A thin curtain of moonlight reaches through the fabric of the tent and Ash groans as he rolls over in his sleeping bag. "What is it, Misty?" He tries to say, but it comes out as, "Misty three AM whah?"
"How do you always fall for Team Rocket's disguises?"
He shrugs sleepily. "We all fall for them."
"Yeah, but you're usually the one that gets close to them when they're in disguise. And they always avoid Brock and I, like they think we'll find them out, but they're not worried that you'll recognise them."
"Eh, good disguises."
She gives one of her signature Misty "we're talking about this later" sighs and goes back to bed. They never do talk about it later, and Ash forgets about the conversation by morning.
He doesn't think it's odd that Team Rocket fools him every time. They are good disguises, after all.
"Do you remember me, Ash?"
Ash stares at the handkerchief in the girl's hands, and then at the girl holding it out to him. He'd be lying if he said he recognises her.
He'd also probably be lying if he said he didn't.
She seems disheartened. She explains that they met at the Pokémon Summer Camp, and he remembers going there. He'd probably remember her, too, if she gave just a little more information.
But what is he meant to say? "Hey, Serena, what were you wearing when we met five years ago? Was your hair different?" Yeah, she'd never remember details like that. Besides, he should have been able to remember her name and her face if she could remember him.
He says he remembers the camp but not her specifically, which is true-ish. There's not much else he can say.
Then she explains how she met him at the camp -- explains how a Poliwag scared her and caused her to injure her knee, explains how Ash used the handkerchief as a makeshift bandage. Explains how he told her to never give up 'till the end.
He has context now, context that allows him to know who she was. "You were the girl with the straw hat!"
Except he doubts that, sort of.
He might just be misremembering, but the only thing that Serena has in common with the Girl with the Straw Hat is their honey-coloured hair and pale skin, and he's sure lots of Kalosian people have honey-coloured hair and pale skin. The Girl with the Straw Hat had shorter hair than Serena and she didn't wear it in the same style, she was shorter, and her clothing style was different. More importantly, Girl with the Straw Hat wore a straw hat, while Serena wears a pink hat with a black bow.
He chalks those details up to the fact that people can change a lot in five years, and never questions the fact that those minor changes made her unrecognisable.
Ash has never felt this confused in his life.
There's an unfamiliar girl standing in front of him, looking at him like she's one of his close friends, and Clemont and Bonnie are bombarding her with compliments as though they know who she is, and she's looking at him like she expects him to compliment her as well, and as the seconds tick by this stranger seems more and more offended by his lack of response.
"You look great!" Clemont encourages her.
"Yeah," agrees Bonnie. "You look amazing, Serena!"
"Serena?" Ash's only response is a confused mumble of his friend's name. Serena lost her first Pokemon Showcase yesterday. He hasn't seen Serena all morning.
Then the unfamiliar girl speaks and suddenly she's not so unfamiliar.
Serena's voice speaks to him in the body of a stranger, and suddenly he can identify her honey-coloured hair. But this girl looks even less like Serena than the Girl with the Straw Hat.
She has short hair, much shorter than he expected someone so feminine would ever dare to cut it, and she's wearing a different style of hat, although the colours are the same. This girl -- he mentally nicknames her Blue Ribbon Birl after the familiar accessory tied onto the collar of her dress -- is wearing a light pink dress and a red coat, while Serena wears a red skirt and a black shirt.
It's Serena, he tells himself. It's just Serena. Serena got a haircut and changed her clothes, that's all.
But Blue Ribbon Girl doesn't look at all like Serena, just like Serena doesn't look at all like Girl with the Straw Hat.
He's confused by this sudden change and he doesn't like it, he really doesn't like it. He tries to clear his thoughts. He's never been good with big, sudden changes but Serena changing his appearance isn't a big change, and she looks nice like this anyway.
He just hopes at some point this unfamiliar girl stops being Blue Ribbon Girl and starts being Serena again.
He video calls his mother soon after Serena's drastic change in appearance.
Since she always makes an effort to be aware of his friends with whom he travels, he talks about how she changed her hair and clothing style. They make a bit of back-and-forth small talk about how amazing she looks, and Ash says that she was unrecognisable.
It's more true than either of them know.
"That reminds me," says Delia. "Do you remember that time when you were three and you had a meltdown because I was getting a haircut?"
He shakes his head, and he's confused, because that's a ridiculous thing to have a meltdown over. "No! When did that happen?"
"I said I was going to get a haircut while you were at school," she explains. "And you got upset because you didn't think you would be able to recognise me with different hair."
He grows uneasy and changes the subject, but within minutes he regrets not lingering on this three-year-old Ash's meltdown. A part of him wants to ask his mother if he did end up recognising her with different hair. But no part of him wants to be laughed at for asking a stupid question.
Ash's eyes read the text written in crayon and follow the adjacent arrow pointing to Bonnie's face. "What are you doing?" He asks.
"We're labelling photos to send to my cousin!" Bonnie answers brightly, showing the photo of herself, Clemont, Ash, and Serena.
"Why are you labelling yourself?" Serena asks. "Won't your cousin recognise you?"
"He has prosopagnosia," says Clemont, and this time Ash isn't the only one who's confused.
"Proso-what now?" He asks, and then bursts into laughter before Clemont can explain. Serena and Bonnie join in on his infectious laughter, and Clemont tries to launch into an explanation when they pause to breathe but just as quickly they start again, and when the laughter finally dies down he gets in about three words before Ash gets distracted and runs off.
They forget about it for the next five hours.
Clemont rolls over in his sleeping bag to face Ash. "Yeah?"
"That ... Thing your cousin has, proso..." He strains with the effort of remembering it. "Prosapagnisia?"
"Yeah, that! What is it?"
"Well..." He sits up, because this conversation is waking him up mentally. "It's sort of like face blindness, I guess. So my cousin thinks all faces look the same and he relies on clothing and hairstyle to tell people apart and Bonnie and I label the photos to make it easier for him because so many of my family members have similar hair."
"Whah?" Ash sits bolt upright in his sleeping bag, staring at Clemont with wide eyes. "I thought everyone used clothes and hair to tell people apart!"
Clemont chuckles. "Well, for my cousin he has to use those things. Like I said, all faces look the same to him."
"But all faces really do look the same!"
Clemont opens his mouth to explain how Ash's perception is different to true face blindness, then reconsiders. "Uh, Ash?"
"My cousin and I have this thing where I always let him know it's me after I get a haircut so he doesn't get confused." He pauses uneasily. "Should I start doing that with you too?"
Ash is tempted to say no but then he remembers his confusion over Serena's drastic change in style and mumbles, "Yeah, that'd be helpful."
"Okay. I'll do that." He lies back down. "Goodnight, Ash."
"Goodnight, Clem," says Ash, but his heart is racing with excitement and he doubts he'll be asleep any time soon.
So it's not normal. He's not just bad at remembering people, there's actually a reason for it! That's why he never recognises Team Rocket and that's why he didn't recognise Serena and that's why he was so confused when she got a haircut and wore different clothes. There's an actual word for it! Granted, it's a long word that he's already forgotten, but he's sure he'll remember it by morning.
He lies back down on a sleeping bag, a smile plastered on his face.
There's a word for it.