A/N: I wanted to write some CrystalRivalShipping (as dubbed by SapphireXSerpent), so I tried, but kind of got sidetracked. I mean, the shipping hints are there if you look for them, but it's not… I don't know, not exactly fluffstuffs, if you get what I mean. This story, I believe, will be a two-shot, just to let you know.

This first part takes place at the end of Victory Road, after Crystal's gotten all eight Johto badges, but before taking on the Elite Four. And yes, I know Victory Road was a simple cave to navigate, but can you imagine being there in reality? Just keep that in mind as you read.

Disclaimer: I don't own Pokemon or any of its affiliated, um, stuff. Heh heh…

Better: A CrystalRivalShipping Two-Shot
Part One: Victory Road

Bearing the eight badges of Johto, she had crossed through the gate proudly and into the dark cave of Victory Road, certain that her dream of becoming the Champion was easily within her reach. She had been so sure of herself, unafraid because her Pokemon were strong and there was nothing to worry about in Victory Road but Rock Pokemon that she could easily take out with her Feraligatr.

How foolish and stupid she'd been! So prideful and full of herself, she had forgotten to bring an Escape Rope, had figured that she didn't need one. That decision had been foolish and rash. The hellish, dark labyrinth that was Victory Road was anything but victorious. The darkness was oppressive, the path through the cave twisty and nearly impossible to navigate; and the Pokemon were tough as some of the Pokemon who belonged to Johto's Gym Leaders. The experience was long, drawn-out, mind-numbing, disappointing, made her want to turn back and go home to where everything wasn't so confusing and she wasn't so alone.

One thing she had noted was that there were no other Trainers on Victory Road. It was just she and her Pokemon enduring one last test before they would be allowed to face the great Elite Four to have a chance at becoming the Champion. But Champions were not made overnight; neither was a key victory, nor a journey through Victory Road. The cave stood as the barrier between a strong Trainer and her dream; it was the last obstacle to overcome, the last puzzle to solve. It could completely change a person, turning even the most confident into a much more humbled Trainer. People had been known to get lost within Victory Road's depths; it was not something to be enjoyed, as the name might have implied. The venture through Victory Road was miserable, and she wouldn't wish it upon anyone.

So when Crystal finally saw the exit of the shadowy, dimly lit cave, she experienced a great deal of elation. She was finally going to get out of this horrible place. She and Feraligatr had traveled from New Bark Town back when she'd been a rookie and he a Totodile; and they had added others to their entourage and conquered all the Gyms of the Johto region. And now, they had survived Victory Road. Nothing could stop her from escaping the awful place where she'd been for two straight days, trudging around pointlessly into constant dead ends. Indigo Plateau was where the light was; the daylight was so welcoming, for it coaxed her to its warmth and brightness and welcome and possibilities of dream accomplishment. Nothing could stop her now, not in the final stretch of Victory Road—

"Hold it," ordered a voice that she hadn't heard in a while. Stopping in her tracks, she turned around, almost regretting doing so. It was her rival: Silver, the long red-haired boy who'd stolen his first Pokemon from Professor Elm's lab. Crystal had a great sympathy for the Meganium, wondering what it had done as a young Chikorita to deserve such a harsh life. But that was all in the past now; now, Crystal would have to face Silver and be unafraid, even after trudging trough a severe two-day-long journey through a sinister and unforgiving cave.

Silver approached her, staring at the round circles under Crystal's eyes, the obvious signs of fatigue. He saw the light in her eyes and the way she kept glancing towards the exit of the cave, to the daylight and to the path that would undoubtedly lead to Indigo Plateau.

"…Are you going to take the Pokemon League challenge?" he asked after a moment. She stared at him coldly, impatient and wanting to leave and be free of the horrid Victory Road. Silver smirked at her indifference. "…Don't make me laugh," he taunted. "You're so much weaker than I am."

Her eyebrow rose in half-doubt and half-interest. He frowned darkly. "I now have the best and strongest Pokemon with me. I am invincible!" he informed her, surveying her and waiting for some sign of recognition or acknowledgement: a little tremble of the arm or a dilation of the eyes or a stunned reaction or a look of respect and admiration. Anything would have been fine. He wanted to impress; he wanted to be better. Silver wanted to have a lasting impression, the way the strongest Pokemon Trainer in the world should. No reaction, though. It frustrated him, to know that she thought nothing of him or his abilities as a Trainer.

"Crystal! I challenge you!" he roared in frustration. "Sneasel, go!"

He released the Pokemon from his Pokeball in a quick flash of bright light, anticipating Crystal's next moves, certain he would win this time. She couldn't beat him every time they battled. He knew she was good; she won against him every time, and she seemed almost bored when he challenged her. But she was a disgraceful little weakling. She claimed to love her Pokemon, called them her pals, her best friends, her greatest traveling companions.

Silver observed Crystal as she contemplated the released Sneasel, analyzing its type and abilities and matching it against each of her own Pokemon. At last, she settled on one and released it from a Pokeball. A burly Machoke materialized from the light particles emitted from the Pokeball, looking menacing and powerful.

"Machoke, Karate Chop," Crystal ordered. The Pokemon bellowed, raising a mighty arm and charging Silver's Sneasel.

"Sneasel, Screech attack!" Sneasel opened its mouth and let loose a horrible shriek, a long, jarring note that made the Machoke stop in its tracks, hands over its ears. With the Machoke's defense temporarily lowered, Silver decided to take advantage of the situation. "Use Fury Swipes Attack!" roared Silver.

Sneasel charged at its weakened opponent, long, vicious claws ready for the attack. One harsh slash swiped across Machoke's torso; the Pokemon stumbled back from the blow, and a glint appeared in its eye. It was angry with the Sneasel now.

"Machoke," called Crystal, "Foresight!" The Machoke surveyed the Sneasel with its eyes, seeming to get a grip and focus on the Sneasel as a target. Sneasel slashed Machoke again with its sharp claws, preparing to deal another blow in quick succession. "Now, Machoke, Low Kick," Crystal ordered. Machoke bent down and swung its muscled leg towards Sneasel. Sneasel, unseeing of the incoming attack from below, was taken in shock as the kick sent it spiraling away from Machoke.

Silver stared, stunned. How had the battle turned around so quick? No matter, though. Sneasel would follow through. "Get up, Sneasel! Finish that thing with Faint Attack!"

The Sneasel seemed to disappear from Silver's view, but Machoke saw all with its Foresight ability. "Machoke, finish it off with Vital Throw!" Machoke grasped each of Sneasel's claws and flung the Pokemon back to the ground. The Pokemon, winded from the attack, teetered over and fainted.

"Stupid Sneasel," Silver muttered, recalling the Pokemon back into its Pokeball. "Go, Kadabra."

And so, their battle continued. Silver came close quite a few times, even knocking out Crystal's Noctowl, but in the end, her ferocious Feraligatr was the end of him.

As he recalled his fainted Haunter, Silver inhaled slowly. Staring his rival down, he told her, "…I couldn't win…I gave it everything I had…"

She stared at him without any sort of regard, impatient to leave Victory Road and get on with her life. No sign of acknowledgement, no sign of being impressed, not even a simple recognition that he had trained hard just to hold his own against her in a Pokemon battle. He wished for something, anything; perhaps anger or smugness or contempt or something to tell him that she at least considered him a challenge or took pride in beating him, as if it were some sort of accomplishment.

Silver wondered for a moment, and then realized why she didn't care about him. Of a sort. It was a difficult thing to grasp, but he was starting to get it now. Maybe, just maybe, it might make a difference if he told her. "What you possess, and what I lack…I'm beginning to understand what that dragon master said to me…"

She abruptly turned her head; her piercing eyes gazed at him questioningly. Finally, a sign of acknowledgement: they were rivals. They were equals.

"…I haven't given up on becoming the greatest Trainer…" He trailed off, preparing to defend himself with petty words, taunts and insults about her weakness and her love for her Pokemon. But something made him stop that. Instead, he continued with what he really felt. "I'm going to find out why I can't win and become stronger…"

Fool, her eyes said, you already know why, for you told me you were beginning to understand. But, all the same, she nodded, moved her hand to her Feraligatr's body, patting the Pokemon affectionately. He smiled grudgingly. But still, it was a smile. And then a look of determination sent in her direction so that she would begin to understand.

"When I do, I will challenge you. And I'll beat you down with all my power." He stood stationary for a second, waiting for perhaps one more sign, maybe a word of response, just something.

She crossed her arms and remarked, "I'll be waiting for you." But her eyes said it all: You've changed.

He strode past her with purpose, leaving the cave and Victory Road behind him; and, closed within its rocky passages, he left behind the very person he wished to be, the future Champion, the future greatest Trainer of the world. He wasn't concerned that he was leaving her, though; for he knew he would see her again.