Mmm... so, if you want to know where I've been... this would be the answer. I got kidnapped by the Pokemon B/W plotbunnies, and this was what they demanded as ransom. Of course, it was a little rough, and I had a LOT of help from the lovely Saffire Persian and her unparalleled beta skills.
To those of you still waiting for Lie To Me, I promise that it will come. I have surgery on Wednesday to remove my gall bladder, which should give me some down time with which I hope to use to my advantage. I also just got accepted to college, which has been a distraction, and I got pulled into the world of online game streaming, which has ruled my life for the past few weeks. It's not like I haven't started- I have. The problem is that I don't know how to finish. But I will. Seriously.
Ferriswheelshipping! NxTouko is my guilty pleasure. There's just something about them that makes me ship it so hardcore, and I don't usually get involved with gaming ships (well... Pokemon ships, anyway). I hope you enjoy- there was a lot of back and forth and fixing and exchanged emails to get this to where it is today. If there are any issues still in this, they're completely my own and I apologize!
Anyway, enjoy the fluff, and I apologize for any OOC-ness.
[p.s: Touko's team was my team, in-game. I was lucky enough to get a female Oshawott, and I didn't even try. She's a miracle that plows down anything and everything without fail. Never underestimate the water stater types.]
"My Lord requests your presence."
Touko looked up and sighed, not entirely surprised to see a familiar white-haired figure looming above her. She hadn't seen their arrival, but she hadn't expected to: N's Shadow Triad were swift and silent, always.
The brunette girl shivered, her clothes soaked through, water dripping from her body to the tiled floor of the Icurris Pokémon Center. The rain had picked up once she left Twist Mountain Cave, and, now, it took all her self-control to stop shaking. Nuvema Town was warm and sunny, and she was simply not prepared for otherwise.
What a fool she had once been.
The journey had matured her in ways she could not expect. Her mother had named her Touko, fighter, because she never gave up, even in the face of certain defeat. Her convictions had solidified over the long months that had passed since she had become a trainer, after fighting more battles and seeing her Pokémon injured more severely as her opponents grew stronger. She had to protect them better, and to do that, she would have to fight for all she was worth.
Mindful of that thought, she gently patted her Dewott's head where it lay curled beside her on the bench. The sight of several bandages on her beloved Pokémon was more than enough to make her once again consider N's words—maybe Pokémon should be free of trainers.
She's hurt because of me, Touko thought with a grimace. I shouldn't ask her to fight so much. I'm a terrible trainer.
Blue eyes glanced up finally, taking in the form of a white-haired woman, a scarf covering the lower half of her face. She stood in front of her two male counterparts, dressed similarly in dark, form-fitting clothing. Touko noticed disdainfully that the rain seemed to be beaded onto their clothing, rather than having soaked through.
Note to self: denim is terrible when wet.
The woman repeated herself, eyes flickering quickly between Touko and her Pokémon with obvious disapproval.
Touko frowned, water dripping from the brim of her hat into her eyes. She sighed, reaching up and pulling it away, freeing damp curls to the air and attempting to remove her hair elastic. "That's funny," she muttered, "I don't remember him asking before."
"He asks, but I do not," the woman replied sharply. "My job is to protect the crown and attend to his needs, to answer his questions and to retrieve that which he asks for. Right now, he has asked for you, and I have never before failed in my duties. I will not start now."
"Well, as you can see, I'm not exactly prepared for a battle right now," Touko snapped in return. "My Pokémon and I need to recover from all the battles we've just had in Twist Mountain. Give us a few days, and then we'll see about battling again."
The woman let out one short, amused hum of what could have been laughter. "My Lord does not require a battle. His interest in you is of a more personal nature."
Dark hair dripped into bright eyes, and Touko glanced from her Pokémon to her bag and then down at herself. "I'm not dressed well for more rain-traveling."
The woman seemed to calm slightly once she realized that the girl wasn't about to put up much of a fight. As it was, she looked uncomfortable in the presence of extended company, even with so few people taking shelter in the Pokémon Center. "We will take you as you are."
The girl shook her head. "My Pokémon and my stuff—"
"Will be attended," the woman replied, cutting her off. At a sharp blue gaze being turned on her, she added, "Not stolen. You won't be gone long."
I don't have any other choice. Touko let out a soft sigh, combat boots squeaking as she stood on the wet floor, and placed her bag near her Dewott's side. The injured Pokémon lifted her head, and, seeing her trainer at her feet, started to move as well.
"No, Ollie," Touko murmured, gently scratching behind the creature's ear. "You need to stay here and rest. I'll be back soon."
Small, black eyes shifted from the girl to the team behind her, recognition registering, and the Pokémon let out a string of uneasy chattering, making another attempt to move.
Touko shook her head, and the creature stopped. "I know you're nervous, but I need you to stay. You need the rest, and if you're so worried, you can look after my bag. I'll be back before you know it."
An unhappy wiggle and a soft murmur of consent was the otter's only reply. Then, in an unexpected move, one small, dark paw loosed one of the shells from its leg where it was securely fastened and offered it to her.
The girl laughed quietly, but a sudden surge of affection for her teammate prompted her to accept the small gesture of concern, careful to keep her fingers clear of the sharp edges as she placed the scalchop in the pocket of her vest. A small hand reached out again to run fingers over soft, water-resistant fur. "Thanks, Ollie. I'll take good care of it."
Touko turned, not oblivious to the look of surprise that graced the features—or, rather, the eyes—of the Shadow Triad. She cocked a hip, hand anchoring there, the wet, free tangles of her waist-length hair brushing the backs of her fingers. "I'm ready when you are."
The woman glanced back to her partners, and one of them handed her a bundle of dark cloth, taken from the slim pack he carried. She passed the cloth to the younger girl, who blinked in surprise. The fibers were soft but sturdy, slightly slippery to the touch; the cloth looked like it was made out of the same fabric the Triad's uniforms were.
"A traveling cloak," the woman supplied. "My Lord expected you to be without."
"Oh," the blue-eyed girl exclaimed in surprise, unfolding the garment and carefully pulling it around her shoulders, fastening the simple snaps and raising the hood. "That's helpful. Thank you." Touko would have to tell her mother one day that her manners, even toward a potentially psychotic group of radicals, were much better than her mother thought they were.
The lead woman nodded once, turning in place, her partners falling in on either side of their temporary charge.
Touko's options, at this point, were severely limited.
They led her through the rain and fog silently, taking note of her desire to be out of the cold autumn air, their strides quickening. The place they led her wasn't far—it couldn't have been more than a mile away, though it was well beyond the reach of the city's lights.
An abandoned windmill was set on the summit of a large hill, isolated far above the tree line. From there, Touko could faintly see the glimmer of lights through the fog. Even so, it would be nearly impossible to make it back alone in the dark. Any hope of making any sort of a safe escape was immediately squashed.
She was in N's territory now, and at his mercy.
The girl swallowed.
"You're afraid," the white-haired woman said quietly, though it sounded like a blast from Skyla's cannons in the silence.
Touko fidgeted. "No," she lied.
"You don't have to be brave; there is no need for it. My Lord is not an unkind man. You are safe here."
Safe. The word was beautiful and promising, but with it came a certain heaviness that was only dispelled by the weight of the scalchop in Touko's pocket. It was a token of her Pokémon's care and concern, and she was suddenly firm in her conviction that, no matter what, she would make it out of this.
It didn't matter that she was about to meet with the king of Team Plasma, her greatest adversaries. He had challenged her before, and she had beaten him every time. Whether or not her team was with her, she was still stronger.
She didn't reply to the woman, but she didn't have to. She was here and she hadn't tried to run, hadn't tried to avoid it, and that was what mattered.
There seemed to be no entrance to the windmill—at least until the Shadow Triad led her to a hole in the wall, just large enough for a person to fit through. She never would have noticed it on her own.
"You will carry on alone," the woman said. "We will come for you when it is time to return."
They were leaving her? Without even making sure that she went in? But as she turned back to face them, she found herself alone on the hillside.
The message was clear: even though the path back would be perilous, she could still try, if she really felt the need.
Touko squeezed through the hole in the wall, finding herself inside the great stone structure. A spiral set of old wooden steps led upward, dim lights anchored every so often on the wall, the wires leading toward the top.
Probably run on the mill's electricity, she mused, starting up the stairs and feeling the wood creak under her feet. Though old, they seemed sturdy enough, though Touko kept her hand on the splintering railing the entire time. If she got any slivers in her hands from it, Touko could always remove them later, once she was back at the Pokémon Center.
That thought kept her moving, slowly but steadily. The sooner she started this, the sooner it would be over. The sooner she would be back with her Pokémon, the sooner the anxious-anticipant beating of her heart would come to an end.
The stairs ended at what looked like a false ceiling, and a bit of careful prodding revealed a trapdoor that led further upward, and Touko struggled to pull herself through.
It was warm, she realized, her eyes scanning the perimeter of the small room, and significantly brighter than the stairwell. Several small lights were attached to the wall, flickering slightly with each energy surge. A small window was at the far end of the chamber, permitting a view out toward the city, disrupted by only the churning of the mill.
On the window's wide-set ledge sat a familiar figure, idly stroking the dark, glossy fur of an unfamiliar Pokémon, engrossed by an odd gold cube. Long green hair spilled over his slim shoulders, white overshirt draped over the back of an old chair, leaving the young man in his black turtleneck. Without the need for shade, his hat was spun backwards, the faint moonlight that escaped through the clouds outside framing his face in a way that Touko hadn't allowed herself to see since she learned of his true identity.
She was a fresh sixteen and he was a cute boy all over again. Except that she now knew that said cute boy was her enemy.
He'd forgotten to mention that when they first met.
He didn't even look like a bad guy. It wasn't fair that he had to be so attractive, and on top of that, so nice. To say that she'd been blindsided by his quiet confession on the Ferris wheel would be an understatement.
After their first battle, Touko had made an adrenaline-rushed phone call to Bianca, because Cheren, while he was one of her best friends, was just that: a he. And Bianca was a girl—a silly, flirty girl who had always managed to have boys at her feet, despite her flighty nature. Touko knew that she would understand.
And she did. Curled up in the corner of the Accumula Pokémon Center, Touko had prattled on about the green-haired mystery trainer for over an hour. Bianca had been the one to wonder if the two would meet again; Touko had been sure they would. Unova was big, but it was only so big for trainers. In all the Gyms and towns and routes, they would have to run into each other again sometime.
Not to mention, he was a boy. If there was one thing that Touko learned from being friends with Cheren for all these years, it was that boys hated to lose. Especially to girls.
And they had seen each other again... and again. He was everywhere, unavoidable, and it almost seemed like he was seeking her out. And then, of course, there had been Nimbasa City and the Ferris wheel. Her heart had been beating so fast, fluttering nervously in her chest, a wild echo of her thoughts and feelings before he dropped the bomb on her: that he was the very enemy that she was struggling to defeat.
So, really, Touko couldn't stop the growing pounding in her chest, even as bitterness washed over her in a wave. He was N—he was the only boy she had ever taken a real interest in, the only boy she would never allow herself to have.
Touko grimaced, crouching and swinging the trapdoor shut.
N jolted in surprise at the sound, on his feet in an instant with the mysterious Pokémon by his side. The animal's eyes were eerily similar to N's: narrow, green, and unquestionably wild. A low, threatening growl echoed from the small creature's chest, red-furred paws shifting for better purchase on the floor, ready to attack.
Touko took a small step back—after all, she was without her team. Even the most inexperienced of Pokémon could do serious damage to an unaccompanied trainer—and by the ferocious stance of the little monster, she could tell that it was hardly inexperienced. If it chose to attack her, she could be seriously injured.
So much for safe.
Her emotions must have shown on her face, because N's eyes widened with recognition and he straightened. "Touko?" Though the feral stance of his body was gone, she wouldn't be forgetting it anytime soon. It was crazy, fierce, and something she had never seen on another person before.
It was a look she recognized as that of a wild, injured Pokémon.
"N," she breathed, and realized that her hood was still up. Eyes still on the threatened Pokémon, she moved slowly to reveal herself, her hair still damp from her earlier travels. "I didn't mean to startle you, I…"
"I didn't think you'd come." The words were quiet, stunned and utterly uncensored, if the sudden flush of his cheeks was any indication. He ducked his head, eyes falling to the Pokémon, who slowly relaxed under his gaze. After a moment, its ears pricked and a bushy black tail swished, and the critter took a few slow, tentative steps forward. Whatever hostility it once held toward her seemed to have faded, but Touko was still wary.
But N seemed to notice this, too, and gave her quiet reassurance. "Touko, this is my friend. He's been with me for a very long time, and I've told him about you. He'd like to meet you, if you don't mind."
Touko blinked in surprise, and the Pokémon took a few more slow steps forward. She nodded hesitantly and it moved toward her again, and the girl took care to hold still as a pointed snout sniffed tentatively at the edge of her cloak. A near-silent purr reverberated in the silence between the creature and the girl, and the little monster tentatively nudged his snout against her leg before he returned to his friend's-—master's?—side.
"See, Zoru, I told you," N mumbled triumphantly, a slight smile pulling at his lips.
"What Pokémon is that?" Touko asked, undoing the snaps of the cloak and peeling it away from her wet skin.
"Zorua," he replied, that faint smile starting to grow. "He was one of my very first friends. He likes you, you know," N added, almost as an afterthought. "He doesn't usually like people—you're the only other person beside myself. I think it's because he sees you the way I see you."
She would not let that statement affect her. He wasn't allowed to make her feel that way anymore.
Instead of answering him, her shoulders tensed and Touko took a few steps forward, holding out the traveling cloak. "Thank you," she stated stiffly, blue eyes looking anywhere but at him. "It was helpful."
A soft chuckle was the only warning she received before large, soft hands covered hers, gently pressing against her fingers to ease her white-knuckled grip, and moving her arms back toward herself. "Keep it," N insisted. "I have others. And I get the feeling that you'll still need it. The rain can be terribly unpleasant."
He wasn't allowed to touch her anymore either, Touko decided. The feeling was entirely too nice for a bad guy like him, and she couldn't be certain of the risks of extended elevated heart rate. "Thanks," she replied, her voice coming out as barely more than a whisper.
But he hadn't let go yet, and the girl found that she didn't have the strength to pull away. Long, pale digits wrapped around slim wrists, and with a gentle series of tugs, he led her toward the ledge, nudging her into a seated position before he moved to face her, cross-legged and comfortable, fingers toying with his gleaming Menger cube.
"So…" N started, "you're here."
"Your team came to get me," Touko muttered a little bitterly, spreading the fabric out to cover her lap. "The Shadow Triad."
What vague hope had started to grow in his eyes was immediately squashed. "So, Retriene brought you."
That must be the woman's name, Touko realized. "She led me here, but it was my choice to come." Kind of. Just stop looking sad and making me feel like a jerk.
"You chose?" He asked hesitantly, almost as if he didn't dare to dream of the idea.
"She advised me. Well, at first I denied," she admitted, her eyes slowly rising from the nervous tangle of her hands to his face. "I thought you wanted to battle, and my Pokémon were exhausted, so I told her no. Then she said that you wanted to… well, she didn't say what you wanted."
"Just to talk," N replied. "Just, after everything that's happened… I don't…" He trailed off into silence. "I never meant to deceive you, Touko. I didn't foresee… couldn't expect…"
"Couldn't expect what?" The girl crossed her arms over her chest, wishing now that she'd brought her hat with her and was able to pull it down over her eyes—a nervous habit meant to protect herself. There was an edge to his voice that was making her anxious.
N sighed, shifting in his seat and glancing down to the Zorua that waited on the floor. He moved his hands aside, and no sooner did the Pokémon leap into his lap, settling there with a contented purr. N's catlike green eyes fell to the creature, and his strong fingers smoothed over the Zorua's ink-black fur. "I had no way of knowing the situation I would find myself in. Nothing was supposed to be set in motion until I was of age, but something happened that made Ghetsis decide to act early. Impatience, perhaps."
Sure, let's dive right into this, Touko grumbled internally, but something struck her as odd. "What do you mean, nothing was supposed to be set in motion until you were of age? Like, none of this was supposed to be going on until you were eighteen?"
He shook his head, the pendant that hung around his neck catching the dim light coming in through the window. "That's exactly it." N looked up, his eyes rising to hers hesitantly. "What I told you, Touko—that I'm the king of Team Plasma—that's the truth. But it's the very basic truth."
"More secrets?" she replied sharply.
N's free hand twitched, lifting slightly from its place beside him before he sighed, shaking his head almost imperceptibly, and relocated his hand to his knee. "Not secrets. There just wasn't time to tell, and… you're my enemy."
The girl tensed, nervously pulling at a wayward curl, a soft breath escaping her. "I know."
"But I don't want you to be."
Touko recoiled, her back pressing more firmly against the wall as a sharp pang started in her chest, truly and physically painful. You don't get to talk to me like that. It's not fair, I don't have any other choice. Her knees drew to her chest and her hair fell into his eyes, shielding her from him—she couldn't handle the look he was giving her.
And then a hand was resting against her leg, with slow sweeps of his thumb brushing against her knee through the material of the cloak. "I'm hurting you again," N whispered, "aren't I?"
Touko wiped her eyes, suddenly aware of the sting, and swung her legs away from him. She stood, tossing the cloak into her vacated seat as she turned, her steps back toward the door quick and light. Not even the weight of the shell in her pocket was comforting enough to make her stay. This was just too uncomfortable, too painful.
She'd considered him a friend, once. To hear him talking so openly about being her enemy instead wasn't something Touko ever expected, and it was crippling.
She'd never been betrayed—at least, not until he decided to go and befriend her and break her heart.
She sniffled miserably to herself as she strode toward the exit. Coming here was a bad idea. I never should have become his friend. I should have stayed in the Pokémon Center and fought his people until I passed out, too. I can't be a good trainer and have him as a friend. And I can't make that choice.
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't hear the sound of his feet hurriedly hitting the floor, steps swift to match and overtake hers. All of a sudden, her hand was occupied and given a sharp tug, and Touko found herself spinning and crashing into a warm, solid body.
Then, she found that it didn't matter that this was N (even though it totally mattered—it was what mattered the most) because she was still soaked from her travels and drenched to the bone, feeling more alone than she'd ever been in her life with nothing and no one at her side. Cheren and Bianca weren't here to comfort her, and the calming, reassuring weight of occupied Pokéballs on her belt was strangely absent. There was no Ollie here to leap to her aid if she were in trouble—and she was.
There was just him, and, somehow, that was enough.
Small, travel-worn hands gripped the dark fabric of N's turtleneck, Touko's forehead barely able to reach and rest on the blade of his shoulder as tears built in her eyes. Since she had left home, she hadn't allowed herself the weakness of letting loose, especially not in front of her Pokémon, who relied on her constant strength. Now, though, everything had built up to the breaking point and N's betrayal had sent her over the edge.
Her body shook as she cried, so much that she barely noticed the sudden tension in the boy she so desperately clung to. At that moment, he was her only lifeline and she wouldn't, couldn't, let him go. Instead, she pressed close to him, letting the heat of his body warm her and the slow, gentle rise of his chest and the beating of his heart under her hand comfort her.
His raised his arms hesitantly, his fingertips tentatively touching her arms, as if he were afraid that she would suddenly lash out at him. She didn't, instead taking a slight comfort in his reaction, that despite his strength, he seemed just as uncertain as she was. His hands were shaking, she realized, as they came to rest fully on her skin, his cheek resting against her damp hair. N gave in with a tremulous sigh, his arms wrapping around the girl's waist and pulling her close.
"I'm so sorry, Touko," N whispered. "Not for my dreams, but I'm sorry that you were hurt by them… hurt by me. It seems that I'm not any better than the people I work so hard to rid the world of."
A laugh cut through her sobs, but Touko didn't look at him, keeping her head low and her eyes closed. "I'm not an abused Pokémon."
Was he playing with her hair? Touko was pretty sure that he was, if the slight tug on her long curls was any indication. "Maybe not, but I've hurt you all the same."
"It wasn't intentional." Why am I sticking up for him?
"Wasn't it?" N's voice was bitter and slightly disgusted, the same way it had been when she first met him and he spoke of Pokémon being enslaved by trainers. "If I had been smart, I would have stayed away. Then, you could have been happy… free."
Touko laughed again, her tears soaking into the fabric of his shirt. "Why didn't you?" She didn't mean the question to be hurtful—maybe a little sharp, but more sarcastic than anything, a way to channel her own frustration, because, in truth, she'd thought the same thing before. She thought about what life would have been like if he had always been her enemy, and if he hadn't kept appearing in her way. If he hadn't always been challenging her, pushing her skills as a trainer, and posing a stimulating opponent to her Pokémon—more than Cheren and Bianca ever could be.
Touko could watch N battle one time and learn more from him than a month full of battles with anyone else. It was because he knew his Pokémon so well—their strengths, weaknesses, and limits. He knew them as closely as the most experienced trainers, trusted them, and they, in turn, put their trust in him. He never would have hurt them.
So why did he have to hurt her?
At her words, N's arms tightened around her, the hand that had been toying with her curls moving to her back, rubbing small circles. A long sigh escaped him. "Because… I was selfish. You were the first person to just treat me like N, instead of a king. I don't usually mind it, but… after I was crowned, I stopped being a person and started being a leader. And I had hoped that just one person would see that I was still myself. Even Anthea and Concordia…" The brunette's hands clenched tighter around the fabric against her palms at the names, flashes of confusing images taking over her mind. Who...? "And then there was you, Touko. You didn't know me, you didn't judge me, and you treated me like you would any other person. I don't know how it happened, but for the first time in my life, I had… a friend. A human friend. I've never had that before."
Touko sniffled miserably. How were they so similar and yet so different at the same time? N was the first person to become her friend during her travels. And yet, somehow, she thought that he had understood her nearly as well as Cheren and Bianca.
"Friends don't h-hurt friends," she replied, her voice breaking halfway through. "Friends don't lie to friends. Friends protect each other and they don't fight. They're supposed to get along, to think the same way." Touko held tight to his shirt, but stepped away until he was at arms length, tears still burning at her eyes. "How could you think that we could be friends?"
N stepped back, stung, anger and pain glimmering in his eyes. The sudden action broke Touko's hold on him, and he turned away from her, moving back toward the window, his fists clenched, his shoulders tense.
"N," the brunette said quietly. "I didn't mean it like that—"
"Then what did you mean?" The boy snapped, his voice vicious, cold, and accusing as he spun to face her. The gentle peace that seemed to resonate from him was gone now, replaced by this person that Touko could hardly recognize. "No, you know what? I don't care. I don't have to care. You're just a girl, and I'm a king. I could—I could stop you right here if I wanted to! Then no one would oppose me!"
Just like that, a low growl started from the Zorua that had placed itself at N's feet. The Pokémon took a few menacing steps forward, completely unrestrained, not held back by the confines of human propriety and fueled only by instinct.
Touko took a step backward, but in her distraction, she tripped and found herself on the floor, back throbbing with pain. The girl's hand automatically dove to her belt, an instinct, only to find the clips vacant. However, there was a slight weight in her pocket, and the memory of Ollie handing her a scalchop came rushing back.
The girl reached into her pocket, holding the razor-edged shell in between her fingers, scrambling to stand and not be on lower ground if it came to fighting with N's Pokémon. The thing had to be at least level thirty, but without her Pokédex's scanner, there was no way to be sure. Touko swallowed nervously, bent her legs, ready to launch herself out of the way if need be, contemplating if she should attack first or if she should wait, since there was no way she would be able to run without getting caught first—
"Zoru, hold back," N commanded, stalking forward, his eyes locked on the thing in her hand. "What is that?"
Touko tensed, hand tightening around the shell. "A scalchop."
N's lip curled. "You took it from your Pokémon?"
"No," the girl growled. "She gave it to me, because she knew I was coming to see you, and I wouldn't let her come along."
The boy froze, taking a moment to consider her words carefully. Then, his eyes widened. "You don't have your Pokémon with you?"
She shook her head, drying hair falling into her face in a cascade of curls. "They were still hurt from battling—they needed to rest. I left them at the Pokémon Center."
The boy scowled incredulously. "You're trying to tell me that you left your Pokémon while you followed a group of people you don't know to an unknown location to meet the leader of your greatest enemies?"
"That's basically it, yeah," she replied, body tensing further at the clear note of shock in his voice. However, when he put it like that… it did sound pretty stupid.
"You…" N trailed off into silence, staring at her. "If I had been anyone else—"
"Your team told me that I would be safe," Touko replied quietly. "I believed them. Obviously that was a mistake."
He deflated, head ducking, green tresses falling into his handsome face. Touko's arm slowly started to lower, and she placed the scalchop back in her pocket. Zorua glanced between N and Touko, unsure of what to do.
"Touko," he whispered. "I don't want to hurt you. You were my only human friend. You still are, even if you hate me. And if you do, that's okay… but what I'm doing, this is my dream. It has been for my whole life. And I can't stop for one person—you understand that, right?"
As much as it hurt to admit, she did. "I get it," she agreed quietly, standing straight, still wary. "But I can't just let you do this, N. Some people are bad and don't deserve Pokémon—I know that. But there are plenty of people who love and cherish their bonds with their Pokémon as friends and partners. And beyond humans, there are some Pokémon that aren't fit to be on their own. They like being with people, if they have the right people."
"The truth and the ideal are two very different things," N warned. "You might see the ideal as people and Pokémon living in harmony, but that's not always true. The truth is that we are two separate species that were meant to stay separated, for the good of both of our kinds."
"If you truly believe in it, then why do you have Pokémon?" Touko asked. "Why don't you let them go? Set an example yourself, instead of telling other people to do it. Practice what you preach, N, and maybe people would see the logic and listen."
"It's different," N replied, crossing his arms over his chest. "My Pokémon aren't my Pokémon. They don't have Pokéballs, and they only are with me for as long as they wish for it. If they leave, that is their choice, just the way that it is if they decide to return. I don't judge my friends for their strength, and I don't force them beyond their capacity. I can't free my Pokémon because they're already free."
Touko glanced at the Zorua whom had made his way back to the window ledge, watching them both carefully. "But—"
N followed her gaze and frowned. "Zoru grew up with me. Before tonight, I hadn't seen him in months. I'm not a hypocrite, Touko. I don't choose my Pokémon—they choose me."
The logic in that statement was irrefutable, but that didn't make it any less painful. Why, why did he have to insist on actually being a good guy? In all of this, she couldn't see this boy, this man, as the leader of an organization that stole skulls from skeletons in museums and ripped Pokémon from the children who loved them. No, N would never do that. He was kind, he cared about his Pokémon, his friends.
The same way that she cared about hers.
"Damn it, N," Touko breathed in frustration, drawing his surprised gaze. "Why did you have to be their leader? Why couldn't you have just been a-a supporter, or even a peon, I might have been able to take that, but—"
And then he was in front of her, his hand sliding around the back of her head, twined into soft curls, and he was tentatively pressing his lips against hers, soft and gentle as a Musharna's call. Touko was frozen, but she was quickly melting—this was more than she could handle, she was done, she was going to pass out from the wonderfulness of it all, and—
N pulled back to rest his forehead against hers, eyes half-lidded as his hands cupped her blushing face, rubbing his thumb over her cheekbone. "I hope I did that right," he murmured.
"You—" Touko whispered in surprise, "you just stole my first kiss."
"If it's any consolation, I just gave you mine," he replied, one corner of his mouth quirking in amusement. "Never tried that before. Heard it was nice."
The girl flailed internally for words, but the only response she could muster in her embarrassed and disgustingly happy state was, "Was it?"
"More than I could have expected." N laughed quietly, his eyes sliding closed and looking absurdly pleased with himself. "But it was you—everything's nice with you."
Touko's cheeks flooded with blood and N, feeling the heating of her skin, opened his eyes and kissed her again, another slow, smooth touch and press of lips. It was sweet and chaste, perhaps a little smug from his side and a little terrified from hers, but the fact of the matter was that she kissed him back.
When N pulled away the next time, Touko was pretty sure that she was going to pass out, since all the blood in her body had travelled to her cheeks and her heart was beating furiously in an attempt to keep up. The boy's hand fell to her shoulders, toying with a strand of her hair, curling it idly around his finger as he waited for her reaction.
"You can't…" she choked. "You can't kiss me like that."
A low, dark voice was quietly amused. "Why not?"
"B-Because!" Touko sputtered. "I'm only sixteen—"
"—and I'm only seventeen. You'll have to do better than that."
Touko scowled, half-heartedly pushing his hand away and not at all surprised when he simply chuckled and went back to his absent-minded task. "I'm your enemy!"
"So? You're a girl, I'm a boy. I can kiss you if I want to." He seemed so unruffled by the entire ordeal, and it was driving Touko nuts that he wasn't as nervous as she was.
"You—you just can't," the blue-eyed girl protested quietly.
At that, N finally started to frown. "I'm the king."
"That's the problem!" If only she didn't want to touch him so badly at that moment, to run her fingers through his hair the same way he was doing to her, to press the pads of her fingers to the corners of his mouth and make him smile again. The temptation was distracting. "You're Team Plasma's king. I'm going to have to fight you, N, no matter what you're trying to do—"
N's brows drew together and he placed a finger over her mouth to shush her. "Touko, stop. I understand—I'm not as stupid as you seem to think I am."
"Shh," he scolded, and the girl fell silent, eyes wide. "Touko, I get it, I really do. Honestly, I think I would be disappointed if you stopped fighting me now. Every time I see you, it's amazing to see how much stronger you've become. You challenge Team Plasma as a whole, and you do it all by yourself—well, and your Pokémon, of course." His fingers traced the perimeter of her mouth. "I don't expect you to stop because of this. If anything, I expect you to fight harder. The only thing that will change because of this, Touko, is where we will stand at the end of it all."
"What do you mean?" Touko whispered, distracted by the feeling of his skin against hers.
"I mean that, even if you lose, there will always be a place for you at my side. And if I lose— which I won't—" he added with a cocky smile, "then at least I will know that I lost to a worthy opponent."
"Is that a challenge?" she breathed, heart pounding at his simple declaration, her gaze flickering to meet his. "Because, if it is, I have a gym battle tomorrow, and after that, I only have one left before I can go to the Pokémon League."
"I've already got my Freeze Badge," N replied, tapping the end of her nose with his forefinger. Touko made a face that he snickered at, turning away from her and moving toward the window to pat the Zorua on the head, N's square-shaped gold bracelets gleaming. The clouds outside were starting to thin, the pouring rain fading to a slow drizzle, and the increase in moonlight framed the slender lines of his body in silver. "I'm talking about something bigger than gym battles and badges. I told you that you were chosen, Touko, and it's almost time to see if my hypothesis is correct—which I have no doubt that it will be."
Touko blinked, frowning as she followed, standing a half-step behind him, her eyes scanning over the beautiful black-furred Pokémon that purred under the hand of his companion. The love between them was clearly visible, untainted by violence or fear or the enslavement that N hated so much. Their bond was one of time and patience, of understanding and companionship.
He didn't look like a person to be feared. He looked like a trainer, caring for his Pokémon—he just looked like N.
"I don't know what you mean," the girl admitted.
"Don't worry, you will," he replied, turning his gaze to her. "I've been dreaming about it since I was little. I'll be chosen as a hero. I never knew who my other would be, but now…" He smiled to himself, picking up Zorua and holding it carefully. "You're the best choice I can think of. My truths, your ideals—as partners, we could be extraordinary. As rivals, it could be utter destruction, just like the legends. I hope for the former, of course. Someday."
Partners. Touko swallowed, looking away. N's quiet sincerity was somehow encouraging. He believed in her, believed that she could do… something. Something important.
As much as she didn't want to care—because he's my enemy, I'm supposed to fight him until my last breath to protect everyone—Touko didn't want to let him down. And that was more terrifying than anything else she could think of… even losing to him.
No. She absolutely refused to lose to him. She had been a fighter since the beginning and was named for that spirit. She fought tooth and nail at every encounter, using unpredictable strategies to tip the scale in her favor. She never gave in, her back never bowed, and she stood sturdy through it all. Always.
The idea of losing to him should have been much worse than the idea of disappointing her worst enemy.
Was he even her enemy anymore?
N held the Zorua in one arm, reaching down with his other to take hold of Touko's wrist, placing her hand atop the Pokémon's head. The feeling of silky fur startled Touko out of her reverie, and she found N looking at her expectantly. Her gaze moved to the little creature, whom was silent, waiting. The girl sighed and stepped closer, scratching behind one large, soft ear.
Immediately, a loud rumbling started in the creature's chest and he nudged his head into her palm. The brunette smiled tentatively, looking to N and finding that her breath was suddenly gone. His black turtleneck, in all its form-fitting glory, contrasted sharply against his pale skin, while his eyes were alight with immeasurably pleased pride. He was smiling more brightly than anyone she had ever seen.
"You'll do just fine," he said quietly, and Touko was sure of the same. If he believed in her, then she'd be okay.
N laughed, then, grinning as the Zorua began to wiggle in an attempt to be put down. The boy conceded, placing the Pokémon on the floor, then used his free hand to twine with Touko's. He sat once more on the ledge, waiting patiently as she moved to sit across from him. This time, their legs extended and brushed against one another's comfortably. A slight draft entered through the window, but the room was warm enough that Touko didn't mind terribly.
Her clothes were mostly dry now, her hair wildly curly from the humidity, the shorter pieces of her bangs sticking up in the front. She huffed slightly when they refused to be fixed, reaching for the worn elastic beside her wristband, surprised when she found her hand halted and held in place.
"Leave it down," N said with a small smile. "You always have it up when I see you. I like it like this."
Touko flushed light pink. "But it looks funny—"
"Insecurity doesn't suit you, Touko," N murmured. "You're beautiful."
Her blush darkened at the flattery, but the girl insisted, "You'd be the first to think so."
"Well, I might be the first to admit it," he conceded. "I wasn't allowed the privilege of shyness, not when I was set up to lead this life. I've always been encouraged to speak my mind, and no one I grew up with ever lied to me, so I don't either. So, you can choose to believe what I say or not, but that doesn't make it any less true."
"You…" Touko shook her head. "I'm not even going to argue with you."
N grinned at that. "See, I wish everything else was that easy."
The comfortable atmosphere between them fizzled out, and Touko's embarrassed smile faded into a frown. "N…"
The boy, noticing his slip up, sighed in aggravation and rested his head back against the wall behind him. "I… I just don't understand, Touko," N sighed. "We don't have to fight. If you could just let me do this, then—"
A soft sigh escaped the girl. "If you were freeing Pokémon, that would be one thing. But you're not—you're stealing them. You're hurting them by taking them away from the people they love and the trainers that love them back. Why, N? Just because some trainers don't believe the same things you do?" She shifted uncomfortably under the weight of his gaze, eyes drawn to the dull glow of lights through the thin mist. "Pokémon and people have been partners for hundreds of years, working together in harmony and peace. You're complaining that people don't understand Pokémon, but how will we understand them if we can't live with them, side-by-side?"
N sat up straighter, leaning toward her slightly. "So, you're saying that the partnership between people and Pokémon is an equal one? That people don't only use their Pokémon for their strength or to gain glory, like Cheren, or to further their own purposes in life, like Bianca? Is that what you're saying?"
Touko's expression hardened. "I'm saying that both Cheren and Bianca love their Pokémon and treat them like family. Did you miss Bianca's reaction when your fools stole her Munna?"
"I regret that I was not in Castelia City at the time," the boy replied, frowning in reply. "I was attending things elsewhere. You said that they took your friend's Pokémon?"
The brunette nodded. "She was a mess. She cried for hours until we managed to hunt down the goons and get it back."
"And by we, you mean you."
She flushed in frustration, both flattered and put off by the assumption that she was the only competent one of her friends. "And by we, I mean we. Myself and Bianca and Iris and Burgh… it was all of us. I'd only noticed a deserted building while exploring, and I put the pieces together…" she trailed off into silence at his amused look. "Don't laugh at me!"
"I wonder if you even hear yourself speak," N mused. "Do you notice your own worth? You dive headfirst into everything without knowing the outcome beforehand, and still you somehow manage to win. Every time, might I add."
"Did you miss the entire point of what I just said?" the girl growled. "Your team stole my best friend's Pokémon!"
"And she regained it because of you." However, his faint smile was fading, muttering quietly to himself. "But I told them to stay away… I was made to believe that they understood; apparently, I was mistaken. I'll have to talk to them again."
Touko grimaced. "You don't have to... hurt them or anything. They were just following orders."
Green eyes narrowed in confusion. "Touko, whose side are you on exactly?"
She nudged her foot against his leg. "Theft is one thing. Hurting people is another. And I'm not mad at them, I'm mad at you. You're the one that pulls the strings."
"Would you have me play favorites?" N retorted. "Just because we're friends, would you want me to treat you differently?"
"Of course not," Touko scoffed. "Ideally, I would like you to stop completely. Obviously, I realize that you aren't willing to do that."
N shifted, resting his elbows on his knees, frown deepening as he watched her. "Then what now?"
"Then, like it or not, I'll stop you myself," she replied simply, glancing out the window.
"Even though we're friends?" he asked.
"Because we're friends." Touko looked back at him, biting at the inside of her lip. "Because I care about what happens to you, no matter what happens. It's my job to look out for my friends. That includes you, no matter how stupid you can be."
"I don't think I'm stupid," N retorted, but his cheeks were tinged just the slightest bit pink from her words. "I think I'm right. I am right. You'll see."
"I guess we both will," she conceded. Touko sighed, drawing her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her chin atop them. Blue eyes stayed locked with green, even as the girl tilted her head sideways and let out a long, slow breath. She simply watched him, watched him watch her, feeling her heart pound and her stomach clench.
She had promised herself that she wouldn't let this happen. But he was under her skin now, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Touko stood unsteadily, with a mumbled, "I need to get back."
"What? Why?" N asked, blinking in surprise as he, too, stood and reached for her hand.
The girl rolled her eyes, fighting he blush that threatened to well up with all her might. "I left my team at the Pokémon Center. Ollie is going to get nervous if I don't get back there soon. Possibly enough to come looking for me, and she's already hurt. I can't let that happen."
The boy frowned. "She would follow you?"
"Yes," Touko answered, echoing his expression. "Why wouldn't she?"
N shook his head, sighing. "Perhaps I shouldn't even question it. Your Pokémon… they love you very much."
"Well, I love them, too," the brunette replied, thinking of her team. There was Ollie, of course, her Dewott, and Emblitz, her adopted Simisear. There was Striker, her Zebstrika, and Darmi the Darmanitan, along with Cactamy the Maractus and, finally, Avalonia the Sigilyph. An entire team of girls, with the exception of Emblitz, whom she had received in the very beginning of her journey before even taking on her first gym.
They were her family. Of course she loved them. After traveling so far, who wouldn't love their starting team?
"All of them?" N asked, eyes narrowing, gleaming with an unwaveringly focused intensity, much like a child demanding the word of his friend (because in childhood, promises meant everything). "Even those that you captured for that woman's sake? Those that you confine to life in a box, without ever feeling the love and acceptance you permit to the rest? What makes them so different?"
Touko froze. "N—"
He released her hand as if she'd burned him, shaking his head derisively. "If you're different, Touko, prove it to me. Pokémon should never have to live in captivity. They're creatures of the wild, and that's where they belong: away from the people that hurt them. I won't change my mind about that, and soon I'll make you see it, too."
Her face fell. "Maybe…" Touko's voice fell to a whisper. "Maybe someday you'll see that not all people are the monsters you seem to think they are."
The green-eyed boy took a step back, those jade eyes wide and shocked.
"Take care, N," the girl sighed, taking a short step forward and kissing his cheek, her fingers brushing along his jawline. Then she turned, heading for the door.
"Touko!" N grabbed her wrist, and for the second time, she was spun forcefully. However, instead of crashing into N's chest, the teen had lowered his head, and Touko found their mouths pressed together one more time. His fingers gently tilted her head, and the girl shivered as a warm tongue traced her lower lip.
N pulled back, face flushed, pushing wild brown curls away from blue eyes that were only just sliding open. "You're not a monster," he whispered vehemently. "Not to me—never, ever. Okay?"
Touko nodded blankly, still stunned. The elder teen smiled slightly in satisfaction, taking the traveling cloak from where it sat and sweeping it around her shoulders in one smooth movement, securing the snaps with a slight press of his fingers. Warm lips brushed across her forehead, and N ran one hand over her hair, falling all the way to rest briefly on her waist where her curls ended.
"N…" The girl trailed off into silence, unsure of what to say in that moment.
"Return to your Pokémon," N replied. "Get your rest—you're going to need it. I'll see you again soon."
Blue eyes widened slightly. "What are you going to do?"
He quirked a tiny smile. "I'll pretend you didn't ask me. Plausible deniability is a wonderful thing."
"You…" Touko scowled, stepping into him and wrapping her arms around him for a few short seconds. Only for a moment, she closed her eyes and imagined that she was at home, standing in her doorway with her arms around him. That he was just another boy that had moved to her hometown, that they had known each other for years, spending their days lying on their backs in the grass and dreaming about the day they would set out on their journeys together. That he had immediately made friends with the flighty and affectionate Bianca, and had slowly wormed his way into Cheren's life, as well. That, instead of being three, they could have been four.
That, when she finally stammered out that she had a boyfriend to her mother, the woman would have just rolled her eyes with a smile and said, it's about time.
Then, the moment was over, and Touko pulled away before he could respond to her embrace. Her cheeks burned, and she couldn't help but feel sorry for that life that never happened.
"Someday I'll find it."
Touko blinked. "Find what?"
N smiled, just a little, moving past her and crouching to open the trap door. "The formula to change the world. I'm pretty sure I have the equation right, but there are still two more variables to add." He stood, shaking his head. "I'll get there."
"Might want to double-check your math," the girl snorted. The mildly insulted look that she received from the older boy was worth it, she decided. Either way, she knew his pride would be too much for him to reconsider. She would just have to show him, it seemed.
She smiled, though, when he pulled her in for an embrace of his own, sighing into her hair with his arms tight around her waist. The way he held her was nothing short of reverent, almost desperate just to keep her close. However, he seemed to understand that she really did have to be getting back, and his grip on her eventually started to loosen, his arms falling to his sides, though his fists were clenched with the effort to not draw her in again.
Touko knew that it was time to go.
"Take care, N," she said quietly as she started down to the stairs. "I'm sure we'll be seeing each other again soon."
"Sooner than you'd think," he replied.
She shivered, feeling his eyes on her back. "And, N?"
Touko smiled. "Your equation might be wrong, but I was always terrible at arithmetic, too. The one thing I learned, though, is that there isn't always just one answer to a problem. Two plus two doesn't always have to equal four. Try changing your perspective a little, and you'd be surprised at what you see."
He let out an incredulous bark of laughter, but his severe expression seemed to soften. "Goodnight, Touko."
The brunette stumbled her way down the stairs, eyes unadjusted to the darkness as she fought her way to the ground. Just outside the door, the Shadow Triad was waiting, the woman that N had called Retriene at the lead.
"Did you find your time satisfactory?" The woman asked, arms folded over her chest, eyeing the familiar bundle of fabric that the girl currently wore.
Touko pulled the hood over her head. "It was certainly informative," she replied, a smile pulling at her lips, "Retriene."
The two men behind their leader stiffened, but the woman only seemed to be amused. "My Lord trusts you, it seems. I wonder if that will prove to be a mistake."
"N knows where I stand," the girl replied. "But all friends have disagreements sometimes, you know?"
Touko could have sworn she saw the woman's face twist into a smirk under her scarf, but she couldn't be sure. Retriene simply turned, her subordinates falling in line on Touko's either side, and started off into the night.
If Touko had turned, she might have seen a lanky figure lingering in the window, a dark-furred Pokémon at his side, and a large, circular white stone cradled carefully in his hands.
But she didn't.
"Soon, Zoru," N mumbled, watching as the Shadow Triad led the girl away. "Soon, I'll be the Hero, and she will be forced to see that I'm right. The truth will prevail, they say. And they were right." Green eyes slid closed. "I'm going to win—even if it means that she has to lose."