Happy Contestshipping Day.
Her performance was laughably bad. So much so, that he could hardly laugh. It made him inwardly cringe though outwardly smirk, because it was obvious she was a rookie coordinator. He had been a part of the contest circuit for a while now, and he could sniff out newbies pretty easily. The use of props—frisbees, in this case—reeked of naïvety. It was corny; it was something done only in those gaudy Super Contests in Sinnoh. Contests were supposed to be about showcasing the natural beauty and power of Pokémon. It wasn't a circus.
When she got distracted and missed one of her Arceus-forsaken pink little frisbees, he caught it with ease. She appeared shocked at first, then ran to apologize. Drew hadn't intended to talk to her—he was merely there to watch the train wreck—but now he couldn't let the opportunity slip away.
"Please tell me you're not planning on entering the Pokémon Contest with a cheesy act like that!" he said, spinning the frisbee on his finger. He then tossed it toward her, and it landed next to her feet. She blinked and looked up at him with a glare as he jumped over the railing to approach her.
"You've got no finesse. No moves," he continued.
"Hey!" Her temper flared up. "Who are you to tell me that?"
"If you must know, I'm Drew: Pokémon Coordinator."
One of her friends stepped up with a goofy smile, saying, "Really, that's just like you, May!"
Drew scoffed at the notion. The implication that they were the same, that they were somehow equals, was utterly ludicrous to him.
"Please, there is no comparison," Drew said. He looked back at the girl—May, as he had just learned—and added, "You see, you and your Pokémon here? You've got no style!"
That really got her going.
"Hey, you can make fun of me all you want, but don't you dare make fun of my Pokémon!"
He immediately cut her off, pushing his hand toward her face.
"Whoa, just calm down, little girl," he said derisively, further upsetting her.
Drew could only find the situation amusing, however. What did that raven-haired boy think she'd be to him, anyway? A rival?
Not with that act.
It had been nearly a year since he and May first met on this same beach, two weeks before the first Pokémon Contest of the season. Although it stung his pride to admit it—to himself, never openly of course—he had been wrong about her. He had expected her to give up, to go down in flames like so many other young, doe-eyed coordinators did. It was a rough business, and it had shattered the idealistic dreams of many aspiring Top Coordinators and would continue to do so.
Yet, she had persevered, and she had gotten better. It reminded him of himself in a way, but he wasn't ready to acknowledge that. He would give credit where credit was due, though.
"You were good," he told her, as they stood alone on the dimly lit shoreline, not far from where he found her bungling her practice contest appeal. Thank goodness she'd ditched the frisbees since then. "Take care."
He was back on the shoreline, but it was hundreds of miles away from Slateport City. Fitting, since May felt a hundred miles away from him at that moment, though in reality, she was probably sitting on a bench with Solidad on the other side of the park.
He groaned when Ash and Brock approached. He didn't want to have this conversation. He hurt May; he knew he did, and he was angry with himself for it. He didn't want salt to be rubbed into his self-inflicted wounds. Being forced to regard her as his equal—and yes, she definitely was his equal—was difficult. Was May even the same girl who tripped on stage during her first contest?
No. She had changed; she was a threat. He had changed; he was no longer untouchable. Their relationship had changed, but he wasn't quite sure how or what it could be defined as.
And that was scary.
"You know, watchin' ya out there earlier," Ash began, patting his Pikachu on the head, "made me think about all the rivals I've faced in battle over the years. I never talk to them about how they train or anything. We deal with that on the battlefield."
Drew stared. Then, he smirked and looked away with a half-hearted chuckle.
"I hear you," he said. "We're rivals, May and I."
The label, which he'd found comical two years earlier, now seemed wholly appropriate.
"You kind of gave me a shock back there." May's legs curled into her chest. "You see, I was just thinking about you when all of a sudden, there you were."
Drew blinked and glanced back at her. They'd hadn't formally made up since their fight, and he wasn't sure if they ever would. They'd pushed talking about it aside during the festival, neither wanting the messiness of emotions neither could fully understand to disrupt their focus or knock them off their game. It had been a while since then, though, and bringing it up now would create more awkwardness than dispel it.
"Were they good thoughts?" He couldn't help but ask.
"Ah, come on! Of course they were!" she frantically reassured him, waving her hands. "We had all just been talking about rivals. So, of course, naturally, I started thinking about you."
The tension that had ballooned in chest deflated, and he closed his eyes, smiling.
"Well, I'm honored."
And he was.
"I'm going to travel to Sinnoh," May announced to him one night when they happened to stumble across each other at the Goldenrod Pokémon Center. "I'm going to meet up with Ash and Brock and their new friend and enter the Wallace Cup. I'm headed toward Olivine City now to catch a boat."
He looked at her strangely. The Wallace Cup was traditionally a Super Contest, and he had rather specific opinions on that branch of coordinating. Although, he supposed for someone who got started using cheap gimmicks and pretty visuals, May would fit right in with that crowd.
"Why would you go all the way to Sinnoh to enter a contest?" he asked. "There's one in Ecruteak around the same time. I know Solidad's entering, and I'm pretty sure Harley will be there, too. Why not go to that?"
"Because," May began, as though it were obvious, "I need to get my groove back. I only have three ribbons, and you beat me in the Cherrygrove Contest. I wanna be a better rival to you."
He quirked an eyebrow.
"You're already a great rival."
Becoming a Top Coordinator was everything he hoped it would feel like—and it wasn't.
As he stood there on stage beside his Pokémon, all of whom had worked so hard, and proudly accepted the Johto Ribbon Cup, a sudden, pervading sense of emptiness and uncertainty overcame him. He'd accomplished his dream; he'd gotten what he'd always wanted, and he was still in his adolescence. What now?
He didn't tell May any of this as they walked alone through the streets of Blackthorn City. He'd found her during the festival afterparty, and they slipped away together. He wasn't into social events, and while she was, she would have much rather been with him.
"So how are you feeling?" Drew asked gently. She, ironically, had been his final opponent. It was quite a satisfying way to achieve Top Coordinator, beating his own rival (which probably contributed to the unsurety in which he stewed now, but that was beside the point). He understood how difficult it was, too, though. A couple years earlier, he had lost to Robert in the final round of the Hoenn Grand Festival, and it had been a major disappointment.
"I'm doing all right," she said. "I'm more happy for you than anything. I know I still have some catching up to do, but that's a part of life, right? Besides, I think my Pokémon and I put up a pretty good fight."
"You did." Drew nodded. "Toughest battle I've ever been in."
"Stop." She pushed his shoulder lightly and laughed.
"I'm being serious," Drew insisted. She still wore a doubtful smile, but she didn't saying anything as they approached the railing looking over the lower half of the city. He could hear May's breath catch just the tiniest bit, seeing all the bright, yellow lights twinkle below them.
"So where are you headed now?" he asked.
"Mmm..." May grabbed onto the railing and leaned her head back. "I want to go to Sinnoh. I really did like competing in the Wallace Cup. It was a lot of fun, and it was a huge challenge."
He raised his brow.
"I'll see you there then."
She appeared mildly surprised.
"I thought you hated Super Contests."
"Yeah, but..." He trailed off, flicking his hair. "Well, what do I have to lose? I'm a Top Coordinator now. I should expand my horizons. Besides, you're my rival, and I thought we had this unspoken deal going on that wherever one of us went, the other would follow."
She stared at him for a long moment, utterly baffled. Then she broke into a grin and threw her arms around him, causing him to stumble backward slightly. He felt heat rise to his face, yet, he couldn't help but wrap one arm around her shoulder and pull her in tighter.
Drew did not like working with other people.
He preferred to tackle his challenges by himself, to show that he could overcome difficulty without anyone's help. But, he had already entered a couple Super Contests in Sinnoh and been eliminated in the appeal round both times, which was nothing short of humiliating for a Top Coordinator. He was so used to relying on the basic, core beauty of his Pokémon that he really had no idea how to be flashy.
So, when he became aware of a special contest event in which a partner was required, he jumped on the opportunity and managed to wrangle May as his companion. She had already earned a ribbon (much to his chagrin), and he humbled himself enough to admit that he needed her help. May spent a little time gloating—which she had the right to do, considering how he'd treated her when she was first struggling—but then they got straight to work.
They had three weeks to prepare, and they spent that time practicing combinations, picking outfits, designing the perfect seals, and devising effective battle strategies. May focused primarily on the first three aspects, though she was sure to spend some time mentoring Drew in these areas, while Drew devoted most of his energies to the fourth task, battling, which had always been his strength but May's weakness.
Then came the day of the contest.
They executed their appeal flawlessly. His Masquerain and her Beautifly, combined, enraptured the audience and earned high praise from the judges. They knew they weren't out of the woods, yet, though. They were the tenth to compete, and the partnerships before them had put out gorgeous appeals as well, all vying for one of those sixteen spots. The appeals that came after them were similarly beautiful.
When their faces showed up in the No. 1 slot on-screen, neither could quite believe it. Drew, especially, couldn't believe it, considering his rotten output in Sinnoh contests thus far. He glanced toward May, who was beaming at him. She let out a cheered giggle, and he emitted an uncharacteristically happy chuckle himself. The fault of what happened next couldn't be attributed to either one of them; it was simultaneous, an act that couldn't be explained.
They kissed each other.
It happened so quickly, and it was over before either of them could process it. So, afterward, they both just froze, staring at each other, unsure of what to make of it. His hands remained cupped around her cheeks, while hers lingered near his shoulders, and they only snapped out of their daze when Marian called them to the stage for their first battle.
"So, you two dating or something?" Kenny, a coordinator they had recently met in Solaceon town, asked. He and May were sitting across the brunette male at a lunch café, and May blushed immediately upon the suggestion. She looked down at her hands, her fingers curling into her skirt.
"Ah... no, we're just rivals," Drew answered.
"Oh, I see," Kenny said. "Sorry, don't mean to push it, I just thought maybe you were because I remembering seeing you two backstage at that special contest last month. I managed to convince my friend, Barry, to enter with me, and I thought I saw you two kiss each other after you passed the appeal round."
May turned redder, and Drew sucked in his breath, trying to keep his cool.
"We are... very affectionate rivals," he replied stiffly.
They could have passed the first kiss off as a fluke; after all, they were extraordinarily happy at the time, and they had simply channeled that happiness into each other... using their lips.
By the second or third kiss, however, it became more obvious there was something much bigger happening. Something neither could understand in the least bit, and that was the worst of it. The more Drew thought about it, the more he realized this 'thing' had actually been there for a very long time—all the way back to their days in Hoenn.
They didn't recognize it then, because it was so small and unnoticeable. Its meaning had been swallowed by their growing rivalry, and now it was having its revenge. That first kiss had set a chemical reaction into motion, and their feelings toward each other expanded and intensified beyond the flames of competition. Again, Drew felt as though his relationship with May had been pushed toward limbo—somewhere between rivals and something more intimate, but he didn't have an exact word or phrase for it.
Still, he'd put off figuring out exactly what was going on, because he was apprehensive of the answer. 'Affectionate rivals' would do for now.
"Aah!" May grabbed her head, mussing up her own hair with frustration.
"What's the matter?" Drew asked, lowering his book and lolling his head toward her.
"I'm just... ugh, I want to win tomorrow's contest, but I'm getting super nervous!" she vented. "I've heard the Brussel Town Contest is really competitive."
"You'll be fine. Just trust in your Pokémon and do your best," Drew assured her. "You've always gotten by on that."
"Thanks," she mumbled, before tilting her head. "Why are you so sure, though? No mocking? No teasing? Drew, that's so unlike you. You love it when you've got something over me."
She was referring to the fact that, since their partnership in the special contest, Drew had managed to get the hang of Super Contest appeals. He was still pretty shaky, and he usually ended up being one of the last two or three contestants to squeeze their way into the second round, but that was all he needed. If he made it through the appeals, he could blow through his opponents in battle easily. The result was that he had surpassed May in ribbons, having recently earned his fifth, while she was still hovering at four.
"Eh, well," Drew began with a wave of his hand, "I figure if I brag now, it'll come back to bite me later. Besides, I really do want you to get your last ribbon. A Grand Festival without my rival would be a drag."
"Is that it?"
"Excuse me?" Drew blinked.
"Is that all I am to you?" she clarified with a subdued, perhaps even a twinge bit sad smile. "A rival?"
The question caught him off guard, and he stared at her wide-eyed for a long moment, unable to formulate an answer. He had not expected her to bring this matter up now; it seemed completely out of the blue, which suggested that perhaps the question of their relationship had been on her mind for a while, too.
Suddenly, it became clearer than ever that 'rival' was an outdated term.
Drew knew that look in her eyes.
He knew it, because he'd felt it himself.
The joy that came with winning the Ribbon Cup, attaining that ever-elusive title of Top Coordinator—it quickly dissolved into nothingness as the reality of a dream accomplished set in. He wasn't worried, though. It wasn't a nice feeling, but it went away eventually, and he knew she'd figure it out in the same way he had. They were parallels; two sides of the same coin. It was why they had made great rivals for such a long time, and why they were now better fit as lovers.
May didn't keep any of her reservations to herself, though. That was a big difference between them; she was the type to wear her heart on her sleeve. He, well, wasn't.
"I don't know," May groaned. "It's weird. I really am happy. I just feel kind of... I can't describe it. Lost, I guess? Like I don't know where to go next?" She turned her head toward him, making direct eye contact. "Does that make any sense? Did you feel the same way after you became a Top Coordinator?"
"Yeah," Drew admitted with a nod. "It's kind of the whole reason I decided to give Super Contests a try. Well, not the whole reason."
"Not the whole reason?" May appeared bemused.
"You going to Sinnoh might have had something to do with it," Drew replied flippantly. May turned pink, but she did seem quite charmed. He then smiled and moved his hand toward hers, gripping it. She wove her fingers through his, setting their entwined hands on her lap.
"You'll figure out where you want to go next," he added before pressing his lips against her temple. He could see her smile, too, when he pulled away.
"Can I be assured that you'll be there with me?" she asked.
"Isn't that a given?"