Chapter 1: Step One
"You can't understand the complex relationship between humans and Pokémon that drive them to battle together unless you battle yourself."
Mabel Foster always considered that mindset rubbish, an excuse to hide the mistreatment of Pokémon by acting like battling was a sport rather than an injustice - Mabel was wrong. She never planned to test that theory or question her morals. She wanted to get through life battling as little as possible, preferably never battling at all. She planned to have a calm life, breeding and grooming Pokémon. She'd left Hearthome to relax and to show Baron that life could be full of fun and tranquility. Then, a woman in the woods decked head to foot in Swimmer's gear started harassing her and demanding a fight with her Growlithe, Baron. No matter how fast Mabel and her party walked, the woman followed close behind claiming Mabel had "met her eyes" and "had to battle!" or doing whatever else she could to make herself an annoyance.
Mabel thought she could just ignore the raving blue-haired teen but after more than half an hour of her incessant chatter, Mabel's resolve shattered. This girl was bothering all of them and had even resorted to threatening them for such a dumb reason. Mabel honestly wanted to teach her a lesson, so eventually she turned on her heels and accepted the girls terms. Omar, Mabel's only human companion, stood beside her, stiff with anxiety. He was a cute boy with big ears, close-cropped, curly brown hair, and dark, dopey eyes. Omar was clearly unable, or unwilling, to help despite having two Pokémon of his own, a Riolu and a Munchlax; who now rested on his shoulders and peered at the scene curiously.
Mabel wished she started battling from day one just so she could've seen this sight sooner: the excitement in Baron's eyes and the energy coursing through him. It was honestly beautiful. She could see now that despite her own mindset Baron was built to battle, he thrived in the midst of it. The fire-type dog was packed with muscle and a strong will, but she never would have guessed how much pure joy he would get from battling. Surprisingly, that same joy was beginning to blossom within herself.
The curly-haired trainer could barely keep her eyes off Growlithe's soft pelt, or the thick chords of muscle flexing beneath all that fluffy fur.
"F-Flame Wheel, Baron!" Mabel exclaimed, her heart racing in her chest as she uttered another command. Part of her was ashamed about enjoying the battle, but more than that she was incredibly proud of her Starter Pokémon, and very happy to test out their team-working abilities.
Baron howled with glee and rushed forward as flames began to spin around his body. The flames continued to intensify as Baron bore down on the girl's Buizel, before converging onto it as he rammed into his opponent. The Buizel was thrown onto its back, yelping in pain, before standing up again and dusting itself off with a confidant smirk.
Mabel scowled, but she supposed that made sense. It was a fire type move and Buizel's a water type, so it would be half as effective. No wonder the girl wanted to battle so badly, she had a type advantage. Even so, Baron was still doing real damage. Was it superior breeding?
"Hold Growlithe in place with a bite, Jet!" The swimmer cried out. She was a pretty girl, with light blue hair in a French braid and dark cerulean eyes.
The Buizel dug its teeth into Baron's neck, and worry fluttered through Mabel as Baron let out a pained scream. The fire type dog struggled beneath Jet, flickers of fire appearing in his mouth as his frustration spiked. He roared, body squirming desperately. His frenzied eyes met Mabel expectantly, as if letting her know he was waiting for her next command. That just made her worry even more. Could she win somehow?
The blue-haired trainer smirked victoriously as she read Mabel's expression. "Heh. You really thought you'd win with that sorry excuse of a Growlithe? Puhleeease! Jet, now that you have a hold on it, use Water Pulse!"
A rush of panic shot through Mabel as a ring of water began to bubble in the Buizel's mouth, some of it escaping the water weasel's lips. Baron was still struggling, but when he felt the water being gathered against his pelt he froze. If they didn't act fast enough he was going to be hit by the full force of a Water Pulse up close and he knew it. They only had a few seconds to act! His eyes flicked to Mabel once more, and she knew he was waiting for her commands. She had to get Jet away from Baron if they were going to win.
An idea hit Mabel.
"Baron, use Roar and push the Buizel away from you! Then follow it up with another Flame Wheel, but faster this time!"
Baron nodded, then opened his toothy maw and let loose a massive, ear-splitting roar. Aquafina, Omar, and Jet clutched their ears in pain, and the huge ring of water shot from the Buizel's mouth as the water-type Pokémon was projected away by Baron's spirited snarl. The weasel was thrown through the air but not hard enough to throw off the Pokemon's aim, and as the sphere of highly condensed water rocketed towards Baron, Mabel panicked.
"Baron! Run! Dodge the-"
" GROWW !" Baron gasped in agony as the sphere of water slammed straight into him, exploding as the impact disrupted the energy holding it together. Mabel prayed that her starter didn't get dazed by the blow- the real danger of a Water Pulse now that he survived the initial impact. Thankfully, Baron didn't seem too bothered by it. Aquafina wasn't quite done, though, wearing a shit-eating grin she continued to issue out commands.
"Now follow it up with Aqua Jet, Jet!" The blue-haired trainer screamed. Her Buizel nodded and dashed toward Baron again, a giant rush of water surging straight behind it. The water Pokemon was jetting forward on a massive wave of liquid that grew larger and faster with every second.
Mabel refused to let Baron get hurt again! "Use Quick attack to dodge, Baron! And then another Roar to disorient him and gain some distance! Then Flame Wheel! Quickly, you can do this- it's probably your only chance!"
Baron nodded, not taking his eyes off of his opponent. Right as the Buizel was about to hit him, he dashed to the side with incredible speed, before letting loose another Roar.
"BUI!" The Buizel cried out as it was shot away by the rush of air Baron created. Mabel didn't even have to tell Baron to use Flame Wheel, he immediately began charging it up himself. It only took a few seconds for Baron to be completely lit on fire, the massive ring even bigger this time. Waves of heat radiated off of Baron, and he sprinted forward.
"GROWWLITHE!" Baron snarled. The poor Buizel was still disoriented from being blown away by the Roar. It blinked uselessly as Baron came toward it. The fire canine smashed straight into the water-type, knocking the poor Pokémon several yards with a burst of fire. The Buizel cried out in pain as it bounced every step of the way, before landing in an unconscious heap.
It didn't get back up.
"H-How!?" The girl screamed, staring at Mabel with a bright red, embarrassed facial expression. "Growlithe shouldn't beat Buizel!"
Mabel couldn't believe it either. She didn't even know what to say. This was her first time battling, and Baron completely blew her away. The trainer was a random, nameless one with only a single Pokémon, but he was incredible. Mabel was shell-shocked as she stared at her Starter.
The large, fluffy canine was panting heavily, his slobbery tongue lolling from his muzzle. His big eyes glinted with a mixture of joy and pride as he trotted over to Mabel, tail wagging. He wanted her praise so bad, she could tell and she was more than happy to give it to him.
"That was amazing, Baron!" Mabel cheered as she hugged Baron to her chest, rubbing her hands all over his big face and ears. "You're such a good boy!" He grumbled happily as Mabel pet him, his huge eyes staring into hers.
The blue-haired trainer scowled as she watched their bonding, crossing her muscular arms. She gave her own Pokémon a look of disgust, and then returned it to its Pokeball. "...I wish I could say the same about my Pokémon."
"Your Buizel is fine," A familiar, steady voice said. Omar. The tall dark-haired boy had spectated the entire battle, and he was clapping his hands as he approached now. His warm expression swept over Mabel, and she couldn't help but feel a little more pride. "You were just the worse trainer, their bond is clearly stronger. You should focus on yourself before your Pokémon."
Mabel and the girl blinked, eyes wide. Mabel agreed with him, the way the girl had demanded a battle with Mabel the second she saw her fire Pokémon had been way too arrogant and rash, but she never would have said that. Not to mention so matter-of-factly. Omar was radiating nothing but kindness as he said it, too, so it's not like the girl could really disagree without making a fool of herself.
And she knew it too. "Yeah… well…" The girl sighed in frustration and then handed Mabel a wad of Pokebucks. "You won fair and square."
Mabel clutched the handful of cash and blinked. She'd never actually had a paying job or made her own money before, all of it went into the family business, and she couldn't help but feel a rush of excitement at making her own Poke for the first time. A thrill shot down her spine and a smile crept across her soft features.
"Your Growlithe is... pretty amazing," the girl begrudgingly admitted. "Congrats on winning your first battle. I'm sorry I couldn't make it more special for you. Uhh, my name is Aquafina. Here's my number, so we can rematch sometime. Jet and I won't lose to you a second time, though." With that, Aquafina walked away. She waved over her shoulder, then disappeared down a forest path, Pokeball in hand.
Mabel glanced down at Baron with a warm smile. Baron grinned back, and she brushed his cheek against his snout. "You really are such a good, strong boy aren't you baby? But how are you feeling after that Water Pulse, you alright?"
Baron nosed her roughly when she began to get touchy with him, puffing his fluffy chest out and gently biting her hand in warning. "Grow!" He snapped, narrowing his eyes.
'I'm fine, jeez.' Mabel could practically hear her Starter's dry complaints about her pampering. She gave him one last head pat, then stood and turned to Omar. "That was… actually pretty amazing. Not something I'd want to do often, poor Baron could have been hurt, but it's nice to know I can stick up for myself!"
Omar beamed. "I'm glad. Rhea and Ricecake enjoyed watching the fight for sure."
His two Starters began to enthusiastically nod, clapping their hands. They had been emoting and cheering the entire battle, but Mabel had been so hyper-focused on her own actions and Baron's that she hadn't paid them any heed. Now, she felt compelled to thank them for their support.
"Thank you guys for cheering us on! We couldn't have done it without you," She giggled, kneeling and extending her hands out toward them.
Omar watched with a smile as his two starter Pokemon rushed toward Mabel, embracing her. He turned away as he pulled a familiar map out of his backpack- the one they'd been navigating with. "We're not too far from Eterna City now. You want to keep wandering randomly or do you think there's a specific place you want to go now?"
Mabel glanced at Baron, then frowned. "Honestly… I kind of want to do some more battling. Do you, Baron?"
Her Growlithe nodded enthusiastically. "Grow Grow!" She definitely had his approval.
Omar thought deeply. "So...do you want to do the gym challenge, then? Oreburgh is the first place you should go in that case, it's where most beginners start, and it shouldn't be too long a journey to get there."
"Well… I-I don't know anything about gym battling, I don't know if that is necessarily what I want to do! I just want some...you know, basic battling. Nothing serious, nothing committal!"
Omar chuckled. "Ok, ok. So let's just keep going, then. Head deeper into the woods maybe, follow that Aquafina girl? I'm seriously enjoying the wilderness."
There was no reason to set a specific path. Omar and Mabel had been traveling aimlessly for a day now, and she didn't want to change that. Walking around and seeing the world was a joy. Truly freeing. Especially with Baron, Omar, and his Pokemon at her side. Mabel stared at Omar for a long moment. He didn't even notice her gaze, so caught up in looking at the map. Honestly, he was c ute. Those chestnut curls and deep, doe-like eyes. That soft-looking skin and those goofy, slightly too-large ears. Not to mention that it was painfully obvious he liked her. There was no real reason she shouldn't like him back. He was an incredibly nice, kind guy- he even went as far as helping her sort out her supplies and more but her mind would settle for no one but-
(Avery. Omar is not Avery, the guy I really want with me right now...and I'm not ready to let him go, yet.)
Uncomfortable with her own cruel and disorderly feelings, Mabel cleared her throat. "Let's keep going." She wasn't going to wait for him to agree. "Come on, Baron." She wanted to escape Omar and her own thoughts, and the person she was really running from even though the mere thought of him made her heart cry out for him-
"Grow!" Baron barked and immediately hurried to her side, his tail still wagging. He knocked her out of her sad state, his warm fur comforting.
There was the sound of rustling paper and some fumbling behind her. Apparently, Omar had just noticed she was moving.
"W-Woah, wait up Mabs!" Omar stammered as he dashed after her. "Slow down, you're gonna leave me behind!" The tall boy chuckled nervously as he managed to catch up, his starters trailing close behind. He was panting from the exertion, even though it was such a short distance- was he so unfit? Baron effortlessly kept up with her.
She gave the Pokemon a fond glance, then smiled at Omar. "Sorry! I just wanted to keep going!"
Omar swallowed nervously but nodded. "It's uh… It's okay. Just don't leave me behind, please."
Mabel wondered why Omar could never make eye contact with her anymore. But she figured it was rude to ask, so she stuffed all thought of that away and instead focused on moving forward.
Even if there were certain things- certain people - that she could never really leave behind.