Chapter 1: Part 1
Serena could appreciate a good silence amongst friends. Sometimes nothing needed to be said, and that was okay – it was comfortable, at times even more comfortable than when someone decides to speak up.
This was not one of those times.
Ash was scarfing down his meal, too busy to bring any conversation to the dinner table, so that left everyone else. Clemont was telling Ash’s mother, Delia, of his latest invention, while Bonnie provided her own additions of how they blew up. It was a conversation that she couldn’t find the opportunity to join after she’d commented on Delia’s cooking. So all she could do was eat in silence.
Or start a conversation with Misty Waterflower.
Ash had only ever brought up the redhead once on their journeys, when Bonnie had stumbled across a series of photos of his previous travelling companions on his pokégear. He’d described her as brash, hot-tempered and one of the strongest pokémon trainers he’d ever known. Perhaps that was what had made her the most interested in Misty – Ash wouldn’t have praised her skills as a trainer if she wasn’t worthy of it, and a good trainer was something Ash always had a lot of respect for. This girl must’ve been pretty special.
The redhead sitting next to her seemed nothing like the girl Ash had described. She was strong, sure – there was a clear muscle definition in her arms, and her crop top did nothing to hide her firm stomach. She looked like someone who could be hot-tempered but so far hadn’t shown it. Serena couldn’t speak for her battling skills, but she trusted Ash to at least be a good enough judge of that.
But Ash hadn’t mentioned how pretty Misty was either. It wasn’t immediately apparent, but if you looked closer you could see the freckles that dotted her cheeks and the gentle curves of her lips. Serena was especially jealous of her nose – it was small and delicate in a way that Serena’s nose was not, and hooked over on just the right angle. Serena’s nose was large and protruded too far out between her eyes.
Misty started to turn her head, and she realised she’d been staring; she whipped her head away right on time. She could see the other girl looking at her from the corner of her eye, but she didn’t dare turn back around.
“So,” Misty started, but it was obvious she was unsure how to continue that sentence. Serena didn’t care; she was too busy thinking about how even Misty’s voice was better than hers. She was probably a singer, too.
“Are you thinking of going for Kalos Queen again, next year?” Misty tried again. It caught Serena off guard – she hadn’t expected to actually begin a conversation.
“O-oh, yes,” she said, her voice sounding shakier than intended, “I came so close to winning this time, it doesn’t make sense for me to just give up now.”
Misty nodded. “There’s always room for improvement. Even if you make it to the top.”
“Right.” Serena wanted to say more, but she was at a loss for words. Misty had already spoken about her gym and there was nothing else to be said about it.
“So what will you do after you’ve achieved your dream? After you become the Queen?”
“Well, I’d have to defend my title the next year.” Serena toyed with her food, taking a quick glance around the table to see if anyone was listening. Ash was still engrossed in his food, and Clemont, Bonnie and Delia were still talking. “After that I was thinking … well, I could ask Ash if I could travel with him again.”
“It’s a good idea. If he remembers.”
Misty gave her a wry smile. “You’re not the only one he’s left behind, you know.”
Serena looked back at the boy in question, who had caught his mother’s attention to ask for seconds. While he hadn’t quite left her behind yet, she knew it would happen. Coming with him to Pallet Town had been a last ditch attempt to stay with him a little longer. Had Serena won the title of Kalos Queen, she would’ve been happy to join him in Alola, but she had her goals to achieve and he had his. He always found new friends in other regions to travel with, and he may not have a place for her in his journey when she’s finally ready.
“We’ll see when it happens,” she muttered quietly, and Misty pursed her lips.
“If it doesn’t –” Misty paused to take a deep breath. She seemed to be forcing herself to say something. “If it doesn’t … you can always contact me. I know how it feels.”
Serena’s eyes flitted around the table again – no one was paying attention to their conversation. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m not sure you’d understand exactly how I’ll feel.”
“I lent him my handkerchief, too.”
This caught her off guard. She turned to look at the other girl directly for the first time that day. Was that a threat? No, it mustn’t be – Misty didn’t seem angry, especially if she was as hot-tempered as she’d been led to believe. Instead, Serena saw sympathy, understanding … she even looked a little sad.
Serena wasn’t sure how to respond, so she smiled instead. Misty smiled back, and she wasn’t sure if it was the genuineness of her smile or their previous conversation that made the heat rise to her cheeks.
She did have a nice smile.
“The thing is …” Serena began, fiddling with the ribbon on her chest, “Now that I’ve finally achieved my dream … I’m not sure what I want to do anymore.”
“Huh?” Ash asked, a little distracted with Pikachu running up his arm and around his shoulder. He moved in and out of Serena’s Holo Caster hologram as they tussled. “You don’t want to perform anymore?”
“No no, it’s not that! I love performing! It’s just that I’ve already achieved everything I want to achieve, you know? I could try for Kalos Queen again but it won’t be as special. Besides,” she sighed, moving her hands away from her ribbon and wrapping them around her arms, “I’ve been Kalos Queen for three years straight, now. And I wouldn’t want to take Miette’s title away from her.”
“Hm.” He rubbed his chin, deep in thought. “Well, it’s okay if you can’t figure it out yet. You didn’t know what you wanted to do when I first met you, and you worked it out eventually!”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Ash.”
“No problem. Hey!” He snapped his fingers. “I just had an idea! You remember those contests I told you about?”
“My friend Dawn’s about to start competing in the Kanto Contest Circuit. You should go with her! I think you’d do real great as a coordinator.”
Serena wasn’t so sure about that. Coordinating was similar enough to performing that she wouldn’t feel the same fire she did when she used to, for the same reasons she felt she couldn’t do showcases anymore. Besides, none of her pokémon were that interested in the battling aspect of Contests anyway.
“I’ll think about it, alright? I’m not sure I could make such a big decision so quickly.”
“I understand,” Ash nodded. “Just give me a call if you make up your mind, alright?”
“I will,” Serena said. “Thank you, Ash.”
“Not a problem, Serena. You know I’m always here to help you with anything.”
“I know,” she smiled, but it was bittersweet. She knew Ash didn’t mean that romantically – it was something he’d do for any of his friends. Now that she knew him better, and understood the relationships he had had, she didn’t delude herself with thinking he cared about her in that way.
This call had almost been like a final test. She’d been waiting for the moment where Ash would ask her to travel with him again, now that she’d admitted she wouldn’t be performing anymore. She wasn’t about to ask him herself – she was tired of always making the first move. But Ash hadn’t bothered bringing it up, which he would have if he had wanted to. So that was that.
“I have to go …” she started.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, really.” Serena forced a smile. “I think I just need some alone time right now.”
“Sometimes that’s best. But Serena,” he gave her a solemn look, “I’ll be rooting for you no matter what you do, okay? It’s not over for you, so you can’t give up yet.”
Never give up till it’s over. That really made her smile. “Of course not! I have my whole life ahead of me.”
“That’s the spirit! I’ll call you later, yeah? Keep me updated on things.”
“I will.” She hesitated, before speaking up suddenly. “Wait! Before you go, could you give me Misty’s number?”
“Yes, I just … feel like speaking to her.”
“Sure, I guess.” Ash frowned. “I didn’t realise you two got along.”
“I’d like to try. Is that okay?”
His face cleared immediately. “Of course! You guys are so important to me. It’d be great if you could be friends too!”
The call ended soon after, but she wasn’t about to put her Holo Caster to rest yet. Ash had given her the number to Misty’s personal pokégear, and it was cheaper to call through her own mobile device instead of the landline. Blindly, she dialled the number she’d been given into the touchscreen. She hadn’t intended on calling Misty today – or ever, in fact. But after speaking with Ash …
“Hello?” Misty’s voice buzzed through, pulling Serena out of her thoughts.
“Hi. It’s Serena.”
There was a long pause. “Hey. What’s up?”
“Well …” She clutched the hem of her dress, “I lost the title of Kalos Queen.”
“I heard about that. Are you okay?”
Serena chose her words carefully. “Losing the title didn’t feel as bad as I thought it’d be.”
“You’ve had a good run, haven’t you? Maybe it doesn’t feel so bad because you already got what you wanted.”
“I suppose.” She clenched and unclenched her fist, unsure of her next move. “I … I called Ash just before.”
“That’s how you got my number, huh?”
“Yeah.” She bit her lip. “He didn’t ask me to travel with him.”
“I didn’t think he would. Not because he doesn’t care about you enough,” Misty quickly added. “He’s just never asked. For anyone.”
“But the rest of you always have something to do,” Serena argued, “You’re all busy with something. I’m not.”
There was another long silence. Misty didn’t seem to know what to say, and it was getting awkward, so Serena decided to break the ice once more. “Ash suggested I travel with Dawn and try coordinating. She’s competing in Kanto this season. I was thinking, if I go along … maybe we could meet?”
“I just …” Serena stopped to take a deep breath and exhale slowly, pushing away the tears that were threatening to fall. “I need someone to talk to. Someone who understands.”
Misty went quiet again, and Serena was almost sure she was going to decline. “I-if you don’t want to, that’s fine –”
“I’m in Kalos.”
“I’m in Kalos. I’ve been living here for a year now.”
“I’ve been apprenticing under Siebold.”
Serena took the time to wet her lips. She certainly hadn’t seen this coming – Ash hadn’t said a word about Misty moving so close to Serena, even though he most certainly knew.
Then again, it wasn’t like Misty and Serena were friends.
“Where in Kalos are you staying?” Serena finally asked.
“That’s where I live!”
“Did … you want to come over?”
“… Send me your address.”
The shock of her discovery made Serena forget all her other problems of the day, but when Misty showed up at her door forty-five minutes later with ice cream and red wine, she felt like she was about to collapse. It was like the gravity of things hit her all at once. Maybe she hadn’t expected Ash to have feelings for her anymore, but they were still friends enough that she wanted him to take her back – and yes, maybe the fact that she wasn’t over him had something to do with it too, but the last thing she wanted is for him to push her away.
Which is exactly what it felt like he did.
Misty seemed to sense how she was feeling, because she set her bags down and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. The gesture was so similar to something her mother would do that Serena automatically threw her arms around Misty’s shoulders, without even thinking. She was a little cool to the touch, which was refreshing on a hot summer’s day. She smelt of razz berry shampoo and a hint of chlorine. The ends of her hair were wet. Serena was always good at noticing little details, even when she was too busy crying into someone’s neck.
Within an hour, they’d made their way to Serena’s couch, Serena struggling to get through a bowl of ice cream while Misty’s arm was thrown casually around the back of her seat. They’d pulled up some decade-old romantic comedy on Pokéflix, but neither of them were paying attention. At least, Serena wasn’t – she was too focused on the tear tracks still fresh on her face, the ice-cold glass of the bowl in her hands, Misty’s fingers brushing against her arm whenever either of them shifted a little. Misty’s lips brushing her scalp as she turned to look in her direction. Her shoulder jerk when she chuckled.
“Nothing,” Misty grinned. “Just … you look like a mess.”
It was probably true. Serena had hardly had the opportunity to remove the makeup she had on for her showcase when she’d called her friends. She’d intended on leaving it on to attend Miette’s congratulations party, but … well.
“Do I have to be pretty all the time?” Serena sniffled.
“I didn’t say you weren’t pretty. But you’re a mess.”
Serena didn’t know how to respond to that, so forced another spoon of ice cream down her throat. It was difficult with the thin film of gunk blocking her throat – what was it called? Was it mucus? She suddenly wasn’t hungry.
“You know,” Misty started, her voice a lot softer than it had been so far that night, “The first time I ever told Daisy how I felt, I bawled my eyes out.”
“Yeah.” She licked her lips. “I didn’t do anything when I first told Ash my sisters were back and he didn’t ask me to join him again.” She laughed bitterly. “He was too busy travelling with May.”
“Aren’t you and May close?”
“We are now. But I hadn’t met her yet.”
“But I never talked to anyone about it until later. I travelled with Ash for a few days right before he started challenge the Battle Frontier, and after I went home … I just knew that’d be the last time. And I guess Daisy sensed something was wrong.”
“You knew what would happen,” Serena mumbled. “That’s why you came.”
“Yeah. But my sister doesn’t know Ash like I do.”
“Well …” she shifted, “She gave me that whole speech about how he’s a jerk and he’s not worth crying over … you know, usual breakup stuff.”
“Ash isn’t a jerk,” Serena said immediately. She couldn’t help herself – she still felt the need to defend him against anyone who spoke ill of him.
“He’s not.” Misty frowned. “Well … he can be. But that’s not why he didn’t ask me to travel with him when I could. I didn’t really like the gym back then, but … I think he could tell I was proud of how well I was doing there. And I think he was, too.” Misty smiled almost wistfully, her eyes not really focusing anywhere. “And in hindsight, I achieved a lot more being a gym leader than just going region to region with him. Not that I could have been as good as I am without him, but … I doubt I would be where I am now if I’d just kept going, you know?”
Serena did know. She’d learnt so much when she journeyed around Kalos with him; she wouldn’t be the same person if she hadn’t run into him again. Ash had a way of bringing out the best in people … but he was also very distracting. She didn’t want to admit that working on her showcases without him had felt almost liberating when she didn’t have to deal with the trouble that followed him around, or the gym battles he had to train for, or her feelings for him and whether he felt the same way.
“My feelings consumed me,” Serena realised.
Misty nodded. “You actually did better than I did. I only ever entered one water-type tournament in all three years of travelling with him. You almost achieved your dream!”
“And I couldn’t have done it without him.” Serena bit her lip. “But I don’t know if I could have done it with him either.”
Misty was beaming in a way that made her eyes sparkle. Along with her dimples, she looked years younger.
Serena could understand that.
One of Serena’s favourite sounds was the crack of a crème brulée. It was quiet and gentle, yet it still somehow managed to be immensely satisfying. And then she got to eat it, too.
“Okay.” Shauna placed her hands on the table in front of her, “Can I speak now?”
“You can,” Serena smiled.
“So as I was saying,” she said, closing the moleskine sitting in front of Serena, “I’ve hired a few people to help me manage and run the boutique, but I still need someone to endorse my designs. I’m spending a lot of money that I need to make back.”
“So you want me to endorse your clothing line?”
“You and your pokémon,” Shauna nodded. “Could you? I know you’d need to speak to your manager and all that, but I really need –”
“I’d love to,” Serena cut in. She hesitated. “I don’t need to talk to my manager.”
Shauna frowned. “You don’t? Are you sure?”
Serena only responded by helping herself to another spoon of her desert. Shauna raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t have a manager, do you?”
Shauna lips formed a tight, firm line. It scared Serena a little to realise she couldn’t tell what she was thinking.
“We’re worried about you, Serena,” she said quietly. “Me and Nini, and Aria too.”
Serena’s eyes widened. “You keep in touch with Aria?”
“She isn’t hard to get a hold of, now that she hasn’t been Kalos Queen in a while. You on the other hand …” Shauna pulled her notebook back to her end of the table. “It’s been two weeks, Serena. I know losing the title was tough, but it’s like you’ve cut us off completely.”
“It’s not that!” Serena said hurriedly. “It’s just that … well now that it’s over … I don’t know what to do anymore.”
“Do? There are always plenty of things to do. A lot of former Queens go into modelling.”
Serena shook her head. “I’m not sure I want to be a model. It doesn’t have the same kind of agency that performing does.”
“You could always try showcases again.”
“No, there’s no point. I’ve already been Kalos Queen for three years straight. I don’t have anything to prove anymore.”
Shauna pursed her lips. “It doesn’t mean you have to shut us out. It’s bad enough with Miette being too busy for us now.”
“I wasn’t trying to shut you out.” Serena cupped her hands around her bowl, interlocking her fingers with each other. “It’s just really confusing right now.”
Shauna hesitated, and then placed a soft hand over one of Serena’s. “Okay. But you don’t have to be confused alone.”
“I haven’t been alone … not entirely.”
“Oh yeah?” Shauna withdrew her hand. “Clemont?”
“Sometimes.” Serena played around with her spoon. “Have you heard of a trainer named Misty Waterflower, by any chance?”
“I have, actually,” Shauna said, putting her sketchbook away. “I bumped into her while trying for the League last year. Water pokémon trainer, right? From Kanto?”
“That’s her. She’s training under Siebold, at the moment.”
“I remember. But how do you know her?”
“She’s actually a friend of Ash’s. His best friend.”
“Oh.” Shauna licked her lips, “I see.”
“Yeah.” Serena took a moment to take another spoonful of her crème brulée.
“So does he … are they …?”
“They’re not together. I don’t know how Ash feels about her, to be honest.”
“Serena, I’m really sorry –”
“No, I mean – it’s not that! She’s been visiting a lot.” She hesitated, “She understands it. The effect he has.”
Shauna sucked on her teeth. “That’s an unusual friendship.”
“I suppose. It’s not always comfortable, but … I enjoy our time together.”
Shauna hummed in response. Serena could feel her eyes on her as she dug into her crème brulée.
“I used to have a crush on you, you know.”
Serena nearly choked, the heat rushing up her neck and to her cheeks immediately. “What? I-I mean, you did?”
“Yeah. A pretty big one, too. I always thought you were so poised and beautiful, and so dedicated to your pokémon.” Shauna shrugged. “You’re a really attractive person, Serena. Even if Ash doesn’t notice it.”
“Um …” Serena searched her mind for something to say, but she wasn’t able to come up with anything coherent. “I’m sorry, but I don’t …”
“Don’t apologize.” Shauna waved her comment away. “You were too caught up in Ash for it to matter, anyway.”
“I’m still sorry.”
Shauna chuckled. “I used to have a crush on you, Serena. Not anymore. That’s my point – I moved on. I liked you a lot, but I moved on.” She leaned an elbow on the table, and rested her chin in the palm of her hand. “It’s pretty easy to do once you put your mind to it.”
Serena didn’t think Shauna understood the gravity of her feelings for Ash. If it were that easy to move on, she would have done so already. She’d accepted that Ash would never return her feelings, so she had no reason to keep being hung up over him. She didn’t choose this. She didn’t need this.
But she couldn’t stop it either.
“Cut!” Clemont popped up from behind the enormous camera lens. “Misty, I’m going to need you to hold that reflector a little lower.”
Misty groaned. “Lower, now? You wanted it higher last time!”
She was standing on the tips of her toes before, just to dull the harshness of the summer sun that had been falling on Serena’s face. The scowl had been a permanent mark on her face from about ten minutes into filming for Serena’s latest pokévid. At first, Misty was happy to help her and Clemont with the filming; now her face was reddening with anger, and Serena had a feeling she hadn’t even seen a slice of that famous temper Ash kept talking about.
“Sorry!” Clemont dived back behind his camera as Misty stood back on her heels. “The sun keeps moving.”
“Then maybe you should’ve gotten a bigger reflector,” Misty bit back.
“Sylvy …” Sylveon groaned, tugging at the flower crown on her head. Misty’s annoyance was clearly starting to get to her.
“It wasn’t in my budget,” Serena said, biting her lip.
Misty’s scowl didn’t let up. “You owe me big time, Paschall.”
“And I owe you big time, Paschall,” Shauna said teasingly, walking up to her with a few makeup brushes in her hand. Her ivysaur and floette followed behind holding the rest of her equipment. “Thanks again for agreeing to endorse my designs.”
“It helps that our styles aren’t too different,” Serena grinned, but immediately relaxed her face as Shauna came at her with a concealer stick. She felt a gentle pressure on the top of her head too, probably Floette adjusting her braid. The attention was odd – Serena was used to doing her own hair and makeup for her pokévids and just having Bonnie point out if anything went astray, but now that her videos were sponsored, Shauna wanted her to look immaculate at all times. Which Serena didn’t mind, but Shauna was a lot more particular than she was used to. And Serena didn’t blame her either – these pokévids were being made specifically to showcase Shauna’s work, so it was out of her hands how she wanted to look.
At least Shauna used brushes and blenders, which were a lot gentler than Misty’s prodding fingers – especially for Pokémon. The redhead was often enlisted to help with odd jobs while Serena made one of her videos. She could be careful when she wanted to be, and applying makeup was not one of those times.
“All done,” Shauna said, as she gave Serena’s braid a soft tug. Ivysaur had finished adjusting the flowers on Sylveon’s crown, making sure they looked as fresh and shiny as possible. As much as fake flowers could, anyway.
“So we’re ready for one more take?” Clemont asked.
Serena nodded. “Let’s do this.”
They continued on for another hour, taking breaks to deal with the changing outdoor light, fixing Serena’s clothes, changing Serena’s clothes, Misty grumbling and Clemont apologising. They finished right before the harsh afternoon sun took over, and they decided to have lunch at Shauna’s favourite café. It was small and had a crowd of customers for the lunchtime rush, but it was air-conditioned and relatively cheap, and Shauna insisted the coffee was amazing.
“I can’t believe Aria went out with you!” Shauna breathed, “And I can’t believe no one ever told me!”
“I-it was just one date!” Clemont laughed nervously, blushing slightly. “Bonnie was the one that set it up, actually …”
“Don’t worry, Clemont, I never expected you to ask Aria out yourself.”
Clemont hung his head, and Serena let out a small laugh.
“He was my date once too,” Serena pointed out.
Shauna scrunched her eyebrows in confusion, before her eyes widened. “That’s right, for Monsieur Pierre’s dance party! But wait, why didn’t you go with Ash?”
Serena felt her smile falter for a fraction of a second. Looking around, she didn’t think anyone had noticed except … Misty. The redhead had barely contributed to their lunchtime conversation. Serena had noticed her from the corner of her eye, diligently going through her galette, sometimes smiling at something brought up in conversation but generally looking pretty uncomfortable.
Like she didn’t belong.
“Well, Sylveon was still an eevee back then and she didn’t feel comfortable enough going with anyone other than Bunnelby.”
“Ash went with Miette instead,” Clemont added. “But I think he was just going to hang out with Bonnie if no one asked.”
“Ash and Miette, eh?” Shauna chuckled. “Of course. Miette used to take every opportunity to get you riled up.”
“Huh?” Serena asked.
“You don’t think she actually liked Ash, do you?” Shauna tutted. “Your crush on him was worse than I thought.”
Serena flushed red again, eyes flitting back and forth between Misty and the others. Misty was smiling a little this time, shaking her head.
“Shauna--!” Serena hissed, but thought the better of saying anything more.
“Oh come on,” Clemont said, waving his hands in front of him. “Ash is an admirable person, it isn’t hard to see why some people would be attracted to him.”
“R-right!” Serena stuttered, “And besides, I’m over him anyway.”
Misty snorted, the least graceful noise Serena had ever heard come out of her mouth. Although the more time they’d been spending together, the elegance disappeared. She could finally see the brashness and strength that Ash had described to her all those years ago. Back then, she wasn’t sure Misty was the kind of person she could ever get along with.
Sometimes she still isn’t sure.
“So, Misty,” Shauna said, taking a sip of her coffee, “Surely you have a lot of stories about Ash from when he was travelling with you?”
Misty blinked. “Um …”
“Yeah, tell us.” Clemont smiled good-naturedly. “What was he like as a trainer?”
“Well, he wasn’t actually a good trainer at all,” Misty started, pursing her lips. “He didn’t know anything about type advantages and weaknesses, or battling, or even taking care of pokémon.”
“Really?” Serena asked.
Misty grinned. “Yeah. That moron tried catching a pidgey with a caterpie, and he tried battling Brock’s rock-type gym with only Pikachu. He didn’t even earn half his badges in Kanto – he just got them ‘cause people felt sorry for him.”
Serena looked around the table and saw that Shauna and Clemont looked as shocked as she felt. Ash had mentioned once or twice that he hadn’t always been as good a trainer as he’d been in Kalos, but he’d always been very vague about it. And between Serena and Misty personally, the water trainer had never brought it up.
“I find that hard to believe,” Clemont frowned.
“You would, because you weren’t there.” Misty had a hint of a smile on her face. “My sisters gave him a badge because he helped stop Team Rocket from destroying the gym. He was about to lose to me, too.”
“And he just accepted it?”
“He accepted them all,” Misty nodded. “In Viridian, the Earth badge fell into his hands by accident. He took it and ran.”
Serena exchanged a look with Shauna and Clemont. “But was he … nice?”
“Not at all!” Misty scoffed. “He was a huge jerk. He never listened to anything I had to say unless I yelled at him. And he’d go out of his way to annoy me, too. And when we got lost, he acted like it was my fault when he was clearly the only one holding the map!” Misty stopped to take a breath. She took a furtive glance around the table, and flushed slightly. “… Sorry. I just … feel very strongly about this.”
“He couldn’t have been all bad, right?” Shauna asked.
“Of course not. He still loved pokémon back then – more than I’d seen anyone do.” She smiled, much brighter and much more honestly. “That part never changed.”
There was a comfortable silence at their table for a few moments. Serena bit back a grin. Sometimes she felt like the Ash she had known and grown close with wasn’t real, because he was so different to the person many of his other friends described. It was nice to see she wasn’t entirely wrong about the kind of person he was.
“I want to hear more about how Ash screwed up,” Shauna finally said.
Serena watched in awe as Misty’s face spread into a deliciously sly smirk. “Where do I begin?”
Serena closed her eyes and stretched a hand out into the water, feeling how her skin cooled as it moved up and around her wrist. She’d have preferred to plunge her whole body into the pool to escape the heat, but she wasn’t willing to put in the effort it took to stay afloat. Not today. Not on her day off.
“Isn’t it great to be lazy?” Misty called out, floating past her on a pool tube, drinking rosé straight out of the bottle so she wouldn’t spill it in the pool.
Admittedly, it was. Serena wasn’t good at being lazy – she was a fretter and a worrier, and if she didn’t have anything to do with her time, she panicked. Even if it was something as simple as having a nice dinner, she needed the physical action of leaving her apartment to get it. She spent her spare time doing her laundry or dusting her furniture, baking, creating, anything to keep her busy. Serena didn’t want to lounge around, she wanted to be immaculate, put together and presentable at all times, lest someone – her mother – assume she was anything less than.
She practically had to be forced to do this. “We’re just going to the pool,” Misty had told her, “And we’re not going to do anything. We’re not going to swim, we’re not having any meaningful conversations, and we’re not going to exercise anything. We are floating around and doing nothing.”
So far, Serena was doing well.
“Sure,” Serena hummed, peeling an eye open to see Misty floating right past where her arm was lying. So of course, she that moment to whip her hand out of the water and splash her right on the face, mid-gulp.
“Mmlg!” Misty struggled to stop herself from spitting her wine right out, eyes widening in alarm. Serena couldn’t stop laughing as Misty tipped her tube right over and fell into the water, and she laughed even harder when she noticed Misty still holding her bottle safely above the surface. The other girl swam over and draped her top half across Serena’s legs, waggling her eyebrows. Serena was alarmed.
“No, Misty, you’re going to –”
“I know,” Misty grinned, hoisting the rest of the body on the edge of the lounger, and suddenly they were both under. Serena could barely see underwater, and didn’t care to as she pushed blindly at Misty and kicked herself up above the surface, limbs flying in all directions.
“Hey!” Misty chuckled, “You splashed water in my rosé!”
“Oh, give me that,” Serena huffed, snatching the bottle out of Misty’s hand and swimming toward the pool’s edge, where she left her stuff.
“Where are you taking it?”
Serena ignored her, pushing herself up and onto the dry ground, reaching for a small plastic wine glass she’d left near her bench.
“Arceus,” Misty breathed. She’d swum all the way over now, leaning over the edge. “A glass? Are you serious?”
Serena turned her nose up at the redhead. “I’m a lady.”
“And I’m not?”
Serena laughed softly, placing a hand over her mouth. She could almost see the tic growing at the end of her eyebrow. “I’m only joking, Misty. You’re just as much of a woman as I am.”
“You’re damn fucking right I am,” Misty grunted, flopping down on the bench. Serena felt her face heat up. She had to stop herself from staring. Misty was just her friend, but she couldn’t help herself; she never knew what to do when an attractive person just laid themself down in front of her like … that. All toned stomach and long legs and …
The moment was interrupted by the shrill ring of Misty’s pokégear. It rung once, then twice, but the swimmer made no move to pick it up.
“You’re not going to get that?” Serena asked.
“Nope.” Misty popped her lips. “It’s my day off.”
“What if it’s important?”
“It’s my day off.”
Serena was almost impressed with how unfazed Misty was – she would’ve dropped everything to answer that call on the first ring. Her fingers were itching to reach for it now, no matter that it wasn’t her call to take.
“Hey, this is Misty, leave a message after the tone.”
“Hey, Misty,” said an all too familiar voice, and both girls suddenly sat up straight. “I’m having a problem with this girl I started travelling with and – what? I wasn’t talking about you.” They heard a loud female voice prattle on about something indiscernable. “I’m having a private conversation here, so can you just leave me alone?” The girl yelled some more before her voice faded completely, and there was only a low groan. “Listen, Mist, can you just call me back? I really need your help. Thanks.”
Serena could see the tension in Misty’s jaw and shoulders as she stared the pokégear down. It was still there as Misty leaned back against the back of her bench, staring pointedly up at the ceiling.
“You should call him back,” Serena said softly.
“No.” Misty frowned. “It’s my day off.”
Serena bit back a sigh.
Ash. That was someone she hadn’t thought of in a while – at least, not in a way that caused her to stop what she was doing and just think. And part of it might have been the fact that she was keeping herself busy enough that she wouldn’t have the time, but it was definitely Misty too. It’d been a year since the former gym leader first showed up at her apartment, and slowly but surely, it had helped. She could talk freely with Misty, go right down into the deepest pits of her feelings and still feel like she was valid. And somewhere along the line, they became genuine friends outside of their relationship with Ash. It was unlikely, sure – Misty with her brashness and her temper, Serena with her frills and a much calmer disposition – but somehow it worked.
It worked perfectly fine.
She didn’t fail to notice her heart leap into her throat at the sound of Ash’s voice, though.
“Do you think she’s going to be the one?” Serena finally asked, after a minute of silence.
“No,” Misty said, but she hesitated. “She seems too much like me.”
“He still cares for you.”
“But not like that.”
“You’re not over him, are you?”
Misty gave Serena a look, and then turned on her side, away from her. “It’s not like I haven’t tried.
“It’s okay if you aren’t.” Serena placed a soft hand on her shoulder. “I’m not. And it’s hard, especially when you two are such good friends.”
Misty didn’t turn around, nor did she acknowledge that Serena had said anything. “You wouldn’t understand,” she finally said.
That got on Serena’s nerves. She wouldn’t understand? What was she, a can of pâté? She’s spent all this time trusting Misty because she thought they shared a connection. Their entire relationship was formed on it.
“Try me,” Serena said, much more firmly this time.
“And why not?”
“You’re not … well, you didn’t …”
“Didn’t what?” Serena stood up and crossed her arms. “Didn’t have the same kind of relationship as you and Ash did? So I’m somehow less?”
Misty turned around, a fierce look in her eye. “Now you’re putting words into my mouth.”
Serena didn’t back down. “Then what?” Misty refused to say anything, and Serena nearly growled. “You gave me all of that advice to help forget about Ash and you’re not following a word of it yourself.”
“I don’t have to!” Misty yelled, “And I didn’t even want to help you! I only came over because you insisted and wouldn’t leave me alone!”
Serena’s breath hitched, but she acted fast. She shot out of her seat and grabbed her bag and towel. “Enjoy your day off,” she spat.
Misty refused to look at her now, but Serena didn’t care. She wrapped her towel around herself and slung her bag over her shoulder, heading for the showers. She stopped just before leaving the pool area.
“You know, I really looked up to you,” she said carefully. “You helped me a lot. I haven’t thought about Ash in a while, and …” She wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence, so she left. She didn’t even bother with a shower. She didn’t want to stick around and argue with Misty more, because she knew the girl could argue for hours without stopping. Serena didn’t have that kind of energy, and she didn’t care enough anyway.
But she did, she realised, as she lay in bed hours later, staring up at the ceiling much like Misty had earlier at the pool. Neither of them had made an effort to contact each other, and it was driving Serena nuts. Having the time to think, Serena went from anger to sadness and all the way to guilt all in the space of an hour.
And now she was still stuck on guilt.
Serena eyed her Holo Caster. She’d wanted to call Misty for a while, but she hadn’t out of fear of Misty trying to reach her and the both of them failing.
Delphox appeared at the side of her bed with a plate of macarons, left over from yesterday’s baking. She was balancing it very carefully with one hand and placed it right next to where Serena was laying.
“Thank you, Delphox,” she said softly, moving to sit up straighter and reaching for a salted caramel macaron. “Pancham’s not getting up to any trouble is he?”
“Phox,” Delphox shook her head. She’d let her team of three out of their pokéballs for the night. Delphox and Sylveon knew how to take care of themselves, but Pancham still had a penchant for mischief. Most of the time, the other two could take care of him, but there’d still be days when Serena would come home to a broken vase or a torn curtain.
She was pulled out of her reverie when she noticed Delphox place her Holo Caster in front of her. Serena’s face softened.
“I’m being ridiculous, aren’t I?” she said softly. “I should just call her.”
“Delphox,” the fire-type nodded, and Serena placed a hand on its shoulder.
“Thank you again,” she said. Delphox took her leave. Serena stared at the device for a good ten seconds before finally reaching for it and dialling in Misty’s number.
One ring turned to two, then three and four. Serena grew anxious with every single one. She was ready to hang up, when the call finally connected.
“Hey,” Misty said. She kept the hologram off, so Serena couldn’t see her, and her voice sounded hoarse – so different to the more melodic tones she was used to hearing from the girl.
“I’m sorry,” Serena said immediately, before she could change her mind. It made a weight lift off of her chest that she didn’t even realise was there.
There was an audible gulp on the other end of the line. Misty was taking her time to respond, and Serena could feel a sweat coming. This should’ve been easy; she didn’t beat around the bush, she got right to the point and she apologised. And Misty was supposed to accept, because surely an apology was what she’d been waiting for, right?
It wasn’t meant to be this awkward.
“I’m sorry too,” Misty finally said, letting out a breath of air that came across as static over the phone. “I didn’t mean what I said. I was being an asshole. Maybe I didn’t really want to talk to you that day, but that doesn’t matter now because we became really good friends and –”
“I know,” Serena breathed. And she smiled because she was right after all – this was easy.
“And you’re doing well, Serena,” Misty continued. “You’re doing really, really well. And you’re right, I do hold onto things –”
“No,” Serena interrupted her, “Stop. I’m holding onto things just as much as you are. We all take our own time, alright?” She bit her lip. “I’m sorry I pushed you.”
“Me too.” She paused. “I called Ash back, by the way.”
“You did?” Serena reached for another macaron, anxiety averted. Funny, she was more worried about her friendship with Misty staying intact than Misty’s conversation with Ash.
“Mhmm. The new girl just started her journey. She’s only ten, or thereabouts. Ash just needed babysitting advice.”
Serena giggled. “Ash? Babysitting?”
“Right? I can’t wait till he screws up and I can rub it in his face.”
“I’m sure he’ll do fine. He took care of his Noibat really well when we were travelling with him.”
Misty snorted. “Right, fine. A Noibat isn’t an angry pre-adolescent girl.”
“You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you?”
Misty remained silent for a few seconds. “Nice one. Didn’t know you had it in you.”
“I have my moments.”
Misty chuckled. “You have a dark side, Paschall. Somewhere deep down, you’re pure evil.”
Something in the tone of Misty’s voice when she used her last name made her heart soar. She knew Misty well enough to know that it was now a term of affection, more than anything else.
“So are we good?” she asked.
Serena could almost feel Misty’s smile over the phone. “We’re good.”
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.
Finishing this goddamn fic was the most amazing feeling. It's been plaguing me for months, and it's so nice to finally have it off my hands! Thank you for reading, and I promise I'm never going to write this much again ;)