pokemod: (by koyuki @ DW. [gen iii])
pokémod team ([personal profile] pokemod) wrote2016-01-17 01:13 am

"The Seasons Ahead" for memorialrainbow

Recipient: [personal profile] memorialrainbow
Title: The Seasons Ahead
Author: [archiveofourown.org profile] aroceu
Rating: PG
Verse: Games, BW
Characters/Pairings: Black/White, Black/White/N, implied Black/N feelings
Summary: The reporters never asked him about N -- it has never been about N, for them. White's face is open and interested. Or, the AU where instead of searching for N, Black spends his post-championship at the Gear Station in Nimbasa City.



After defeating Alder, Black retreats -- from the video cameras, from the Pok émon League, all the way back to Nuvema. He gets asked what it is to be the next Pok émon Champion, how he feels since defeating Team Plasma, and Black remembers Ghetsis and N and shoves them out of the way. The journey back is tedious, because he cannot stomach flying. Braviary understands -- he treks back home on foot.

Seeing his mother is better than coming home. She hugs him, smiles, lets him go up to his room without a word. In the kitchen Black can smell his favorite food, even though he had not told her he would come home today. Something warm tingles over his fingertips; but something cold as well.

He disappears up the staircase.

Everything is in its place, where they had been before he had left. They'd all looked so much bigger before -- after nearly a year of being gone, and it's like his room has shrunk. Black picks up the pok édoll from his desk. There's no dust, no trash in his bin. The bed is made, sheets imperceptibly straightened like they haven't been used in a year.

Downstairs, his mother cooks, pots and pans clanging against each other. The playstation in Black's room lurks in the corner. Looking at the bed makes Black's gut do something -- he sits in his chair instead, wooden and hard to alter.

Emptiness fills the bottom of his stomach. It is not hunger -- it has been a long time since Black has felt hungry, even though he knows in fifteen minutes, his mother will come up and tell him to eat with her, and he won't have the heart to say no. Emboar rattles in his pokéball, and Black rests his hand against it. He is okay. His pok émon are okay.

The tears do not fall from his eyes, even though something strong builds up in his throat. Fifteen minutes pass. Footsteps climb up the staircase.

Black wipes his face, and heads toward his bedroom door.

*

His mother does not ask him about the Pok émon League, or Team Plasma, or N. She cooks for him and asks him to come downstairs when he is sitting in his room and staring at nothing. She makes him work around the house and asks for his help when she's come back with a full pack of water bottles from grocery shopping. She doesn't ask him if he wants to stretch his legs and go outside.

Somehow time passes, though all Black can recall is sitting in his desk chair and thinking about nothing. He lets his pok émon out, though they are no better than he is -- arcanine curls up and naps, emboar takes the shadowed corner next to his playstation, braviary sits on the windowsill hiding in its wing, and musharna hides under his bed. The only one who shows any sign of life is excadrill, who on the first day had made Black walk him outside before burrowing underground and disappearing under Black's front lawn.

His mother makes him clear up the mess.

She catches him, a week later, when he is gathering pok émon food for the kitchen to bring up to his room. It used to be a rule that he wasn't allowed to bring food upstairs -- that was before he had a pok émon team. She smiles at him, soft and small, over the rim of her mug. She's drinking tea, her favorite.

"How are they?" she asks, as Black pours the food into a bowl.

Black doesn't look up, shrugs. "They seem to be tired," he replies.

Her gaze is sympathetic. "So are you," she says, knowingly.

Black doesn't respond. He makes a noise of assent, finishing pouring the pok émon food. He starts out the kitchen, and his mother gives him a small squeeze, on the arm.

"Dinner at seven?" she says.

Black tries to smile back. He hopes it doesn't come out like a grimace. "Okay," he says.

*

The exhaustion is like an itch, peeling under his skin, making him want to scratch it. He wakes up every morning and eats, feeds his pok émon (except for excadrill, who has always been good at finding his own food), showers once a day. His mother always looks at him with sad eyes; he thought he would've been prepared for this.

As the days go on, being around her is stifling. She does not even say much, so the guilt festering in his stomach gets even worse. He avoids her eyes when they make small talk over lunches and dinners; sometimes he wishes he had not come back. That the trashcan in his room would remain empty and unused instead of holding the water bottles he's been tossing in lately, that the dust settles so deep in his room until it lives there instead of him.

A month passes. It does not feel like a month -- time is both fast and slow, when you surround yourself with familiarity every day. Tiredness creeps under Black's fingertips -- he lets himself into bed early, but does not fall asleep until hours afterward.

On a weekend, when Black is sitting on the couch as some sitcom on the TV plays, there is a knock at their door. Black frowns, glancing at it.

His mother wanders out from the kitchen, dusting her hands off on a paper towel. "I'll get it," she says, walking across the foyer.

Black watches over his arm and the back of the couch. His mother opens the door.

Flocked on the doorstep are a crowd of reporters -- Black recognizes them immediately, the way one goes, "The mother of the Champion is here!" and, "Ma'am, can you tell us what it's like living with the hero of the Unova region?" The flash of the cameras and shoving of microphones at Black's front door -- he jumps up from the couch, and suddenly he is between them, and his mother.

"Black," she goes, from behind him. He ignores her.

"Our reigning Champion!" exclaims one reporter. Black recognizes him -- he'd asked for a comment after the mess at N's castle (and N) and Black had told him that he tries to find friends wherever he goes. Black hadn't read the article that had come from that.

Another one, a woman with a cameraman over her shoulder, asks, "How's champion life been treating you? What have you been doing since you were inducted in the Hall of Fame?"

"Please leave," Black says, as patiently as he can.

"Black, are you going to ask Alder to step down?"

"What are your next plans for tournament battles?"

"Black, what are your opinions on -- "

Black backs up into his house, shuts the door. His spine feels rigid, and he wonders if there are dark circles under his eyes. Wonders if the next news article about him will be titled Fall From Grace, or something or other. He scrubs a hand over his face.

"Honey," says his mother. Her voice is filled with pity.

Black rubs his hand over the backs of his eyelids. "I'm fine, Mom."

"Black -- "

He walks past her, heading toward the staircase, up to his room. "I'm fine," he says. He doesn't look at her.

*

The next day, he searches for excadrill.

The folks in Nuvema aren't particularly judgmental about front lawns, though Black is sure not to tread too much on the softly mown grass as he searches. His excadrill loves the wild, though surely he shouldn't have gone too far -- the caves are miles away from here.

He finds excadrill not under any distinct patches of dirt, but instead behind his house, above ground. "Hey," Black says softly when he finds him.

Excadrill glances at him guiltily. His paws are clean -- he hasn't been digging much at all. Black frowns. In the place where excadrill is standing are crumbs of pok émon food, similar to the ones that he's been feeding his own pok émon in his room.

Black looks up. He can see the perch where braviary usually sits. She's flown to the rooftop today, napping in the shine of the bright summer sun.

Black makes his way over to excadrill, hesitantly like how he had when he'd encountered him for the first time. Excadrill makes a soft whine and curls into Black's touch. Black remembers how excadrill had been the first to faint in his battle against Ghetsis, without getting in a single hit. Black strokes over the soft fur, above excadrill's metal paws.

"Hey," Black says, again. "I was thinking of going out again, looking around." He watches excadrill peer up at him, gaze wavering. "You in?"

He knows the answer. Despite this, a taste for the wild, a month of nothing, excadrill pads back to him.

*

Black retrieves all his tired, tired pok émon.

*

When he tells his mother, her smile is sad. He already has his backpack hitched over his shoulders. It doesn't feel like a month has passed -- it feels like a week, or maybe a year.

"Oh honey," she says, patting his cheek. "I know you couldn't stay cooped up in here for too long."

"Mom," he mumbles, against the heel of her hand.

She pulls back and smiles. She kisses his cheek. "Be good now," she tells him. "Don't go saving the world again. It's someone else's turn for that, now."

The guilt almost dislodges from his stomach. He feels like he should hug her, but he's already halfway out the door and his skin is already getting used to the air outside, humid against the back of his wrist and under the back fray of his hair.

"Yeah," he says, to himself.

*

The path outside Nuvema is unfamiliar at first, but the longer Black makes his course, the more he remembers. It's been ages since he'd sought out for his pok émon adventure for the first time, running wild and eager to build his own team. Now there are pok émon he doesn't want to catch, doesn't want to bother with battle. They don't stop for him, either.

In a memory, he can hear Cheren talking about becoming a pok émon master, Bianca hyped over how wild pok émon are cool. Nostalgia settles between Black's shoulders. They would be better at this than he is.

He passes through Accumula soon enough, taking his time and resting. There is an inn in Striaton, so he ends his first day there, spending a wad of yen (and then some) there. The cashier tells him it is too much; Black tells him to keep it.

On his second day a kid who doesn't recognize him comes up to him, challenging him for a battle. Black tries to decline because the kid's wearing a backwards cap and shorts, while Black's the idiot in long sleeves and jeans in the summer. The kid doesn't let him go, so Black tries to go easy on him.

By the third fainted pok émon, the kid recognizes him. He forfeits, and asks for Black's autograph. Black asks him not to tell anyone about this until after an hour -- by then, he can hit Castelia, or at least lose any reporters through his shortcuts in the Nacrene Forest. The kid says okay; Black signs his postcard. He smiles a little when the kid asks his emboar for a fistbump.

*

Black stays in Castelia for a week. There's something about feeling alone in a crowd every day, going outside and getting lost in a sea of people and not have anybody look at him twice. Not have the guilty presence of his mother, cooking and cleaning for him every day. He stays in a hotel that is too good for him and entertains the idea of visiting Burgh, who would surely welcome him in, even ask for another battle.

The last time he'd seen any of the gym leaders was at N's Castle. He's sure that they watched all of his battles on the news.

Black orders a Casteliacone every day and wanders the streets. He does not visit Burgh, like he has not visited Lenora, or any of the Striaton brothers. (He tries not to think of them.)

On the seventh day, the monotony feels suffocating and he escapes before he has to endure, think about it for any longer. He leaves, and moves onto his next town.

*

Nimbasa City is how he remembers it -- big, moving, even though things have changed since the last time he's been here --

("Why are you looking for Team Plasma?" A kind face, billowed by soft green hair.

Trying not to stare, or to blink, "You make it sound like what Team Plasma's doing isn't a bad thing."

Smile. "Come ride with me on the Ferris Wheel, Black.")

-- big, moving, despite it all. Black can't help but be on guard. His shoulders hunch, and he avoids looking at faces and eyes as he makes his way through the crowd.

It is no less different than any other town, but Black knows his memory drifts, to ghosts of silent smiles and sunset laughter. He frowns under his cap and hood, trying to dispel the associations from his mind. His legs are suddenly weary with the weight of being here, being out -- trapped with his face and what he wants to forget.

The road slinks past a large brick building. Black halts; he hadn't remembered it being there before.

Below his feet, the earth rumbles -- sounds of a train below. A vague single battle, brushed away as a waste of time, floats through Black's mind. He blinks at the sign plastered onto the building. It says: New! Double Battle Trains! Battle your way to Ingo and Emmett!

Still hunched over, Black makes his way into the building, not making eye contact with anyone.

The floor is stone, scuffing along the bottom of Black's sneakers as he pads down the steps. It's hard to remember what it had been like when he'd first come here -- riding high on the excitement of Team Plasma (of ferris wheels), he'd defeated seven trainers easy and didn't think twice of it. Somehow the train station looks big and wide, circular in a ring with people bustling in and out. There's one he knows that leads to smaller cities; the others are stocked with trainers, bright-eyed.

Curious, Black makes his way over to the Super Multi Battle station. On the side is a sign that lists the rules -- which Black barely scans over -- and then a note at the bottom that says, Don't have a partner? Find someone to team up with! His gaze lingers; beside him, more trainers make their way in and out.

He walks into the station, hood shielding him from proper view. The lights are tinted honey yellow; hanging next to the staircase is the electronic ranking of the present trainers, moving up and down with a timestamp marked next to the paired trainers. As Black looks around, someone bumps into him from the back.

"Sorry," he says quickly.

At the same time, the girl he'd bumped into says, "Sorry," too. She's wearing a pink and white hat and has long brown hair tied up in a ponytail. She sends him a brief smile before heading toward the registration booth.

Black blinks.

A new car seems to be coming in for the battle train; the current dejected trainers are either heading up the staircase or beginning to queue up to the registration booth. Decided, Black slides to the front counter before someone else can get ahead of him.

"One for super multi-battle, please," he tells the vendor.

The vendor doesn't look up at him as he punches the information in. Black slides his ID card to him -- still no sign of recognition.

"Do you have a partner or would you like to be matched up?" the vendor asks, solidly focused on his computer.

"Uh." Black glances at the line behind him. "Matched up please."

The vendor nods, before handing Black his card back. He looks middle aged, and doesn't look Black in the eye as he speaks, like he's working a factory and Black is just one of the many products he has to put together. "Last car on your left," the vendor says dully.

Black nods, before heading off. This part of the platform is empty, a single solid yellow line at the edge of the tracks. At the end is the girl who'd bumped into him before, with the white and pink cap and long ponytail.

She glances at him once as Black approaches. "Hi," she says.

Black nods, trying not to hunch over too much. Her back is poised, and she's wearing short sleeves -- though it's not much of a surprise, it's still summer. "Hi," he says back.

The train comes eventually, rocking through the station loudly. The girl glances at him again. She flashes a smile as Black jerks his head anxiously toward her -- she hasn't said anything about recognizing him yet.

"I'm White," she says, through the roar of the train.

Black's hood is blown back a little. "Black," he replies.

She nods; she doesn't say I know or make a comment about his blown back hood. Black finds himself the tiniest amount of disappointed, though he's not quite sure why.

They board the train once it stops in front of them and the doors open. White goes on first without waiting for him, so Black eyes the recent losses pouring out from this side of the train. The platform opposite them is where their opponents are coming from -- a bug catcher and a young kid, from the looks of it.

The two boys seem to be sizing up White, who ignores them. Black stands next to her, the pole between them; she's fumbling with her pok éballs around her waistband.

"Is this your first time doing a super multi-battle, too?" he asks her.

She looks up at him. Her lips curve into a smile. "Yeah, how'd you guess?" she says drily.

Black smiles back, unable to help himself. "I miss battling," he finds himself saying.

He reels back, embarrassed. Surprise flashes over White's face too, but she gathers herself better than Black. "You better not hold out on me," she teases him.

The train doors begin to close. On the other side of the carriage, the kids are shouting out their catchphrases.

"I'll try not to," says Black.

*

On hand, White starts off with her mandibuzz and reuniclus. Black has selected excadrill and arcanine, and White is no joke, with him.

When they defeat their third set of trainers, he idly wonders what she'd be like against him.

"Have you challenged the League?" he asks her, as they switch cars through the sliding doors.

White jumps to their next carriage, though she doesn't need to -- there's barely a centimeter of gap between the cars. "I was going to," she says, and he catches a glimpse of her smile again. "Actually, I was going to challenge the last gym leader, but then all the stuff happened and the spring, and -- " She waves her hand. "So I've just been training by myself."

Black's stomach knots guiltily. The way she regards him -- she definitely knows who he is, she just doesn't say it. "You could be challenging the League right now," he tells her.

"Yeah," she says, "or I could be doing seven super multi-battles in a row with you. Are you coming here or what?"

Black steps onto the carriage with her. White closes the door behind him and elbows him in the side. His stomach does a funny thing, but it is not guilty -- it isn't unpleasant at all.

*

Battling isn't easy -- it's never been easy, the reason Black gets a thrill of it so much. His energy builds with each hit his pok émon lands -- somewhere in his mind he knows that the end will be in his victory, but the question and the increasing difficulty between karate trainers and waiters makes the excitement thrum in his veins.

And then there is White. Black tries not to stare at her because they've just only met; but she is cool and enthusiastic, shouting, "Hang in there!" when her reuniclus gets hit critically with a particular heavy night slash, high-fiving her alomomola's fin when they defeat another trainer. Arcanine comes and nuzzles Black's cheek. Black smiles into his fur and says to excadrill, who's sharpening his claws, "It's fun battling again, isn't it?"

They breeze through the seven carriages. Black is ready to stop, but White is bouncing on the balls of her feet when they're announced as the winners of the current train and asks, "Wanna go again?"

Her cheeks are high in color. Her ponytail sways back and forth.

Black says, "Sure."

So they make their way through another seven battles on another train. They are harder -- both of White's pok émon faint once that Black has to finish the battle with a burnt excadrill, and arcanine against two jellicents. But White cheers him on from where she's tending to her reuniclus, and Black's arcanine lands a critical crunch on the last jellicent.

By the time they defeat the second round, Black's stomach is growling and his pok émon look exhausted, though he's willing to bet that they wouldn't complain to another set of seven. Still, as they disembark, he asks White, "Want to take a break?"

"If by break you mean stop for the day." White looks amused.

Black hastens to say, "Yeah, that's what I -- yeah." He breaks off, cheeks warm.

White sighs. "Yeah, Mom'll worry if I don't come home in time for dinner." She chews on her bottom lip. "Where are you going?"

"Pok émon Center, probably."

White nods. For a second Black thinks she's going to say something else -- they're nearing the front steps of the subway station, already having saved their progress.

But White only says, "See you tomorrow," before waving, her ponytail bouncing with her every step.

*

That night, the nightmares come more vividly than before -- the battles at the forefront of his mind, Ghetsis's seedy voice and serpentine eyes, N quiet and unsure in the shadows. Black wakes up with a startled gasp. Next to him, braviary caws, sounding as frightened as Black feels.

"Go back to sleep," he murmurs to her, wanting to say the same for himself.

In the morning, he grabs breakfast and wanders around the city. Around the same time as yesterday he heads towards the Battle Subway. He spots White almost immediately, in jean shorts and a pink t-shirt. Her ever-present ponytail is tucked under a different cap.

"Hey, you're here again," she says, smiling at him.

"Well you said you'd see me tomorrow, didn't you?"

White tilts her chin up. Her eyes glimmer with amusement. "You could've not shown up," she says. "Prove me wrong."

"I probably wouldn't have shown up if we'd lost," he tells her honestly.

She laughs, punching him in the arm. "I wouldn't have shown up if we'd lost, too," she says. "Good, we're on the same wavelength. Are we going to kick more ass today?"

Black shrugs, trying to look indifferent. "If I don't let you down."

"You are so bad at being self-deprecating, it worries me," White says, laughing again.

They board the train together at the same time today.

*

The first set of seven is somehow harder than yesterday -- either that or it's the motions of battling settling in, a weird sort of hypnotism that Black has never experienced before. It's either that he's never just battled against equally strong trainers at a continuously steady pace, or that he's battling with White, who is unpredictable but clever -- or both, which Black settles on after his arcanine has fainted and his excadrill is barely hanging in their and White saves the both of them with a resounding water pulse.

"Awesome," she says, beaming as they step onto the last carriage of this round. "We have a twenty-battle streak, and this is both of our first times."

"Not technically," Black reminds her.

"Our technical first streak," she revises. "Plus, wouldn't it be cool to go against Ingo and Emmet on our first try?"

"If we can get to them." Black doesn't doubt it; White's skill is standard like she'd learned at a trainer's school, but Black has seen the way her forwardness excites her own pok émon.

"We can totally get to them," White says confidently.

"Hey," says Black. "If we count the number of times each of our pok émon has fainted -- "

"Mine have fainted twice more than yours," says White. "Twice. That's not bad."

Black's mouth twitches, and he elbows her. "I'm pulling all the weight here," he says.

She scoffs. Black can see the grin at the corner of her lips. "You wish," she says, as their battle starts.

*

After their third winning streak, they take a break on the benches in the station, resting their feet. There are benches in the train but neither of them have a reason to sit when their battle is going. Black introduces White to his other pok émon and she does the same with hers; she is immediately drawn to emboar, while Black watches the way her mienshao is interested in his musharna.

White leans back. In front of them, the wall is plastered with a large map of Unova; hanging next to it are the aspiring reconstruction ideas Black has been hearing so much about.

"You know," she says. "I always wanted to travel."

Between them is a small space on the bench. They're not touching, Black's shoulder a careful several inches from hers.

"Didn't you?" he asks. "When you were battling the gym leaders?"

White rolls her eyes. "Well, I guess technically," she says. "But out of the region, you know? The world's so big and Unova's so small."

Black raises an eyebrow. "Have you been to Castelia City?"

"It may surprise you, but I have." White shoots him a grin. It falters slightly as she rests her head against the wall. "Traveling makes it easy to get away. Like you're plucked from one world and plopped into another."

Black doesn't say that every world is the same world, when you get down to it. That between lands and skies and seas, cities and countrysides will be the same, people will be the same -- rarely will you meet the ones who matter, under shaded smiles and high above the stratosphere.

White is bright-eyed and eager, so he doesn't reply.

*

Battles make time go by slow -- Black recalls panning over reshiram in the evening, wondering if he should ask her where her brother has gone. In the morning, before his appetite and after he has fed his pok émon, he wanders by the ferris wheel, hands in his pockets.

A handful of people recognize him and ask for his autograph. Some reporters linger by and he answers, "No comment," and puts his hood back up. He doesn't like the way it feels, like he's hiding himself -- but he draws less unwanted attention that way, less gazes fixed at his back.

To his surprise, he sees White at the ferris wheel, chatting animatedly with a hiker. "Hey!" Black says, before he can stop himself.

White and the hiker (and a few others) respond. Her face lights up.

"Hey, Black," she says easily. Beside her, her hiker friend is gaping at Black, but she ignores it. Black ignores it, too.

"What are you doing here?" he asks.

There's barely a line at the ferris wheel; the guy monitoring it looks bored. White beams and says, "I like coming here in the morning, the people here tend to be more interesting."

"It just looks like a bunch of kids."

"And Andy here," says White, nudging her hiker friend.

Andy the hiker stutters before lifting a nervous hand to greet Black. "Hello."

Black nods back. "Hi," he says.

"You two should battle," White tells Black. "Andy puts up a good fight." She winks.

Her friend looks embarrassed, and he waves both of his hands in front of his body. "Uh -- I don't, really, White usually beats me -- "

"I have a hard time believing that," Black says, and White elbows him and laughs with a, "hey!" Black reaches out to grab his excadrill -- excadrill's been a lot better about battling, especially starting.

"My pok émon need to stretch their legs, anyway," Black says. "Let's go."

*

Andy is not difficult to beat, exactly, but Black has a fun time battling him somehow. He's sure it has something to do with how he's so stout on sand attack that excadrill trips up five times in a row. It also might have something to do with the way White is cheering them both on without picking a clear side.

And it's nothing like Black's last battle here in front of the ferris wheel, awe and determination in his eyes, determined to prove N wrong and wanting to see why N thought he was right. This is for fun, the way White laughs, clutching her stomach when excadrill misses again. She promises not to laugh at Black and excadrill anymore, but he catches her giggling into her palms anyway.

After, Black expects to say goodbye and see her at the Battle Station later. But White asks, "Wanna grab something to eat?" and even though Black still isn't hungry (Ghetsis and Zekrom and flashing lights in his head from last night), he says yes.

She takes him to her home, an apartment building on the other side of the city. White's mother makes her take off her cap when she gets home, which White responds to with an eye roll that Black suspects this is routine.

Her mother is kind, regarding Black with a hesitant formality but only asking about their subway battles -- and, for less detail, Black's pok émon. Over sandwiches and soup he and White eagerly discuss battle strategies (White likes going in-depth of why she has each of her pok émon), while White's mother reveals that her husband works for the Nimbasa City TV station. She looks semi-apologetic as she says this, but Black doesn't blame her or White or White's father.

When they're done their food, White's mother asks her daughter to wash their dishes. Grumbling but not protesting, White does, gathering their plates together and making headway for the kitchen.

Her mother smiles as Black as she leaves. Black thinks for a moment that he has avoided a stifling conversation alone with White's mother.

His hope is dashed when she says, "I'm glad you and White get on so well."

Black shrugs, with one shoulder. "We both like pok émon," he says diplomatically. "And battling."

White's mother chuckles. "That much is true," she says. "The thing about White is that she tends to get bored easily, but she's been excited to go to the Battle Subway since you two have started." She smiles, not dissimilar to her daughter's. "You two seem to be taking care of each other."

Black fidgets. The implication is not lost on him. "I guess," he says.

"Quite a lot of friendships in this world are not long-lasting," White's mother says thoughtfully. "But the ones that are -- they may start small, surprise you. And then," she sighs, "there's daughters."

"What about daughters?" White demands, coming in from the kitchen.

Her mother chuckles, sharing a secret smile with Black. Black tries not to shift too uncomfortably under her gaze. "Nothing," White's mother says, patting her arm. "Do you want to show Black around the building?"

Black doesn't mention that he's already looked around. White says, "Sure," before tugging Black out of his seat by his shoulder. "C'mon, I should show you where I found mienshao."

Her palm is warm on Black. Black follows.

*

Later, when the Battle Subway opens, they queue in, along with the other trainers that already have partners. White had shown Black around her apartment building, where she's apparently lived all her life. The city itself is tight-knit; Black can see why she wants to explore more.

As they wait to resume their streak, Black turns to White. "Your mother knows who I am," he says. It isn't a question.

White's gaze flickers to him once. She shrugs. "Yeah."

"And." Black watches her carefully. "You know who I am, too."

She doesn't say anyone would be stupid not to or yeah, I know you're Black, my Battle Subway partner or even a sarcastic you're the Champion and Hero of Unova? She just says, again, "Yeah."

"Why didn't you -- " Black falters. "You haven't mentioned it to me once."

"You haven't mentioned it to me either," White says, which Black doesn't think is a very good argument. "And, anyway, we're almost even in terms of skill level, so it's not like it matters to me." She sniffs.

It takes Black a full minute to realize that she's joking. "You could've been Champion," he blurts. "You could've -- " He thinks of N's prophecy, his stupid dumb prophecy that Black had once tried to see as a choice, not this tying, binding thing.

White's expression softens. "I couldn't have," she says. "Some people are cut out for a challenge, and I -- " She bites down on her bottom lip.

Black remembers her mother, she tends to get bored easily, tries to remember if there had been anything boring about climbing the ladder of gyms, life and death between fire white wings -- N. There hadn't been, though there is the slow fall of the end when he's been telling himself he's reaching the peak, the mindless battle agains the Pok émon League that had felt like standing in the bright lights of the Pok émon Center for too long, cameras everywhere.

Black finishes, "And some people are cut out for battling on trains for seven hours a day," smiles when White smiles.

"Yeah," she says. "Or traveling, I hope." She looks up in thought.

Black watches the angle of her profile, her bangs fluttering as their train comes in.

*

They lose their first battle that day.

It is not against Ingo and Emmett; it is their fifth round and both Black's braviary and White's mienshao are paralyzed and confused, knocking themselves out to the battle's end. White groans and Black feels that piece of him that has been wriggling since he defeated the Pok émon League finally -- finally -- fall out.

He punches the side of the train before they properly disembark. Their opponents are too busy celebrating to notice, but White glances at him, worry in her eyes.

"You okay?" she asks.

Black breathes. It is not the dissipation of nightmares, not the reassurance that N will -- will come back some day, despite all that Ghetsis had done. But it is. Something.

"Yeah," he says, bringing his hand down. He rubs his knuckles. "Ow. That was stupid."

White's eyes shine, laughing. "It was," she says. "C'mon, let's reregister." She doesn't look back once, doesn't talk about what they should've done or could've done as they line back up.

Black feels the words heavy on his tongue. Cheren and Bianca are his friends, even if they're doing their own things; despite being his partner, White feels more like a rival. She puts them back into the Battle Subway system like asking him to ride on a ferris wheel, talks about switching up her pok émon and who might want to fight right now, out of love.

Black wants to, but she is not him. She rides trains with Black; they face battles on together.

*

Before he knows it, summer segues into autumn.

Black has been staying in Nimbasa City for a good month and a half now, which does not feel like much when White is determined to streak through the Battle Trains, even though they lose a handful more times. The super multi train makes it easy for Black to get anxious and lose his cool; their opponents are repetitive but clear-headed, making them all more challenging. One time they go through the normal Multi-Train instead: it takes them two days for the forty-nine battle streak, and they meet Ingo and Emmet, who taunt at the end of Black and White's win for them to take them on at the super multi battle trains.

"We've been trying," White says, disgruntled as they receive their battle points.

But beyond the battles they explore the rest of Nimbasa City: they watch pok émon musicals, which Black can admit to being endeared to. They watch sports games, even though White prefers basketball while Black likes baseball (the one game they went to she'd slept mostly through.)

They even run into Elesa, one day in early August, heading back from getting the last Casteliacones of the season from Castelia City. Elesa is talking to some janitors outside her gym sweeping up recent fallen leaves; it's White who clutches her cone with one hand and waves with the other, calling, "Elesa!"

Elesa turns with unbidden surprise. Her eyes go alight when she spots them.

"Black!" she says first, then, "White! I didn't know you two knew each other."

"It's a recent acquaintance," White jokes, licking at her ice cream.

Black nudges her. "It's been every day almost this whole summer," he says.

Elesa's eyebrows flick up. "Every day?" she says, looking between them. "How's life treating you, Black? I heard you were in town weeks ago, but I didn't realize you were still here."

Black shrugs. "It's okay," he says, honestly. It's not lonely -- White would remedy that in a heartbeat. It's easy to be around her, when she doesn't talk all the time and doesn't expect Black too, either; but she suggests the next thing they do, or brings the day to an end, and Black does not feel guilty for any of it.

( -- a destiny she didn't ask for -- )

"Just okay?" Elesa teases. Her gaze goes between Black and White again. "One of you must be doing something wrong, then."

"I don't know what you're talking about," says Black.

He knows what she's talking about.

"I don't know what you're talking about either," White chimes in. "The only thing Black does wrong is when we lose the super multi battle and he says it's not his fault."

"Hey," says Black. "Last time, you'd used hi-jump kick when you should've used mach punch -- "

"We would've gotten KO'd at that recovery speed!"

"We still got KO'd, hi-jump is so fickle -- "

"Hey, hey," says Elesa, grinning. "The ferris wheel's right there," she points up to the side, where the big white wheel is cycling slowly against the orange and purple backdrop.

Something in Black's stomach lurches -- he has never been afraid of heights before. It is foolish, he thinks, to get attached to someone when your memory of them cannot recall it being mutual.

White ignores this, instead saying, "What, gonna offer us a free ride?"

"Black already has that kind of money," Elesa says pointedly.

"I can donate it all for you to renovate your gym," says Black. "Then you can treat us to a free ride."

Elesa points at him. "I'd like to see you put your money where your mouth is." Her nails are obnoxiously sharp, waving in Black's face.

White bats her hand down, saying, "You would donate your money for Elesa of all people to renovate?" Her tone is teasing, but Black can detect a real question in her tone.

He shrugs. "More for her than you and your hi-jump kicks," and cannot bottle up the laughter that leaps from his throat when she shoves him.

*

The days end earlier; by the time they exit the subway station, it is dusk, a hazy blue over the city. Between the buildings Black can make out the twinkling lights from the ferris wheel and the gym next to it. He is not tiring of this city, but next to him, White shudders.

He glances to her with amusement. "Shouldn't have worn shorts and a t-shirt," he says to her.

"Shut up," she says, without venom. "Give me your jacket."

She says it lightly, like she doesn't expect him too. He can see the goosebumps running up her bare arms and shoulders though, her thighs twitching together. His cheeks warm when his gaze begins to drop and he quickly jerks his head back up, unraveling his hoodie from his shoulders.

She blinks as he hands it over to her. "I was joking," she says.

Black shrugs. "I know," he says. He doesn't mind so much; he's wearing a long sleeve tee underneath.

White says, "You're weird," but is not ungrateful as she puts on his jacket. It bags over her shoulders and he watches as she flicks her ponytail over the hood. She says, "Thank you," without looking at him. He thinks in the dim light outside her cheeks flush.

He thinks about kissing her cheek, but he doesn't. "You can give it back to me tomorrow," he says, and lifts a hand. "Night."

"Night, Black," says White, smile creasing over her profile.

*


They do not defeat the super multi-train the next day, though they get extremely close -- one pok émon away from Ingo and Emmet, but losing at the last second to a sandstorm. They agree that the defeat is a bit too much to start all over again right after, so they leave early. White suggests that they go to Dragonspiral Tower.

It's a two day trip, as they pass through route 6 and stop at Mistralton for the night. They get a two-bed room in the Pok émon Center; with White snoring softly on the bed next to him, Black wonders how warm she would be if she were closer. Embarrassed at the thought, he stuffs his face into his pillow and wills himself to sleep.

In the morning they trek through route 7 and Twist Mountain until they hit Icirrus, a little past lunchtime. White doesn't explain why they're here though Black feels it's about her wanting to travel, or maybe resuming taking on the Pok émon League.

They're getting lunch at a cafe near the park dancers. White swirls her smoothie despite the slight chill.

"I followed the news, you know," she says to Black.

"Hm?"

"When you were, um." White hesitates. "Last year."

Oh.

Black avoids her eyes. He looks at his food; he's suddenly not very hungry. "I'm not surprised," he says -- it sounds like honesty, but he doesn't want it to be. It's very real, and her presence on the other side of the table is like the video cameras all over again.

"I thought it was," says White. Black barely manages to lift his head up; when he does, he sees that her cheeks are tinted pink.

"It was kinda cool," she says. "I mean, my dad, you know, he saw it every day, so it wasn't like I had a choice," she says this all very quickly, like it's an excuse, "but I did, um. I do think the title suits you."

Black's shoulders feel heavy. He lets his gaze drift -- in the park, the dancers are marching in a circle, playing their instruments. "I don't want a title," he mutters, not sure if she hears. Battles were never supposed to be about saving the world.

"What was he like?" White blurts.

Black's elbow, the one resting on the table, jerks sharply. He nearly knocks the napkin dispenser over, but both he and White catch it. He lets White set it back up -- she is watching him, curious.

The reporters never asked him about N -- it has never been about N, for them. White's face is open and interested.

Black dislodges the lump in his throat.

"Weird," he answers. "Like me."

White grins, kicks him under the table.

Black tries to remember N, disillusioned. But speaking with him -- being with him was like an illusion, a combination of dreamlike and frustrating.

"He was an idealist, which was pretty obvious," he tells White. "I don't know, I -- I liked him a lot, and I think he liked me too, even though he was the king of Team Plasma. He -- He wanted to be, but only because he really did love pok émon. Like, um."

He thinks of reshiram, beautiful and trusting Black even though they had just met in that moment, to oppose her brother. The gleeful way Ghetsis had watched them, had called N a stupid boy for thinking more of Team Plasma than what it really was -- what Black might've tried to tell him, if things might've been different. There had been one report about N in the news that Black had watched when he was back home on his couch all those months ago, calling him the cowardly king, caring little about his disappearance.

N and his eyes straying to Black more than once, hair tucked under his cap like he could've trained with Black if circumstances were different. Could've been a real rival, battled alongside him on the Battle Subway. Black swallows again.

"Like he stepped out of a dream, I guess," he says. "Well," he manages to smile, "not a lot of people come up to you and claim they're a king."

White tilts her head to the side. "You both have titles you didn't ask for."

Black kicks her, this time. "Not really," he says. "He wanted it, technically."

"Not to terrorize pok émon with, though," White says wisely. "I mean, what were the rest of those guys thinking? You can't corrupt the dragons of truths and ideals -- they're truths and ideals." She emphasizes each word by holding up a fry from her lunch.

Black laughs and snatches one from her. "Like I said, you could've been the Hero," he tells her; there is no resentment in his statement.

"No thanks," White says, smiling. "I'd rather just be the Hero of my lunch." She eats the other fry.

*

Dragonspiral Tower is as tall and rickety as ever; it's raining. White has made poor sartorial choices yet again, so Black hands her his coat.

"One day you'll need to borrow a jacket from me," she says, shivering under his fleece hood.

Black shakes his head. The rain is welcome on his skin, humid and heavy. "I highly doubt it," he says, amused.

*

At the top, the rain continues to pour down on them. Black has brought reshiram, though it's not much of a surprise to White as she had been there when he'd withdrawn her from the Pok émon Center this morning. Reshiram stretches her wings despite the weather. Her roar is relief.

"She's beautiful," White says, with awe.

Black nods, watching White. "Yeah," he says, before clearing his throat. "Zekrom is cool, too. I wish..."

He breaks off. The shock on N's face passes through his mind again, like it had at lunch -- this time accompanied with the final goodbye, reshiram screeching as her brother and N had fled. He pats reshiram, absently.

"You miss him, don't you?" says White. "N."

Black supposes he hasn't exactly been disguising it. "Yeah," he says, honestly.

The rainfall is heavy between them. Black's hoodie is draped over White's shoulders and cap, the stray bits of hair damp on her cheek. She slips her cap off, presses herself close in Black's space.

"I'm sorry," she says, even though she has nothing to be sorry for, and Black does not get a chance to tell her this. She places her mouth on his, chaste, tasting of rainwater and her smoothie from lunch. That feels like eons ago.

Black's voice is hoarse when he says, "I'm sorry, too."

She smiles, a bit sad. They walk down Dragonspiral Tower, not touching.

*

They begin their journey back to Nimbasa the next day, though Black can tell that White doesn't want to, tries to prolong it. To their (White's) luck, when they decide to explore the second floor, the side caves in, trapping them for the night until construction comes the next morning to pry them out.

At Mistralton, they book a single with one bed. It does not feel particularly right or wrong; there is nothing to replace, Black tells himself, nothing to make up for if he's never had it. White is not unsure but she asks him, every time.

"I'll travel the world for you," she says, against his shoulder. "In the winter. I'll find him for you."

Black frowns. "You don't have to do that."

"I want to," White says earnestly. Her pajamas are white, with a munna pattern; Black's musharna had been ecstatic when she'd first seen. "The world's pretty big, but c'mon, Black, a giant electric dragon isn't exactly going to be hard to spot."

Black smiles wryly. Her fingers tangle in his hair, massaging against his scalp. "I've considered that," he says. "Going out and searching."

"I can't imagine he'll be hard to spot, either," White says thoughtfully, looking up at the ceiling. "He had long green hair last I saw -- do you think he's ever cut it? Do you think he would?"

She's teasing, and Black can't help himself to like this, even though it feels like a betrayal of some kind. The doubt in his heart says that no one is allowed to talk about him like this -- here is White, and Black wants her to be the exception to the rule. Maybe she is the exception to the rule.

It's early October and White says, "We could search for him together." She is warmer than he's imagined against him. He dreams of fallen heroes and shadowed eyes; she wakes too, kisses him. He dreams of her, and him.

*

Then --

It is November and she challenges him to a battle for the first time.

"Are you sure about this?" he says as they go to their designated arena, a plot in the middle of the train station. They'd defeated the super multi battle challenge and Ingo and Emmet last week, an anticlimactic win after both their challengers had fell dramatically to the floor and made Black and White help them up. They're not the first, but they are in a while, so everyone in the station has been treating them like celebrities for the past week or so.

For White, it's exciting, the way she bounces between her feet. "If you go easy on me I'm going to make your loss embarrassing," she says.

"If I lose it'll be embarrassing," Black mumbles pointedly, taking out his first pok émon.

There are cameras all around them -- cellphone cameras, but Black finds that he doesn't mind that much. It's only White, in proper seasonal attire today (boots and long sleeves), grinning at him across the brick platform.

"I know how you battle," she taunts.

"And I know how you battle," Black replies, even though her finishing earthquake had been surprising, even if it had knocked out his own emboar too. "Are you ready to kick the Champion's ass?"

"I told you," White teases. "Stop trying to be self-deprecating."

*

And then it is December, and reporters try to get interviews with White as "the Champion's girlfriend" until she informs them who her dad is. Then she doesn't get bothered very much at all, though it's not much power for Black -- there's only so much that will frighten off cameras from the Hero of Unova when he's out shopping for a housewarming gift for White's mom.

It is December and White talks about traveling a lot, but Black knows that she won't make plans until the New Year, especially when it begins to snow and she helps the other kids in her apartment building shovel snow from the walkway. Black comes up to her and she drops her shovel, putting her gloved hands into Black's jacket pocket. "What'd you get me?" she asks, peering into his paper bag.

He rolls her eyes and lightly nudges her off. "It's for your mom," he says. "Does she like hot chocolate?"

"If I say no, do I get it?"

Last year it was snowing when Black was in Opelucid, high on Team Plasma and Drayden and the promising taste of victory. This year, Black has lost a battle against his rumored girlfriend, helps the kids in Nimbasa city make a snowjynx on the white patches that had once been grass, and the snow drifts around them like a promise. In the evening as per a routine, Black takes reshiram out, and sometimes flies on her if the atmosphere permits -- he'd tried to get her to fly with White, too, but reshiram only does if Black accompanies her.

Neither of them complain.

*


And then --

And then it is a few days before Christmas, and Black and White have been volunteering at the Pok émon Center to help decorate, and Black already has her gifts picked out (mienfoo themed socks, and star stickers) and they have been drinking her mother's -- Black's bought -- hot chocolate a week in a row.

It is dark out, and snowing. White is wrapped around Black's arm.

The night is littered with the white, sparkling like dust from the sky. Nimbasa City is mostly asleep, as it's late enough -- but the ferris wheel is user operated, and Black had spotted it from the window of the Pok émon Center while hanging up the fairy lights.

"It's been a while since I've been on the ferris wheel," he'd said thoughtfully. In his belt, reshiram twitched.

White nudged him, even though he's on a ladder. "Later tonight it won't be," she'd said.

"You are really bad at invitations."

But now they are here and giggling, punch drunk, bright lights against the black sky, black sky against the snow. The ferris wheel is halfway across the city. White has stolen Black's cap and put it on her own head.

Black spots the figure operating the ferris wheel, first.

He stops. White stops giggling and stops, too. The figure's hair is tied back and waist length and, despite the cold, has his sleeves rolled up.

Reshiram wriggles from her pok éball again.

"Is that -- ?" White whispers, even though they're too far away for him to hear.

Black steps forward. "N?" he calls, because he does not want to get his hopes up and disappointed, does not want to see a ghost for too long.

But the figure turns. In the stark grayscale of the night, N sticks out like a sore thumb, face dimmed under the colorful ferris wheel.

"Black," he says.

Black moves closer, determined. N has not changed at all -- in fact he looks younger, if Black could believe it. "Hi," Black says. "What are you -- this is -- "

N is still fiddling with the ferris wheel controls, though without any mastery like he's trying to figure out how it works. Behind them Black hears footsteps, even though he hasn't forgotten.

"This is my," Black hesitates. "White."

N's head jerks up. His gaze drifts to White, who waves hesitantly from behind them.

"Hi." Her voice is soft.

N's gaze is calculating. "Hello," he says, nodding once.

Black is staring at the controls of the ferris wheel, bright and blinking machines. It's almost magical, the way N being here is magical -- color is magical, and reshiram is screaming to get out. Black can hear zekrom, too, somewhere on N's person -- he wonders where N had gotten the pok éball. Where N had gone.

N says, "Aha," and it's like Black has never known him. He smiles, cheeks hurting as N says, "I think I've figured it out."

"Okay," says Black.

N looks at him again. His eyes flicker behind him, to White.

"Do you want to come on a ride with me?" he asks Black.

Black bites his lip. He turns to White -- but White is smiling, gestures towards N when their gazes meet.

"Okay," Black agrees.

N watches him carefully. "White," he says suddenly, and Black can't help but marvel at the way her name sounds from his lips. "Can you do the controls for me?"

"I've done them before," White says, sliding up comfortably like they are normal citizens of Nimbasa City. "Don't worry about it."

N regards her. Black thinks it is -- respect, maybe. He'd seen it turned on zekrom, reshiram. Like royalty.

They board the coming ferris wheel cart, and White operates as smoothly as she battles. Black does not think much of it when they sit across from each other; the wheel begins turning slowly, raising them into the sparkling night sky.

N is the first one to speak. "How is she?"

"She misses her brother," Black answers, almost immediately. "N, what are you -- "

"Obviously I had to come back," N interrupts. "For him. And for her." He gazes out over the city, getting smaller outside their window. "I shouldn't keep them apart," he murmurs.

Black slides over to his side of the cart. There's not much room and their thighs are pressed tight together. He says, "Maybe this'll help."

N looks at him, surprised. Then he laughs, throwing his head back, green hair shaking and shaking as he does.

"You haven't changed," he says to Black. "And you've changed so much." His eyes go over Black's face curiously. "What is it? Is it White?"

Black doesn't know what the answer is. On his waistband, reshiram twitches, yearning to get out.

"It's you, too," Black answers. "But -- White has -- she's helped."

He blushes, playing with his own fingers.

N says, "I'm glad. You are the Hero of Ideals." His expression is solemn.

Black doesn't know how to react. "And you of Truth." He feels a little silly as he says it.

N beams, bright. Black thinks of telling him that he is different, that he is the same, too. He wonders if N will tell him where he's been, before the new year, before next summer.

"Does she love pok émon?" N asks, as Black returns back to his side of the car.

The question almost throws Black off. "Yes," he answers, without thinking -- but it's not untrue, with how she battles against him and with him, in a way that could save the world.

N says, "Good."

They get wheeled back down, White's gaze questioning as Black hops off. But N goes right up to her, studying her before saying, "Your diagnosis is accurate, Black."

"What diagnosis?" asks White.

Black finds it hard to not smile at her. He turns to N. "She wanted to travel the world to find you, you know," he tells him.

White turns pink, visible under the moonlight. N lingers, before he speaks.

"Ah," is all he gets out.

"She still should," says Black. "With you. Zekrom might like her."

"I think," says White, "you vastly overrate my ability to tame giant mythical electric dragons, Black."

N laughs again, a colorful sound in the night. "Yes, I can see that," he says, to the both of them. "I wouldn't be opposed." He smiles at White -- and White returns it, naturally so.

Black thinks of telling them that the two of them should ride the ferris wheel together, N and her; but that might earn him a whack from White and some confusing tirade from N. Black doesn't need to ride it with White -- they've already had so many subway station battles. This is good -- White, bright-eyed, N, not a relief. A coming home.

"I could tag along, too," Black says to them.

White rolls her eyes, and N says that Black is not obliged to, since he never left searching for N in the first place. It takes Black two protests to realize that N isn't being serious at all, which by that time White is already giggling, striding ahead with N. The snow falls as she tells N animatedly about her mother and father and subway battles, how excited her pokémon get next to Black's more than anyone else's, how the world is far more than just the people in it.

There are no flashing lights here and tomorrow, maybe in the summer, N and White will have secrets like broken worlds and unbidden victory. Black wants it -- none of them are heroes, to him. He does not want to see the earth; sometimes, he feels he has already seen too much.

But he will chart the lands and the skies and the seas, with White, with N. With them.

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