Alright, back again!

Nothing much to say here. I've been happy with the general reactions to this story so far, it's gotten more attention than I was honestly expecting!


Chapter 4


To say that the Sootopolis City Gym had gone from mostly empty to filled near-to-bursting felt like Bianca was underselling it.

There were crowds surrounding the building, interviews being conducted with commentators, celebrities, and influencers, and even live performances being done by some of the contestants who'd already been eliminated early in the day.

And wasn't that something? Already, a good half of the people who'd signed up for the day's contest had been eliminated from contention. They had already been found lacking.

Bianca was fairly sure that, come Saturday, she'd be amongst them.

"Well, well, seems things are in full swing!" Cynthia exclaimed, placing a hand over her eyes to block out the sun, which, even despite her sunglasses, was quite bright. "Ah, nothing like the competitive atmosphere. Gets the blood pumping!"

"I… suppose?" Bianca didn't really have her blood pumping. Or, well, she did, just not for the reasons she was pretty sure Cynthia was referring to.

But her blood was definitely pumping more than it should've been due to her horrible anxiety.

Oh, surely, she'd made some progress on herself, but even she had called it as it was; a singular, solitary, extraordinarily tiny step. It wasn't enough for her to suddenly want to waltz in there and perform on stage, which…

Which she was going to be doing, for some horrible reason, in about a week's time.

"Remind me again why I'm here?" Bianca whined a bit petulantly. "Because this is seeming like even less of a good idea now that I can see just how many people are here…"

"You're here because I think you'll be able to get something out of these contests." Cynthia stated, crossing her arms over her breasts and turning towards Bianca with a confident smile. "Something that will aid you tremendously in your journey to come."

"Could I not find it… somewhere else?"

Cynthia shrugged. "Perhaps you could, but this is the quickest and least painful way."

"Which of those two are you really more worried about…" Bianca muttered, before sighing and looking out towards the crowd ahead of them again. "And you're still not going to tell me exactly what it is I'm supposed to be taking away from all of this?"

"If I told you, you'd learn nothing."

"I'm pretty sure that telling me is a good way of me learning something."

"You might learn it," Cynthia conceded, and Bianca chocked that up as a win in her books, "But you certainly wouldn't experience it. And that's what we're after here."

"Can I get a hint?" Bianca asked.

"Maybe later." Cynthia smiled back at her, seemingly enjoying her suffering. "For now, let's go in. I imagine today's finals will be coming up soon."

And with that, Cynthia charged ahead, totally ignoring Bianca's protests that she didn't much want to wade through the crowd of people ahead of them at all.

Unfortunately for Bianca, she'd never really had a spine – or perhaps she'd had one when she'd been younger that had summarily been lost somewhere along the way – so she followed along behind Cynthia without any further complaint once it was clear Cynthia would not be swayed.

That seemed to be both a blessing and a curse for Bianca, really. A curse because no matter how uncomfortable or unnerved Bianca got, Cynthia charged ahead, and often demanded that Bianca charge with her.

It was a blessing, however, because Cynthia was forcing Bianca to be more… well, more. She'd already forced Bianca out of her shell, just a little, and that was more than could be said of Bianca herself in the last decade, so…

Perhaps Bianca should just follow Cynthia's lead.

…Yes, well, that was all, logically, well and good. Unfortunately, emotionally, Bianca was the equivalent of a cabin made up of popsicle sticks held together by spit.

Which was to say she was shaky at the best of times, so to speak.

So, her emotions outweighed her sense of logic on this particular case.

The two of them pushed their way into the packed gym-turned-contest-hall, and Bianca couldn't help but be impressed at just how many people had somehow crammed their way into this place. Honestly, she expected Cynthia to at least have some difficulty navigating her way through the crowds, especially when one wrong move would result in her being recognized, surely, but instead, she poked and prodded and pushed her way around everyone, and only a minute or so later, they'd made it past the entryway, and towards the stands for the finals.

They sat in one of the upper rows, off in a corner. Their line of sight to the stage wasn't the best, but it was likely that Cynthia wasn't going to go and get recognized when they were waiting up here.

"So… what am I supposed to be looking for, exactly?"

"Just watch, Bianca." Cynthia stated, her eyes never leaving the stage. "The finals should start any minute."

Admittedly, Bianca was getting a bit tired of being told to 'just watch'. She'd spent a long time with Professor Juniper at the Nuvema Research Center, but never once had she ever been told to simply watch what she was supposed to be able to do herself. No, she'd been given assistance, guided through every step, and then she'd try her hand at it herself.

She wanted to complain, but again, Bianca hadn't a single confrontational bone in her body, so she instead just sat back and did exactly as Cynthia said.

Two or three minutes later, the announcer for the contest got back on the mic, and called out that the finals were about to begin.

The competitors who stepped out onto the stage were two people that Bianca had never seen before in her life. The crowd clapped and cheered, however, so perhaps they were both famous in the contest world.

"I thought Wallace was going to be performing in the contest?" Bianca asked Cynthia.

"He is, but not in today's contest. The first few days this week are all lower-ranked contests. Wallace himself is only competing in the Saturday open-rank contest, the same as you."

Bianca nodded a bit blankly, even as the announcer introduced the coordinators, and then set them to work. The first to perform sent out a Delcatty, who used a combination of acrobatics and singing via moves to put on a dazzling show. Bianca found herself clapping along with the audience as the first coordinator stepped back, and allowed the second to step up.

The second performance was surprisingly similar. It was an older gentleman with a Ludicolo, who danced alongside it to music, whilst creating beautiful patterns with the Pokémon's water and grass-type moves. Bianca found herself bouncing around to the beat the duo created in her seat, and from the look of the crowd, that wasn't at all a unique reaction.

In the end, the second performer took home the victory; though only by a hair's breadth. Cynthia and Bianca both stood and clapped for both participants, and it was as they were making their way back out of the venue, and again passed by those people outside who were training in the yard, that Cynthia spoke out to her again.

"So, did you learn something?"

Bianca raised an eyebrow at her… mentor? Teacher? Person she was following around?

"Not… really?"

"Hm…" Cynthia rubbed at her chin, letting loose a discontented hum. "Well, that won't do."

"Y'know, you really could give me a hint."

Cynthia seemed to really debate something with herself for a second there. Bianca wasn't quite sure why; a hint wasn't exactly going to ruin everything, was it? Finally, after a few more seconds spent deliberating, Cynthia nodded her head, turned towards the practicing contestants who'd lost earlier in the day, and asked, "Alright. What do you see?"

Bianca, again, raised an eyebrow. "What… uhm… do you mean?"

Cynthia turned to her and crossed her arms over her breasts. "I mean; when you look at them all practicing, despite the fact that they were eliminated from the contest earlier today, what do you see?"

Bianca looked over towards the plethora of coordinator hopefuls who'd been competing mere hours ago, and tried her best to study them. She watched as a few began returning their Pokémon to their Pokéballs, apparently having finished practicing for the day. She watched as others still danced and coordinated their next sets, or began planning for future performances. And as she watched them do such things, she found her eyes studying each of their faces; both the people and the Pokémon.

And she found they all had something in common.

"…They're smiling." Bianca noted.

"Indeed, they are!" Cynthia sounded excited, which meant that Bianca had, at the very least, likely gotten a part of what she'd wanted her to see. "What else do you notice?"

"Their Pokémon are in perfect sync with them." Bianca pointed out. "There's no hesitation between them."

"And why do you think that is?"

"I…" Bianca took a moment. "…I suppose they believe in themselves. They're… confident in themselves."

Cynthia smiled. "Got it in one."

Bianca couldn't help but feel the smallest bit of annoyance deep within her heart at that. After all that Cynthia had done to hype up such a revelation, after all she'd done to prevent Bianca from getting the measliest of hints, having confidence was the super-secret technique to becoming a better trainer that she was missing?

"Is that what you wanted me to see?" She asked, almost unable to believe it.

"It is." Cynthia confirmed, the smile on her face never dropping.

It… it was enough to have Bianca's lips curling downwards; her brow furrowing somewhat. enough for her to, for the first time in a long time, express her displeasure with someone.

"S-So, what?" Bianca muttered. "I'm just supposed to think I'm invincible? That I can't lose? That if I believe in myself, I'm going to magically become a better trainer? Is that it?"

"No." Cynthia spoke, and Bianca immediately lost any fire that she'd had. "You're supposed to believe that you can win. Not that it's impossible to lose, but that if you do everything you can, with everything that you are, you'll win.

"But they all lost!" Bianca felt the need to point out, gesturing towards the crowds of trainers practicing. "Only one person won. They all believed they could win, and they were wrong."

"Sure, you're right. Simply believing you can win doesn't mean that you will," Cynthia nodded her head. "But Bianca, if there's only one thing you take with you from today, it should be this; if you go into a Pokémon battle – or any competition – believing that you've already lost? Then you'll seldom be proven incorrect."

Bianca felt herself deflating somewhat as her eyes gradually fell to the earth below her. She rubbed at her left arm with her right, and tried to come up with something to say.

In the end, she just apologized.

"S-Sorry, I didn't mean to get upset, I just–"

"Don't apologize." Cynthia shook her head. "On the contrary, I wish you'd show more of that fire. You stood up for yourself when you thought your time was being wasted. I would want you to express yourself in such a way, not just sit there and listen to whatever I say verbatim, without thought."

Bianca nodded her head, feeling a bit defeated in her heart of hearts. She understood what Cynthia was getting at; really, she did. Believing one would lose was often a self-fulfilling prophecy. But even so…

"I just… I don't… It's so hard to believe I can win."

Cynthia nodded her head a bit glumly. "Yeah. I can tell. You're… carrying a lot of baggage, aren't you?"

Bianca nodded, although she wasn't at all willing to discuss such. Not now.

Not yet.

"Earlier, down on the beach… you were trying to help me grow my confidence."

Cynthia nodded her head.

"But… is that confidence in me as a person… really the same kind of confidence that would let me win Pokémon battles?"

"Confidence is…" Cynthia paused, humming under her breath. "Back when you were battling against Wallace, your Bagon hesitated to follow your commands. The reason behind that was because you lacked faith in yourself – in your own calls. Because of that, your Pokémon floundered. After all, if even you couldn't believe in yourself, then how could your Pokémon?"

"So…" Bianca pursed her lips. "Before anyone can have confidence in me, and what I say… I need to believe in what I say?"

Cynthia smiled. "You got it."

"And… how do I do that?"

Cynthia let out a low chuckle. "That's the hard part. There's no real surefire thing I can tell you on that front. Believing in yourself… that's something that has to come naturally. You're not going to be able to force it; not and have it actually stick, and I know that's not easy."

Bianca nodded her head, even as she looked away from Cynthia's frame. "I just… I spent years and years sitting in a laboratory, doing research. All that time… I was just forgetting the basics of being a Pokémon trainer. And now I've been thrust back into it, and it's like… some things are coming back, but others just… aren't."

Cynthia's eyes widened, then. "Actually… that's not a bad idea at all."

"What isn't?"

"You said you forgot a lot of the basics." Cynthia stated. "Well, why don't you give yourself a crash course?"

"Huh?"

"There's a trainer school here in Sootopolis." Cynthia said. "It's newly built, but I hear it's as adept at training aspiring Pokémon trainers as any other."

Bianca felt red coming into her cheeks. "And… how often are their clientele twenty-eight-year-old women?"

Cynthia laughed. "Bianca, some things are going to be different for you than they would be for a normal trainer. That's just part of your own personal journey. Yes, you could let the fact that you'll likely be the oldest attendee to one of their classes bother you… or you could go and get a much-needed refresher on what it means to be a Pokémon trainer, and try not to let such things bother you."

"That's not really how anxiety works, Cynthia." Bianca felt the need to murmur out below her breath.

"Hmm…" Cynthia took a moment to ponder what they were discussing. She gazed up at the sky, where the sun was now officially beginning to make its descent in the sky, and seemed to come to some kind of epiphany. "Oh… hey,"

She turned towards Bianca with a smirk.

"Then how about if you were the second oldest person there?"

/

"Now, who can tell me what typing's are super-effective against Fairy-type Pokémon?"

A few of the kids' hands went up in the room, and, even if Bianca knew perhaps more than anyone the answer to that particular question, well, she didn't raise her own hand. She allowed one of the other kids to supply the answer – poison, steel, and fire type attacks – and let the teacher continue on with her lecture.

A teacher that, it should be noted, was at least four or five years younger than Bianca was.

Yes. This really couldn't have been any more embarrassing than it already was.

…Or, well, she'd have said that if Cynthia weren't sitting there in full disguise right next to her on their shared bench, helping to offer some small semblance of support. She, too, hadn't yet raised her hand or interacted with the class, nor was she taking notes like Bianca was.

It made sense, of course. Cynthia was, as far as Bianca's knowledge went, not actually a Pokémon trainer, or someone interested in such things. She wouldn't bother with attempting to keep up.

Still, Bianca herself was…

Well, she wasn't learning anything particularly new. They were discussing type matchups at the moment, going over the weaknesses and strengths of each type. To be fair, when she'd first gone on her journey fourteen years ago, scientists had yet to decide as to whether or not Fairy type Pokémon should be considered a separate genus or not. So, at the very least, she was getting some knowledge around fairy-types solely based around their battle attributes, and not how she'd been looking at them for years; as research subjects.

And… when she thought about it, perhaps this refresher was doing some good for her. She was taking knowledge that she'd accrued during her time as a Pokémon researcher and molding it to fit into knowledge that could be applied to Pokémon battling.

For example, she was, in her head, beginning to develop some idea as to how she might counter Wallace. Water types, after all, struggled against Dragon types on a purely statistical basis. Surely, her and her Bagon had yet to really develop any sort of camaraderie or synergy, but that didn't mean she couldn't utilize its innate typing advantages to get a leg up in battle.

And Feebas, while not as intrinsically useful, at least packed a Water resistance due to its own Water-typing. It likely couldn't do much offensively, but perhaps on the defensive end, it could prove more useful.

Bianca began to write more and more on the few pages of notebook that she'd set aside for this class. Her pencil moved across the paper as if her hand had been lit aflame. And before she knew it, class was being dismissed.

"W-Wha–" Bianca looked around as the other students began standing up and making their way out of the building. "Where are– what happened?"

"The lesson's over." Cynthia said, laughing under her breath. "Although you seemed far more engrossed in whatever you were doing in that notebook to notice."

"I… got caught up planning out a potential strategy for Wallace," Bianca stated, handing the book over to Cynthia so she could take a quick peek, even if she might not appreciate what was written. "I thought… well, my knowledge as a Pokémon researcher might not track one-to-one with becoming a Pokémon trainer again, but I think with some fine tuning, it could become something I can fall back on in the future."

Cynthia did something Bianca wasn't expecting; her eyes lit up.

"This strategy here… did you think of this just now?"

"Uhm… I suppose?" Bianca spoke, sounding a bit awkward. "I just… well, I utilized some of what I'd been learning at the lab back in Nuvema town working under Professor Juniper. She was actually pretty big into the origins of Pokémon, and because of that, she liked to study why the types of Pokémon came into being. I… learned quite a bit under her."

Cynthia's lips split into a wide smile. "Bianca, that's a brilliant application of your knowledge!"

Bianca's face went red. "Oh, uhm… thank you?"

"I'm serious, Bianca." Cynthia stated, turning on her with a slightly more subdued expression. "What you're doing here is very clever; mixing in your own experience in a way that it applies to what you're doing now. Certainly, you weren't training as a Pokémon trainer this last decade, but what you were doing was certainly in an adjacent field. That knowledge can be applied, and the way you're applying it… I'm impressed."

"T-Thank you, uhm…" Bianca looked away. "I don't really think it's that impressive, surely anyone could–"

Cynthia shook her head. "I've known many different kinds of people across my days as a ch– businesswoman, and the ability to formulate a concrete plan is something that many struggle with. It is true that many champions build their teams and strategies simply around following their own skills instincts, but the ability to plan out complex maneuvers in advance in no less valuable."

Bianca felt a warmth in her breast at Cynthia's words; one that expanded the more the woman talked. She felt heat rising to her cheeks, and she couldn't help looking away, embarrassed.

"I… Thank you, Cynthia. I… I couldn't have done any of this without your help."

"No," Cynthia disagreed. "This? This is all your own ability. I've not taught you anything to do with strategizing. I was planning on saving such things for later. You've cut ahead of me a bit."

Bianca laughed a bit, and even if it was awkward and nervous… there was something beneath it that was rarely heard in Bianca's voice.

Pride.

And Bianca realized what it was Cynthia must've been doing.

"Oh… I see," Her smile dimmed somewhat. "You're just buttering me up to try and boost my confidence, aren't you?"

Cytnhia turned to her with a surprised expression; which Bianca had definitely not been expecting.

"What? No, of course not." Cynthia shook her head. "That's not the kind of person I am. I'm complimenting you based on what I see in front of me."

Bianca didn't quite believe that, but even so, it felt… it felt nice, even if it was a white lie.

Even still–

"Excuse me, ladies?"

Bianca and Cynthia both turned to look up towards the teacher of the training school who was stood in front of their bench with a small, mirthful smile on her face.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to take your conversation elsewhere; we're closing down for the night."

"O-Oh, of course, ma'am!" Bianca bowed her head. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean to cause trouble–"

"It's no trouble, truly." The teacher said with a laugh. "In fact, it's refreshing to have someone of an older demographic in my classes for once. Especially one who takes such rigorous notes."

Bianca's face went red again. "That, uhm…"

"Are you a Pokémon trainer?" The teacher asked.

Bianca's eyes widened.

"You a championship hopeful yourself?"

"W-What?"

"You just seemed pretty invested is all."

"Oh, uhm…"

"N-No, I'm not."

In the here and now, however, Bianca took a breath and said, "I-I am. I'm looking to challenge the gym leader here, and earn my first gym badge."

"It's inspiring to see someone my age trying to become a master." The teacher spoke, and Bianca's cheeks heated up. "I gave up on it all a long time ago. Good luck, hon. I'll be rootin' for ya'."

"Oh, u-uhm, thank you?"

The teacher just laughed as Bianca exited out of the building with Cynthia in tow.

"Well look at that," Cynthia teased. "Looks like you've gained a fan."

"C-Cynthia!"

"It's the truth." Cynthia said with a laugh. "And I don't think it's going to be the last time, either. It's a rousing thing; trying to take up the mantle of a Pokémon trainer again in your late twenties. Most trainers have finished their journeys and given up on battling by the time they're eighteen or nineteen. It's only the best that keep going after that."

Bianca hid her face away, trying not to blush too horrendously. Unfortunately, Cynthia's constant compliments were doing her already cherry cheeks no favors.

"W-Well, I… Thank you."

"Of course, Bianca." Cynthia spoke. "Well, we don't much daylight left, but I think we could perhaps get some performance training in with the rest of the day, don't you?"

Bianca felt herself deflating somewhat. "Cynthia… we've done nothing but do things all day."

"And there's plenty more time to do more things."

"That…" Bianca felt her resolve wavering. "…Okay."

Cynthia smiled. "What happened to standing up for yourself?"

"Well, as much as I'm tired, I do think you're right…" Bianca trailed off, even as she sighed. "I… when I think back to how I used to treat things like training when I was younger… I only did them whenever I had the chance to naturally. I never made time. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that I wasn't able to keep up with my friends; perhaps they were simply more desperate."

Cynthia nodded. "Could be. Or, it could be something entirely different."

Bianca gave a half-hearted glare. "That's not very helpful, you know."

Cynthia raised both her hands in surrender. "My apologies. Shall we go?"

Bianca nodded along, and away they went.

/

They decided to do their training amongst some of the other coordinators just outside of Sootopolis gym. Few were still out this late in the evening, numbering in the single digits, but Bianca was surprised to see even that many, given that the competition had wrapped up hours ago now, and they had been eliminated hours before that.

"So… what should I do?" Bianca asked. "I don't really… have an idea for a routine."

"Well, in all fairness, most coordinators wouldn't be thrown into a competition like this with only a week to actually plan something out."

Bianca felt personally offended by Cynthia's admission of what Bianca had been trying to tell her for the entire day.

"But we should stick with something simple. As complicated as it seems, a dance performance combined with a few moves from your Pokémon makes for a rather captivating – and easy to perform – routine."

"Like that man who performed alongside his Ludicolo earlier?"

Cynthia nodded.

"So… how should I… well, which Pokémon should I use, in the first place?" Bianca wondered. "Should I be using Bagon, or Feebas?"

"Well, normally I might say Bagon, given that Feebas as a whole learns far less moves before it evolves," Cynthia spoke out. "But on the contrary, your Feebas is a shiny Pokémon. By its very nature, it will turn heads. I feel you should utilize that natural advantage."

Bianca must've been in a mood, given she poked fun at Cynthia. "I thought you didn't believe in talent?"

"Talent and natural advantages are different things."

"Uh-huh." Bianca sighed. "So, I should use Feebas then?"

Cynthia nodded. "Feebas isn't the rarest Pokémon, but it's not exactly common, either. Your average contest goer probably isn't going to see one very many times. Or, well, they wouldn't if this wasn't Sootopolis city. Wallace's Milotic is his ace, so the people of this city likely have some experience with the line."

"You don't think that means I should use Bagon instead?"

"No. As familiar as the people here might be, that familiarity will likely give your Feebas an edge. After all, Wallace might have a Milotic, but he doesn't have a shiny Milotic."

Bianca's eyes dimmed. "Neither do I…"

"Well, not yet."

"I know that Milotic doesn't evolve via leveling," Bianca spoke, walking over to the waterline and sending Feebas out into the ocean. It looked up at her curiously as she looked back at Cynthia. "It evolves… based on Pokéblock, correct?"

"That or Poffins." Cynthia nodded her head. "Although outside of Hoenn and Sinnoh, Feebas is capable of evolving when trading it to another trainer whilst in possession of a prism scale."

Bianca hummed. "I… don't really want to do that."

"I figured you wouldn't." Cynthia stated. "In essence, all the Pokéblock's or Poffins really do is raise Feebas' beauty. Once it's hit some internal metric of beauty, it shows its true colors."

"Huh." Bianca muttered below her breath. "Should I… try and evolve Feebas into Milotic before I start my routine?"

"I don't think." Cynthia stated. "We don't have that kind of time, to be honest. You need to be formulating something here and now."

"Great, no pressure." Bianca huffed out. "Alright, well…"

For the next two or three hours, Bianca and Cynthia ran through a preliminary routine that Bianca could try and execute. It was simple; almost barebones, but Cynthia told Bianca that it would be enough to at the very least impress the judges. Bianca didn't quite know about that, given that she herself was going to be the one up on stage, but she supposed it was a start.

That was pretty much their routine over the course of the next few days. Bianca and Cynthia traveled down to the Sootopolis gym/contest hall, and trained on Bianca's routine. In their downtime between training – which was slim, to be fair – Bianca and Cynthia occasionally returned to the trainer school they had gone to earlier in the week, and even hit up the beach a few more times.

Cynthia continued to sunbathe, but Bianca had been burnt quite harshly in the sunlight the first time they'd gone, and so she decided to sit under an umbrella, and let her feet sink into the warm sands.

It was relaxing; that was for sure. Every day she was out here, she became a little more comfortable; a little less reserved. She wouldn't be going up to people and asking them how their days had been, but she felt like if someone approached her to ask for directions, she might not spontaneously combust anymore.

And that… well, Bianca was happy about that. Comparing herself to how she'd been when she'd arrived a week ago was already quite a difference. She felt just a bit more like who she used to be when she'd been younger; the girl who'd been able to talk and make friends with anyone; outgoing, bubbly, and fun.

She'd lost her somewhere along the way. And… well, it wasn't exactly a mystery when.

Thinking on such things always left Bianca feeling down, however, and so she did her best to think more on the way the sand slipped between her toes, and kept her entire body comfortably hot.

"It's nice, isn't it?" Cynthia asked her, with her arms splayed out at her sides, and a pair of dark brown sunglasses on her face.

"I…Yeah. It is."

"I'm proud of you, Bianca. You've come a long way in a short time."

"Well, I… I had someone to help me along. And besides, it's not like I–"

"Don't downplay yourself." Cynthia interrupted her, sounding almost forceful. "To do such serves no purpose other than to make you feel lesser."

"Well, I just… I guess I… I don't know."

Cynthia's expression softened, then. "I understand. Believe it or not, I used to be a lot like you. Anxious and afraid; thinking I couldn't ever amount to anything. And then… well, I proved myself wrong. Like you, I had help, and in the beginning, I think I thought that they were the only reasons I managed anything at all. But eventually… I realized that at the very least, I was partially responsible for making myself into a better version of myself. So maybe I was worth something after all."

"You… you felt that way, too?"

"Worthless?" Cynthia chuckled, though it carried a certain weight to it that betrayed the underlying melancholy of their conversation. "Yeah. I don't know if it was ever as bad as what you've had to deal with, but at the same time… well, measuring one's pain against another's is a foolish endeavor."

Bianca nodded smally. "I… I suppose it is."

"So… chin up, Bianca. You can do this. More than anything, that's what you need to take away from what I'm trying to teach you. That you are perfectly capable."

Bianca's cheeks heated up, and she hummed out her acknowledgement of the woman's words even as she tried to hide her face from her.

"Thank you, Cynthia."

"Of course, Bianca."

/

By the time that the end of the week was rolling around, Bianca was officially feeling… pretty alright.

It was odd. She hadn't felt this… consciously happy in a very long time.

That wasn't to say she felt amazing. It was more… for once, the things weighing on her mind felt distant. Her fears and anxieties could be ignored.

She had something to focus on.

She'd come up with a routine to perform with Feebas. She'd been practicing it for a few days now, and she was fairly certain she had something that could actually… well, she wasn't going to win, but perhaps she could compete.

And that was more than she'd thought she'd be capable of when she'd started all of this.

"Flip, Feebas!"

Her Pokémon responded to her callout, doing a somersault midair thanks to a bit of propulsion of water from its mouth. That water sprayed all around them, creating an intricate pattern with the aqua ring that Feebas had already set up.

It wasn't amazing; like Bianca had said, but it looked pretty, and it was… well, it was the best she could do on such short notice.

Even still, as she finished her 'dress rehearsal' of sorts, she listened to Cynthia clap for her off to the side, sitting at the edge of the water.

"That was wonderful, Bianca." Her… sponsor? said. "I dare say you're ready to take on your first Pokémon contest."

"I… I hope so."

"I happen to know so."

Bianca couldn't help it; she smiled, then.

"I… I actually think…" Bianca twiddled her thumbs together. "That maybe… maybe I have a shot at doing okay?"

"You're going to do more than okay, Bianca." Cynthia laughed. "Aim a bit higher. What happened to winning the World Championships?"

"Well, I…"

"Hm?"

Bianca floundered a moment. She sucked in a breath, and watched as her Feebas – who she'd taken to feeding a few blue poffin's and Pokéblock's to over the past few days, getting a head start on preparing it for evolution – looked up at her, always with a question in its eyes.

She felt she knew what it was, then, too.

Well?

"…I'm…" Bianca bit down on her bottom lip, squared her posture, turned away from Feebas so as to face Cynthia directly, and said, "I'm going to win!"

Cynthia's face lit up. "That's what I want to–"

And then a curious sound filled the area just behind Bianca, where Feebas resided. She did not initially react to said sound, however. No, it was the almost stunned expression on Cynthia's face that she was responding to.

She turned herself around, and her face lit up white.

Not just because she blanched, but also because her Feebas was emitting a bright light.

She watched as its form began to change; as its shape lengthened, as its body undulated. She watched as the light burst away, and in Feebas' place swam a beast most elegant; most majestic.

A shiny Milotic. One all her own.

Her eyes were as wide as could be.

"Well…" Cynthia muttered below her breath. "It seems your Pokémon supports you in this endeavor, at least?"

"That…" Bianca actually laughed. "Yeah, it seems."

"Hm…"

"What is it?" She turned back towards Cynthia, seeing her face scrunched up.

"Well, it's just… You've been practicing all this time with Feebas, correct?"

"Yes, why?"

Cynthia held out her hand towards her new Milotic, as if to say 'well, look at it'.

And so, Bianca did.

She stared at her Milotic for one second. Then two.

A third passed by.

Then she noticed the problem.

Bianca had been setting up a routine for the entire week that worked with herself and Feebas.

A Feebas that was now a Milotic.

A Feebas that, thusly, no longer existed.

Which meant her entire routine was for naught.

And she had, maybe, three hours to try and prepare another.

Why was Bianca not allowed to have nice things?


End Chapter 4


Next chapter; the contest!

Bad news, I'm going to be taking this next week off, however. I've been sick this last week and haven't had much of a chance to write, and I want to keep my writing buffer in place, so no chapter of WWUTB this coming week. We'll be returning two weeks from now, on the 17th.

Other than that, not much to say. Thanks for reading along, everyone!