"Checkmate," Cheren commented airily.
Touko scanned the board, her eyes sharply looking for some escape, some way out. But there was none; her white king was trapped, her queen positioned uselessly in black's jail, along with many a pawn and other loyal pieces that had fallen before the enemy in the line of fire. Nothing could save the pitiful king from the black queen - her wrath had dominated the board, commanding one soldier after another to advance. Cheren's cleverness had beaten Touko's, and her kingdom was captured as a result.
She sighed. "You win. Again." With that she tipped over her king, and it landed with a clack upon the wooden board, signaling that Cheren was the winner. He sighed, too, brushing a lock of black hair out of his eyes.
"You're too easy, Touko," he chided her. "You're better than Bianca, I have to say - she has the brains of a Pachirisu with an electric personality to match - but Touya's better. He's competitive and works hard, though not as good as me." His eyes gleamed arrogantly behind sharp glasses.
Touko rolled her eyes, but couldn't help but grin at her friend's boasting personality. "Yes, of course. No one could ever hope you beat you, Your Awesome and Royal Highness," she said sarcastically, mimicing a cursty (a small feat, as both were sitting cross-legged upon the carpet).
An irritated look flashed across Cheren's face and he pushed his glasses up his nose importantly, snorting, "That's Your Awesome and Royal Majesty to you. Highness is for a prince - I am a king."
He paused, then thought, And you are my queen. Although he didn't say it aloud, blood still flooded his face. And Touko had noticed.
"What? Did you think of something perverted?" she asked with a grin.
"N-No!" he replied quickly, blushing even further. "Th-That's Touya you're thinking of, he's the pervy one, not me."
Touko shrugged. "Whatever. When they get to be this age, all boys are perverts. Touya just came upon it a little early." She winked, then stood.
"Well, I'd best be off, then," she commented, stretching. "Mom hates it when I'm out late in this town." Touko cleared her throat and did a convincing mimicry of her mother's voice: "'Sweetie, you know how dangerous this town is out night, what with all the robbers and gangsters! I know how tough you must be from all your journeys, but if some man catches you off guard your Pokemon won't be able to do anything!'"She snorted, reverting to her original voice. "Really! As if I didn't beat N and Ghetsis and all those Team Plasma jerks last year, almost all on my own!"
Cheren looked at his shoes as he asked quietly, "Touko... do you still... do you still think about N?" His heart thumped in his chest, dreading the answer.
She looked down at him, her eyes softening. "...No, not anymore. I realize now that he tried to seduce me on that ferris wheel so that I wouldn't battle him - he was a lover, not a fighter - but it didn't work. If he really did love me, well, that's his problem," she added, a familiar grin crossing her face. "Because I don't love him anymore."
Cheren almost sighed with relief; the truth was that he loved Touko. When they were children Cheren and Touya would secretly fight over the position of being her "bestest friend" (their equivalent to a lover) behind her back, even though Touya and Touko were twins. Neither ever won, but while Touya settled for being his sister's closest friend, Cheren strived to be her quiet lover who watched from afar. N had entered the scene a year ago, entrancing Touko with his mysterious ways and leaving Cheren at a loss, but he was defeated by Touko and Touya, now twin Champions. Life returned to normal... at least, as normal a life traveling the world with Pokemon could be.
But Cheren had never spoken of his love to anyone. He kept it inside, an invisible locket that only he held the key to. Bianca was a fine friend - a little bit of a klutz, sure, but excited and helpful - and Touya always kept a promise even to the grave, but Cheren could not tell either of his secret. He could only confide in Touko, the one person he could not live without.
And yet, I would have to, he thought with a sigh as he too stood up and led Touko to the door. She glanced at him, warm light blue eyes meeting soft ones of a darker shade, and gave a faint smile.
Her voice cut through Cheren's silent musings. "I'll come by tomorrow, alright? We'll play a quick game of chess and then Fly to Touya's place at Victory Road." She gave a sigh. "He never comes home anymore, and he's always been so lonely out there."
Cheren nodded absently in agreement and opened the door. A breeze of cold air flowed into his house, and Touko pulled her coat tighter around her as she trotted out into the night. "G'night, Cher-Bear!" she called behind her, using her childhood nickname for him. "See ya tomorrow!"
Cheren gazed wistfully after her, thinking of how quiet the house would become without her presence. "Goodnight, Touko..." he whispered, knowing she couldn't hear him. "See you then."
"Huh? What's this?"
Cheren stared at the bag laying on the carpet floor beside the wooden chessboard. It was Touko's.
She left it here, he thought. Cheren worriedly plucked it up of the ground, examining it. And her Pokéballs are all in here, too. They're her main Pokémon...
He glanced towards the door. Should he go out into the night to her house to return the bag, or should he wait until the next day when she came to his house? Her mother had said there were robbers and gangsters out and about... What if she's attacked?
Worry ate away at him as he paced the room, his imagination growing bigger by the minute. He could see it now: Touko cornered by a giant of a thug, trapped and helpless. She reaches for her bag, but alas! she had left it behind at her good friend Cheren's house, a friend she may never see again.
He couldn't stand waiting around and made the decision; he would go to return Touko's backpack. Slinging it onto his shoulder, Cheren attempted to reassure himself that his love was safe - she's probably at home, chuckling at herself for forgetting her bag, safe and sound - but a nagging voice in the depths of his mind suggested otherwise. He opened the door, locked it behind him and set off at a quick pace into the gloom.
Streetlights illuminated the way down the street to Touko's house, a fair distance away. Nuvema Town was a small middle-of-nowhere town, yet still categorized as "the 'burbs" by all who lived there. And - while not as crime-riddled as urban Castelia or entertainment capital Nimbasa - it still had it's fair share of street bullies and thugs.
It was these bullies that Cheren had feared would attack Touko, but was well on his way to her home when he began to think otherwise. If she hasn't been mugged by now she's probably safe, he thought with relief, lowering his guard, until faint voices reached his ears.
"...away from me!"
"Oh, look at that, the girl's got spunk!"
"C'mon, baby, don't fight..."
"Don't touch me!"
Cheren's heart beat quickened as he rounded the corner. Underneath a broken street lamp was Touko, cornered just as he had imagined by three huge young men who couldn't be more than two years older than her. Her eyes were wild and fearful, darting around every now and then for an escape to no avail. She had flinched away from one of the thug's touch, and the trio now chuckled at her resistance.
"We'd rather not hurt you if we could... Just give us your money. Or would you rather come home with us?"
One of them cackled. "I call dibs!"
The one who had first spoken - obviously the ringleader - punched his partner brutally in the arm. "Shut up, I'm the boss, I get her first."
"No way! I'm the one who found her, I should get dibs!"
The third grunted, "Shut up, no one says "dibs" anymore."
As the trio argued, Touko's eyes had gotten wider and wider as she realized what they wanted to do to her. Tears had sprouted from her eyes and now rolled down her face, and she sobbed uncontrollably. She's given up, Cheren realized. Touko never gives up... But she has.
Cheren's fists tightened. His mind was fresh out of the chess game that happened seemingly years ago, and the situation turned itself into the familiar battle of wits as he launched himself into the fight without a plan. He was no longer Cheren, no longer even a valuable king, but--
--a pawn, a useless pawn, watching from the sidelines as his white queen was cornered by three evil blacks. There was no escape for her, no way out; it was like checkmate, only there was no king in danger. Her armies were too far out of reach to save her; she had ventured much too deep into enemy territory, and now they planned to murder her.
Only the pawn stood close enough to save his beloved queen. He was a worthless piece, and yet he had decided in his heart to rescue the queen like a loyal knight. He leapt into action, bounding across the board--
--and in real life he ran to the leader and jumped onto his back. The thug was surprised - he gave a sudden yell - and shook himself, trying to get Cheren off his back. Heart racing, he clung to the man and aimed wild kicks at him, knowing when he had made contact when a scream was emitted. His friends, spooked, tried to claw Cheren off, but he would not budge. His glasses slid down his nose and shattered on the pavement, but he couldn't hear; the blood roared in his ears, his heart pounded in his chest, a drummer beating from inside, wanting frantically to be released.
Cheren was suddenly flung off the thug, slamming brutally into the asphalt. He heard a distant scream of rage that seemed a mile off, but though his vision was blurred by nearsightedness he could spot a brown-haired human figure taking on the trio. Touko. From the way the leader held his crotch Cheren could tell she had kicked him where it hurt and kicked him hard. At any other time this would have made him smile; now he only focused on forcing his pained body up off the ground and back into the fight.
Every muscle screamed with anguish as he lifted himself off the ground, fighting the exhaustion that tore away at his consciousness. He saw a lump on the ground - it must have been one of the thugs who was caught in the line of Cheren's wild kicks - and another figure panting off to the side, one who had been attacked by Touko and come off horribly, though from a distance Cheren could not tell how badly.
Then there was Touko and the leader, facing off one-on-one. Her movements were slow, and the boss had suddenly aimed a punch at her. She had no time to dodge; the dull thud of her hitting the ground reverberated throughout Cheren's ears as clear as a ringing bell. He was pulled out of his daze, his eyesight was suddenly as sharp as it would be if he had been wearing his glasses, and the pounding in his head and his chest stopped. His mind was clear; he knew what he was going to do and how he would do it.
It was the calm before the storm.
The thug turned and spotted him. Everything seemed to move in slow-motion. The man was enraged, angry to have such resistance. His face was gnarled by bruises; his body, beaten and pained. He started toward Cheren. But Cheren was ready.
He slipped off his silver watch, the watch his father had given him as a present when he became a Trainer. He wrapped it around the knuckles of his right hand, a weak equivalent to brass knuckles. He did not know whether the watch would work - so many things could go wrong - he could miss - his opponent could do something unexpected - but this battle was a game of chess. And his opponent was an idiot.
The thug was running toward him now, every step a fluid movement even for his large girth. Cheren assumed a fighting position he never knew he could put to use, his watch gleaming across his knuckles. The thug got closer. The watch ticked monotonously, the only sound in the silence save the man's feet as they pushed off from the ground.
Then it was time.
Cheren's arm shot out, a bullet out of a rifle, aiming for a headshot. He would not miss; he couldn't. He felt like he had trained all his life for this moment, and he hadn't. All he knew was that it was not adrenaline that had fueled this sudden change over him.
It was love.
He felt a rapid joy echo throughout his body as his fist hit flesh. The thug's head went backward while his feet continued forward; Cheren dodged, and the large man fell back unto the unforgiving cold street, and the massive thud that sounded was hugely satisfying. Cheren's punch had connected.
Touko was safe.
He looked back toward her; though his eyes were blurred once more, he could see her standing. She limped toward him a step, then collapsed. He ran toward her, and saw how disheveled her hair was, how beaten her body looked, how painful her twisted leg appeared. She looked up at him, and he whispered, his voice hoarse:
She cried then. Huge teardrops splattered on the road, and her head fell softly back to the ground to rest, the tears still leaking out as she wept. But Cheren knew these were sobs of happiness, of joy.
No one knew Touko better than Cheren did that moment.
They didn't hear the sirens sound distantly away. They didn't know someone had seen them and had called the ambulances. All they knew was that they were safe, and alone.
"Touko," he whispered in her ear. His voice stuttered uncontrollably, but he tried to suppress it. "T-Touko. Listen t-to me.
"Touko, I r-r-realized that w-we may d-die somed-day. But I d-don't want t-to live th-the rest of m-my life and n-not tell you th-this..."
Their eyes met. Both shades of blue poured into each other as Cheren spoke:
I love you, Touko.
I love you too, Cheren.
Without speaking, they knew. He lifted her head; she closed her eyes. Their lips met, bruised face meeting bruised face, and did not end until exhaustion overcame them, and were still entwined when the stretchers came to pick them up off the ground. The pawn had saved the queen, and became the king at the end of the board.
But, unlike a real game...
...the two had each other in checkmate.