Sixth and final entry for the PokeWrite Challenges where my prompts were: helpless, what's happening to me?, and, "Bed is the best place for reading, thinking, and doing nothing." - Doris Lessing.
I've had this plot for well over a year now. It's basically my primary post-B/W headcanon. :) enjoy!
"Hello, honey. I know you said you weren't going to have your Pokegear on, but...oh, you know me, I'm such a mom. It's strange not hearing from you at least once a week. The last longest time I went without some sort of communication from you was two months during your journey, and I had the news to fill in the blanks for that, and—okay, well...I miss you. Stay safe, sweetie."
They slept on opposite ends of their little makeshift straw bed in their little hollowed tree.
Part of the reason was, contrary to every pokemon in the vicinity's belief, that they weren't together. Confessed. They had never approached the subject, but Touko didn't think they'd needed to. He knew just as well as she did that they wouldn't have a little makeshift bed in a little hollow tree if there was nothing underneath the surface propelling her to stay with him, and him to allow her to make the decisions.
They cooked and cleaned and gathered and hunted and trained and lived and breathed and slept together (technically), but they weren't together.
But it wasn't a big problem. In fact, not being with him was more convenient. Here, on the other side of the bed, she could catch the scent of his old books when he turned the pages and comfortably observe him thinking, learning, and living. At times when he stopped reading and only stared at somewhere between the lines, she could pause drawing, watch him, and pretend she could hear his heartbeat.
It made it easy to steal lingering looks at moments like these, when the night was asleep and his gaze was sloped downwards at the words and worlds in his hands. He read and she drew—he the auditory thinker and she the visual—and too often, she wound up noticing the straightness of his nose bridge, the shadows under his lips, the iridescent eyelashes under which he looked up at her, the little crinkles beside his eyes as he smiled, caught her looking, and said, "What are you doing?"
"I was thinking how you had a stain on your shirt today," she said, smiling back. "And I was thinking we should do laundry tomorrow."
"Liar," he said, chuckling, looking her in the eye longer than was socially common. She held the contact and grinned, taut cheeks, crescent eyes, and all. "You stopped drawing."
"I was deep in thought."
"About my stained shirt."
"It's a very important shirt."
"To you or me?"
She immediately wondered if perhaps it was an unintentionally loaded question, because he'd worn that shirt that first night. No, they weren't together; yes, it may have been something in the spices; no, they weren't together; yes, it happened a few more times accidentally on purpose; no, they weren't together; yes, they had silently agreed to pretend those instances hadn't happened.
Until now, apparently, because judging by that concealed but leaking curiosity in his eyes, he was very sure of his implications, and now she was sure he was sure she was sure. He was putting her on the spot, and he never did that. He let her make the moves, figure out what to feel, identify what to keep close, how to stay comfortable. That was his way of saying thank you for being here, please don't regret it and leave.
She missed a beat. She sensed things escalating. So he smiled and relentlessly pressed on with, "Why do you always do that?"
Arceus, did she ever avoid things and he knew it, she knew it, Serperior knew it, Cheren knew it, everybody knew it—heck, even Alder knew it. And N usually went along with it—the "stained shirt" was a familiar topic now—but apparently, it was turning out a night of several firsts.
But she'd thought about this. Evasion was her instinct when it came to things like talking serious. Maybe they could be something by now, something with dates and matching keychains and diamond jewelry and herdier and picket fences, if she didn't keep dodging her feelings and reflecting his with once-every-few-months stands.
"You are now."
Maybe they wouldn't be sleeping at polar ends of a bed.
Maybe they wouldn't be calling a hollow tree just outside of Johto's legal boundaries home.
"You're avoiding my eyes."
Her eyes flicked up, then darted away. She crossed her arms, hugging her notebook to her chest.
Maybe she'd have been home at some point before this five year two month mark like she should have been.
"Hi, Touko. I tried to restrain myself, but...well, you know I was never good at that. Remember my diet? Oh, I miss you. When are you coming home? At least turn on your phone once every few months, let me know you're okay. I hope you're okay. I hope you found him by now, and that you're both safe. Well...I love you. Stay safe, dear."
"No, I'm not."
"Touko," he said, her name riding a sigh, but the exasperation was canceled by the thing he always did with his voice when he said her name—the rise and gentle fall of the meter of her syllables, the smooth, sweet intonations that said he would be patient no matter what the context was.
She forced back a round of saliva. "Shut up."
He shut up.
She shut up.
"I mean..." She trailed off, glancing at him, then looking down in humility and defeat. She relied on him to know what to keep saying. He was always right in the end, anyway.
He smiled, small and patient and unreadable. "Let's go home, Touko."
"Hello, Touko. Today marks three years since you've left...oh, look at me, so worried that I'm keeping track of such Debbie-downer anniversaries. You'll forever be my little baby who locked herself in the closet and cried until Girafarig had to break down the door. I hope that you being away so long means that you've found him and you're both hiding out. Alright, buh-bye. Be safe, honey."
She closed her eyes. It was milliseconds too long for a blink and seconds too short to mean anything to anyone except N, but she forgot for a moment that it was N. "Okay," she said slowly, softly, reluctantly, and she thought herself a fine actress in all other aspects of her life but perhaps not, because before she could properly finish the word, he said, "What's wrong?"
Touko blinked. This was the boy—man—who, five years ago, hadn't had much more human interaction than limited contact with his step-father and sisters.
They paused. Then he reached out for her arm, gave her a little inexplicable happiness when he touched her, and fell back while pulling her back with him. She held off a squeal but laughed when she found herself almost straddling him. She leaned down for no other reason besides getting closer to him, but he rose up to kiss her forehead before rolling her over beside him, his arm nestled underneath her neck.
And there she was, smiling while wondering where the lines of too-good friends ended and uncharted territory began. Staring at his collarbones and sensing his breath millimeters away from her glabella made her wonder how much it mattered.
Touko felt his arm flex underneath her, and her suspicions were confirmed when her bangs were brushed back with light, cool fingers.
"Go to sleep," he said. "I think we have a long day tomorrow."
Touko, never the type to concede the last word, flicked upwards, lingered her lips on his jaw, then buried her face beneath her hair and embarrassment. She heard him chuckle as he started tracing patterns on her back, his fingertips comforting as if they tickled itches that came and went before she ever knew them.
When she teetered on the brink of consciousness to the sighs of breaths and breezes, she wondered if N was writing yin yang.
"Hi, sweetie, I—oh, I'm so sorry, excuse me. Ahem. Um. I...I don't really know what to say. I, um...I just came home from the doctor's, and...well, I, I don't know when you'll get this message, but...just—don't worry about me, alright, honey? I'm sorry for calling you. Your old mom will be fine and waiting for you to come home whenever you do. Bye-bye. Stay safe. I love you."
They didn't have much to pack up, save for a bit of silverware, toiletries, and a few changes of clothing, all of which went into the tattered bag she had carried since the first week of her journey when she met him in Accumula Town.
The hardest part now was leaving the pokemon they had befriended. Word traveled quickly through the forest, and it wasn't long before a small mob of pokemon had gathered to see them off. Tears almost sprung to her eyes as they watched, cuddled, and lightly pecked her and N while they laughed and shared their last meal as hermit-fugitives in Johto.
Being with pokemon and N versus being with pokemon and Bianca, Cheren, and Touya was a difference worlds apart. With the latter, they found that only the brave ones ventured out of hiding for the foreign humans, and the mood was lighter, like an ace trainer and a gardener making small talk well enough but only connecting on shallow levels.
With N, it was deep, intimate, and magical. It was enough to simply watch him communicate with the pokemon, to listen to his whispers and hums and wonder if there was an underlying resonance in his voice she couldn't hear that sounded and meant something different to the pokemon. He'd tried to teach her, how for most people it was more body language and tone of voice and aura and eyes, but in the end she couldn't connect with the mareep any better than she already could with Serperior. So she contented herself with watching him be the beautiful one of friendship and ideals while playing with the hoothoots and ledybas brave enough to land on her shoulder, too.
When Zekrom arrived with a fwish overhead and the faint smell of burning electricity, the local pokemon marveled, Touko grinned, and N smiled up at the yin half, albeit a bit sadly. Touko wondered if he missed Reshiram; he said he had returned to Unova and saved a girl upon Reshiram's warning, then passed the Vast White Pokemon on to her for good. Reshiram would have been happier in Unova with a hero who wasn't on the run, he explained, plus, the girl reminded me of you a little.
And now, as they climbed onto Zekrom, took off, and waved good-bye to the dozens of little friends they were leaving behind, an ironic thought struck Touko. Zekrom should have been the one who ended up with the girl in Unova, not Reshiram. Not Reshiram, the dragon of cold, hard truth. How had fate chosen Touko for Zekrom and ideals when N was so much closer to perfection than she ever was?
For example, she was already having a time trying not to focus on his hands that were resting gently on her hips for balance. She felt him shift forward. His breath beside her cheek. "Where do you want to go first?"
How could Touko White ever be considered the poster girl for ideals when a mere whisper in her ear was enough to give her butterflies and impulsive, slightly impure thoughts?
She cleared her throat. "Anywhere you'd like."
"How about Nuvema Town?"
"It's your home, of course. In any case, I think seeing your mother is in order on our priority list."
"Hello, Touko. It's been four years today...you turned twenty last month, huh? You must be so beautiful now, even more than you were when you left. I miss you so much. Please come home the minute you can. I don't know if—well, I can't be affording to think like that now, can I... oh, don't mind me. Please stay safe, honey. I love you."
Touko couldn't help it, but she was glad that N couldn't see the sudden amount of blinking she was doing. Knowing him, he might have felt her stiffen anyway. If he did, he didn't comment on it.
There was a pause. Touko wondered if the left corner of N's lips had pulled down. It seemed the right time frame. "Why not? It seems only right."
"Don't talk to me about what's right, N," she snapped, and immediately regretted it. There was a sharp intake of breath, and she wasn't sure whose it was, but her money would have been on her.
A long silence followed, the only sounds the cutting wind and Zekrom's generator. Touko blew out a breath and her pride, and closed her eyes. "I'm sorry. N, I—"
"It's alright. I understand. We don't have to see her today."
"No, that's not it. But I…"
"It's not my place to pry. I'm sorry. I was insensitive."
"No, I mean—ahh, damn it, N. You know we're better than that."
"Only one of us." He chuckled into her nape. "And it's the one who won."
"Yeah, the one who won the gene lottery of pokemon speech," laughed Touko. This was good, she thought. Easy. Light. But…
"I'm still sorry."
"You weren't in the wrong."
"If you insist," he said. So she laughed loud enough for him to hear, she heard him chuckle, and his hand was placed over hers. She flipped hers so that their palms touched and fingers laced. It didn't mean anything, but it was comforting. Something close friends would do. "But the question remains: where to?"
Touko sighed, then looked ahead at the rolling ocean of clouds, rising sun, and imprints of skyscrapers in the near horizon. "Fine. Let's just—go to Nuvema."
"...I-I'm sorry, Touko, I...I wasn't thinking and I just—I ended up calling you. I don't...I don't know. I'm fine. I'm—I'm fine. Don't worry about me. I'm okay. Bye-bye. I love you."
N once told her that under the International Pokemon Protection Act passed centuries ago, the international ratio of colonization and industrialization to wildlife habitat would never surpass one to two. As a result, the world grew to a state where hubs of civilization were surrounded by greenery, a dramatic shift from the metropolitan-focused global economy it used to be.
For smaller establishments such as Nuvema Town, a better word was enclosed. Touko lost track of the days when she sat at her window or stood at the edge of town to stare into the woods or down the narrow path to Route 1, dreaming about pokemon and leaving home and fame and adventure and Nimbasa City and danger and gym badges and maybe even a pinch of romance.
Now, she appreciated the irony as she stood on the edge of Route 1 with Nuvema before her. She had everything she dreamed of—a loyal team, a certificate deeming her a hero of Unova, ex-Champion status, friends to literally die for who would do the same, and a boy by her side—and now, the only thing left was in Nuvema Town. Coming full circle.
A growl came from behind her. She forced a smile and turned around.
"Thank you, Zekrom," she said. The Deep Black Pokemon nodded, bowed until it was at height to nuzzle Touko's hair, and an overwhelming sense of hope rushed through her, leaving as soon as it came. Zekrom's way of wishing her luck.
Her smile genuinely grew a little larger as Zekrom pulled back. N touched Zekrom's leg, made eye contact with the pokemon, and mouthed, Thank you. Zekrom pulled a small smile before turning around and kicking off in a flash of white light and blue electricity.
"Alright," said N as he smoothed Touko's hair, which had been mussed by Zekrom and its static. She looked up at him as a bit of something warm filled her tummy the way it so often did around N. "Let's go."
As they walked through the streets she grew up on, the sun was beginning to set, and she remembered the times she and Bianca would chase volbeat and illumise after it darkened, and count stars as Cheren lectured about the southern constellations. She remembered starting bonfires and roasting s'mores with everyone, and playful tickling and shy kisses with Touya when the others weren't looking.
Nuvema Town was still small, but it had changed. Last time she checked, Bianca was writing a thesis and pursuing co-publication in journals with Professor Juniper on genetic adaptation. Cheren had been ranked fourth toughest gym leader in Unova and rising. Touya had made a temporary splash as a movie star with his boyish charm, easy smile, and graceful battling skills, but, despite PokeStar Studios' begging, left for Hoenn to try out contests and pursue his dreams of being champion. And there was a new pokemon center. A pokemart. Hotels that altered the low skyline, shops advertising products she didn't recognize.
Playbacks and promises scrolled through Touko's mind, sweet with nostalgia and bitter with the fact of never happening again. Had the others kept in contact all these years? What did they think of her? Was she resented? Worried about? Mourned? Had they assumed the worst and lost hope?
Her eyes flicked to N, who was looking forward. Would they forgive her if they knew why she disappeared?
They continued to hug the woods as they headed to the southern part of town. Eventually, the houses began thinning, and then it was just a few resorts overlooking the water. She wondered if N knew something was up at this point. Did he know they'd passed the turn for the White house a long time ago?
"-it dial? Has...it gone to voicemail yet? ...Yes, alright...okay...hello? Touko? Touko, my love, hello. Your old mom misses you so much. I wish...I wish you were here...but it's not your fault, okay? None of this is. When you do get my messages, please don't blame yourself...you did what you had to do. You always do. That's why you're important to me, to Unova, and to Natural. That's why we love you so very much, beautiful. I love you forever, and I'm so proud of you and everything you've become. I love...I love you, honey. I—I...! Touko—"
They were almost to the end, the railing separating the town and the ocean, when Touko turned right. N remained silent as he followed her through a narrow, uphill path cutting through bushes and trees.
Minutes later, the foliage dwindled until they were in a sloped clearing. Touko swallowed as she lead them up the final few steps to the top of the hill.
It was beautiful up here, of course. To the northeast was clearly Nuvema, and a little farther was Accumula Town. In the northwest, Nacrene City wasn't too hard to see on a good day, and in the west, with a good bit of squinting, was the faintest outline of Castelia City. Everything else was green, except for the south, which was—
—which was water. Water, all deceptively pretty with the reds, oranges, and yellows sourcing from the west when really, it could take and bury and shatter in less than an afternoon. Water, birthing an industry that captured basculin and jellicent to sell to people who had a taste for such; water, never saying anything about capturing the fishermen, too. Water, the reason why, growing up, Touya's father had practically been hers as well. Water, why Mr. White's body had never been recovered and all that was left of him was photographs and a tombstone on a hill overlooking his vast, final burial ground.
Touko wiped away the tears. Glaring at the ocean didn't do anyone any good now. She turned back to see N a few meters away, standing before two identical marble semiovals. He took off his cap and held it against his heart.
Another lump rose in her throat. Her eyes never left N as she walked towards him. His eyes never left her parents. She turned to the headstones when she was at his side.
" 'Beloved father, husband, friend, Edward L. White. April 8th, 4028 to August 24th, 4051. In loving memory.' Fishing stint one typhoon," she explained, smiling slightly as she choked back a sniff. " 'Beloved...mother, wife—sister...Abigail N. White. January 2nd, 4032...December 18th, 4065. In loving memory.'" She laughed, a humorless and broken sound. "She was sick a year ago. And I didn't come back." Now he knew. "I should be the one dead."
N didn't move. His expression didn't change, and his gaze remained on the markers. He didn't offer Touko condolences in any form, and Touko was left with contorted expression looking up at him in confusion, fear, and heartache.
Then he closed his eyes, crouched down, and smiled.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. White. My name, as you may or may not know, is Natural Harmonia Gropius, although your daughter calls me 'N', as does everyone else." He chuckled lightly. "But I admit I get a greater happiness when she in particular says my name.
"I'm sure Mrs. White knows my...our story. I do not know if she has told you, Mr. White, but Touko and I did not begin on the same side. My entire life, I had seen wounded, abused, broken pokemon limp into my arms, and fell under the impression that it was the world that had done it to them. In result, I resented humanity for sixteen years, and vowed to change it.
"My beliefs were first shaken when I was nineteen and met your daughter in Accumula Town. Never before had I felt such a connection between a new trainer and their first pokemon. It was undeveloped but raw, and I wanted to know more. More about this girl who suddenly appeared before me, shouting about how I was wrong—although that in itself was not wholly unusual—and more about her snivy that was, shockingly, refuting me with equal vigor."
Touko blinked and cupped her hands over her mouth. He had never mentioned this before.
"I had grown up being taught that I was the savior of all pokemon everywhere. I thought that the only friends I would need as king of Team Plasma were pokemon. But Touko captivated me from the very beginning, and I found myself seizing every opportunity to go out of my way to see her under the disguise of battles. I loathed battling, but she was careful to never deal fatal attacks. She and her friends invited me to spend time with them every so often, and I'd never found myself happier amid human company.
"I did not realize it then, but I had fallen for your daughter. When I informed her I was the king of Team Plasma, I was shocked that she looked as hurt and betrayed as she did—and then I was surprised that it tore at me quite so much. I did not understand then why she loathed Team Plasma so, and a part of me refused to accept that she detested me with the same passion. But my loyalty was blindly to my beliefs and Team Plasma, and I couldn't afford to be distracted.
"Afterwards, I was angry that Touko was angry, and I began pushing things too far. My words were radical, black and white, and they had been circling in my mind for years—but when they left my mouth, they felt wrong. I recall lashing out in Chargestone Cave at Touko, her friends, and even Professor Juniper. I believe that was also the time I instructed the Shadow Triad to kidnap Touko to me." He chuckled. "I was desperate. In retrospect, I'm not proud.
"After that, our paths began crossing more often, but she saw me less. She abhorred me, I'm sure. That was also when Ghetsis's plan truly began, and it consumed me. Calling on the Light or Dark Stone consumes a part of your aura, your soul, and I spent so long trying to. For me, it was a slow, agonizing, torturous process of days and weeks spent alone in my room. By the time I stood upon Dragonspiral Tower with Reshiram by my side, I was drunk with power, delirious with exhaustion, manic and blind from staring at nothing but my dreams.
"I had gained a legendary pokemon, the status of champion, and a future where my dreams of liberation were going to become reality—but I had lost a part of myself. And when Zekrom, the yin half symbolizing ideals, resigned to Touko's side so easily, I was consumed by jealousy. What was that supposed to mean? Were the truths I struggled for weak? Were her ideals so easily, overwhelmingly correct? But no matter, I thought. So long as my beliefs prevailed. But as an incomplete shell, I didn't have a chance against your daughter, who was fighting for her friends, human and pokemon alike. Or—shall I say, your daughter, whose human and pokemon friends alike were fighting for her.
"So I lost. And I was confused. She had shaken my beliefs from beginning to end, taking out pieces from my tower every time I saw her or her ideals symbolized by another trainer or pokemon until it collapsed. I was not destined to be a hero—in fact, I was sure that according to the Unova authorities, I was destined for another, less spectacular place entirely. So amidst the ensuing confusion, I left.
"I wandered the forests outside of Unova, alone, helpless, lost. I spent my days with local pokemon who came my way. I pondered many things as I traveled farther and farther away from Unova. One day, about two years later, I returned on Reshiram's warning to protect a girl from Ghetsis. It ultimately turned out alright, and afterwards, I planned to resume where I had left off outside of Unova. But then I heard that Touko had disappeared; rumor was she was searching for me."
He smiled. "I searched for weeks, and I found her—...well, perhaps a better phrasing is that she caught me. Ambushed, in fact, before she cried into me, called me quite a number of names, and said she'd been searching for me for months.
"She said that the ruling had been passed a year ago that Ghetsis and the sages were to be arrested on sight and sentenced on charges of treason, and abuse and murder of pokemon. Save for the ones who had been inexcusably brutal, the grunts were all released, as well as my step-sisters. They never found proof of the Shadow Triad's existence. In the end, that left only me. I was to be exiled from Unova for five years, but I suspect they were being generous.
"However, there were still people who wanted me to pay, and some were in positions of power. That I knew. And as Touko had fallen off the grid for so long, there were no doubt people wondering, the League suspicious. They had to have been waiting for her C-Gear and Pokedex to go online again, waiting for anything that could lead them to me. So she chose to remain with me. And everyday, for the past three years, I have attempted to find the correct word to describe how eternally grateful I am to your daughter."
He smiled slightly, small and pained. "Because in result, I've taken her away from others who care for her at levels that match and surpass mine. Friends whom she didn't tell a word, pokemon in her box who were left to ponder the fate of their beloved trainer.
"And, of course, you, Mrs. White, who shouldn't have suffered without the comfort of your daughter beside you." He paused. "Of the infinite mistakes in my life, that is my greatest regret. No quantity or quality of apology can right it, but I hope you will find it in yourself to one day forgive me somehow.
"I once promised a one-eyed darumaka that I would liberate all pokemon or spend the rest of my life trying. Evidently, I'm not as resolved with promises as I expected to be." He paused. "However, I do know that I will protect your daughter. With my life, if necessary."
For the first time, N turned to look at Touko, and she was almost overwhelmed by the strength in his eyes and warmth in his smile. Grey met blue and held.
"Shortly after I met her again, I realized I was having occasional lapses where I could not understand something a pokemon was attempting to say. Over time, the lapses became more frequent. In other words, I have been gradually losing my ability to speak to pokemon, the one characteristic that ever truly set me apart."
He smiled at Touko's wide eyes and slack mouth. "I believe what happened was that my ability climaxed at the final battle at my castle. At its peak, I thought I could feel the emotions of people as well. Of Touko's passion and determination for all those around her. Of her frustration, relief, and pity for me, in addition to something else that, then, I couldn't quite pinpoint.
"But then, at some point, my ability began diminishing. It was terrifying, naturally. I asked myself everyday what was happening to me. After all, I had lived my entire life knowing the language of pokemon. Suddenly, I was being limited to only people. But then it struck me one day that perhaps it was leaving me because I no longer required it.
"That is the effect Touko has on me. When the emotion behind your touches and words, no matter how unintelligible, reach a person or pokemon anyway. After everything, I'm lead to believe that that is the reason why I had lost to her since the very beginning—because I was distracted by the language she was teaching me, and it was becoming bilingual that swayed my beliefs."
He inhaled and looked back at the tombstones. "Mr. and Mrs. White—I am inexplicably, irrationally, hopelessly in love with your daughter. More than my linguistic abilities allow me to properly express...but I would like to spend the remainder of my time on this earth attempting to do just that."
He closed his eyes. Touko buried her face to hide the tears, but she had never seen a more angelic scene, and her heart had never threatened to burst this much.
"I wish to wake up beside her everyday, hold her hand when she needs me, travel the unbeaten path she chooses, hold her if she cries, defend her friends and family, and fight for her with all I'm worth. I want to love her for the rest of my life."
He looked up at her, smiling and expectant but more nervous and afraid than she had ever seen him before. She stared, then laughed through a sob, then threw her arms around him because N Harmonia Gropius was unsure, frightened, still finding himself, proposing to her, and yes, unideal.
"That is, if she'll have me."
But fate had known exactly what it was doing when it chose her for yin and him for yang, and N was real and human and imperfect and honest and true, and he'd come a long, winding way from half-honest ideals.
(They both had.)
Touko cried into his chest with jerky nods, and N smiled and pulled her close, and placed cool fingers on her hand. As a ring of white gold slipped onto her finger, the waves rose calmly against the cliff, and a breeze that reminded her of warmth and her mother's perfume caressed her cheek.
There were still plenty of problems in the world, they knew, but at least for now, there was one less.
Somewhere in the distance, fireworks of cobalt and flame lit up the sky.
"Zekrom and Reshiram are searching for new possibilities by walking alongside humans. Meanwhile, those that live in the wild try to better themselves without relying on anyone else. There are many different Pokémon, and their different ways of living—that is the true freedom of Pokémon. That is what connects Pokémon to us. I will set off on another journey. There are still many Pokémon in the world I should talk to...and there is also a Trainer I want to tell how I feel."
—Natural "N" Harmonia Gropius, B2W2