ she said with another dazzling smile. ~But I'm sure I'll get better with practice, too.~