This started out as a crack fic. It turned into this monstrosity, and it just keeps getting longer! It's a writing style I've never tried before and a genre that's totally outside my comfort zone, so I apologise if it's not very good. I decided to post it in two parts because 15k is a lot of words to read in one go, and also because I haven't even finished it ;)
I started writing this around the snowball incident, and by the time XYZ ended, a lot of the things I'd written couldn't be canon anymore! I considered rewriting the whole thing but I really liked it the way it was, so I'm keeping it canon divergent. Some post-League incidents, like Serena kissing Ash and going to Hoenn, didn't occur, but the Team Flare arc did. Please keep that in mind before you yell at me for things not being canon anymore!
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."
Part two will be up within a week. Thanks for reading! :)