All Conway needed to succeed was a clear mind and a steady hand. He was already ahead as it was, but he couldn't get cocky, as this game could easily turn against him if he wasn't careful. He had to remind himself to keep his head clear, even though tempting little thoughts wanted to creep into his mind. After all, he had a clear advantage over his opponent; where Conway was calm, he was jumpy; he was hasty. Conway was far more patient; Conway could focus on the goal at hand, where his opponent seemed easily distracted. He should have this in the bag.
But this wasn't just any competition. Conway was competing for the object of his desire: Dawn.
He glanced over at the young girl who stood to the side, her piplup in her arms. When he happened upon her earlier that day, he could hardly say he was surprised – he had figured that she would be here and he had been searching high and low for her. This was, after all, the Twinleaf Festival.
The reason for Conway to be in the area were completely innocent; he was truly just passing through. He had wanted to visit Lake Verity for some time, and he knew that Twinleaf Town wasn't far away from the lake, so he decided to stop there for the night before moving on. He did know that this was Dawn's hometown, but he didn't expect her to be home – she was off on her great adventure with her friends, after all.
However, the moment Conway saw the first flier promoting the festival, as well as seeing that the event was in full swing, he was ninety-six percent certain that Dawn would be coming home. How could she stay away? And knowing Ash, he would never pass up a chance to battle the Tower Tycoon Palmer, which seemed to be the focal point of the festival this year.
And so Conway set to finding the lovely lady who, ever since their meeting in the Hearthome tag battles, had been on his mind day and night. She was not only beautiful and kind, but she was also a skilled trainer and very intelligent. He remembered fondly how well she caught on to his battling strategies during the tag battles, and how wonderfully she excelled at the Pokemon Summer Academy.
How he missed those days at the academy. He and Dawn spent so much time together, despite the fact that they were on separate teams. It was there that his admiration and affections grew deeper and, over the past weeks since then, his feelings had only grown.
For a small town, the Twinleaf Festival was very busy and crowded. Certainly this festival attracted people from nearby cities as well, not to mention the trainers that had flocked here in hopes of facing off against Palmer. It was hard finding Dawn and her friends in the throngs of people. In fact, Conway had failed to find the group the first day of the festival and feared that he had misjudged.
It was the second day that he heard Dawn's unmistakable voice through the crowd, and he had even caught glimpses of her before she disappeared once more. Once Conway had set his eyes on her, however, all his anxiety melted away. She was here, and that was all that mattered.
Or it should have been, except that Conway found it extremely difficult to catch up to her. It seemed the crowds were working against him the entire day. Once he found Dawn, she'd disappear into a huge group of people and, once Conway made his way through that group, would be gone. He noticed during these little chase games that she was with Ash and a tall, blond boy he didn't recognize. He dearly hoped that boy wasn't a sign of competition. He only saw Dawn a handful of times before she disappeared completely for the rest of the day.
The only person in the group Conway managed to track down was Brock, who was manning a (very empty) game booth. Conway decided against talking to him, however, while the older teen was very generous and friendly, Conway couldn't help but feel resentment towards him. After all, he traveled with Dawn.
He never saw Ash as competition for Dawn's affections. Almost immediately, Conway recognized that Ash was far too focused on training his pokemon to even consider any kind of relationship with anyone. Conway knew this because he used to be that way.
Until he met Dawn.
Now all he wanted to do was to be close to her. And this competition was his chance.
Not the battle against Palmer, no. Rather, he stood on the other side of a large tank of goldeen, facing off against the blond kid he saw Dawn hanging out with. Yes, he was playing Goldeen Scoop for Dawn's heart.
He had already scooped one goldeen successfully into the smaller tank to his right, while his opponent, Barry, still had yet to catch one. The scoops were thin and easily-broken; if one used too much force to catch a goldeen, the scoop would break and that person would lose.
Barry hardly had the skills for such a task as this. He was so impulsive, impatient and hyper, like he had just ingested several cups of coffee. Even now, Conway noted how Barry's eyes darted from goldeen to goldeen in the tank, like he could hardly even focus on just one.
But right before Conway's bespectacled eyes, Barry's scoop dipped into the water and came out with a goldeen securely on it, the thin netting hardly even strained. He quickly dropped the pokemon in his tank, then turned back and locked eyes with Conway, a smirk on his face.
Conway's muscles tensed. So Barry did have it in him to scoop properly. Conway would indeed have to be careful, but as long as he remained focused, he was sure to win. He risked a glance over at Dawn again, and caught her smiling at Barry!
This wasn't good.
He had only just managed to catch up to Dawn about half an hour ago. He had spent the whole morning looking for her, though he was sure to keep an eye out for Barry as well. The blond kid was dressed in bright orange attire, which made him an easy target to find. Though his scouring of the fairgrounds had ended up with little for several hours, he finally caught sight of his darling not an hour ago, and boldly made contact not long after that.
He strode up behind Dawn as she was waiting alone in line for some fried cakes, getting close enough to almost smell her sweet scent over that of the cakes. "Why hello, there!" he said to her, catching her attention immediately. She gave a start and spun around, her eyes meeting his. He smiled, adjusting his glasses so that he could better see her.
She looked just as beautiful as she always did. Today her hair looked particularly soft and Conway longed to run his fingers through it. She held her piplup in her arms, hugging it to her chest. It looked up at Conway, though he was hardly paying attention to it. Rather, his eyes were on her lips, which were parted slightly. If Conway were bolder, he would have taken that opportunity to kiss her.
But he just couldn't.
"Conway!" she said, surprise imminent in her voice. "I never expected to see you here!"
"Oh, I've been here for the last three days," he mentioned off-hand. "I wouldn't miss the famous Twinleaf Festival for the world!"
"Dawn!" a voice called behind Conway before Dawn could even respond to what he had said, and he looked over his shoulder at the tall blond boy he'd seen Dawn with the day before. Immediately, Conway felt irritated at the boy for interrupting his alone time with Dawn.
"Oh, hey, Barry," Dawn greeted him when he walked up beside Conway. "Where's Ash?"
"I lost him a few minutes ago," Barry said, his orange eyes darting around the crowds. "He went to get ice cream or something like that."
Conway was introduced to Barry, and immediately Barry mentioned that if they didn't get to signing up for the battle tournament, someone was going to get fined. It was a very strange thing to say, but Conway paid little care to it; his gaze had traveled back to Dawn in that time.
"We still have plenty of time, Barry," Dawn told the taller boy with a soft smile. Conway felt a tinge of jealousy. Dawn never smiled at him like that. "I'm sure the sign-ups haven't even started yet."
"We should still go check!" Barry insisted, pushing past Conway and grabbing Dawn's arm.
"Barry," Dawn protested, but before anything else could happen, Conway stepped forward and tightly grabbed Barry's wrist, catching both Barry and Dawn off guard.
Both pairs of eyes were on Conway when he said, "Let her go, now!" Barry, looking shocked, released his grip on Dawn's arm and Conway followed suit. He looked darkly at the boy, glaring a little bit. How dare he try to force Dawn somewhere!
"Who is this kid?" Barry asked Dawn, but kept his gaze on Conway, as if he were wary that Conway might do something else.
"He's a friend of mine," Dawn told Barry, apprehension in her voice. Conway broke his eye contact with Barry to glance at Dawn. He saw that her cheeks were red, her eyes narrowed and downcast. She looked embarrassed, and Conway immediately regretted his actions. He didn't mean to make Dawn feel bad.
"Ah," was all Barry said about the matter. "Well I'm going to go see if I can sign up yet."
"I'll go with you," Dawn said, stepping out of line to join Barry. Conway was about to ram his head into the nearest pole for being so stupid when Dawn turned around and offered him a small smile. "Come on, Conway," she said.
Conway could hardly contain the smile that burst out on his lips. It seemed that even if he was a bit embarrassing to Dawn, that didn't mean she wanted to avoid him or ditch him. However, Conway would have to watch himself; though he wanted to show Dawn that he cared about her deeply, he didn't want to offend her or her friends.
He would need to find a way to show her carefully.
As Dawn had predicted, it was far too early to sign up for the tournament. "See?" she said to Barry in a light tone. "No need to worry."
"Man, if the sign-ups don't happen soon, someone's getting fined," he complained. That guy always seemed in such a rush. He was constantly checking the time on his poketch and tapping his foot impatiently. And Conway thought Ash was antsy!
For only a moment, Conway considered entering the tournament. It would be a great way to show off to Dawn his battling prowess. Quickly, however, he decided against it. Dawn had seen Conway in battle plenty of times before. Hell, they had battled together when they met. And in a tournament, one that Dawn would probably join herself, she may be distracted from the action by her own thoughts.
No, Conway would need a better way to show her just how much he meant to her. It would have to be significant, though. Glancing around them, Conway took note of the many game booths and contest tables (and, of course, their prizes), a plan formulating in his mind.
"What are we going to do then?" Barry wondered aloud, his voice a little on the whiny side. It made Conway cringe.
"Barry, we're at a festival," Dawn pointed out. "There's a ton of stuff to do here to pass time."
"Nothing can make time pass fast enough!" Barry cried, and with that, Conway's plan fell into place.
Conway stepped forward, adjusting his glasses a little. "Barry," he spoke up, attention on him suddenly, "would you do me the honor of competing with me in a game?"
Barry seemed a little taken off guard by Conway's sudden suggestion. "Uh, sure," he said, glancing at Dawn with apprehension in his eyes. Conway, too, glanced at Dawn, and she seemed just as surprised by Conway's bold challenge. "What do you want to play?" Barry asked.
"Goldeen Scoop," Conway answered promptly. It was the perfect game for Conway. Goldeen Scoop required the player to have focus and concentration, which Barry obviously lacked, giving Conway the advantage. However, it was also a difficult game even with those skills, so it would still be quite impressive for Dawn to watch. And the victor got to keep the goldeen he scooped; surely Dawn would be quite pleased when Conway presented her with such a gift. Goldeen were beautiful, just like her, and they should prove handy in contests.
So Conway would defeat Barry in this game, look awesome and win a token of love for Dawn. His plan was flawless.
Or so he had thought, until he stood face-to-face with Barry at the tank. Barry's expression was determined; it seemed this young man was quite competitive, even when it came to festival games. Conway knew at that moment that he would have to be careful, despite everything he had surmised about Barry.
Eyes on a new target, Conway followed the swimming pattern of a particular goldeen. It was slower than the rest and it seemed a bit on the tired side. Good. A fast, jumpy goldeen would put too much pressure on the scoop. He slipped the scoop in and carefully pulled the water-type out, keeping his hand steady as he transported it to the tank behind him. He had two now, one more than he needed, but that was no problem.
He grinned and looked over at Dawn. "Did you see that one?" he asked, but saw that Dawn was peering at Piplup's fin.
She looked up suddenly with a nervous smile. "Sorry, I didn't," she said. "Piplup had something in his fin."
"Oh." Conway sighed and turned back to the tank, only to find that, while Conway had been focused on Dawn, Barry had scoop another goldeen!
Sneaky. Conway pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and gazed down at the goldeen. He told himself to remain calm, but he could feel the anxiety starting to build in his belly. Barry was better at this than Conway thought. Perhaps he had underestimated his opponent.
Calm down, Conway, he told himself. Dawn is watching. You can't let her see you panic. He took a deep breath and, readying his scoop, began to search for new target when he saw Barry go for yet another goldeen, catching the pokemon in the scoop almost expertly and dumping it in his tank.
"I almost forgot how fun this game was," Barry said, grinning. "You ever play this, Dawn?"
"A few times," she said, admitting, "but I wasn't ever good at it."
Conway went slack-jaw. Barry had played this game before, many times, it seemed. Barry met Conway's eyes and Conway saw the look of superiority in those orange orbs. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic – but Barry knew that he had the advantage over Conway.
"You gonna scoop some goldeen or what?" Barry asked, waving his scoop dismissively. "I'm way ahead of you, kid. If you don't play a better game, I'll have to fine you!" He grinned, and Conway knew he was just messing around, but it had an averse effect on Conway.
Conway saw a good target and dipped his scoop in, going for the goldeen in his sight, when another goldeen zoomed past his. This caused his target to suddenly change course, speeding to the right. Conway, in a moment of desperation, went for it anyway and quickly scooped the goldeen up, lifting it up out of the water...
...Only to watch it fall back in. His scoop had torn. The goldeen swam away blissfully. He had lost. His plan had failed. Conway was in disbelief.
"Man, that was lame," Barry said, obviously disappointed. Conway just sighed and put his scoop down.
He watched as Dawn smiled at Barry, walking over to him. "What are you going to do with your three goldeen?" she asked him.
Shrugging, he said, "I don't really want them, to be honest. I'll just leave them here."
Conway turned away from the duo's banter, wanting to just crawl under a rock. He hadn't been able to win a token of affection for his Dawn and now all her attention was on that annoying Barry. Never had a plan of Conway's backfired as terribly as this!
"Hey, guys," said a familiar voice, and Conway looked up to see Ash had found them. He had a nearly-finished ice cream cone in his hand, which he gave to the pikachu that sat on his shoulder. "Whoa, hey, Conway! When did you get here?"
"A few days ago," Conway said, forcing himself to smile a little.
"Awesome," he said in response. "Were you guys playing Goldeen Scoop?"
"Conway and Barry were facing off against each other," Dawn told him. "It was pretty close, too!"
"I had it in the bag," Barry said with a dismissive wave of his hand. Conway wanted to throttle him. Before anyone could say anything else, though, Barry glanced at his poketch and cried out. "The sign ups should have begun by now!"
"Oh man, already?" Ash said, already rushing off towards the tournament booth with Barry hot on his heels.
Dawn didn't rush after her friends, however. She walked over to Conway with a friendly smile. "That was a great game," she said, her tone light.
"Thanks," he said, avoiding her eyes. As much as he would love to gaze into those beautiful blue eyes, he felt too ashamed to have failed to even deserve looking at her.
She was quiet for a moment, as if she were hesitating, then she said, "You know, I was rooting for you." Conway looked at her, completely surprised to see a blush on her cheeks.
"You were?" He couldn't believe it.
She just smiled and nodded, looking away. "Well, we should go sign up for the competition," she said quickly.
"After you," Conway told her, and followed after her as she started to walk away, his spirits high and a silly grin on his face. It seemed that his plan wasn't a complete failure after all.