Hello! This week's chapter of Who We Used to Be is brought to you by nothing and no one.

Besides me. I wrote it.


Chapter 14


Bianca wasn't going to suggest that the officiators at the Nimbasa City Contest Hall were stacking the deck in Elesa's favor, but she also wasn't wasn't going to suggest that the officiators at the Nimbasa City Contest Hall were stacking the deck in Elesa's favor.

That was really the only thing going on in Bianca's mind as the three of them – Cynthia rejoined them as they made their way back into the main hall of the Contest Hall – headed back into Nimbasa proper.

Elesa had a complicated expression on her face, which Bianca felt was fair. Here she was trying to enjoy herself, to separate herself from her work, and she was instead being forced to confront it once again.

The organizers may have thought they were assisting her, but in reality, they'd done far more harm than good. Of course, it was technically possible that such hadn't been rigged, and that Elesa was simply that lucky – or unlucky, given current context.

"Is there anywhere you think we should begin?" Bianca asked Elesa, trying both to coax her out of her shell, and to get some advice on their current situation.

"…You can find a good outfit anywhere, if that's what you're asking." Elesa spoke, although she didn't sound too terribly invested. "If you're asking specifically where I shop for outfits, I don't. I'm given the outfits that I'm to wear, usually without them even informing me as to my sponsor, or what I'm endorsing."

The raw annoyance in Elesa's tone was evident, and Bianca cringed somewhat at hearing it. She looked to Cynthia to see if she had an opinion on the matter, but received only a subtle shake of the head in return.

"However, like I implied, a good outfit can be found just about anywhere, provided you don't want to custom-make one. We, on the other hand, do want to custom make our own outfits, as Pokémon-specific attire is hard to find in Unova for Pokémon that aren't traditionally Unovan. Seeing as how many of your Pokémon are not Unovan, I think that means we're custom-making something."

Bianca hadn't made anything the last time she'd been in a contest, but then again, she'd also been performing alongside Milotic, and in a pool. Her Pokémon hadn't been the type to wear anything, and now that she thought about it, she could remember some of the other contestants having dressed their Pokémon up.

Elesa took the three of them to a more specialty location, the sort of place that didn't have a lot of customers, but made the majority of its profit selling in bulk to larger stores. Bianca could tell she was quite familiar with the place even before they stepped in, but the way that the owner's face lit up as she stepped in wiped away any doubt.

"Well, look what the Purrloin dragged in."

Elesa rolled her eyes. "Hello, Marjorie."

"Hah, gone for months and you act like it's a normal day," The owner of the shop was an older woman; Bianca would've pegged her at being at least seventy years old. She had a hunch to her back, her hair was done up in a great poofy mess, and she wore spectacles that made her look like a crazy cat lady.

Bianca found her quite charming.

"Well, don't just stand there, introduce me to your friends."

"Ah, right," Elesa turned to the two of them, starting with Cynthia first. "This is Cynthia."

"Ohoh, is this the Cynthia, then? The one you were–"

Elesa cleared her throat. "Yes, this is her. Although I would thank you not to comment."

"Understood." The older woman said so with a teasing lilt to her voice, and Bianca got the feeling that Elesa would be hearing more about this particular topic whenever the two of them could discuss on their lonesome. "And this young lady?"

"This is Bianca." Elesa spoke. "She's going to be my partner in an upcoming Pokémon Contest. That's actually why we're here; to procure materials for outfits."

"So, I see." Marjorie massaged her chin. "Well, you have that contract with that what's-er-name group, why not just have them make you something?"

Elesa's face scrunched up somewhat. "Perhaps I would like to actually use some of the skills that got me such a contract in the first place for once."

Bianca's brow furrowed, even as Marjorie chuckled, and invited them in.

Elesa immediately stepped further into the place, and it didn't take Bianca long to recognize this as an old-fashioned textile shop. A specialty store, one that produced high-quality goods for high-profile clients.

The fact that Elesa knew this shop so well suddenly didn't seem quite so surprising, although there was something that did surprise Bianca.

"I… didn't know you made outfits yourself." Bianca said as Elesa began holding up fabrics next to her face, and seemingly trying to match them to her hair and eyes.

"Yes, well, you wouldn't unless I told you, seeing as how I haven't actually made anything in a good half a decade." Elesa grumbled, before sighing and letting her hands fall back down at her sides. "I am quite the skilled seamstress, as am I a designer. You likely didn't know that many of the outfits that my trainers wore at the runway gym were made by me."

"I didn't."

"Mm. I never really advertised the fact." Elesa said, wearing a smile that was muted, but no less there. "It was my eye for making and designing outfits that got me a modeling job in the first place. When I was younger, I was an apprentice working at that very modeling agency. Or, well, after I'd first completed my Pokémon journey, I should say."

Bianca found herself surprised. "You… didn't get straight into being a Gym Leader?"

"Hah, no, I didn't." Elesa smiled over at her. "My journey was likely quite similar to yours, currently. I went on my journey, collected eight gym badges, challenged the Unovan League, and lost. So, I headed back to Nimbasa, and decided to try my hand at some of my other interests. Modeling was one of them, or, more specifically, creating outfits for models. It was only after I'd been doing that for a few years that my career as both a model myself, and as a Gym leader, came to be."

Bianca found herself fascinated, even as Elesa held up a piece of fabric beside Bianca's hair, and, seemingly satisfied, clipped it to a clipboard she'd procured at some point.

"Anyways, we'll go with a matching theme. Our natural hair-colors are similar, so we can pull that off without much trouble, and I can wear green contacts to match you."

"Oh, okay." Bianca sort of just went with it, trusting in Elesa's expertise. "So… have you been making outfits since after your Pokémon journey?"

Elesa smiled, then, and it was a nostalgic thing. "Actually… I've been making outfits since well before then. I didn't go on my Pokémon journey until I was fifteen years old, but I'd been making and designing outfits since well before then. I've had an interest in such things for as long as I can remember."

"It's more…" Elesa continued. "I don't know. Somehow, recently, my passion has just been eroding away. Wearing things designed for me without my knowledge, strutting along a stage without so much as a hand in the performance… I've been out of it."

"…Do you think that a part of the reason you haven't cared for it is that you haven't been the one designing the outfits?"

"Of course," Elesa laughed. "I'm sure that's at least a part of it. I…" She shook her head. "Never mind. Let's focus on this for the time being. I could talk about this for hours and make no progress at all."

Bianca frowned, but nodded her head, and they got back to choosing fabrics.

"I think that looks nice."

Bianca jumped and turned on her heel to see Cynthia leaning over her shoulder, staring down at the fabric that Elesa had been considering for their secondary color. She wouldn't exactly admit to it, but she'd sort of forgotten that Cynthia had been there at all.

She had the odd ability to fade into the background when she so desired, and Bianca wondered if that helped with disappearing from the public eye; if that was what made her disguise so effective.

"Normally, I'd advise quieter, earthy tones to let your hair and eyes stand out," Elesa spoke as she held up a much more ostentatious purple color against Bianca's hair. "But given that we're to be competing in contests, I do believe looking a bit gaudy is the point. Thusly, we'll choose a royal purple to contrast against the yellows of our hair."

That had something in Bianca stirring, something she wasn't entirely certain the identity of. She wasn't going to bring it up at first, but then… she thought of the smile currently resting on Elesa's face, one that the woman must not have even been aware of.

And she realized it might be a good idea after all.

"Uhm, Elesa?"

"What is it?"

"…Would you be able to make me an outfit?"

Elesa's eyes widened, and she looked up at Bianca with a curious air. "You mean… not for the contest?"

"Mm." Bianca confirmed. "Something to wear around, and… to feel more confident in. I want something that… that makes me look nice, or beautiful."

"Look at you, taking my lessons to heart." Cynthia encouraged, chuckling under her breath. "I think that's a great idea. Elesa's a fantastic designer."

"Well, I…" Elesa seemed a bit undecided, and just as Bianca was going to pull back, tell her it was fine, she didn't have to do that for her, Elesa said, "I think I could do that. It… might be fun."

Bianca wasn't able to hide her smile, then. Neither was Elesa.

They finished up picking out fabrics for the contest, and Elesa nodded to herself and jotted some things down on a piece of paper she had attached to her clipboard.

"Alright, I'm going to go work on these," She announced, before seemingly realizing something important. "Oh! What Pokémon would you like to use for this?"

"Hm?" Bianca questioned, sort of spaced out, before she popped back into the hear and now, and decided, "I'll use my Leavanny."

"Leavanny, huh… okay, bright greens and yellows, that works with our general theming so far. I'll go for something similar then. Maybe Galvantula or Electrivire. Either way that makes things simple in terms of color-coordination. Alright, I'll work on some preliminary outfits, and then we can meet back up tomorrow to start planning a routine."

Bianca nodded. "Alright! See you."

She and Cynthia waved goodbye to Elesa, who retreated to… well, wherever she lived. Presumably she owned a home here somewhere in Nimbasa. Bianca turned back to Cynthia, who smiled down at her.

"I got the two of us a room in a nice hotel, although it's a bit of a walk from here."

"That's fine." Bianca spoke. "I like talking with you."

"As do I with you." Cynthia said, chuckling. "You're a surprisingly forthright person for how much you often avoid social situations, Bianca."

"Well, I try to be. Hilda was always like that." She spoke, sort of absent. "She would just… tell you how she felt, regardless of whether or not others would have hidden such feelings away. If she didn't like something you were doing, she'd tell you. If she thought you'd done a great job, she'd tell you. I learned that I liked when she was honest with me. So… I try to emulate that honesty, even now. It was popular with the people I worked with at the laboratory, too, so it just sort of stuck."

Cynthia chuckled. "Hilda sounds like quite the interesting person."

"She is… or was, I suppose." Bianca said, smiling sadly. "I… I think I've grown to accept at this point that she's likely not here with us anymore. I don't know what happened… perhaps no one does. But… never mind, let's not discuss such things now. I don't want to cry at the moment."

Cynthia nodded her head, fully understanding. "How about Cheren?"

"Hm?"

"You knew him as well, did you not?"

"Well… yes, I did." She admitted, rubbing her hand up and down the back of her neck. "It's… my relationship with Cheren has always been more complicated. I think because… he and I, we…"

Cynthia didn't interrupt her, or try and give her an out. She just waited, to see if Bianca would say what it was that she had on her mind.

"Cheren didn't think much of me." Bianca finally admitted, and it did hurt to admit it. "I can't blame him, of course; he and Hilda were far better trainers than I was. I never managed to take a single match off of Cheren, and Hilda I only beat the once, with some horribly gimmicky strategy."

Cynthia seemed to take issue with that. "If the strategy works, then it works. 'Gimmicky' is a term used by sore losers."

"Well, it…" Bianca pouted somewhat. "I had Emboar – or, I suppose he was a Pignite at that time – use the move Bide. Do you… know it?"

"The Pokémon braces itself, and allows itself to take damage in exchange for dishing back damage that is magnitudes stronger after a period of time." Cynthia nodded. "It's a terribly powerful, albeit inherently risky move."

Bianca was a bit surprised that a non-Pokémon trainer like Cynthia would know what a random Pokémon move did, but then, she supposed she would have picked some things up being around other trainers all of the time.

"Yeah. I used that move, and Hilda… I guess she thought she could overwhelm my Pignite before he got the move off. To be fair, she did have a Dewott, it wasn't the worst theory. But she hit it with a Razor Shell twice, and… Pignite was still standing."

She smiled, remembering back to the feeling of elation that had coursed through her all that time ago. Those were good memories.

"And so, we won." She chuckled. "I was practically over the moon. And Hilda… I think she was just as excited for me. I could tell by her reaction that she hadn't been… duping me, or faking me, or losing on purpose. She'd genuinely tried her best to win, and she'd lost. She told me then that… that she thought I had the makings of a Pokémon master. That…"

She paused a moment as her eyes welled up, and she forced back the emotions brewing within her as they continued towards their destination.

"That was the first and only time anyone ever said something like that to me. I think she was probably just being nice then, anyhow. And obviously, her prediction ended up being wrong, seeing where I am now."

"On your way to becoming a Pokémon master?" Cynthia asked, raising an eyebrow.

"That's not…" She sighed, conceding Cynthia's line of reasoning. "Anyways, Cheren and N were right about me. They both said that I just didn't have the potential to be a Pokémon trainer. Cheren was only ever interested in Hilda, and N… well, N only ever seemed to see Hilda, too."

A memory came back to her in that moment, something she hadn't thought about in a decade, but something that had probably been with her all along, regardless.

"It's funny… Cheren, when I got the job at Professor Juniper's laboratory… do you wanna' know what he said to me?" It was a rhetorical question, and Cynthia knew it, because she stayed silent. ""I'm glad you finally found something that actually suits you.""

Cynthia's brow furrowed rather harshly at those words.

"…I thought I was over that… It's been so long since then, and Cheren's such a changed person to how he used to be nowadays, but…" Bianca shook her head. "I can still remember the exact way he said it. Like he was breathing out a sigh of relief for my sake."

"I think that what he said really hurt you, if you remember it so clearly even now."

"He was right," Bianca shook her head. "He was always right."

"With respect, Bianca, bullshit he was right."

Bianca's eyes widened, and she looked to her right to see Cynthia glaring her way with eyes like fire.

"W-Wha-"

"Just because you were behind a trainer who eventually became champion," Cynthia argues, her voice filled with a righteous fervor, "Just because you were slightly behind another who went on to be a Gym Leader, and now champion contender… he assumed you weren't good enough for your dream at all?"

The words… they weren't something Bianca had ever thought before. It was a perspective that Bianca wouldn't have had any trouble accepting and agreeing with had it been about someone that wasn't her. But because she was who she was, because she knew what she was capable of – or what she wasn't…

"I…"

"I think forgiving him is fine." Cynthia spoke, preventing Bianca from getting a word in edgewise. "After all, it's been what, a decade since, has it not?

"More."

"Then yes, I think forgiving him is fair. But I do not think that just because you have forgiven him for what he said, you have inherently recovered from the damage that his words inflicted upon you. Nor do I blame you for carrying such burdens. Those words would have seriously affected me when I was younger and just starting out on my journey." Cynthia spoke, and Bianca gathered that she must've been talking about some journey to become a great businesswoman. "If some of my rivals had disparaged me, not acknowledged me… then I would very likely not be here, that is for certain."

Bianca looked down at her own two feet as they stepped along the near-empty path towards their hotel. It was getting late out, and Nimbasa was the kind of city that catered to a nightlife, but not in this part of town. This was a more residential section, and because of that, it was largely abandoned at this hour.

"I'm sorry." Cynthia suddenly spoke up, letting out a beleaguered sigh. "I didn't mean to get so… spirited."

"No, it's… it's fine, really." She assured her, before smiling a small little smile. "Honestly, having someone get so defensive over me is… it's nice. More than I thought it would be. And I had never thought about things that way. I thought I was a failure because I was behind N, and Hilda, and Cheren, but… those three were – are – incredible. Cheren's planning on challenging the champion at the end of the year, N defeated Alder, and Hilda was the champion of Unova for a few months until she left on her journey. I guess I just… I felt like I was nothing compared to them."

"You shouldn't have." Cynthia spoke, before shaking her head. "Not to put the blame on you for such feelings, I imagine they were forced upon you. Just–"

They were at the hotel.

Bianca and Cynthia both sort of startled out of their conversation, and Bianca found herself both wanting the escape that had been provided, and wanting to jump right back into it.

In the end, she settled on the former.

Neither she nor Cynthia said anything particular in the few minutes it took to check into their rooms. By the time they actually made it up into their hotel rooms – which were quite nice, but nothing as fancy as the condo they'd stayed in during their time in Sootopolis – Bianca found herself almost wanting to just let the conversation go.

Cynthia, as always, refused to let her run away.

"I'm not entirely sure where we were in that conversation, but…" Cynthia cleared her throat. "You are doing wonderfully, Bianca. Better than I'd dared hope you might when I picked you up that day. You owe no one a thing, other than yourself."

Bianca coughed a tad bit awkwardly, not able to meet Cynthia's intensely serious gaze. "I… thank you, really. Like I said before, it's nice having someone in my corner. Really nice. I just… I guess I've always thought so poorly of myself for so long, that suddenly having someone tell me those thoughts were wrong, and have always been wrong is…"

Cynthia didn't say anything. She allowed Bianca's voice to trail off, and for the seconds to tick by.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what to say."

Cynthia shook her head amusedly, before closing the distance between them and holding out her arms.

"May I hug you?"

"Oh, uhm… yes."

Cynthia hugged her. It was a nice hug, very warm and fulfilling.

"You can do anything you set your mind to, alright? I want you to believe that."

"I thought I did believe that, after what happened with Burgh. I just…" Bianca sighed. "I guess overcoming my own anxieties isn't something that's going to happen over the course of a few days, huh?"

Cynthia chuckled. "No, it's likely not. But we can work on that. For now, we should get some sleep, and prepare to meet up with Elesa tomorrow morning for the two of you to practice your routine."

Bianca nodded her head, even as she shucked off some of her heavier clothing and took a shower. It was relaxing, and helped to recenter her. By the time she got out, Cynthia had already lied down and gone to sleep, so she chose to follow.

Except as she laid in bed and looked up at the ceiling above her, she couldn't quite help but linger on the thoughts that Cynthia had done her best to instill. The idea that she was capable, had always been capable, and that others demeaning of her had been what had led her to believe she wasn't.

It was hard to accept, and by the time she fell asleep, she'd made no real progress towards doing so.

/

"Magical Leaf!"

"Discharge!"

Bianca's Leavanny shot a plethora of rainbow-colored leaves up into the air around them, even as Elesa's Electrivire let off a powerful discharge, which hit the leaves in midair, and set them alight, burning away their physical forms.

The energy that had kept the leaves aloft, however, had no place to go without the physical forms of the leaves remaining, and so shot outwards at all angles, creating a brilliant lightshow all around them that caught the rays of the sun, bathing them in iridescent light.

"Wow…" Bianca murmured under her breath, a bright smile blooming into place upon her face. "It's gorgeous!"

"I agree." Elesa seemed confident. "It may even be enough for us to take a top spot, provided, of course, that our outfits, and those of our Pokémon, are up to snuff with our performance. The purpose of the lightshow, after all, is to accent the high-fashion that the theme is calling for. Provided the outfits I've created do their jobs, they should reflect this light, and cause us to both physically, and metaphorically, shine."

Bianca found herself feeling confident, too. It sounded like a foolproof plan, but then, she'd of course learned that you couldn't entirely count on anything. There was always a chance someone would bring something else that would blow the rest of the competition out of the water, including them.

Which meant they had to be ready.

"A-Actually, I had a bit of an idea?"

Elesa tilted her head to one side. "Let's hear it, then."

"Uhm… so it goes like this…"

/

Somehow, a week passed by in a blur.

It was probably because she and Elesa had been so busy preparing for the contest, and also that doing so had been quite fun, so the time had gone by in but a moment. Even so, the day of the competition had arrived, and it was now time to perform.

Bianca couldn't quite help being nervous, even as she finished donning her show outfit – and it was a rather ostentatious thing indeed – and stepped out of the dressing rooms to go and join Elesa.

She was dressed in the same outfit as her, albeit cut to her lengths and specifications, of course. Her Electrivire, too, was out and dressed, wearing a little suit – well, little compared to how he looked, it was quite the massive suit given Electrivire's bulk – and top hat that made him seem quite dapper.

Bianca's Leavanny, too, was out of its Pokéball, and called out to her as she emerged from the dressing room. It was wearing a similar outfit to the Electrivire, although her Leavanny's was more a long, flared coat than a suit.

"The outfits look amazing, Elesa!" She said, and her partner smiled.

"Thank you. I worked rather hard on them. I…" She paused a moment, seeming to think over her next few words carefully. "I have come to some conclusions about myself thanks to this that I am not entirely certain of yet. Perhaps doing this with you will be the final piece I require to finalize those feelings?"

Bianca tilted her head. "Uhm… Elesa?"

"It's nothing." She said with a smile. "Just that I think it might be time to take a hard look at my life, and the things I'm doing, and come to a decision. Nothing that concerns you." Elesa turned towards her with a grin. "And I think, win or lose today, I'll accept your challenge."

"You mean…"

"Mm." Elesa nodded her head. "You can challenge me for my Gym Badge once this is all over. But I think you and I… have a contest to win, first."

Bianca couldn't help beaming at that.

"Yep! Let's knock their socks off!"


End Chapter 14


It's Bianca's turn to inspire someone, instead of the other way around.

See you all next week!