Author's Note: I just wanted to write something with Steven Stone. Then Zinnia decided to butt in. The only thing you should fear here is angst with a dash of cuteness. Happy New Year?

Oh, and I wouldn't call this a shipping fic. But whatever floats your boat.

BOTHER YOU

You open your mouth to speak the moment someone enters the champion hall. You stop yourself, and the smile that follows is fierce, impossible to ignore.

Sometimes you forget that you're not one of them anymore.

And it bothers you.

*

She's a little more than just another trainer, too. You see her deep within Granite Cave, studying the murals of ancient, forgotten pokémon. She looks at you, eyes immediately drawn to the pendant resting inside your shirt pocket. She doesn't seem pleased as she raises her eyebrows, then fakes a grin.

She speaks, her voice picking you up and launching you into another dimension. "I know you! And that mega stone... I might need you someday soon, so I'll leave you alone."

You want to ask her what she's doing here, but you decide that it's none of your business. She's young and, judging by the whismur shyly hiding behind her leg, is harmless.

"Stay as long as you like," is all you say.

Her expression hardens. "The work I'm doing here is serious. If only you knew! But the champion crawls into holes and pouts, letting his pokémon fight for him. You think you got six lives to spare so easily?"

You shake your head. "I apologize, but I'm not sure what you're talking about," you say, your voice barely audible.

She walks toward you, motioning for her whismur to follow. As she reaches you, her arm rubs against your sleeve. She's close enough to whisper and get away with telling a secret in a crowded room. "Don't worry. I'd let good, kind people die for rotten little you, too," she says, and then she's gone.

Though the option is open to you, you don't visit her next time you need to head to Dewford. You send someone in your place.

...I might need you someday soon...

It's not likely.

And that bothers you.

*

Since becoming the champion, you've realized that the concept of life is more ephemeral and fragile than you had expected.

The prerequisites for death aren't very clear. There could be a simple snap of the deck, or a sudden disease that swells your brain and eventually drains your ability to breathe. Even a pokémon attack might turn awry or too serious for comfort. There's guns and blades and chokeholds and self-defense and more.

You think about her. You remember her dabbling in Team Aqua's dangerous schemes. Now that you know her plans, let it not be forgotten that she is the cause of this mayhem. Let it not be forgotten that she is anything but innocent, and so you should have stopped her sooner. Let it not be forgotten that blood is exactly what keeps both of you alive and breathing and together. If her plan succeeds, what will be left of Hoenn?

Let it not be forgotten that you are doing this for your home region, the same place that has offered you a skeptical view on what it means to be content.

And it bothers you.

*

Your problems go back farther than you think.

That's okay. You try not to dwell on it, but you know it started with desperation. You became a trainer in order to find an even grander passion. That passion started as a spark of interest, and gradually it turned into an obsession. The gems, the rocks, the coldness of steel that lured you away from reality... Each of them possessed their own strength, some of them protruding, sharp as a want, and others smooth as a mirror.

Soon, rumors spread. The rumors said that the region as a whole was either going to drown or face a neverending draught. The rumors said that this sort of power would come from two rare, legendary pokémon.

You had spent too much time playing games. You finished the gym circuit. You challenged the Elite Four. You won against the champion. And suddenly Hoenn's fate was your responsibility. There was no other path for you to take. You had betrayed other trainers before as you chose to ditch the Devon Corportation, which might have saved a life or two had you gone through with the inventions you poured your heart into. You caused your father and your friends so much grief. You weren't about to do it again. Nothing in you will be wasted. There is a use for your grief, even.

When you battle as a champion, battle cries sound suspiciously ominous, as if to portray the rhythm of your end. Punishment and salvation exist for everyone, you suppose. But someday you'll seek out every cave you've explored, as if you're returning to a war you always knew was coming. And all the while you'll be unsure of which battlefield took your sanity.

When the time comes, it will bother you.

*

Some men find faith and strength in numbers. You have shelves upon shelves of rare stones showcased in your home, which act as proof of your knowledge and perserverance. You take pride in this, and yet all anyone ever notices is the ribbons that represents the authority you earned in less than an hour.

Time is no man's friend.

A trainer you met only recently saves the day instead. The trainer proceeds to strip you of your championship title. You see that girl from Granite Cave again, when a meteorite grows near. Another key stone is stolen because your attempts are worthless. The new champion, born to lead, leaves you in the dust. The world is safe once more.

What does it mean if that bothers you?

*

You return to Mossdeep. Occasionally you go out to buy groceries, but it becomes tiresome. You stand there in the aisle, surveying your choices. There are too many. Others have to shake you your shoulder to get you to move out of the way.

One day, you see her. She's buying several cartons of ice cream as if the catastrophe might still happen and she wants to be the one to let others be the hero this time.

The night is mild. If you go home now, you can still get some studying done. So you think you'll walk away, but her eye catches yours and it's too late.

"It's the ex-pokémon league champion. Didn't think I'd see you here," she says, taking her bags and not bothering to thank the clerk who helped her. You stare at her, unable to comprehend the casual situation. "...You've got all that money still, right? You should buy your own ice cream."

"Hmm... I wouldn't say I'm rich." You are rich when it comes to boredom and hopelessness, but you don't mention that.

Frowning, she uses her free hand to reach for yours. Your flesh dips when she presses your fingers. You're surprised you're not all skin and bones, and that you actually remember to eat the things you buy.

"These rings?" she says.

"I made them myself. Do you like them?"

"Right," she says, not answering you. "So how does it feel to be a regular trainer again?"

You shrug. "I don't travel or battle much these days."

"Too busy worshipping those rocks of yours?"

"I wouldn't go that far," you say. You catch yourself smiling for no reason. Her naive bluntness is endearing, to an extent.

"Whatever. What do you think those rocks would say to you if they could talk?"

Another shrug. "They might tell me to go away and get a glass of water once in a while."

"That bad, huh? Honestly, they're probably sick of your face."

"Perhaps."

"I'm dropping by later. If you're not there, I don't care. But I'm bringing Aster and my dragons, so make us a nice dinner. I'll bring dessert," she says.

You start forward as she turns to go, but the store is crowded and she's small enough to slip away without effort.

Something tells you that you should take her request to heart. Before she comes, you tidy up the house. If you had decorative drapes or even plain ones, you'd consider using them to hide your collection. You take a hot shower. Steam fogs up the bathroom, preventing you from looking in the mirror. Surely she'll understand if your hair is messy? It'll make it look like you tried. Anyway. You prepare a large pot of stew, and you're careful when you dice the carrots and the potatoes to put in it. You hope that dragon-types enjoy stew. Your steel-types don't mind it, at any rate, though they usually fend for themselves. You wonder if that was your idea or not.

You get the feeling that you're missing something. Sadly, there's no guidebook when it comes to living. You think about too-dark caves and endless labyrinths, more like the ones you might see in a movie. It seems that long ago, you were trapped in one and then released out of pity. You've been trying to find your way back in ever since. The days of soul-searching have been rising in your dreams, taunting. Laughing.

And it bothers you.

*

You've figured it out. It's geographical, this map of bruises, the loose myriad of claws. She never cries though it always rains near the Sky Pillar, which used to be her sole purpose. At least you hadn't dedicated your entire life to yours. She failed and has nothing to fall back on, now.

"I wish you could have come to me fifteen years ago," you say, handing her a cup of iced tea.

She blinks, perturbed by his confession. "I came to you two months ago," she says.

"I wish you would have told me everything two months ago," you say, remembering that fateful day in Granite Cave. You don't think going back will ever be the same, but you can't pinpoint why.

She doesn't answer you.

"You should have come to me yesterday. Or the week before."

"I came to you today," she says, pretending that she was looking for you in the first place.

"Fair enough. I'm glad you're here," you say. The declaration is obvious, but then again, you've always had a knack for saying what doesn't need to be said. You had lectured the new champion, complimented the new champion, encouraged the new champion... yet you had known, all along, that you were using the child to speak to yourself.

After a few moments, she says, "You gonna get Aster some more stew or what?"

"Ah," you say, standing up immediately. "I've been rude."

You make your way to the stove and pour another bowl, nearly spilling since your hands are shaking. You focus on the present, her presence, and set the bowl down in front of the whismur. You have ten fingers, four of which are covered by your rings, your memories, and the rest are for when things fall and break away.

"That's what I thought," she says, but the whismur doesn't react.

"Is something wrong?" you ask.

She plants her elbows on the table and points directly at you.

"You're what's wrong! You're so boring, and you're not even that old. How does that happen?"

"It's easy." Your voice reveals the sad, sad undoing of your ego. You grab your bowl and pull it closer to you like you might embrace a friend. "All right. Let's talk."

"About time."

"Inside Granite Cave, you said you'd need me someday. Did you mean it?"

"Well, I did, until you were determined to bring me down. Then you were useless."

"So you expected me to go along with your plans."

"Duh. If groudon and kyogre are real, then why is rayquaza considered a fantasy story? Stupid, irrational boy."

You laugh and say, "And now?"

"Nothing."

You take another bite of stew. You need to distract yourself, so you reach for the napkin you thought you had put in your lap, but it's not there. You apologize for your terrible manners yet again, and she mumbles something you can't comprehend. You don't think she's being unpleasant.

Your home seems bare, though there's barely any room left with her dragon-types taking up so much space. It's like it's just the two of you. This happens whenever you're around a trainer. You see yourself in them. You admire their youthful energy, the passion, the dreams that don't seem so far out of reach as long as you keep on moving. When you're a trainer, you can't be lonely. When you're a trainer, the little things matter. You aren't surprised that thousands of children start their journey every year. You are surprised that being a trainer hadn't done much for you, nor had you guarded the training populace while being a champion.

So let it not be forgotten that you're not one of them anymore, and it bothers you.

"Nothing?" you say. "What about your pokémon?"

"I didn't raise my dragons," she explains. "My grandmother did. She preferred it when I was meditating or reading."

"What about Aster?"

She raises her eyebrows, annoyed. "Spit it out already."

"I can see that you guys are close," you say. "She stayed by your side through your last ordeal, did she not?"

"That's right."

"You can do whatever you want with that friendship. She can be a pet, or you can see if she wants to battle." You pause for a moment, then add, "Whismur evolve into loudred, and finally exploud. I could see you both having a contest to see who's louder."

At this, she grins. "So you do have some personality."

"I couldn't have gotten this far without one."

"...Who do you think would win?"

"What?"

"The contest."

"I don't want to guess."

She's satisfied with your response and turns quiet. You feel as if you're suspended inside an eternity that doesn't belong to you. You're shrouded by solid blackness, and the noise accompanying you is the same wherever you go. That's a champion's fate. It's up to you to inspire a trainer so that they may bring color and activity to the abyss.

"Say," she interrupts, "are your pokémon as lame as you? I haven't met them yet."

"My steel-types are quite experienced."

"And definitely not boring." She leans back in her seat and sighs, as if deep in thought. "Imagine if you added a new, baby pokémon to the team. It might drive you crazy, but after all this time, would seeing that pokémon's eagerness snap you out of... whatever it is that's wrong with you?"

"...I do have extra pokémon at Professor Birch's laboratory."

"And?"

"There's a freshly hatched beldum there."

"There you go."

"...Why are you being nice to me?"

"Why not? I wasn't on my best behavior in Granite Cave! I made all these assumptions about you, and then was shot down myself."

She shouldn't have been shot down. She should have succeeded and felt proud of her accomplishments. It's not anyone's fault, not even the new champion's and least of all yours. But it bothers you.

*

You wait for weeks, comfortable enough to leave the door unlocked in case she wants to invite herself in. But she doesn't come back. You can't do much about it except think of what to do next. The options are limitless.

You could return to the Devon Corporation. Your father would take you back, you know he would, judging by the way he treated you when you introduced the new champion to him. But it's been so long, and your ideas have become stale as technology's advanced.

You might become a trainer again. Taking a second chance is risky, but last time you did discover secluded, hidden areas that gave you insight on your fossils and pokémon evolution. Besides, there's no better way to meet trainers than by traveling down the same routes as them.
You don't think you'll become the champion again. You weren't cut out for it before, and you wouldn't be cut out for it now. Soul-searching once more is your best bet. Your pokémon will understand if you focus on them along with yourself.

You want to repay her, the girl who wasn't afraid to tell you how low you had sunk even though she barely knew you. So you go to Professor Birch's laboratory. You retrieve your beldum. Its parents are willing to let their baby go. Their baby is shiny and they're certain that a child born with such a gift will be rewarded with great opportunities. You agree with them as you safely tuck the beldum's pokéball inside a blanket and leave a note on top.

You've done what you can. And you think it strange, the way your new found purpose sprang at you. You honestly can't help but think you might have overlooked something during your many years of research. Your textbooks and articles never told you what you could do with your passion. You must not have recognized the subtexts. It's time to learn everything from scratch, and as you do, you will continue to do what you can.

The past...

You just can't let it bother you anymore.