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Mahogany

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May’s back in Johto, and she can’t be more tired.

Straight after the harrowing Wallace Cup finals where she lost to Dawn, she boarded the steamship back to Olivine City. In Olivine City, she had a fitful sleep overnight in the Pokemon Centre before heading out at first light, trekking through Route 39 and 38 tirelessly, her mind all the while running on overdrive.

She can’t stop replaying her final battle in the Wallace Cup against Dawn, and the exact moment when the timer stopped and Dawn’s face lit up on the display for the whole world to see. It was a tough battle—a very close one, too—and May knows she enjoyed battling Dawn very much—in the Sinnoh Coordinator she sees a familiar spark she hasn’t felt herself since Johto, and battling her to the end reignited that fire in May.

But now, May’s hungry and tired, and all she can think about is disappointment.

“Miss?” A voice draws May out of her reverie.

Blearily, she looks up to see a turquoise-haired lady riding a motorbike. She dons the familiar police uniform, and May sags in relief. Officer Jenny must be doing her daily patrols—she thanks the stars as she bows and mumbles a string of incoherent words to the police officer—and before May knew it, she’s seated on the motorbike behind Officer Jenny, her arms wrapped tightly around the lady’s waist as they zoom past the Johto forest.

As the dry air blows relentlessly at her face, May falls into her thoughts again.

She’s disappointed, all right. That’s something she would never admit to Ash and Dawn and Brock and Zoey and the others back at Sinnoh because she wants to be a good sport, but if she has to be honest to herself, the loss hurt, and still hurts. She is disappointed in herself. She also knows thousands of people, thousands of fans were watching her intently for her win that never came. Not to mention her mother, her father, Max, and all her friends and rivals back in Hoenn, Kanto and Johto. Harley, Solidad… and Drew.

Drew. A bitter smile plays at May’s lips, even as her eyes irrationally rake over every piece of blurred forest scenery that whizzes past her, searching for a trace of the green-haired Coordinator. She shakes her head, willing herself to snap back to reality. She and Drew haven’t kept in much contact—the last call he ever gave May was back when he just started his journey in the Johto region; the last she’s seen of him was when she faced him off at one of the Johto Pokemon Contests—she made it to the second round, only to be beaten by him. And in the other contests she’s lost, she either lost to him, Harley, or Solidad. It’s infuriating, and not much help since the Grand Festival is a few months away and she still has two more Ribbons to win if she wants to compete in it. And the last she’s heard of him? When she chanced upon an article in a Grand Festival themed magazine in the seaport of Olivine City, right before she boarded the steamship to Sinnoh, desperate for a change in scenery. The article, titled “Ten Coordinators to Watch in the Johto Grand Festival”, listed Drew, having already earned five Contest Ribbons, as one of the Coordinators to keep an eye on.

Now, with only three more months to the Grand Festival and just three more Contests remaining in the whole of Johto, May knew she had to win, no matter what.

She had to face Drew. Perhaps he’s seen her performance in the Wallace Cup on TV and perhaps he was disappointed at her loss—actually, scratch that—he totally was disappointed at her loss. May can see him now in her head, with that infuriating smirk of his permanently plastered on his face as he flips his hair and make insulting jabs at her technique.

And May can’t let that happen.

She has to prove Drew wrong. She has to prove to him she’s still capable of putting up a hell of a fight for him. She has so much to prove to him, and so she knew immediately after she lost the Cup—she has to go to Mahogany Town, join the Pokemon Contest happening in two days’ time, and win the Contest to get her fourth Ribbon. And then, win another Contest to get her fifth ribbon, enter the Grand Festival, and finally—face Drew.

May has it all planned out, a thorough mental to-do list she willed herself to follow strictly. But right now, she’s tired, and all she wants to do is to collapse in a soft bed.


 

“Miss, wake up, we’re here.”

May blinks away her sleep and stares around her blearily. Colours and shapes start to form in front of her eyes—her slackening grip on Officer Jenny, the green roofs of little cottages, small pine trees dotting the grassy plains that stretch out as far as she can see. People of all ages and sizes mill past them, some throwing curious glances at the police officer on a motorbike with a half-conscious girl.

Mahogany Town.

“I had absolutely no idea Mahogany Town could be this crowded. It must be because of the upcoming Contest!" she remarks, her sleepiness fading away with the exciting prospect of the contest.

"Yes, perhaps so," agrees Officer Jenny. "Though, there is another reason for the crowd—you see, the new Gym Leader is performing in the recently renovated Gym this evening."

At the word 'performance', May perks up. "Performance? Like how Pokémon Coordinators perform in appeal rounds of Contests?"

"Oh no," laughs Officer Jenny. "Our new Gym Leader, replacing the old Gym Leader Pryce, is a world-renowned figure skater—Sylvia. She's putting up a skating show in the refurbished Gym, which happens to be an ice rink."

May's eyes widen. "World-renowned? I had no idea! And an ice rink, too! I've never been to one of those."

"Well, then you should go and see Sylvia at the Mahogany Gym later," suggests Officer Jenny. "The show tickets are all sold out, but I can give you mine."

"Oh, no, that wouldn't be nice of m—" May starts hurriedly, but Officer Jenny shakes her head, smiling.

"I have to do patrols outside the Gym later, anyway, so I wouldn't be able to watch much of the show." She hands May a small piece of card from her pouch. May accepts it with hesitant hands.

"Well, then, thank you very much, Officer Jenny," she says earnestly, "for fetching me here and giving me a ticket to the show. How can I ever repay you?"

"It’s no problem, Miss. I bid you goodbye." Officer Jenny salutes her, but then her eyes widen as her hand falls to her side. "Oh, but I never did get your name."

"It's May!" May shouts, a hand held up as she picks up her pace and runs towards the Pokémon Centre.

She doesn’t exactly expect Officer Jenny to recognise her as the Princess of Hoenn, but she hates to admit that some little part of her deep down wanted the officer to. Some self-absorbed, arrogant, overconfident part of her.

She bites her lip. God, she really does need Drew to bring her back into reality.

"Welcome to the Pokémon Centre!" a warm, cheery voice greets May as soon as she steps into the well-lit ambience of the building.

"Chansey!" A pink Pokémon lumbers to May's side, an egg tucked into her front pocket.

She smiles. "Hi, Chansey."

"What can I do for you?" asks Nurse Joy as May approaches the front desk.

May retrieves her Pokeballs and passes them to Nurse Joy. “I’ll need you to make sure my Pokemon are all well and rested for the upcoming Contest, thank you!”

“No problem,” assures Nurse Joy as she receives the Pokeballs carefully. “I assume you’re here to compete in the Mahogany Contest?”

“Yes!” Nurse Joy’s smile widens as May launches into a flurried ramble. “I just arrived here from the Wallace Cup and I’m excited to win my fourth Contest Ribbon here so I can get one step closer to competing in the Grand Festival!”

"Well, I wish you the best of luck." Nurse Joy hands the tray of May's Pokéballs to Chansey, who places them on a trolley and rolls the trolley further into the Centre. "Mahogany Town has never seen so many Coordinators before. In fact, almost all of the people here in the Centre now are Coordinators like you waiting for their Pokemon to be returned."

May looks around her. The Pokémon Centre is moderately crowded with people and Pokémon, and Nurse Joy's right—she even sees a few Coordinators she's competed against in previous Contests. But of course, there's no sign of Drew, Harley or Solidad—after all, they've already earned their five Contest Ribbons, and ought to be busy training for the Grand Festival by now. May heaves a sigh.

Nurse Joy has excused herself, too busy with tending to the Pokémon at hand to continue casual conversation with May. Unbeknownst to herself, her eyes land on the potted plant resting innocently on the otherwise spotless counter. She stares thoughtfully at the lush red roses in the pot, too beautiful to have been bought from a brandless flower shop, but shakes her head after a moment of pondering.

It's a coincidence and you're overthinking, she thinks to herself. Besides, he doesn't have any reason to be here. But she still takes one of the roses between her fingers and slips it into her satchel.

She glances at the clock on the wall—it's half-past four, and it'll be a good half hour before her Pokémon will be ready to be collected. She decides to attend to her empty, growling stomach. And street food won't settle—she needs quality, high-end cuisine which would probably empty her wallet as fast as it fills her stomach, but May takes her food pretty seriously.

    So she heads to the nearest fine-dining restaurant, and the only fine-dining restaurant in Mahogany—the Royal Glacia. A waiter ushers her into the cozy and well-lit interior of the diner and seats her down by the window. She smiles as she receives the menu with two hands, and when the waiter has gone, she first looks not at the menu but around her. There are not many customers dining, and the quiet and peaceful ambience, paired with eating alone, is a breath of fresh air for someone who spends every day travelling and living with people like Ash and Max. She feels a pang of something that isn’t hunger, and she looks back down at the laminated menu.

After she has ordered her long-awaited food, May sighs in relief and leans back against the comfortable cushion of the chair. But her hard-earned peace is soon interrupted when the silence of the restaurant shatters, the sound of padded footsteps against the marble floor bringing her to earth.

Slowly, May opens one eye, then the other, and stares at the lady who has just entered.

She’s like no one May has ever seen before—she is visually unique and stunning, with skin as pale as snow, brown hair so dark it’s almost black, and impossibly green eyes. She has the build of an athlete—she seems so slender and graceful, even with visibly toned arms and legs that show even under the black jacket and leggings she’s wearing. And yet, however unique she may look, May still sees something oddly familiar in the slant of her nose, the sly curve of her lips, and the emerald green of her irises.

She looks like everyone and no-one all at the same time.

The lady catches May staring, and their eyes meet. The lady’s lips curl up slightly, and May is struck yet again with that strange feeling that they’ve met before. But then the lady looks away to face the waiter, and that feeling dissipates right along with that simple movement.     

    “Welcome, Miss Sylvia,” the waiter says, a hand held out. “Take a seat, if you please.”

    “Sylvia,” May murmurs under her breath. Where has she heard that name before?

    And then she realises.

    The new Mahogany Town Gym Leader. The world-renowned figure skater.

    The very person she’s going to watch perform at the Gym this evening.

    Just in time, the server arrives with May’s food, and May diverts her attention to eating. All the while, she can feel Sylvia’s eyes on her, but she heeds it no attention. She’s a little intimidated by her, to say the least.


 

    She hands Officer Jenny’s crumpled ticket to the kind-faced old man at the entrance of the Gym, and just like that, she’s in.

    As soon as she takes a step into the atrium, a blast of cold air hits against her face, and goosebumps start to dot her arms, making her really wish she had a jacket with her right now. The frigid, stinging cold starts to set in, and she gladly makes her way to a vendor setting up their temporary store in the atrium, buying herself a cup of hot chocolate before heading into the arena.

Behind her, a queue the length of Rayquaza starts to form. She’s glad she got here early. But how can you blame her? After seeing Sylvia up close at the restaurant an hour ago, May is intrigued. She wants to see what Sylvia’s all about.

“I heard she’s an Ice-type Gym Leader, just like Pryce was.” May overhears a man telling his partner as the two of them stride past her.

His partner snorts. “Well, duh! She’s an ice skater. That’s why she made it even colder, transforming this Gym into a goddamn ice rink.” May raises her eyebrows at their crude language, clutches her hot chocolate tighter, and follows them into the rink.

Her breath catches in her throat at the sight.

The ice rink’s so much bigger than she previously envisioned. Spanning what has to be at least a whopping fifty metres, the ice rink stretches out far from her end to the other end of the arena, with rows of tiny seats rising up from the ground like a giant wave. The overcast headlights strike their blinding white light onto the pale white ice below, making the surface of the wet ice glimmer and sparkle. The ice is flawless, without a single scratch, save for the bold blue and red lines painted across the ice to transform it into a classic Pokemon arena battlefield.

It makes May even envious that she’s not a Pokemon Trainer. The prospect of having the chance to just step foot on that ice and battle makes her lean forward in excitement.

Gingerly, she makes her way to the rows of seats, and carefully handpicks the best seat she can find right now with all the people milling into the arena. The view is stunning from her angle, and no one will be able to obstruct it.

Idle now, she watches the crowd of people making their way to the seats. The cold of the arena keeps her eyes open, but numbs her mind, and soon May finds herself spacing out watching all the people of different ages and sizes and appearances entering the rink.

Suddenly, she thinks she sees a blurred flash of green and purple and black somewhere in the crowd, but a grumbling middle-aged man squeezes past her, blocking her view, and when she’s able to look around again, she can’t see any trace of what she thought she saw seconds ago.

The bright headlights are making her hallucinate. May rubs her temples and squeezes her eyes, and before she knows it, the crowds have settled and the lights have dimmed. A single spotlight shines on the emcee on the ice who wasn’t there a second ago, and May leans forward intently.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to the grand reopening of the Mahogany Gym,” the emcee announces in a clear, bright voice. She kind of reminds May of Vivian Meridian. “It’s cold in here, but our hearts are warm with excitement this evening. So, for the first segment of the event, without further ado, let us put our hands together to welcome on ice, two-time Figure Skating World Champion and the new Mahogany Gym Leader, Sylvia!”

The whole arena bursts into cheers and applause, and May claps loudly as well. The spotlight on the emcee fades into the darkness, and a new, brighter beam of light focuses on a lithe figure gliding on ice skates to the centre of the ice, a graceful pose struck for the whole arena to see.

Then the music starts, and like a ripple in the water, the silhouette starts to move, shedding light on itself and revealing Sylvia’s familiar face. She wears a beautiful dark blue dress with studded crystals embedded in the fabric of the tulle skirt. May is entranced from the very start, her breath bated as she follows the skater’s every movement across the expansive ice, in tune with the lilting melody of the music. At first glance, Sylvia’s face seems expressionless, but one look into her green eyes and May knows there are many stories, many emotions she’s telling through her nuanced movements.

May doesn’t know any of the names of the moves, but she’s captivated all the same by the inherent knowledge that Sylvia pulls every single one of them off perfectly—whether it’s when she’s spinning so fast as she holds a poised position on the ice, whether it’s when she’s dancing across the ice in a series of crossed legs and flowing arms, or when she leaps from the ice, spinning in the air before landing back on one leg without a single slip. And when Sylvia finally pulls herself into the ending position, she finds herself rising with the rest of the crowd and cheering for the new Gym Leader.

Sylvia’s performance was beautiful, no doubt about that. But as she sits herself back down, May finds herself frowning. There was emotion expressed in the performance, but something was definitely lacking—and as a Coordinator, she immediately knows what it is.

Pokémon.

Perhaps she’s too used to performing along with her Pokémon and showing off the beauty of her Pokémon in Contests, but there’s no denying that Sylvia’s performance would have been even better, even more memorable with her Pokémon complementing her figure skating. And since she’s both a Gym Leader and a performer, she probably works closely with her Pokémon, so she should know how to play off their strength and beauty to put on the best show.

May wonders why she doesn’t do that. If Drew were here with May, he’ll definitely be lamenting about Sylvia’s wasted potential as well.

“Alright, after that simply spectacular performance by our new Gym Leader, we can’t wait to see her expert battling on ice as well!” the emcee hollers into the mic. “That leads us into the second segment of the grand reopening, where one very lucky individual will get the chance to battle against Sylvia as the first ever challenger of the new Gym. If the challenger wins this match, he or she will be presented with the first ever Glacia Badge! The Glacia Badge replaces the old Glacier Badge previously issued by Pryce, and I’m holding it in my hand right here!” The emcee holds up the badge in her hand, and the light catches the edge of the badge and flashes in May’s eyes. The badge is in the shape of an ice skate, and even from a distance, it’s beautiful. The crowd cheers again.

“So,” the emcee continues with a wink, “who will be brave enough to step up and be the first challenger of the new Mahogany Gym?”

May shifts in her seat. The crowd begins to murmur, but before anyone can step up, a voice rings out from somewhere in the crowd, loud and clear, halting all debate, "I will."

May stiffens at the voice, and ever so slowly, she turns her head to find the source of the voice. The rest of the arena turns with her, and as May finally catches sight of the green-haired boy she's thought so much about in Sinnoh, her breath catches in her throat at the seriousness of his face.

Drew.

For some reason, Sylvia looks as shocked as May feels, but her lips purse, her eyes narrow, and for the first time, May hears her speak: "A Coordinator is hardly a worthy challenger."

Her voice is cold as ice, and a chill runs down May's spine, even as anger boils in her gut at Sylvia's careless words. The crowd's murmurs get even louder. But Drew doesn't seem at all affected by her cold demeanour. And somehow, for someone who doesn't appear to be a fan of Contests, Sylvia knows Drew's a Coordinator.

"You won't be saying that," he calls out, the steeliness in her voice making May stare at him, "after we have had that battle."

She's never seen him so serious, so angry before.

The emcee steps closer to Sylvia's side and whispers something in her ear. Sylvia's tense shoulders relax, and she says, "Fine. I accept your challenge."

Drew gives her that infamous crooked smile of his, and runs down the spectator stands. He enters the ice hastily, his shoes slipping against the smooth surface, and May inhales sharply—that's the first time she's ever seen someone as sure-footed as Drew lose his balance. But after all, in a playing field like this, he's out of his element here. This won't be an easy battle for him.

Good luck, Drew, May thinks.

Drew carefully walks to one end of the battlefield, where Sylvia is already waiting for him on the other end, her ice skates standing her motionless on the ice, her face as expressionless as ever. The two of them face each other, and looking at Sylvia's strained face and Drew's angry one, May can't help but think that they already know each other—it's obvious they have bad blood between them.

"The rules of this battle are as follows," the emcee announces. "This will be a one-on-one Gym battle. Both Gym Leader and challenger are allowed to use only one Pokémon each, and the battle will be over when one side is unable to continue battling."

"Fine by me," says Drew, and Sylvia nods curtly.

"Well, then," the emcee says. "Let the battle between Gym Leader Sylvia and the challenger begin!"


 

Drew pulls out his Pokéball and hurls it towards the battlefield, shouting, “Roserade, take the stage!”

“Roserade, huh?” mutters May as white light overflows from the Pokéball and onto the ice to reveal Drew’s iconic Grass-type. Even after it beat her Beautifly in the Ecruteak City Pokémon Contest, Roserade sparkles in the light, but May can see its strained face and shivering body. It must be due to the cold, she realises. Is sending out a Grass-type like Roserade really a good idea?

Sylvia’s lip curls. “‘Take the stage’. Spoken like a true Coordinator.” And it's May's catchphrase, but she doesn't know why Drew's using it now. Her eyes fix on Roserade, and May sees the shock written on her face, her mouth slightly parted, her eyes wide and glassy—and Roserade lets out an audible whimper at the sight of the Gym Leader.

It seems more and more like Drew and Sylvia know each other. May frowns, tilting her head at them thoughtfully.

Sylvia retrieves her own Pokéball, slender fingers barely holding on to the sphere as she sends out her Pokémon. “Let’s go, Glaceon!”

A gasp escapes May’s mouth as a Glaceon materialises onto the ice, nearly identical to her own Glaceon—save for the way this Glaceon’s fur shimmers and shines in the light. On closer inspection, May realises it’s due to the thousands of little ice shards on the Glaceon’s body, catching the light from above.

It’s obvious who has the type advantage. But May knows Drew has more than plenty tricks up his sleeve.

“You may have the fi—” Drew starts, but Sylvia cuts him off.

“You may have the first move,” she says with a languid smile, and from her seat, May can see Drew bristle.

It’s like she knows what his strategy is, May realises. In Contest battles, May is used to Drew letting her have the first move every single time—letting her rush blindly straight into offence, before blocking her attacks effortlessly and proceeding to unleash his Pokemon’s wrath on her. It almost always ends with her losing to him.

Now, he has the first move, something that May has never seen happen before. The ball isn’t in his court anymore, and May looks on the battle with interest.

“Roserade, Sunny Day!” shouts Drew.

Would it really work in a place like this? May wonders. The figure skater must be thinking the same thing, because she scoffs at Drew’s choice of move.

The red and blue roses on Roserade’s begin to glow with a brilliant white light. Roserade raises its arms to the sky and launches two white beams towards the high domed ceiling of the ice rink. They strike the headlights above, causing the lights to glow even brighter. May feels newfound heat crawl up her arms, and she sighs in relief. Below her, the topmost layer of ice seems to melt and turn the rink glistening.

Roserade lowers its arms and sighs as it soaks in the warmth.

Drew smirks at Sylvia. “Not so confident now, are we?”

“Don’t you get too confident,” says Sylvia. “We’re just starting out.” She splays her hand out towards Glaceon, and the evolved form of Eevee bares its teeth, growling at Roserade. “Glaceon, use Ice Beam!”

Glaceon launches a beam of ice at Roserade. Roserade jumps up, twirling in mid-air as it dodges the attack effortlessly. It lands back on the ice with a splash of water. The beam of ice falls short of Roserade and instead hits the surface of the ice. It freezes the melted water back into a thin sheet of ice that climbs up Roserade’s feet, effectively trapping it in the ice.

Sylvia snaps her fingers. "Now, Glaceon," she commands. "Use Shadow Ball!"

"Magical Leaf!" Drew counters.

The Magical Leaf and Shadow Ball collide against each other and cancel each other out in a burst of blinding light and black smoke. As the smoke fades away, Drew’s Roserade is still struggling to get out of its icy prison.

“Use Petal Dance while spinning, Roserade!” Roserade grunts as it releases its trademark pink petals, the ice around its feet shattering as it spins out of its trap at breakneck speed. A powerful wind picks up, the petals swirling and hurtling towards Glaceon.

“This isn't a Contest where you battle for style points. Blizzard!” Sylvia calls out. Planting its feet firmly on the ice, Glaceon opens its mouth and unleashes an equally strong wind, pelting snow and hail towards Roserade. The ice shards on Glaceon’s coat also dislodge themselves and fly towards the Grass-type Pokémon at alarming speed.

Roserade has no time to dodge, and it gets a direct hit from the frigid blizzard. The effect of the Sunny Day weakens, and Roserade screams as the headlights shut down, plunging the whole arena into darkness.

“Roserade!” Drew cries.

“You waited too long to use your card, Drew,” says Sylvia with a smirk scarily similar to her challenger’s. “I put an end to your Sunny Day. There’s snow and ice in the forecast and by the time Roserade charges up enough energy for Solar Beam, it’ll be down and the battle will be over.” She points a finger towards Roserade. “Giga Impact!”

Glaceon’s body becomes surrounded in a feverish, crackling energy. A bright flash of yellow light flickers in its face. It takes big lunges across the ice towards Roserade as an orb of light purple energy with spiralling yellow streaks swirl and envelop its body. With a shuddering cry, Glaceon slams itself against Roserade’s chest with a humongous impact that causes Roserade to fly backwards at a frightening speed. Roserade hits the barrier wall of the rink with a sickening crunch, and it doubles over and crumples onto the ice, motionless.

 May’s hand flies to her mouth as she stares at Roserade’s limp form.

"Roserade is unable to battle, which means the winner is Gym Leader Sylvia and her Glaceon!" the emcee announces. The audience bursts into cheers and applause, but May keeps her hands pressed against her thighs, feeling too uncomfortable to clap for Drew's defeat.

“Roserade!” Drew runs over to the side of the wall, slipping and nearly falling as he rushes over to his Pokémon’s side and cradles it in his arms. Roserade groans and puts a hand over its head. He smiles sadly down at it.

“You were great, Roserade. Have a good rest.” With that, he returns Roserade back into its Pokéball, and stands up, glaring at Sylvia.

Sylvia gives him a bland smile in return. “Disappointing as always, Drew.” She points her Pokéball at Glaceon. “Glaceon, return.”

Then, she flips her hair and skates towards the exit of the rink before disappearing from sight. Drew follows her, half-running and half-sliding towards the backstage.

"And that brings us to the end of today's…" the emcee starts to say in the mic.

Abruptly, May stands up. She knows she has to see Drew. Brandishing the rose she picked up from the Pokemon Centre, she rushes towards the mahogany-coloured curtains at the back of the ice rink. “Excuse me, sorry,” she mumbles as she squeezes and pushes through the hordes of people, some still sitting and some starting to get up and take their leave—and after finally breaking through the smothering crowd, she hurries into the backstage without notice, willing her footsteps to slow and soften as she approaches the dressing room.

The room of the dressing door is slightly ajar, just a small crack, and May stands by the door, eye into the crack. Sure enough, Sylvia is seated in front of the lighted mirror, her hands running through the elaborate updo she’s tied her hair into, strands of rich dark brown cascading down her shoulders like a waterfall.

Then May sees the strands of emerald green that were hidden in the bun, a stark contrast to her icy demeanour. A silent gasp escapes her lips as she catches sight of the girl in the mirror—green eyes, green hair, the curve of her lips, the slant of her nose… The way she flipped her hair back in the arena…

Drew—

A hand grabs her arm, pulling her away from the door. She stumbles backwards, cursing under her breath, as she twists her arm out of the vice grip and whirls around to meet a pair of emerald green eyes, so familiar and so beautiful at the same time.

Her hand falters, fingers twitching mid-air.

Drew—

"Drew," she stutters.

He looks equally shocked to see her here, a frown on his face as he says, "I didn't know you were in Mahogany, May."

She sighs, her hand falling to her side. "Same here," she admits, resisting the urge to curl a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Instead, she takes a step back, rubbing her arm while her eyes take in Drew now that he’s close up.

He’s grown quite a few inches since they last met, and he’s now taller than her, a fact that makes May irritated, naturally, and surprisingly, a little self-conscious. She now has to lift her eyes to meet his gaze and stare at his familiar flop of green hair. Paired with his classic purple short-sleeve jacket worn over a black top and turquoise slacks, May strangely finds him a sight for sore eyes.

He seems to have caught her looking, but thankfully, he doesn’t react to it. Heat rushes to her cheeks as she realises he’s been doing the same to her, too.

Drew sneaks a glance over his shoulder at Sylvia in the dressing room, and pushes the door slightly so that the gap is covered and the figure skater is obscured from sight, before turning back to May. May tries not to fidget under his stare; the way his eyes track across her face and pin her down with their intensity. A silence hangs between them, growing more and more suffocating by the second.

Finally, he breaks it, saying, “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Anything wrong with watching a skating performance?” retorts May.

He raises an eyebrow. “I mean, you shouldn’t be here, backstage.”

May shrugs. No way to argue with that. “I was looking for you. I got quite the shock of my life seeing you pop out of nowhere to challenge Sylvia.”

Drew tenses at the Gym Leader’s name. “And I suppose you got another shock of your life, seeing me lose the battle,” he says tightly, and May immediately knows he’s not over his defeat.

Shaking her head, she steps closer to Drew, placing a hand on his shoulder. She tries to ignore the way Drew flinches at her touch, and instead concentrates on saying gently, “No one expects you to win every single one of your battles, Drew. You know you’re a great trainer, and so is Sylvia. That’s all.”

Drew’s eyes flash like she’s said something wrong, but May doesn’t really know what she said to rile him up. His fingers come up to wrap around May’s wrist, ready to push her hand off his shoulder any moment. “Well, you don’t know Sylvia like I do.”

May frowns. “Is she your—”

The door of the dressing room swings open, nearly knocking them over. May stumbles back a few steps as Sylvia steps out into the narrow corridor of the backstage. She looks at the both of them. Her eyes flicker from Drew’s seething figure and linger on May, widening in recognition.

“Drew,” she acknowledges with a nod. “Brought your girlfriend?” And with that, May is suddenly too aware of the intimate position the two of them are in.

Her face burns as she wrestles her hand out of Drew’s grip.

Drew stares blankly at May, then turns to address Sylvia. “Nah. This is May, my friend. She’s a Coordinator too,” he says coolly. He turns back to May. “Anything else?”

May snaps out of it. Her fingers tighten around the stem of the rose, ignoring the way the thorns threaten to bite through the fabric of her gloves and into her skin. She holds out the red rose towards her rival, forcing a smile on her lips as she says, “For your Roserade!”

“Hmmm.” He takes it into his own hand, lifting it to his nose, and sniffs it delicately. His green eyes meet hers. “From the Pokémon Centre, I assume.”

She nods. “So I was right. You did leave them there.”

Sylvia clears her throat, and the both of them halt their conversation to look at her. She gives May an apologetic smile before saying, “You should get going, Drew.” Her voice holds a sort of challenge—no, a warning—and Drew seems to hear it as well, because the small smile fades from his lips.

He squares his shoulders, looking away from the two of them. “Right. See you, May.”

“Bye, Drew,” May calls after his retreating back. He lifts a hand in farewell as he disappears down the corridor, leaving her and Sylvia alone in the backstage.

May clears her throat awkwardly, bows deeply to the figure skater, and turns to take her leave as well. But from behind her, Sylvia says, “Wait.”, and the single word is like a gunshot through the silence.

May mutters a thousand curses in her mind as she turns back to face Sylvia. “Sorry?”

“It’s May, right?” asks Sylvia. May nods warily. “I apologise, but would you mind taking a walk with me? There are a lot of things on my mind right now, and all I want now is a person to talk to.” She sighs. “I would ask Drew, but he’s nowhere a good listener—but you, well—honestly, anyone who manages to be friends with Drew must be a great listener.”

May lets out an awkward laugh, not exactly sure where this is going, but curious to find out all the same. “Sure, why not?” she says.

And that is how May follows the Mahogany Gym Leader out of the rink into the peaceful night.