## Illumination Theory

### Chapter Text

May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain,
May the border be the standing rainbow,
Thus weave for us a garment of brightness.

– The Tewa People, "Song of the Sky Loom"

Clemont set down his screwdriver and rubbed his hands together, warming them over the campfire. His breath rose and dissipated in the still night air. It was a damp, cloudless night in the foothills of northeastern Kalos.

Holding his hands comfortably above the gently crackling flames, he paused for a few moments and pictured a schematic in his mind. Numbers ran through his head like a processor as he double and triple checked himself. He knew the output from this servomotor had to be correct. The equations balanced correctly every time he attempted them! This was so frustrating.

Modifying the Aipom arm to operate a can opener was proving to be far more difficult than he had anticipated.

He powered on the device and watched it fumble the can opener, knocking a rather badly dented can of beans off of his work table yet again. He sighed. Not since his attempts to upgrade the arm to shake the last of the ketchup from a bottle had his efforts been so fruitless.

Dismayed, he leaned over and picked up the misshapen can, setting it back on the table. He hoped all this commotion was not disturbing everyone else, who had long since retired to their tents for the night.

Clemont adjusted his glasses, leaned back in his chair, and let out a long, deep breath that momentarily shrouded his face in fog as it disappeared into thin air. He thought he could see his sanity disappearing with it. He tilted his head back and looked upward. The cloudless night was beginning to show some signs of becoming overcast. A faint halo had become visible around the moon.

He sat upright again and reconsidered the situation. If he knew the servo output was correct, then perhaps it was the input that was wrong. Perhaps he had made a mistake elsewhere in the circuitry. That seemed to him like a much more promising line of inquiry, and he picked up his pencil and began jotting down the circuit equations.

Then, he broke his pencil lead on the paper when an alarm siren sounded from the radio in his bag. Startled, he scrambled to reach into his bag and turn down the volume, lest he disturb the others. That had always been part of their agreement; Clemont could stay up as late as he wanted to work on his inventions as long as he was quiet about it. At the present moment, that agreement was in real danger of being violated. He struggled to find the volume button, and he dreaded how much grief he was going to get from Bonnie if she was awoken by this.

But then, Clemont went still as he listened to a mechanical, monotone voice.

"URGENT - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED.

HISTORIC AND LIFE THREATENING BLIZZARD TO FORM OVER THE MOUNTAINOUS REGIONS OF NORTHEAST KALOS BY NIGHTFALL TOMORROW.

THE KALOS WEATHER SERVICE HAS ISSUED A BLIZZARD WARNING, WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 7PM TUESDAY TO 7PM THURSDAY.

LOCATIONS - EASTERN ROUTE 15, EASTERN ROUTE 16, DENDEMILLE TOWN, SNOWBELLE CITY, ROUTE 17, ANISTAR CITY.

HAZARDS - HEAVY BLOWING SNOW AND DANGEROUS WIND CHILLS.

ACCUMULATIONS - UP TO 10 INCHES OF SNOW IS FORECAST OVERNIGHT THROUGH WEDNESDAY MORNING. AN ADDITIONAL 18 TO 24 INCHES IS FORECAST THROUGH THURSDAY MORNING, WITH 6 TO 8 INCHES FORECAST THROUGH DAYLIGHT HOURS ON THURSDAY. TOTAL ACCUMULATIONS OF 30 TO 40 INCHES ARE EXPECTED, WITH LOCALLY GREATER ACCUMULATIONS AT HIGHER ELEVATIONS.

WINDS - SOUTHWEST 25 TO 35 MILES PER HOUR WITH GUSTS TO 50 MILES PER HOUR.

TEMPERATURES - IN THE HIGH TWENTIES OVERNIGHT TUESDAY, FALLING TO THE LOW TEENS OVERNIGHT WEDNESDAY INTO THURSDAY.

TIMING - SNOW IS FORECAST TO BEGIN MID AFTERNOON TUESDAY, WITH CONDITIONS RAPIDLY DETERIORATING BY NIGHTFALL. THE HEAVIEST SNOW AND STRONGEST WINDS WILL OCCUR WEDNESDAY, PARTICULARLY AFTER NIGHTFALL WEDNESDAY.

IMPACTS - BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW WILL MAKE TRAVEL DANGEROUS TUESDAY EVENING AND IMPOSSIBLE WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY THROUGHOUT THE REGION. WIND CHILLS FROM 10 TO 20 DEGREES BELOW ZERO WILL PRODUCE LIFE THREATENING CONDITIONS FOR ANYONE LEFT EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS."

The siren repeated. Clemont grimaced. He knew the damage was done. He heard movement from inside the nearby tents.

"Clemont, cut it out!"

Bonnie stuck her head out of her tent. She glared at her brother, but received no response other than Clemont jumping in surprise and stammering something incoherent.

"Did you hear me?!" Bonnie said, shouting this time. She stomped indignantly out of the tent and over to Clemont.

Now, there was motion in the other tents. This time, it was accompanied by a sleepy groan.

"Ugh… what's going on…" said Serena.

Bonnie advanced upon Clemont, appearing ready to launch into a tirade. Clemont locked eyes with her and held his finger up to his mouth in a panic.

"Shh!" he whispered. "You're being even louder than my radio!"

Clemont's eyes shifted behind Bonnie, which prompted her to turn around. Bonnie saw Serena looking quite disheveled, peeking her head out of her tent and rubbing her tired eyes. Bonnie's eyes widened and she clapped her hands over her mouth, trying to take back the noise she had already made. Her attempt was not a success.

"Sorry," Bonnie said, the sound dulled behind her clasped hands.

Serena knelt in the entrance of her tent and squinted as she tried to read the time on her Pokedex.

"It's one in the morning," Serena said. She whined, slumping back onto the bottom end of her sleeping bag. She bundled it up like a pillow and tried to use it to cover her eyes. Mostly, it just muffled a tired groan.

In the adjacent tent, Ash snored.

Clemont put one hand on the back of his neck and waved apologetically with the other.

"I'm sorry, everyone," he said, "but it's kind of an emergency."

"An emergency?" said Bonnie. "You breaking your Aipom arm again is not an emergency!"

"I mean the alert that just sounded on my weather radio," said Clemont, pointing at it. "I don't mean to cause alarm, but it sounds like we're in the path of a massive snowstorm."

"Don't tell me you're afraid of snow," Bonnie said, giving Clemont an incredulous look.

"You woke us up because of snow?" Serena groaned, still clutching her sleeping bag over her face.

"Yes, but for good reason!" said Clemont. "This is not an ordinary snowstorm. The warning said the storm is going to be a dangerous blizzard!"

There was a brief silence. Perhaps it was just fatigue, but both Bonnie and Serena appeared unconcerned. Clemont began to dread the task of convincing them that he was telling the truth. Fortunately, his weather radio handled it for him.

The siren sounded again. Serena uncovered her face, and she and Bonnie listened as the warning repeated itself.

When the radio went quiet again, Serena sat up, looking rather worried.

"Did that thing really say forty inches?" she said.

Bonnie looked at Clemont, confused.

"Is that a lot?" she said.

"Forty inches is taller than you are," said Clemont.

Bonnie's eye grew wide.

"Oh wow!" she said. "This is awesome! That's so much snow!"

Clemont mirrored Serena's look of concern.

"Actually, I'm not so sure I'd say it's awesome," he said, causing Bonnie to give him a sour look. "I think we're in danger."

"Danger?" said Bonnie. "From snow? It's just fluff! It melts!"

"Yes, but the snow is only part of the problem," said Clemont. "The more serious issues are the wind and the cold."

"It's cold enough already," said Serena. A trail of her breath dissipated in the air as she wrapped her sleeping bag around herself like a blanket.

"It's going to get much colder, I'm afraid," said Clemont. "If that much snow falls, we're going to trapped out here. We'd be in real danger from hypothermia, frostbite…"

Clemont was trying to list additional perils, but he stalled. Bonnie then interrupted him.

"Do you mean we would freeze?" she said. "I mean, freeze for real?"

Clemont nodded.

"I don't wanna freeze out here!" said Bonnie. "I wanna play in the snow and then go inside where it's warm!"

"I think that's what all of us want," said Clemont. "The problem is that we're still a full day away from Dendemille Town. We would need to leave as soon as possible to ensure that we make it there before the storm hits."

Serena let her head hang low, groaning again.

"Do you mean we would have to walk all through the rest of the night and all day tomorrow just to get there in time?" she said.

"To be safe, yes, most likely," Clemont said, attempting to sound apologetic.

Serena made a whining noise as she pulled her makeshift sleeping bag blanket over her head and then collapsed on the ground melodramatically, letting the fluffy bag completely cover her.

Ash continued snoring.

"We might not have a choice," said Clemont. "I don't want to do this, either, but if we don't go, we may be putting our lives in danger."

Serena sat up again, then sighed. A cloud of vapor billowed away in front of her as she did.

"Are you sure about all this?" she said.

Clemont nodded.

"I guess we really don't have a choice, then," Serena said.

Bonnie frowned.

"But I wanna go back to sleep," she said.

"You can sleep all you want once we get to Dendemille Town," said Clemont. "If we don't go soon, though, we might not get there at all."

Bonnie pouted at him, then conceded.

"Okay," she said, dejected. She headed back to her tent.

"Time to pack up, I suppose," said Serena, looking around their campsite and finding a lengthy to-do list ahead of her.

"Yes, I'd say so," said Clemont, beginning to gather his tools. "We need to wake up Ash, too."

"I'll take care of that," said Serena. She removed herself from the mess she'd made of her sleeping bag, then stepped over to the next tent. As she eased her way inside, she tried her best to hide a small, mischievous smirk.

She looked at Ash and Pikachu right there before her, sound asleep despite all the noise, and had the distinct feeling of nervous excitement that accompanied being someplace she normally wasn't allowed to be. For a moment, as she crawled toward Ash, she wondered why those rules still applied when they were on the road by themselves, and why she didn't come visit Ash to wake him up more often. But then, the thought of actually doing it made her stomach jump and she knew exactly why.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it was too late for her to turn back now. Serena put on a smile, touched Ash on the shoulder, and shook him gently a few times.

"Wake up, sleepyhead," she said.

Pikachu responded before Ash did, his ears perking up upon hearing Serena's voice. He opened his eyes and looked around a few times before he realized what was happening.

"Hi Pikachu," said Serena. "Sorry it's so late, but we've got to wake up Ash. We have to get going."

Pikachu tilted his head and looked at her curiously.

"There's a big storm coming," said Serena. "I'll fill you both in once Ash is up."

She shook Ash's shoulder again.

"Wakey wakey!" she said, this time a bit louder. This time, Ash stirred. His face contorted briefly as he blinked several times, eyes heavy with sleep. For a moment, it appeared as though he had no idea where he was.

"Wha…?" he mumbled as he looked up and saw who was kneeling next to him. "Serena?"

"Time to get up," Serena said, gently rubbing his arm a few times. She savored the delicious truth that Ash was far too tired right now to notice the gesture, or even care. "We've got to get going."

"But…" Ash said, looking through the entrance to the tent, seeing the darkness outside. "It's still dark."

"I know," said Serena, empathizing with him. "I don't like it either."

Ash grunted as he sat upright.

"What's going on?" he asked. "What are you doing in here?

Serena quickly averted her eyes and looked out through the entrance of the tent.

"There's a really big snowstorm coming. Clemont just heard about it on his radio," she said, nodding in the direction of Clemont and his work table, which he was currently packing.

"A snowstorm?" said Ash. "Why do we have to go?"

"It's big," said Serena. "Really big. We're going to be in danger if we get caught out here in it, and we need all the time we have to get to Dendemille Town before it hits."

"How big?" said Ash.

"The warning said as much as forty inches."

Ash paused for a moment, thinking.

"That sounds like a lot," he said.

Serena rolled her eyes at the understatement.

"It is a lot," she said. "That's why we have to get going. Clemont says that we have just enough time to make it to Dendemille Town if we leave now."

"Huh," said Ash. "Well, alright then. Guess it's time for me to get up. I've gotta get packing."

Serena bit her lip. Her plans for an adorable little moment had come to an unceremonious end. She felt foolish for expecting anything different.

"Right," she said. "Yes. Time for me to get started packing, too. Okay."

Ash raised an eyebrow at her, which was all Serena needed to see to know it was time to go. With all the dignity she could muster, she crawled backwards out of the tent. She stood up, brushed the dirt from her knees, and entered her own tent again.

She pinched the bridge of her nose, and let out an excruciatingly silent sigh. Why did all of her interactions with him have to be so awkward?

It took the traveling party less than an hour to pack up and get back on the road, even with some substantial complaining. Feet dragging and heads hung low, they pushed onward through the dark. Braixen led the way, illuminating the path and keeping everyone warm with the fire from her wand. At sunrise, they stopped for a short rest to eat breakfast, then continued on.

Clemont checked the warning for an update hourly. The forecast remained the same every time. As such, it was alarming to everyone when snow began to fall several hours earlier than anticipated.

The group stopped at a road sign, and Ash reached out to clear the snow from it.

"Dendemille Town, ten miles," he said. When he received no response, the looked back and saw everyone else seated on the snow-covered road, looking exhausted.

"I think it may be time for a breather," said Clemont.

"For once, I agree with you," said Bonnie. She flopped backwards into the snow and lay there, motionless. Dedennne crawled out of Bonnie's bag and scampered up toward her head, eager to see what was the matter.

"I'm okay, Dedenne," she said. "I just really, really need a break."

"Me too," said Serena, trying her best to massage away the soreness in her legs.

Ash frowned. He was by far the most seasoned traveler in the group. He ached, but he was ready and willing to keep going. He could only imagine how everyone else felt. He removed his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. When he saw snow fall from it as he lifted it, he turned it over and shook off the rest of it.

Serena saw this and then looked up at the brim of her hat. She removed it and then turned it over, a small pile of snow dumping out of it onto the ground. She placed it back on her head, and then tightened her grip on the blanket she had long since wrapped around her shoulders.

As Ash was just about to place his hat back on his head, a powerful gust of wind whipped up all around them. Snow blew about in what seemed like every direction. Pikachu struggled to hang onto his shoulder. The blast cut through him like a knife and chilled him to the bone.

He folded his arms tightly over his chest, shivering. He exhaled deeply, briefly shrouding his face in mist.

"You know, I am getting pretty cold," Ash said, finding himself in sudden agreement with the others. "It might be a good idea to take a break and warm up for a few minutes."

"Let's at least get out of the wind," said Clemont, pointing toward a dense grove of trees on the side of the road. "We can take shelter there."

"Good idea," said Ash.

Clemont struggled briefly to get back on his feet.

"A little help?" he asked.

Ash extended a hand to him, pulling him up on his feet. He did the same for Serena, and Clemont helped Bonnie. Wearily, they trudged off the path into the minimal shelter offered by the trees. Braixen, largely unfazed by the snow, continued to lead the way.

"I'm really sorry about the mess we're in, you guys," said Clemont. "I can't believe I didn't realize it earlier, but it makes sense that we're getting snow here earlier than I thought it would arrive. The forecast was for Dendemille Town, and I failed to account for our distance from there. The storm had to pass over us first before it reached town. I really blew it this time…"

"Yeah, you sure did blow it," Bonnie grumbled.

"Hey, as I see it, it was either take our chances in a cave or something up in the mountains, or take our chances on the road," said Ash. "And I like our chances! We're getting closer. We'll be just fine."

"I'll be just fine if I can warm up a bit," said Serena, setting down roughly in front of a particularly wide tree. She sighed in relief as its trunk gave her the first shelter from the wind she'd had in hours. Ash sat down next to her, and Braixen went with Clemont and Bonnie over to the next large tree.

Serena sat there, bundled up in her blanket, just staring at her feet. Her eyes slid out of focus as she mentally drifted away. She couldn't recall another time in her life when she had been this exhausted or this cold. She wondered how she had made it this far.

Ash leaned back against the tree's trunk beside her, arms wrapped tightly over his chest, huddling with Pikachu for warmth. As he fidgeted uncomfortably, his movements snapped Serena out of her trance.

Serena looked over to Ash. He looked so cold.

"Would you like to join me under the blanket?" she asked him.

"Yes, definitely!" said Ash. Serena unraveled the blanket from herself and moved toward him. She stretched the blanket over both of their bodies and pressed herself directly against him, getting as close as possible.

"Oh wow, it's so warm under here," said Ash, eagerly tucking his limbs beneath the folds of fabric.

"I don't know how it can feel so warm to you when I'm freezing cold," said Serena.

"You feel warm to me," said Ash.

Serena had to admit to herself that at the present moment, she was indeed feeling decidedly warmer than she had a few moments ago. She had invited Ash to share her blanket partly out of altruism, but not entirely. She looked over at Bonnie and Clemont cuddled up with Braixen and thought she saw Bonnie smirk at her.

All was quiet for a while, aside from the howling of the wind. Serena wasn't sure how much time passed. For some time, she wasn't sure if she was asleep or awake. Even the rush of adrenaline from being this close to Ash wasn't enough to keep her mind present. Her eyes ceased to see, even though they were open, and her mind went to a thousand different places at once. An unknown amount of time elapsed, and then abruptly, she blinked and found herself back in reality.

Ash had his cap pulled low over his eyes. He seemed to be dozing peacefully. Pikachu noticed Serena's gaze, and his movements stirred Ash awake. He looked surprised. Serena giggled at him.

"Oh man, I was really out cold there for a minute," he said, shaking his head.

"I think I was, too," said Serena.

Ash passed his half of the blanket back to Serena and rose to his feet.

"We've gotta keep going," he said. "We can't give up now."

Serena tried her best to smile back at him, but her face felt too frozen to work properly.

Ash extended his hand to her and helped pull her to her feet. Serena's feet painfully protested as she took a few steps forward.

She watched Ash as he helped Clemont and Bonnie get back up. Her eyelids were heavy with fatigue.

As long as Ash was staying positive, they were going to be fine.

They were going to make it.

When they reached the top of one final hill and Dendemille Town appeared in the valley below them, Serena was so relieved that she had to resist the urge to collapse on the spot and either laugh, cry, or perhaps both. It was all downhill from here, literally.

There was just one problem - they had no idea where anything was.

The snow whirled around them, appearing to blow in random directions rather than falling down or even sideways. There were visible lights and silhouettes of buildings ahead of them in the distance, but none of them seemed to have a form. They were all obscured by the snow. The streets, wherever they were supposed to be, were completely hidden beneath inches of powder. Braixen held her flaming wand aloft in the darkness, illuminating the hilltop.

"Where do we go from here?" said Serena.

"The Pokemon Center, ideally," said Clemont. He was on his hands and knees, breathing heavily. Next to him, Ash stood as strong as he could, carrying a completely exhausted Bonnie on his back.

"Yeah, definitely," said Ash.

"But where is it?" said Serena.

"I'm not sure," said Clemont.

"I don't know, either," said Ash. "I can't tell where it is."

"I have an idea, though," said Clemont.

"What is it?" said Serena.

"Pokemon Centers are usually some of the largest buildings in any given town," said Clemont. "If we can see from here which building we think is largest, we can sled down the side of this valley directly to it."

"That sounds great, but how are we going to sled down there?" said Serena.

"Yeah, we don't have a sled, do we?" said Ash.

"We don't," said Clemont, "but the future is now, thanks to science!"

Clemont reached into his bag and proudly held up his collapsible work table.

"I present to you, my work table! It has a flat surface, perfect for working on inventions, or for sledding down snow-covered hills! It also has sturdy legs, capable of supporting a heavy load on any surface, and perfect for holding onto while you speed down a slope with wild abandon!"

Ash and Serena both stared at Clemont as if he had lost his mind, but they were much too tired to protest.

Both were equally surprised when it turned out that seating four people on the underside of a table was the most difficult part of their journey so far.

The only configuration they could find that seemed to work required two people to sit in front and two to crouch behind them. Ash and Clemont took the front, and Bonnie held onto Clemont from behind. Serena called Braixen back to her ball and did the same with Ash.

Once again, Serena's adrenaline rush from being in such close contact with Ash was overpowered. This time, it wasn't due to exhaustion, but rather fear.

They pointed the table in the direction of what they agreed was the largest building they could see. Ash and Clemont both held large tree branches, which they were going to use to push off from the slope.

"We're not going to die doing this, are we?" said Serena, practically begging to be a voice of reason. She was ignored.

"I have no idea!" said Clemont. With that, he gave a countdown from three, and then he and Ash pushed off.

Almost immediately, Serena wanted off this crazy ride. In a matter of a few seconds, they reached a reckless, irresponsible speed. A decade of Rhyhorn racing training had not even vaguely prepared her for this. Rhyhorn could be controlled. The table, however, could not. The only thing she could do was hold onto her hat and try not to scream much.

Luckily, she barely had enough time to contemplate her situation before they all went careening into a row of hedges. When they righted themselves and got on their feet again, they found themselves standing in front of a large brick building. It looked rather old.

"I don't think this is a Pokemon Center," said Ash.

"So much for my theory," said Clemont.

"I say we go inside anyway," said Ash. "Anywhere has got to better than out here."

"I agree," said Serena. She looked out toward what had clearly once been the street, but was now merely a wide, featureless expanse of snow. Streetlights, trees, signs, and fire hydrants were all there was. There was nobody outside, aside from them, as far as the eye could see - although for that matter, the eye could not see very far in these conditions.

Eagerly, they trudged through the deepening snow toward the front door. It was a glass door, the kind that slides out of the way. There was no light coming from inside.

"It looks like there's nobody here," said Clemont.

"What do you think this place is?" said Ash.

"Perhaps an office building of some kind? It's hard to tell," said Clemont.

The signs in front of the building were covered by drifting snow, and nobody cared enough to go investigate.

"Do you think this door will open?" said Ash.

"It might," said Clemont. "It looks automatic. Give it a try."

The door didn't budge as Ash approached it. He looked for a nearby button that might open it, but he couldn't find one.

Then, he released Hawlucha from his Poke Ball.

"Hawlucha, we need to get through this door, but it won't open. Can you help us pry it open?"

"Ash! What are you doing?" Clemont said. "We can't just break in here!"

It was already too late. Hawlucha slid his claws into the gap between the two panels of the door and pulled. With only a few seconds of effort, the lock holding the two of them together broke apart.

"Thank you!" Ash said. "Awesome! Now we're in. Let's go, everybody."

It took very little convincing to get everyone inside. Immediately, warmth washed over them. Rapidly melting snow dripped off of them in massive puddles, all over the tile floor in the foyer.

Serena called out Braixen again to help them navigate in the dark, but to everyone's surprise, that wasn't necessary for long. As soon as they ventured a few more steps inside, lights automatically powered on all around them.

"No way…" said Clemont.

They were standing in a hallway with several cork boards on the walls, all of them festooned with fliers attached by thumbtacks. At the end of the hallway was a large circular counter, with several computer monitors seated atop, accompanied by bar code scanners. On the far side of the counter were a few small carts with wheels, and photocopying devices. Completely covering the walls, and much of the open space in between them, were seemingly endless shelves of books. Computer terminals were stationed at desks all around the cavernous room.

Serena stepped forward into the large open area past the counter and looked upward. The shelves continued for three stories. She turned back to the others and stared at them in disbelief.

"We're in a library!"

### Chapter Text

The Dendemille Town Public Library, as it so happened, was discovered to be a more accommodating shelter than our heroes initially realized, for the children's section was in possession of many bean bag chairs. Clemont found a radiator on a wall that was putting out a great deal of heat, and Ash and Serena hauled all the bean bags over to it. Bonnie plopped down in the very first one, exhausted.

A few minutes passed in silence as warmth began to return to their bodies. Serena lay motionless, her muscles at last receiving the relief they needed. Her joints felt like they were expanding in the heat, aching as they returned to normal temperature. Her frostbitten skin throbbed. Her head pounded from the temperature change.

She removed her shoes and then threw her socks on top of the radiator. She didn't even bother to try to count the blisters on her feet.

She felt wonderful.

After a few blissful minutes, she thought she heard someone snicker. She lifted her head to see who it was.

It was Clemont. He began to laugh harder.

"What's so funny?" Serena said. For some strange reason, she felt a smile forming on her face. She found it hard not to laugh herself.

"It's absurd!" said Clemont, now laughing in earnest. "It's so absurd."

"What is?" said Serena, holding back a giggle of her own.

When Clemont didn't reply, Ash did instead.

"I think he's talking about how crazy all this is," said Ash, grinning wide. "We walked for nearly a whole day trying to get to a Pokemon Center, but we ended up in a library instead."

Serena didn't understand why, but there was something about the way Ash had said it that made her crack up. She snorted and then shook with a long fit of laughter.

"It is crazy…" she said dreamily. "We tried to get to a Pokemon Center, but we actually broke into a library!"

"Do you think it's even theoretically possible to make a bigger blunder than this?" said Clemont. "I really doubt it."

"Yeah it is!" said Ash, sounding particularly whimsical. "Maybe if we broke the law! Oh wait, we did…"

At that, everyone, even Bonnie, roared with laughter.

They had made it.

Serena discovered that although it came with a risk of getting burned, the radiator was highly effective at drying out, and better yet, warming up clothes. Everyone took turns drying out their sodden socks and warming their bedclothes. When she changed into her pajamas, fresh from a turn atop the radiator, she thought they had never felt more welcoming.

She had not yet stopped smiling, and her mood only improved when Bonnie returned from an expedition to the staff's break room with several packets of hot chocolate mix. A few minutes later, they all retired to their bean bag chairs, this time warm, dry, and with steaming mugs of liquid joy.

Clemont rambled on about the mistake he had made in interpreting the forecast and the historical significance of the blizzard, but Serena heard none of it. She shifted her eyes from her steaming mug to Ash and back, and she could see that he was smiling in a way that looked just like the way she felt. There was a thrilling sensation of flirting with danger that lingered in her veins. She knew they had just fought nature and won. She was certain that Ash knew it, too. When their eyes met during one of her glances at him, she was sure they were thinking the same thing.

Serena looked down at her mug again. Steam continued to rise from it. She pursed her lips as she felt herself getting warmer than she thought she would ever feel again an hour prior. There was something so exhilarating about it all, so fun to do something so dangerous. They weren't supposed to be here. They were breaking the law. They had cheated death.

It was almost sexy, in a way. Serena felt her thoughts linger there, and she turned red. She saw Ash leaning back in his bean bag chair, empty mug beside him on the floor, eyes wandering among the towering bookshelves above them. He looked content, almost smug. Serena had never before wanted so badly to kiss him.

Her fantasy came to an end when a startling noise came from behind the circulation desk, and she watched Ash sit up as everyone turned their head toward the sound.

"Is that a phone ringing?" said Ash.

The sound came again.

"It sounds like it," said Bonnie.

"Do you think we should answer it?" said Ash.

"Why should we?" said Serena. "Nobody knows we're here. The call can't be for us."

"What if it is, though?" said Clemont. "This library must have some kind of security system. Maybe Dendemille Town's authorities don't know that we're here, but they may know that somebody is here."

"Do you think we're in trouble?" said Bonnie.

"We may be," said Clemont. "In fact, we very likely are. We broke in here, after all."

"Oh no..." said Bonnie. "Do you think we're gonna get kicked out?"

Serena felt her sense of exhilaration drop into her stomach like an ice cube. The idea that they were about to be caught had caused everything about their misadventure to cease to be fun. She grabbed the strap of her bag as if to run. A silent moment passed before she realized that running was impossible.

"It could be anybody who's calling," said Ash. "There's only one way to find out who it is. I'm picking it up."

Serena was just about to plead with him not to do it, but Ash leaped up from his bean bag chair much too quickly for her feet to follow.

A few seconds later, Serena felt her entire body freeze as she saw Officer Jenny's face appear on the phone terminal behind the circulation desk.

"Hello?" said Ash.

"Young man, do you care to explain just what you're doing trespassing in the library at a time like this?" said Officer Jenny.

Ash took a reflexive step away from the phone terminal, his eyes wide.

"Don't you dare run, this is a serious matter!" said Officer Jenny.

Ash stopped in his tracks. He sent a desperate look toward the others. Clemont rose from his chair and hurried to his aid.

"And who is this?" said Officer Jenny as Clemont came into view.

"Officer, please let me explain," said Clemont. "My name is Clemont, and I am the gym leader from Lumiose City. My friends and I were traveling from Laverre City to Dendemille Town when we heard a warning about the blizzard on my weather radio. We rushed to make it to safety before the storm hit, but we didn't make it in time. When we arrived in town, we tried to locate the Pokemon Center and failed, so instead we took shelter in the first substantial building we found. We resorted to this as a matter of necessity. As I'm sure you're aware, the roads are more or less impassable at the moment."

"The gym leader of Lumiose City, you say?" said Officer Jenny. "I'll be checking that. And you mentioned you were with your friends. Are there more of you there?"

"Yes," said Clemont. "There is also my friend Ash, who picked up the phone, as well as my friend Serena, and my sister, Bonnie."

Clemont nodded toward Serena. She felt compelled to bury herself deep within a pile of bean bags and refuse to show her face, but she knew she couldn't hide now. She took Bonnie by the hand and led her to the phone terminal.

"Hello, officer," Serena said, bowing her head.

"So there are four of you in total?" said Officer Jenny.

"Yes, that's correct," said Clemont.

Serena watched as Officer Jenny's eyes moved over the four of them. She tried to make herself appear as innocent as possible, but she knew it was no use.

"The library's security system is what notified us of this," said Officer Jenny. "We're much too busy at headquarters right now to have responded to it immediately, but the system sent an alert about an hour ago stating that the front door had been broken open. Does that sound correct to you?"

Serena heard Ash gulp.

"Yes, it does," said Ash. "We were all tired, freezing, and soaked. We couldn't keep going. I had my Hawlucha help me break open the door."

"I understand that this was an emergency situation," said Officer Jenny, "but you all are lucky that you are too young to charge with a crime for this."

Officer Jenny's words caused silence to grip the group.

"With that being said," Officer Jenny continued, "this is an emergency situation. The entire town is snowbound, and will be for at least the next day, if not two. I, for one, would much rather have to replace a door than have lives be lost. You all will be permitted to continue to shelter in place."

A wave of relief washed over Serena. She could see her feelings reflected in everyone's faces.

"You mean we're not in trouble?" said Ash.

"With the law, no," said Officer Jenny. "However, I am going to have to give you a firm warning to never do anything like this ever again."

"We understand, officer," said Clemont. "You have our word that we shall not give you any more trouble. Isn't that right?"

Clemont looked at all the others and raised his eyebrows, motioning with his head toward the screen.

"Yes, absolutely," said Serena.

"Mhmm!" said Bonnie.

"We promise," said Ash.

"I need you to promise me something else, too," said Officer Jenny. "I need you to promise me that you all won't cause any further trouble while you're sheltering in the library. Please leave everything just as you found it. Please don't damage anything, take anything, or worse, cause a fire. Do you understand?"

Serena stole a glance at their mugs of hot chocolate, abandoned by the bean bag chairs, and felt grateful that Officer Jenny couldn't see them.

"We understand," said Clemont. "Thank you for your consideration."

"You're welcome," said Officer Jenny. "I will be checking in with you all tomorrow, time permitting. Take care."

The video screen switched off. A few seconds later, Clemont removed his glasses, wiped his brow, and exhaled a sigh of relief.

"That was fortunate," he said. "That could have gone much, much worse."

Serena's heart was racing. They had escaped once again, this time from the law. She caught Ash's eye, and it was clear to her that he couldn't believe their luck.

Serena felt herself flush with sudden embarrassment and a desire to cause no more trouble whatsoever. That was enough danger for one day, she thought.

"I really need to lie down," said Clemont, affixing his glasses to his nose again.

"Me too," said Serena. She returned immediately to her bean bag chair and busied herself with what remained of her hot chocolate.

It was only after everyone sat down again and the adrenaline of avoiding trouble with the law wore off that it occurred to anyone just how late it was. The clock above the circulation desk showed that it was approaching midnight, yet Serena found herself unable to sleep. She wasn't sure if her body had ever been more fatigued, but her mind would not stop racing.

After some time spent laying wide awake, gazing at the cavernous ceiling, Serena sat up and saw that everyone else was asleep. She envied them. She spent a minute glaring at everyone and feeling miserable, but she soon decided that if she wasn't going to be able to fall asleep, it would be best to spend her time doing something else.

She stood up and looked around. Her feet ached. For a moment, she wondered what she could possibly do, but then it occurred to her that she was in a library. There were thousands of books surrounding her on all sides. If she couldn't fall asleep on her own, perhaps a good book would be able to help her on her way.

Serena wrapped her blanket around her shoulders and tiptoed her way past her sleeping friends, into the vast, unexplored sections of the library. A sign on one of the walls showed that the two upper floors were occupied by reference works and nonfiction. She decided the first floor would be where she remained.

She looked at the signs hanging above each of the rows of bookshelves. There was a section dedicated to the newest, most popular books nearest the front desk. There were large sections dedicated to fantasy and historical fiction, neither of which interested her at the moment. What caught her eye was the section in the far corner - romance.

Serena smirked as she entered the section. The spines of the paperbacks were creased from use. The pages were yellowed. She felt distinctly naughty. These were the types of books that her mother had tried to keep away from her as a young child, calling them sordid trash and shallow wish fulfillment. They had covers that had always been hidden from her eyes, depicting bare-chested men, or scantily-clad lovers in the throes of passion. Little had her mother known of the many peeks at the contents of these works she had stolen over the years. It made Serena all the more excited to be able to peruse them now with no fear of being caught.

Careful to place each book back in its proper place, she set about attempting to find the sleaziest one possible, judging by the title and cover art. At first, she thought she had found a winner in the shirtless fireman on the cover of Flamethrower, but when she happened upon Love Sandwich, she knew it was the one. Eagerly, she crammed Flamethrower back into place on the shelf and stared at the cover of her new find. She snorted as she read the tagline. "They went together like peanut butter and jelly - the perfect sandwich of love." The man depicted on the cover appeared to have muscles in places that no normal man would. Serena wondered if he was even anatomically correct. She giggled at the thought of attaching Ash's face to the man's body.

Serena sat down on the floor and rested her back against the shelf. Glancing back at her sleeping friends, she opened the book. She bit down on her lip as she turned to the first page. Never before had she been allowed to indulge in such a guilty pleasure so openly.

She felt her stomach jump. She had barely begun the first sentence as her cheeks began to turn red. At once, she felt ashamed. This was a transgression. It was breaking the rules. She felt her disappointment with herself drown out the excitement of doing something that felt so dirty. She heard Ash snore in the distance. She took a deep breath and carried on.

Her disappointment returned, but this time it was because the book was terrible. The author prattled on about an impossibly bland woman, devoid of characterization aside from being the designated protagonist and needing a real man. Her unimaginably dreary existence seemed to consist of nothing but endless days of overcast skies and office drudgery, bookended by sitcom reruns and pints of ice cream in her drab apartment, punctuated only by the dubious sexual tension during her manager's visits to her cubicle. The exposition was so dull that Serena flipped back to the table of contents and then skipped ahead two full chapters in hope of getting to the good parts.

Far from the fireworks for which she had hoped, by the time the couple shared their first kiss - while absconding to a broom closet during an office party, no less - Serena found herself incapable of staying awake. After several attempts at reading the same paragraph without her eyes reaching the end of it, the book fell from her hands, and her head slumped forward.

Sleep came, and with it came a dream of working a mundane desk job in which Ash frequently stopped by her cubicle, dressed as a fireman, always wearing his coat with the top three buttons undone and nothing underneath.

The first thing Serena was aware of was a terrible ache in her backside. She opened her eyes and found a disused book laying open by her side. Despite blinking several times and squinting quite hard at the nearest window, she could not discern the time of day. The light was a faint blue, both dark and light at the same time.

With a groan, she rolled over onto her side. She felt all of her joints protest, and memories of the arduous march the day before came back to her. She rubbed her aching tailbone and regretted her poor decision to allow herself to fall asleep seated on the floor. Her hands felt icy even through her pajama bottoms. She shifted her eyes upward to the bookshelf behind her and felt a pang of embarrassment. Stiff, she rose to her feet, placed her book back on the shelf, and hobbled her way back to the other side of the library, hoping her absence had not been noticed.

Indeed, it had not. It was much warmer in the children's section, where everyone else remained sound asleep in their bean bag chairs. Serena approached the radiator and warmed her hands over it. She took a closer look at the odd light coming through the window. Outside, there was snow drifting in the frames of the panes of glass. Beyond that, there was little visible aside from an empty white void. It was a whiteout.

She shivered and wrapped her blanket more tightly around her shoulders. She glanced at her empty bean bag chair and dreaded how cold it would feel when she returned to it. The empty mug next to it made her long for another warm drink. For a moment, she considered rousing Bonnie to ask where she had found the hot chocolate the previous night, but then she noticed a sign near the entrance to the main hallway that showed the direction of the staff break room.

Serena welcomed the hum of the microwave as she stood alone in the break room, waiting for the water to boil. It was so quiet, aside from the occasional roar of a gust of wind. Her eyes shifted around the empty room. Everything felt so unnatural. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tugged at her blanket and let herself drift away, imagining Ash's arms wrapped around her instead. It was such a pleasant thought. She felt a bit warmer.

Her reverie was interrupted by the microwave timer. Disappointed, she sighed as she stirred the powdery mix into the steaming water. She wondered if drinking the staff's hot chocolate would get them in trouble with Officer Jenny. She tried to quell the thought with a sip of the stuff, but it was so hot that she flinched away the second it touched her lips, spilling some on the floor. Cursing herself for not realizing the drink was going to be too hot, she grabbed a fistful of paper towels and mopped up the mess.

She found the others still asleep when she returned. Trying to be as quiet as possible, she sat down on her squashy bean bag and sipped her drink, lost in thought. To her surprise, she saw Ash's eyes open, bleary in the weak light.

He looked up at her and smiled. Serena's eyes widened, and she looked around as if to find who Ash was addressing. It was her, of course, and she felt rather silly when she looked back at him after a couple of seconds.

"Hey," he said, his voice no more than a whisper.

"Hey," Serena said, whispering back. "What are you doing awake? Did I wake you up?"

"I thought I smelled something good," said Ash.

Serena looked down at the mug in her hands.

"So I did wake you up," said Serena.

"I guess?" said Ash. "No big deal. What are you doing up?"

"Oh, I got cold, so I went and got some more of this," said Serena, raising her mug. "Want some?"

"Sure," said Ash, sitting upright.

Serena passed her mug to Ash, and he took a tiny first sip, followed by a much longer second one. When he went back for a third, Serena raised an eyebrow at him.

"I said some, not all," she said.

"Hey, give me a break, it's really good!" said Ash, passing the mug back to her.

"I'm mostly kidding," said Serena.

"Guess I'll have to get my own, then," said Ash, glancing at the empty mug beside his bean bag.

"You guessed right," said Serena, sending him a level glare over the top of her mug as she took a long drink from it.

"Hey, does anyone else want some hot chocolate?"

Serena jumped in her seat at the change in volume in Ash's voice. What had been a whisper was now much louder.

"Ash, don't wake them up!" Serena said, hushing him. "I'm sure they're really tired from yester-"

But then, Bonnie began to stir, and Serena went silent, shaking her head.

"Morning, Bonnie," said Ash.

Bonnie mumbled something unintelligible and rolled over, turning away from Ash. Serena was certain it was something that would have gotten her in trouble if Clemont had heard it.

"Do you want some more hot chocolate?" said Ash.

"I wanna sleep," said Bonnie. "Why do you have to be so loud?"

Serena saw Ash looking embarrassed. She smirked and turned her eyes away from him.

"Sorry," said Ash, speaking in a much softer voice. "What about you, Clemont?"

Clemont offered no response. He had not yet moved.

"Hey, big brother, Ash is talking to you," said Bonnie, rather impatient.

There was still no response.

"Wow, he's really out cold, huh?" said Ash.

Bonnie sat up.

"Clemont?" she said.

Serena felt her brow tighten. Bonnie looked concerned. It was unmistakable.

Bonnie stepped forward and shook Clemont by the shoulder.

"Hey, Clemont!" she said.

Clemont made a startled noise, but whatever he intended to say was cut short by a guttural cough.

"Whoa, Clemont, are you okay?" said Ash.

Clemont continued to cough. When the fit ended, he let out a distressed groan.

"Oh no..." he said. His voice was hoarse.

"What's wrong?" said Bonnie. "Are you sick?"

"I feel awful," said Clemont. He made a movement to sit up, but failed and gave up halfway.

"You don't sound good at all," said Ash. "What's going on?"

"It must have been all that time in the snow yesterday," said Clemont. "Weakened my immune system..."

"Your what system?" said Bonnie.

"Immune system," said Clemont. He stopped to cough some more. "Being in adverse conditions for so long can make the body more susceptible to illness..."

"Small words, please," said Bonnie.

"I think he means the cold made him sick," said Ash.

"Oh brother," said Bonnie.

Clemont made a pained maneuver to roll onto his side. He took a raspy breath.

"It's unfortunate that you're sick, Clemont, but at least we don't have to go anywhere," said Serena. "You don't even have to get up. We couldn't go anywhere if we wanted."

Her eyes shifted to the snow-covered window pane, and Ash and Bonnie followed her.

"Oh wow!" said Bonnie, hurrying to the window and standing on her toes to look out of it. "That's so much snow! Way more than when we got here!"

"How much have we had?" said Ash.

"I don't know," said Serena. "I couldn't tell when I looked out the window earlier. Everything was just... white. I couldn't see anything."

"If the forecast holds, we've had at least a foot by now, I'm certain," said Clemont. "But me being certain did a lot of good for us yesterday, so-"

"Oh, hush," said Bonnie.

"Yeah, don't be so hard on yourself," said Ash. "Everything worked out fine."

"You should go back to sleep," said Serena. "You're going to make yourself sicker if you keep talking. Get some rest."

"Definitely," said Ash. "You should take it easy. We would be stuck outside in this mess if you hadn't warned us about it. We owe you, big time."

"Are you hungry?" said Bonnie. "I saw some soup in the break room last night. We can bring you some."

"Oh man, I'm hungry," said Ash, clasping a hand to his stomach.

"I didn't ask you!" said Bonnie. "You're always hungry."

The canned soup from the break room was mediocre, but it was better than nothing, and Clemont rested more peacefully after eating some of it. Forced to remain quiet for Clemont's sake, Serena tried to take a nap of her own. Sleep didn't come, and when she was overcome by a fit of boredom, she resolved to get up and do something, anything. With her regular clothes now well-dried thanks to the radiator, she changed back into them and ventured onto the main floor of the library again.

Right away, she found Ash and Bonnie seated at a table - one which was much too short for Ash - which was covered with coloring supplies. The two of them were working in silence, focused on staying inside the lines of their coloring book pages. Pikachu was helping by passing the two of them crayons of whatever color they needed. It was too adorable for Serena to resist.

After joining them and working for some time on coloring an image of a rose, Serena jumped in her seat when she heard a sudden and powerful gust of wind. She and the others looked up just in time to see the lights go out.

"Who turned out the lights?" said Bonnie. "I can't see my page anymore!"

"I think the storm turned out the lights," said Ash.

Serena took out a Pokeball and released Braixen.

"Braixen, we need your help," she said. "The lights have gone out, but with the fire from your wand, we can see."

Braixen nodded in understanding and readied her wand. A gentle flame appeared at the tip, and the room was lit once again.

"I think we should get back to Clemont," said Ash. "If he wakes up, he's going to wonder what's going on."

Bonnie and Serena agreed, and Braixen led the way back to their bean bag fortress.

When they arrived, they found Clemont already awake.

"Why are you awake again?" said Bonnie. "We told you to sleep!"

"I heard the wind," he said. "And when I opened my eyes, it was dark."

"Yeah, there was a big gust, and then the lights went out," said Ash.

"You're lucky you had Braixen with you to help you see," said Clemont.

Serena stepped over to the radiator to warm her hands, but it was no use. The radiator had gone cold.

"It's not just the lights that are out, you know," she said to the others. "There's no heat, either."

"That's not surprising," said Clemont, shifting to look toward Serena. "That's an electric radiator. If we lost the lights, that means we lost power, so we lost our heat source, too."

Clemont had another coughing fit before settling onto his back again.

"We really need the heat, though," said Ash. "We don't want you to get any worse."

"We have Braixen, though!" said Bonnie. "She can keep us warm."

Serena saw Braixen giving Bonnie a perturbed look.

"I don't think Braixen can keep all of us warm," she said. "That's a lot of work for one Pokemon. We really need to get the heat back on, somehow."

"But how do we do that?" said Bonnie.

"Most public buildings like this one have an emergency backup generator," said Clemont. "That's no good in this situation, though, because if there is a generator, it's surely outside and surely buried in snow right now. Its exhaust port will be covered, and we can't run it under those conditions."

"Why not?" said Ash.

"Because that can damage the engine," said Clemont. "Or worse, if the generator is housed in a way that connects it to this building and its exhaust port is covered, that could lead to a carbon monoxide buildup in here, which is, well... lethal."

Ash gulped.

"Okay then, so that's off the table," he said. "Is there maybe some way we could use our electric Pokemon to power this place up again?"

Clemont grinned.

"I'm glad you asked, Ash, because the future is n-"

But he was cut short by another coughing fit.

"Don't strain your voice like that!" said Serena. "You sound bad enough already. Don't make yourself worse."

"And I know that science is amazing," said Ash. "What do we need to do?"

"I have a device that can regulate the output from an highly variable electrical source, such as from Pikachu, Luxray, or Dedenne," said Clemont. "We'll have to access the building's circuit breaker. That's the most likely place where we would find a suitable point to connect the device. And then, we'll need our Pokemon to help out."

Pikachu pumped a fist, ready for action.

"This thing isn't going to explode, is it?" said Bonnie.

"Well, there's one more thing," said Clemont, causing Bonnie to roll her eyes. "I'm going to have to take a look at the building's circuitry and calibrate the device based on what I see. I have to ensure that the device's output is compatible with the building's circuitry, because if it isn't, we could very easily burn this place to the ground."

"Alright," said Ash. "Let's get to it, then. Where do you think the circuit breaker is?"

"Not so fast," said Clemont. "I need to double check some of my work before we do this. I need to be completely certain about what we're doing, because we're in enough trouble as it is."

Serena felt a horrid feeling at the bottom of her stomach as she imagined Officer Jenny leading them away in handcuffs after burning down the building.

"I need to check some of my math," said Clemont. "I need to be absolutely sure that I'm using the right equations. To do that, I'm going to need a reference book."

There was a brief silence.

"A reference book?" said Ash. "What do you mean?"

"I need to look up the equations to make sure I've been using them correctly," said Clemont.

"There are equations you don't know?" said Ash.

"There are lots of equations I don't know," said Clemont.

"No wonder all of your stuff explodes," said Bonnie.

"We can't afford for this one to explode," said Clemont. "There must be a book somewhere in here that discusses electric power distribution."

Serena gazed up at the cavernous ceiling three stories above them. There were so many books in this place. She didn't have a clue where to begin searching.

Clemont rolled onto his side and moved as if to stand, but fell flat on his back.

"Unfortunately, I don't know if I'll be able to help you find it," he said.

"That's no problem," said Ash. "You stay here and rest. We need you help with the hard parts. Finding a book is the easy part."

"What book do we need to find, though?" said Serena.

"Anything about electric power," said Clemont. "Not electromagnetism, not electronics, but electric power."

"What's the difference?" said Serena.

"Why, I'm glad you asked," said Clemont. "You see, electr-"

"We don't have time for this!" said Bonnie. "We got it. Electric power. Now let's go find it!"

With Braixen leading the way again, Ash, Serena, and Bonnie headed to the nearest map of the library and examined it. The book that Clemont needed was most likely on the third floor, either in the science or reference sections. To their luck, they found several scented candles in a librarian's office. Although their light was weak, they enabled Serena to return Braixen to her ball to rest, and enabled the three of them to split up.

The search proved to be tedious work. Clemont's instructions were just specific enough to disqualify almost every promising book they found. The science section held an astonishing number of books which longed to tell them all about the various components of electromagnetism, but none of which looked like they contained the secrets of electric power.

Serena felt herself becoming more and more agitated with each book they found which proved to be useless. Ash, meanwhile, became more ridiculous with each one.

"Hey, maybe this one will help!" he said, holding up a thick, hardcover book and waving it above his head.

"What is it about?" said Bonnie.

"Optics," said Ash, reading from the cover.

"That's not electric power," said Serena. "Keep searching."

"None of them are electric power," said Ash. "But maybe this one can help us get the lights back on? It looks like it's all about light."

Serena glared at him, but her expression was lost in the darkness.

"Aw, yeah, check this out!" said Ash, pointing to an open page. "We could make a laser!"

"Yeah, that would be so cool!" said Bonnie.

Serena groaned.

"Do you two want to check the reference section instead?" she said, pleading for the sanity that peace and quiet would bring. "I'll finish up in here. There isn't much more to go."

Ash closed the book and set it down on the floor.

"Alright," he said. "We probably should get a head start. Do you remember which way it is from here, Bonnie?"

"I think it's to the right," said Bonnie.

The two of them continued discussing the whereabouts of the reference section as the traces of their candlelight disappeared from Serena's vision. She sighed as she reached the end of the last shelf. They had found nothing that looked like it was Clemont needed.

She turned to leave and follow Ash and Bonnie when she noticed the book that Ash had left behind. She picked it up and grimaced at it. It was an optics textbook, not even close to what Clemont needed. On a whim, she opened the cover, wondering what Ash could have found so promising about it. The inside of the front cover was occupied by a table full of formulas and numbers. There were lots of equations here, just none that seemed related to electric power.

For a moment her eyes were caught by a section regarding the ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. She scoffed at it and shoved the book back onto the shelf when she realized what she was reading. Knowing that visible light had a wavelength of 400 to 700 nanometers did nothing to help them. She quelled her frustrations by imagining attacking Ash with a giant laser beam. Under any other circumstances, she would have appreciated his humor, but it was getting cold in the library and their situation was already stressful enough when they had heat and light.

Serena exited the science section and looked to the right. There were several other sections in that direction, and the signs that indicated which was which were difficult to see in the dim light. Serena decided to turn into the first one and start searching.

After only a few steps, she knew it was the wrong section. There was a giant map of the world on one of the walls, a tall globe standing at the end of a row, and an ornate full-length standing mirror in a corner. She figured it to be the geography section.

She turned to leave, but before she could, she caught a trace of movement out of the corner of her eye.

Serena turned around, startled. There was no one there. She could see nothing but what little the light of her candle showed her, and her faint reflection in the mirror.

Her eyes narrowed. She walked toward the mirror, her reflection becoming clearer with each step.

And then, she gasped.

Her reflection in the mirror was moving on its own.

And it was wearing different clothes.

### Chapter Text

Serena shut her eyes, then opened them again.

The rogue reflection was still there. She shook her head as if trying to clear it of something. What she saw remained consistent. In the mirror before her was the image of her old self. Her hair was still long, she still wore the outfit with the black blouse and red skirt. The reflection was undeniably Serena, but not the Serena who was staring into the mirror.

Serena placed her candle on the floor in front of the mirror. She looked down at her arms and legs, then back to her reflection. She had stopped wearing that outfit long ago, and indeed, she was not wearing it now. She tugged at her hair. It was still short. How was her reflection's hair long?

Most jarring, though, was the way that her reflection moved independently of her. While Serena patted herself down to make sure she was still real and wasn't dreaming, her reflection was reapplying her makeup on the other side of the mirror. The sight of it gave Serena the idea to peek around the back side of the mirror to see if her doppelganger was standing there, but when she looked, there was nothing but empty space.

Serena watched her reflection continue to examine herself. Her reflection looked flawless, far better than she ever had. All the familiar spots on her face that weren't quite right were unnoticeable. Her eyes, sharp. Her lips, supple. She looked the way that Serena had always wanted to look.

Serena shook her head again, breaking herself from her daze. She felt like she should try to speak to her reflection, but her voice was hiding from her.

"Hello?" she said, whispering.

Her reflection did not react. Instead, the reflection clasped her makeup case shut and moved to place it in her bag.

Realizing that her reflection would soon be leaving, Serena tried again.

"Hello?" she said, much louder this time.

For a second, there was silence, but then a reply echoed through the library.

"Was that you, Serena?"

It was Ash. Her reflection hadn't heard. It was just then that her reflection turned to leave.

"Wait!" Serena said.

Not quite understanding why she did it, as if she expected to reach out and touch someone who wasn't there, she grasped at the mirror with her hand.

To her astonishment, her hand passed through it.

Before she realized what was happening, her entire arm passed into the mirror. The glass wasn't solid. It wasn't there at all. Her momentum carried her forward as she fell through the frame, moving in a direction which had no name. Her reflection exited the geography section and disappeared around the corner. Serena attempted to hold onto the frame of the mirror itself to break her fall, but instead she fell face first onto the floor, dragging the mirror with her.

There was a loud crash, and Serena feared to open her eyes, expecting to find herself covered in shards of broken glass. She felt around on the floor and found nothing. When she opened her eyes, she saw the mirror fractured, but still in its frame. She wasn't sure if she should feel relieved or alarmed.

She became alarmed, though, when she realized the lights were on. She rose to her knees, then froze when she heard a voice.

"My goodness, what in the world do you think that commotion was?" said Bonnie.

"I dunno," said Ash. "Do you wanna check it out, Serena?"

Serena watched, open-mouthed, as the spitting image of her old self poked her head around the corner, then looked away.

"It's nothing," Serena's reflection said. "Some nerd knocked over the mirror, that's all. It's no big deal. Let's find Clemont and get out of here."

Though Serena felt it was impossible, her jaw extended farther downward. She heard her friends' voices trail off as they walked away.

"I suspect that he is neck-deep in the fantasy section right now," said Bonnie. "We will be most fortunate if we find ourselves capable of prying him away so soon."

"What if he's already left?" said Ash. "I'll never be able to catch up with him if he has."

"No way, he would never do that," said Serena's reflection. "You should know that by now."

Serena became aware that it had been quite some time since she had last taken a breath, and she compensated for it by hyperventilating. She panicked, heaving the heavy mirror upright again, several loose pieces of it tumbling out of the frame and onto the floor as she did so. She looked back into the shattered glass. There was no rogue reflection this time, only hundreds of jagged reflections of her frightened face staring back at her. She grabbed a shard on the floor and held it up the the remains of the mirror, trying to find the hole from which it had fallen, but her endeavor was hopeless. At a loss, she slipped the shard into her pocket and broke into a mad sprint in the direction she last heard her friends.

She stopped in her tracks when she reached the third floor balcony and looked into the atrium below. She found herself far from alone. People shuffled around, going about their business as they always would in a library, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. The air tasted different. It was warm and humid.

Serena spotted her reflection, along with Ash and Bonnie, already one story down from where she was. She broke into a sprint again, this time weaving through several confused patrons, descending the steps as quick as her legs would allow. When she reached the ground floor, she saw Clemont meeting them on the far side of the floor, headed for the exit.

She dashed toward the door. There were people crowded all around the exit, all of whom looked either confused or offended as she pushed past them.

"Wait!"

Her call went unheard. Serena stepped through the door and was blinded by the brightness of the sunlight. It was unbearably hot. There was not a trace of snow anywhere.

When her eyes adjusted, she saw her friends and her reflection at the end of the sidewalk, waiting to cross the road.

"Wait!" she said again.

The traffic light turned, and it was their turn to go.

"Ash!"

Ash halted and looked behind him, and the rest of the group stopped, too.

Out of breath, Serena came running up to them. She stopped in front of them, hands on her knees.

"Ash, what's going on?" she said. "And who is this? This is completely crazy!"

"Speaking of crazy..." Serena's reflection said, eyeing the others. She whispered to them. "This is that weird girl who knocked over the mirror."

Pikachu perked up on Ash's shoulder, a mischievous look on his face.

"Uh," said Ash, looking lost for words. "I'm sorry, but I don't think we've met. I don't know what you're talking about. How do you know my name?"

Serena stared at them all with her mouth open, aghast.

"What do you mean we haven't met?!" said Serena, her eyes darting about as she looked to her other friends for support. She found nothing but confusion on their faces. "We've been travelling together for a long time! I was talking to you just five minutes ago! Bonnie! You were there, too!"

Clemont stepped forward.

"I beg your pardon, miss, but I don't know who you are and I would prefer if you left my sister out of this," he said.

"Clemont!" said Serena. "You were so sick you couldn't even get out of bed! How are you here?!"

"Sick?" said Clemont. "That's ridiculous! I'm in prime form today. I feel like I could run a marathon!"

Serena took a step back. She grasped at her head in disbelief.

"Ash, you... you've got to back me up here!" she said. "If this is a joke, it's really impressive but it isn't funny anymore! What is going on? And who is this?!"

Serena made a desperate gesture in the direction of her reflection. Her reflection looked disgusted.

"What do you mean?" said Ash. "That's Serena. Who are you?"

Serena took an unsteady breath.

"I'm Serena!" she said. "Who is she, and why does she look exactly like me?"

Serena's reflection scoffed.

"I don't look like you," she said.

"Yes you do!" said Serena. "I used to wear that outfit! And I wore my hair the same way! We're the same height! We have the same face! The same eyes! Look!"

Serena removed her hat and pulled back her hair.

"We have the same face!" she said again.

Serena saw her reflection's eyes narrow.

"Wait a minute," her reflection said.

Serena watched as her reflection removed her hat and pulled back her hair. The two of them locked eyes and shared the strange experience of gazing upon oneself.

"Serena, she does look just like you," Ash said.

"You two are indeed one in the same," said Bonnie. "You look different in superficial ways, but your faces betray the truth."

"Incredible," said Clemont. "And all this confusion makes me think I know what has happened here!"

"You do?" said Ash.

"I do," said Clemont. "And in fact, you should know, too."

"Me?" said Ash.

"Yes," said Clemont. "If my hunch is correct, I suspect that the very same magic that brought your mirror self to this world several months ago has brought Serena's mirror self here today!"

"Whoa, really?" said Ash.

Serena's eyes went wide.

"It's the best explanation!" said Clemont.

Serena's reflection let her hair down again.

"Do you really think so?" she said. "Call me crazy, but having a long-lost twin that my mother never told me about seems more likely."

Serena's eyes moved from friend to friend. There was something strange about them.

"Well, it happened before," said Ash. "Don't you remember that weird mirror version of me? He and his Pikachu were awesome."

Serena's eye slid out of focus. Something was very wrong. Ash's shoulders were slumping. Pikachu's face bore a devilish grin. Clemont had a wooden staff tucked into the rolls of his backpack. Bonnie was still as a statue, calm and composed. This wasn't right at all.

"I remember," said Serena's reflection, "but I also remember seeing my mirror self in Reflection Cave that day when that Ash went back to his world, and she dressed just like me. And I told her to hold onto her Ash, no matter what..."

Serena bit down on her lip. Her eye twitched. This couldn't be happening.

"...but if she's here right now, it looks like she didn't do that, did she?"

Serena gazed upon her mirror self. She felt flooded with understanding.

"I remember you," she said. "I remember you telling me to do that."

"Did you do it?" said Mirror Serena.

Serena hesitated.

"No," she said. "I wanted to. I tried. But... no."

Mirror Serena crossed her arms. Serena stared at her, feeling like she was going to melt beneath her imperious gaze.

"So, you travel with all the versions of us from, you know, your world?" said Ash.

Serena nodded.

"Fascinating!" said Clemont. "I knew it was true! I wonder what kind of sorcery took place to allow such a miraculous thing to happen again?"

"I remember seeing you in the mirror in that cave, too," said Ash. "You looked just like our Serena then. What happened?"

"I got a haircut," said Serena. "And I got new clothes. Why hasn't your Serena changed like I have?"

"Why should I change?" said Mirror Serena.

"If you ask me, I think her response is self-demonstrating, yes?" said Bonnie.

Serena covered her face with her hands. This was absurd. This was impossible.

"I just-" she said before tears choked her voice. "I just can't believe this. How can this be happening? This is so crazy, everything is so different, everything is wrong!"

Serena swallowed and tried to focus. Her head hurt from the strain. A tear fell and streaked down her cheek.

"How is this happening?" she said. "Where am I?"

Mirror Serena bit the inside of her lip and shifted her eyes away.

"You two truly are opposites," said Clemont. "Not one of us can be said to have ever seen our Serena cry. Our Ash, on the other hand..."

"Hey!" said Ash. He looked offended.

"How about we get our guest from another world out of the sun?" said Bonnie. "I believe some ice cream and some shade might do wonders for her."

Ice cream, at least, proved to be one constant between both worlds. No matter how strange her surroundings were at the moment, strawberry flavor remained the same. Serena was grateful for it.

The group sat at a picnic table in the park, under the shade of an old tree. Serena saw eyes moving over her every now and then. Very little had been said since they sat down. The others all seemed to be regarding her as a bomb that could detonate at any moment.

Serena drained the last bit of melted ice cream from the bottom of the cup. Even in the shade, it was miserably hot. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand, feeling like she was going to wilt.

"Why is it so hot?" she said. "It was snowing in my world."

"It was?" said Ash.

"Yes," said Serena. "There was a blizzard! We were snowed in at the library."

"What a peculiar place to be stranded," said Bonnie. "I presume that if you were indeed snowbound in the library, it was in the library that you found an entrance to this world?"

"Accidentally, yes," said Serena. "I was looking for Ash and Bonnie, and I came across a mirror. When I looked into it, I thought I saw my reflection in it, but the reflection was moving on its own, and had different hair and clothes. It was, well, you."

Serena gestured toward Mirror Serena. Mirror Serena was aloof, still working on her ice cream, behaving as if she had heard nothing.

Serena eyed Mirror Serena levelly. She doubted that any of the ice cream left in her cup was still frozen. She could see Mirror Serena's makeup beginning to wash away from sweat. She was wearing more of it than Serena ever had.

"That's so weird," said Ash. He struggled to keep what was left of his ice cream away from Pikachu, who was swiping at it from atop his shoulder.

"It is indeed bizarre!" said Bonnie. "I struggle to imagine the feeling of seeing it with my own eyes."

"What happened after you saw the strange reflection?" said Clemont.

"I tried to say hello," said Serena. "It didn't work, so I tried again, but then you turned to leave."

Serena met eyes with Mirror Serena. Mirror Serena had her spoon in her mouth, savoring whatever was left of her ice cream. She paused and raised an eyebrow at Serena.

"And when you left, I reached out to try to stop you," said Serena.

Mirror Serena removed the spoon from her mouth.

"You tried to reach into a mirror?" she said.

"Well, it worked," said Serena.

Ash chuckled, but tried to hide it.

"I think you might find it difficult to argue with that, Serena," said Bonnie.

Mirror Serena said nothing, and placed the spoon in her mouth again.

"Fascinating," said Clemont. "So, you passed through the mirror then?"

"I fell through it, really," said Serena. "I tried to hold onto it, but instead it just went falling down with me. The mirror in this world, anyway."

"That must have been the noise we heard," said Ash.

"Ah, yes," said Bonnie. "We dispatched Serena to investigate, and she told us-"

"That some nerd knocked over the mirror," said Serena. Her brow creased as she spoke. "I heard."

Silence swept across the table.

"That is what she said," said Ash.

Mirror Serena removed the spoon from her mouth again, this time placing it into the bowl and placing the bowl on the table.

"I didn't recognize you," she said. "You look so different."

"We have the same face," said Serena. She wanted to add that perhaps Mirror Serena would have recognized that if she wore less makeup, but she bit her tongue.

"In Serena's defense, you have made a pretty big change to your style," said Clemont. "It was difficult to recognize you at first."

"Why did you make so many changes?" said Ash.

Before Serena could say anything, Mirror Serena spoke up.

"Yes, please tell us," she said, neglecting to make eye contact. "Why did you cut your hair? And what is that outfit you're wearing?"

Serena felt her jaw tighten. She reached for the ribbon around her collar and closed her hand around it.

"I mean, why did you decide to do it?" said Mirror Serena. "Why would you ever want to?"

"I had a lot of reasons to do it!" said Serena. "It was one of the hardest choices I've ever made!"

Mirror Serena's expression remained unchanged.

"The day before I did it, I participated in my first Pokemon Showcase," said Serena. "I embarrassed myself and my Pokemon. We weren't prepared at all, and that was my fault. Early the next morning, I took my Pokemon out to the shore, told them I was sorry, and cut my hair."

"To disguise yourself or something?" said Mirror Serena. "That seems like a little much. It can't have been that bad."

"No!" said Serena. "It wasn't to disguise myself! I cut my hair as part of my resolution to do better, for myself and my Pokemon! And when I went back to the Pokemon Center, that was when I chose my new outfit."

"You put together that to show that you were going to be stronger?" said Mirror Serena.

Serena felt her jaw drop, and her cheeks flushed red. Her fists tightened.

"I made it myself!" said Serena. "I put it together from pieces of my old outfit and showcase dress, to remind me of where I was coming from and to show that I was becoming something new! And I tied it together with a ribbon that Ash gave to me, as a symbol of our friendship!"

Serena shook with each breath. She was furious.

"You didn't do anything like that with the ribbon I gave you," said Ash.

Mirror Serena rolled her eyes.

"You do Pokemon Showcases?" she said.

"Yes!" said Serena.

"How many gym badges do you have?" said Mirror Serena.

"I don't have any!" said Serena.

"What?" said Mirror Serena. "You're doing showcases instead of gym battles? Are you serious?"

"Of course I'm serious!" said Serena. "Didn't you hear what I just said about why I cut my hair and changed my clothes? I said it was one of the hardest choices I've ever made!"

"Unbelievable," said Mirror Serena. "I can't believe that my mirror self would say she wants to get better and improve herself, but choose to do silly showcases over gym battles."

"It makes perfect sense to me," said Clemont. "She's from the mirror world. It's not supposed to be a reflection of how we are. It's our opposite."

"Well that's not how it should be," said Mirror Serena. "My mirror self should still be a strong trainer. She should just be different in other ways."

"I'm sorry to say that it doesn't work like that," said Clemont. "I know you remember Ash's mirror self."

"Yeah, he was super awesome and strong," said Ash.

"That wouldn't be your opposite if you would really put your heart into it," said Mirror Serena. "He wasn't supposed to be your opposite. He was what you could be."

"That's... not how the mirror world the prophecy speaks of works," said Clemont.

"And it's the same thing I'm seeing in you!" said Mirror Serena, her sharp gaze piercing Serena. "You could have been strong, too! But instead you failed and then cut your hair to show how different you were making yourself."

"I'm plenty strong," Serena said through gritted teeth.

"Oh?" said Mirror Serena. "Are you? Why don't we see about that? How does three versus three sound?"

Serena gulped. She wasn't talking about strength in battle.

"Well?" said Mirror Serena.

Serena felt a flash of nerves in the pit of her stomach. She only had two Pokemon. She reached for her bag, but it wasn't there. It wasn't in this world at all.

"Are you positive that a battle is the best course of action?" said Bonnie. "From everything we have heard, I would surmise that your counterpart is not as interested in battling as you are."

Serena felt Braixen's Pokeball in her pocket. She didn't even have two Pokemon in this world. She had one.

"I battled the Ash from her world, and now I want to battle her, too," said Mirror Serena. "What's so wrong with that? I want to know how strong she is."

Serena pulled the Pokeball out of her pocket.

"It will have to be one on one," she said, her voice meek. "I only have one Pokemon with me."

She expected an immediate verbal rebuttal, but to her surprise, Mirror Serena accepted her answer.

"Fair enough," Mirror Serena said. "One on one it is. Over there."

Mirror Serena pointed to a patch of open field in the center of the park.

"Sure," said Serena.

As Serena rose from the table, she wasn't sure about anything. She wasn't sure why she had agreed to do this, and she was even less sure about her ability to win. Braixen was capable, but she wasn't trained to be fighter.

Maybe a miracle was possible.

When they reached the open field, she and Mirror Serena stood on opposite sides, facing each other. She sent out Braixen.

Serena's hope for a miracle ended when Mirror Serena sent out Delphox.

"Your Braixen is going to have to be really impressive if you want to defeat Delphox," said Mirror Serena. "That's going to be a tall order."

Mirror Serena smirked at the world tall, and it was clear to Serena as to why. The height difference between Delphox and Braixen was striking, a clear demonstration of why this battle was foolish. Delphox was twice as tall as Braixen, and the late afternoon sun cast a shadow that reached across the battlefield from Delphox almost to Braixen's feet.

"Whenever you're ready," said Mirror Serena.

Serena grimaced. She was never going to be ready for this.

"Are you ready, Braixen?" she said.

Braixen removed her wand from her tail and lit the flame at the tip.

"We're ready," said Serena.

"Your move," said Mirror Serena.

Serena hesitated. Delphox looked uninterested in her diminutive opponent, almost bored.

"Braixen, Hidden Power!"

"Delphox, Light Screen!"

Braixen's Hidden Power bounced weakly off the shield that Delphox created. Mirror Serena seemed intrigued.

"Blue, huh?" she said. "It looks like your Braixen's Hidden Power is water type! Interesting! You're going to have to get in a much better hit than that if you want to win, though!"

Serena blinked, vacant. If Braixen's Hidden Power was in fact a water type move, this was the first she had heard of it. Never before had she even thought to ask what type of move it was.

"Delphox, Mystical Fire!"

"Braixen, Flamethrower!"

Delphox drew a circle in the air with her wand, creating a ring of fire. It shot toward Braixen, and Braixen fired a jet of flame from her wand through the center of the ring. The ring closed as it approached its target. Braixen's Flamethrower was absorbed by the Light Screen, and Delphox's Mystical Fire hit Braixen directly.

Braixen was knocked back several feet, but remained upright. Serena took no solace in Braixen's tenacity. She was certain the hit had been worse than it looked. Delphox had barely moved.

"Braixen, Hidden Power!"

"Delphox, Psyshock!"

Braixen fired the blue orbs of energy from her Hidden Power again, but this time, they were smaller. Delphox lifted her wand and created three orbs of violet energy in the air, flicking each one at Braixen's oncoming attack. The attacks disintegrated on contact.

Serena knew there was no hope of victory. Delphox wasn't even trying. She thought of Mirror Serena's words about Braixen's Hidden Power. If it really was a water type move, and they needed to land a better hit, then perhaps they needed a distraction.

"Braixen, Ember!"

"Delphox, Flamethrower!"

Serena hoped that Braixen would be quick about it. She had no way to communicate the need for swift execution. They had never practiced anything like this.

Braixen's ember fired ahead of Delphox's Flamethrower. It was just then that Serena called another move.

"Hidden Power! Now!"

Delphox was still firing Flamethrower as Braixen began charging Hidden Power. It was only when Hidden Power was ready to launch that there was time to react.

"Delphox, Psyshock!"

There wasn't enough time for Delphox to prepare her counterattack. Braixen's Hidden Power struck the Light Screen. The first two orbs fizzled out on contact, but the third one burst through, landing a direct hit on Delphox.

Serena's heart jumped. Even if it wasn't enough, her plan had worked. Delphox appeared as though her pride had been injured more than anything else, but it was a hit nonetheless.

If Mirror Serena was surprised, she did not show it.

"Delphox, Mystical Fire!"

"Braixen, Hidden Power!"

Again, Delphox drew a ring of fire and fired it at Braixen. Braixen fired three blue orbs of energy at Delphox's attack. This time, though, the ring of fire did not close as it neared its target. Instead, it expanded. Braixen's Hidden Power passed right through the Mystical Fire.

"Light Screen!"

The ring of fire began to close. Delphox made a swift motion with her wand and placed a Light Screen in the path of Hidden Power just before it struck. The three orbs of energy were absorbed by the shield, and Braixen took another hit from Mystical Fire.

Braixen was knocked back again, this time to the ground. Serena clutched the ribbon on her collar. She knew Braixen could not win this battle. They had landed an impressive hit, but that had been a matter of luck, an improvised move - just the sort of thing Ash would do. But she was no Ash, and Braixen was no Pikachu.

As Braixen got back on her feet, Serena pulled out her Pokeball.

"Braixen, you've battled well, and I'm proud of you, but I don't want you to get hurt," she said. "If it's okay with you, I'd like to forfeit this battle. I think it's more likely that you get injured than we find a way to win."

Braixen turned her head to Serena. She stared for a moment, then nodded.

"Thank you, Braixen," said Serena. "Return."

Braixen disappeared into her ball, and Delphox let down her guard. The battle was over.

"A forfeit!" said Clemont from the sideline. "I never would have expected it. You don't see that often."

"Indeed, it is not a common outcome," said Bonnie. "I think most trainers and their Pokemon have too much pride to admit defeat. But alas, our new Serena is not a battler by trade."

Serena looked at Braixen's Pokeball, worried. She could only hope that she hadn't hurt Braixen's pride.

As she wondered how Braixen was feeling, Mirror Serena walked up to her.

"It takes a lot of courage to admit when you've been beaten," Mirror Serena said. "I respect that."

Serena watched, astonished and open-mouthed, as Mirror Serena extended her hand.

"Good battle," Mirror Serena said.

Serena took her hand, and received a firm but familiar grasp as she shook it.

"Thank you," said Serena.

Delphox remained out of her ball. Serena watched as Delphox turned toward the sun, shielding her eyes with her arm. The shadow the sun cast from her grew longer across the battlefield.

As Serena found herself admiring the strength and grace of her mirror self's starter Pokemon, Clemont came running up to her.

"Serena!" he said. "I just remembered!"

Surprised, both Serena and Mirror Serena turned to face him.

"Remembered what?" said Serena.

"What's the matter?" said Mirror Serena.

Clemont was shaking his head, clutching it on both sides.

"Sorry, sorry!" he said. "I mean, the Serena who isn't from this world!"

"Me?" said Serena. "What is it?"

"It's urgent!" said Clemont. "We must get you back to your world as soon as possible!"

Serena hesitated for a moment before she spoke.

"Well, I'd also like to get home as soon as I can," she said, "but why is it suddenly so important?"

"Because the prophecy of the mirror world tells us that those who enter the world opposite theirs can never return to their original world if they fail to return before the sun sets!" said Clemont.

Serena felt a cold, sickening feeling in her stomach. She looked toward Delphox, and the long shadow she cast. There wasn't much time.

"Oh no," said Serena, her voice nothing more than a whisper, filled with dread.

"We must act now!" said Clemont.

"How much time do we have?" said Serena.

"I don't know!" said Clemont. "I'm not sure what time the sun is supposed to set tonight, but it's getting closer by the second. We need to hurry!"

Serena felt her heart pounding in her chest. It was a familiar feeling. It was fear.

"What do we need to do?" she said.

"We have to get you back to the mirror which you used to enter this world!" said Clemont.

The mirror.

The color drained from Serena's face. Her hands went clammy. Her heart seemed to stop.

She reached into her pocket. She felt it there, jagged and sharp.

Ash and Bonnie approached her. Ash's eyes lingered over the spot where Serena's hand fumbled inside her pocket.

"What is it, Serena?" said Ash.

Trembling, Serena removed the shard of the mirror from her pocket.

"I-"

Serena couldn't even get past one word before her voice choked out. She stared at the shard in horror. Her breathing accelerated.

"I broke it!" she said between gasps for air.

"Is that-" said Ash, his eyes going wide.

"Oh no," said Clemont.

"I broke the mirror!"

Serena had no recollection of their mad dash back to the library. She knew only that it was the fastest she had run in her life, and that Clemont said there might be a way to repair the mirror, if they had enough time.

She was astonished when she reached the sidewalk in front of the library and saw Clemont already there.

She was terrified when she saw Clemont banging on the door.

"How can this place be closed?" he said. He tried to slide his fingers into the gaps between the doors and pull on them. "This is a public facility! It's supposed to be open on hot days for people to come and cool off!"

"It's closed?!" said Serena.

Mirror Serena came running up behind her, with Bonnie and Ash following.

"Closed?" said Mirror Serena. "You can't be serious! It's supposed to be open!"

"I know!" said Clemont.

Serena joined Clemont in trying to pry the door apart.

"I see something affixed to the door!" said Bonnie, pointing up at the glass. "A notice, perhaps!"

Serena abandoned the gap in the doors. She saw a sheet of paper taped to the glass on the other side of the door.

Due to a malfunction in our air conditioning system, the library has become dangerously hot for our patrons, and has closed for the day. We will reopen tomorrow morning at 8AM, conditions permitting.

"Air conditioning?!" said Serena. "No! You can't be closed! I have to get in there! What am I going to do?!"

"I don't know!" said Clemont, gritting his teeth as he continued to pull on the door. "I don't know if we can get through this! It won't budge!"

Serena looked to the horizon and felt a terrible wave of fear wash over her. The sky was a grotesque canopy of orange, pink, and indigo.

"Stop trying to break it, then," said Mirror Serena. "We have to be smarter than this. Can we pick the lock?"

"It's an electronic lock!" said Clemont. "There's no keyhole!"

Serena felt her knees buckle. As she sank to the pavement, the sun sank behind the trees.

"Maybe it's possible to break the lock, then," said Mirror Serena.

"That's what I was trying to do!" said Clemont.

Tears flooded Serena's eyes and blurred her vision. She shut her eyes, as hard as she could.

"A human isn't going to be able to break it!" said Mirror Serena. "We need to use our Pokemon."

"What Pokemon do we have that could pull these doors apart?" said Clemont.

"I don't know!" said Mirror Serena. "I'm thinking!"

Serena's face strained and turned red in her futile fight against the tears. Her teeth gritted so hard she feared she would break them.

"We cannot spare the time to think!" said Bonnie.

"Forget the lock, then," said Mirror Serena. "We'll break the door down."

Serena's body lurched and heaved. She collapsed to the pavement.

"It looks like the security system is on, though," said Ash, peering through the glass in the door. "The police will be here in no time if we do that."

"Who cares about Officer Joy?" said Mirror Serena. "If we don't do something right now my mirror self is going to be stuck here forever!"

Serena screamed.

The others froze. The only sound now came from Serena, her horrible, ugly, full-body crying. One glance at the horizon explained everything.

The sun was down. She was never going home.

Nobody dared to speak until Clemont began prying at the door again.

"I can still fix this," he said, sounding unconvinced of himself. "There are ways."

Bonnie glared at him. She held a finger over her lips.

Mirror Serena backed a few steps away from her mirror self, looking rather disturbed. Ash stepped forward. He knelt down next to Serena.

"Serena," he said. His voice was quiet and gentle, full of warmth.

He received no response. Serena's pained, dreadful sobs continued.

"Serena," he said again. "It will be okay."

Ash jumped back and fell over as Serena abruptly snapped and faced him, livid.

"No it won't!"

Serena rose to her feet. She was unsteady on her legs. Ash reached out as if to stop her, but his gesture was futile.

"Serena, stop!" said Ash.

"Get out of my way!"

Serena stumbled, then found her footing again as she slipped past Ash and into the twilight.

She thought she heard cries begging her to come back, but she wasn't sure. All of her senses were failing her. The only thing that worked was her legs, and she had no idea how long or how far they carried her.

The next thing she was aware of was throwing herself onto a bench. It was dark now. She pulled her legs up to her chest and sobbed.

A parade of horrible thoughts marched through her head. She had nowhere to go now. She had nothing. She had abandoned the only people in this world who were aware of her existence. It was just her and Braixen.

She wondered if it was even possible for her to go to the Pokemon Center. She was certain that trainer identification was required for services there, but she had none. She wasn't a registered trainer in this world. Braixen was an unregistered Pokemon.

If she showed up at a Pokemon Center, what would happen? Would the police be called? Would she be arrested? Would Braixen be taken away from her? The thought made Serena feel nauseous.

Where would she go? What would she do? She couldn't hope to battle for money, being an unregistered trainer and with only Braixen. Would she have to take to living in the wilderness? She couldn't hope to find work anywhere. She had no identification, no documents, nothing. She wasn't a person in this world. What if she was discovered by the authorities? Would the police interrogate her? Would anyone believe her? Would she be committed to a mental institution?

Yes, that would certainly be her fate, she decided. She could feel her mind breaking.

Just as she thought she felt it rip in two, she felt a deep breath enter her lungs.

There was only one sensible course of action. She had to find Ash and the others again. They were her only lifeline. Without them, she was as good as dead.

There was no doubt they were staying at the Pokemon Center that night. She could find them there in the morning. Just as well, because the bench was where she wanted to stay for the night.

Someone would be able to help her. Professor Sycamore would be able to see that she and the Serena from this world were one in the same, and that Braixen came from him. He would be able to get her trainer documentation. He would believe her. He would be fascinated. He would understand.

And her mother would understand, too. Serena's heart stirred at the idea that the Serena from this world must also have a mother - a very different mother, but a mother nonetheless. Her mother would know that Serena was her daughter. She would help her. She would take care of her.

Her tears continued, but Serena felt a sliver of hope. Even though she had little reason to have hope, she held onto it anyway. Ash had taught her that. Ash had shown her how to have hope. Ash had been there when she needed him. Ash would know what to do if he were here right now. Ash would show her the way forward, the way home.

And then, Serena saw him walking toward her in the darkness.

### Chapter Text

Serena's heart fluttered. It couldn't be Ash. It was impossible, and yet, there he was, in the flesh. He had come to save her. Same hat, same face, same messy hair as always.

Just as Serena's heart prepared to soar, she felt it sputter. There was something wrong. She blinked several times. It was difficult to see through the tears and the darkness. Ash's shoulders slumped. His eyes betrayed his lack of confidence.

It was Ash - the one from this world, anyway.

"Ash?" she said.

"Yep, it's me," he said.

Serena's heart sank. Ash's voice was the same, but his tone made all the difference in the world.

Ash glanced down at the bench. Half of it was still occupied by Serena's legs.

"Um..." he said.

Serena hurried to sit upright.

"Oh, yes, you can sit down," she said.

"Thank you," said Ash. He sat down as far away from her as he could.

Serena took notice of Ash's evasiveness, but made no mention of it. There was something so odd about being in his presence. The familiar features of his face were all the same as the Ash she knew - the same attractive lines and contours, the same dark, handsome eyes - but the way he carried himself was all wrong.

"I'm surprised to see you here," she said, wiping her eyes. "I didn't think anyone was going to come looking for me."

"We all went looking for you, actually," said Ash. "Well, not all of us. I left Pikachu at the Pokemon Center because I thought he would cause too much trouble. But we split up to try to find you. I just got lucky and found you first."

Serena gave Ash a sideways glance. He was so different, but so familiar. Even with all his confidence missing, he was still so affable. Serena couldn't help but smile at the way he spoke.

"Lucky, huh?" she said. Ash looked away.

"The others should get here eventually," said Ash. "We were all supposed to go to different places and then meet up again at the Pokemon Center. When I don't come back, they'll know I'm here."

"Well, at least misery loves company," said Serena. "I don't know what I was thinking, running off like that. I guess I wasn't thinking. You all are the only people I know in this world."

"I understand," said Ash. "Running away like that, I mean. I do it a lot."

"It's so weird to see someone with your face say that," said Serena.

"Your Ash isn't like that at all, I bet," said Ash.

"No," said Serena.

"It's so weird to be having this kind of conversation with someone with your face," said Ash.

"Yeah, I totally understand that feeling right now," said Serena.

"The Serena from this world would never sit here with me and just... talk."

"What would she do?"

"I dunno. She probably wouldn't be here with me in the first place."

"She's not very nice to you, is she?"

"I think she tries to be, but it doesn't always come out that way. It may not look like it, but I think she has a lot of faith in me. She feels like she knows I can be better than I am, stronger than I am. And I think it frustrates her when I fail to be those things."

"That's a lot of pressure she puts on you, then."

"She means well. I think she does, anyway. She's not very good at showing emotion."

Serena thought for a moment, then smirked.

"You know, you may not believe it, but I don't think I'm very good at showing emotion, either," she said.

"You're already miles ahead of her just by being here and talking," said Ash.

"It doesn't matter if I'm miles ahead of her if I never go anywhere," said Serena.

"It matters a lot," said Ash. "With someone like her, you never even get a chance to understand how she feels. With you, even if you think you aren't good at it, you're at least willing to try talking. You'd love to say what your real feelings are, if only you knew how."

Serena stared at Ash.

"I've got to keep reminding myself that you're not the Ash I know," she said, shaking her head. She rubbed her temples, eyes shut. "The Ash from my world would never be so insightful. This is so weird."

"I'm really not that smart," said Ash. "It's easy for me to guess stuff like that, because you're just like me."

"I am, aren't I?" said Serena. "It's kind of hard to wrap my mind around it, you know? All the opposites in this world do weird things to the brain."

"I guess so," said Ash. "This world is normal for me, but I see what you mean."

Serena made a bunch of strange gestures with her hands as she tried to lay out her thoughts.

"Ash and I are opposites, in a lot of ways," she said. "We're alike in a lot of ways, too, but I think it's easier to see the ways we're different. And you and your Serena, you two are also very different. You and me, though, because we're opposites of opposites, we end up on the same side."

"Yeah, that's what I thought," said Ash.

Serena watched Ash's expressions for a few moments. He looked so unsure of himself, but there were traces of a smile on his face.

"You have feelings for your Serena, don't you?" said Serena.

Ash flinched. His eyes moved down to his feet, then away from Serena.

"Yes," Ash said. "Of course you would know that. I don't know why I'm so surprised."

"So, you know?" said Serena.

"That you have feelings for your Ash?" Ash said.

Serena took a deep breath.

"Yes," she said. "Yes I do, and I've had those feelings for a long time."

"Did your Ash rescue you when you were lost in the woods at summer camp?" said Ash.

"Yes!" said Serena. "Did your Serena rescue you?"

"Yes she did," said Ash. "When I met her again and showed her that I still had her handkerchief after all this time, she thought I was really weird."

Serena frowned.

"Ash didn't think it was weird at all when I returned his handkerchief. In fact, I'm not sure he thought anything about it."

"Well, Serena said it was weird, but I know I've seen her looking at it a few times since I gave it back to her. I'm sure she doesn't know I've seen her doing that, though."

Ash craned his neck up to the sky.

"It gives me... hope," he said.

Serena thought for a moment.

"Sometimes, Ash says things about how close he feels to me," she said. "And those moments give me hope, too."

Ash nodded. His eyes stayed fixed on the sky.

"He always gives me hope," said Serena. "And I see him in my dreams all the time, and when I wake up, he's right there, but I can't have him. It's so frustrating."

"And I bet you feel like there's nothing you can do about it," said Ash.

"Exactly," said Serena. "How am I supposed to get through to someone who's completely oblivious?"

"I dunno," said Ash. "How am I supposed to get through to... well, you've met her."

Serena felt a throb of pity in her chest. As powerless as she felt in her situation, she couldn't bear to think of how hopeless Ash's cause seemed.

"I'm so sorry," said Serena.

"Sorry?" said Ash. "For what? You didn't do anything."

"Sorry for the situation you're stuck in. Sorry for how she is."

"Don't be sorry," said Ash. "You haven't seen her good side. You haven't seen her help me try to get stronger. You haven't seen her save us all."

"Can I still be sorry for how unapproachable she is?" said Serena. "My Ash may be dense, but at least he's always open to listening."

"So? Serena understands what my feelings are, I just think she's afraid of opening herself up to them."

"But, she-"

Serena started to speak, but stopped and shook her head.

"No, I'm not going to do this," she said. "I'm not going to argue with you about which one of us in in the worse situation. We're in the same position. It's pointless."

"I think you're in the worse situation," said Ash. "You're stuck in a world that's the opposite of your own."

A pang of grief hit Serena right in the stomach and a chill went down her spine. She sighed and closed her eyes as she leaned against the back of the bench.

"Why did you have to remind me?" she groaned.

Ash spent some time adjusting his hat.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to. I was just... being honest."

"Our conversation was such a nice break from dealing with this insanity," said Serena.

"We can go back to it, if you like," said Ash. "You don't have to think about, your, um, situation, unless you want to. At least until everyone else gets here."

"That would be great," said Serena.

"I was really enjoying being, well, honest with you," said Ash. "I don't always get to do that with my friends."

"I was enjoying that, too," said Serena. "It's so different to hear myself say out loud that I, you know, have feelings for Ash."

Ash let out a deep breath.

"It's so frustrating to hear you say things like that, because you look so much and sound so much like Serena, but you aren't her. But you also are? I dunno."

"I'm like the opposite of her in a bunch of ways, but really similar in a bunch of others," said Serena. "Just like you and my Ash. It's like I'm defined by her, but also not. I don't know, either."

Serena took a long look at Ash. Even after everything he had said, he still looked just the same as the Ash she remembered. It was maddening.

"And, if I do somehow get back to my world," she said, "it's going to be so painful to remember talking to you here and how open you were when I talk to my Ash and he's nothing like this."

"It's kind of painful for me right now, knowing that Serena is going to get here eventually and she and I could never talk like this," said Ash. "So I know how you feel."

Serena winced.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's easy for me to forget that this world is normal for you."

"It's okay," said Ash. "You were being honest about your feelings, and I'm being honest about mine."

"Right," said Serena. "Honesty. I've got to focus more on that. I'm kind of out of practice."

"Me too, kinda," said Ash. "Not because I have to lie to people, but I just don't really have anyone to talk to about this stuff. I feel pretty alone, sometimes."

Serena frowned and looked down at her feet. She never felt alone, just unable to speak her mind.

"You're not alone right now," she said. "You have me. And I would be alone without you."

"I bet you wish you could be anywhere else, but I'm glad you're here right now," said Ash. "I like this. What we're doing."

Serena looked at Ash. He was staring up at the sky again. She bit down on her lip.

She thought of all the times she had wanted to hold Ash, or to be held by him. To be close to him. To tell him how she felt. To kiss him. She remembered the same feeling of dread in her stomach that stopped her every time. She could feel it now. It paralyzed her.

Then she remembered the exhilarating feeling of flirting with danger, and she spoke.

"If I were doing this with the Ash from my world right now," said Serena, "I would want to kiss him."

Ash took a deep breath.

"If you were the Serena from my world, I would want to kiss her, too," he said.

Serena felt a compulsion to grab his hand and pull him in, but she knew she couldn't do it. She clenched her fists and pounded them against her legs.

"This is so frustrating!" she said. "I can't stand it. You look and sound just like him, and you're saying everything I ever wish he would say. It isn't fair!"

"We've both said this before, but I know exactly how you feel," said Ash.

"You're not the Ash I know, but I'm still so attracted to you!" said Serena. "But you're not, you know, my Ash!"

Serena groaned. She felt like pulling her hair. She noticed Ash's eyes lingering on her, and when she turned to look at him, their eyes met. She could see redness in his face.

"I wish I could just, I don't know, hold your hand. Anything!" said Serena.

"I wish we could do that, too," said Ash. "But I don't know if that's a good idea."

"I don't know, either," said Serena. "I'm overwhelmed and kind of afraid, but I know there's only one way to find out if it's a good idea or not, and I think I'm going to jump out of my skin if we don't at least try."

She saw Ash swallow hard. There was fear in his eyes.

"Do you want to try?" she asked him.

She saw tears beginning to form in his eyes. He gritted his teeth to try to stop them. He made a loud sniffling sound.

"Yes I do," he said, speaking in a voice that was no more than a shaky whisper. "I would like that a lot."

Serena looked at his hand, closed tight, resting on the seat of the bench. She saw Ash follow her eyes to it. She was struck by a baffling feeling of not knowing what to do. In the abstract, the act of holding a hand seemed so simple, but in the moment, it seemed to her as if there were dozens of complicated steps required to achieve it.

"It's like we know each other, but somehow not at all," said Serena. "I feel both like I've known you for years and like I've never met you before."

Ash said nothing. His eyes kept shifting from Serena's eyes to her hand.

"I guess we really are going to do this," said Serena. "Okay, um..."

Her hand shaking and clammy, she reached out and placed it on top of Ash's hand. Upon her touch, Ash's hand opened up and tried to meet hers. For a few seconds, they struggled to understand how their fingers were meant to fit together.

Serena stared at their joined hands. She blinked several times. She wasn't sure what to think of it.

"How is that for you?" she said. "Does that feel okay?"

Ash looked like he was considering his words.

"It... isn't what I was expecting," he said. "It feels kinda weird."

"Yeah, it does," said Serena.

"Do you want to stop?" said Ash.

"Stop... holding hands?" said Serena.

"Yeah."

"Do you?"

"I dunno, I just wanted to see if you did," said Ash. "You agreed that it felt kinda weird."

"Maybe we just need to try it for a little longer?" said Serena.

"Maybe," said Ash.

Serena saw him frown and look away.

"This just isn't what I was expecting at all," said Ash. "I dunno what I thought was going to happen, but this wasn't it."

"I know what you mean," said Serena. "I feel the same way, too. I guess I was expecting it to feel magical or something? It really just feels, well, awkward."

"Is this what it's supposed to feel like?" said Ash. "I wouldn't know. I've never done this before."

"Me neither, of course," said Serena. "That's why I thought maybe we were doing something wrong, or maybe we needed more time to get used to it."

She looked at the gap between them on the bench. Ash was still as far away as he could be on the other side.

"Maybe we need to be closer to each other," said Serena.

"That's probably it," said Ash. "I know we both said we kinda feel like we've known each other for years, but we did only meet today."

"Well, yes," said Serena. "That's true, but what I meant was that I thought we should get closer on this bench. You're really far away."

"Oh!" said Ash. "Yeah, I wanted to give you your space, so when I sat down I made sure I left you enough room."

"That's very considerate of you," said Serena, "but if we're holding hands, aren't we kind of already in each other's personal space?"

"Yeah, I guess so," said Ash.

"Would you like to come closer?" said Serena.

"I think I would," said Ash. "Would you?"

"Yes!" said Serena. "I'm the one who's suggesting it!"

"Okay, sorry!" said Ash. He moved a few inches in her direction. "How's that?"

Serena looked at the gap between them and decided it was still too large. She moved much closer to him, until only an inch or two separated them. She placed their joined hands on top of her leg.

"Much better," she said. "Is this alright with you?"

"Yeah, but it still doesn't feel quite right," said Ash.

"We can stop, if you'd like," said Serena. "I understand, really."

"It's not that I'm uncomfortable with it," said Ash. "I think it's that even though you're so similar to Serena in so many ways, you're not really her, you know?"

"And you're not really Ash," said Serena. "I know. I feel it, too."

She looked at their hands, then frowned.

"Well, it was worth a try, I guess," she said.

"It was," said Ash. He met eyes with her again. "I'm glad we tried it."

He paused for a moment, then looked away.

"You're really pretty," he said.

Serena felt a smile forming on her face that she couldn't resist. She giggled.

"You really think so?" she said.

"Yes," Ash said, nodding. "You really are."

"Are you serious right now?" said Serena, struggling to hold back a laugh. "Thirty seconds ago you weren't sure if you wanted to hold hands, and now we're right next to each other and you're calling me pretty."

"I can't help it!" said Ash. "It's true!"

Serena looked away, a demure smile on her face. She felt quite pleased with herself, in a way she never had before.

"Do you want to kiss me?" she said.

"I, um, I-"

"You don't have to say yes!" said Serena. "I know I'm being really forward with all this. I just feel really safe with you and I feel attracted to you in ways that are tough to understand, and I'm trying to be completely open and take my chances with trying something new. I'm really nervous, too! I feel like my heart is beating out of control right now."

She took Ash's hand and removed it from hers, instead wrapping it around her wrist.

"Feel my pulse," she said. "Feel for yourself. I feel just as nervous as you do. But both of us got into our frustrating situations because we never take action, and right now we have a chance to take some real actions and figure some things out for ourselves. I understand if you don't want to go any further with this, I really do, and I promise I won't make you do anything you aren't comfortable with doing. But we also got ourselves into our situations because we're never willing to step outside of our comfort zones. I think that maybe learning to take some risks that make us uncomfortable would benefit both of us."

Ash was silent, his eyes focused on his hand wrapped around Serena's wrist.

"What do you think?" said Serena.

Ash let go of her wrist.

"I think," he said, "that if you somehow make it back to your world, then you're right. It would be great to learn to take some new steps. But if we kiss, and you don't go back, then what? I don't have feelings for you. I have feelings for the Serena from this world. You would end up getting left out if you were stuck here. And right now, that looks a lot more likely than you going home."

"I haven't given up hope," said Serena. "Not yet. Ash wouldn't give up, and I'm not going to, either. For him, I'm not giving up. I may not be with him right now, but he is still with me."

Serena took Ash's hand again.

"And you shouldn't give up hope, either," she said. "Not because of me, but because of your Serena. She wouldn't give up, and I know she would never want you to give up on anything!"

Ash let out a long, unsteady breath.

"We've got to have courage," said Serena. "It's what my Ash would want for me, and it's what your Serena would want for you."

Serena turned toward Ash and took his hand in both of hers. She wrapped one hand around his wrist and felt for his pulse. It was just as fast as hers.

"We've got to learn to face our fears," said Serena. "If we don't, none of our dreams will ever come true."

Ash gazed at Serena for several breathless moments.

"Then kiss me," he said.

Serena leaned in and closed her eyes. Just like when she tried to hold his hand, there seemed to be so many more steps involved than she had ever expected. Just as she was beginning to worry if she had puckered her lips enough, she felt them touch his.

The feeling was awkward. It was stiff and bland.

When Serena pulled away and opened her eyes, she looked off into the distance, unfocused. That was not at all how she had expected her first kiss to feel. She felt foolish for expecting it to be anything other than what it was - the feeling of her lips touching someone else's, and nothing more.

"That was..." she said.

"Not great," said Ash.

"No. No it wasn't."

"That wasn't what I expected at all."

"Me neither."

"It felt like... lips."

"Yeah."

"Just like how holding hands just felt like... hands."

"And sweat."

Ash pulled his hands away from Serena's grip.

"And gloves, I guess," he said, holding up his hands and displaying his fingerless gloves.

"I can't believe I thought there would be electricity or something," said Serena.

"Maybe there would have been, if it had been your Ash you kissed," said Ash.

Serena moved a few more inches away from Ash.

"I hope so," she said. "And I mean no offense, but I know now that I definitely don't have feelings for you."

"Oh, I understand," said Ash. "I don't have feelings for you, either. I have them for my Serena."

"It's kind of a shame," said Serena. "If we did have feelings for each other, it would be really convenient that we can talk to each other so openly."

"Yeah, no kidding," said Ash. "It would make everything so much easier."

"What we just did may be the hardest thing I've ever done," said Serena.

"I know it was the scariest thing I've ever done," said Ash.

"I'm glad we did that, though," said Serena.

Ash thought about it for a moment.

"Me too," he said.

"It feels good to do something that felt like it was impossible," said Serena. "I never thought I would be brave enough to kiss anyone, let alone Ash! Well, someone who's sort of Ash, anyway."

A smug smile formed on Ash's face.

"I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now," he said. "That did feel good, even though the kiss wasn't great."

"It's like I said," said Serena. "We both need to do things like that more often. Take some risks!"

"But not too many," said Ash, clenching his shaking hands. "I think I've taken enough risks for one day."

Serena watched Ash take a deep breath and slide his hands into his pockets. It occurred to her how worked up she was feeling, and she took a moment to lean her back into the bench and let the tension out of her muscles. She sighed.

"I think I've taken more than enough risks for one day," she said. "But if I'm going to get home, I may have to take a few more."

"I'm so glad I'm not the one stranded in another world," said Ash. "I hate it when I get called a crybaby, but I know that if I was in your position I would be a mess right now."

"To be honest, I'm not sure how I'm keeping it together," said Serena. "I'm terrified."

Serena felt a sickening pulse of dread in her chest as an awful thought occurred to her.

"It's not just that I might not be able to get home," she said. "I don't even have a home in this world. My mom in this world already has a daughter, and it's not me. If she doesn't believe me, or she doesn't want me, I won't have anywhere to go."

"Serena's mom is really laid-back and pretty much lets Serena do whatever she wants," said Ash. "She might let you stay with her. I dunno. That's... really scary."

Serena felt the tears pooling up in her eyes. She grabbed fistfuls of her skirt.

"Yeah," she said, her voice straining. "It is scary."

She whimpered, and then her whimper turned into a sob.

"I have nothing! I'm homeless in this world!"

The noise she made was ugly, one that frightened even herself. She knew it was the hardest she had ever cried. Her anguished sobs came in uncontrollable bursts, so powerful that her head felt as though it would split.

The only anchor holding her to the world was Ash's hand, which moved gently up and down her back. Serena had no idea how much time passed, only that it felt like forever when she opened her eyes again.

She looked at Ash. His hand stopped moving. She was sure she looked horrible, but Ash didn't even blink.

"I'll be your friend," he said.

Serena collapsed onto his shoulder and buried her head. For a moment, she felt guilty for doing it, but her guilt went away when Ash continued to rub her back.

"Thank you," she said.

"You can come with us," said Ash. "You don't have to be alone. You'll have me. You'll have all of us."

"But... what if the others don't like me?"

"I don't think you need to worry about that," said Ash. "You can see it for yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"Look."

Serena looked up from Ash's shoulder. She jumped in surprise. Bonnie, Clemont, and Mirror Serena were all standing there before her. She could feel her face flushing with embarrassment. She knew they had all seen what just happened.

"Hi, uh, again," she said.

"Alas, we meet again!" said Bonnie.

"And not a moment too soon," said Clemont. "We would have been here much sooner, if only these two could have caught up to me!"

Mirror Serena stood with her face tight and her arms folded. Serena looked toward her, and their eyes met. She could feel the disgust on Mirror Serena's face, but there was something deeper hidden by it. Something proud.

"We were worried when you ran off," Mirror Serena said, "but it looks like you were in capable hands all along."

Mirror Serena smirked, and her eyes lingered on the spot where Ash's hand remained on Serena's back. Serena saw Ash's eyes widen, and she felt an abrupt absence as he jammed his hand into his pocket.

"My brother aggrandizes himself," said Bonnie. "The true cause of our delay in reaching you was not our running speed, but rather Clemont's ceaseless tinkering with his magical devices."

"I still ran here faster than all of you, though!" said Clemont. "But enough about that. Hopefully, our arrival will have been worth the wait, because I believe I have devised a method of sending you back to the dimension from which you came!"

Serena's face went blank.

"Are you serious?" she said.

"I most certainly am," said Clemont. "Behold! I have enchanted this magic staff so that when it is pointed at the mirror which you used to enter this world, it will reopen the portal to your home world and allow you to return to it!"

Clemont removed a wooden staff from the roll of his backpack. It looked like the kind of thing that would be carried by a wizard in a fantasy film. Serena's head flooded with questions.

"How?" she said.

"Ah," said Clemont. "I'm glad you asked, because magic works in mysterious ways-"

"No," said Serena. "How are we going to get to the mirror? Are we going to break into the library?"

"Goodness, no!" said Clemont. "There is a much simpler solution at hand."

"Or perhaps, at pocket," said Bonnie.

"What do you mean?" said Serena.

"Tell us," said Clemont. "Did you or did you not show us earlier a fragment of the mirror which you had kept with you?"

Serena gasped and reached into her pocket. There it was, not even the size of a playing card.

"This?" she said, holding it up. "I'm going to be able to go home through this?"

"Good! You kept it," said Clemont. "And yes, indeed you shall be able to return to your world through it."

Serena was suspicious. She eyed the shard with doubt.

"But how am I going to fit through it?" she said. "Won't I need a mirror big enough for me to step through? That's how I got here in the first place. I fell through the big mirror!"

"If my understanding of interdimensional magic is correct, the size of the mirror shouldn't matter at all," said Clemont. "Our mundane concepts of dimension have very little meaning in the blind eternities between the dimensions themselves."

"O...kay," said Serena, feeling even more doubt. "So, what do we need to do?"

"All you need to do is place the shard on the ground," said Clemont. "I will handle the rest."

Serena rose from the bench. She looked into the mirror shard. She saw that she looked as skeptical as she felt.

"Here you go," she said, placing the shard on the ground. "Now what?"

"Everyone should stand back," said Clemont. "Magic of this nature can be a risky undertaking. I have no way of knowing how much energy may be released when we make the connection to your home dimension."

Ash rose from the bench and backed away several steps. He seemed to be moving from experience. Serena followed him.

"Is this, uh, safe?" said Serena.

"I don't think so," said Ash. "When Clemont says something is dangerous, he means it."

"Fret not!" said Bonnie. "My brother's magic rarely results in serious injury."

"Serious injury?" said Serena.

Clemont held the staff high above his head.

"Spirits of the blind eternities, hear my call! I beckon thee forth and channel thy power so our wayward friend may return to her own dimension! I bid thee permit her passage through your unfathomable realm!"

Clemont lowered the staff and pointed it at the shard.

"Portallus dimensivus, facio!"

Nothing happened.

For a moment, Clemont appeared confused, but then a look of understanding crossed his face.

"Ah, of course," he said. "That was wrong incantation. A simple fix!"

He held the staff high above his head again, then lowered it to the shard with a dramatic, sweeping motion.

"Portallus dimensivus, permittio nobis transmittius!"

Nothing happened.

Serena felt her heart sinking and filling with shame. She couldn't believe how foolish she had been allowing this to get her hopes up.

Clemont scratched his chin.

"Oh my, this is complicated magic," he said. "Some of these spells require a rather particular motion in order to invoke the incantation. Stay clear, everyone!"

Clemont held the staff above his head again, this time with gusto.

"Spirits of the blind eternities, hear my call!"

He lifted the staff even higher, balancing it upright in the palms of his hands.

"I beckon thee forth and channel thy power!"

He let the staff fall through his open hands and secured it again just before it hit the ground. He held it out at arm's length.

"So our wayward friend may return!"

He shifted his stance and grip, holding the staff like a sword, ready to strike.

"To her own dimension!"

He stepped forward and swung the staff, sweeping around in a full circle.

"I bid thee permit her passage!"

He shifted his stance again, then swung the staff in a full circle in the opposite direction.

"Through your unfathomable realm!"

He lifted the staff above his head once again, this time as if he were to plunge a sword into the ground.

"Portallus dimensivus, permittio nobis transmittius!"

Clemont drove the staff downward into the ground. Upon impact, the staff bent, snapped, and splintered apart.

"Oh no!" he said, scrambling to back away. He lunged and threw himself onto the ground, as if expecting the remains of the staff to explode at any second. Everyone else backed away as well, shielding their eyes.

After several seconds of silence, Clemont stood up again.

"That's odd," he said. "That should have worked."

Serena covered her face with her hands. All of the inventions she had ever seen the Clemont from her world create, even the ketchup bottle shaker, had worked better than what she had just watched this world's Clemont attempt. The spell had done absolutely nothing. Even an explosion would have been more satisfying.

Serena felt the tiny flame of hope in her heart flicker.

"Now what?" said Mirror Serena. "Is that it? Is there more?"

"I'm afraid not," said Clemont. "That was the only method I knew for returning her to her home world. I'm sorry to say it, but I think she may be stuck here now."

"No!" said Serena. The hands covering her face turned to fists.

Clemont tried to look Serena in the eye, but after only a moment he shifted his gaze to the ground instead.

"I'm truly sorry," he said. "I've failed you. With the sun down, and the spell failed, I don't know what more can be done."

"No!" Serena said again. Her fists dropped to her sides. "I'm not giving up! There has to be something we can do!"

Nobody else appeared to agree with her. Ash stepped forward, removing his hat.

"I'm really sorry," he said. "I know it's awful, but you can stay with us, right guys? It won't be so bad."

"You can certainly travel with us," said Bonnie. "We would be delighted to have you!"

"Indeed," said Clemont. "And maybe, if you stick with us, we can work together to find another way to get you home."

"I know we may not see eye to eye all the time," said Mirror Serena, "but I'd say that probably the only thing that could make this party better than having one Serena is having two."

Serena seethed. She clenched her fists so hard they shook.

"No!" she said again.

Mirror Serena raised an eyebrow at her.

"No?" she said.

"How can you all give up so easily?" said Serena. "I might never go home again, and you all just shrug it off? There has to be more we can do!"

Serena stalked over to the site of the broken staff and the mirror shard.

"Maybe we can repair it," she said. "Maybe there was something wrong with it the first time!"

"Repairing a magical staff is no simple matter," said Clemont.

"Well, I'm going to do it!" said Serena. She knelt on the ground and began picking up the fragments.

"It's not just a matter of putting the pieces back together," said Clemont. "It's a delicate process that involves a great deal of advanced magic, and even then it may not work."

"So?" said Serena. "Some chance is better than no chance at all!"

She reached for Braixen's Pokeball and released her.

"Braixen, help me! I need your light!"

Braixen lit her wand and held it aloft. Serena began grabbing anything on the ground that looked like a splinter, becoming more frantic by the second. She turned toward the others.

"Well?" she said, her voice shaking. "Help me!"

The others exchanged doubtful glances, but one by one, they joined Serena on the ground in her search.

"What about this big piece, Clemont?" Serena said, holding up a large fragment which had once constituted the bottom half of the staff. "What's the deal with this gray thing poking out of it? Is it supposed to be sticking out like that?"

Clemont shook his head.

"That's supposed to be an enchanted lodestone, for guiding your way between the dimensions," he said. "But no, it probably shouldn't be sticking out of the bottom like that. Let me check my spellbook."

Serena examined the broken half of the staff, turning it over in her hands. When she turned it upside down, to her surprise, she felt something move inside the staff, and then slide out of it, into her lap.

"Something fell out of it!" she said. She held it up, a long, gray cylinder.

"Oh, the lodestone," said Clemont. "That's okay. If this staff can't be salvaged, we might be able to use the lodestone to make a new one."

Serena looked at the remains of the staff. The center of it was hollow. The lodestone had slid right out of it.

She took a closer look at the lodestone. Aside from being heavy, it didn't feel much like a stone. It was smooth, and it felt metallic. As she turned it over in her hands, she saw that one end had a button on it, and the other end appeared to be capped with a glass lens.

She pressed the button. A digital display on the side of the cylinder lit up.

"Clemont!" she said. "This isn't a stone at all!"

"It isn't?" said Clemont. "Well that's probably the problem, then! We'll have to try the spell again with a properly-made staff! I knew I shouldn't have gone with the cheap one."

Braixen loomed over Serena's shoulder, illuminating the metal cylinder with the light from her wand. A number appeared on the display - 1000.

Serena pressed the button on the end of it again. Nothing seemed to happen. She looked again at the digital display. In the light from Braixen's wand, she could read a label next to it - wavelength.

Serena felt her jaw go slack. She looked over to Clemont, flipping through the pages of his spellbook.

"Clemont, this is a laser!" she said.

"A laser?" said Mirror Serena. "Are you serious?"

Serena closed her eyes, and saw herself opening the optics textbook Ash had left on the floor in the science section of the library. There were so many tables and figures inside the front cover.

Wavelength.

She fumbled with the laser in her hands. There was a panel on the side of it. She slid her fingernails under it and pried it open. There was a tiny number pad.

Visible light has a wavelength of 400 to 700 nanometers.

Serena's breath shook. She typed 600 into the number pad, then pressed the button again.

A golden beam of light shot out of the glass end of the laser.

"Whoa!" said Ash. "It is a laser!"

"Why would there have been a laser in there?" said Mirror Serena.

"Perhaps it was to make the user feel that much more magical when a beam of light came out of the staff?" said Bonnie.

Clemont looked aghast.

"Unbelievable!" he said. "It's no wonder the spell didn't work! The staff was a fake! It was meant for pretending to do magic!"

Serena said nothing. Her heart pounding, she scrambled to her feet and stood above where the mirror shard lay on the ground.

Then, hoping against all hope, she fired the laser into the mirror.

### Chapter Text

The golden light struck the mirror shard. Rather than reflecting off of its surface, the laser seemed to pass through it. The shard itself began to glow, first a dim gold, then a brilliant white.

Serena froze her arms in place. Something was happening, and she knew it. There was no way she was stopping now. At all costs, she was going to keep the laser focused on the mirror.

The shard shone so brightly that it cast shadows over the park like the midday sun. Serena shut her eyes and turned her head away from the blinding light, but she kept the laser focused, still as a statue.

"It's so bright!" said Ash. "I can't even look at it!"

"Don't look at it!" said Mirror Serena. "It can't be good for your eyes! Turn around before it blinds you!"

Even with her eyes shut and her head turned away, it was still the brightest thing Serena had ever seen. For a moment, she thought she could see the silhouettes of the others through her eyelids.

Then came the sound of the wind, which turned into a roar. The ground beneath them rumbled. She was certain she was going to fall. She felt Braixen pushing against her legs, propping her up.

"What's happening?" said Ash.

"I don't know!" said Clemont. "It's incredible!"

"Brother, I am not sure this is the most opportune time to be in awe!" said Bonnie.

Serena could feel the heat building against her skin. She couldn't last much longer. She could feel her eyes burning. She would surely go blind.

And then, it stopped.

The light dimmed. The the shaking ceased. All that was left was a faint sound of rushing air.

When Serena opened her eyes, she couldn't see. Her entire field of vision was one giant sunspot. After several seconds, her eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and she turned her head back to the mirror shard.

She was still shining the laser into the mirror. She had remained perfectly still. The mirror shard was glowing a faint golden color, and the grass around it was being tossed about by a gentle breeze emanating from it.

She lowered herself to her knees in a long, painstaking motion, careful not to break the laser's connection to the mirror. She could see into it now. It showed not her reflection, but a dark room, the only illumination coming from the laser itself. In the faint golden light, she could see a tall globe and a map of the world.

"That's it!" she said. "That's the library on the other side of the mirror!"

Her hands beginning to shake, she lowered the laser as close to the mirror as she could, so it would be impossible to stop shining through it. She took a deep breath.

The others came up beside her.

"I can't believe it," said Clemont, shaking his head. "I absolutely can't believe it."

"I would not believe it if I could not see it with my own eyes," said Bonnie, "but seeing is believing."

"Is that where you came from?" said Ash.

Serena peered into the mirror shard.

"I think so," she said. "Everything looks like how I remember it."

Mirror Serena knelt down beside the shard and looked into it.

"What's the deal with that weird map?" she said.

"What weird map?" said Serena.

"The big one on the wall," said Mirror Serena. "Everything on it is upside down."

A pang of fear shot through Serena's chest, fear that she was looking through a window into another world in which she didn't belong. Yet, when she examined the map again, she saw nothing out of place.

"What do you mean upside down?" said Serena. "It looks normal to me."

Mirror Serena raised an eyebrow at Serena.

"Seriously?" said Mirror Serena. "You don't see it?"

Ash looked deeper into the mirror.

"Oh, weird!" he said. "It is all upside down!"

Bonnie and Clemont both took a closer look. Serena stopped breathing. She blinked and shook her head. This couldn't be right. There was no way the map could be wrong. It was the same one as before.

She looked at the map again. It looked normal. And then, it hit her.

"I get it!" she said. "The map is upside down - from your perspective. Our worlds must have the directions flipped around!"

Serena thought a bit more.

"Are we in the southern hemisphere here?" she asked.

"Of course we are!" said Mirror Serena.

Serena's smile widened. She knew she was going home.

"Kalos is in the northern hemisphere in my world," she said. "That's why it's the middle of summer here while we were trapped in a giant blizzard there!"

She bit down on her lip, but couldn't contain her smile.

"This is it, you guys," she said. "That's my world. I'm going to go home."

Astonished faces stared at her.

"It's happening," she said. "I can't believe it, but we found a way back!"

She looked at the laser, and then to Ash.

"I don't think I can pass through this thing while I'm holding the laser, though," she said. "Can you hold it in place for me?"

"Um," said Ash, looking at his trembling hands.

"You can do it," said Mirror Serena.

Ash looked at her, and Mirror Serena nodded back.

"You'll do great," said Serena. "I know you can do it. I want you to be the one to do it."

Ash nodded, and he held his hands out to the laser.

"We've got to keep the button pressed," said Serena. "We can't let the beam go out. So, careful..."

With great care, Serena slid her thumb until it was halfway off the button, but still pressing it. Then, Ash gripped the laser and slid his thumb halfway over the button.

Serena released her hands. The beam stayed on, and Ash secured his grip.

"Got it!" he said.

"Alright!" said Serena. "Braixen, are you ready to go home?"

Braixen tucked her wand back into her tail. She nodded.

"Great, return!" said Serena.

Braixen disappeared into her ball, and Serena placed the ball back in her pocket.

"I guess this is it, then," said Serena, looking to all the others. "It was... interesting meeting all of you."

"It was certainly interesting meeting you, too," said Clemont.

"Yes, indubitably!" said Bonnie.

Serena looked to Mirror Serena. To her surprise, her counterpart smiled at her, just for a moment.

"Take care of yourself out there," she said. "I would hate for our multiverse, or whatever it is, to be down to only one Serena."

Serena nodded back at her.

"I will," she said. "I'd tell you to take care of yourself, too, but I think you already have that covered."

Mirror Serena nodded, and Serena turned her head to Ash. There were tears forming in his eyes.

"I'm gonna miss you," he said.

Serena felt a tug on her heartstrings.

"I'll miss you, too," she said. "I'll never forget you."

She leaned in close to him, then kissed him on the cheek. Gasps echoed all around.

"But hopefully," said Serena, "you won't have to miss me."

She turned to face Mirror Serena, who was staring at her, astonished.

"Open your heart," said Serena.

And then, she put her finger through the mirror.

"Goodbye, everyone!"

The sensation was the same as when she passed through the mirror the first time, one of falling and not being able to stop. Just as she was certain she would feel the edges of the glass scraping her arm, she felt herself bypassing the glass as she was pulled in a direction which had no name. She shut her eyes. Everything turned to gold, and then went dark.

The first thing Serena was aware of was the sensation of the floor being underneath her. She pushed against it, and it pushed back. She rolled from her stomach onto her back and opened her eyes. The mirror stood behind her, silhouetted in darkness.

The glass was cracked, as if struck from behind by a sharp blow, but remained in the frame. There was not a trace of the world she had left behind. A faint, dark reflection of herself was all she could see. This time, it looked just like her, clothes and all, and followed her movements. Serena tested her reflection for a minute, just to be sure, but then she froze.

The glass was broken, but her image was not. Although each of the individual pieces of the broken mirror showed a slightly different reflection of the space behind her, Serena appeared in the mirror only once, at full size, not fragmented in any way.

Serena rose to her feet. She dared not touch the mirror. With her eyes fixed on her unbroken reflection, she began taking tentative steps backward, inching her way out of the room. Her eyes tried to scan the innumerable fragments of the mirror to see if there was anything behind her, but it was impossible.

When she bumped into the door frame, she yelped, then turned and ran from the room.

As soon as there was a wall between her and the mirror, she stopped. She sank to the floor, her back up against the wall, clutching her hat with one hand and holding onto her heart with the other.

She found herself needing to catch her breath. As she tried to steady her breathing, she held her hands up before her face. They were trembling. Attempting to keep them still, she tucked her hands against her sides and folded her arms over them. She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her head against them.

She became aware of how cold it was. Only dim light was peeking in through the windows, the same vague blue color from the night before. Her breathing and the faint roar of the wind outside were the only sounds. She shivered and untucked her hands, rubbing her bare arms with them.

She froze again upon hearing the faint sound of voices below.

"-hope-"

"-think it's-"

"-came from up there-"

A beam of light shone up from the lower floors, moving past her, to the ceiling, and then down again. It scanned the cavernous atrium. She heard footsteps.

Serena jumped up and dashed to the staircase.

"Ash!" she shouted. "Ash!"

There was a confused noise from below, a moment of hesitation, and then a response.

"Serena?!"

"It's me!" she shouted back, descending the staircase as fast as her legs would allow her. "It's me!"

The beam of light locked onto the staircase, where Serena was making a mad dash for the bottom. Ash came running to the foot of the staircase, with Bonnie trailing right behind him. He followed Serena's movements with a flashlight.

"Serena!" said Ash.

"It is Serena!" said Bonnie, jumping into the air as she saw Serena reach the final flight of stairs. Pikachu and Dedenne came trailing into the room behind her, accelerating as they laid eyes on Serena.

"Ash, it's me!"

Serena descended the final flight so quickly that she found herself losing her balance. She missed the final step, went tumbling to the ground, lost her hat, and sprang right back up. She threw herself at Ash and flung her arms around him.

"Serena!" Ash said. Astonished, he returned her embrace. "I can't believe it's you!"

"It's you! It's you!" said Bonnie, wrapping her arms around Serena's leg in the best hug she could manage. "We were so worried! We looked everywhere for you!"

"We searched for you for hours!" said Ash. "What happened? Where were you?"

Serena pulled her head away from Ash's shoulder. She felt her face turning red. She rested her hands atop his shoulders and stared at him, searching for the right words.

"I don't know if you'll be able to believe me if I tell you," she said, "even though the same thing happened to you once before. It's so crazy that I can barely believe it."

"What do you mean?" said Ash.

Serena shifted her eyes to the side. She knew that what she was about to say was going to sound absurd.

"I... wasn't in this world," she said.

Ash gave her a puzzled look.

"Huh?" he said.

"Do you remember the time you got lost in the cave with all the mirrors in it?" said Serena.

Ash's eyes widened. He nodded at her.

"You told us you were trapped in a weird world that was like the opposite of ours."

"Is that where you went?" Bonnie asked, agape.

"No way," said Ash.

Serena nodded. She felt Ash's grip slacken in disbelief.

"That's where you were?" he said.

Serena smiled as she watched the gears turning in Ash's head. Ash removed his hands from her arms and instead grabbed fistfuls of his hair. He groaned in frustration.

"How did I not think of that?!" he said. "You just disappeared, and all that was left was your candle in front of that big mirror! Why didn't I realize you went through it?!"

"Probably because that's crazy," said Serena, holding back an amused giggle.

"You went through the mirror?" said Bonnie. "How?"

"It was like what Ash said happened to him in Reflection Cave. I saw myself in the mirror, but different. My reflection looked like how I used to look, with my longer hair and my old outfit. It was moving on its own."

"Did your reflection reach through and grab you, like mine did?" said Ash.

"No, it was me who did the grabbing," said Serena. "When I saw her, I tried to say hello, but she didn't hear me."

Ash clenched his fist, as well as his teeth. Serena had never seen him so frustrated.

"That's what I heard you say!" he said. "I heard you say something that sounded like help, and I came looking for you, but you were gone!"

Ash removed his hat and rubbed his temples, running a hand through his hair. Serena thought he looked almost ashamed. He was frustrated with himself.

"She was about to leave," said Serena. "My reflection, I mean. So, I tried to reach out to her, but when I did, my hand went through the mirror and I fell through it. When I landed on the other side I met... us."

Ash ceased massaging his forehead and met eyes with Serena.

"Just like I did!" he said.

"They remembered you," said Serena. "They remembered all of us, actually, since they saw us through the mirror when you came back to this world. But mostly, they remembered you."

It was clear that neither Ash nor Bonnie knew what to say. Serena found herself feeling quite bare and quite alone in the silence. She locked her hands together and looked downward, off to the side.

"Their Ash is so different from you," said Serena. "He was so sensitive, and so unsure of himself. He remembered you for being so brave and so confident. I think you inspired him, in a way."

Serena felt a smile forming on her face. She looked to Bonnie, but Bonnie spoke before she could.

"Did you meet the other me?" said Bonnie, bouncing with excitement. "Did she say stuff like I certainly hope we meet again, like she did in the cave?"

"Yes, she did," said Serena. "Their Bonnie uses lots of big, fancy words and acts like a lady all the time, but you're the positive, enthusiastic Bonnie we all love. And their Clemont was a great runner, but he studied magic instead of science, and his inventions were useless. It was just like you said, Ash."

Bonnie gaped at Serena. Ash blinked a few times, looking rather blank. Serena could see in his eyes that he knew she was telling the truth.

"And their version of me..." said Serena, rolling her eyes. "She was so arrogant! You wouldn't believe how frustrating it was to see her act like that! The way she talked, the way she treated other people, it made me so mad!"

Serena heard her voice echo through the atrium, and it occurred to her how loudly she had been speaking. She bit her lip and looked off to the side again, feeling embarrassed.

"Because... that's not me," she said.

"I'm really glad it isn't," said Ash. "I remember her. She was kind of mean."

Serena felt her heart pounding. She didn't understand why, but a smile was forming on her face.

"I know I won't forget her," she said. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes again, shaking her head instead.

"I can't imagine you being mean!" said Bonnie.

"I can't, either," said Serena. "That's why it was so frustrating! I couldn't stand her!"

"I'm glad we have the real you back," said Ash.

"I'm glad to be back," said Serena. "They helped me escape, and I needed all the help I could get. For a while, it looked like I was going to trapped there forever. On their side, I broke the mirror."

"Oh no!" said Bonnie. "How did you get back?"

Serena's smile transformed into a sly one. She folded her arms indignantly and took a step forward. She pointed plaintively at Ash.

"I never would have made it out of there if it weren't for that stupid textbook that you tried to show me!"

Ash backed away from Serena ever so slightly. Serena suspected he couldn't tell if she was actually mad.

"I'm sorry?" said Ash. "What do you mean?"

Serena retracted her plaintive finger and folded her arms again.

"That useless book you were so excited about turned out to have exactly the information I needed to reopen the connection between our worlds! Their Clemont tried to use a magic spell, but when he did, his fake magic staff broke, and it turned out there was a laser inside of it."

"A laser?" said Ash.

"For some reason, yes," said Serena. "When you and Bonnie left the science section and you left that book on the floor, I opened it up and looked at it before I put it back on the shelf. I never would have thought that I would care about the wavelength of visible light, because I certainly didn't then, but when I saw that I could change the laser's wavelength, I knew what to enter to make it produce visible light! When I fired the laser into a piece of the broken mirror, I think I tricked it into thinking that the sun was still up, which reopened the portal and allowed me to come home!"

Ash grinned, looking quite amused.

"You're welcome?" said Ash, holding back a laugh.

Serena struggled to hold back a laugh of her own. It all seemed like an improbable fiction, at best. It was so absurd, so preposterously unlikely, that laughing at it felt like all she could do. As she focused on holding in that laugh, she felt her body move in a way that seemed independent of her control, acting on instinct. She placed her hands on Ash's shoulders again. She pulled in, closing the distance between them, shutting her eyes. She pressed her lips to his.

She lingered for just a second, then pulled away and opened her eyes.

A stunned Ash stared back at her, speechless.

"Thank you," she said.

Bonnie made a noise that was a cross between a cheer and a squeal of excitement. Serena backed away and folded her hands, biting her lip. She looked away. She couldn't believe what she had just done. Her heart pounded so hard she thought the others might be able to hear it.

"You kissed him!" said Bonnie. She jumped up and down, unable to contain her excitement. Serena smiled nervously, unable to contain her embarrassment.

Ash's eyes seemed out of focus. He held one hand up to his mouth, covering it. Pikachu tugged at his leg, trying to get his attention. It was no use.

"We've gotta go let Clemont know you're back!" said Bonnie, jogging in place.

"Please don't tell him about this," Serena whispered back.

Bonnie grinned.

"He won't care about the kiss!" she said. "He needs Braixen's help!"

Serena's expression changed from embarrassment to concern.

"Is he still sick?" she said.

"He is," said Bonnie, nodding. Her mood fell immediately. "He's working through it to try to get the power back on, but he's running out of light! The candles have all burned out, and the batteries in the flashlights we found are running low."

Serena was more than happy to have an excuse to leave.

"I have Braixen with me," she said. "Let's go."

"Okay!" said Bonnie.

Bonnie latched onto Serena's hand and led her toward the entrance of the atrium, Dedenne following behind. Serena managed one more glance at Ash. He blinked, then met eyes with her. Serena smiled at him and raised her eyebrows for a moment before being pulled around the corner by Bonnie.

Pikachu followed a few steps after them, but gave up and returned to Ash.

Ash remained there, motionless. Pikachu tugged at his leg again, and Ash shook his head, running his hand through his hair.

"I think I need to sit down, buddy," he said.

Serena felt a jolt of pain and inhaled sharply. She looked at the disaster she was making of her fingernails and knew she had to stop. She tucked her hands under her backside in an attempt to quiet them. Her attempt only made her more aware of what a nervous wreck she was.

She had lost track of the time, but she knew it had been at least a couple of hours since she returned. Not long after she arrived with Braixen, Clemont restored power to the library. As the light and heat returned, Clemont returned to his makeshift bean bag bed to collapse in an exhausted heap, in need of a well-deserved rest.

At first, Serena also tried to get some sleep, but it proved hopeless. She couldn't sit still. Her mind was spiraling out of control. As restless as she had ever been, she took to wandering through the library.

When she approached the geography section on the third floor, she had hesitated before entering it. When she found the courage to peek around the corner, she saw her fractured reflection in the mirror staring back at her a thousand times. The strange, unbroken reflection was gone.

She felt drawn toward the mirror by some mix of danger and fascination. Careful to keep her distance, she sat down in front of it. And thus, she remained there for some time, picking at her fingernails and wringing her hands until she was forced to sit on them to contain them.

Nothing had happened, and that was what ate at her. She had escaped from another dimension, flung her arms around Ash, and kissed him - right in front of Bonnie, Pikachu, and Dedenne! - yet nothing had happened. Ash had not said a word to her since the kiss. Things were no different now than before.

Feeling like her mind was unraveling, she sat before the mirror and set her eyes to the impossible task of focusing on the thousands of jagged reflections in the broken glass. Time seemed like it wasn't passing at all. Every now and then, a new thought would occur to her and rend her heart with anxiety, or desire, or despair. She wondered why nothing was different. Had Ash not understood what that kiss meant? If he hadn't understood, what could possibly make him understand?

She imagined trying to explain her feelings to him and all the possible paths that conversation could take. All of them led to dead ends, or worse. She imagined Ash never understanding, the concept of romance so foreign to him that it didn't exist in his mind. She imagined him rejecting her, saying that he had to focus on his training first and that it would always come before everything else. She imagined him saying that he didn't feel the same way and that he didn't know how things could ever be the same again.

That particular line of thought terminated with Serena envisioning herself at her mother's doorstep, her journey ended. A lifetime of drudgery, monotony, and Rhyhorn racing awaited her once again.

"Serena?"

Serena jumped in fright as she heard Ash speak behind her. The mirror was useless for seeing him, and she was forced to free her trapped hands and spin around to face him. Her heart felt as though it stopped, despite the redness of her face.

"Ash!" she said.

Ash watched her with an expression she couldn't read. She had never seen him looking like there was so much going on in his head. He held two steaming mugs, and he offered one to her.

"I brought you some hot chocolate," said Ash.

"Thank you," said Serena. She accepted the mug from him, but the exchange went poorly. Both of them seemed uncertain in their movements, and some of the drink spilled down the side of the mug onto the carpet. They both ignored it.

Serena took a sip from her mug. It tasted fine, but it wasn't what she wanted at all. It was no different than before, but at the moment it was much too sweet for her liking. She felt like she would jump out of her skin if she had any more sugar.

She looked up at Ash and saw him watching her awkwardly.

"Can I sit down?" he said.

"Oh, yes, of course," said Serena, smoothing a patch of the thin carpet for him.

Ash sat down next to her. He looked uncomfortable for reasons far beyond the stiffness of the floor. He took a long drink from his mug, then set it down beside him. He looked to the mirror.

For a moment, Serena was terrified at the thought that she would have to be the one to start this conversation, but then Ash spoke.

"When did the mirror get broken?" he said. "It wasn't like that when I was looking for you."

"I think it broke when I came back through it," said Serena. "At least, it was broken when I looked at it after I got back."

Serena tried to take another sip from her mug, but she regretted it immediately. The hot chocolate was just too rich for her nervous stomach.

"It looks kinda like it was punched, almost," said Ash, pointing at the obvious point of impact in the center of the mirror.

"I think that may be because I came back through a small piece of the other mirror," said Serena. "All of me had to fit through that tiny space, and it was just too much, I guess."

Ash took a long sip from his mug.

"That makes sense," he said.

"It's different now than when I first got back," said Serena. "When I looked in the mirror then, it was broken, but my reflection wasn't."

"That... doesn't make sense," said Ash.

"I know," said Serena. "The only reason I can think of is that maybe Ash - the one from their world - was still shining the laser through the mirror for a while after I went through."

"Why would he do that?" said Ash.

"Maybe to make sure I had enough time to make it back here?" said Serena. "I don't know, it's just a guess."

Ash half-smiled and looked thoughtfully up at the world map on the wall.

"He was looking out for you," said Ash. "I'm sure of it."

There was a pause, one which gave Serena just enough time to let her nerves get the best of her again. Desperate for the silence to end, she kept talking.

"Their world is upside down, compared to ours," she said, pointing at the map.

"Well, yeah, their world is the opposite of ours," said Ash.

"But I mean literally upside down," said Serena. "They could see that map through the mirror when we reopened the connection, and they all thought it looked super weird because everything on it was upside down."

It seemed to take Ash some time to realize what Serena was saying.

"Oh! So their north is our south, and stuff like that?" he said.

"Exactly," said Serena. "It was super hot there. We're having a blizzard, and they were having a heat wave. It's the middle of winter here, and the middle of summer there."

"Weird," said Ash.

"Their library closed, too," said Serena, "because the air conditioning broke."

Ash seemed to find that amusing, and he cracked a small smile.

"Did you break into that library, too?" he said.

"No, the others wouldn't help me do that even to get me home," said Serena. "I was scared and crying on the sidewalk in front of their library, but they were still better law-abiding citizens than us."

Ash asked her a question that he only could have known to ask from experience.

"The sun set, didn't it?"

Serena nodded grimly.

"Yes, it did," she said.

"Was that when you thought you were trapped there?" said Ash.

"Kind of," said Serena. "Before the sun set, I realized that breaking the mirror was probably really bad, but between that and the sun going down, I thought I was stuck there for sure."

Serena let out a deep sigh.

"It was really scary," she said.

"Yeah, I got pretty scared too when I thought I was going to be trapped in there," said Ash. "But I was lucky. I just beat the sunset."

Serena remembered it quite well, Ash throwing himself across a gaping void between worlds as the connection between the mirrors separated. She shuddered at the thought of what would have happened to Ash had he missed his jump.

"I'm kind of glad I didn't know where you were," said Ash. "If I had known you were in the Mirror World when the sun went down, I... I don't know what I would have done."

Ash lowered his head, looking at his feet. His brow was tight. Serena's heart raced, and her imagination raced faster. Only a fool could miss that subtext.

Or Ash.

"I can't believe I didn't realize you went through the mirror!" said Ash. "It was all right here in front of me!"

Serena bit her lip. There was so much right here in front of him that he didn't realize.

"I don't blame you for not realizing," said Serena. "It's so crazy that nobody would ever think of it. If anything, I'm thankful that you believe me."

Ash inhaled through gritted teeth. He was still frustrated.

"Yeah, but I've had the exact same thing happen to me!" he said. "I could have helped you if I had realized what was going on."

Serena shook her head.

"We don't know that," she said. "We don't know what you could have done. You may not have been able to come through the mirror after me, because I broke it. Who knows?"

"I don't know," said Ash. "I definitely know I didn't help you, though. I feel like I failed you. I couldn't protect you."

There was something about the way Ash spoke of protecting her that made Serena's heart flutter.

"You didn't fail me," said Serena. "You helped me so much. You just weren't there for it! The textbook, the laser... there's no way that was just luck. That was way more than a coincidence. It was fate."

Ash didn't seem satisfied. His lips were tight as he looked away.

"I wouldn't have made it back without you. You saved me. You may not have been there, but you helped me," said Serena. "And even though you weren't with me, there was still an Ash helping me."

Ash's eyebrows raised as he looked at her.

"My mirror self helped you?" said Ash.

"He helped me so much," said Serena. "He was wonderful."

"What did he do?" said Ash.

"He found me," said Serena. "He found me in the park after I ran off crying, and he sat with me and talked."

Ash looked a bit confused, like there was supposed to be more.

"What else did he do?" he said.

Serena opened her mouth to say that he hadn't done anything else, but she stopped herself. She knew that wasn't true. She could feel sweat on her palms.

"He held my hand," said Serena.

Ash's eyes shifted to Serena's hands in her lap. He didn't seem to know what to say.

"And he rubbed my back while I was crying on his shoulder," said Serena.

Serena's heart thundered. She knew there was one more step.

"And he kissed me," she said.

"What?"

Ash looked stunned. Serena grinned sheepishly.

"Well, it was more like we agreed to kiss each other, and then we did it, but yes, he kissed me," she said.

"But... why?" said Ash.

Serena felt her stomach clench. The truth was dangerously close.

"Well, you know how the Mirror World is a world of opposites," she said.

Ash nodded. Serena took a deep breath before she spoke.

"Their Ash has a crush on their Serena."

Ash blinked several times. For a moment, Serena thought that what she had said went completely over Ash's head, but then, his eyes widened and he leaned back against a bookshelf.

"So, you..." he said.

Serena's heart felt as though it had stopped. She bit her lip, her face fraught with worry. Ash looked at her. The two met eyes, and after a long pause, Serena nodded.

"You have a crush on me?" said Ash.

Serena swallowed.

"Yes," she said.

Immediately, Serena hated how she said it. It was such a weak response, so uncertain, so typical of all the months of hiding her feelings. It felt more like an admission of defeat than an admission of love.

"Bonnie was telling the truth, then," said Ash.

"What?!" said Serena. "Bonnie told you? When?"

"Just a few minutes ago, after you left and came up here," said Ash.

Serena felt something like relief. It wasn't like Ash had been walking around with that knowledge for weeks or months. She hoped that was a good sign.

Ash scratched his nose awkwardly.

"I didn't know what to do after, um, what you did," said Ash. "Nobody has ever done that to me before."

"You mean... kissed you?" said Serena.

"Yeah," said Ash. "Not like that."

"On... the lips?" said Serena.

"Never," said Ash.

"Oh."

Serena had no idea what to say. Ash was speaking of the kiss in such a roundabout manner that she couldn't tell what his feelings were. She began to feel sick to her stomach.

"You were wrong, you know," said Ash.

Serena felt as though her heart had been stabbed with an ice pick. Of course she had been wrong. She was wrong to kiss him. She was wrong to waste so much of her life chasing after a childhood crush from summer camp. She was wrong to think they ever could have had a relationship.

"I didn't save you," said Ash.

Just as the tears were on the verge of overflowing Serena's eyes, she froze. She saw Ash staring at her with an expression she had never seen before. He looked bashful. He looked full of admiration. He looked vulnerable.

"You saved yourself," said Ash. "You're the one who found a way out. You're the one who had the courage to never give up."

Serena clasped the ribbon around her neck.

Never give up until it's over.

"You're so strong," said Ash. "You're stronger than you know. You're strong in all the ways I'm not."

Serena felt like the tears were coming again, but for a very different reason.

Ash looked away. He was quiet for a while.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you."

Serena sniffled, and she wiped away the tears.

"Don't be sorry," she said.

"I'm sorry I didn't understand your feelings sooner."

Serena said nothing. There was a part of her that definitely would have accepted an apology for that.

Again, there was silence. At a loss for how she still had tears to cry after all of the day's events, Serena sniffled again.

"Here," said Ash. He reached into his back pocket.

Serena's jaw dropped. It was the handkerchief. The handkerchief. The very same one as all those years ago. He handed it to her again.

"Thank you!" said Serena, so astonished that she was amazed she was able to speak. This was no ordinary handkerchief. Serena knew that Ash wouldn't have brought it here with him without good reason. Not even he was that dense.

Rather embarrassed, she dried her eyes. There was nothing she could do about the redness of her face. It was getting redder by the second.

Ash scratched the back of his neck and turned his head away, hiding a bashful smile.

"You're really pretty," he said.

Serena nearly gasped. There was no way his choice of words was a coincidence.

"It's true," said Ash, turning his head back to smile at her, his own face looking flushed. "You are."

"Th-thank you," said Serena. It was tough to talk through the fit of the giggles she had developed.

The two of them looked at each other with ridiculous smiles for a few silent moments. Then, Serena reached out and slipped her hand into his, weaving their fingers together. The fit felt so natural. The idea that there were so many steps involved seemed absurd.

Serena gave Ash's hand a light squeeze. To her joy, he squeezed back.

Serena decided that taking risks was easy, once you took them.

"Did you like it when I kissed you earlier?" she said.

She wasn't sure why she asked the question, other than to buy more time. She wasn't sure what her own thoughts were about that kiss. It had been such a spontaneous, fleeting, and altogether overwhelming thing that it had been impossible for her to collect her thoughts about it. There was both too little and too much information.

But then, Ash nodded.

"I was really surprised by it," he said, "and I didn't know what to do, but yeah, I did."

Serena drew closer to him. There was no turning back now.

"Do you want to kiss me again?" she whispered.

"Yes, I do," said Ash.

Serena began to close the distance between their faces, but as she closed her eyes, she noticed his were still open. She laughed.

"Close your eyes, you goof!" she said.

"Oh! Sorry," said Ash. "I didn't know."

Serena shook her head and rolled her eyes before she shut them again. She kissed him. It was electric. It felt like so much, all at once. As she lingered for a second, she was struck by the profound sense that although neither one of them had a clue what they were doing, what they were doing was very, very right.

She felt breathless when she pulled away and opened her eyes.

"Wow," she said.

"Yeah," said Ash. He blinked. It took a moment for his eyes to refocus.

Serena leaned in, resting her head on Ash's shoulder. She couldn't remember ever feeling happier. Ash wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her in closer. He had the biggest grin on his face.

"I really liked that," he said.

"Do you want to try it again?" Serena whispered into his ear.

"Yes," said Ash.

It was just as good as before. When Serena pulled away, she felt overcome by giggles.

"Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to do that?" said Serena.

"A while, I bet," said Ash. "I'm sorry it took me so long."

"That's okay," said Serena. "It was worth the wait."

There was content silence for some time. There was only one question remaining in Serena's mind.

"So, does this mean we're, you know... together now?" she said. "Like boyfriend and girlfriend?"

She didn't even need to ask the question. It was undeniable from the way Ash was looking at her, but the response was the most gratifying thing she had ever heard.

"Yes."

Serena nuzzled up to Ash's shoulder. She wanted to kiss him again, but she decided it would be better to wait for now. They would have plenty of time later. Maybe all the time, if they were lucky.

She sighed as she leaned her weight into him. She felt the tension release from her muscles. She felt the burden of carrying her feelings for so long being lifted from her shoulders.

She felt the light returning to her life, and it was fantastic.