May has always had a seed of a doubt in her mind when it comes to those two. They're polar opposites and she rarely sees them together, but when she does it suddenly becomes painfully obvious that there's more to their story than first meets the eye.
First there is Ash, who is the pokemon trainer. Sure, there have been times when she's considered their compatibility, but Ash always has and always will be no more than just a good friend. He's cheerful and simple and competitive, and she supposes that's what she likes about him; it's what makes them similar. They have their moments of bickering, mostly over things that they can look back on and agree are fairly pointless, and they can talk to each other. In that sense, she supposes he is the nice guy out of the two.
Drew is the other side of the coin, and while he's definitely gotten less annoying over the years, he and May tend to butt heads a lot more. Drew is the pokemon coordinator, contrasting to Ash in every way possible, and after the number of roses he's given to 'Beautifly' despite all of the times he's criticised them... it's only normal that May has a crush on a guy like that, right? Or did up until recently, anyway.
She sighs, fiddling with her gloves as she sits in the airport, waiting for Ash to arrive. Drew is sitting beside her, pretending to be bored by flicking through apps on his pokedex, but she can tell from the way his eyes dart to the clock on the wall opposite every few seconds that this isn't the case. There are times when her and Ash arrange to meet and catch up with one another, and it's usually her that does the travelling, but this time he decided to meet her in Sinnoh instead. While she's happy that it means she doesn't have to pay for a plane ticket, it also means she has to endure the unmistakable sexual tension between her best friend and rival throughout the entire trip.
“You didn't have to come, you know,” May says to Drew. “I'm sure you have better things to do.”
“Believe me, I do,” Drew says curtly. “There are just some things that I need to say to that guy myself.”
Two years ago and May would have been surprised – shocked, even. But this has been going on for a while, so she simply shrugs. After all, it's awkward and kind of depressing for her to have to endure their exchanged bedroom eyes and cutting remarks, but she has no place to intervene. Maybe when she was ten she would've tried to find out immediately why the two have been sneaking off and sharing these intense staring contests all the time, but she's old enough to respect their privacy these days.
Though she hates to admit it, the line between a burning desire to know and not wanting to know at all is extremely fine. They intrigue her, but she's too afraid to know. How dumb is that? It isn't so hard to ask them if they're dating, so why hasn't she? Perhaps she's always known the truth will disappoint her so she's always avoided asking up until this point. That's what she tells herself whenever the topic comes to mind, anyway.
When the flight from Kalos finally lands and the notification appears on the small screen above their heads, she swears she can hear Drew's breath hitch a little, but once again decides not to comment. Maybe she's just tired of hearing Drew deny that there's more than just a rendezvous-turned-rivalry between her best friend and him, or maybe she's just tired of speculating (are they, aren't they? For how long? Gosh, to think that they could be, after all this time...) over what could actually be a completely off the mark interpretation of their relationship, if there is such a thing at all. May can only hope that Drew will get bored after the first day of Ash's visit and race ahead of her to the next town to get ready for whatever contest he was planning on challenging her to next time.
It takes a while before the plane starts releasing its passengers and May loses track of just how long. After a while of sitting in an almost awkward silence with Drew she gets up, stretches her legs, heads to the bathroom to check that no tags or hairs are out of place (after all the times she's chided Ash on his style – or lack of – she can hardly get away with looking sloppy), buys a bottle of pecha berry iced tea from a vending machine nearby. All the while her usually smug-faced companion is sitting in the same spot, watching from the airport windows as tiny figures in the distance file out of the plane, his hands taking in fistfuls of his pants. May wonders, in a moment of curiosity as the waves of intensity literally radiate from Drew, if he's ever got a hard-on from the anticipation of waiting for Ash, but dismisses this thought quickly, erubescent.
After a few more minutes of watching Drew silently fidgeting she decides to join him again, and not long after her long time mentor and friend emerges, Pikachu racing ahead in the crowd and tackling May excitedly.
“Pikachu, hi!” As May reconciles with the small electric-type, petting behind the bulbs in its cheeks, she feels Drew rise to his feet beside her. He himself offers a slight smile to the pokemon in May's arms, who regards him almost warmly, oddly familiar considering that Ash and Drew have only ever battled together a few times before (to her knowledge, anyway, which she suspects to be only a fraction of the true number of battles between the trainer and the coordinator).
“Where's your trainer, huh?” she asks, but there's no need for Pikachu to speak up at all since at that moment she hears a familiar voice call out.
“May! And... Drew? Hi! It's been a while!”
She turns around and there is Ash, beaming and waving, seventeen years old. The way he smiles at her compared to the way his face changes as his gaze flickers over to Drew is obvious, but she pretends to be oblivious as always and strides over to him, just grateful that he called out her name first.
The visit so far hasn't been half bad, May thinks to herself, as they head over to a café in the airport for some lunch. Ash has brought his latest travelling companions, Serena, Clemont and little Bonnie, along for the ride, but they seem nice and it's fascinating to listen to their smooth Kalosian accents as they talk. She can tell Drew is a little uncomfortable being around so many new faces, but he's currently staring in distaste at Clemont's choice of outfit while listening to him asking endless questions about Sinnoh and Hoenn and all the other places they've been to over the years. May figures she'd much rather talk to Serena, who is dressed very fashionably, but the blonde seems much more infatuated by May's contest ribbons, while Bonnie is jabbering to Ash about wanting to try Sinnoh's famous yakisoba. Through the café’s speakers, an old song is playing that May used to hear on the radio all the time in her dad's gym.
The booth the group decided to sit down in is comfortable, albeit pretty gaudy, but matches the overall gaudiness of the entire airport, and nobody seems to mind that the menus are pink but the tablecloths orange. Something about their conversation seems very forced, but May can't tell what, although she has a sneaking suspicion that Ash's constant glances in Drew's direction aren't helping, in any case. Serena appears to have picked up on this too, having had the contest ribbons taken off of her by Bonnie to gawk over, and she's clinging to Ash's arm slightly.
“Ash, tell us more about the Hoenn League, oui?” she says almost desperately. May can't help thinking Serena is probably more interested in the way Ash's eyes light up when he talks about his journeys as opposed to the stories he is telling, but she supposes there's no harm in that; there was a time when May felt the same way, and it's nostalgic hearing about what they were like back when they were young and rash.
“Well, it's not much different from the Kalos League I guess... I had to travel to the eight main cities and earn my badges against gym leaders specialising in different types,” he explains, his grin as toothy and childlike as ever. There's a certain maturity to Ash's character now, and May's not quite sure how to explain it. It's like how one can plant a seed in the ground and water it until it's quenched and ready to grow. There are only small changes at first, but before you know it the sapling has become an oran berry tree in the blink of an eye.
May concludes that she herself has changed; she's not a crybaby anymore, she's not as dumb and petty as she once was, she's confident, a different girl to the one who cried when she lost her first contest. Ash has come such a long way and he smiles more, he's more in touch with thoughts and feelings. Even so, he's the same old Ash deep down: he's just as oblivious as he's always been (to the way that Serena is batting her big blue eyes at him, anyway), just as determined, just as cheerful.
“So what are you into, Serena?” Drew asks suddenly, interrupting a story about one of Ash's run-ins with Team Rocket (who are, apparently, still pursuing him). “Are you planning on going for the league?”
Serena curls a lock of golden hair around her index finger as she talks, glancing between Ash and Drew partially out of politeness and partially to make sure Ash is actually listening.
“Well, I'm working things out still. My mother is Grace Gauthier, you know, the famous rhyhorn racer? Well, she wants me to take after her, but... I'm still undecided, vous savez?”
“Rhyhorn racing, huh? That's really uncommon in Hoenn. I heard about it a little in Johto, but... I guess the entertainment differs between regions, huh?”
“So wait, do you bet on rhyhorn racers or do you actually act as the jockey?” May asks, genuinely interested. The two discuss the dynamics of rhyhorn racing a little, but Serena is much more interested in the idea of contests and asking May about her travelling experiences, announcing with a sly grin that they can talk more about group adventures later (which May takes as a sign that the Kalosian girl will be badgering her on questions about Ash's favourite foods and clothing size later).
All the while May notices the quiet words exchanged between her rival and old friend, but it's nothing unusual. It happens every time, anyway.
Around 5pm, Ash tells May that he and Drew are going to check out a battle tower nearby, and could she take Serena, Clemont and Bonnie to the pokemon centre? She can tell that he feels a little guilty leaving Clemont out of what could otherwise be passed off as 'guy bonding', but not guilty enough to invite him along. She decides it's easier not to dwell on it, and takes Clemont by the arm with a smile, telling him that she has a younger brother who was just as energetic as Bonnie when he was her age. Clemont, slightly relieved, jumps in to ask about Max, what he does and where he is currently located. May recalls a phone call with her brother just the other day (said something about being in Lavaridge), and describes in detail some of the playful insults he threw at her while they were talking. It becomes clear that Clemont and Bonnie are a lot more civilised than her and Max were at their age, but all the same they converse, and it's nice to hear a guy's side of things, she supposes.
The group head around the nearby market, deciding to buy some souvenirs while the sun is still up, and May tells Bonnie that she can show her some contest moves when they return to the pokemon centre, instantly lifting the girl's spirits. While queueing at a stall for some mechanical parts that Clemont seems interested in for whatever reason, Bonnie asks May very seriously if she'll marry her brother one day. May, having never been asked this kind of question before, simply laughs and tells Bonnie she'll think about it.
Serena jumps in a little too eagerly.
“Bonnie, stop asking new friends to marry Clemont! May's already dating Drew, oui?”
May shakes her head. “No, no! Me and Drew are just friends... and rivals... that's it.” She considers whether or not it will break Serena's heart if she voices her suspicions of Ash and Drew's ambiguous relationship.
“Ah, bon? I was so sure the two of you were dating!” Serena tosses her long hair over one shoulder, regarding May curiously. “How come? You two look so good together, tu vois?”
“It's kind of complicated,” May grins uneasily as Clemont, standing ahead of them, cries out, “The prices are so reasonable here! Come look!”
Serena plants her hands on her hips, arching one eyebrow questioningly. “I don't believe you, May. If you don't grab him soon he'll slip away, no? If you don't make progress it'll be all over!”
May watches Serena with warmth, almost relieved that there's someone who feels as strongly about it as she once did, before saying gently, “I think it's already too late for me, Serena. And what about you and Ash, huh?”
Now it's Serena's turn to look sheepish. “Eh bien... voyons... it's complicated, yes? We met as children at a summer camp, so I suppose it was my first love... um, love is a strong word... he remembers now, but I don't think it means as much to him...”
From the way Serena is blushing, glancing around, it seems to May that Serena has fallen victim to Ash's chronic obliviousness, as always, and she offers the younger girl a warm smile, squeezing her shoulder.
“Don't worry about it, Serena. I mean, Ash can be pretty dense when it comes to girls. I guess it remains to be seen. I've never seen Ash showing attraction to anyone before, so I guess there's no way of knowing if he even swings this way...”
“Quoi? Swings? What do you mean by that?”
Of course, Serena is young. She's still blissfully unaware of the way the world works, May realises. She'll find out in her own time – or maybe not, since Ash is very private about things like this.
Shrugging, May says, “Like I said, it remains to be seen.”
When Ash and Drew return to the pokemon centre May notices that they both look extremely ruffled – more so than usual, at least. The sun is setting in the sky, casting a golden glow through the windows of the pokemon centre, and Clemont and Serena have already left to get some food from the pokemon centre's cafeteria. Bonnie clings onto May's hand as the two head through the doors, almost brushing shoulders, arguing in a way that doesn't sound unfriendly in the least.
“Ash, Ash, par ici!” Bonnie calls with a wave, and just like that they stop in their tracks, suddenly looking sheepish. Drew nods to May slightly and heads up in the direction of the rooms, hands in his pockets. May decides not to notice the slight redness in his cheeks or the rose ungracefully stuffed in Ash's backpack, sticking out a little and shedding petals.
“Hey there, Bonnie. What have you guys been getting up to today?” Ash asks with a grin as Pikachu jumps onto her head. She squeals in delight at the notion and begins jabbering happily about visiting the market as he shoots May an apologetic glance.
Sorry for leaving you guys, he mouths at her as they walk towards the cafeteria. May shrugs.
It's none of my business, she mouths back, silently analysing his body language as they walk.
It really isn't. Maybe when she was younger she would have made it her business by force, but for now it's just relieving to see that they came back instead of running off into the Sinnoh sunset without a second thought. Sometimes it sucks being the third wheel when you're the person who invited them along in the first place.
Some time later, after she has taken a bath and Serena has fallen asleep, May sneaks out onto the adjoining balcony between the guys' and the girls' rooms. She pushes the curtain aside just in time to see Drew pulling away from Ash, their heads still close together, and she clears her throat. The two of them jump, and Ash begins to laugh nervously while Drew smooths down his hair, trying to calm down the pink in his cheeks.
“M-May! What are you doing here?”
She sighs and pushes a strand of damp hair away from her brow, before coming closer and leaning her folded arms against the balcony.
“You two don't have to stop whatever it is you're doing, you know. I just came out for some air.”
Ash and Drew exchange incredulous glances, before Ash manages weakly, “Y-You know...?”
“I've had my suspicions for a long time.” She closes her eyes, and it really does feel like some sort of weight has been lifted. “How could I not know? You two are always creeping off and doing your own thing without me. It feels better just to have confirmation at long last.”
Drew at least has the decency to look ashamed. “Are you mad?”
“Does it really matter what I think?” May glances over at them, to see they both have guilt written all over their features, and her face softens. “No, I'm not mad, you jerks. This is just how it is now. I'm a big girl, you don't need to be afraid of me crying to Brock about it.”
Drew clears his throat and mutters, “Are we cool?”
“I think so.”
“Good. I'm going to bed.” He nods at May, and reaches to pat Ash's shoulder as he walks past and behind the curtain to the boys' room.
“Guess he couldn't handle the pressure,” Ash jokes, and May smiles.
They stand in a comfortable silence for a little while, watching over the twinkling lights of Sinnoh, before Ash pipes up, “I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I wanted to, but Drew was afraid of losing you as a friend. I mean, he didn't say that specifically, but I could tell.”
May isn't sure if she quite believes that. She knows that Drew values her as a friend, but she's known about him being bisexual for a long time (not that it's much of a secret, since he was outed in an issue of The Coordinator Chronicle some months ago). She's never considered he would be afraid of losing her friendship over something like this.
“For real? I wasn't going to string you guys up, or anything. Maybe get you to buy me dinner for all the speculating you put me through these past years.”
“He cares about you, May. I do too. That's why... I never wanted to risk hurting you, by telling you about us.” Ash reaches over to squeeze her shoulder, and his concern is genuine. She manages a genuine smile, and claps him on the back.
“Well, I already know, you don't have to worry about that anymore. I mean, you two don't need to be sneaky anymore, just say the word when you wanna hang out and I'll give you space. Or, you know, if you do still wanna hang out with me too... you don't have to hide how you feel anymore.”
Ash's grin widens.
“You're a real good friend, May, you know that?”
“Does this mena you guys will hang out with me more? Because honestly, it gets pretty lonely being the third wheel...”