|And We Will Wonder
Author: Wanna Be Formal PM
In which Steven almost gets killed by a cave and the beginnings of originshipping are had. A present for Amy.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Steven S./Daigo & Wallace/Mikuri - Words: 8,358 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 9 - Published: 05-27-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8154842
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Wallace was worried.
Well, no, that wasn't quite right. Wallace rarely worried. He rarely had reason to, in fact, having long ascended to the rank of champion as both a battler and a coordinator and taken his part in staving off yet another destruction of the world. (It happened so often, really. It was as if the creational Pokemon weren't content unless everyone was thrown into a state of immediate danger. Though, admittedly, there always seemed to be some child prodigy around to save the day.) It wasn't as if he had anyone after more than a competitive battle or the hosting of a contest, perhaps the occasional prodding from his fellow champions to meddle in the lives of up-and-coming trainers. Like most his age who had already reached the crest of their journey, he had nothing to do but coast along, worry-free, coordinating for the most part until he bothered to get himself into something adventurous. As it stood, he wasn't much one for adventure.
No, Wallace was not worried. Rather, he was supremely anxious, apprehension gnawing at his gut and making him almost nauseous with unease. It was as if he were one of those macabre Psychic trainers who went around prophesying horrific things and he'd suddenly been swept up in the throes of a prediction. Something seemed wrong, but he didn't know what it was, or if in fact he had any reason to be fidgeting and fretting about something he knew nothing about. It seemed silly. Juan commented as such.
"If you don't cease your fretting, I'm afraid I'll have to kick you out. You're making me nervous, and I don't even know what you're fussing about," the older man stated with a quirked brow, watching his previous apprentice self-consciously untangle his fingers, smoothing them across his pants and leaning back into his chair.
"It's nothing," Wallace replied, tapping his knee absently.
"Obviously." Juan smiled, resting his chin against the palm of his hand. "If I'm boring you, leave. You're no use to me preoccupied, and I'll surely get more work done without you taking up my time. It's not as if I need you to run the gym anyhow."
The flowing rhythm tapped against Wallace's knee, a mimicry of piano positions, came to a sputtering stop. Wallace curled his fingers against his thigh, straightening his posture and coughing once. "Sorry. You're absolutely correct. I don't know what's gotten into me."
Juan laughed. "If something's distracting you so badly, it must be important. Go attend to whatever it is— I know how long it's been since you've had anything interesting to do."
Wallace gave a weary smile, shifting in his seat before Juan's office desk. Of course, it couldn't be called so much an office as a parlor room behind the gym, furniture immaculate and ostentatious, pools on all sides filled with Juan's personal Pokemon. It was just as it had been when Juan had first taken over the gym— Wallace had no reason to change it. No one could say that he didn't share certain tastes with his mentor.
When Wallace had been succeeded by Brendan as Hoenn Champion, neither water type trainers had brought up another change in position. Thus far, Juan seemed content to have his job back, and Wallace felt it was enough simply to run errands and fulfill requests. Running a gym, especially so high up in the league, was almost as uneventful to him as being champion, and while he was certainly not as frantic as others he knew, Wallace did not do well as an idle person. Stagnant water, after all, soon became foul.
"I suppose I'll be back next week, then, after the contest in Purika. I should have the information you asked for by then." Wasting no more time, Wallace stood, swiftly snatching up his cape from its perch across the back of his chair and retying it about his shoulders in the manner befitting of a master coordinator.
"I should hope so. And I will surely have some riveting tale to regale about a new child prodigy, as there is word of another arising in the region." The excitement was clear in Juan's eyes at the prospect of a powerful new challenger. "He'll be no Brendan, of course, but we'll see."
Wallace had enough presence of mind to think back on whether or not he was privy to such rumors. He didn't much care— he was far more caught up with contests, now, than battling— but he was usually quite in-the-know about battling trends. He remembered some idle chatter from the Elite Four the last time he'd called. "Indeed. From what I've heard, he seems to lack technique. Perhaps you can teach him something. Goodbye, Juan."
Juan waved him off, straightening papers on his desk in an attempt to remember whatever he'd been working on before Wallace had stopped by. "Yes, yes, don't get yourself hurt with your head so in the clouds. It would be quite a shame if you accidentally drowned at sea."
"Of course," Wallace replied wryly, already half out the door and on his way home.
Upon further inspection, Wallace decided that it must have been because of Steven that he was so distracted. The man had left on business to Sinnoh two weeks prior, intent on proposing a partnership with the Poketch company for one thing or another. He'd expressed much excitement at the prospect of meeting the resident rock enthusiasts of the region, such a boyish wave of energy overcoming him that Wallace, amused, had indulged his babbling on science and geology far more than usual. It made sense that Steven would spend the majority of his time digging in the mines and tunnels, ever on the lookout for new items for his collection, but he'd missed his return date by two days. That, despite Steven's tendency to lose himself in his work, was very unlike him, especially when there was work to carry through for the Devon Corporation. Raving eccentric though Steven may have been, he took his role in the family company very seriously.
Admittedly, it wasn't much to get worked up over. Steven Stone was a grown, capable man, as well as a powerful trainer. There wasn't much that could best him, and he was not careless when digging in the earth. Ever since the legendary Pokemon debacle, however, Wallace had been particularly attentive to Steven's well-being, and the idea of losing him, of any future they had together being cut short, had nearly been his ruin. His frantic endeavor to show the former champion how sorely he cared for him before the world's end had, if nothing else, brought them only closer, though there had been no words for what they shared. Having no name for it made Wallace all the more uneasy.
Mildly frustrated with himself, Wallace attempted to place a match call to Steven, unsurprised when it did not go through. If there was any chance of Steven being underground, it was rare for anyone to get a hold of him. It was for this reason that Steven was usually so punctual: he had deadlines to keep, and he was no use to anyone if he couldn't be contacted.
Entering his home and flippantly releasing his Pokemon into the indoor pool, Wallace placed a second call, this time to the Devon Corp president himself. It seemed ridiculous that he would be calling Steven's father to see where he was, but who else would have any real idea? Mr. Stone was also Steven's employer, and they both respected that relationship when it came to business matters. At any rate, it wasn't as if Wallace could go calling up the people in Sinnoh. They didn't exactly have PokeNavs, and— ah. The trip made more sense, then. The ability to contact people across separate regions through some other form than mail or physical messengers would be most efficient. On top of it, these technology companies were.
"Hello? Wallace?" Mr. Stone answered, sounding as harried yet cheerful as Wallace could ever remember.
"Yes, hello, Mr. Stone," Wallace responded, tapping his fingers repetitively against the darkly finished wood of his desk even before he'd sat down in his chair. "I was wondering if you've had word from your son. It was my understanding that he would be returning two days ago."
"Ah," the older man's voice sounded from the PokeNav's speaker, losing its genial tone. "I'm sorry to say that I have not. As a matter of fact, I was almost ready to send out someone to bring him back. It's unusual of him to do this without notice, you know, and I'm almost afraid to think that something might have happened."
There was a painful twist in Wallace's gut that had him grimacing. His mind had been traveling the same dark path. Of course, no reason to let on such a thing. "I'm sure he's come to no harm, Mr. Stone, though I am concerned. If he doesn't show up soon, sending someone after him wouldn't be unfounded." It was with great restraint that Wallace did not immediately take it upon himself to go.
"Indeed. I'll be sure to let you know if we catch wind of him, Wallace."
"I'll do the same."
As they ended the call, Wallace slouched against the back of his desk chair, closing his eyes and letting loose his frustrations in a deep, long breath. Though it had proved to alleviate tension in most other situations, he felt nothing change. Rather, a heavy fatigue settled over him like a downey blanket on a warm summer night.
Steven Stone would be his undoing.
As far as business deals went, this one had started out as a success. The Poketch company was not particularly large and, being family-owned, they were not adverse to expanding. The business talk had seemed to intimidate them, but the president had been eager to pursue the idea of a partnership, saying that he had already been thinking about advancing his watches beyond simple apps. Steven had left the written proposal with them and asked to send their reply when they had it. He would be in the region for the next few weeks— if they were ready when he passed by again, he would negotiate then and there.
The formality of it had taken up two days of his two weeks in Sinnoh, the travel there another three. He would have taken Skarmory to save time, but he hadn't been keen on the idea of weighing down his Pokemon with his supplies and, really, it wouldn't hurt to take a boat for once.
With the main purpose of his trip out of the way, Steven had traveled quickly to Oreburgh, intent on meeting the three rock officianatos of Sinnoh and scanning the foreign soil for interesting finds.
Roark hadn't been anything special, as far as a gym leader went. He was on the bottom tier of the region, but he was good enough for the beginning trainers that came to challenge him and gracious enough to offer his mine for training. It was the younger man's passion that had really caught Steven's attention, however, both for his work and for his Pokemon. He ran the mines efficiently and with ease, and the entire town seemed to adore him. As very well it should have been for a gym leader, but nonetheless. The way he threw himself into his mining rivaled Steven's own vigor, and it was with this shared passion that the two struck up an immediate companionship.
It astounded Steven to know that they had made a regular thing of mining in Sinnoh, "Explorer Kits" being distributed to any trainer that asked around in Eterna. Even the trainer-oriented television shows dedicated a segment to the bases and groups that children made underground. It was, simply put, astounding.
After a quick excursion to Eterna and an amiable and informational meeting with the Underground Man, Steven let Roark walk him through the childish basics of the Underground. The next few days were spent with the two palling around when the gym leader was not busy with challengers or his mining operation, and Steven left with the promise of making Roark one of the first to know if the business deal between Devon and Poketch was a success— it would be wonderful to stay in touch. Soon Steven was off to Canalave and, to his great excitement, Byron.
The older man was, if nothing else, intimidating in his enthusiasm. It was mildly surprising to learn that Roark was Byron's son, and Byron the Underground Man's, but not overly much so, and Steven tried his hardest to learn as much as he possibly could from the gym leader. He did not escape without a battle, of course, and despite having the same type of Pokemon, Steven had more than held his own. He had, after all, been a champion. When Byron offered him a badge, he'd laughed.
"No. I couldn't handle the championship title in my own region. I've no place taking badges here."
In the end, Byron had bribed him, letting Steven in on the best digging sites only of he accepted the gym badge. Naturally, it was Iron Island that he suggested most prominently, and Steven promised to spend a majority of his time there. After visiting the other mines and tunnels of the region, he did, and he was not unhappy with his spoils. He was entranced by the often radical similarities or differences between samples from different regions. It was a matter of science, and he threw himself into it wholeheartedly.
When he'd come to Sinnoh, it was with his business items first and foremost, but his digging team had been fastened securely to his person, keeping in mind the fact that his main party Pokemon would have to come along for battles such as the one with Byron. One did not enter a cave without expecting a battle, and while he did not expend much energy on them, he was not so arrogant as to think that they were not worth his attention.
He'd brought his youngest Aron as his key digging companion, as he favored them for the job. The Pokemon was energetic and temperamental, running around with surprising speed despite its weight and engaging in the occasional scuffle with native Pokemon when he was without work for long. Being so young, it often needed Steven's much older and stronger Aggron to bail it out of trouble. Steven would look away from his work long enough only to sigh and shake his head with amused exasperation.
Though the "Explorer Kit" was very handy with its hand-held tools and easy technology, Steven liked the more rigorous work of using his Pokemon and mining in an area that had not been set up specifically for that purpose. He was a veteran, not a child, and he didn't need any silly underground paths to find his treasures.
Tired from long days and nights of constant, methodical work, Steven hadn't been paying much attention to the state of his Pokemon. He'd spent most of his last day penning his findings rather than actively working to mine rare (and some not-so-rare) stones, and he should have had the presence of mind to return the Aron to its Pokeball, given the trouble that it got into when bored. For this reason, he could find no blame in his Pokemon when he was alerted to their distress from twin calls of warning and aggravation from his Aggron and one irate Steelix. Upon swift inspection, it had been provoked into a fury by the rash and energetic Aron. There was little time before Aggron's attempts to stop the steel snake ended in a fierce battle that shook the nearby walls, weak from both Steven's ministrations and the bored work of his Pokemon. He got out only a stern command of Aggron to help stop the small alcove's collapse before the walls began to fall, and from there it was only by pure luck that he scrambled into a pocket in the stone that was, for the most part, stable. It was with far less luck that at the last moment he was crashed harshly against one wall of stone by a large crumbling rock, knocking him almost immediately unconscious.
When he awoke, he very nearly threw up from the nausea that roiled in his stomach from the pain along his body. It had been a long time since he'd been so careless as to let something like this happen, and, if he'd had the other members of his mining team, it could have very well been avoided.
There was a small cry in the darkness that made Steven wince, head searing with white-hot pain. He shifted only enough to look in the direction of the cry and was glad to find that, inexperienced as the Aron might have been, it was still a native of the underground. It had burrowed a tunnel under the debris, not through it, giving Steven both ventilation and peace of mind.
By the nature of the collapse, any effort that either Aron or Aggron might have made to move the rocks would prove only to crush Steven in his lucky pocket of safety. It was a matter for expert excavators and their psychic Pokemon— teams that Steven had foolishly neglected to alert about his whereabouts. One never went into a cave without someone on the outside knowing when to come searching, especially when one planned to hide in the farthest, unmolested corners of the cave. Steven felt like an idiot for his rookie mistake. He was raised by a stone collector, for goodness' sake!
"It's okay, Aron. Don't worry," Steven whispered, voice hoarse and close to giving out. It wouldn't do to have the small thing working itself into a frenzy. He gingerly reached with his left hand down to the belt he wore mining, fumbling to unhook the third Pokeball along its length. He rolled it in the general direction of the small iron Pokemon and hoped that its ability to see in the darkness would allow it to see the darkly-colored ball. "Take Skarmory's Pokeball and bring it outside. Try to let her out and tell her to get help. She knows what to do." The steel bird had been around the last time something like this had happened and, though it had not been Steven on this side of the collapse, it was very much the same situation. Sans, hopefully, the great harm that had befallen the trainer Steven had found.
It stood to reason that his Aggron was standing guard beside the collapse, making sure to protect it from any of the local Pokemon's tampering, and Aron would be too terrified to be much help, bless the poor thing. Skarmory was Steven's only real hope. Steven had to trust in her ability to find her way off the island and back to the mainland.
By the small cry of Steven's Aron receding into the stone around him, he assumed that his orders were being carried through. All he had to do was stay alive long enough to be rescued.
He now understood why it was so rare that people found under collapses seemed to follow the rules laid out for these situations. It was so difficult to think, let alone move.
Eyes screwed shut in pain, Steven did his best to catalog his body, checking for bleeding or, heaven forbid, any crushed body parts. To his great relief, he did not seem to be in any danger of bleeding out, though he did find several broken ribs, a likely broken right arm, a shattered collarbone, and a undoubtedly concussed head. His leg felt numb. He'd already reached the end of his cognitive ability, and it was by sheer willpower that he stayed, to some degree, conscious.
It was during this semi-conscious delirium that Steven ruminated on the abject irony of the situation. He had persevered through the perilous journey to his championship and the dangerous nature of his hobbies. He had inadvertently set in motion the rise to power of one of the greatest trainers to come from Hoenn. He had survived both Team Magma's and Team Aqua's attempts to unseat his rebellion against their plotting, as well as the fury of the legendary Pokemon awakened as a result of their efforts. He had helped to divert the end of the natural workings of the world. It would seem that, after all this, he had survived the worst that could be thrown at him, that there was nothing else death would bother with sans old age, but— to die at the hand of the past-time he loved so dearly, for the thing that took up the majority of his post-championship life? To permanently die at something so menial, as opposed to everything else he had done? It was laughable! Sad, even. He wouldn't even be able to fulfill his first meaningful contribution to the company he would have one day inherited. And oh, his father. He would be devastated. To lose his son to the single thing that had tied them together more than anything else? He wouldn't come out of the ordeal whole again.
But it was not just his father that Steven was worried about.
He would not delude himself into thinking that what they had was anything more than it was. They were best friends whose relationship had quite reasonably evolved into something more. It was not the full evolution, and Steven wouldn't dare to be so bold as to assume it would advance much more, but the fact of the matter was that Steven cared for Wallace as deeply as he cared for his own father and even for his Pokemon, the compassion for whom had in no small part originally encouraged him to train. Not for glory or anything silly as that— he was the heir to a wealthy company and he liked rocks— but because the idea of people misusing Pokemon had been horrific, inspiring him to rally against it. Thus why he campaigned so avidly against organizations such as those who had almost destroyed the world for their own selfish interests. If Steven cared as much for Wallace as he did for the most important aspects of his life, then it stood to reason that Wallace had become an important aspect of his life. Not a day went by that the water Pokemon trainer did not enter his mind.
It had been Wallace, not Steven, who had first addressed the feelings about which they beat so childishly around the bush. Though the circumstances were questionable (would he have done it if they weren't about to die?), Steven's heart had swelled with hope and affection, a counterpoint to the angry desperation he'd felt in the chaos of the legendaries' awakenings. If it weren't, indeed, for those dire circumstances, they surely would have explored their feelings more, but they hadn't then and they still hadn't now, months later. They spent more time together, sure, and there were more than a few brazen kisses shared here and there, but there was no sign of moving full steam ahead into this development. That seemed absolutely ridiculous to Steven. They had faced much in their still admittedly few years of living— what was the simply matter of, well, love? The careful way they treated the subject made it seem as if it were somehow fragile, which Steven knew for a fact it was not.
If, somehow, Skarmory did not come through quickly enough, the thing Steven would regret most would be not exploring his deeper feelings for one gorgeous former champion.
Having been sent out late into the night, Skarmory had not been granted the luxury of simply alerting the trainers nearby that hers had been hurt. Most had retired for the night, either home or at least above ground, and the steel bird was left with the indignity of being led from the cave by the young Aron that Steven had recently taken under his proverbial wing. Skarmory was a proud bird, but all the same she loved her trainer fiercely. She could squash down her ire for his sake.
When she'd breeched the open air and flown into the skies, it had taken several minutes of circling the island to orient herself to the magnetic poles that informed her so avidly of her position on the earth. Based on what she had been able to piece together from Aron during their journey to the surface, the mainland was south. Skarmory quickly understood to whom she would be flying.
It took several hours but Skarmory eventually made it to Canalave, scanning the small port for the gym that she had exited not so many days before. There had been a fair amount of visiting after the battle and Skarmory was mostly familiar with the layout of the town. Naturally, she went first to the gym, which was closed and darkened, much to her disappointment. Rather than fly aimlessly about, she set to work discerning from the local Pokemon where she would find the large, red-headed man that she had seen so often in the past week.
She was eventually led to a small shack to the right of the river by a pretentious, but surprisingly helpful, Glameow. Saying a quick thanks, she wasted no time awakening the inhabitant, and it was not long before a sleepy and disgruntled gym leader came storming out the front door, Pokeballs wielded threateningly in hand. Skarmory let out a distressed screech to convey the seriousness of the situation.
It did not take Byron long to realize what had happened.
With the swift decisiveness to be desired of a gym leader, Byron readied himself and set out for Iron Island to search for the peculiar Stone boy who had come stumbling into Sinnoh like an excitable child parading in a man's suit. Despite his power, Steven reminded Byron of his own son, and that thought was terrifying in and of itself. Accidents happened even to the best of veterans, and Byron had been given the distinct impression that Steven Stone was no rookie in a cave. Otherwise, Byron would have never sent him out to the resilient Iron Island.
Having gathered his small team of emergency response (see: middle-aged spelunkers ready to save the hides of any idiot who got them self hurt), Byron was pleasantly surprised to see a small Aron awaiting their arrival, an hour later, at the mouth of the cave. He was only mildly concerned to find that the Skarmory who had followed their boat so closely for several miles had abruptly disappeared into the steadily brightening sky. Then again, he didn't have much time to think on it, regardless.
Pokemon were not ignorant of their trainers' affections. As it were, it could almost be said that they were better attuned to them than the humans themselves, who blundering about like none of them knew quite how courtship even worked. While the longevity of the appeal between Pokemon differed quite drastically between species, the fact of the matter stood: they were like the old match-maker grannies, rolling their eyes at humans that simply did not have the nerve to approach each other about the simplest, most basic of things. One would think that after the idiotic (though, she supposed in their own way, noble) exploits of her trainer, it wouldn't be such a problem, but it was.
Skarmory was certainly not blind, and she was certainly not unintelligent. She understood the nature of Steven's relationship with the flouncy trainer he spent so much time with, and while her companions might have blanched at the idea of meddling in Steven's affairs, she was among the older of his Pokemon that were unafraid to do just that. She would be heralded by Metagross and Aggron when this whole mess was behind them.
As far as logistics went, of the two people who mattered terribly much to Skarmory's trainer, only one would be obligated to immediately contact the other when she arrived. It was obvious that the steel bird's next stop would be to that blasted enclosed island town of Sootopolis.
She arrived in the soft light of a late afternoon two days later, weary and worn but not lacking the fire of purpose that Steven had honed in her infancy. When the aquamarine companion of her trainer came bursting from his home looking both terrified and hopeful in equal measure, she did not spare a moment, even in her exhaustion, before letting out an urgent screech and beckoning for the man to come.
Convinced as she was that everything would turn out for the better, it was still pertinent that things pull together as quickly as possible. A battle was not won until the last adversary had fallen, and for all she knew Steven was still in that cave, crushed beneath layers upon layers of solid stone debris. She remembered the last time she had witnessed such a sight. It had been horrific— even to a Pokemon. Even though the human had not been her own.
Skarmory waited as the trainer disappeared for a moment, only to return dressed and geared for battle. She lowered herself to the ground and was mildly surprised at how easily the man hopped on and balanced himself, urging her to fly as quickly as possible to the lost Steven Stone. Her screech would have been one of humor if everyone involved weren't as worried as his voice sounded. Steven was so loved, even in his seclusion from the world. When the familiar voice of her trainer's father sputtered from behind her, she trusted that Steven would be okay.
It hadn't been long after Byron and his team had arrived at Iron Island that they found Steven. The small Aron had skittered across the cave floor, rushing to lead the men to its trainer as quickly as they could follow. It made small, distressed sounds all the while, like a child put in charge of a situation for the first time in its life. By the time they'd reached the site of the collapse, trainers and collectors alike were already beginning to stir, fanning out across the darkened cave despite the sun slowly rising outside. Many asked after them— some challenged battles. All of the men refused. They had more important things to be doing that indulging young girls and boys or leading them into geological danger.
At the sight of a rather menacing Aggron guarding a heap of crumbling rubble, they knew they'd reached their destination.
Those whose Pokemon were not already out released them, getting quickly to work with both ground and psychic Pokemon to save the eccentric young Stone. Quite unlike his namesake, he could not withstand the pressure of the cave, would not live if they were not careful and methodical in their extraction.
When they finally found his body, Byron rushed forward, letting out a long sigh of relief after he had inspected the battered man for several minutes. Steven was neither dead nor in immediate danger of becoming so, though little more could be said without the technology back at the center. Byron never would have forgiven himself if he'd let the young man be killed.
With the careful work of their gentlest psychic Pokemon, they led the limp and broken body slowly out of the cave and onto the boat, not daring to set him down lest he be jostled and pained. While there was no serious external bleeding, there was no telling if any organs had been punctured and there was only so much a nurse could do when they arrived. With a few men having gathered what they could of the young man's supplies and a single discarded Pokeball, they made a swift return to the mainland.
As it so happened, Steven Stone was not beyond help. He was injured, to be sure— a broken arm, a shattered collar bone, a fractured leg; four broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a concussion— but he would not die. Flail chest— the result of so many rib injuries— would take several weeks to heal, and the punctured lung, more dangerous after several hours, even longer.
Byron waited impatiently for updates on the boy, paternal instincts flaring ever since he'd connected the foreign stone collector to his son. He'd sent his team away with his thanks, but he stayed at the center, half considering finding Steven's information to contact his family. He felt obligated, but he knew that it would be more hassle than it was worth if Steven woke up soon. Byron didn't even know where to look, and he certainly didn't have any contacts in Hoenn. He felt strangely useless, and he was reminded acutely of his many failures at raising Roark, starting first when the young boy had caught a cold and Byron had been helpless to care for him.
If he couldn't contact Steven's family, he would contact his own. The moment he was done here, at least.
When Steven awoke, it was to a dull throbbing throughout his body and a headache that clawed fiercely at his skull, leaving him squinting at the bright fluorescent lights of the white-washed room he found himself in. For a long time, he was confused. All the more so when a nurse suddenly appeared, asking a series of questions one after another that left Steven scrambling after answers that he was having a surprising difficulty recalling. When the nurse finally stopped, however, she seemed satisfied.
It was not long before Steven belatedly realized that he was in a hospital, and the prying of the nurse had reminded him of the events that had landed him there. He supposed his Skarmory must have come through for him, then, or else some trainers must have found him upon waking the next morning. He guessed the former, though. He only wished someone would tell him where his Pokemon had gone.
Some time later (he couldn't quite discern how long— maybe days, maybe hours. His mind was still unfocused and his frequent lapses in consciousness proved counterproductive to keeping time), there was a sudden flurry in the room, firm hands coming to grasp his and a low, fatherly voice asking quietly after his well-being. Steven took a handful of steady breaths, only then noticing the tubes leading oxygen into his nasal cavity, before answering. He didn't know if his words were coherent, but the anxious kneading of his hand stilled, and he took that as a sign that Mr. Stone had been reassured.
"Wallace called me. I'm sure he'll be here soon. We were getting worried, son. It's been a long time since you've disappeared like that, and even then I'd expected it."
Steven supposed that his father was talking about the times he'd taken it upon himself to battle the underground forces of organizations such as Team Aqua and Team Magma, his steadfast morals compelling him to do what the law officers often could not. He hadn't come out of those endeavors unharmed, but he'd been mostly successful. How surprising it had been to find that Brendan had disbanded the organizations so quickly. He only hoped that his efforts had been worth something.
He blinked several times, refocusing on the creasing on his father's brow and the unkept hair that spoke of the elder Stone's means of travel. There was nothing faster than a speedy Pokemon racing through the sky, and Steven knew that his father's deep care for his son would have him speeding as fast as possible to reach Sinnoh.
"You shouldn't have left, you realize. I hope you put someone in charge," Steven said blearily. For a moment, his father looked sheepish.
"You know our board, Steven. For now, they'll be fine without me. If I couldn't put you first at a time like this, what kind of father would I be?"
A reasonable one, Steven thought, recalling the childhood he'd spent mostly separated from his father, despite grand attempts at the contrary. Steven did not begrudge his father for his success, however. There was a deep love there— one that filled any void that might had arisen without a mother in Steven's life.
"I think I'll be here for a while. You should go talk to Poketch. Or get a hotel." Steven spoke in sort sentences, slightly out of breath and focusing too hard on his words to elaborate. His mind was slowly clearing, but not quickly enough for this conversation.
Mr. Stone looked conflicted. That business deal was important— it was the reason that Steven had been sent to secure it. While the boy had never shown as much promise for business as his father, the time he'd spent as champion and a traveler had given him a certain way with people that even the best men in Devon Corp. did not possess. If the Poketch company was put off by the delay in communication, bad things could happen. As he had been for the majority of his life, Mr. Stone was torn between family and work. Steven's quiet reassurance swayed him, however, as it often did nowadays.
"Fine. I'll go, but you should expect me to be back soon. I'll stay until you can come home. And I won't leave until Wallace arrives." There was a small pause during which Mr. Stone furrowed his brow. "Actually, I'm surprised he hasn't already. He said your Skarmory was leading him. I found out where you were simply by prying."
Steven might have laughed had it not hurt so much to simply breathe. That did answer the question of his Skarmory, though. How about the others?
"Of course. You always do get what you want. As for Wallace, if he's got Skarmory, I'm sure he's fine." Steven pulled his hand out from under his father's and instead patted the older man's arm. He wasn't quite sure why he was trying to reassure him. After a moment he stopped and asked after his Aron and Aggron.
Mr. Stone's eyes brightened. "Ah. There was a man at the door— waiting for me, I suppose. He said to find him at the gym when you got out. He has them."
Steven nodded slightly, pacified. His friends would be safe with Byron, though he was surprised that the gym leader had apparently taken part in his rescue. For a moment Steven felt embarrassed, but then it passed.
It was another several hours before Wallace arrived, breathless, sleepless, and rumpled by the wind. He'd been delayed both by the fatigue of Steven's Skarmory and a storm blowing in over the ocean that had them taking a detour across the skies. There was a look in his eyes that promised a mighty vengeance and Steven was all too prepared for some sort of backlash for causing his friend enough worry to come. Honestly, though, it was endearing.
Steven's mind had cleared enough for him to remember his sentimental thoughts back in the cave. The prospect of moving their relationship forward made him nervous, even more so when Wallace was so worried, but it had to be done. If nothing else, this ordeal's direct consequence had to be this. It only made sense.
"Wallace," Mr. Stone greeted, standing to offer a hug to his son's close friend. Wallace had always known the older man to be affectionate, and he was not unfamiliar with this action, but so much time away from the businessman's presence had left Wallace caught off guard by the gesture. He accepted, of course, and gave a strained smile when the two parted.
"I'm glad you arrived sooner than I, Mr. Stone. How is he?"
Steven gave a small huff of indignation. He would have waved his arm if the prospect didn't make him pale. "He is right here, my friend, and he is also quite alright. Marvelous, in fact. Spectacular." Wallace shot him a fierce glare and Steven plowed on. "Quickly, make my father go do business. He'll undermine his own company if he's left to fuss over me too long."
Mr. Stone gave a short laugh, placing a hand on his son's relatively unharmed shoulder. "It's true enough. I'll be back soon. Take care of him, Wallace." He turned to the tall coordinator at the last statement, a sternness entering his countenance that troubled Steven deeply. The last thing he had wanted was to worry these people, so close to his heart as they were. Rarely was his father so serious outside of business dealings. Steven ached to defuse the tension.
He smiled. "You worry too much. Now go before some other eccentric rock-collecting businessman strikes up a better deal with these people. You never know. Stranger things have happened."
Mr. Stone simply gave his son a half amused, reprimanding look before taking his leave.
In three quick, fluid motions, Wallace effectively filled Mr. Stone's recently vacated spot, hesitating not a moment before taking Steven's hand in his. The gesture made Steven's pulse jump, and he was supremely grateful for the mercifully quiet beeping of his heart monitor. Wallace didn't need any more reason to be flustered with him.
There were several moments of tense silence in which Wallace refused to look Steven in the eye, staring resolutely down at the fingers in his grasp and tapping gently away at them. Steven knew Wallace to do so to any object when the water trainer was anxious. It was one of many quirks that Steven adored about his friend, but its presence here only set him on edge.
"I can't believe that you nearly managed to kill yourself," Wallace muttered, tracing passive-aggressive patterns along Steven's left palm.
Wallace was never so despondent— not with Steven, and not like this. Not since they had both been convinced that they were going to die, and even then it had been a shared anger with the world, channeled through their passion for each other and, soon after, their drive to help Brendan. This, this aggression aimed partly at Steven and partly at the idea of losing him, made Steven uneasy. In a show of cowardice, Steven attempted to turn the situation around rather than simply face it as he should have.
With as much feigned indignity as Steven could muster, he wrinkled up his face like a child for a moment, hoping to appeal to the amused exasperation that Wallace often showed him when he did so. "It wasn't my fault, Wallace. The cave attacked me. You can't blame me for the actions of a cave. I didn't even know they could have murderous intent." That was a blatant lie, of course, but no more than anything else he said.
Wallace simply continued with his work upon Steven's hand, nearly making it go numb with the steady and gentle friction that belied the man's frustrations. He would not be swayed by Steven's antics; not when he had been worried beyond distraction for the past four days on the rock collector's behalf. "I was worried. Worried, Steven."
It would seem Steven's efforts went unnoticed. He tried harder.
"You shouldn't have been. I'm fine." At Wallace's pointed scan of the hospital equipment, Steven gave a quiet hum of concession. "Well, we don't want any lines creasing that pretty forehead of yours. Your coordinator admirers might gut me if they found out." He tried his best to put on a winning television smile, but it ended up looking more pained than anything else. Wallace still refused to look at him for more than a few moments, frown only deepening. Both of them knew what Steven was doing, and it was nothing good. While it was often the job of the injured to reassure their loved ones, it wasn't quite the same when the loved one in question wanted no such reassurance as the injured could provide. Feeling suddenly guilty for trying to trivialize Wallace's concern, Steven sighed, gently grasping the slender hands that danced delicately along his. Wallace gave the tiniest of squeezes, and Steven groaned.
"I'm an idiot."
"I'll have you know that I won't be disagreeing just because you're injured. In fact, that's all the more reason to agree. But, I am intrigued: what has our brilliant stone aficionado humbling himself for me?"
Steven grimaced, longing for nothing more than to kiss Wallace then and there, slowly and passionately and full of unspoken truths. It would have been romantic. Of course, bodily injuries were not often sympathetic to the plights of romance.
"I waited and waited for you to make a second move, but it was unfair to expect that of you. Now, it's only in such a terrible situation that I take it upon myself to do so. Really, Wallace, we'll have to quit this habit. Otherwise we'll both be dead long before anyone so much as thinks about undressing the other. I'll have you know that if it wouldn't kill me to do so, I'd be on my knees for you, right now." Steven spoke in his frankest manner, voice roughened and strained but all the same low and affectionate. He meant every word, and the apologies that he could not express in a kiss were spread liberally across the surface of his tone.
Wallace looked up, startled, and they held each other's gaze for a long moment. After several seconds, Wallace finally cracked a weary smile. There were no objections to the idea. "I don't know about that, Steven. You haven't died yet, and I'd say I've done a fair amount more than simply think about it." The comment nearly had Steven shuddering under his thin hospital linens. He grinned.
"If only it wouldn't hurt so badly to lean over and take that delectable mouth of yours. You'll have me in a state that I can't very well explain away to the nurse, if you're not careful. Do you really want that, Wallace?"
Before Steven had even finished the thought, Wallace was leaning in, taking Steven's face in his hands and running sleek fingers along its edges, scratching roughly against the lightly stubbled jaw. He smoothed his fingers across it almost immediately in silent apology. His eyes were searching, and Steven was put off guard by the intensity. Suddenly, the taller man was standing from his swiveling stool beside Steven's hospital bed, leaning over the injured man and placing his hands on either side of him, mindful of his broken body.
It was not delicately that Wallace kissed, but it was not forcefully either, merely conveying his confusion and anxiety and relief all at once, fingers curling against the sheets and then again one hand against Steven's face. When Wallace pulled away, Steven sighed in contentment, pulse thrumming in his throat with a twin rhythm sounding in his ear.
"Of course not," Wallace answered belatedly. "You're so thick-headed that she might convince you to let her help, and I simply couldn't have that." The slight growl that entered Wallace's voice was almost desperate, his words an awful attempt at matching Steven's equally horrendous humor. The restraint in Wallace's voice, almost breaking with the maelstrom of emotions ranging from overjoyed to panicked, really did have Steven shuddering that time, exhaling a shaky breath. Steven wrapped his calloused fingers around the small right wrist of the sleeker man, smiling wickedly up at him and taking a moment to caress his face with his eyes, tracing the strands of silken bangs that angled down at him and committing the image to memory. "Care to share what you will have, once I'm done here?" he asked, rubbing his palm against the wrist in his grasp. He was teasing, he knew— these light touches, this feeble physical affection, was all that they could spare— but he couldn't help himself. They'd waited long enough in this awkward adolescent stage of their relationship and it was about damned time that it finally advanced into something more.
Visibly holding himself back, Wallace leaned down for another kiss, shorter this time, and pulled back to match Steven's expression. His eyes were sharp, warning and longing and promise all in one smoldering expression. Wallace's fear had obliterated any reservations he had about this, about this commitment to something more developed than their skittish denial of anything concrete. "It will be torture waiting. But I will. And you'll wonder why you had to go and nearly kill yourself to have the guts to ask me this."
Oh, Steven thought, light-headed. I already do.