Yo! Here with the third chapter in the Petalburg arc! Two chapters left to go after this one, and then we're on to Arc 6!


Chapter 22


"And in first place for the second round of competition, we have three contestants! Masie, William, and Bianca, each with thirty points apiece!"

She felt… odd, hearing as such as her fellow coordinators raised their hands and accepted the audience's adulation. She was aware she likely should've been doing much the same, only…

Her heart wasn't in it.

It probably said something that even not at one hundred percent, she'd been able to tie for first place in the second round.

Talent.

The word burned inside her brain.

As the competition finalized for the day – and another decent chunk of potential competitors were eliminated from the festival – Bianca left the stage, stopped in the dressing room only long enough to change out of her performance outfit – the same gaudy one she'd worn alongside Elesa for their dual performance, given she'd been performing a similar routine – and exited almost as soon as she could.

Cynthia was waiting for her with a wide smile.

"Well done."

"Thank you." She tried to exude some of the joy she should've likely been feeling, but much like her performance, her heart wasn't in it. "We should get back to the hotel. I've still got to lock down my final routine."

Cynthia's face morphed briefly, and she seemed to want to say something.

"What is it?"

"You don't want to go and train on Route 104?"

Ah.

"It's just… Kirlia's already strong enough that any gains they might gather from such battles would be negligible at best. Better to… to focus on the festival, for now. We can worry about battling later."

Cynthia was clearly bothered, but as per usual, she decided to allow Bianca to handle her problems herself.

A weakness she was becoming far too adept at exploiting, these days.

Their trip back to the hotel was a silent affair. During that time, Bianca's mind was a whirlwind, but unfortunately, it's focus was much like one too, all over the place, unable to concentrate on any single thing.

Except for that accursed word, which felt like it was attempting to brand itself into the back of her skull.

Nothing happened that evening. Despite her assurances that she wanted to go back to practice her routine with Kirlia, the truth of the matter was that she'd long come up with a plan, and practice was something she was… not entirely willing to do at the moment.

She felt like an idiot, getting this worked up over something so small. Just because that person had said she had a talent for contests didn't have to mean anything.

Of course, saying that something shouldn't mean something to her was incredibly pointless, given it meant something to her regardless.

Bianca laid in bed, just sort of… absently staring at the ceiling above her. She wasn't going to get to sleep, not anytime soon, despite what should have been, in theory, a rather exhausting day. In truth, she'd coasted to an easy first place in round two after a solid-enough round one.

Round three would be the decider, where the winner would be chosen.

And Bianca… she wasn't sure what she wanted in regards to that.

It felt easy to say she should have wanted to win, and in some ways she did. It was just… it was a subtle thing, a quiet pulling in her gut. When she thought of it, of her standing on stage, being presented a grand festival ribbon, hearing the cheering of the crowd…

It felt good, but not…

It didn't measure up to the way she felt when she imagined the same, only replacing the scenario with her stood atop a grand arena, having bested the very best of the best. Her and her Pokémon, victorious against all odds…

It sent a shiver down her spine.

Bianca hated it, in truth. She hated that she was this kind of person, someone who could never just accept the lot she'd been given, no matter how idiotic it was to persist. She had what she wanted, right? A slightly different form, yes, but…

She bit down on her bottom lip, sighed horribly, and ran a hand down her face.

…She wasn't going to be getting to sleep anytime soon, so she might as well get up and get some exercise.

It felt like a flimsy thing, even to her, but then, maybe it would help?

Weirder things had happened.

She changed into something more moveable, pushed her way out of her hotel room, and jogged down the stairs until she made it outside.

The night had the slightest chill to it which was entirely absent during the day, which fit, Bianca felt, with the fact that they were still in the height of spring. It would be fall sooner rather than later, however, and with fall would come a greater, more biting cold.

She walked for a while, up towards where she'd normally face off against trainers on Route 104. Of course, given it was cresting towards midnight, there was nobody there. She saw a few nocturnal Pokémon, including a family of Seedot that waddled their way past her.

She smiled absently.

And then she just sort of… slumped.

"What am I doing?" She asked no one, nothing. "What was the point of this?"

The nothingness did not give her an answer – not like she'd expected it to, in all fairness – and after a while she was half tempted to just start making her way back to the hotel, accept this as a stupid, impulsive mistake, and forget all about it.

But…

She had talked with Cynthia about practicing her routine with Kirlia, and…

Well, it couldn't hurt, she supposed.

She didn't say anything as she threw Kirlia's Pokéball, and the Pokémon joined her on the quiet road.

Yet she noticed as Kirlia, seemingly having been asleep, adjusted, took in its surroundings, and then…

Its countenance lit up.

Kirlia seemed quite enthusiastic about something, although what, Bianca didn't know. Still, it was enough to have her smiling, even if somewhat stiltedly.

"What's got you so excited?" She asked in a voice barely hovering above a whisper.

Kirlia turned back towards her, and did a small spin in place. Then, it mimed two quick hits with its arms, as if trying to strike an invisible punching bag. The hits were clumsy, and a tad slow, but they were getting there, Bianca supposed.

"Did you want to train?"

Kirlia answered very clearly in the affirmative, its voice sounding energized and excited.

And that…

Bianca felt her already fraying emotions growing only more so.

"That… well, there aren't any trainers around right now. It's late. I actually intended for the two of us to come out here and practice our routine for the contest in a few days."

If it was possible for Kirlia to pout, it did in that moment.

"Did you not want to practice our routine?"

Kirlia shook its head, so that wasn't it.

"You were just excited to fight?"

Kirlia nodded its head rather quickly, and Bianca bit down on the inside of her cheek.

"I see. Well… perhaps… maybe later." She stated, smiling as best she could. "Now, let's run through the routine, and we can work out any kinks we find, okay?"

They ended up staying out there for quite a while, easily an hour, perhaps even two. During that time, Bianca confirmed the reasoning that she'd not been worried about hers and Kirlia's routine.

There was no need.

Kirlia's movements were graceful, elegant, and the very picture of poise and grace. Bianca was fairly certain she could not have danced in a more picturesque manner.

If Bianca stumbled, Kirlia stumbled with her, making the motion look practiced, purposeful, and not like a mistake. If Bianca jumped, Kirlia did too. If Bianca twirled… well, Kirlia did the maneuver thrice as well as she ever could.

Such a routine was the picture of grace. If Kirlia were to evolve into a Gardevoir before the final stage of the festival, the routine would only grow more so.

And yet, Kirlia did not bask in it. She didn't even seem to care. The moment they'd finished their routine, the moment that Bianca had said they could take a break…

Kirlia had walked over to a nearby tree, and began practicing its punches.

Bianca just… watched in silence. She wished she had a guidebook in that moment that could tell her in no uncertain terms exactly how she was supposed to feel. Yet such a thing did not exist, and the only thing that she could rely upon to grant her such information was herself.

And she knew from experience how unreliable a thing that could be.

But as she watched Kirlia, watched the way that its kicks never quite connected correctly, watched the way that it cradled its hand in pain after every punch, watched the way it fought on, despite all of that, and kept trying.

It was like a tea kettle was boiling inside of her, the noise gradually rising up, up, until it hit a fever pitch, and Bianca felt like it was going to explode if she didn't–

"Enough, Kirlia." She called out to her Pokémon. "You're going to hurt yourself if you keep doing that. We have the contest in a few days. We won't be able to compete if you're injured."

Kirlia heard her, and turned around to look her way. It didn't look happy, however. In fact, it looked rather annoyed.

That… was probably due to the fact that it couldn't quite manage to get what it was trying to do right. Which made sense.

Except… did it? Did it really? After all, Kirlia already had one thing it excelled at, that it was more than good enough to utilize solely. Its dancing was sublime, its form impeccable.

Why care about how well it could fight? Why bother with such a thing?

"What's the matter?" She asked, despite having a fairly decent idea.

Kirlia was pouting, though, as it occasionally did. Bianca still didn't quite understand how she'd ended up with a Kirlia that was so very headstrong.

"You don't have to worry so much about your battling, you know." She said, and it was a thing she regretted almost instantly.

Kirlia looked up at her with a harsh expression, squaring itself off and pouting even more furiously at her.

"That– I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to come out like that."

Kirlia looked hurt, in truth. Genuinely hurt. As if the words had punctured something within them.

"I just… why would you…" Bianca didn't know what she was trying to say. She didn't know why she, herself, had any reason to be upset right now. And yet she was. "Why would you worry about that when you're so good at dancing? Why even worry about it?"

Kirlia stopped a moment, seemingly confused.

"I just… I'm sure you can tell that fighting isn't your strong suit. And you have something you're so good at!" Bianca felt the need to stress. "You're… your dancing is beautiful, and wondrous, and you're so good at it, you're… you have a talent for it!"

Kirlia stared at her, but they seemed upset.

"And why would you… why would you bother!?" She felt the need to ask, and she understood she wasn't asking Kirlia why she didn't want to dance, not really, but she would hold onto that illusion as long as she could. "You're so much better at dancing! And you can barely fight, even when you put everything you have into it! So why!?" She almost screamed, tears gathering in her eyes. "Why? Why would you want to fight?"

Kirlia's entire frame shook, then, like it didn't know what to do, like it didn't know how to react. Before Bianca could reign herself back in, think to apologize, the Pokémon was rushing up to Bianca's leg, reeling back, and punching her in the thigh.

It didn't really hurt, but it was enough force for Bianca to take a step back. Kirlia just stepped up to her again, however, its eyes red and filled with tears of its own. Kirlia reeled back to hit her a second time.

Before it could, however, Bianca had already reached back, drawn its Pokéball, and recalled it back inside.

And then… then she was alone, stood in the middle of a barren path in the dead of night, with unshed tears gleaming in her eyes from the moon hanging above in the sky.

…Kirlia had hit her. Not with intent to truly hurt her, of course – given that it possessed psychic moves that could've easily lifted her into the air and sent her spiraling backwards, doing actual damage – but they'd hit her all the same.

All that fact did was upset Bianca, mostly because she saw this as her own fault.

This was all because she was upset at herself, after all. Kirlia certainly wasn't to blame for her insulting them.

Bianca walked back to the hotel.

It took her a lot longer to get back than it had to make it to her current location, partially due to her mood, but also due to the fact that she didn't necessarily want to go back, either. She knew what she should've done, of course, that being apologizing to Kirlia for what she'd said.

She didn't do that.

She arrived back at the hotel expecting nothing to be out of the ordinary. She'd enter into her room, perhaps shower off the residue of having danced for two hours, and then sleep.

Instead, she was greeted the moment she opened the door by Cynthia, sat atop her bed, with a frown upon her face.

"What…?"

"I came to check in on you, only… well, you weren't present."

"You… came to check on me at midnight?"

Cynthia chuckled. "Bianca, you and I both know that when you're struggling with something, you don't sleep very well. I had a feeling you'd be awake."

That… Bianca knew that about herself, of course, but she hadn't known that Cynthia knew that. It wasn't something she'd told her, or revealed about herself.

Which meant Cynthia had been paying enough attention to notice it.

On the surface that was a good thing, a nice gesture, but…

It wasn't what Bianca wanted. She wanted Cynthia to leave her alone, and let her fester, even if some part of Bianca understood that that was a stupid, selfish thing to hope for.

"Well… I'm fine." She lied, and the more intelligent parts of her groaned in aggravation. "So, I'm just going to go to sleep, if that's–"

"Bianca." Cynthia's voice cut her own off, and before she could think to get a word in edgewise, Cynthia was continuing onwards. "Can I be honest with you?"

"…Okay."

Cynthia nodded her head, let out a sigh, and then said, "I've been a rather poor mentor of late."

"W-What do you–"

"I'm supposed to be someone that you can rely upon. Someone that you can come to with your problems. And instead of being that someone, all I've been doing is running away from your problems, from the things that have been haunting you."

Yes, that was true. But Bianca had been letting that happen purposefully.

Cynthia hadn't noticed that part, it seemed, but regardless…

Bianca wanted to tell her it was fine, that she didn't have to go out of her way for her, misdirect her away from trying to help her, because she didn't want it, even if she needed it, but–

"It's something Barry and I discussed during our time at Burgh's cabin. That I have a habit of leaving others to their own devices when I perhaps shouldn't." Cynthia explained, rubbing a hand up and down the back of her neck and sighing. "At the time, I didn't consider it a weakness, and so I did just that. And yet, Barry stepped in, and he helped you when I didn't. That… kept happening, you kept having to solve your problems on your own, or with someone else's help, and… I'm realizing now that the second way isn't any worse than the first. So… I think to start, I need to not let you get away with bogus excuses."

"Wha–"

"You're not fine." Cynthia sounded certain, and she was right to be so confident. "That woman's comment the other day, about you having talent for Pokémon contests… that hit you in a way I'd not seen before. I wasn't going to call you on it, but now I see I need to. So, talk to me, Bianca. Please."

She opened her mouth, and then shut it soon after. The truth of the matter was that she really didn't want to talk about this right now. Not so soon after she'd gotten into that spat with Kirlia, and upset her own Pokémon.

But at the same time… just because she didn't want to do it, didn't mean she shouldn't.

If anything, that was even more reason to do so.

"…What she said… that I have a talent for contests… it's true, isn't it?"

Cynthia frowned. "I don't believe in talent; I've told you that before. You are rather skilled in terms of performing, and I'd imagine that lends itself to any number of factors that you picked up throughout your life. But even if talent were real, and even if you possessed it for Pokémon contests… such things should not dictate your life."

Bianca felt her lower lip wobbling, and she leaned back, looking up at the ceiling above her and taking a deep, shuddering breath.

"Shouldn't they, though?" She pondered. "If I'm so good at contests, then don't I… I don't know, owe it to myself to see it through?"

"Bianca, the only thing you owe to yourself is to see through the things that you genuinely want to do. And from what I've gathered, that isn't Pokémon contests, at least not in a sense that you would devote your whole life to it."

Bianca took a breath. "But that… isn't that stupid? Isn't wasting what I'm good at just…"

"Bianca, look at me."

Bianca didn't. Instead, she shook her head, and turned back towards the door. She didn't want to be having this conversation, because more than anything, it was causing her to have to confront what Cynthia had told her so very long ago, back after she'd informed Cynthia of what Cheren had said about her, so long ago.

"I think forgiving him is fine." Cynthia had said in regards to Cheren's comments. "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."

"I'm glad you finally found something that actually suits you."

And damn it all, but it was the truth, wasn't it? Even now, even fourteen years later, she'd yet to escape from under the shadow of Cheren's words, from N's casual dismissal.

She still thought of herself as lesser. And the fact that she'd finally found something that 'fit' her…

It made it feel like she had no choice but to devote herself to it. After all, wasn't that what Cheren had said to her as well?

This suited her, didn't it? Contests, being up on stage, performing a practiced routine…

She was good at it. Far better than most.

That had to mean something… didn't it?

She felt hands on her back, and she did, eventually, relent, and turn back towards Cynthia. The woman had a sullen look about her, and Bianca understood that such was likely her fault.

It was usually her fault, in fairness.

What Bianca wasn't at all expecting, however, was the way that Cynthia, so very gently, reached up and brushed an errant tear off of Bianca's cheek. She… hadn't even realized she'd shed a tear, so caught up in her own head had she been, but…

The motion was distracting, in a way that Bianca wasn't entirely ready to confront.

"Cynthia…?"

"I'm sorry." The woman muttered, shaking her head and sighing. "I just don't want to see you so down. It hurts me."

Bianca bit down on her bottom lip, even as she nodded her head. "I just… I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

"I think you do. And that's what makes it hard." Cynthia countered.

Bianca had no response. Largely because she knew Cynthia was right.

"Alright… well, I think we're both rather tired, and given you have a routine to be preparing for, I'm sure you'd like to get some rest. But… before you do… allow me to leave you with something."

Bianca wasn't quite sure what she was expecting when Cynthia stepped back, reached into her pocket, and took something out of it, but she certainly hadn't been anticipating a glowing pale blue stone to be it.

She took Bianca's hand, turned it so that her palm was facing upwards, and placed the stone within it, then curled her fingers around it ever so gently.

"Keep it." Cynthia spoke, smiling faintly. "And… when the time comes, use it."

Bianca didn't even know what the stone was, let alone what she was supposed to do with it, but before she could ask, Cynthia was already moving on past her, and out into the hallway beyond.

She did turn one final time, however.

"Goodnight, Bianca." Cynthia said, the din of her voice gently caressing Bianca's ears.

"I…" …No. She could ask tomorrow. Later. For now…

"Goodnight, Cynthia."


End Chapter 22


Probably not hard to guess for a lot of you that there's going to be 8 major arcs in this story, one for each gym badge Bianca gets (who could have guessed that?)

I came up with this story like three years ago now, it's still kind of surreal to be actually in the middle of writing sections I was planning during the pandemic lmao.

MSI is on right now in LOL news, TL is 2-1 up vs FNC, hoping they win game 4 or 5!

Alright, that's all from me, see you all next week!