Kink meme fill: "Touya and Touko as subway bosses in BW2". I'm alive, I promise.
That's what everybody says about them – the boy dressed in shades of blue and black and the girl with the high, unruly ponytail. He wonders, morbidly, how many tack on a presumed dead at the back of their minds. Lost to time and history, just like the two founders of Unova.
The train picks up speed again as the doors slide shut. He also wonders how much they appreciate it, being part of history.
But it's not true, what they all say, Nate wants to say. It can't be true. They're out there somewhere. They have to be. Rosa shifts next to him; the soles of her shoes squeak against the cold floor. He doesn't need to turn to see her face; he's memorised the way her mouth curves, uneasily, as her fingers hover over the pokéballs, rolling them in her palm.
Two years ago, he'd battled them in this carriage – perhaps not this exact one, but their paths crossed nonetheless in these subterranean depths. He remembers different coaches – one with girl in weathered denim shorts and combat boots; she'd smiled almost coyly and winked at him. "What's your name?" she asked, and it was hard for him to catch her eye. "Nate," he said, and had never thought to ask hers. On the way back on the same line, there was a quiet, lanky boy who carded a hand through his messy hair and shrugged off his jacket. "You're going to be the future," he'd said, too matter-of-factly. "I hope you'll remember our battle. Maybe we'll both have something to learn from this, yeah?"
"Under normal circumstances, we would be the ones facing you at the end of a twenty-win streak," Ingo begins. His voice is flat, neutral, carefully-controlled. "However—"
"—for today, how about a change of pace?" Emmet's smile is a Cheshire-cat grin, a sickle-edged curve which sets Nate's teeth on edge. "To welcome our new subway masters to the fold. How about it?"
"We accept," Rosa says before he can open his mouth. This time, he turns to face her, to measure the set of her jaw against the stiffness of her shoulders. It's late. They've spent too long riding trains back and forth to nowhere and everywhere, fighting for balance as inertia throws them against one another. Stark cement walls whip last the windows; flickering billboards throw moving, fleeting shadows and jags of neon-bright light across the planes of her face. She catches his stare as she tilts her head inquisitively at him, and pushes back limp bangs with the back of her hand, almost knocking her visor askew. "Nate?" she prompts.
"Sure," he says. Like we have a choice, he wants to say instead, or, whatever gets this over and done with.
"Bear in mind that just because they are new—"
"—doesn't mean you should let your guard down!"
His back feels stiff. He rolls his neck slowly, wincing at the knots and cramps; Rosa laces her fingers before her, and stretches. "We're ready." Silhouettes shift behind the frosted glass of the compartment door; he almost wants to tiptoe to peer over Emmet and Ingo's conductor caps, to march past them and wipe away the fog of condensation filming the panes.
"… please take Emmet's words to heart," Ingo says. "After all—"
The compartment doors slide open with a pneumatic hiss. He can hear the measured click of boot-heels against the floor, the quiet swish of fabric over the quiet hum of engines.
"—they are the only ones we acknowledge as the fittest for this role."
Two years. It's been two years since anybody's seen them and they've never looked better. He stiffens; Rosa's hands fly to her face as she whistles between her fingers, a muffled 'oh'.
"Hello, Nate," the girl – the subway master, the legend – says. Her lips quirk into a grin, sly and mischievous and knowing. "What's wrong?"
"You look like you've seen a ghost," the boy in the black-and-red coat finishes, and tilts back his cap.
Mirror images fighting reflections. That's what they are.
He can't stop thinking about it – how Rosa looks just like her, just like Touko, Hilda, White, Whitlea – whatever they want to call her, whatever she wants to call herself. Their glares are one and the same, ocean-blue and overbright. One day, perhaps, Rosa will grow into her – all smooth curves and lines veiling dangerous edges; one day, perhaps, she'll be sugar hiding cool steel and will bend and never break.
Maybe one day, he will grow into Touya, Hilbert, Black, Blake. Maybe one day, he will be strong and methodical and efficient, a tamer and friend of legends. For now, Nate's content with the smaller things – the same smug, shit-eating grin when they knock an opponent out; the same feverish rush as they rally their teams and prepare to end this.
Him and Rosa, they began this battle not expecting to win – and it's fine if he doesn't, because he finally knows for himself that the rumours are a lie. They have too much experience between them – there's a vast difference in the way their pokémon move, in the way they attack and defend and leave no openings, synchronising flawlessly as a single unit.
Hilda rests a hand on her emboar's shoulder; Hilbert runs his fingers along the ridges of his samurott's shell as it leans into his touch.
"We won, but I'm not really satisfied," she says. "There's still so much room for both of you to grow and get stronger—"
"—and until then, we'll be waiting here for you. That is – if you don't stop here. There's no such thing as an end."
They disembark at the next station; the subway masters are long gone.
He doesn't see them for the next few months; Rosa still accompanies him, sorting through her team with her tongue between her teeth as she puzzles over which two to bring.
On the twenty-first battle, Emmet and Ingo slip quietly into the compartment; Rosa's hum of disappointment mirrors his own.
On the forty-ninth battle, he sees them again. "It's been a long time," Rosa calls; her voice doesn't betray a hint of her nervousness, but he sees it as she shifts her weight from foot to foot. "This time, we're really ready for you!"
Hilbert slides his hands out of his pockets. "I'm glad," he says.
All around them is the screech of metal on metal as the train rounds a bend.