"Little girl... In forest... Asking for...mother... Serena Ketchum..."
Holding on tightly to the handrails, a confused and slightly intrigued Serena Gabena recalled the garbled words that she overheard from the walkie-talkie. Though she could attribute it to static and a bad signal, the honey-blonde Performer could've sworn the person on the other end used her first name and the surname of her good friend (and secret crush), Ash Ketchum, as a single name. It was almost as if she was supposed to be married to Ash...
Her thoughts were interrupted by another violent jolt that nearly knocked her out of her seat. Right now, she was sitting in an army-green jeep racing down the rough trail, across countless rows of forest trees. Looking across her shoulder, the Performer could see the blurs of a few forest Pokémon watching the vehicle in curiosity as it passed them. Then, the honey-blonde girl looked over the treetops and spotted the distant Flamethrower that was shooting high into the cloudless sky, scaring off a nearby flock of Flying-type Pokémon in the process.
"There it is!" exclaimed Ash, who was conveniently sitting beside her. "The Flamethrower Yuu mentioned!"
"Pika!" squeaked the trusty Pikachu sitting on Ash's shoulder.
"Yeah, I see it too!" replied the jeep's driver, a Pokémon Ranger by the name of Summer. "Alright, hold on, everyone! I'm gonna step on it!"
The passengers all tightened their grips on the handrails or any other stationary objects that were within reach. Moments later, Summer made good on her declaration: she pressed her foot harder on the gas pedal, speeding the jeep up and making the ride down the beaten path even more bumpy and uncomfortable, unfortunately. Indeed, her other friends and traveling companions Clemont and Bonnie were holding on to each other for support. But for some reason, even though she too would be concerned about her well-being, she wasn't worried at all in this occasion...which was odd...
Well, so were Ash and Pikachu, but that was just them being their usual courageous, daring selves. No, she was sensing something ahead, something that was keeping her confident all the way, and it was so unusual and foreign to her... Yet, it wasn't something unsafe or dangerous. Actually...it felt welcoming...
What was this instinct...?
It didn't take long until the jeep neared the point of the Flamethrower's origin.
"Here we are!" Summer hollered, just seconds before she slammed her foot down on the brake.
It only took a miracle to keep the four passengers, plus the Pikachu, rooted to their seats when the jeep jerked to an abrupt, violent stop. Immediately, all five of them got out of the jeep. Once Bonnie got out, the pouch of her satchel opened up, revealing a slumbering, content Dedenne and a strange green Pokémon inside.
"Oh, Squishy..." Bonnie moaned, looking down solemnly at the green Pokémon. "Are you dizzy from that ride? Me too..."
Squishy chirped weakly in response.
Meanwhile, Ash, Serena, and Summer took the first steps into the grassy clearing, where they found what seemed to be a family of tourists and their Pokémon: a Combee, a Vespiquen, and a tired-looking Cyndaquil. Serena was the first to notice the daughter, who had her back on them and was apparently around Bonnie's age. This girl wore light summer clothing, including a large straw hat with a blue ribbon that gave Serena a strange feeling of nostalgia. She also appeared to have something tucked in her arms...
"Oh, there you are!" the wife exclaimed, shooting up on her feet in relief and concern. "Thank goodness you came! Her Pokémon needs medical attention, quickly!"
"Alright, let me see the Pokémon, ma'am," Summer replied.
At that moment, the girl looked over her shoulder, and Serena saw her face for the first time. She had chin-length hair, colored in the exact same shade of black as Ash's, but her fair skin and sapphire-blue eyes were nearly flawless replicas of the Performer's own. The girl looked nothing like the couple that was with her.
In fact, she looked a lot more like Serena herself, with a dash of Ash!
The girl smiled in relief, shot up on her feet, and ran toward Serena, yelling out of apparent instinct, "MOMMY!"
The atmosphere was suddenly struck with a painfully awkward silence. Everyone was rendered immobile.
As the silence continued to reign supreme over the clearing, Serena's mind raced with all of her many attempts to rationalize what had just happened, plus her lingering thoughts on the 'Serena Ketchum' flub over the radio...which started to sound less and less like a flub with every passing second. But all of the thoughts were too much for her mind, and it was progressively sliding into a blank slate.
Reality seemed to catch up quickly with the girl as well, for she was also rooted to the spot, her expression frozen with awkward silence.
"Uhhhhh..." Serena managed out in her mind. "What's going on here...?"
No one noticed the usually-dormant flowers suddenly blossoming to life all around them.
"How in the world did things come to this...?"
Twenty-four hours earlier
On their way to Lumiose City for Ash's Kalos League challenge, our heroes have received an invitation from Monsieur Pierre, the host of the Pokémon Showcases! Now, they've decided to take a little detour to Kiloude City for the end-of-the-year exhibition Pokémon Showcase that is to take place there. Little do any of them know, their future awaits there...
"Bonjour, my dear Pokémon Performers! I am Monsieur Pierre, your host, and first, I want to thank each and every one of you for giving your all throughout another wonderful year of Pokémon Showcases! But it is such a shame that we must now bid that year au revoir. And this is why Kalos Queen Aria and I have decided to close off that year in the only way we know how: by holding a Showcase!
"Thus, I humbly invite you all to Kiloude City for a special end-of-the-year celebration, which will be next week! Invite your friends and family! Dazzle them all with the talents that you have learned and perfected over the past season! And most of all, have fun showcasing the beauty of the partnerships you've forged between yourself and your Pokémon!
"Aria and I hope to see you at Kiloude City, and remember, keep on performing!"
Serena recalled Monsieur Pierre's video broadcast as she walked beside Ash and Bonnie. Right now, they, along with a lagging Clemont, were walking down an informal walkway, which cut through a vast field of flowers. It was a beautiful sight, for it was a sea of various colors all around them. Some wild Pokémon could be seen mingling around the flowers, and flocks of Fletchling, Flabébé, and Vivillon flew across the sky. Serena vaguely remembered seeing this kind of scenery while she was leaving Vaniville Town, during her first day as a Pokémon Trainer...
Not that she was particularly focused on the scenery back then. At the time, the only person on her mind was...
"So how longer till we gonna get to Vaniville Town, Serena?" Ash suddenly asked, looking at her over his shoulder.
"Oh, we should be arriving there in a few more minutes," Serena replied in a near-stutter, having been momentarily startled by her crush addressing her. "I-I remember this field well."
"Wooooow, it's so beautiful!" Bonnie cried as she gushed over the flowers surrounding her. "Look, Squishy, Dedenne, do you see all the flowers?!"
"Nenene!" the little girl's Antenna Pokémon squeaked, its beady eyes sparkling brightly at the sight of some orange flowers, which a Furret was standing beside.
Squishy made an unintelligible, high-pitched garble that sounded like a mutual agreement.
Meanwhile, Ash stretched out his arms. "Man, I can't wait till I get to Vaniville Town!" he said. "I've never been there, after all. I'd really like to see what your home is like, Serena!"
"Pika, pikachu!" squeaked Pikachu, the Mouse Pokémon nodding his head in agreement.
Serena blushed faintly, feeling a little humbled that Ash wanted to see her hometown and all of its sights and sounds...or lack thereof...
"I'm glad you want to see Vaniville Town, Ash," she replied, "but I don't see what there is to look forward to. I've gotta say, it's a little dull over there..."
"I just wanted to see where you grew up, that's all."
"O-Oh!" Serena couldn't help but blush more at that comment. Ash wanted to have an idea about her childhood? "I-I'm glad you really want to know that much about me..."
"Well, of course!" Ash flashed her that big, wide, toothy, confident smile of his. "You're my friend, after all! I love to learn as much about my friends as possible!"
"Pikachu!" Pikachu added.
Serena chuckled heartily, though she was mentally grimacing at the thought of Ash referring to her as a friend. Once again, just when she thought he wanted to be closer to her, she finally realized it was just Ash being his usual oblivious self. Typical.
Meanwhile, Bonnie looked behind her and puffed her cheeks in disappointment.
"Clemont, hurry up!" she called. "You're always far behind!"
"Oh, give me a break, Bonnie!" the Lumiose Gym Leader cried in exhaustion and some exasperation. "I'm an inventor, not an athlete!"
His response caused Bonnie to puff her cheeks out even more. "How are you gonna get a wife if you're gonna be that way, Clemont?! You know, girls don't like guys who can't walk a couple of feet before getting as tired as a barafoner!"
"Don't you mean marathoner, Bonnie...?"
The young girl ignored her older brother and continued, "If you're gonna impress a girl, Clemont, then you gotta show them how strong you are! Girls like strong guys!"
Clemont heaved out a sigh. "No, thank you. I think I'll just stick to inventing. I think I can impress girls with my innovative and revolutionary devices."
"I don't think you're gonna impress anyone if your inventions keep blowing up in their faces," deadpanned Serena.
"Exactly!" Bonnie squeaked in agreement. "No one likes getting weird hairdos from your inventions, Clemont!"
"Lilia liked my inventions..." the inventor grumbled in annoyance. Bonnie was still within earshot; her skin paled at the sound of the name, but she continued walking at the same pace as if nothing had happened. However, Clemont pressed on. "Where are you getting this sort of information, anyway? About girls liking strong guys?"
"Serena," Bonnie replied innocently.
Both Clemont and Ash glared at Serena, the former with surprise and the latter with confusion. As for Serena, her face turned as red as a Tamato Berry. She knew what exactly Bonnie was talking about. But how did she catch on to her crush? Was she that obvious to her...?
To her relief, Ash pointed further down the trail and shouted, "That must be it! Vaniville Town!"
Indeed, the quartet had arrived at their destination: Vaniville Town, small and quaint with townhouse-like dwellings and surrounded by grassy, flowery plains. If one didn't know any better, they'd say it was truly in the middle of nowhere, given its lack of proximity to other Kalosian cities and towns. But upon first sight, Serena's mind quickly got off the topic of her crush on Ash and rejoiced in the town's nostalgic atmosphere.
Despite all of her memories of an unpleasantly dull lifestyle and disastrous Rhyhorn-riding practices, Serena realized how much she missed that place.
"Come on!" Ash cried, the raven-haired Trainer immediately bursting into a sprint. "Let's go check it out!"
"Wait for us, Ash!" Bonnie called, laughing with excitement as she followed her friend.
Serena smiled and started running after her friend as well, prompting Clemont to moan, "Ohhh, come on, guys! Can't we walk the rest of the way?! My legs can't afford to be tortured like this!"
Naturally, no one listened to him, so he started running to the best of his ability...which wasn't much.
Up in the skies, a certain trio watched the quartet of friends, using binoculars, from the safety of their hot-air Meowth balloon.
"Dere go da twoips," Meowth said.
"Yes, oh yes," James replied, a sinister sneer appearing on his face. "They may be all happy-go-lucky right now, but little do they know..."
"Dat taday is da day we capture Pikachu! Heh heh heh..."
However, Jessie lowered her binoculars; the Team Rocket member was wearing an expression of disappointment.
"Are you two being absolutely serious right now?!" she exclaimed, startling her comrades-in-arms. "You're thinking of capturing Pikachu, today of all days?!"
"W-We-Well...yeah..." James said hesitantly.
"I-I mean," added Meowth, "d-dat's da plot fer every episode, isn't dat right...?"
"We cannot concern ourselves with that stuff right now! Do you have any idea what tomorrow is supposed to be?!"
"Ummmmm...is it...your birthday...?" replied James, his voice shaky.
Jessie whipped out a brochure and pointed at it. James and Meowth leaned forward to examine the picture and quickly recognized the photo of Aria and her Delphox in the midst of one of their performances.
"Isn't dat da so-called Kalos Queen?" Meowth asked. "Elsa or someting like dat?"
"No, her name's Anna! But that's beside the point. You see, tomorrow's gonna be when the end-of-the-year Exhibition Showcase starts!"
"Another Pokémon Showcase?" groaned James. "I thought we were done with all of that girly stuff- ACK!"
Jessie had rolled up the brochure and used it to slap the top of James's head. "Pokémon Showcases are NOT girly stuff, James! They're a means to express my artistic beauty to the rest of the dull, gloomy world! And while I was unable to succeed in that regards in the Master Class Showcase, I still have every intent of going out with a bang, or should I say...blastoff!"
"I'm sorry, Jess, but that pun is so last year... Maybe last decade..."
"I don't think it even belonged in any sort of time period," Meowth added in a deadpan tone.
"Whatever!" shouted Jessie, once again startling her teammates. "I am going to participate in that new Showcase, and I will give the world one last taste of Jessilee before she bids it au Gardevoir!" She then malevolently looked out of the balloon and used her binoculars to focus on Serena. "And no pathetic little twerpette and her Pokémon are gonna stand in my way this time!"
"I think the phrase is 'au revoir'..." James and Meowth both deadpanned.
It didn't take long until Serena, Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie arrived at Vaniville Town. Once they did, the first thing they saw was the town square. It was just as small and quaint as the town itself, with a few residents (usually older ones) walking around with their pet Pokémon, and a salesperson operating a food stand at the corner. At the center was a small fountain that quietly spouted out water. There, Serena saw someone familiar standing beside it.
"MOM!" she called excitedly.
The retired Rhyhorn Racer looked up from her book (a how-to manual on Rhyhorn riding, of course) and smiled warmly.
"Serena, honey," she greeted in response. Once Serena approached her, the woman hugged her daughter. "How are you, my dear?"
"I'm doing great, Mom." Serena broke the hug and fondly looked up at her mother. She still couldn't believe their previous love-hate relationship turned around for the better. "How are you?"
"I'm doing good as well." Grace then heaved out a heavy sigh. "It's...It's been a little dull without you in the house, though." She chuckled. "I'd hate to admit this, but...I did miss that sass of yours."
Serena blinked in surprise. "You...You did?"
"Hi, you guys!" Grace suddenly exclaimed, immediately disregarding her daughter's question and diverting her attention to Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie. "How are you all?"
"We're doing good, Grace!" replied Ash. "I just got my final Gym Badge, and after Serena's done with her Showcase, I'm gonna go challenge the Kalos League!"
"Pika-pikachu!" Pikachu cried in agreement.
"The Kalos League, huh?" The woman raised her eyebrows, impressed by Ash's determination. "I heard it's gonna be a tough one this year. Especially with that Mega Evolution fad I've been hearing about. It's become quite the craze, Ash."
The raven-haired Trainer just continued to grin. "Ah, don't worry, I think I have something just as good."
Serena saw Ash's hand twitch to his belt, presumably towards a certain Poké Ball.
"Well, I wish you the best of luck, then," Grace said. "Now then, let's go home! I'm sure you guys are hungry after all that walking."
"I sure am!" moaned Clemont in immense relief.
"Come on, I'll fill you guys up before we hit the road to Kiloude City! Oh, speaking of which..." Grace turned around to look at Serena again. "Serena, honey, we already have guests."
The honey-blonde girl blinked. "We do?"
"Yeah." Her mother suddenly smiled cleverly. "I'm pretty sure you know them."
"Wooooow!" Bonnie exclaimed, her blue eyes widening. "So this is your house, Serena?"
"Yep," Serena replied, smiling fondly as the familiar two-story, duplex-type house came into view. "Home sweet home."
A soft bellow suddenly emerged from the yard, and once the group approached the front gate, they saw the source: a Rhyhorn standing beside its kennel, having just stood up upon seeing the new arrivals. It bellowed again, a bit more loudly this time, upon recognizing Serena.
"Hi, Rhyhorn!" the Performer cried. As soon as Grace unlocked the gate, she rushed in and hugged the Spikes Pokémon's face. "It's been a while! I missed you very much, you know."
The Rhyhorn cooed happily as it started licking Serena, drawing out laughter from her.
"That's your Rhyhorn, Grace?" Ash asked.
"That's right," the former Rhyhorn Racer replied. "Good ole Spikes. He certainly seems to have missed Serena very much."
"Well, of course!" Bonnie said. "All Rhyhorn love Serena!" Then, the girl got an idea, and she started hopping up and down with excitement. "Ooh, ooh, can I pet Rhyhorn? Pretty please?!"
"Sure, be my guest, Bonnie!"
"Nene!" Dedenne chirruped.
Squishy just made another garbled chirp as Bonnie ran up to the Spikes Pokémon and joined Serena in petting it.
A few moments later, the front door suddenly opened up and a Fletchling came flying out of the house. It chirped happily in greeting and settled on top of Serena's pink fedora, attracting the Performer's attention.
"Hey, Fletchling," she greeted as the Tiny Robin Pokémon chirped happily. "It's good to see you too."
"And it's good to see you, Serena," a new but familiar voice said.
Serena, Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie all turned their heads towards the door, where they saw a girl stepping outside. Their eyes all widened as soon as they recognized her.
"Shauna?!" Serena exclaimed, surprised.
The tan-skinned Performer gestured to herself. "In the flesh." She then waved her palm at Ash and Clemont, who by then had already bypassed the front gate. "Hey, guys!"
Serena didn't waste any time in standing up and hugging her friend and rival.
"W-Wow!" the honey-blonde cried. "I...I didn't expect you to be here, Shauna!"
Shauna chuckled and broke the hug. "Well, of course. There's no way I'm gonna miss out on a Showcase, especially a special exhibition that Aria herself is hosting!"
"No, I mean...I didn't think you'd be here in Vaniville! I mean, I know you also live here, but-"
"Well, since I knew you live here as well, I asked around for where your place is. It didn't take long to find it, considering this is a small town, after all." Shauna turned around to examine the house. "All this time, we were living just several yards away from each other and we didn't know it before."
"Tell me about it..." Serena sighed heavily as memories of her not-so-memorable Rhyhorn riding training sessions flashed across her mind. "Had we met way earlier, I'm sure you would've brought a lot of joy and entertainment to my childhood..."
"I do hope you're not talking about our training sessions, dear..." Grace deadpanned.
At that moment, two teenage boys stepped out of the house. Ash and Clemont both smiled, recognizing them as...
"Tierno!" Ash exclaimed.
"Trevor!" cried Clemont.
"Hey, Ash!" Tierno replied. "It's mighty fine seeing you here! You're accompanying Serena to the end-of-the-year Pokémon Showcase, isn't that right?"
"That's right," said the raven-haired Trainer. "And you and Trevor are here accompanying Shauna, right?"
"That's about right," replied Trevor as he cast a glance at Shauna. "For our friend since childhood, we wouldn't miss anything for the world."
Grace laughed fondly at the sight of the reunion between friends. "Oh, I'm so glad my little Rhyhorn Racer's found so many new and wonderful friends this past year!"
"Mom!" Serena exclaimed, a dark blush appearing on her cheeks. "Please don't call me that in front of them!"
"Oh, where are my manners!" However, Grace seemed to ignore her daughter's plea as she walked by the seven Trainers, plus Bonnie, stepped up to the front door, and gestured into the Gabena house. "Come on in, everyone, I already have lunch set up in the kitchen for all of you!"
Everyone accepted the former Rhyhorn Racer's offer and went inside the house. All the while, Serena, Ash, Clemont, and Bonnie never noticed Grace's sly grin, nor the glances Shauna, Tierno, and Trevor shared amongst each other.
A few seconds later, Serena was the first to reach the kitchen. She had been expecting to see her mother's finest cooking on the table. Instead, she was surprised by a trio of voices shouting at the top of their lungs, "SURPRISE!"
"AGH!" Serena tried to run the opposite direction out of instinct, but instead bumped headfirst into Ash, literally. "OW!"
"OW!" Ash yelped, his hands flying up to his forehead.
"Pikapi!" Pikachu squeaked in surprise.
"Ash, Serena!" Clemont exclaimed. "Are-Are you guys alright?!"
"No," Serena moaned, as she blushed in embarrassment at having this kind of close contact with her crush. Her blush only worsened when she heard someone in the kitchen struggling to contain their laughter, "not until I know who in their right mind would surprise me like that, the little-!"
"Whoa, cuz!" one of the new voices cried through his restrained chuckling. "Hold it with the potty mouth! There's a kid present!"
Serena's eyes widened, and she lowered one of her hands from her forehead. Could it really be him?
"Calem?" she asked incredulously.