AN: It's never really explained how the Champion got to their position at the top of the League. I'll be taking some liberties in exploring Steven's journey, since it takes place before the events in the games. Things won't necessarily follow the same path that we take as May/Brendan. Enjoy, and feedback is always welcome.
The Long Road
Pokemon Trainer Handbook Tip #19: Overconfidence is the enemy of even the best trainers. Always be mindful of your limits in battle or on the road…
The wind was howling through the trees of Route 120 as Steven Stone shielded his eyes against the unexpected change of weather. He was on his way to Lilycove City to restock supplies after a ferocious Gym battle against Fortree's leader. The victory marked his fourth Gym badge, but the city's tiny Pokemart proved to be insufficient in replenishing his dwindling provisions.
They should have already reached their destination, but Steven couldn't resist exploring the strange rock formation that peeked out from among the nearby treetops. Too preoccupied with finding an entrance into the largest mound, the growing storm clouds were largely ignored until a rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.
As he clambered back down the ledge to the flat ground of the Route, he offered a sheepish apology to his team.
"Sorry everyone, I thought we might find something interesting up there, Aron was just so insistent on sniffing around. Guess our hunch was wrong."
The little Aron at his feet huffed in defeat while Lileep patted its back with a tentacle in consolation.
Another gust of wind forced Steven to duck his head deeper into his jacket with a grimace. The air had turned chilly with the changing of the seasons, and the setting sun meant the evening would only get colder from there. Perhaps he should pick up a warmer coat for himself when they got to Lilycove.
His team didn't mind the cold, though. Rock and steel types were hardier than some of their thinner-skinned counterparts. Rain, however, was another story, and the sky was sure to open up any moment.
A peal of thunder, closer this time, sent his Anorith skittering for cover under the nearest shrub.
"Let's get going. I've already delayed us long enough and I don't want to get caught in this any more than you do," Steven said as he took out his team's pokeballs, returning them one at a time.
As Steven turned to recall his last pokemon, the ever stoic Metang gave him a pointed look. An added mental nudge from its psychic powers made sure its trainer would not miss its expression in the fading light.
"Yes, I'm sure we can make it there before it gets dark. We're nearly to Route 121, so it's not much further to Lilycove."
Metang's echoing response carried a heavy dose of skepticism.
Steven crossed his arms in annoyance, "Look, even if it gets dark, I've got the map on my PokeNav. It'll be fine."
Sensing that its trainer was not going to budge on this one, Metang sighed and looked wistfully back at Steven.
Softening his tone, Steven offered an apology to his partner. "I'll be careful. Besides, you guys have worked hard this past week. You deserve a nice rest at a PokeCenter. I owe you at least that much after the last Gym battle."
Metang's expression brightened at the praise, and it nodded before returning to its ball.
Checking his pack one last time, Steven drew his jacket's collar up tight to block the wind and set off on the worn path toward Lilycove.
Half an hour in, Steven felt a knot of doubt settling at the pit of his stomach. The wind had whipped into a frenzy in the wide open paths of Route 121 and was now strong enough that he had to brace himself against some of the more powerful gusts. The rain still hadn't started, but the ominous sounds of thunder had closed in from all sides.
Normally a popular Route teeming with trainers looking to battle, the roadway before him stood silent and empty. It was a small blessing given the current situation. Without many supplies, Steven wanted to avoid as many battles as he could. Fortree's Pokemon Center had limited healing capacity during its ongoing renovation, so he opted to use the last of his supplies to heal his team after the Gym battle. Unfortunately, that meant he had to make the trek to Lilycove nearly empty handed. While his team was strong, they were exhausted, and taking on a trainer mid-Route with no healing was a risk he wasn't willing to take.
"Of course," he muttered to no one in particular, "It clearly didn't stop me from coming up with an equally dumb idea."
There was no lamenting his decision now, though. With the ferocity of the storm, setting up camp in the forest was as equally dangerous as in the open meadow. He had no choice but to make it to Lilycove without stopping.
Shoulders hunched against the wind, he trudged on until the first raindrops pattered to the ground. Good thing he didn't bet Metang he'd make it to Lilycove before the rain. With a tug, he pulled his hood up and cinched it tight. The rest of the trip was going to be a wet one.
Twenty minutes later, Steven admitted he had made a mistake. The rain was coming down in sheets now, and the wind driven droplets rendered his hood all but useless. The sun still hadn't fully set according to his watch, but the dark clouds hung so low they blotted out what little daylight was left. With water stinging his face, he tried his best to navigate the rocky cliffs near Mt. Pyre without stumbling. Metang was going to give him an earful for this one…
He was jarred from his thoughts as the ground gave way beneath his feet. Loosened by the heavy rain and battering waves, the soil near the sea wall had crumbled into a slurry of mud and gravel. Lunging, Steven made a last ditch bid to get himself back to solid ground. He hit the muddy ground awkwardly, skidding on his hands and knees. Shakily, he turned back to see his footprints sink down into the murky water. Not bothering to wipe the mud from his hands, he slunk through the darkness toward the grass on the other side of the Route, opting to brave wild pokemon in favor of taking an unwanted swim in the churning sea.
He had barely made it thirty yards before he was greeted by a pair of glowing eyes. Strikingly visible in the blinding rain, Steven's hand reflexively flew to his belt for the only member of his team suitable for battle in such conditions. However, he wouldn't make the first move. Maybe he could sneak past the wild pokemon without a fight. Slowly he stepped through the underbrush, keeping a wide berth between him and the floating eyes that followed him the whole way.
"I'm not here to hurt you… See, I'm leaving right now…"
The eyes blinked slowly at his words, and Steven took the opportunity to back away without breaking his gaze on the mysterious pokemon. Without warning, a brilliant bolt of lightning crashed nearby startling both trainer and pokemon. With a rattling screech the panicked pokemon leaped at Steven.
"Oh no, Metang, I need your help!"
The flash from Metang's pokeball momentarily halted the wild pokemon's charge, but it also gave Steven a glimpse at the attacker, and he cursed his bad luck. The Shuppet floated in place, hissing at Metang's now-solid form. The steel and psychic type spared only a moment to shoot its trainer a look of disdain before turning back towards its opponent.
Steven cringed and shouted over the storm, "I'll make it up to you later. Now knock it back with metal claw!"
Metang obeyed and swiped at the bristling Shuppet, sending it spiraling back into the grass. When it didn't re-emerge, Steven and Metang exchanged a puzzled look.
"It's over already? I thought the wild pokemon here would be more of a challenge."
Metang offered its best shrug in reply, but almost immediately a shrill cry cut through the howling wind. Steven's eyes widened in shock as Shuppet slowly rose above the grass accompanied by four more pairs of glowing eyes.
Before it could turn back to the patch of grass, Metang was struck to the ground by a mass of ghostly energy.
"This is not good, we have to run!"
Metang unsteadily rose from the mud and echoed a cry back to Steven as it dodged an incoming attack.
"I know they'll just chase us, but we can't beat five of them!"
On its own, Metang unleashed a flurry of bullet punches at the two closest targets before chiming at its trainer again.
"Fine! Get a hit in on the last two and then I'm recalling you."
Nodding as it cocked back a leg for the next attack, Metang suddenly jerked backward.
"Metang – !"
Steven looked on helplessly as his partner struggled to free itself from the grip of a shadow sneak. The body of the attacking Shuppet enveloped the backside of the steel type, rendering the pokeball's recall beam useless from where Steven stood.
Quickly, he tried to maneuver around the entangled pokemon in order to recall Metang, but he lost his balance on the slick ground and fumbled the pokeball in his muddy grasp. Scooping the ball off the ground, Steven looked up in time to watch Metang disappear under a barrage of night shade attacks.
Without thinking, Steven pivoted on his heel and launched himself at the nearest Shuppet. The ghost pokemon screeched and floated out of the way, cackling as it vanished into thin air, sensing the threat was now neutralized. The trainer's pokemon was rendered unable to battle, and the trainer himself posed no danger. The other Shuppet took that as their cue to leave as well, and faded into the swirling darkness with laughter of their own.
By the time he reached his pokemon's side, Metang was barely conscious. Shaking from cold and exertion, Steven finally managed to recall his partner.
"I really screwed up this time, Metang, I'm sorry. I should have listened to you before… You can yell at me once we get to Lilycove."
Lightning cracked across the sky once again, and Steven shivered as the adrenaline began to fade from his system. The encounter had left him drained and his team depleted and there was no one to blame but himself. Silently, he rose to his feet and pocketed Metang's pokeball before turning and trudging onward.
Steven soon came to the realization that his jacket was not as waterproof as he had hoped; he was soaked to the bone. He could feel the cold seeping to his very core, and no amount of determination could keep his frozen limbs from shaking as he walked.
They were now into the tall grass of the Route and Steven was navigating blind. His last ditch dive at the Shuppet horde had seen his PokeNav take the brunt of the fall, and now the screen refused to turn on. He could always call his dad for a new one once they got to the Pokemon Center, but the catch was he had to make it there in the first place.
He knew they were close; he had studied the map earlier. The trouble was that this section of the Route was riddled with a maze-like series of fences designed to keep wild pokemon from accidentally wandering into the city.
"Apparently it does a pretty good job of keeping out wild trainers too…" Steven muttered as he turned the corner around another fence only to come face to face with another dead end.
With a cry of frustration, he slammed a fist into the metal grate. "Damnit!"
He was nearing his limit, having been caught in the freezing rain for over two hours. This nightmare of a Route seemingly had no end. His team was effectively crippled by the weather, and his only pokemon that could withstand the driving rain was barely clinging to consciousness. His luck in the tall grass had somehow held out this far, but any more wild encounters would surely spell trouble.
Closing his eyes, Steven tried to remain calm as the icy rain ran in rivulets down his back.
"Think, think, think. We've got to be close."
A low growl snapped his attention back to the present.
"You've got to be kidding me…"
A soggy, disheveled Linoone slunk low to the ground, its ears pinned back against its skull and angry eyes fixated on the lone trainer in front of it. Steven backed away from the hostile pokemon until he felt his pack press into the metal fence behind him. There was no more room for retreat, so he held his palms up slowly in a placating gesture.
"Hey Linoone, I'm just as unhappy as you right now, so please, let's not fight. Whatever I did to upset you, I'm sorry."
The Linoone snarled in response, and Steven felt his heart sink as the wild pokemon took another step forward, hackles raised.
For the second time that night, a bright flash split the darkness and Steven yelped as he felt something grab the back of his pack and yank him to the ground. A white and brown blur rushed overhead followed by a loud thunk and a whimper of pain. It was only then that Steven realized the flash of light wasn't from the storm, but from one of the pokeballs at his belt. He looked up in surprise at the face of his Aron as it grabbed his jacket by the collar and began to tug Steven away from the stunned Linoone.
"Aron, what are you –" but Steven's question was cut short with another sharp tug from his pokemon as a howl rose above the rain from behind the pair.
"Right, run now, talk later," he quipped as he scrambled up from the slick grass on his hands and knees.
Back on his feet, Steven rounded the corner they had just turned, Aron hot on his heels. In a snap decision, Steven called back over his shoulder, "Keep to the fence on your left, we didn't try that way yet!" Aron barked an affirmative and churned his stubby legs in an effort to keep pace.
With one hand on the fence as a guide, Steven shoved at the tall grass with the other. The wet strands clung to his clothes as he pushed through with as much urgency as he could manage in the muddy puddles underfoot. In a mighty splash, pokemon and trainer burst from the thicket into a more manicured section of the path. Shakily looking back to where they had barreled out, there was no sign of the enraged Linoone. Steven stood panting as he looked down at his now-shivering companion. He pulled out Aron's pokeball as he spoke.
"Aron, I know you hate the rain. I'm not entirely sure why you burst out like that, but I am grateful that you did. Let's get you back into your ball."
Before he could toggle the recall beam, the tall grass began to shake. Aron spun to face the sudden noise with a growl. Steven froze in place as he watched the grass slither back and forth under the approaching pokemon's charge.
But as soon as it had started, the shaking grass stopped, and nothing could be heard but the sound of the driving rain. Steven strained his eyes against the darkness, ready to command Aron's attack should the Linoone appear again.
Without warning, Aron launched itself headfirst into the tall grass with a piercing war cry.
"Aron – !"
In a vicious blow that sent grass toppling and water scattering, the two pokemon collided in a tangle of double edge and take down. The recoil sent Aron sprawling into a nearby puddle where it struggled to rise. The Linoone tumbled backward into the tall grass from its own attack and did not reappear. Hesitating only a moment, Steven rushed over to his pokemon's side.
"Aron, hang in there!"
Blearily, the little rock type blinked up through the rain at his trainer. Steven placed a shaky hand on Aron's head.
"You didn't have to do that, you know," he said in a soothing voice. "I could have called out Anorith. I know he's a bit of a scaredy-Skitty, but he at least can tolerate the water to a degree."
Aron rumbled in quiet disagreement and nuzzled into Steven's touch, eyes closing in exhaustion.
With a sigh, Steven recalled his pokemon and slowly stood up while trying to ignore the stinging cold creeping through his fingers. Slicking the bangs back from his eyes, he turned trying to regain his bearings. In their mad scramble away from the angry Linoone, he had managed to guide them to an opening in the grass, and in the distance, he could see another clearing that definitely was not the way they had come before.
Fatigue momentarily forgotten, Steven stumbled and slid along the muddy ground in the direction of their supposed salvation. Step by step, the grass began to thin until it eventually gave way to paved brick. They had made it, by the grace of some divine power, they had made it to Lilycove! Back on even footing, Steven broke into a sprint. He didn't need to be able to see through the pouring rain, he had memorized where the PokeCenter was on the town map. Head down, he didn't stop until he reached the front door.
The lobby of the Center was quiet at this time of night, so the soft whir of the doors parting caught Nurse Joy's attention. When she looked up from her station, she was greeted by a young man who dripped several small puddles worth of water on the freshly mopped tile. His silver bangs were plastered to his face and his clothes were streaked with mud. She frowned as he leaned heavily to catch his breath.
"Are you all right, trainer?"
Incredulously, he began to laugh.
"I am now!" After a moment, he regained his composure and bowed before asking, "Please, can you heal my team? And I'd like to book a room if you have any available."
Looking back at the drowned Rattata of a trainer before her, Nurse Joy smiled and returned the gesture. "Of course, place your pokeballs on the counter and I'll look after them right away."
Steven nodded and placed his team on the tray provided. By then, Nurse Joy had returned holding a key.
"And you'll be staying in room six tonight. I'll bring your pokemon up to your room when they are ready. Please enjoy your stay."
Gratefully accepting the key, Steven bowed again with a quick offer of thanks before heading upstairs. He barely had the strength to strip off his soaking clothes before collapsing in bed and falling asleep.
It was late in the morning when Steven awoke to someone knocking on the door.
"Excuse me, your pokemon are healthy and ready to rejoin you."
With more effort than usual, Steven pushed the covers aside and padded to the door. He pulled it open to reveal Nurse Joy holding a tray of four pokeballs, which he accepted gratefully.
Bowing sleepily, he thanked Nurse Joy and headed back to bed. He was just so exhausted. Placing his team on the bedside table, he was nearly asleep by the time his head hit the pillow. He just needed more rest, then he could finally head out to shop for more supplies, oh and that new jacket too…
When Steven awoke for the second time, the air in the room felt thick. The blankets across his chest were hot and suffocating, and yet he could feel himself shivering. With a groan, he rolled over to reach for his PokeNav on the nightstand. Bringing to device to his face, he could only moan in despair; he had forgotten it was busted in the chaos of the previous night. Defeated, he loosened his grip and let it clatter to the floor. The sound of more rattling caught his attention, and he weakly glanced toward the source of the noise. The pokeballs containing his team were shaking in the tray delivered by Nurse Joy earlier. Too tired to sit all the way upright, Steven reached as far as he could, but instead of grabbing them, he only managed to knock one of the pokeballs from the tray. Thankfully it landed on the button, and his pokemon was released into the room.
Metang materialized from the fallen pokeball, its posture rigid and eyes narrowed in an accusatory glare. At least until it caught sight of the sorry state of its trainer. Instead of unleashing a barrage of mental chastising, the steel type instead opted to float closer to where Steven laid, its gaze softening in concern.
"Hey, Metang. I owe you an apology after last night. You were right. That was a dumb idea." Steven couldn't hide the fatigue in his voice.
Shaking its head, Metang reached out with one clawed leg and placed it across its trainer's forehead. Steven grumbled and tried to brush his partner away.
"I'll be fine. I just need to rest a bit longer. You don't need to be concerned about me."
Shooting Steven a side-eyed glare, Metang turned toward the nightstand and toggled the release button on the remaining three pokeballs. One by one, Steven's team appeared in the room with their bedridden trainer. All three pokemon shuffled closer to the bedside as Steven gingerly propped himself upright.
Aron immediately hopped onto the mattress at Steven's hip, the springs creaking beneath his weight. Lileep sidled up close to the edge of the bed and rested her head beside the pillow. Both pokemon stared intently at their trainer, and Steven could only sigh in response. It wasn't until Anorith scurried up the bedpost and nestled into Steven's side that he relinquished under their watchful gazes.
Steven shot a look of his own at his starter, "You've made your point." His eyes softened when he addressed the rest of his team. "I'm sorry to worry you, but it seems I've come down with something after last night's trip. Can you be patient with me until this passes?"
All three pokemon nodded eagerly in reply, and Steven offered a weak smile before easing back down to his pillow. Metang hummed sagely from where it floated nearby and turned to gather Steven's pack from where it was tossed unceremoniously the night before. It only took a moment of rifling for Metang to produce a bottle of water in its claw and offered it to its trainer. Gingerly rising once again, Steven accepted the water gratefully.
By the fourth gulp, a wave of dizziness hit, and Steven's grip on the bottle faltered as he wavered where he sat. Metang's quick thinking snagged the bottle in a confusion attack before it hit the ground as Aron quickly skipped behind his trainer and leaned his head against Steven's back to prop him upright.
"Ugh, I think I should lie back down for the time being." Steadying himself with one hand, Steven reached to give Aron a thankful rub with the other. "While I'm asleep, you should head down to the front desk and see if Nurse Joy has some food for you." When his wallet proved to be too far out of his reach Lileep deftly snagged it in a tentacle and handed it to him. He fumbled with the card only briefly before tossing the wallet back onto the nightstand. "Here, take my trainer card. Thanks everyone, I'll see you in the morning."
Metang floated forward and grasped the card in its claw before moving to open the door. The rest of Steven's pokemon followed it into the hall, and Metang glanced back to see Steven rolling over under the blankets. As quietly as it could, Metang pulled the door shut and drifted after its teammates down the hallway.
After a hot meal from the ever smiling Nurse Joy, Metang ushered everyone back upstairs for the evening. As the foursome approached the door to room six, Metang couldn't shake a growing sense of unease. Lileep turned the handle and Anorith skittered in to hit the lights, but even before the lights flickered on, Metang had already pushed into the room.
Steven was still asleep, but he tossed and turned restlessly and his breathing had become ragged and erratic. As it hovered closer, Metang could see his trainer's brow covered in sweat and his cheeks flushed bright red. Metang knew what this was; it had seen these symptoms before when Steven was much younger. Hurriedly, the steel type gestured for its teammates to huddle up, and after a hushed discussion, the four pokemon set to work.
Steven awoke to the sound of Taillow chirping, and for the first time in what felt like forever, his head didn't hurt from the noise. Groggily he raised a hand to swipe at his tired eyes, and as he sat up, a damp washcloth tumbled from his forehead onto his lap. Blinking in confusion, he rubbed the last bit of bleariness from his eyes and took in the sight before him.
Lileep lay sound asleep on the mattress, multiple washcloths grasped in her tentacles. Anorith was curled at the foot of the bed with the blanket firmly grasped in his claws. A rush of cool air soon directed Steven's attention to the room's lone window, where Aron was also fast asleep on the sill with his back underneath the sash to keep it propped open.
His now dry clothes hung neatly around the room, picked up from the floor where they were discarded the first night. His pack also had been dried and propped up next to the singular desk in the room. On top was scattered an assortment of food and drink, and his stomach growled.
A quick glance at his watch confirmed his body's reaction; he hadn't eaten anything in nearly two days. Testing his forehead, he decided the worst of his fever had broken, and he rose gingerly from the bed so as not to wake his sleeping team. Tiredly plopping down at the desk, he grabbed a granola bar before sweeping his gaze back to the far end of the room. Resting neatly on the floor was his starter, its eyes dim and legs folded peacefully.
Looking closer, Steven spotted something clutched in its claws. Curiosity winning out, Steven got up from the chair and padded over to sit down next to his partner. Peering down, he saw what Metang had wrapped up in its grasp. It was a catalog for Lilycove Department Store. Steven couldn't keep the smile from his face as he noticed what page it was opened to.
Resting one hand on the cool steel of his pokemon's head, he gave it an affectionate pat. "Good call, Metang. Let's make sure it's actually waterproof this time."
…By working together, both trainer and pokemon will grow stronger. As you travel with your teammates, help each other and you can overcome even the toughest of obstacles.