The celebration of Ruby's victory didn't stop at Wyndon Stadium.
Once everyone had got home to Postwick Town, Hop and Leon's mother had decided to invite everyone over for a barbecue party to celebrate Ruby's win the next day. The Silverlocks had been happy to accept the invitation and Mrs. Dande had said that Ruby and Hop could invite any friends over to join them if they wanted. Ruby knew exactly who she wanted to invite and had quickly called Marnie to ask if she wanted to join in. Still grateful for her generous plan to fix Spikemuth's financial woes, Marnie had accepted in a heartbeat with Piers happy to let her go. Ruby also decided to invite Professor Sonia to the party as well. She thought the newly-promoted professor would want to see her after her amazing victory over Leon and to also hear about the battle against Eternatus with Galar's heroes.
Before the party itself, the Silverlocks had spent the previous night at the Rose of the Rondelands Hotel as it was pretty late by the time the battle had ended. Once everyone had settled in, Emerald and Sapphire threw themselves into Ruby's arms and hugged her so tightly that she had to insist they ease up a little. To everyone's amusement, Leon had decided to let Ruby keep his cape and she was wearing it now as a sign of her victory.
"YOU WON! YOU ACTUALLY WON! EEEEEEEEEEEE, THIS IS TOO AMAZING FOR WORDS!" Emerald hollered, her voice so loud and excitable that it was a miracle the windows didn't shatter.
"How does it feel knowing that you're the one that broke Leon's winning streak?" Sapphire asked, "I bet you never would've guessed in a million years you could've been the one to do it!"
"Too right, Sapph!" Ruby said with a laugh, "When I started out on my journey, I never expected that I'd actually become the next Champion! At best, I expected to be another Challenger that came and went with modest success at the most. But yet I defied all expectations in myself and…well, here I am!" she exclaimed, holding her arms out.
"Galar's new Champion and clad in Leon's cape to prove it!" Emerald said brightly, "Though let's be fair, it's a bit big on you."
She wasn't kidding. As Ruby was head and shoulders below Leon in height, the cape reached right down behind her heels and dragged on the floor slightly.
"I'll grow into it." Ruby said casually, "I see why he wears it though as its surprisingly comfortable. I kinda feel like a queen in it." she added, giving it a twirl to get a feel for it.
"That's pretty much what you are right now, Ruby Silverlock: The Pokémon Queen!" Sapphire said, holding her hands out as if imagining a big neon-lit sign with that title on it.
"We're NOT calling me that!" Ruby chuckled, "I'd probably prefer "Queen of Champions" or something but that sound a bit corny."
"No matter what your title is, you're our big sister, Ruby, and we're so proud of you!" Emerald said sweetly, "I must admit, it's kinda intimidating to think that next year, me and Sapph will be starting our own journeys and could potentially have a chance to battle against you." she added, sounding nervous.
"Em has a point. You've given us a lot to live up to!" Sapphire concurred.
"Oh don't worry about that for now, girls." Ruby said casually, "Let's just focus on the moment and enjoy ourselves. Come next year, I'll be happy to help you two get started and guide you on your journeys. Maybe Leon could help out too. He may not be Champion anymore but he'll have a lot of wisdom to pass to you two."
"I'd like that." Sapphire said brightly, "Having you and him as our teachers will be wonderful."
"I can see it all now, us getting our first Pokémon and starting off as Ruby did!" Emerald said excitedly, "It's going to be exciting and fun!"
"It sure will be, girls." Ruby agreed.
Come the next day, the Silverlocks had gathered over to the Dande house for the barbecue. Upon arrival, Hop had been quick to greet Ruby and couldn't resist commenting on how funny she looked in wearing his brother's cape. They even joked how they'd have to get used to seeing it on somebody other than Leon for once. Leon himself came in, still full of praise for the one who had managed to best him in battle. He was no longer wearing his usual clothes, but was dressed more casually in a plain T-shirt that seemed to hug his muscular body tightly and jeans that looked more suited for him than his white and yellow tights.
"I tell you what Ruby, my Pokémon and I were truly shattered after that incredible fight!" he cried, "I slept like I'd been awake for days last night!"
"I thought I'd never wake up too." Ruby admitted, "It's a brand new day and I'm still in disbelief I actually won…"
"I think everyone in Galar's feeling the same way." Leon said thoughtfully, "I know all the Gym Leaders were impressed that you beat me on your first try when many of them have constantly tried and failed against me. Raihan himself feels like he was robbed with your win!" he cried.
"As long as he doesn't want to become my next rival, I'm OK with that." Ruby joked.
"Nevertheless, I hope you get to keep your title for as long as I did. Maybe even longer." Leon said supportively, "I'll even go as far as hoping you break my old mentor's record too."
"How long did he reign as Champion of Galar?" Ruby asked curiously.
"18 years." Leon explained, "It's probably easy to see where I got my skills from when my mentor has a record like that. Speaking of him, he even hopes you'll visit his dojo on the Isle or Armour whenever you can." he added, "I think he likes the idea of challenging you."
"Tell him I'll consider that." the new Champion said, "I'd rather focus on right here in Galar before going anywhere else."
"OK." the ex-Champion said, "Oh, and my cape's not the only gift for you."
He left the room for a brief moment to get something. He returned with a rolled up T-shirt in his hands and sitting on the shirt was a Pokéball. Ruby was more interested in the Pokéball but she took both gifts from Leon anyway. The T-shirt was the same design as the one Leon wore as Champion, except this was a girl's shirt and it was in her size as the one Leon wore would've been too big for her. Ruby had always liked that shirt and looked forward to wearing it during her time as Champion. Even if her time was to end, she would keep it as a souvenir to remember her reign. She looked at the Pokéball with interest.
"What's in this?" she asked.
"Why don't you find out?" Leon said with a wink.
Ruby threw the Pokéball and it opened up. To her delight, the occupant materialized into the form of a Charmander, the first stage evolution of Charizard. It looked like an adorable orange lizard with big blue eyes and a single flame burning on the end of its tail. Charmander was the Fire-type starter for trainers in the Kanto region and was among the most popular starters of all time. It was even found and given away in other regions such as Kalos and Alola. The Charmander looked up at her sweetly.
"Hi!" it said in a youthful, teenage voice, "Are you the new Champion?"
"Aww, how lovely! It's a Charmander!" Ruby said with awe, "Aww, it's even cuter up close than it is in its pictures! Thank you very much Leon!" she said, picking the Charmander up and cuddling it.
"You're welcome! I promised that little fella I'd give him to the first person who beat me. I'm glad that you're going to be the one that will train it." Leon said graciously, "You'll be a perfect trainer for that Charmander and who knows? Maybe you'll raise it to be as powerful as my Charizard." he said brightly.
"I'll give it all the love and care I give my other Pokémon." Ruby promised, "Now what to call you?"
She looked at the sweet little Pokémon thoughtfully. The Charmander waited for her to settle on a name, curious what she would pick. After a moment, Ruby decided.
"I've got it!" she declared, "How's about I call you…Bryce?" she decided.
"I love it! It sounds like a great name!" Bryce said excitedly, "I'm now Bryce the Charmander! I can't wait until I can be Bryce the Charizard!"
"Believe me little fellow, you'll evolve before you know it!" Ruby said happily, "I hope you'll become great friends with my other Pokémon."
"I can't wait to meet them!" Bryce said enthusiastically.
Ruby beamed. She turned to Leon, still holding Bryce in her arms.
"Thank you for the gifts. I really appreciate them." she said gratefully, "Also, I never thought to ask but…what's next for you Leon?" she asked inquisitively, "I mean, you're not the Champion anymore so what will you do now?"
Leon ran a hand over his beard in thought.
"I have been thinking about that." he admitted, "I mean when you've been dethroned as Champion, where else can one go from here? Heh…I never really thought about what would be next for me if I lost." he chuckled, "Although I have one idea at least. I might see if Rose Tower is open for refurbishing at all. I might turn into something that can be more in the sport of Pokémon battling and shake off the grim reminder of the man it once belonged to."
Ruby was glad to hear this. Despite how sorry he'd been for using her, Ruby still hadn't forgiven Derek Rose for doing so. How could she when he'd betrayed her trust like so and yet had the nerve to call other people out for wanting to exploit her? The idea of turning Rose Tower into something that had nothing to do with the ex-Chairman would be a great middle finger to give him for his actions.
"So what do you have in mind?" Ruby asked.
"I thought about renaming it the "Battle Tower" and making it all about Pokémon battles." Leon explained, "All trainers can go to the top of the tower and compete together to rack up as big a winning streak as possible. There'll be a tier level to reach and the more wins you have, the higher tier you'll reach. Anyone who competes will be able to win something called Battle Points that they can exchange for prizes that you can't get anywhere else, like Bottle Caps for instance! Given those things are often used for Hyper-Training Pokémon, I imagine many trainers will be eager to win enough points to get some of those! I think it'll be a big success and a great new purpose for the tower. What do you think?"
Ruby nodded approvingly.
"I think it sounds great!" she cried, "Maybe in my spare time, I could challenge the Battle Tower and see how far I get."
"Well if I can make it happen, you can be the first person to get inside." Leon said with a wink, "I think the Battle Tower idea's going to be a hit for Pokémon enthusiasts everywhere!"
Ruby couldn't agree more. It would be much better than having it stand there as a painful reminder of the Macro Cosmos Company's founder and the man that had nearly doomed Galar. It made Ruby wonder what would become of the company now Derek Rose was in prison. Last she'd heard, some man named Eugene Pendragon had decided to take over as acting head for the time being. He wasn't going to be the new Chairman, but he'd try his best to keep everything afloat until the new Chairman, or Chairwoman, could be brought in to replace him. Eugene himself had gone on to disown the former Chairman, claiming that Project: Eternatus was all on him and he'd been against the idea from the start, seeing it as a bad idea. Ruby didn't believe him. She was sure he was trying to feign innocence in the face of a near-apocalyptic disaster. Whatever happened, she hoped that the new Chairman would be a much more honest and decent person who would never use anyone again.
After obtaining Bryce, Ruby was quick to show her new gift to her sisters and parents. Hop knew that Leon was going to give her a Charmander already for he'd always known that Leon planned to give the first trainer who beat him one. He was just as happy as Leon was that Ruby was going to be the one to own this Charmander and he knew that his friend was going to raise it well. While everyone waited for the other guests to arrive and the party to begin, Ruby let some of her Pokémon out of their Pokéballs to meet the newest member of her roster. Bugs took an instant liking to him, naturally. The two Fire-types were never going to be at odds with each other. He patted Bryce on the head and smiled kindly.
"It's nice ta have another Fire-type on da team." Bugs said happily, "I tink we're gonna get on just fine, me and you. If ya ever need any help during training, I'll provide it fer ya."
"Thanks! That's so nice of you!" Bryce said appreciatively.
"It'll feel a bit awkward having him around considering I'm the one that defeated Leon's Charizard." Freddy said uneasily, "But at least the darling's on our team this time."
"Absolutely." Vesuvius agreed, "It'll be a shame when he evolves though. Charmanders are so cute!" she cried, picking him up and cradling him like a baby.
"Aw, please don't do that, that's really embarrassing!" Bryce said, blushing bright pink.
"Who wants to bet Vesuvius will be playing mother to that little guy?" Chomps said teasingly.
Seeing this made Ruby feel warm and happy inside that her Pokémon were welcoming her latest addition so openly to the team. She could tell Bryce was already going to enjoy being her Pokémon, cuddles from Vesuvius notwithstanding.
Half an hour later, the other guests arrived in time for the party. Sonia arrived, minus her lab coat for obvious reasons and Marnie turned up shortly afterwards, arriving in a Flying Taxi that had flown her all the way over from Spikemuth Town. Ruby greeted them excitedly and the two shared their congratulations with her on becoming the new Champion. Marnie even managed to sound genuinely thrilled despite her usual deadpan nature. She'd also had a surprise of her own for Ruby as she reached into her back pack and presented something to her. Ruby recognized it instantly. It was a black sports bra with the Team Yell logo on the chest section, a pink and black pair of shorts and some pink and black tights for them to go over along with some black shoes. This was the official female Dark Gym Uniform. Ruby smiled excitedly at her friend.
"You're the Dark Gym Leader now!" she cried, "Congratulations, Marnie!"
"Cheers." Marnie said nonchalantly, "With me not becoming Champ and all, Piers thought it was the right time to promote me as the new Gym Leader. It may not be what I originally wanted, but I'll do my best to live on in my bro's footsteps and make the Dark Gym as great as he did. With your plans to help improve Spikemuth's condition, I might hopefully be able to draw in more challengers as the new Gym Leader."
"I think you'll do great, Marnie." Ruby said supportively, "I hope we'll battle again someday with you as the new Gym Leader!"
"I'll be coming for ya, don't worry about that!" Marnie said with a dry smile, "Also, Piers says congrats on kicking Leon's butt. He thinks it's about time somebody knocked him off his high horse."
"Ha, ha! OK then, tell him I said "thanks"!" Ruby giggled.
The barbecue finally got underway with Mrs. Dande cooking. She had insisted on doing it herself but Annie decided to come in and help as she would be rushed off her feet otherwise. A grill was set up in the garden and a table was set with chairs for everyone to sit at. As the food was cooking, the children all played together with Hop, Ruby and Marnie bringing their Pokémon out to have some fun together. Bryce was introduced to Hop's Dubwool and Marnie's Morpeko, greeting them merrily and befriending them very quickly. Marnie herself had even gotten a chance to meet Ruby's sisters. They of course were quick to introduce themselves and befriend her, expressing delight that Ruby had made a new friend on her journey and that they'd enjoyed watching their battle the other day. Despite how bubbly they were, Marnie liked the twins and shared stories of when she became a trainer and the battles she'd had on her way to the semi-finals.
After that meeting, Emerald and Sapphire took turns to have a ride on Soundwave the Noivern's back while Hop went for a ride on his Corviknight. He had made a rapid recovery from his defeat at the hands of Leon's Mr. Rime yesterday and was as good as new so he was able to give them a ride. He flew above the huge house, making the twins squeal with joy as they rode on him. They could see why Ruby enjoyed this so much. Riding on a Noivern's back was so much fun! Soundwave was pleased that his trainer's sisters were enjoying themselves. He wondered what it would be like if they were to become trainers themselves one day. During the flight, Soundwave and Corviknight drew up beside each other with Hop, Emerald and Sapphire waving to one another and crying out in exhilaration as the two Pokémon suddenly ended up racing each other to see who could reach the ground first. Soundwave won but the kids had enjoyed the thrill of the race anyway and could hardly stop laughing after it was done.
Once that was over, the Silverlock sisters urged Marnie to give it a go. The Goth girl had been reluctant at first, unsure of how she'd feel on riding on a fast-flying Pokémon like Soundwave but she gave in and climbed onto his back. Soundwave took off gently so as not to frighten her and gave her a smooth, gentle flight rather than a thrill ride like the Silverlocks liked. As he flew on, Marnie found herself giggling despite herself. It wasn't a small or a dry giggle either; it was a genuine, hearty laugh of enjoyment. She was genuinely having fun riding on Soundwave and getting a good view from up above! Marnie wondered if she could tempt Piers to give this a try as that would definitely bring some colour back to his face! The adults had watched all this, delighted to see how much fun the children were having together. It made Michael especially think back to his time as a trainer and the thrills and spills he'd had with his Pokémon. He may have given it up, but it warmed his heart so much to see that his former profession had led to his daughters taking it up. Pokémon really did enrich people's lives in ways that many couldn't begin to imagine and he knew it.
Speaking of enrichment, Freddy had decided to take a moment to perform a song while food was being prepared. Even after defeating Leon's Charizard yesterday, he still felt like singing, especially as this was a party so why not provide the music for it? Everyone bobbed their heads in time with the tune as Freddy began to sing.
Is thiiiiis a kiiiiind of magic?
It's a kind of ma-gic
There caaaaan be oooonly ooooone
This rage, that lassssssts a thooooousand years
Will soon be goooooooooone!
This flame, that burns, insiiiide of me
I'm heeeeeearing seeeeeeeeecret harmonies
It's a kind of ma-gic
The beeeeeeeeeeeeell that rings, inside your mind
Is challllllllllllenging, the doors of tiiiiiiiiiime!
The food was prepared at last and everyone sat around the table to eat. Annie and Mrs. Dande had whipped up stacks of burgers, hot dogs, steak chops and fruit and meat kebabs with a bowl of salad and plates of Moomoo Cheese to have with the burgers and hot dogs. Everything had been prepared to perfection and there was barely a word spoken as everyone got stuck in. There was even enough food to let the Pokémon eat as well. As they ate, Ruby couldn't resist talking to Sonia about the battle with Eternatus and how she and Hop had met Zacian and Zamazenta themselves. Sonia had been delighted to hear that her research had all been true and that Galar's heroes really were two legendary Pokémon.
"This'll change everything from how the story of the Darkest Day is told in schools to how everyone will see Galar's past!" Sonia said enthusiastically, "I truly have made a great discovery and your seeing the two for real along with Hop just proves my discovery was all too true! The story of the tapestries, the status in Stow-on-Side…it all adds up and with you able to confirm their existence, there's nothing else to say other than the truth has been revealed!"
"It sure has." Ruby agreed, "Gosh, I can't believe I played a part in it…"
"I'm grateful you did." Sonia said, beaming, "I'm not too sure if I'd have come to the end of this trail if you hadn't gone off to find the two."
"I suppose that's one thing we can thank Chairman Rose for." Ruby said, feeling dirty for giving the man any form of compliment, "If he hadn't started the Darkest Day again, me and Hop wouldn't have had to find the Heroes of Galar to stop it."
"I'm really sorry with what he did to you." the ginger woman said sympathetically, "It was awful hearing what he did. Having his men spy on you behind your back just so they can find Wishing Stars? Did it even occur to that man how it would look on his record that the Macro Cosmos Company's founder has been spying on children on their Pokémon journeys?! He could've caused a national scandal with that stunt!"
"I guess I can thank Eternatus for sucking my head dry." the new champion said bitterly, "Now arseholes like him can't ever exploit me again."
"Yeah, I'd been meaning to ask about that." Sonia put in, "Ever since your encounter with Eternatus, your hair stopped glowing near Dynamax energy. I noticed nothing happened in your battle with Leon so I guess that thing truly did take away your mysterious gift."
"I don't really care about that." Ruby said grimly, "I'm glad my hair can't glow anymore. I always worried if people would look at me as weird because of it and all its done is bring me grief. Bede went whining to the Chairman about me and thus gave him the bright idea to use me, then he plotted to use me to get back in his good graces after being disqualified and then Oleana wanted to use me to please the man because Project: Eternatus wasn't done yet! At least with my gift gone, people won't ever use me again like they did, or plotted to."
Sonia nodded. With how much trouble her glowing hair had brought down on her, why wouldn't Ruby be glad to lose that ability? It truly showed how some gifts truly were a cruse rather than a blessing.
"Let's not dwell on that anymore." the professor said kindly, seeing that the subject was making Ruby upset, "Let's talk about something else, like what I intend to do now my research on the Galarian heroes is done. You see, this find of ours is too good to leave hidden away. I plan to write a book about our findings so that the whole region can learn the truth about Galar. It may be controversial to some, I'm sure, but those who truly want the truth will happily read it."
"I'll be your first customer if you like." Ruby offered.
"Thank you! And I'll credit you and Hop for your discovery in where the heroes are laid." Sonia said sweetly, "After all, it was you two who found them and confirmed their existence, not me. I could give some of my earnings to you if the book sells."
"You don't have to." the teen champion said politely, "You keep the money. You did most of the work after all. I think I'll make plenty from any and all battles I'll be having in the future."
Sonia could see Ruby's point and she accepted it. Though secretly, she was still planning to give Ruby and Hop at least some money as a token of thanks for finding the legendary heroes.
Later on, once the food had all been eaten, everyone spent the rest of the day just chatting and playing together. Ruby was glad that she could catch her father at the right moment for she'd wanted to give him something and had been waiting for the right moment to give it. Michael came over to her, curious to see what his daughter wanted to see him for.
"What do you want me for, sweetheart?" he asked.
"Just to say something and to give you a gift as a token of thanks." Ruby explained, "Ever since I was born, I've always been a fan of Pokémon. Hearing the stories of your childhood and your days as a trainer…it was truly inspiring to me, dad. I never would've taken this journey and won my way to the Champion spot if you hadn't inspired me so much. So I just want to thank you for that dad. Thank you so much for being a wonderful inspiration to me."
"Well, I appreciate your compliments, Ruby, but I don't think they're warranted." Michael said sheepishly, "I'm the trainer that gave up my profession because too many Pokémon died on my watch. I doubt I've truly been that great an inspiration to you. If anything, you're a better inspiration as you carried on going even when you lost your Gyarados and never gave up!"
"Yes dad, but it was you that got me into Pokémon in the first place." Ruby insisted, "Thanks to you, I got inspired to take up the journey you once took up yourself and…here I am. As a token of my thanks, I want you to have this Pokémon."
She then handed Michael a Pokéball. Michael was astonished. He hadn't expected his daughter to give him one of her own Pokémon. It was a truly generous gift, but what Pokémon had she given him? He was about to open it up to find out but he stopped and thought for a moment.
"Is this the Pokéball containing your Arcanine, perchance?" he asked.
"Wouldn't be anyone else, dad." Ruby said kindly, "I know it'll be a painful reminder of the first Pokémon you lost, but I think it'd be just right to let you have Tiger. Don't let him remind you of a terrible moment from your past, let him be a reminder of a wonderful moment of your days as a trainer instead. I bet Tiger will be a great companion during your days off and he could maybe help you around your shop in Turffield. I really want you to have him dad."
She closed her father's fingers around the Pokéball and looked up at him sweetly.
"From trainer to trainer, right?" she said softly.
Michael thought for a moment, unsure if he wanted this. Ruby was right, having an Arcanine would be more of a painful reminder of his past than anything. But she was also right that having Tiger by his side would be a fond reminder of his days as a trainer. He also had to admit it, if not to himself but to his daughter, that he'd missed having Pokémon by his side since he'd given up being a trainer. It would be wonderful to have one again. He hugged Ruby graciously, glad to accept the gift.
"Being a great trainer has made you Galar's new champion." he said brightly, "But I'd say the true thing that makes you a champion is the big heart you've always had my girl. Thank you. I'll treasure Tiger for as long as I live."
"Thank you dad, and I'm glad you'll take him." Ruby said appreciatively, "If anyone deserved a Pokémon, it was always going to be you."
After that was done, there was one last person that Ruby wanted to share a moment with while the party was still going. Night was starting to come, the sun sinking behind the horizon with only a few streaks of pink left to keep the sky from being completely dark. She could see Hop stroking his Dubwool. Hop had been very glad to receive his beloved Pokémon after it had made a steady recovery in the Pokémon Centre following its defeat at Eternatus's claws. It was very lucky that Dubwool hadn't been hurt worse than it had been by the legendary Pokémon! Ruby walked over to Hop and patted him on the shoulder.
"Excuse me. Can you spare a moment?" Ruby asked politely.
"Sure mate, what is it?" Hop asked cheerfully.
"I just want a moment between us to talk if that's OK." Ruby explained.
Hop nodded and left his Dubwool to play with his other Pokémon. He followed Ruby as she lead him to the far end of his garden so they could have a moment together. Hop was puzzled. Why did Ruby want to keep this between the two of them? Before she could speak, Hop decided to say something first.
"I hope you don't think I have a problem with you defeating my brother and taking his title, Ruby." he said, "As you know, I was even rooting for you the whole time. I'm glad you're the new Champion now!"
"That's very kind of you Hop, but I wasn't going to say anything like that." Ruby said hastily, "It's got nothing to do with my victory over your bro."
"Oh? So what is it then?" Hop asked.
He wondered if Ruby was about to confess something to him. Hopefully it was a nice confession. He didn't say anything as Ruby took a hold of his hand.
"I know we've well and truly been best mates Hop, not just on this journey, but since my family first moved here when I was still a baby." Ruby explained, "And believe me, I wouldn't trade our friendship for anything else."
"Same here." Hop said brightly, "This whole journey wouldn't have been as awesome as it was if I'd gone without you."
"I'm grateful that's how you feel." Ruby said brightly, "But what I mean to say is that over the course of our journey, I've noticed that you seem to see me as…more than just my mate. Do you get what I mean?"
Hop wasn't sure at first. What did she mean by that? Then he realized. Something clicked in his head and he knew exactly what she meant. He felt his face heat up as he gave his answer.
"I wondered if you've noticed, I'll admit." he said sheepishly, "The weird thing is that as we went on our Pokémon journey together, I started having thoughts I'd never really had about you before. I dunno, it's just that whenever we battled together, I started admiring how strong and confident and…pretty you looked."
His voice caught in his throat as he began to blush. He looked away shyly, unable to believe he'd said that out loud to his best friend. Ruby blushed as well but managed to keep herself subdued.
"You really think that about me?" she asked, flattered by Hop's words.
"Will you punch me if I say yes?" Hop said feebly.
Ruby giggled. Trust Hop to be the most cocky and reckless guy imaginable and then get all shy and worried just confessing his feelings to a girl! It was typical of boys to be like this, especially the teenage ones.
"To be honest Hop, I'm chuffed anyone would ever think of me as "pretty"." the silver girl confessed, "But you're the kind of boy that admires me for who I am as a person and not just how I like. I appreciate it. And I'll confess, I've kinda been thinking that way too." she said, her blush getting bigger.
"Wh-whoa, r-really?!" Hop cried in surprise.
"Yes, r-really." Ruby said, trying not to trip over her words, "You're everything I love in a boy. You're kind, you're funny, you always look out for me and lift me up when I'm down, and you have a drive that's really admirable. Like me, you just don't give up and keep going no matter how bad things got. And…" she paused as she felt herself get more heated, "…I also think you're really cute!"
She hid behind her face, unable to help herself as she turned bright pink with embarrassment. Hop just smiled with relief, glad that Ruby felt the same way and didn't think it was awkward that he had developed feelings for her. He put his hands on Ruby's shoulders, the flushed girl still struggling to look him in the eyes again after admitting that.
"I'm glad I'm not the only one." Hop said with a chuckle, "I guess we both see each other as more than just mates. I dunno if you'd be up for something like this but…maybe we could…see where our relationship goes from here?"
Ruby finally took her hands from her face and put them over Hop's shoulders. It amazed her that a boy as lean and agile as Hop could feel so strong to her as she felt his shoulders.
"I'm not sure I'm ready for us to become a full-on couple yet Hop." Ruby said gently, "I mean we ARE still kids after all so it's a bit early to think on that. But we can take it slow and see where we go. I will say if I was to have a boyfriend, I'd be glad if it was you."
"Aww, I really don't know what to say!" Hop said, touched by the comment.
Ruby smiled and kissed him softly on the cheek. Hop was surprised by the gesture but he appreciated it nonetheless. He smiled back at his friend.
"You don't have to say anything, love." Ruby said kindly, "All I can say is thank you for being my travel buddy on our journey together."
"Any time Ruby." Hop said, "And I'll be with you as you defend your title too. Heck, maybe we can have a rematch one day."
"I look forward to it." Ruby said enthusiastically.
The friends shared one last hug together before they came away from their spot to re-join the party. Both of them felt very good to have gotten that off of their chests. It was early for romance and they both agreed that taking it slow would be the best thing to do. But as Ruby and Hop looked over at each other, they knew that their relationship was going to only get closer and closer from now on.
The two teens from Postwick Town had become Pokémon trainers that had proven themselves worthy of those titles with one of them becoming the new Champion of Galar. Time would tell from now on what they would become later in life, especially when Emerald and Sapphire could begin their own journeys come the next year…