I sat along the side of the courtyard and watched a few pairs resume their training. Some, like the mages Delphox and Gardevoir, had not yet returned. To balance this, their leftover partners paired up to face one another.
Notably though, Greninja also hadn't come back. And that left me without a partner.
An image of his frightened face replayed itself in my mind and I felt heaviness in my stomach. Did I take the fight too far?
General Rhydon strolled over and stared at me for a bit.
"Can I help you, sir?" my hollow voice broke out.
"Chesnaught, what were you thinking?" He shook his head.
Lowly, I let out, "You did want us to fight, sir."
"Yes, enough that I could look the other way," he murmured. "Not to the point of breaking his spirit and shattering whatever chance you two had at a relationship."
"So that is where this was going," my voice rose and I gazed into the General's eyes.
His expression seemed somewhere between pitifully confused and holding scornful laughter. "Of course it is! Nidoking told me…I mean, he thought or mentioned that you were…wait." He shook his head and point blank asked, "Don't you like Greninja?"
"Honestly, sir, I hardly know him," I explained. "Something got out of hand while I was talking with the King and he thought I fancied the ninja."
The General frowned, but sighed it into a smile. "And here he led me to believe my knight was swooning over a new arrival," he chuckled. "My apologies on the King's behalf, Chesnaught."
Forcing a smile, I shook my head. "It's a fair misunderstanding."
"Not even close," he argued. "This was far too presumptuous of not only the King, but myself as well. And here we thought we could play matchmakers." He laughed. "After the trouble we've been through, anyone would think that we would have learned by now!"
"Uh…that's, um, nothing important," coughed the General, though I noticed his cheeks brighten up with a reddish color. "Well, I'll apologize to Greninja once he returns. For all we know, he's not even interested in you!"
On that cue, the words tumbled out of my mouth, "Was he? Or, is he?"
"No clue," shrugged General Rhydon. "I followed the King's suggestion on that, but now I'll have to reassess these things for myself."
"But…what did you think, sir?" I persisted.
"Ah…w-well, I had imagined it myself," he contemplated. "Oh, b-but that's not my call to make! Who knows what he actually could be?"
My head lowered. "Angry or confused, by now," I muttered.
"Well, you certainly beat the stuffing right out of that ninja frog, that's for sure."
"You did what?!" an angered voice boomed from behind me. I turned to meet the glare of the angriest blue sea lion.
Samurott grabbed me by the collar and held me up in the air. Though I was taller, he weighed and could lift more.
"Ah, I, d-didn't mean," I stuttered and Samurott shook me.
"Why would you even think to do that?!" he roared. "We're allies!"
"At ease, Samurott!" cried the General as he locked down the samurai's arms. "They were practice partners!"
"O-Oh. I see," he murmured and dropped me to the ground. "My apologies, Sir Chesnaught," Samurott added with a cough.
Slowly, I patted myself off and stood back up. "It's…fine."
"Not quite," contended General Rhydon. "Samurott, where did that ferocity come from?"
"Ah, sorry, sir," he scratched at his head under his shell helmet. "I, uh, befriended the new recruit in town last night." Samurott turned back to look at me again. His face seemed a little red to me, but I might have been mistaken. "He's a nice fellow, if you get a chance to really know him," he explained.
"Maybe I'll get to," I pondered and Samurott nodded before he briskly walked away.
I sat along a riverbank that I had discovered while I wandered around. The surrounding trees made it easy to slip away and I was certain that the others didn't follow me. To keep me calm, I watched the water quickly flow down the riverbed. It was a lovely blue color that mixed nicely with the greens and browns of the grass and trees that filled the area.
With a sigh, I brought my hand up to my face and rested a cool ball of water over the sore spot from Chesnaught's Vine Whip. He got a nice shot in on his last attack.
"Now, you're mine."
My face flared up as vivid images of his smirking face over me rushed to fill up my mind. Wildly, I swung my head around and forced my attention back to the river.
"Just stop thinking about him already," I muttered to myself.
"That wouldn't exactly solve your problem," came a low voice.
Hastily, I jumped up and whirled around to find the Grass Fields King himself in my presence.
"Lord Nidoking," I gasped.
"Just Nidoking is fine," he chuckled as I let out a relieved sigh. "You know, your friends Gardevoir and Delphox are searching for you."
"They are?" I asked. When Nidoking nodded, my head dropped and I felt a painful punch of guilt.
"Samurott also asked about you before I left," he casually added the next blow of guilt. All three of my…friends from my town visit were far more invested in me than I realized.
"They'll be fine once you return," he reassured as he assessed the remorse on my face as I picked it back up. "Tell me, what brings you out here?"
"Sir, I was going to ask you that."
"This is actually nicknamed 'King's Riverbank,'" he informed me. "Guess who visits here too often?"
"Oh…well, f-forgive me for intruding, sire."
"Please, this is a public place," he waved me off. "Besides, you seem to need a quiet locale more than I do, at least right now."
"N-Not at all," I nervously shook my head. "I was just…thinking of leaving."
His dark, contemplative eyes looked right into mine. "From the sound of it, I would assume that you're actually trying to get over a stinging sparring session."
My head shook a bit and I murmured, "You watched the match, sire?"
"Yes, and it was more than I anticipated," he sighed. "He gave you a lot more of a beating than I thought he would."
"Chesnaught does have the advantage," I admitted and rested against the nearest tree. "But next time, I'll work on getting a few better hits in on him."
Nidoking stared at me and raised an eyebrow. "Pardon me, Greninja, but you make it sound as though the fight…didn't bother you."
"It didn't," I confirmed. "Chesnaught was a strong opponent and I can learn a good number of strategies from him, as well as glaring weaknesses that I need to improve on."
The king blinked at my response. Then, he laughed. "And the General actually led me to believe that the fight messed with you!"
"M-Messed with me?" I accidently stammered out. Nidoking stopped his laughter and gazed at me again as my face heated up.
"Ah. So it did," inspected Nidoking as he narrowed his eyes. "Just…not in the way Rhydon assumed."
My face must have been glowing red by this point and I tried to turn away. "I…sir, I d-don't believe I un-under—"
"Greninja, you're welcome to lie to me, but I think it would be in your better interests to tell me what's bothering you," the king advised.
I stared back at Nidoking; his warm smile was inviting, but his eyes were able to pierce through me. The longer he studied me, the more he would learn anyway.
With a sigh, I whispered, "I…I have a crush, sir."
"What was that?" he asked. There was no way that his big ears wouldn't have caught that.
Still, I pushed away from the tree and clearly repeated myself, "I have a crush, sir."
"Ah, I see," he scratched at one of his ears. "Now, could you be just a bit more specific?"
How much would I have to spell this out? "I'm interested in the knights you have, sire."
"Knights?" he questioned with an amused tone. "Plural?"
My eyes lowered in frustration. "A knight," I corrected.
"Oh, just one then," he nodded, almost mockingly. "Well, I do have several, so which one—"
"Sire, it's Chesnaught that I want, and we both know this," I disrespectfully snapped. Quickly, I hit my head and tightened my tongue.
Nidoking, however, laughed and gently put an arm around me. "And now we're getting somewhere!"
"It's just an infatuation, sir," I blurted out.
"For now, certainly!" he noted. "But, if we continue to work on this, we can get you to tell him soon enough. After all, life's too short for secrets, don't you think?"
"Some things are best left unspoken, sire," I recalled that response to a similar question.
His smile faded from that as he dropped his arm. "Perhaps, but would you really want to keep Chesnaught from knowing?"
Without hesistation, I nodded, "Absolutely."
"You couldn't mean that. Are you sure?"
"Positive," I reaffirmed my stance.
The king's frown grew. "Why? I'm sure you two could get along if you just—"
"He's not interested in my type, sire," I interrupted and glanced back to the river.
"Oh. …Oh…I see," he processed. But he puzzled over it and doubled back, "Wait, how would you know?"
"Last night in town, my friends and I noticed Chesnaught with a lady," I explained. "And he was out quite late, to the point where he was dreadfully groggy earlier today."
Nidoking nodded. "Yes, he did tell me about a lady friend that he was off to visit," he remembered, "but I didn't think that he'd meant…that type of a friend." He sighed. "It seems as though I misinterpreted the situation entirely. My apologies."
"What for? You're not the one who…" I paused as it clicked. "You had the General set us up together?"
"No, that was a scheme of his own design," Nidoking clarified. Though, with a smile, he added, "A very clever one, I must admit. However, it was I who gave him the implication that Chesnaught harbored similar feelings for you." He scratched at the back of his neck. "Come to think of it, the General heartily agreed to the notion and thought that he caught you spying on Chesnaught several times."
"Well…the General was right," I sighed. "He's, uh, Chesnaught's…nice to look at."
"Nice," repeated Nidoking, again amused. "Wouldn't you rather say, something like, captivating? Or engaging? Perhaps stunning?"
"I'd rather not be interested in him at all anymore," I quietly confessed.
"That's…understandable," came the king's more solemn agreement.
A sigh escaped me. "I just don't understand. He's not the only attractive one around here. Usually, I learn if someone is straight and I just get him out of my mind. But he's different; in spite of knowing that, I just want him the more I see him."
Nidoking scratched his chin and thoughtfully gazed at me. "Do you think it's not the more you see of him, but rather, the more you spend time with him?"
I gave him a quizzical expression. "What do you mean?"
"You give the impression that you're physically attracted to him," observed Nidoking. "And you make it clear that you can find multiple…interests. However, the amount of time you spend with Chesnaught has only increased since you arrived here. Perhaps, you're getting to know him better than you thought, and perhaps it's for that reason that your budding attraction continues to grow."
It took me just a moment to process what he insinuated. "Are you implying that I'm falling in love with him because I'm getting to know him?"
He laughed. "Imply nothing, I'm stating it."
"That's doesn't…well, it makes sense," I relented. "B-But, we've only…I haven't been here that long, and…I couldn't possibly have had enough time to—"
"Find some of his mannerisms charming and feel a compelling desire to get better acquainted with him?"
"You're putting it so plainly."
"And you're trying to overcomplicate it," countered Nidoking. He shook his head and went on, "Sometimes, people take years, decades even, to understand the feelings they have for another person. But there are other times that people can meet, develop just a tiny spark, and kindle it to something more, in just a small matter of time." He softly patted my back. "Love doesn't work in simple ways; otherwise, it wouldn't really hold as much value."
My head nodded, but my hand tapped on my tongue. "I suppose that's true, but that doesn't really solve my problem."
"It can," insisted the king. "Just tell him how you feel."
"But he's not gay!" I protested.
Nidoking rested his head on his right hand, which he supported with the left, and thought for a moment. Then, he decided, "Technically, neither am I."
Throwing my hands in the air, I amended, "Ok, he's not interested in the same-sex."
"And you know this…how?" questioned Nidoking.
For a moment, I was caught off-guard. Still, I countered, "Well, wouldn't it be obvious?"
"Not at all," he shook his head. "Some people are masterful at burying their feelings." A little more condescendingly, he added, "But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Again, I pulled tightly on my tongue. The king excelled with these conversations, and at reading me.
"Give it a shot," he suggested. "After all, who knows?"
"Maybe, but…" I trembled. "I've been wrong about feelings before. And it didn't turn out well."
"You can't let that hold you back," he murmured. "Trust me, that never ends in your favor."
"No," I agreed. "I suppose not."
There was a pause between us, and Nidoking waited for my next argument. But I turned my head back to the river and watched the water as it drifted over a few stones and kept flowing on a steady pace, undeterred.
Slowly, the king put his arm back around me. "Anything that drives your head and your heart wild is worth chancing."
"Yes," I nodded. "In time, I think I could agree."
He patted the other side of me and gazed at me with a smile. Even with my tongue in the way, I returned it.
"This thing makes me look like a fool," I muttered and batted at my tongue, to which the king heartily laughed.
"At best, your perceived imperfections are innocent quirks that attract attention to you," he consoled. "At worst, you have something to make a person smile and laugh, which you can use to promote the same for yourself."
Looking at him, I shook my head. "How did you get so…wise?"
"You live a while, the world beats you up some, you learn more, and apply it as you go," he explained. "And as painful as some things can be, you just have to take a deep breath and keep moving. Focus on the good, even if it is hard or scarce." I nodded and spun away from him. "Hey, where are you going?"
"Two mages are probably still looking for me," I replied, more upbeat. "I think I've wallowed over my own problems long enough, don't you, sire?"
I glanced back to see him smile and nod. Then, I wandered back toward the castle. Around a number of trees that were still growing leaves and various blue flowers growing beneath them, Delphox and Gardevoir meandered around. For a minute, I waited, realized they hadn't noticed me, and then snuck behind a tree.
"If he wasn't a Dark type, or part I guess, we'd have found him ages ago," complained Delphox. "Can't I just burn away a few trees and flowers to speed this up?"
"Tell you what," Gardevoir bounced over to him. "You burn through the plants out here, and then I'll burn your bedroom in the middle of the night! Sound fair?"
"No," deadpanned Delphox. "And I got your point. No need to be so…chipper about it."
"Look, I want to find Greninja too, Delphox," sympathized Gardevoir. "He was really nice when we were with him last night. And he was brave, with how he would have joined our fight against those scum sellers, no questions asked, just because we were against them."
"Yeah, he's much better company than those oafish knights," Delphox folded his arms. "At least he doesn't give us weird out looks or call us names or whisper—"
Gardevoir wrapped her arms around Delphox. "Hush, hush! They're not all that bad. And there's no need to get yourself all worked up over it anyway."
"Easy for you," huffed Delphox. "You had one that cowered from you. I had that snippy, quip crazy Typhlosion. We may be allies, but you sure wouldn't it know it on his account."
"Just pour a bucket of water over his head," my voice chuckled as I stepped forward. "That'll shut him up quick."
"Greninja!" cheered Gardevoir and she flew over to hug me.
"Bucket of water…I'll keep that in mind, thanks," Delphox smirked. "So, where have you been?"
"Exploring," I tried an easy response, but the two mages gave me skeptical looks.
"Are you going to be honest with us, or do we need to create a truth serum?" asked Delphox.
Somehow, I laughed. "No, although that does sound interesting." I sighed. "All right, I took off because I couldn't stand being near Chesnaught."
"Why?" questioned Delphox. Suddenly, he became defensive of me, and asked, "Did he mess with you too much during your match? Just let me know and I'll mess him up on so many levels—"
"No, no," I stopped him. "He's…well, he gets in my head, but not intentionally."
"That's confusing," Delphox shook his head. "And I should know confusing. I'm with Gardevoir too often."
In response, Gardevoir shoved Delphox and telekinetically slammed him into the nearest tree.
"We're best friends, we really are," insisted an unconvincing Gardevoir. "So, what do you mean about Chesnaught?"
"You probably have a good idea of it," I told her, to which she shrugged.
"Try me," she suggested as Delphox lumbered back over to us.
"Ok, I…uh…I l-like Chesnaught," I barely managed.
Gardevoir squealed and grabbed me for another hug. I could barely make out Delphox as he rubbed his snout.
"She likes being right," he muttered.
"Hush, this is exciting," she chastised Delphox. "Oh, we can share secrets now! Ok, there was this one time that I zapped Earl Gallade with a spell, but I—"
"Do you have to make this about you?" snapped Delphox. "And Greninja, you need to get over that. Chesnaught's as straight as an arrow, unless you forgot about last night."
"I didn't," I sighed. "And I've tried to get past what I feel, but I thought about it and, well, the longer I'm with him, the more interested I get."
"Don't crush people's dreams!" Gardevoir growled and telekinetically shoved Delphox to the ground. While she held him there, her expression relaxed and she smiled at me. "Greninja, dear, we don't have hard evidence about Chesnaught for, um, anything, really. You very much still have a chance with him."
"Yeah," agreed a muffled Delphox. "It's the most remote thing I can think of right now, but you definitely have a chance." Gardevoir began to use her powers to further bury Delphox's head into the ground, and he flailed his arms and kicked his legs. His muffled screams were barely clear enough to make out, "Stop, I'm agreeing, I want to see them get together too!"
"But this was so much fun," moaned Gardevoir as she pulled Delphox's head back out.
After he gasped for breath, Delphox snarled, "You are the sickest individual in the kingdom!"
"Aw, thanks, I love you too," giggled Gardevoir.
"Um…sh-should we head back now?" I broke in.
"Yes, absolutely!" cheered Gardevoir and grabbed my hands. "Come, you can fight with Chesnaught some more and slowly get to know him better!"
Before anyone else could argue with her, Gardevoir pulled me along with one hand, and dragged Delphox across the ground with another.
"H-Hey! Quit that!" wailed Delphox. "Gardevoir! Stop!"
Between Gardevoir rushing and Delphox whining, I could barely process the passing green flashes of the scenery around us. Within minutes, we were back in the courtyard. Though it was getting late in the day, a good number of couples were still battling with one another.
"We're back!" announced Gardevoir to no one in particular. And, unsurprisingly, no one seemed to take notice, aside from Accelgor taking a quick glance between throwing a punch. "Whatever. Delphox, fight me!"
He whipped out his rod and lit it on fire. Delphox shouted, "Just remember you asked for this!"
Quickly, I dashed around the courtyard, and dodged a whizzing fireball. Soon, I made my way back over to Rhydon, who gave me a puzzled glance, and to Chesnaught, who sat quietly on the ground. Gently, I tapped him on the shoulder, and he slowly looked up at me.
My heart jumped as he pushed himself up and smiled. "Greninja! Hey!"
"Hey," I returned. "So…do we have enough time for one more round?"
"I…I don't know if I want to," Chesnaught murmured and frowned. "Before, you left and seemed really…upset."
"Yeah, that was all me," I lied. "Nothing to do with you, honest. So come on," I waved him over and readied my stance. "Once more."
Chesnaught bit his lip and seemed unsure, but he walked over and raised his fists. Even though I could already feel my face burn up, I took a deep breath in and exhaled.
It's worth a shot.