As best Ingo could recall, everyone in Unova assumed that he was a morning person. Given his occupation aboard the Battle Subway, it wasn’t an unfounded guess.
He also recalled they were wrong.
Even when he had to rise at the crack of dawn for his duties as Sneasler’s warden, it always seemed to take him a little extra time to feel fully coherent. He was extremely grateful that if he had to be thrown back in time, it was at least to an era where caffeinated beverages existed.
Of course, modern coffee had even more perks. Namely that it came in convenient portable cups so he could sip his brew on his way into work. The scent of the freshly made drink warmed his nostrils through the lid’s opening. Perfection.
The tea party had been scheduled for quite the early hour, and as part of the staff, Ingo had to arrive even earlier to help set up. He certainly didn’t begrudge the work. But with his sleep-fogged brain, he was not prepared for the greeting he received along the way.
“Emmet? Hey, Emmet!”
It was Rosa’s voice.
Ingo supposed that after the incident with Caitlin at the diner, hearing his brother’s name posed to him wouldn’t take him by surprise. He still jumped, though, as Rosa came running up to him. The former king of Team Plasma, N, was close by, but they did not seem to be traveling together. Instead N was speaking with a couple of trainers’ Pokémon along the path.
“How’s it going?” Rosa asked when she reached Ingo, still not recognizing him. “I didn’t know you were working at the tea party. Did Lear get you settled into your new place yet?”
“I…what?” Ingo’s breathing picked up speed. She was talking like she’d seen Emmet on the island already. He’d been prepared to disappoint Rosa. Now all logic left his brain as he struggled to calm himself down.
Rosa studied his face first, then his attire, before her eyes widened and she bowed apologetically. “Oh, gosh! I’m so sorry. You look just like–”
“–like someone you know,” Ingo finished. “N-not to worry. Happens with surprising regularity to me.” He tipped his hat to her, trying his best to stay in the butler persona while his heart felt ready to burst out of him. Emmet was here. Somewhere on the island, Emmet was here.
Then his chest tightened as he remembered that the last thing he was supposed to do was speak to his brother. He glanced over his shoulder at N, who had moved onto another group of trainers’ Pokémon. Only unlike the first group, these three were more familiar to Ingo.
The Striaton City triplets. All laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company. And in full-on waiter attire, it was probably not a stretch to think they were going to be at this party as well.
Ingo’s excitement morphed into nausea. He turned away and quickened his pace. This wasn’t the time to get emotional. All he had to do was push through this event, then he could get home and gather his thoughts. Or, with any luck, Uxie would magically appear out of the sky and wipe all memories of this day existing.
It was perfectly predictable news when Cynthia heard Lance would be attending Lear’s tea party. She had assumed all the champions were. Lear couldn’t seem to get enough of having them all in one place. The more social events he could shove them all into, the better.
It was an awkward-though-pleasant surprise when Lance arrived at Cynthia’s doorstep to accompany her to the party. She had already planned to walk with Lucian, and the man was not much of a conversationalist. Cynthia accepted Lance’s offer graciously, and the two of them started off down the road together, meeting Lucian along the way.
His surprise became a nuisance, however, when the Johto champion flashed that not-at-all-subtle grin which suggested he’d only shown up because he wanted something.
“So…how’s your schedule looking these days?” Lance began.
Cynthia pushed a piece of her hair aside. She always prided herself on keeping it in line despite its massive length. Yet now it seemed like strands of it kept getting in her face. Out of control. She hoped this wasn’t an omen. “Busy,” she replied.
“Of course, of course,” Lance said, his cape waving in the wind, all cool and collected. “I mean, life would be pretty boring otherwise. Let me guess. Lots of prep work for the Festival of Champions in a few weeks?”
Cynthia froze. In all the excitement going on, had she forgotten something important? That wasn’t like her. She combed over all the different exchanges she’d had the past week or so. Which was a lot. But she’d interacted with Lance surprisingly little, and she didn’t recall him saying one thing about a festival, Champion-related or otherwise.
“You mean I didn’t tell you?” Lance asked. Which was exactly what he said when he knew perfectly well he had forgotten to mention something. “Alder has officially stepped down as the Champion of Unova, and Iris is taking his place, so the Champions are doing a bunch of exhibition matches for the occasion.”
Cynthia massaged her forehead. “It sounds lovely, but I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment, and since you did neglect to tell me up until just now–”
Lucian, who had been lagging behind, closed his book and quickened his pace to walk alongside them. “Why don’t I come and represent the Sinnoh region?” he suggested. “I may not be the Champion, but I assure you, I can provide quite the entertaining battle.”
“I’m sure you can, but it’s the Festival of Champions,” Lance emphasized. “Not the festival of Mostly Champions Plus That One Elite Four Member Named Lucian.”
Lucian huffed and went back to his book, muttering a quick, “Sorry–I did try,” to Cynthia as he slowed his steps once again.
“Look, I apologize if it’s unexpected,” Lance continued, turning his attention back to Cynthia. “This is the first time Iris has appeared as Champion at an event representing her region. She could really use a mentor. Someone to show her how to handle the pressure.”
“So Steven couldn’t mentor her?” Cynthia asked. “Or Diantha?”
“I asked Diantha, but Lear wants her front and center for the promotional shots, and–”
“And did you ask Steven? How about Kukui? Or Leon? Or literally anyone else besides Diantha and I?”
“Um…” Lance was finally on the defensive, no doubt getting the implication of her words but not quite owning up to them, either. Then, to Cynthia’s shock, he lowered his head in a small bow. “I apologize. Iris asked for Diantha first, then you, and I should have asked you earlier about it.” His cape folded over itself a bit as he straightened up, disrupting his perfect Lance image. Maybe the man was human, after all. “To be honest, Lear started pushing for it only a week ago, and I’ve been trying to help organize, but it’s been a handful.”
“I imagine,” Cynthia said. At least she had him being forthright now. If she brought Kommo-o, Garchomp could stay home and rest some more. Maybe she would even relax a bit more without Cynthia constantly checking in on her, as Ingo had made clear she was guilty of while he was here.
And thinking of Ingo is not at all helpful right now.
“Okay, count me in,” Cynthia said, which made Lance grin like a little kid who’d been rewarded a fistful of Rare Candy. She chatted him up a bit more before they arrived at the party. Flint was already there and waved Lucian over to his table, while Lance went to sit with Diantha and Leon. Cynthia sought out her table with Caitlin. At least she could be relatively sure the Unovan Elite Four member didn’t want anything beyond her company.
Lucian and Flint watched Cynthia walk away without comment. Lucian turned pages and occasionally feigned interest in the novel he wasn’t fully reading. Flint made no such attempt to hide his curiosity and leaned in towards Lucian the moment the champions has dispersed.
“Whoa. Cynthia sure looks tense.”
Lucian nodded. “She is. Lance asked her to be in the Festival of Champions amidst her already overpacked scheduled.”
“Dang. And she said yes?” Flint whispered.
Lucian nodded again.
“Daaang. Didn’t expect her to cave like that.”
“Neither did I,” Lucian muttered and pushed his glasses higher up the bridge of his nose. “I fear Cynthia’s concern with keeping up appearances in the midst of Garchomp’s recovery is clouding her judgment. She’s pressing her limits if continues to take on more and more responsibilities like this.”
“Isn’t that a Champion’s job, though?” Flint asked. “To push through limits?”
Lucian shook his head. “Everyone has their breaking point,” he said quietly. “Even Cynthia. The question is simply what will happen when she hits it.”
Flint had nothing to say to that, and Lucian went back to reading his book in earnest.
In the far corner of the room, Misty and Brock sat down to hopefully enjoy a quiet morning. The view certainly was lovely out here. The weather was cool but warming quickly, and the entire tea party was set up in a lovely hedge-lined enclosure. The scent of lavender hung in the air, and everyone with grass types had them out and soaking in the perfect spring sun. A banner welcoming visitors stretched over the parted hedges at the entrance, and it was a work of art unto itself. Splashes and swirls of primary colors reminded Misty of the patterns on a Togepi’s shell. Delicately painted Sinisteas filled the corners. The calligraphy on the banner was even accented with swirly puffs reminiscent of a Buneary’s poofy ears and tail.
Circular tables were arranged across the grass, with the VIP guests seated in clearer view of the others. Lear’s table was the most prominent, and he had the banner artist Burgh seated with him, along with Lillie and May in their Alice and March Hare costumes for the riddle event that would follow. Burgh…Misty couldn’t tell if he was in costume or not, but his lime green tuxedo was certainly flashy.
The Champion Cynthia sat in her usual attire at a table near the center of the room, along with the Elite Four member Caitlin. Several people who passed by wanted to talk to her, Lear included, and it was only the intervention of Caitlin’s butler that got them to ease up and return to their own seats.
Misty sat back and rather relished not being in the spotlight. She had even closed her eyes, enjoying the gentle violin music that played over the nearby speaker, too quiet for everyone in the center of the party to hear.
“Hey,” said a voice. Misty opened her eyes and sat up. It seemed someone had stopped by their table after all. At least it was someone familiar.
“Oh, hello, Red,” she said. “Glad you made it.” Why is he here? I’m guessing a big name guy like him has other people to chat to besides the girl who showed him around town.
“A-actually,” Red said, rubbing the back of his head. “Red is…kind of a stage name I’m using? I prefer it when my friends call me Ash.”
Misty cocked her head, not quite sure what to reply at first, which got Ash or Red or whatever his name was stumbling over his next words. “I-I mean, if you want to be friends, that is. I know you said you and Brock don’t remember much, but–” He glanced over at Brock and fidgeted with his fingers. “Where I come from, we’re really good friends. And I’d love to get to know you guys, erm…again. If you, y’know, also want to get to know me.”
Misty took a glance at Brock, who smiled and nodded. He pulled a chair out for Ash, while Misty motioned for him to sit down. True, she and Brock had decided to start a new life here, not worrying about past experiences from other timelines.
But that didn’t mean everything from the past had to be shunned, either.
“Th-this is a bit awkward,” Ash said, still fidgeting with his hands, but at least doing it under the table. “I’m not sure where to start. I, uh, really love your cooking, Brock.”
Brock smiled. “Hey, I’ll take free compliments. But, seriously, you should try this place Siebold runs. Misty and I found it when we first arrived, and it’s amazing.”
“Siebold even got Brock to eat seafood,” Misty added on. “Which, I’m not sure if you know this, but that never happens.”
“I didn’t know that, actually,” Ash laughed. “I always assumed Brock liked all kinds of food.”
“Nope, I’m a guy of ever-expanding tastes,” Brock bragged.
Their little table broke into laughter. Misty couldn’t say it felt familiar, exactly. Ash still seemed like just as much a stranger as when she’d shown him around town. But there was something about spending time with each other that just felt…right to her. Not a rekindling of an old friendship but the start of a brand-new and equally wonderful one.