The fire in the chimney was almost burned down.
Peacefully pulsating, like a heartbeat, the embers smouldered silently. The orange light reflected in the shiny red baubles of the Christmas tree. Where only half an hour ago there had been cheerful voices and laughter, the firewood now cracked softly, Stoutland lay coiled up on the carpet, Emboar snored grunting in a corner of the room. Next door in the kitchen, Touya had sunk his hands deep into the foaming dishwater.
With dripping hand he wiped his forehead. Yawned once. Cheren and Bianca had offered to help him with the dishes. But Touya had thankfully declined - after all, they had been his guests and guests should not do household chores, especially not at Christmas. In addition, the snowfall outside had intensified, so it was better if the two of them went home quickly.
Their cheerful conversations still echoed in Touya's head. How nice that each of them had found their own way in life and could follow it. Cheren would start his job as gym leader early next year and Bianca did well as the assistant of Professor Juniper. And he himself, as the Champ, would allow new challengers in the next year. In a few days the training started again, he was not allowed to become idle.
He would try hard, as they all tried hard. Touya took the last plate out of the sink, pulled the plug and watched the water gurgling and spinning down the drain. Both of his friends were very happy about their gifts he got them - a tie pin for Cheren, a research book for Bianca.
For his part, Touya had received two special Pokeball imported from Johto from each of them - what would he use them for? He had planned to expand his team a little anyway. He didn't want to neglect his old companions at all, but as a Champ he was not allowed to fall into rigid patterns and become predictable.
Especially when strong opponents were waiting for him.
He had heard that Iris had left half a year ago to collect all the badges of the region. Despite her young age he could not allow himself to underestimate her, she was a talented and skilled trainer. And she had sent him a Christmas card. The other gym leaders had also sent him colourful cards with congratulations.
They were on the small round table in the hallway, right next to his mother's Christmas mail.
It had been the right decision to move to Aspertia City- far enough away from home to be independent and at the same time so rural that he could live a life as unruffled as a Champ’s life could be.
But the good thing about a small town was that every inhabitant had gotten his autograph at some point. Still everyone greeted him smiling on the street, Touya smiled and waved back. To be honest, he had had so many duties that he was barely able be at home several days at a time. It was only this week that he could spend freely at home.
He felt welcome, arrived. Celebrating Christmas together with Bianca and Cheren had been wonderful. Still...something preyed Touya’s mind, something was missing, destroyed the peace. Stirred him up under the surface, like the water in the sink, which gurgling whirled down the abyss. It was like it itched somewhere on his body and he was not able scratch. Touya grabbed the towel and, humming softly, began to dry the plates and cutlery. He had set the table for three people. Three plates, three soup tureens, three knives, three forks, three spoons. The ingredients were adapted for three people.
But…How he would have loved to have had reason to set the table and cook for a fourth person. Touya paused, looked out the window.
Melt water licked down the glass, leaving damp traces. It was as if the running down drops chased each other.
White snowflakes whirled, flashing in the darkness.
The doorBianca rang with a croak.
In shock, Touya dropped the plate and at the last moment he managed to catch it again. The wet porcelain slipped on his fingers. Relieved, he breathed out as he held the plate firmly in his hands.
"One moment, please!" he shouted, put the plate on the shelf and ran out into the hallway. Here Stoutland already scratched at the door, barking loudly.
Maybe it was Bianca, she had forgotten her cap, Touya was supposed to bring it to her tomorrow.
That she was still making the effort at this time of day, in this cold weather... "Shhh", Touya calmed the Pokemon, pointed to the side where Stoutland settled down well-behaved, its ears curiously pricked up.
Touya opened the door.
Immediately a gush of cold befell him, flakes whirled into his face, into the hallway. With all his strength he fought against the wind, which pressed violently at the hinges. Although he couldn't feel his own face even inside, Touya stuck his head outside, the cold air biting his nose. Outside the door... there was no one.
The exterior lighting still shone, an island of warm, orange light, around him a white, wild sea of snow, waves of flakes. If there had been footprints in the snow, the wind had carried them away long ago. "Hello?", Touya shouted tentatively, and even if his voice would hold his ground against the howling wind, this howling wind was the only answer he received.
He looked around. No tracks, no shape.
Instead, a package. Right at his feet. Touya kneeled down, his head tilted to one side.
The package was about the size of a shoebox. The cardboard was softened, as if it had been standing here much longer than the few moments that had passed between the ringing of the doorBianca and the present moment.
When Touya touched the package, the material gave in. All wet. Carefully, very carefully, Touya lifted the box and stepped back into the hallway. The thundering wind closed the door for him, which slammed into the frame. It was a balancing act to carry the completely soaked, almost dissolving cardboard box into the living room.
Especially because Stoutland was running in front of his feet the whole time and sniffed at him. Touya exhaled with relief as he put the package on the table and dropped himself on the chair. He stroked Stoutland over its fuzzy head. Then the Pokemon submerged under the table and lay on his feet.
Emboar had meanwhile woken up and watched the action with his small black eyes.
Touya smiled at his oldest partner.
"Looks like we might have gotten another Christmas present." He turned the package, inspected it from all sides.
Nowhere a sender was to be seen. Nor was it addressed to him. Strange.
Touya fetched a pair of scissors from the kitchen and cut the package where a tape held it together. The wet cardboard tore when he unfolded his wings. He peered into it. Held his breath. The carton almost overflowed with colorful plastic bags and packages. Bright colors. Flashy inscriptions. On a trial basis Touya reached in, the packages crackled and rushed softly. He could take out a whole handful and the package didn't seem to empty at all.
Rage Candy Bars.
Wrapped in colourful bags and packets.
Countless of them. But not only that. Touya went through the box. Pokéblocks, Poffins and Poké Puffs in all possible flavours. The packaging is colourful, printed with cute Pokemon like Knopsi or Fluffling and cutely drawn berries.
With his hand Touya reached the bottom of the package. He froze when his fingers touched something flat.
Candy. Pokemon food. Lots of them. And buried beneath it all was a letter.
With trembling fingers, Touya tore open the envelope, tore out the paper, unfolded it.
The paper was snow-white - quite different from the usual printed letterheads that most people used.
The ink, however, was pitch black. Scribbled lines and stains appeared on the white paper. The characters were jagged and imprecise, got lost. As if someone had hurriedly and extremely quickly made the pen scurry across the paper. The scribe had also not bothered if this quick waving of the pen left ink stains.
The crinkled letters were difficult to decipher. Touya had never seen this handwriting before in his life.
But he knew someone who spoke exactly as this writing looked. His chest compressed.
this is the first letter I've ever written. Despite my long journey, I am afraid that I still do not know how to communicate properly with people and writing a letter is not easy for me. I still want to try. I hope you are well. I'm sure you're a great Champ. I've been getting around a lot lately. Everywhere I go, I hear good things from the Champ of Unova. I am glad that you are doing so well (nothing else could be expected from you). That you can reach the hearts of the people and the Pokemon alike. I could never have done that as the Champ. I can't reach people and I can't understand them, and I imagined that I understood Pokemon and their needs, but as it turns out, I never really listened. Only heard what I wanted to hear, what fitted into my world view. Now I want to listen properly. Thanks to you I understood. You reach people and Pokemon alike and you reach
my heart as well. Thank you. In the last few months I have met many people and Pokemon. Many happy Pokemon who live together with humans. In Hoenn and Sinnoh, there are competitions that humans and Pokemons compete together. A few times I sat in the audience. I heard how nervous some Pokemon were, but also how happy and proud they were when they were in the spotlight. How much they loved their trainers. Humans and Pokemon - both seemed to have fun. In Sinnoh, there's a place where you can take your Pokemon for a walk, completely without Pokeball. I asked a Turtwig if it wasn't sad when it had to go right back into the ball and it said, no, it felt comfortable and safe when it is in pokeball near its trainer. In Kanto, I met a woman who hates fights and violence, but still runs a gym and can communicate with her Pokemon without words via telepathy - I had a long talk with her. It was an enlightening conversation. She told me she sees how much her Pokemon love fighting or put differently, the friendly measuring of strength, and wants to see them happy. In the same region, there is an gym leader whose Pokemon saved his life during war. I secretly asked his Raichu why and it said because it loves its coach and did not want him to die. I was very touched by that. I started to explore the myths of other regions to see what other people in other parts of the world believe. Whether or not what Ghetsis told and showed me about the world is the ultimate truth. Many myths tell of a peaceful coexistence of Pokemon and humans. Pokemon and humans have probably lived together for thousands of years, long before there were Pokeballs and the "enslavement". Of course there are also cruel stories, like a war a thousand years ago, in which Pokemon were used as weapons. Strangely enough, a king has used an ultimate destructive weapon to revive a beloved Pokemon. That love for a Pokemon can lead to such destruction... but look at me. I also almost destroyed everything out of misguided love for Pokemon. Which makes me wonder... if I can even feel love. Whether it was love, my own feelings or what Ghetsis instilled in me. Anyway, it was a horrible, destructive legend, I almost didn't want to read on (it reminded me too much of myself, but that's why I had to read on) and turn my back on the region - but the same region that chronicled this war has a phenomenon that Pokemon can even change shape through the love and attachment to their trainer. How fascinating! How wonderful! I spoke with the Champ of Sinnoh and she told me not only about the Pokemon of space and time, but also about the "being of emotion", the “being of knowlegde" and the "being of willpower". Emotions and sensations and Pokemon seem to be connected. Humans and Pokemon share these emotions
and characteristics and there are even Pokemon that embody them. The Pokemon could give people something. This is beautiful, don't you think, Touya? Emotions. Knowledge. Strength. I suspect I lack all of them - but I want to grow. To feel even more and to get to know new feelings (my own and those of others), to experience even more, to become even stronger. For myself. Simply to go on a journey, to do what I want to do, that was not possible at that time. I was Team Plasma’s King. No, I was Team Plasma. So I believed. It was all I had. I learn more and more, throughout new things. I feel like I'm somebody. Not just a puppet, but myself. That I can change. But sometimes I have the feeling that Ghetsis hovers over me like a shadow or that he somehow sticks to me, that everyone can see it. But I meet so many people who do not know who I am and so many are so friendly. I meet so many different people and Pokemon.
I even came across a shiny Pokemon - it was very surprised when I let it go its way! The chance to meet one is 1:8192, I have read! How lucky I am. But my happiness seems to me quite small, because that is nothing, there are so many rare occasions in this world! The chance that a Pokemon is infected with the disease Pokerus, is 3:65536 according to scholars! And that two Spinda have the same coat pattern has the chance of 1: 3,945,136,128! How wonderfully high and precise these numbers are! Isn't that great! There is still much to discover! What is the probability that two people in the whole world, or let's say in just one region, will meet by chance and that this very encounter will change their whole lives? But I digress.
I'm me. I can be something other than Team Plasma King. I am still a human being, I can still do something, even if I am not part of Team Plasma, even if Ghetsis no longer tells me what to do, what to think. My life has meaning. And, besides, what I wrote before, maybe my feelings are real too. At least they feel real, now that I think about it. The joy when I see Pokemon and people who get along well. The sadness when I hear of the misfortune between humans and Pokemon. My excitement when I meet new places. The way I feel when I think about you. All this is mine. It's not Ghetsis', it's all mine.
The world is not black and white - but grey. Sometimes it is a dark, gloomy grey, but sometimes the grey is almost blindingly bright. It has a lot of flaws, sad sides, one has to change a lot. At that time I thought that only I alone could bring about change. That it's all up to me. But the world is so big and so complex and there are as many different views as there are people and Pokemon. How can I rise up to be the savior of all? How many Pokemon would I have made unhappy and I didn't even listen to them. In the meantime I believe that change also takes place on a small scale. That anyone can make a difference to make the world a better place. In Kanto, I met an old man who takes care of orphaned Pokemon, which an evil team harmed a lot (Similar to Team Plasma...oh Touya, if only I'd noticed what they really do...), and gives them a home. I was very touched, many of the Pokemon reminded me of myself. They, too, had gone through difficult times, but now they had found a place where they belonged. I haven't found this place yet, I'm still searching, but travelling gives me a lot too. I dreamed of creating the perfect world, paradise for Pokemon. This world is not perfect, not paradise...but there is still a lot of beauty in it.
Touya! I owe you an awful lot. Thank you for respecting and supporting me. Thank you so much for being there for me, even though we haven't seen each other for so long. Thank you very much for opening up my world, which I am now allowed to explore on my own. I got to know a lot of people, Pokemon and places (unfortunately no city had a Ferris wheel; I wish we could ride together again sometime). I have collected these sweets from all the cities I have visited so far - so they are all originals, local specialties from right on the spot. I hope you and your Pokemon enjoy them!
Merry Christmas, Touya!
With best wishes
Touya's hands shook so much that the paper creased. On the chair on which he was sitting, it seemed to suddenly open up into a black hole and drag him into the depths.
Falling. Tilting backwards. Turning in all directions.
All at the same time.
His mind was swishing. The last character of the letter faded before his eyes, became sharper, dissolved again.
N... he hadn't got in touch for two whole years... Touya had waited two whole years. Two years of the same thoughts.
Was he okay? Was he in despair? Was he lonely? Was he happy? Where was he? What was he doing?
These questions had never let him go.
And now... now suddenly he was holding that letter in his hand. The paper rushed as Touya gripped the letter tighter, as if otherwise the letter would dissolve in his hands.
Merry Christmas...Touya tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. N had actually contacted him. N had contacted him. He was doing well!
It stroked him like a electric shook.
Shit! Why was he even sitting here? If N had left the package on his doorstep... He was still around! He had to be close by.
Damn, damn, damn! Touya jumped up. Stumbled into the hallway. Tore his jacket off the coat rack, grabbed his shoes, put them on while walking. With all his strength he braced himself against the door and against the wind - snowflakes and an icy air blew whistling through the gap.
Finally he managed to open the door completely. Staggering, Touya broke out into the outside.
Stoutland followed him barking loudly.
With a loud crash the door behind them slammed shut.
„N! Where are you? N!“
The air cut into his throat as if he was breathing glass instead of snow. Touya ran across the snowy cobblestone road. He slipped, lost his footing, rowed with his arms to balance himself. The streets and alleys of the small town, the flowerbeds, side strips and small, free squares - everything disappeared indiscriminately under a frosty white blanket and above it the grey-black cloudy sky spread out.
Actually, he had thought that by now he knew his way around the tranquil place. But now he staggered disoriented through an icy desert.
"N!," Touya shouted again, his voice croaked and broke, he coughed. He paused, bent over, his red frozen hands supported on his knees.
Every breath burned and created a white haze in front of his mouth, which was torn apart by the thundering wind just like his words.
Stoutland nudged him with its wet snout and whimpered softly. Touya gently stroked his Pokemon through the thick fur.
In spite of all the cold its dense undercoat was still wonderfully warm.
"It's okay, don't worry. I'm fine."
Stoutland barked and ran in a circle around him, his snout stretched into the air. It was as if Stoutland was trying to get the scent of N. But not a chance in this weather.
Touya wiped over his burning, watery eyes. Probably his search was in vain.
But damn it, how did N get here and leave so quickly?
Did he ride Zekrom? Had discarded the gift and flown away on the back of his companion? Shit, he couldn't land in the middle of town with a huge, legendary Dragon Pokemon. Everybody would saw that!
Somehow N must have left trails. Touya turned around. He could not even recognize his own footprints.
"Hey!" Touya screamed into the white nothing.
No answer, of course not. If anyone heard him, they'd say he was crazy. Deeply he pulled the peak of his cap into his face to protect himself from the snowflakes that pierced his cheeks and eyes like needles.
Maybe none of this made sense. Maybe he should go home. Emboar waited and he didn't want to expose Stoutland to the weather any longer.
N certainly had his reasons for not showing himself. Probably he did not even want to see him, a personal meeting was too much for him.
Maybe he should just be happy about the gifts, about the fact that N had thought of him and had contacted him.
The letter, the words in it were enough, more than could probably be said face to face.
N did not want to be found and had certainly taken steps to ensure that this did not happen.
If this was N's wish, he had to accept it.
Everything pointed to the fact that he should go back and finish the rest of Christmas Eve in peace.
And yet Touya put one step before the other. Like he gave up so easily. Keep straight on. That's the way he'd always handled it. Just because of this letter, these words he could not just go back, not just give up on N.
The snow creaked under his feet. The windows of the houses he passed by were brightly lit. Warm, orange light. In other apartments it was already dark.
What time was it? It had to be after midnight anyway. Touya had lost track of time.
Possibly he's been walking in circles for a while. The light of the street lamps seemed like saving islands of warm light, which someone had poured at regular intervals on the snow and in the darkness. But they did not provide warmth.
A loud barking startled Touya.
He stopped. Stoutland stared into the darkness with pricked up ears and noisily sniffing. Touya's heart took a leap. Could it be that...
"Have you fou-"
Even before Touya could finish the sentence, Stoutland dashed off. Touya ran to follow him. He almost slipped, caught himself and dashed after his Pokemon.
Followed it through streets and alleys. Haven't they walked here before?
Where was he, anyway? He hadn't been this confused since Castelia City. Where he was - it didn't matter! More importantly...
Again and again, the Pokemon turned after him so that Touya could catch up with it. Again and again he almost slipped on the slippery road. The muscles of thighs convulsed like wringing out a rag.
His lungs, his nose, his eyes were burning hot. He could hardly breathe. Nevertheless.
Go on! Go on!
In the distance Stoutland stopped. Did they arrive in their unknown goal? Was N actually there? Touya staggered towards the finish line, whatever that was. From the blurred mixture of tears, snow, grey and twitching light, a park bench stood out under a flickering street lamp.
And on the park bench sat a sunken figure. The street lamp was covered with a thick layer of snow, as was the seat of the park bench and its scaffolding.
A thick layer of snow, fragile by the slightest movement, but even, unbroken and undisturbed, on the shoulders and the peaked cap of the figure. Snowflakes had gotten caught in the thick, dull green hair.
The body didn't even shake, didn't react to the cold, didn't react to Stoutland, who kept nudge shin of the figure with its snout. Did not react to the cracking of the snow under Touya's staggering steps.
He felt as if his heart was breaking out of his chest, it was beating so hard that he could hardly breathe. He stretched out his trembling hand but did not dare touch the figure for fear it would break apart like loose snow.
He's not moving. He's not even shaking. Is he asleep? Is he unconscious? In this cold... he's still alive, right? He had to do something!
Anything! Touya stared at his own red, rigid hands, then at the motionless figure.
"„N...“ Actually Touya had wanted to scream, as he had done all the time, he wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. But out of his mouth came only a hoarse, suffocated cawing.
The snow slipped off the peaked cap as N raised his head.
The blanket of snow slipped from his shoulders as he spread his arms wide open. Like he wants to hug him.
But it was different. The same stretched out posture as when he summoned the legendary Pokemon.
"Touya", N said in the same tone of voice with which he had greeted Zekrom. He would have loved to tell N that he wasn't a legendary Pokemon, but a human being.
But he could not say a word. N was actually here, right in front of him. And yet he seemed further away than ever.
The same eyes, the same face as two years ago.
In the letter N had sounded so full of hope, so happy.
But Touya looked into the same empty eyes, the same empty smile as back then. His face was grey-blue, his lips ashen violet, his hands white like the snow that enveloped him and Touya. As if the snow had sucked all the colors out of him. Like the face of a corpse. N’s eyes were frozen. Ice crystals spread into Touya's intestines.
N lowered his arms as if they were too heavy for him and his head also tilted forward as if he could no longer bear its weight.
His pale smile remained.
"Oh, hello Touya," mumbled N again, barely audible.
But at least this time it sounded like he was really talking to him. ‘Hello?’ That was all he had to say? After two years? In this situation?
„N! What are you doing here? What's the point of that? You'll freeze to death!" Touya gasped, "Come inside! Quick."
N's smile took on apologetic features - somehow reassuring, the way feelings mixed into his expression.
His eyes, however, remained empty.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to worry you." N spoke unusually slowly, slurring as if his tongue would not obey him properly.
"And what else should I be doing instead?"
"Maybe having a nice evening with candy?"
"That's not funny! You're sitting out here freezing to death," Touya coughed, his lungs burning with cold, "Why didn't you come right away? Why are you hiding? Why do you put a huge package in front of my door, write me a letter like this, but just leave me in the dark, just leave again and don't show yourself?"
"Oh that...I didn't think you were looking for me...are you mad?" N asked.
“I’m not mad! I missed you!" blurted it out of Touya, "I missed you so much! I so wanted to see you, I-"
"You wanted to see me?" echoed N.
"Of course!", Touya took a step towards him, "What else do you think?"
N lowered his eyes. His smile, however, seemed to be frozen on his face.
"That maybe you don't want to see me..."
Did N think so? Did N really think so? After everything that happened between them?
"This is nonsense! Why shouldn't I?" cried Touya.
"You are the Champ... I am the former king of a crime syndicate. We haven't seen each other for two years. Longer, much longer than we ever knew each other. Maybe you don't want to have anything more to do with a tramp like me. I was afraid of this all along. I didn't know how to give you the package. But I wanted to try. I wanted to come... drop off the package and maybe show myself to you in person. I almost reached your house, when. It was hard to find, by the way, your house, I mean... I asked around all over the place. I asked Pokemon and even people... I talked to people, really. In the end, Professor Juniper told me where you lived... How nice of her to keep quiet and not tell you anything. It was supposed to be a surprise, you know? I wanted to come to you... but I saw that Bianca and Cheren came to visit. They just came in at the door. I've seen how happy you were, how intimate you two have been. It touched me to see you so happy. The happiness on your faces. I didn't mean to disturb it. I'd only have spoiled your party if I had barged in. You have your own life, your own friends. I don't want to disturb you or be a burden. I waited outside until they were gone, dropped off the package...but to face you in person…I suddenly lacked the courage to do so. What if you don't remember me? If you think I'm the twisted guy from Team Plasma who went on a self-discovery trip two years ago, but that's all. What if you don't care about me? If I have talked myself into something for two years and-" N was talking so fast again that it was hardly possible to understand him.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Touya said in between, putting his hands on N's shoulders. How thin they were... Did he even eat enough?
"I care about you!" Touya implored, feeling something hot and glowing run down his cheeks.
Damn it. Tears.
"I thought of you every day for two years! Every day. For two years. I always wondered what you were doing and where you were! Yes, even though we lead different lives, it doesn't mean I care about you any less! I was glad you went your own way. But I missed you so much. And just because I have other friends doesn't mean you are having less worth for me. Bianca and Cheren - they like you too, you know! They are also your friends and they would have been happy to see you again. I'm glad to see you again. But come on, N! You're not yourself. Be reasonable. You're freezing. You need to get into the warmth! Don't tell me you've been out in this weather all this time--" Touya's eyes were filled with tears.
"I didn't know where else to go," mumbled N, "I actually wanted to stay at the nearby Pokemon Center. But suddenly I felt like I had no right to go there. All of a sudden I felt like I didn't belong anywhere. I have not the right to belong somewhere, to go somewhere. I didn’t want to go somewhere anymore... not travel the world. Don't take another step. You know, I released a lot of Pokemon in my lifetime because I didn't want to enslave them. I thanked them for their services and they told me that they were happy to do so. I thought I was doing the right thing by releasing them. But I wonder if they weren't sad too. Felt unwanted? Of course, I explained my intention to them and prepared them for it...but were they lonely back then? Did they feel taken advantage of? I didn't want to take advantage of them, but maybe by trying to prevent it…I made so many people and Pokemon so sad. So many Pokemon were in emotional pain and missed their trainers. It hurts me. Do I even deserve to live a peaceful life now when I've made others suffer like this?"
"You have suffered so much yourself! Ghetsis has manipulated and exploited you! That's not your fault! It's not your fault, N! Of course you deserve to be happy," Touya shouted in between, but his words seemed to sink into N's clattering rant.
He was almost like his old self again.
Lost himself in his fast, long-winded language like a single snowflake in a thunderous wind.
"What can I do by myself anyway? I can't do anything on my own, nothing at all", N's voice tumbled, "All my life I was dependent on my fath...on Ghetsis and I still don't really know how to live without him.
"You can live without him! You lived two years without him! He's not you! What he did to you isn't you either. You are much more! From the beginning! You're just starting to discover yourself! It's okay, fear is okay. N, you-"
N's pupils were dilated, the eyes were dull, did not seem to see him.
"Perhaps I can only live in dependence on others. First Ghetsis and now you, Touya. Yeah, I'm depending on you, Touya. But it hurts you and me. I'm basically just making you feel guilty because I want you taking care of me now. I can't even look you in the eye. Ah, I'm the worst. I'm sorry. I can speak the language of the Pokemon, but in the language of humans I'm still the worst... Heh, he was right after all, and I don't have a human heart. Call it selfish, but I want to hear your voice. Your voice from the core. And I want you to hear my voice. I'm trying to talk to you, but I can't... I'm just making things worse. Thank you for at least letting me hear your voice, even if I can't give anything back."
"You talk all the time and don't even let me finish," Touya blurted it out and grabbed N's wrists. He did not react to the touch, stared straight ahead without blinking.
His skin was icy cold, N's fingertips were tainted blue. Damn it.
"Listen," Touya said so loudly and insistently that N could no longer talk himself into a rage, "it is natural and understandable that you have doubts. But don't give up on yourself like this. What about everything you wrote in that letter? That was you, too!"
N's foggy eyes widened a little. But before he could say a word, Touya started again. Now he had to speak as clearly as possible.
"You need to go somewhere warm! Right now. You're completely hypothermic. If you stay here any longer, you'll freeze to death! Come, I'll take you to my house! Then you lie down in the living room in front of the fireplace! Come on! "While Touya spoke, N's eyes kept falling shut.
"...room...", repeated N sleepy, "...is there a toy train...? Are you going to let me out of here... I don't want... I don't want you to lock me up... I was just... I've seen so much... the world is so much more... I don't want to go back to the room... I'm afraid... I'm afraid he'll find me... he... I... don't want to... I'm tired... Father...help...it's so dark in here...I want to get out...I want...help...Touya..." Touya squeezed N's wrists tighter, feeling the weak pulse under his skin. N twisted his eyes until he could only see the white behind the half-closed lids.
"Hey!", he patted N’s cheek gently, "You have to stay awake! You hear me? It's gonna be all right. You just need to walk a little, it's just a little bit. Wait, Stoutland can carry you." Bold assumption. In truth, he had no idea how far the road really was or where they were.
"Come on. If you fall asleep here, you die. Come on!" With a gentle tug, Touya N pulled up. But instead of standing up, N's legs buckled, his body collapsed. Shit, shit, shit. Hastily, Touya embraced him to keep him at least halfway upright. N's head struck Touya's chest, sinking into his down jacket. The weight of N's body strangled Touya to the last breath. He was all the more grateful that Stoutland crouched in the snow right next to him. Carefully he lifted N onto the back of the Pokemon.
Several times N almost slipped off. Touya cursed, tried to lay down the lifeless body more stable. Finally, N lay safely on his stomach on the wide back of the Pokemon.
He half sank into the long, shaggy fur. His face looked as if he was asleep if it wasn't for all the snow and the grey-blue colour of his skin. His arms dangled down limply. Flakes pricked into Touya's face, caught in Bassbark's dense fur and N's hair. They had to go home! Quick!
They only progressed step by step.
It was as if they had to run through a wall. The snow creaked under the Touya’s shoes and the big paws of the Pokemon.
Wind rushed in his ears, tugging at his hair. With every movement of his legs Touya's wet trousers stuck to his skin. At some point he no longer felt the cold.
N's body rocked with every step Bibsbark took. It had embraced N with its long, thick fur-feelers, which started at his muzzle and reached up to his hind legs, so that he would not slip off its back. Surrounded by fur like this, Touya couldn't make out his face, only his clothes and the light green, long strands of hair that were torn by the wind. Maybe it was just as well, the mere sight of N's limply dangling hand was enough to make him feel even colder. The ground beneath him swayed and rocked. Touya was like he was floating over a abyss. It was like being in a gondola at the highest point of a Ferris wheel that was torn to and fro in the storm.
Touya gritted his teeth so that they would not collide. So he wouldn't scream.
So he wouldn't cry.
A great Champ he was. A great friend.
He didn't know where he was. The city where he had spent two years looked the same wherever he went.
He didn't know what to do. He didn't know anything.
"Hang in there. Hang in there. Hold on, please hold on," Touya gasped. They had to hurry. They had to go home. Home! Home!
N is dying. N is dying. N is dying.
And there was nothing he could do. He just had to trust his Pokemon.
That it kept N warm. That it found its way back. Disoriented, Touya stomped through the snowy darkness. But slowly he recognized a building, a crossroads.
When he saw the lights of his apartment, a cry of relief escaped his mouth.
The warmth of the hallway burned on his cheeks. The painful sting, numbed by the cold, returned to his fingers, toes and nose. Touya was about to get down on his knees. But he wasn't allowed to. He was not allowed to rest. Carefully he stepped towards Stoutland, bent over N. His face, embedded in the wet fur of the Pokemon, was still grey. The snowflakes that had gotten caught in his hair and eyelashes began to melt. Touya took his hand, felt for his pulse. He held his breath and only dared to take a breath again when he felt a faint throb.
"Thank you Stoutland," Touya whispered, "you have done enough. Well done. Thank you very much. I'll take it from here. “
Then he put one of N's arms around his shoulder and pulled him up. N's cap slipped off his head and fell to the ground. He had to pick them up later. Wavering, Touya dragged him across the hall.
Every step left a trail of dirty meltwater on the parquet floor. Ns feet dragged on the ground. He was heavier than expected.
When Touya came into the living room, Emboar greeted him with an astonished grunt.
"Hi, buddy. Sorry to keep you waiting," Touya struggled to a worn smile. With his last ounce of strength he put N on the sofa. Carefully he bent his legs and arms so that his limbs did not dangle down.
The fire Pokemon rose and stomped towards him with ponderous steps. It sniffed first his trainer and then N, who lay motionless on the sofa. Emboar radiated such a pleasant warmth that Touya pressed his forehead against the Biancay of his Pokemon for a few seconds and closed his eyes.
"You haven't forgotten him either, have you?" In response, Emboar just squealed shrilly as if outraged.
"No, of course not..." Touya muttered. He would have loved to fall asleep nestled against his Pokemon. But he could not afford that. He examined the chimney. The fire had burned down completely in the meantime, the embers were only cold ashes. With his hands brittle from the cold, Touya reached for the rough firewood and put it in the fireplace. Emboar understood; as Touya stepped aside, a spark blew from his nostrils.
The fire began to blaze, comforting warmth spread towards Touya's face.
"Thanks, buddy." Meanwhile, Stoutland trotted into the room, his mouth holding N's cap.
It laid it down on the back of the sofa, sniffed at N briefly, licked his cheek once and then sat down yawning in front of the crackling fireplace.
"You've earned this break," mumbled Touya. But he could not yet allow himself a break.
He had to carry on looking after N. After all, he couldn't stay in those wet, cold clothes. Despite his aching legs, he got up and went into the bedroom.
From his wardrobe he dug out a pair of sweatpants, woollen socks and a wide, thick woolen sweater. In additionn, he tore his duvet from his mattress, fetched a towel from the bathroom. With this stack he returned to the living room. Emboar had taken a seat at the head end of the sofa and watched with his little black eyes as Touya knelt down before N and laboriously began to strip off his wet clothes. Jacket, shirt, socks and trousers were like a second skin or like a parasite sucked on it.
The skin underneath was white and freezing cold. N did not move, endured all the contortions of his limbs that Touya had to make to free him from his clothes. Like a doll... But no, N was a human being.
Not a doll.
And yet he lay there so lifeless. If he were at least shaking... Touya tried not to look too closely. It was uncomfortable to take off N’s cloth and having him half naked in front of him.
He shook his head. He had to do it if he wanted to keep him warm.
He just saved his life, or at least he tried to. No more, no less.
Although he only looked at him with an evasive look, Touya did not fail to notice how little N had changed. His hair was still so long that it fell over his back and it was still tied up the same way. On his neck still hung the chain with the small pendant. On his belt dangled the strange Rubik's Cube, that Touya had never understood.
After he had freed him from his clothes, Touya carefully began to dab N's body with the towel.
At first N did not react at all. Then his muscles began to twitch briefly when Touya touched a spot with the towel. Finally N was trembling all over his body. Finally. The convulsive tremor made it difficult for Touya to dress N. When he looked into his face, he paused - his blue tinted lips moved. But it might be more of a mindless shiver.
No sound left his mouth, except that he sucked the air in convulsively. After he had put N's dry clothes on, Touya felt as if some colour had returned to N’s face. His trembling had also subsided, he lay still again.
Like he's sleeping. Touya opened the cupboard next to the sofa and took out a blanket of voluminous Mareep wool, which his mother had given him as a present for moving in in the new house. He first wrapped N in the fluffy yellowish fabric before he spread his duvet over him, pulled it up to his chin and pushed a pillow between N's head and the back of the sofa. As a precaution he felt N's pulse again. Evenly. Maybe he was imagining it, but his skin also seemed a little warmer.
But he was still very pale, his lips blue.
Surely it would have been better to take him to a Pokemon Center. They were much more familiar with medical care, be it with humans or Pokemon. He hadn't thought of that in the rush. If N's condition did not improve in half an hour, he would call for help.
Touya got up again.
He removed the magic cube from N's belt and placed it on the coffee table. He took his soaked clothes with him and put them on the laundry pile in the bathroom. Now Touya put on warm, comfortable clothes himself and took the Viso-Caster from his bedside table.
He sat cross-legged in front of the sofa and used the Internet function to search for articles describing how to help victims of hypothermia. How stupid he felt. Next to him, N needed help and he was calmly surfing the Internet.
He read through the articles. Damn, why did he even think of that now? First the Pokemon Center hadn't crossed his mind and then this. Shit.
He really wasn't thinking straight. But as it seemed, he hadn't done anything wrong so far.
Maybe sometimes listening to ones own intuition actually paid off. Touya sighed again. He could only wait and see. Once more he turned to N. He brushed N's light green, wet hair aside and put his palm on his forehead. Cold skin. He had no fever. He had looked like he was delirious outside. But the Internet articles he had found also spoke of advanced hypothermia being able to manifest itself in states of confusion.
That N had stayed out so long. Damn... why did he do that to himself? Did he still see so little worth in his life?
He remained sitting cross-legged next to the sofa. Although Emboar always stopped the fire from his shoulders in the apartment, he spread a pleasant warmth.
Like a second fire in the fireplace. Touya closed his eyes for a moment, but opened them again when he felt the tiredness pulling him down. He was afraid to fall asleep. Either because he was afraid something would happen to N while he was sleeping or he would suddenly be disappeared when he woke up again. Touya couldn't tell exactly. The open fire flickered and crackled, painting dark, twitching shadows on the orange light. Opposite in the room stood the table and on the table the torn cardboard, the swelling candy paper shining in the crackling fireplace’s light.
At least this is not how he had imagined Christmas Eve to be. A cosy dinner with Cheren and Bianca - what would they say if they knew what had happened? Anyway, after the visit, he had wanted to tidy up and maybe lie on the sofa and watch TV.
That was the plan. But N had crossed it brilliantly. He always mixed everything up. He had mixed everything up from the beginning. Whenever Touya met him during his journey he knew that his presence would mean a fight. A battle of black and white, right and wrong.
Touya had never felt "right", he was not a personification of justice.
True, he had had to stop N and Team Plasma to prevent all the suffering and injustice that Ghetsis brought upon Unova. Ghetsis was the one who was wrong. The one who exploited, abused, manipulated, raised only for his own benefit and sent others recklessy into battle. In the end, N had been in the exact same role in which he saw the Pokemon, but couldn't see it himself.
For Ghetsis, N had only been a will-less tool.
But N was not will-less and not a tool. N was not wrong either, not dark. No counterpart for himself, Touya. None of that. He was finding himself. It was only natural that he felt like he lost himself once in a while
in the process. But that N put himself in such danger... He had lost all will to continue. Damn, he almost froze to death. His words still echoed in Touya's head. How firmly he was convinced that he didn't belong anywhere.
How deep the hole was into which he had fallen. Maybe it was true. N was really dependent on him and if he fell away, it was a threat to N's existence.
N had been completely confused and had been out of his senses, but in essence...When Touya's feet started to tingle, he stood up, stretched himself once. Dragging his feet, he walked up to the table, took the letter that was still lying there and sat down next to the sofa again. Several times he scanned the lines in the dull light.
The N who had written this letter and the N who had met him on the bench seemed like two very different people. Should he be relieved or worried?
Relieved that the world could look different for N, or worried that it now seemed so dark and hopeless for him?
Touya's heart took a leap. It was weak, not more than a touch, but it was N's voice. He whirled around. Saw in Ns dull, pale green eyes, in which the red of the chimney fire reflected.
"N," he exclaimed, much louder than he had wanted. With a muffled voice he spoke to him again, "You are awake! Finally! I was so worried"
"Touya...You are...where am...?", N barely managed to open his white lips, his eyes were opaque, his eyelids fluttered, but he looked at him and spoke to him. Touya couldn't get a word out himself, it was like a cold hand closing his throat. His eyes began to burn.
"You're in my house. You passed out outside, remember? I brought you here with Stoutland's help and warmed you up."
N half closed his eyes, opened his mouth without a sound coming out and Touya feared he would faint again. Then N smiled weakly - an apologetic smile. "I guess I had you worried, huh? I'm sorry...I wanted you to be happy..." Touya paused, bit his lip. He had to be careful. To the fact that the conversation did not slip away from him and went exactly the same way as before.
"Of course I'm glad you're here. But I don't appreciate you putting yourself in so much danger."
"I'm sorry... I didn't even realize it anymore. I didn't know where I was anymore...at times I thought I was sitting on the bench, then I thought I was in my room back in the castle...I hadn't been in Unova for so long...suddenly it seemed to me...as if I was coming back to myself...the me that I didn't want to be anymore...but...at the same time I wanted to come back to you...but I couldn't...for that I am to myself..."
So N's problems weren't just with him after all. Yes, he was hallucinating at the bank.
All his life he had been exploited and abused by Ghetsis - of course this left its marks. Trails that wind and snow could not easily remove. Of course, it all came back up when N entered the region again...
"Ghetsis can't hurt you anymore," Touya affirmed, "It is only normal that you still have to struggle with it. That memories come back. It's normal. But you're much more than that. Even your former self is much more than what Ghetsis did to you. Your kindness towards the Pokemon, your compassion, your willingness to help - all this was and is yours. “
N laughed hoarsely. "It's like... you're talking about yourself, Touya..."
"But I'm talking about you, N. Can you remember our conversation outside? “
N closed his eyes as if he was thinking hard. But as breath after breath passed into silence, Touya believed N had fallen asleep again. At least his face had regained a healthy shade.
"You said such kind things...I was so happy...and you are always so kind, Touya," mumbled N, eyes still closed, "And I was so mean to you...said such mean, strange things...reproached you. Please forget that... I was just afraid of not fitting into your life anymore. That I do not belong anywhere...that it is like Ghetsis said...that I am and can be only a puppet...that I ca not exist without others..."
"No one can exist all by themselves, N. My door is always open to you - you don't need any hide-and-seek games, no packages left in secret. Bianca, Cheren - they like you too, they see you as a friend. You're not alone. You're not a puppet. In your letter you wrote me about so many wonderful encounters with other people. You did it all by yourself. Without me. I wasn't even there. Even if I were gone, you have your own life. You have done nothing but lead your own life in the last few years and you have led it very well. You met these people of your own free will and made connections with them. It was all you. You're not a puppet. No one is. “
N opened his eyes again, they were shining wet.
"...but the thought that I could move from place to place and still have someone waiting for me somewhere, has given me strength..."
Touya smiled at him. "That's beautiful if that can give you strength. On my journey, I have always found it reassuring to be able to return home when things got tough. But it wasn't your only motivation, was it? You're only taking this journey for yourself. We both live different, very own lives - but this does not mean that we cannot enrich each other. And like I said, my door is always open to you. "“
"Ah...you really sound like a Champ...", mumbled N sleepily, "You're not mad that I haven't contacted you all this time? “
Touya shook his head. No. He never was.
"Never. I knew that you were looking for your own self, that this journey was important for you, that you wanted to live your own life. I thought about you every day, wondering what you were doing. I was curious, imagined what you were doing, and I was happy for you. And yes, I've missed you terribly, I've wished and hoped you'd come back one day. I wanted to see you again, see what you've become. But I never got mad. Just please... don't sit outside during a blizzard never again. “
Nodded silently, N closed his eyes again. Something shimmered in the corner of his eye. Touya bent over him a little. Ah, indeed. Tears. "It's okay," he whispered softly to him. Then silence fell over them like a thick blanket. "Do you need anything? Are you hungry or something?" Touya finally asked. He needed to talk to him. So he wouldn't fall asleep. So it wouldn't slip through his fingers. For a while N was silent. He had fallen asleep again at the end. "Not really. More like thirst...", he murmured muffled after all. Touya stood up so quickly that he became dizzy. “I’II get you something warm to drink. Just wait a minute." Reluctantly he left N alone and went into the kitchen. But as he walked past Stoutland and looked up to Emboar and saw the alert eyes of the Pokemon, he knew that N was in the best of hands.
In the kitchen there were still the plates that he had actually wanted to dry. Touya shrugged. So be it. He took a bottle of Moomoo Milk from the refrigerator, filled it into two cups and added a few drops of Combee-Honey. Then he pushed the two cups into the microwave and watched them spin around in circles in the humming machine, without thinking of anything in particular. The cups were spinning. The cups were spinning. The cups were spinning. He rubbed his burning eyes
and yawned extensively. A shrill "pling" signaled him that the milk was ready. With both cups in his hand, Touya ran into the hall. He paused reaching the door frame to the living room.
N had sat up in the meantime. Amazing he had the strength to do it. But he still had wrapped himself up to his chin in the blankets. Also his pale lips and his greyish face color betrayed - he was far from well. But he smiled. Smiled. He had even put his cap back on. Touya smiled.
Stoutland crouched before N with pointed ears and stretched neck.
"Oh, is that so? Well, that's something," N laughed.
His voice was still husky, but it was a bright, honest laugh. Emboar, still crouching beside the sofa, grunting approvingly. Whatever they were talking about. "Touya really hasn't changed at all, huh?", whispered N, more to himself than to the Pokemon.
Stoutland barked. They looked so intimate... like they were N’s own Pokemon. Touya stood in the door frame, it was as if an invisible wall prevented him from entering. Has N felt the same way? Emboar grunted - said something supposedly - and N laughed again...the worst thing was that his Pokemon and N were fraternising against him. And only after five minutes?
Who knew what Emboar and Stoutland were saying about him?
"On Route 1, a Pidove took a shit on Touya's head."
"In the beginning, when he didn't have the knowledge about type advantages, and a electric-type attack against a ground Pokemon didn't work, he just commanded a stronger electric-type attack."
"He got lost on Victory Road and only found his way out after a whole day!"
So much for "Touya hasn’t changed at all"!
Touya could imagine what the three of them were talking about. But as long as they had fun...
"Oh, hello, Touya", N tilted his head, his wet strands of hair came off his face. As if to greet him, he took off his cap and put it aside. His smile was warm. Before it had seemed cold and empty - now it was as if N had filled his smile with feelings.
His smile was full, warm, affectionate.
Touya smiled back and hoped that his looked the same.
"Here, drink. You'll feel better." He handed N the one cup from which white mist rose.
"Caution, it’s hot," he warned. N clasped the cup with clammy hands, stared into the white liquid as if he was reading in it. Then he carefully blew into it, the surface rippled.
Touya put his own cup down on the coffee table and went back to the package.
"Are you still cold?" he asked N as he rummaged through the pile of wrapped candy.
Of course he was cold. Why else would he have wrapped himself in all those blankets? But having a conversation after not seeing each other for two years... was harder than I thought.
"It’s not too bad. I'm feeling better already. Thank you." When Touya had found what he was looking for, he stepped back to the sofa. "May I sit next to you?"
"It's your apartment and your sofa, you can sit wherever you want," replied N.
Touya bloated his cheeks in playful offence.
"I was just being polite."
He smiled and closed his eyes. "You're too kind."
The sofa squeaked softly when Touya dropped onto the seat and sank into it.
He touched N's shoulder or rather the blankets under which N's shoulder was located.
Nevertheless Touya's whole arm tickled through the touched. He tucked on his legs. So they sat there, close together on the sofa. If someone had told him in the morning that he would be sitting right next to N in the middle of the night, he would have declared them crazy.
N was back.
Right next to him. In the flesh. He could talk to him, touch him. In the last hours Touya had only acted and reacted completely automatically.
Sure, he knew of course that it was N and nobody else, but still.
He almost laughed that it was only now that the fact sank into his consciousness: N was back.
Sipping N took his first sip.
"Very tasty," he assisted, "sweet and warm. “
"I'm glad." Touya reached for his cup. The porcelain was so hot that his fingers were tingling. Only now did he realize how numb they still were. He put his lips to the cup and also took a sip.
Pleasant tingling spread from his Biancay and throughout his whole body.
Sweet and warm. N was right.
"Here", Touya handed N what he had fished out of the box, "Maybe it's just the name, but it might warm him up."
N blinked at the pack of Lava Cookies.
"Thanks, but these are for you. Let's share."
In the end, the torn package lay between them. The cookies tasted sweet, but did not warm at all. Cheap marketing ploy. And yet they were extremely tasty. Restrainedly N nibbled at his cookie, took half-hearted sips of his milk, as if he didn't dare. But this reluctance could not hide the fact that he had emptied half the package on his own within a very short time.
He must really be hungry - not surprisingly. While Touya had dinner with Bianca and Cheren, N was sitting outside in the cold. Fortunately N's cheeks got more and more colorful. Maybe the cookies only warmed the ones that were really cold.
After a while, N paused, just staring silently into his half-full cup.
"Your Pokemon told me, among other things, how you took care of me. I'm sorry for all the trouble. And thank you. If it wasn't for you, then... Now I owe you my life twice already, haha. "Heat shot up Touya's cheeks.
"That goes without saying," he mumbled and took a sip of milk, "You should definitely rest up for the next few days. You're welcome to stay here. As long as you want! “
When N did not answer, Touya realized what he had said. "Uh, well, if you like! And if you have no other plans," he added hastily.
Then he asked again more quietly: "What are you going to do now, now that you are in Unova?" He didn’t want to hear the answer.
I don't want you to disappear again right away.
N smiled softly at him. "Thank you very much! I would be honored to stay at the apartment of the Champ. What am I up to? Well..." N laid his head back and stared at the ceiling. "Things didn't turn out the way I expected. Originally I wanted to deliver the present and then visit a new region. You know, there's a region in the east where the Pokemon seemingly can get extremley huge and where gym battles are treated like giant sporting events. I'd like to take a look at that. But after two years I might be able to explore my home country for a while. Besides, challengers for the League will be starting to arrive at the beginning of next year. Now I can watch Pokemon battles without getting sick. So... I'd like to cheer for you. “
N smiled at him broadly. Touya's cheeks were burning. Everything in him was tingling.
"But do not lose sight of your own goal..." he mumbled.
"I don't think Galar will run away - the humans and Pokemon can certainly wait until spring. But you know... maybe, no, for sure, I'm coming back to Unova more often now. I am even considering the idea of making Unova my main residence and traveling from there for a few weeks to other regions every few months. I'll bring you back souvenirs, I promise. Being away for two years was far too long. There are many, many things I don't know about Unova yet, even though I grew up here. All my life I have only known the region from one point of view and that point of view...was not nice. I would like to get to know Unova from a different side, from all sides. Not as their king, but as N. Besides, there are many people to whom I want to apologize personally. And even though I hardly have any positive memories connected to it, I realized how much I missed the region. The Ferris wheel for example, let's ride it again", N spoke so fast and somersaulted again that Touya's ears could hardly follow. But something got stuck: N wanted to stay! He wanted to stay! Just a little less self-control and he would have jumped up, jumped around the room cheering and would have flanged his arms around N’s neck.
"But most of all I missed you, Touya," N added, "Thank you for everything. I always thought I could exclusively hear the voices of Pokemon. That the voice of humans would forever be closed to me. And I also believed that we would always be enemies, opposites that repel and reject each other. Like light and shadow, yin and yang, black and white. Nevertheless, I have always been attracted to you, which is probably the core of the principle, opposites that attract and repel each other, but never mix. But yeah, I've been really attracted to you from the beginning. You have that on you. Your Pokemon trusted you, they sounded so different from any Pokemon I had ever known at this point. And you also sounded very different than all the people I have met before. That was quite new to me. When you rejected my ideals, I was quite disappointed, to be honest - somewhere I had probably given you hope that you would understand me after all. Back then, I didn't think it would be you who would understand me best. Rather, your rejection at the time seemed like the end of me ever getting closer to you. But we are not opposites who repel each other, nor are we philosophical principles, but human beings, aren't we? Oh, you're nodding, I thought so, that you will agree. You see, we're in agreement! How beautiful! Remember in the letter how I was wondering about the likelihood of meeting a person who changes his whole life. To be honest, I did a lot of math and never came up with a result. But it happened, I'm sure of it. I don't need a chance, I'm just glad it happened. I am indescribably happy that I was able to hear your voice too, thank you for showing it to me...and thank you for hearing my voice."
He might otherwise speak so quickly that his words were barely understood. But N pronounced these sentences like golden honey flowing into hot milk.
The embers smouldered in the fireplace. Pulsed like a heartbeat. Snowflakes were banging silently against the window. On the coffee table stood two empty cups in silent harmony, between them the Rubik's Cube. Only crumbs had remained from the Lava Cookies. Like oversized, metal snowflakes, shreds of colorful, torn packaging paper lay on the tabletop. Touya could no longer count how many bags of Lava Cookies and other sweets they had eaten. He only knew that he was full and that N was full and nothing else counted.
At some point N and he had started sharing the blankets. Nice and warm... Stoutland lay to their feet. Emboar next to the sofa. For a long time N had struggled to keep his eyes open.
His words had become more and more ponderous, more and more he had swayed with his upper body. At some point his body tilted to the side, sank limply and silently against Touya.
As if one had struck a gong with full force with a club, everything inside Touya vibrated.
N's head rested heavily on Touya's shoulder, his hair tickling his neck. Touya barely dared to breath as if every draft of air could sweep away N like a ghost. But N didn't disappear - he was here.
Touya listened to his calm, steady, warm breathing. He felt N's chest rise and fall on his arm, on his whole side, in his whole body. Closely nestled together they sat next to each other.
The warmth of their bodies flowed into each other and mingled. Touya's eyes were closed. The blanket rustled softly as he sank down. His head tilted to the side, he nestled his cheek against N's head, buried his face in his hair.
A little later Touya too had fallen asleep.