She never liked how rough her mother's Rhyhorn's exterior was when she was a child, but her appreciation of it had grown in the years she'd lived by herself. Its coarse rock hide was once unpleasant to touch, and a major factor in being unwilling to race Rhyhorn, but now it felt like home.
She supposed her surroundings made her feel at home, too. Vaniville was supposed to be her hometown after all. But Grace's job had meant that Serena had spent a substantial amount of her childhood travelling, so maybe it meant a little less. The musky smell of autumn was wonderful, as was the feeling of a brittle brown leaf between her fingers – but none of it was as familiar as Rhyhorn, who'd been with her everywhere.
"Fletchling, fletch!" chirped her mother's other pokémon at her, and Serena chuckled. She couldn't forget Fletchling, of course.
"You haven't evolved yet?" Serena asked, holding out her hand and allowing the bird to perch on the side of her wrist. "When are you ever going to grow up? Ow!" she yelped, when he gave her knuckle an offended peck.
"Fletch!" he huffed, before fleeing off to his owner.
Serena pursed her lips. "Some welcome, huh?"
Rhyhorn grunted and shut her eyes, asking to be pet more, so Serena obliged.
"Serena!" her mother called out, "I didn't know you'd be home this early!"
"Surprise!" Serena called back, giving her a little wave. Her mother ran out into the front yard and wrapped her arms tightly around her. Serena had always marvelled at Grace's strength – she was well into her fifties now and had retired from racing, but she still looked and acted like she hadn't aged a day past thirty.
"Well?" she asked. "Did you drop by Santalune? Did you get what I wanted?"
Serena rolled her eyes. "Is that all you care about?"
Grace chuckled. "Of course not, dear. Come on in!"
After a hearty lunch and an hour of playing around with Rhyhorn and Fletchling, Grace decided to let Serena share in another one of her new passions since her retirement: cross-country running.
Much to Serena's dismay.
"This tracksuit is so comfortable," Grace commented, "Very easy to run in."
"Oh yeah?" Serena breathed, struggling to get air into her system. They'd only been running for ten minutes, but she wasn't used to this kind of vigorous exercise. "I always … did pick out the best clothes …"
"Well, I'm not so sure about the colour."
Serena threw her mother a wry look, not just because of the comment but also because of how she seemed completely unaffected by their run up a hill. "Maybe next time," she took a deep breath, "You should come along."
Grace turned her head to glance at Serena, and then slowed down to keep pace with her daughter. "Breath in and out through your nose. It makes it easier that way."
"Easy for you to say," Serena croaked, finally coming to a stop. She closed her eyes and grasped at her knees, focusing on taking deep breaths and getting the oxygen into her system again. Now that she stopped however, she noticed the soreness of her feet and started to cramp slightly on her side. "Ow …"
"The stitches." Serena looked up to see her mother give her a sympathetic smile, one that was all too familiar and infuriating. "Stopping probably wasn't a good idea."
Serena scowled. "I see that now."
She focused back on looking straight ahead of her – lifting her head to look up at Grace was proving too much of an effort. From the corner of her eye she could see her mother rummage through her fanny pack and pull out a small palm-sized water bottle; another trinket that Serena had brought to her mother from the stores of Santalune City.
"Have a drink," she said, waving the tiny bottle in front of Serena's face. Serena finally pulled herself straight, and downed half the bottle in one go.
Grace nodded over to a large boulder on the side of the trail. "We can rest on that rock over there, if you want."
Serena had to practically crawl her way over, but the relief she felt once she sat down was immediate. She reached up to wipe the small beads of sweat that were starting to make her way down her forehead and found that strands of hair had fallen lose in front of her face. She quickly got to work undoing her ponytail and brushing her hair back and behind her ears.
Grace chuckled, causing Serena to look up at her with her hair tie caught between her lips. "You don't have to worry about your hair all the way out here. There's no one around!"
"You're around," Serena mumbled, taking the tie out from her lips and stretching it over the bun she'd bunched up at the back of her head. She pulled out a few bobby pins she'd stuck onto her shirt and started pinning her bun into place, bit by bit. Grace rolled her eyes.
"I didn't say we could sit here forever."
"Mom!" Serena glared up at her mother playfully. "I'm always quick with this stuff. I travelled around for ages!"
But Serena had thick hair, and eight bobby pins was apparently as far as Grace's patience could go. "Alright," she sighed, taking a seat next to her. Despite the chilly autumn hair, her mother was still radiating warmth. "Since we'll be here a while, why don't we talk?"
"If you wanted to do that, you shouldn't have taken me on a run."
Serena couldn't stop herself from giggling. "Alright, alright! We still have a lot to catch up on anyway. And you still haven't lectured me on how I don't have a real job yet."
"Oh, I don't care about that as long as you're able to pay the rent. I was more interested in how your friend got you a table at Siebold's restaurant." Grace grinned. "You think she could do the same for me?"
"Now I get it," Serena smirked. "You made me run all the way up here so you could tire me out, and then get that reservation out of me."
Her mother threw her hands into the air. "You got me! That really was my plan all along."
Serena stifled a laugh. "I'm sure I could ask Misty to pull some strings. Was there anyone you wanted to go with? Your old racing buddies?"
"Actually," Grace said, placing both hands in her lap, "I wouldn't mind a nice night out with the two of you."
"… The two of us?"
"You and Misty. You two seem close, and I'd like to meet her." Grace smiled. "You've mostly been talking about her all day, so I need to see what all the fuss is about, don't I?"
"Um." Serena suddenly found herself unable to look her in the eye and fighting the heat rising to her face. She didn't understand why the idea of Misty meeting her mother made her feel so nervous. It was only Misty after all – just another one of her friends, and all of her close friends had met Grace at some point. Heck, even Ash had met her, back during the height of Serena's crush on him. So what was the deal?
"Huh?" Serena jumped. "Oh! Um, I-I'll give her a call and see what she can do."
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine!" Serena waved her hands. "Really!"
Grace frowned. "Do you not want us to meet?"
"Th-that's not it at all! I'd love for you to meet her, she's wonderful. You'd like her a lot." Serena muttered under her breath, "I hope."
Serena felt a warm hand squeeze her shoulder. "I know I will. You've always kept the loveliest people around you. Even Ash."
Serena gave her mother a grateful smile. "I know."
Grace tilted her head. "It's nice to see you not getting upset over that boy anymore."
"You know what I'm talking about."
Serena shifted in her seat, pursing her lips. "I guess I haven't thought about him in a while." She hesitated. "But uh … Misty's helped a lot actually."
"She has, has she?"
"Mhm." Serena stared down at her thumbs, carefully tracing the contours of her hand with her thumbnail. "She was … well." She shifted in her seat. "She loved him too."
Grace raised an eyebrow. "Oh, is that why you spend so much time around her? I thought she was your new girlfriend."
Serena nearly fell off her seat. "Wh-what?!"
"Well I did! You were gushing about her so much, you can't blame me for jumping to conclusions."
"Gushing about – mom!" Serena's cheeks were searing uncontrollably now, as much as she was willing them to stop. "It's not like that!"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure!" Serena stood abruptly, suddenly feeling the urge to move around and do something physical. "Are we going to run back home or are we just going to sit around here?"
"Let's go!" Serena turned on her heel and started running back down the hill.
"Wait, we were supposed to go all the way up!" Grace's voice grew closer, but Serena started to pick up the pace. "And just because you're not dating Misty doesn't mean I don't want to meet her! I still do!"
"I'll see what I can do! Now try to keep up!"
"Are you sure I look okay?" Misty asked, poking at the slight pouf in her hair. Serena laughed lightly swatting her hand away.
"You look fine!" She smoothed down the few strands that had gone stray thanks to the redhead's fidgeting. "You really don't have to worry."
"I just want to make a good impression!"
"Oh, Misty, it's not anyone you haven't met before."
"I know, but," Misty sighed, exasperated, "All your friends are so beautiful, and I mean …"
Serena raised an eyebrow, but waited for her to continue. She'd never known Misty to be so self-conscious about these things. She'd met four of Serena's closest friends from her showcases – Shauna, Nini, Miette and Aria – and she didn't care then what she looked like.
Then again, Misty had worn dresses to those four meetings, and that wasn't something that happened very often …
"If I'm going to be your … plus one," Misty said carefully, and Serena's lips tightened, "To this party, I want to look as good as you, you know?"
"Oh," Serena laughed, waving her concern away, "It's only Nini's birthday party! She doesn't care about being fancy. I won't be dressing up too much, and I don't think anyone else will either."
"You don't need to dress up. None of your friends do. That's my point."
"And you think you do?"
Misty remained silent, refusing to meet Serena's eye in the mirror of her dressing table. Serena bit her lip and knelt down so she was eye level to the girl, forcing her to swivel around.
"Misty," Serena started, "I thought this whole makeover was for fun. I didn't realise it was because you thought you needed it."
Misty opened her mouth to speak, but Serena squeezed her shoulder. "And you don't. You're beautiful. And I don't just mean right now, I mean always."
It took all of Serena's strength not to look away or stutter over her words. She knew it wouldn't mean anything if she did, so she held her ground. She didn't want to give Misty any room to think she was lying.
With satisfaction, and a bit of a thrill, Serena noted Misty's ears were turning pink and was glad that she hadn't caked her in pounds of makeup like the redhead had initially wanted.
"And besides," Serena added, "I asked you to be my plus one because everyone likes you. That's not because of how you look."
She wasn't close enough to feel Misty's breath on her face – thank the stars, because there was no way Serena would've been able to deal with that – but she was close enough to hear her breathing quicken for just less than a second. Her lips formed a small 'o' before pressing shut.
"Do you really mean all of that?" Misty finally asked.
"Of course I do."
Misty opened her mouth to speak again, but she never got the chance as the doorbell rang. Serena lost all her resolve in a snap, and leapt backwards onto her feet.
"Ah!" she yelped, scurrying backwards out of the room, "That'll be the girls!"
The walk to her door wasn't enough to think up an explanation for the flush on her face, but neither Miette or Shauna questioned in when she let them into the house. It made Serena nervous.
"Hi!" she chirped a little too brightly, "You two are early!"
"We wanted food," Shauna explained.
"And we decided it was cheaper to eat at yours," Miette finished for her, Shauna slapping her on the arm.
Serena giggled. "I have a few leftovers from dinner."
"Is Misty here yet?" the brunette asked.
"Uh …" Serena blinked, "Yeah, she's been here a while. To get ready."
Both her friends swapped a look that justified Serena's anxiety, and her face burned as she stomped her foot. "Guys!" she hissed, "She's in my room, so don't be weird!"
Miette smirked, "Is she now?"
"N-not like … Miette!" She hid her face in her hands, "She just wanted some clothes and makeup, that's all!"
"Hi Shauna, Miette," she heard Misty announce, and Serena wanted to die. How much of that had she heard?
"Oh Misty, your dress!"
"I love your hair, did Serena do that for you?"
"You look hot."
"You look really good!"
"Thanks," Misty said shyly, and Serena rolled her eyes. If she'd just asked Aria for a ride, it wouldn't be this embarrassing. Aria was her first choice, actually, but she was busy with a photoshoot right before the party, and Serena's apartment wasn't on the way. Then she'd called Shauna, and Shauna was fine on her own, but pair her with Miette …
Not to mention that she was a little put off by Miette's blatant flirting. But that was only minor, of course.
"Hey," Serena snapped, calling for everyone's attention. "You guys are here for food, right?"
"You know that's not all we're here for," Shauna sighed.
"Yeah, you give us food, and we give you a ride." Miette hooked an arm around Misty's. "And Misty gets to ride free of charge!"
"It's my car, Miette, and I'm driving. By the way, I'm sorry if we're intruding, Serena. We probably should've called first."
"No, no, it's fine!" Serena rummaged through her fridge for tonight's dinner. "It's not like I'm ever busy, you guys know that."
"Hey, why is that?" From the corner of her eye, she saw Miette untangle from Misty and take a seat at the kitchen table. Her expression was sombre; she didn't look like she was teasing at all. "I thought you were pursuing modelling. What happened to that?"
"Oh, I was never pursuing modelling. I only do it for Shauna." She pulled out a few Tupperware boxes, and looked through her cupboards for some bowls. "Just helping a friend out. And it pays the rent."
"Then what are you doing?"
Serena froze for a second that she hoped no one else in the room noticed. Gritting her teeth, she slowly started spooning the pasta from the Tupperware into a bowl. "Nothing … at the moment. I'm still trying to figure out what I want."
"She's Pancham's manager," Misty provided, and Serena flushed.
"Oh, that's not really a big deal. Pancham's interested in acting, so I've been training him up and sending him out for auditions."
"And you were getting Sylveon into dancing too, weren't you?" Shauna asked.
"That one's not working out so well. People are more interested in groups of dancers than just one lone pokémon. Even if I was to join her, there wouldn't be a huge audience."
Miette frowned as she contemplated the conversation. "Why don't you compete again? Showcases are back next month. You have time."
"Um …" Serena bit her lip. Truth be told, as much as she loved performing, she wasn't sure she could do it anymore – at least not competitively. She'd already achieved her goal, so all the fire that was driving her forward was gone. She loved watching it, and she'd still think up routines with her pokémon and dance around with them at home, but it felt like more of a hobby nowadays.
Which made her feel terrible, but she still couldn't motivate herself to compete again.
"I don't know," she finally said. "Maybe."
The room was uncharacteristically silent as Serena placed the pasta in the microwave and punched it in for two minutes. The microwave was loud enough to make up for it, but it didn't make it any less awkward.
"Hey, you wanna know what my favourite showcase of yours was?"
"Wh-what?" Serena wasn't sure she'd heard Miette right. Was she really going to compliment her? Even after all their years of friendship, it was rare for her to do that. It was more likely a joke – although Serena wasn't sure what Miette had to gain from that.
"That one you organised right after the Team Flare attacks," Miette continued, as if Serena hadn't reacted at all.
"Oh, yeah!" Shauna exclaimed clapping her hands together, "Right before Clemont lit up the Lumiose Tower! That one was fun."
"Yeah, I wasn't even there but I wish I was."
"That?" Serena gave the performers a funny look. "I didn't even practice for that one! I-I mean, it was just Shauna and me and Jessilee playing around."
"That's probably why it was so great," Miette persisted. "I mean, competition puts so much pressure on you, you can't even have fun sometimes. Even if you're enjoying yourself, if you don't win it's suddenly not as great. But when there are no stakes, you don't really care."
"And you did it for all those people, even though you didn't have to," Shauna added. She nudged Misty, "Hey, did you ever see it?"
"N-no," Misty stuttered. Serena had forgotten about her being around, so she flushed immediately, thankful that serving the dinner onto plates involved facing away from the girls on the table. "You really did that?"
"Y-yeah … just a little thing, you know …"
Miette snorted. "Don't sell yourself short. That's only one of the times you've proved you're a better person than all of us."
Serena spun around immediately. "Miette, you're so extreme!" But she suddenly met Misty's gaze and found that she couldn't pull away.
"Miette's right," she said quietly, almost to herself, "That sounds amazing."
Internally, she was screaming. Misty's eyes were sparkling, her hands were clasped tightly and her shoulders were bunched up like she was holding her breath. Serena didn't think the performance was such a big deal, but she didn't want Misty to stop looking at her the way she was so she didn't say anything. She could've stood there staring like an idiot forever, but Shauna cleared her throat and ruined the moment.
"Sorry, food!" Serena remembered, and quickly turned around to get back to what she was doing. She didn't need to be watching to know the looks Shauna and Miette were probably passing each other. They probably brought Misty into this on purpose.
But admittedly … they had given her something to think about.
"Oh, I'm glad you like my poké puffs, Politoed!" Serena chuckled. "I made sure they're super sweet, just the way you like them."
"Toed!" The pokémon threw the puff into his mouth and started dancing around, sending Serena scrambling backwards on all fours.
"Politoed!" his trainer commanded, "Control yourself!"
Politoed, predictably, did not stop dancing, and from the corner of her eye Serena saw Misty crouch down next to her. "After all these years …"
Serena stifled a giggle. "I think it's cute."
"You would think it's cute," Misty groaned.
"He'd be great in a showcase."
"Are you offering to take him off my hands?"
"Misty!" Serena finally turned to face the girl fully, and saw her with her chin in her hand and elbow resting on her knee. She had that funny kind of smile on her face that Serena was only just starting to get used to.
"What?" she smirked, "If I had to trust Politoed with anyone, it'd be you."
Serena flushed. "With me?"
"Uh, because you're good with pokémon, of course!" Misty recoiled, tucking a rogue strand of her fringe away behind her ear. "Look at you, running back and forth for Pancham just because he wanted an acting career – a-actually, forget it! You're never getting Politoed because you'd spoil him rotten!"
"Are you going to make up your mind?" Serena deadpanned.
The doorbell rang before Misty could give an angry retort, and the redhead shot into the air and ran out to answer it. Serena didn't realise she was expecting company at this time, and felt bad for coming over. It had been a surprise lunch on Misty's day off – partly to test out her new poké puff recipe on Politoed, partly just to spend time with her. The trainer was getting busier and busier lately, and was getting a lot more attention from the higher-ups in the League. But she supposed she couldn't be the only person Misty spent her time with; surely her other friends wanted to spend time with her too.
"Like, hiiiiiiiiiiiii!" a loud voice squealed, forcing Serena to give in to her curiosity and stride over to the living room. There she found Misty lost in a jungle of long, beautiful blonde hair. A man slightly older to Misty watched affectionately as he slumped under the weight of two large pink duffel bags, three more brightly coloured suitcases at his feet. Serena recognised him as Tracey, Ash's friend who'd been working for Professor Oak back in Pallet Town. It'd been years since she'd seen him, but he looked exactly the same.
"Daisy!" Misty coughed out, "What are you doing here?"
Serena's eyes widened as the blonde backed away, identifying her as one of Misty's sisters. She'd only ever seen her in photographs, and she could never focus on the pictures as a whole because she'd always get caught up on the similarities between Misty and the rest of her family – Lily had Misty's small, delicate nose; Daisy and Violet clearly had Misty's thinner lips. Every single one of them had those same striking sea-green eyes.
But seeing Daisy standing next to her sister in person made Serena realise they really were as different as night and day. Where Misty was strong and athletic, Daisy had an hourglass figure that a girl could die for. Misty had ever-thinning hair from all her time spent in the pool, while Daisy's was still thick and lush and flowed all around her shoulders.
But as Daisy reached out to tuck a flower in Misty's ear, just as she had one in her own, the similarities that she'd noticed earlier started to hold more weight.
"Here, I, like, picked this from Professor Oak's garden." Daisy toyed with Misty's hair, twisting and tugging it into something a little more organised. "Tracey and I both had a week off, so we thought we'd, like, surprise you!"
"Can you stop messing with my hair?" Misty bit her lip. "Why didn't you say anything? I could've been at work today!"
Tracey coughed quietly. "I did suggest calling first."
"You totally did not!"
"It's okay, Tracey," Misty snickered, "I believe you."
Tracey rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly before shifting his gaze to Serena. "It's nice to see you again."
"Oh, I didn't realise you had a guest over, little sister!" Daisy leaned forward, her lips twisted into a pout. "Wait a sec, haven't I seen you before?"
Serena suddenly felt a little uncomfortable, like she was standing under a spotlight. Misty's words from when she met her mother came to mind: I feel like she was judging me. What did you even say to her?
Serena understood now. She'd never met anyone this close to Misty. The trainer had her friends in Kalos, of course, like her co-workers and the staff at the café she frequented, but Serena was far more established in the region. All of Misty's closest friends were back in Kanto, where she was from.
"This is Serena," Misty sighed, striding over to place a small hand on her back that had Serena's back stiffen and her heart race a little. "Ash's friend from Kalos. I told you about her, remember?"
"We met when she came to Pallet Town a few years ago," Tracey added. "I'll never forget your poké puffs! I know they're meant for pokémon, but I tried one myself and they're excellent!"
Serena was ready to wave the comment away and insist they weren't even her best work, but she was interrupted by Daisy. "Wait a minute … so you're Serena?" She placed her hands on her hips, "Like Misty, you never told me you were dating a supermodel!"
Rarely did Serena's mind ever go completely blank, but apparently this was a rare moment. Her brain wasn't sure what to address first – the 'dating' or the 'supermodel'? But her body reacted when her brain didn't, and she was vaguely aware of her face burning.
"We're not dating," Misty hissed, and Serena turned to find her just as red as her hair. "Serena is not my girlfriend."
"Really? Because you –"
"Not my girlfriend!" Misty roared, and she stomped over to Tracey, yanked the two large duffel bags away from him and marched off into her spare bedroom.
"What did I say?" Daisy whined, turning to her partner. Tracey winced.
"I'm not a supermodel," Serena blurted out, apparently unable to control her mouth or any other part of her body. Her face burned hotter under the gaze of the couple. "I mean, a little bit but that's not my main job … ah, are you guys hungry? I made extra lunch. It was going to be leftovers for Misty, but …"
"Are you sure?" Daisy gestured for Tracey to pick up their suitcases. "Not about, like, the lunch, because we'll totally take you up on that. I always see you on those billboards advertising Shauna's new clothing line, since it like just got to Kanto and all. What was it called …?"
"Oh, Shauna's just my friend, I'm helping her out." Serena moved out of the way and let them make their way further into the living room, noting the way Daisy took one of the heaver bags off her partner when she saw him struggling. It was strange that they had three big suitcases for a week's holiday, but she supposed she shouldn't be too surprised if Misty's stories were true. "I'm actually in the business of organising showcases. But, um, for children in hospitals and remote areas. Well, I only just started, actually."
"That sounds pretty awesome." Tracey's eyes scanning the room, probably to see where he could keep the luggage. She was about to offer to take it herself before Misty swooped in and grabbed hold of them herself.
"I suppose." Serena carefully avoided Misty's eyes as she came and went. "I've only just got the green light for my project. There's still a lot more things I need to plan and details I need to work out. I don't know how successful it's going to be."
"I'm sure it'll turn out great!" Tracey reassured her, and she decided she liked him already.
"So you're not going to work for Shauna anymore after you get that started?" Daisy asked.
"I think I will! Like I said, we're friends." Serena shifted on her feet. "Her brand's doing really well, and we have similar styles anyway –"
"You're wearing her now, aren't you?" Daisy nodded to her feet. "Like, the boots."
Serena glanced down at her feet and back up at the blonde. "How did you –"
"Misty might not be able to recognise a designer brand if it slapped her in the face, but she's always been the runt of the litter."
"I don't care about brands!" Misty called from the bedroom, "I just buy what looks cute and has pockets!"
"Like I said, the runt." Daisy winked. "We both know what's really important though, don't we?"
It struck Serena that this was Daisy's way of trying to get along with her. Serena had never been deprived of a conversation about the things that she could never properly talk to Misty about, like fashion – it wasn't that Misty didn't like clothes too, but she didn't have the same interest in runways and haute couture that Serena did. She supposed Daisy probably had plenty of outlets herself. They didn't need each other for that, so this was clearly Daisy trying to make an effort to bond with her. It warmed her heart and her chest as she watched Tracey gently chastise Daisy for calling Misty a runt, and Daisy retort back that she was just joking and Misty knows it. The tired smile that Tracey gave her made her feel like she'd known them as family for years. She felt like she could belong with them.
Her gaze shifted a few degrees to the right and caught Misty's eye, which she'd been trying so hard to avoid. She caught a split second of a maelstrom of emotions before she turned away – happiness, relief, a little bit of alarm and an expression that she couldn't name, but was often on her face when Ash did well in his tournaments.
She supposed she'd stay for dinner as well.
Serena's goodbye party was the previous night, but Misty had insisted on visiting in the morning before she took off. She'd be up early for training, and it was on the way.
Serena knew it wasn't on the way, but she decided not to bring it up. Selfishly, she wanted Misty to come regardless. She wanted the opportunity to spend time with her alone, apart from everyone else, right before she left. Not that she didn't value any of her other friends just as much, but she'd grown to value Misty in a different way.
And some tiny part of her mind was starting to think Misty might feel the same.
"You double checked everything, right?" the redhead asked as soon as she entered Serena's apartment. "It's always good to check right before leaving, in case you forgot something."
"Triple-checked," Serena nodded. "I made a list so I wouldn't forget."
"Your toothbrush? Face creams?"
"In my hand luggage."
Misty nodded, though her brows didn't relax. She held out a small brown paper bag. "I got you breakfast. I wasn't sure if you had any."
Serena winced. "Did … did you make that?"
"No! I bought it from a patisserie on the way here. I wouldn't want you to get sick while travelling." Misty frowned, "Speaking of which …"
"I have catering arranged for the whole crew and our pokémon, so it's not likely we're getting food poisoning. Besides, our first stop is Vaniville Town, so my mom'll be around if anything happens. But I haven't had time to eat breakfast," Serena confessed, accepting the package, "So thanks."
"But if you need anything, you can call me, okay?" Misty wrung her hands together. "Does anyone have your spare key?"
"Clemont. But I'll tell him to give it to you if I need something and he's too busy."
"Clemont is responsible," Misty murmured, running a hand through her hair.
"Vee!" her sylveon called, gesturing to the window with one of her ribbons. "Sylvee!"
"That must be the cab!" Serena rummaged in her pockets and pulled out three of her pokéballs. "We gotta go, guys! Return!"
"Did you really need to call a cab?" Misty huffed, running after Serena as she grabbed her phone and keys on the way out the house. "I could've just – oh, let me grab that!" Misty swatted at Serena's hands when they grabbed for her big suitcase, and Serena relented. "I could've just driven you to the office myself, it's not that far."
"It's on the other side of the city, Misty." Serena waited for her to lug the bag outside, finally shutting the door and making sure it was locked – once, twice, and then a third time. You could never be too careful. "You didn't even need to come this morning."
"I wanted to make sure you were ready for today."
Serena chuckled as she moved in front of Misty and walked down the stairs, pacing a little slower to keep in time with both Misty and the suitcase. "You seem more stressed about this than I do."
"S-someone has to be!" Misty groaned, "Gosh, what's in this bag?!"
"Everything you insisted I pack for my trip," Serena smiled sweetly. "I really didn't need ten different jackets, but since you insisted …"
"I get it." With a final thud, Misty dumped the bag on the tiles of the ground floor and rolled it out towards the cab. Serena greeted the driver and let him pack all her luggage into the boot.
"You know," Serena said softly, turning to Misty once the driver was out of earshot, "I'm glad you came. Even if you didn't have to."
Misty's cheeks were still flushed as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She had a small smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "I'll miss you."
Serena bit her lip. "I'll miss you too."
"You'll have to call me."
"Of course. But I'm not leaving forever."
"Eight months is a long time."
Serena pursed her lips, and reached for Misty's hand.
"Ready whenever you are," the driver called before she had the chance to say anything, and disappeared into the cab.
"I guess that's my cue," Serena breathed. Reluctantly, she let go of Misty's hand and adjusted her ponytail.
"Hey, wait a second." She looked up to see Misty with a funny look in her eyes, like she couldn't focus on looking at any one thing. "First, I wanted to say that I'm proud of you."
"You've come such a long way since I first met you, and the initial problem that brought us together … isn't really a problem anymore. So I'm really proud of you."
Serena coughed, a little embarrassed, "Well, thanks, you too–"
"I'm not done." Misty closed her eyes. "I also think that … what you're doing right now, with the hospitals and the children … that's really amazing. And selfless. My goal is just to improve myself, but you want to spend your entire life making other people happy and I really, really admire you for that. And," she took a deep breath and reached into her pocket, "Um, y-you're going to need something to wipe off after you're done with that breakfast, so …"
With both hands, she held out something blue and white and folded, with little starmie on it, and Serena bit her lip and breathed out sharply through her nose. It was funny how everything tended to fall into place all at once.
"Thank you," she whispered, as she slipped the handkerchief out of Misty's hands and into the front of her shirt. She was ready to turn around and head into the car – there was nothing more she really needed to do after all – but one look at Misty's watery face made her stop for a moment.
So she kissed her without a second thought.
And it was liberating.
Serena hadn't expected raised eyebrows when she strode into the bar. Sure, she had locked fingers with Misty Waterflower, but no one seated in Ash's player box during the championship had said a thing. Most of those people were some of Misty's closest friends, so she figured if she didn't get anything from them, she wouldn't get anything from anyone.
But apparently the water-type trainer was acquainted with half the people at this party, and their relationship wasn't common knowledge the way it was back in Kalos.
"They're only staring because they recognise you from the billboards," Misty whispered in her ear.
"Oh." Serena cleared her throat, a little embarrassed that she could be read so easily. "Thanks."
"Let's just ignore everyone that's here from the League and find Brock. I bet some girl needs rescuing from him, and I don't know if his croagunk is around –"
"Shouldn't we try to find Ash? We're already pretty late."
She felt Misty's fist clench around her hand, probably involuntarily. "He's not going anywhere. We'll check on him later."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Is something going on with you and Ash?"
Serena narrowed her eyes. "Are you seriously still not over him?"
"What?" Misty let go of their hands, "Of course I am!"
"Then what's the big idea?"
"What is your problem?" Misty barked, finally turning around on her, "Ash is going to be around for ages! He's probably knee deep in League officials right now, and they'll leave in an hour, so what's the urgency? Maybe you're the one who's not over him."
"Are you even listening to yourself?" Serena hissed, glancing around at the people who were starting to take more interest in their argument. "And you're causing a scene!"
"You started it!"
"Aw, c'mon Misty, leave poor Serena alone!" They turned to find May with her hands on her hips, glaring playfully at Misty, "Not everyone's ready to handle your temper."
"I can take care of myself, thank you," Serena snapped, and then finally realised who she was talking to. "Oh! May … sorry, I think I let my anger get the better of me."
"It's cool, we all have our moments." May beamed, "So, I was off to find Ash, you two coming?"
Serena fixed Misty with a hard look, and she scowled. "Fine," she relented, and Serena crossed her arms and looked away.
Surprisingly, it didn't take long to find him. Ash wasn't surrounded by League officials, as Misty had suggested, but he was sitting at the bar with Pikachu on his shoulder, as always. Iris, Dawn, Gary and a few others she didn't recognise were taking shots as both trainer and pokémon watched on warily.
"Ash!" May called, waving for his attention, and he brightened up as soon as he saw them.
"May! Misty! Serena!" He ran over to them and Serena was struck with how much he'd grown. She hadn't seen him since she'd travelled to Pallet Town almost six years ago. He was taller than she remembered, his hair was a little shorter and he shaving scars on his chin.
"Pikachupi!" Pikachu cried, and jumped onto Misty's shoulder, scampering across to each of the three girls for a nuzzle. He finally settled in Misty's arms, much like he had when she met Misty for the first time.
"Congratulations, Ash!" May breathed, reaching over to give him a hug. "I never got to say it today!"
"Us too," Serena agreed, gesturing to herself and Misty, "We barely even saw you after you left the field!"
"Oh, sorry," he rubbed the back of his neck, "The crowd kinda drowned everything out. I tried to find you guys, I swear, but they kept taking me to this press meeting, and that press meeting –"
Misty laughed, and Serena saw her looking the happiest she had this entire party. "Gee, it's so hard being the most famous person in the region, isn't it?"
"But congratulations," she told him seriously, "I always knew you could do it."
"Me too!" May squealed, before her phone suddenly started ringing. "Oh no, that's probably Drew! I had to leave him in the hotel room because he got really sick. Would you give me a moment?"
"Yeah, sure." Ash held his arm out for Pikachu to jump back on, and Serena watched May weave through the crowd and out of sight. "Hey, how come you guys were late, anyway?"
"We got caught in traffic on the way here," Serena answered, and she saw Misty nod tensely from the corner of her eye.
Ash's brow furrowed. "You came here together?"
Serena pursed her lips. She was fine with telling Ash about the two of them, but with the way Misty was acting –
"Yeah," Misty said, a firm hand latching around Serena's arm. Serena gave Ash a weak smile and stepped a little closer to her. Misty looked a little tense, her lips forming a thin line and one foot slightly behind the other, like she was ready to kick someone. Serena wasn't sure what her angle was, but she'd bring it up later.
"Oh." Ash's brow furrowed further, and his bottom lip poked out. "Huh. I didn't realise you two were that close. When did this happen?"
"Not too long ago," Serena confessed.
Ash's face relaxed into an easy smile, and Serena let out a breath she didn't know he was holding. "Well, good! I wasn't sure if you guys would get along, so this is great. I'm happy for you!"
Misty's hand slipped down from Serena's upper arm and back into her hand, and Serena looked over to see her smiling much more freely. "It's not about us, Ash, it's about you! How does it feel being Champion of Kanto?"
Ash's eyes sparkled as he looked up at Pikachu. While he gushed about his win and how surreal it was, Serena felt Misty's hand squeeze hers.
They found themselves at the snack table a few hours later. They'd ended up there with Ash, May, Misty and Iris having an eating contest, but May left halfway because she needed to take care of Drew, and Cilan had dragged Ash and Iris away to do … Serena wasn't sure what. Misty heaved her way over to the seat next to Serena and buried her face in her neck.
"I guess you won that one," Serena teased. Misty grunted in response and it tickled her neck, and Serena had to push her off laughing.
"Leave me alone!" Misty groaned, "I regret everything. I shouldn't have done this stupid contest anyway."
"Then why did you?"
"… I got competitive."
Serena snickered. "Then you have no one to blame but yourself."
Misty buried her face back in Serena's neck and grunted again. Serena figured that was the end of the conversation. She was still a little mad at Misty for today – she still had no idea where things stood between them. Her girlfriend hadn't explained her weird behaviour at all, and it was bothering her.
"About Ash …"
Serena jumped. "Can you read minds?"
Misty giggled and pulled away. "No. I can read you." Serena didn't answer, so Misty sighed, sitting up straight and rubbing her shoulder. "I was … nervous."
"I figured that much."
"But it's not what you think." Misty scowled at the ground, and Serena allowed her the time to think of what to say. "I was scared it'd be … awkward, meeting Ash like that. Together. Considering how we were."
"I mean, it's silly," she continued, wringing her hands together, "But I thought, what if he doesn't approve? Not that we need his approval, but he's important to me. To us."
"No, I don't think it's silly." She reached over and placed her hand over Misty's to stop her from fidgeting. "I was a little scared too."
"Yeah. And I understand feeling awkward. I haven't seen him at all since Pallet Town."
"Mhm. We called and everything, but it's different."
Serena nodded. There was a silence again, but it didn't feel as heavy now that they'd cleared things up. "It was probably pretty stupid of me to jump to conclusions, huh?"
Misty snorted. "Yeah. But I said some pretty stupid things myself." After a pause, she added, "I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry too."
Misty lips pressed against Serena's temple, and she closed her eyes and focused on that sensation. It was a little sticky from lip balm – Misty was probably going to have to reapply again – and her nose dug a little into her hair.
"So are we good?" Misty murmured against her skin, and Serena felt herself smiling like a chansey.