Reckless Faith

(04.15.07)

Yeah, so, I come back to this, and it's...um...fermenting something nasty on my profile page. Yes, I hear you. I SHOULD be doing something productive, like writing my English paper on Sigmund Freud or trying to contact that one girl who has the information and guidelines I need in order to write said horrendous paper. But, um. Things like this bug me, so I've come back to tweak it a little.

Gads, my writing really is horrific sometimes. Let me know next time, mmkay?

Midway through revamping this, I also realized that it didn't really make sense for Brendan or May to take over Steven's role as "Champion" immediately. Perhaps in name, yes, but to become the top of the food chain of the Elite Four moments after defeating him? Not as likely. So that's been changed, just FYI. And Steven is horribly young, bleh. I've upped his age since the first time this was posted, but it's still a bit...hard to swallow, considering all that he does. Blehhh.

Disclaimer: All theirs. Whose that is, though, is kind of relative. Those power plays over in Nintendo and Gamefreak... Tsk.

Reckless Faith

The Claydol blasted powerful psychic beams at the Marshtomp, but the water Pokemon refused to back down. With a command from its trainer, it unleashed a surge of water, taking the enemy Pokemon along with the rushing waves careening into the far wall. The Claydol didn't make an effort to stand again, despite its trainer's pleas to do so; it slumped to the ground, unmoving,

Steven stared in the direction of the young trainer that had just defeated him, but he saw past him, past the doors and rooms containing the Elite Four, past the walls and the sea. A soft sigh escaped his parted lips, and he slid to his knees. He didn't think this would happen. He had always been so confident, knowing any trainer - had they managed to pass the Four - would fall to him with no difficulties. But now this...

With numb fingers, he returned his fallen Pokemon to its ball, and clutched it in his hand.

"You win, Brendan."

"I do? Seriously?" The elation in those eyes... Had the last Champion seen the same happiness in his own eyes, so many years ago? Had it hurt him this much, too? The terrible ache in him stemmed from his heart, his pride; his peerless string of victory after victory had finally reached its end with a mere teenage boy.

Gulping down fear that he didn't quite understand, Steven said quietly, "You defeated all of the Elite Four, and you defeated me... You... You're the new Champion. Congratulations."

"I am?" Once he saw the nod, Brendan whooped and ran to his Marshtomp, giving it a flying tackle. "I'm the new Champion! This is all thanks to you! You did so great!"

While Brendan celebrated with his Pokemon, Steven rose and walked to an intercom at the wall. He pressed the button on it gently, and with a sigh, said, "Drake?"

"Steven?" The man answered gruffly.

"...He won."

"...I see."

He released the button and leaned against the wall. How could this happen? He had lost to the same boy that he had helped throughout his journey... It was irony's way of saying thanks.

The doors at the head of the room slid open with a hiss, and Professor Birch and May ran in. Brendan stopped momentarily to greet them with a grin.

"May! What took you so long? I already beat him!"

"You beat him?" Her blue eyes darted to Steven, who was in the corner with his head down. "Really? How?"

"With my amazing skills, of course." At his smug grin, May laughed. Her father came over to pat him on the back, a broad smile on his face.

"You must have done so splendidly, Brendan! It's such a shame we didn't witness it... I'm sure May could have learned a few things from you."

"Dad..." May whined, rolling her eyes.

"When we heard you were clearing the Elite Four with such speed, we flew over as soon as possible. But I guess it's too late..." Professor Birch sighed, rubbing the back of his head.

"See? You shouldn't have tried to sort all those files before we left." His daughter said. She turned back to Brendan. "Well... for now, I guess it's too late to challenge you. You should rest up. We'll battle later, okay?"

"Meet you outside, Brendan!" Professor Birch and May waved to him, and they exited by way of the door they had entered.

Once they had left, Brendan returned his Marshtomp to its Pokeball, and walked over to Steven. He looked back and forth nervously, unsure of how Steven was feeling.

...Which wasn't very well. He was ashamed of his defeat, and keeping his cool, all-knowing air was difficult now. He didn't remember the last time he had been defeated by anyone... His eyes drifted upwards to meet Brendan's, and he saw a light blush spread over the younger trainer's cheeks.

"Um..." Brendan mumbled.

"Follow me. I'll record you and your Pokemon into the Hall of Fame." Steven brushed past him without a second glance, now angry with himself. The sudden, unbidden urge to touch him, for no reason whatsoever except to feel that contact – perhaps to know that Brendan truly did exist; that this loss was not just in his mind – made his fingers curl against his palm. He didn't need this right now.

They had come to the door of the Hall of Fame. The door clicked and slid open, and a chill blast of wind swept past them. The Hall smelled musty with dust and age - people rarely stepped foot inside this room, despite its importance. There were only so many Champions to go around, after all, Steven mused bitterly. He and Brendan walked past the small exhibits containing the names of trainers and their Pokemon until they came to a machine at the very end.

"This is where the names are recorded." He hadn't seen this machine since he had become Champion... The words he spoke felt so foreign on his tongue. A small pad flashed on the right of the machine, and Steven tapped it with his fingers. "Press your hand here."

Brendan slowly removed a half-finger glove, biting his lower lip. Steven stepped back and watched him as he pressed the palm of his hand to the screen. The machine whirred, and a panel on the top opened up - slots for his Pokeballs appeared. Brendan placed them carefully, but without a word.

Steven watched him, feeling pangs echo in his heart. This was what the last Champion before him must have felt, he knew now. His position as the head of the Elite Four would not be dissolved any time soon, but just knowing he'd let one trainer by, to take a title he himself had fought for years before, would be the one chink in his otherwise impenetrable armor that would result in him losing his status soon enough.

Eventually, after all of Brendan's Pokemon had been processed, a screen with blank spaces appeared. It asked for the new and the current Champion's names. Steven entered all of the information on the keyboard provided speedily, wanting to be rid of such a painful sight. He knew he had too much of pride, but it still hurt terribly, despite being humbled by his last battle. The word "Completed" flashed across the screen.

"So it's... done?" Brendan asked tentatively, shifting around on his feet uncertainly.

"You're entered." Steven gave him a half-smile, but he put only a margin of effort in it. "I'm proud of you, Brendan. You started off as a rookie trainer with no experience whatsoever... And look at you now."

"Well, I..." Where was his confidence now? He looked down at the tiles shyly. "It's all thanks to my Pokemon."

"While trainers owe their wins to their Pokemon, their Pokemon owe everything they have to the trainer. You were talented from the start."

"That's not true." Brendan laughed softly, withdrawing the Pokeballs. "My Pokemon are intelligent, and any good moves I make in battle are just lucky calls... And I got to have matches with such good trainers... Like you."

Steven's heart stilled momentarily from the unexpected, light praise. When faced with the one he had defeated, who even then stiffly stood tall, back straight and rigid in a pretense of pride, the victor was meek and childishly bashful. Not allowing himself to continue with that train of thought, Steven reached out and tousled Brendan's hair lightly, forcing himself to pull away after a second of lingering.

The younger trainer frowned at this, and asked, "Steven, do you consider yourself beaten by a kid?"

He froze. What kind of question was that? Did he...? "You show the skill of an adult, Brendan," he said calmly.

"I'm fifteen."

He let his gaze wander the chronological listings of trainers and their Pokemon, and it wasn't long before he came to his own image. His voice was faraway when he addressed Brendan again. "I was younger than you are now when I became Champion. Mastery of Pokemon comes to anybody that has the courage and the determination to learn."

Brendan spoke slowly, as though considering each word with care. "But do you feel bitter?"

Since when did he – ?

It was hard to keep the defensive edge out of his voice. "Why do you ask?"

"I have this friend named Wally. I helped him catch his first Pokemon, trained with him, and coached him along, even as we both went for the same goals. But if I had lost to him the last time we had battled, I would have felt so angry with myself. And while I helped Wally, you helped me..." Brendan's eyes softened, and Steven realized he was cringing unintentionally. "Do you feel bad about yourself?"

"I feel disappointed, yes... But eventually, the student will have to beat the master. It just happened sooner than I thought it would." His voice was cracking. He turned his eyes away, embarrassed.

Brendan's voice came hesitantly. "You're not mad at me?"

"I could never be upset with you, Brendan. Especially not now, when I've seen you fulfill everything that..."

Brendan stepped forward and the space between them disappeared as the younger trainer hugged him tightly. The former Champion balked. Just what was Brendan thinking, touching him like this? What did he want from him?

"Brendan...?" Steven asked faintly.

"How old are you, Steven?" Brendan questioned in turn, burrowing his head in his chest.

"Older than you are," he responded vaguely, trying to ignore the vaguely prickly sense of utter doom lurking at the corners of his mind.

"Tell me."

"Twenty-two; twenty-three in two more weeks." He felt guilty for liking the comfort Brendan radiated.

"And how old were you when you became Champion?" the boy persisted.

"Why are you asking all this?" He slid his hands under Brendan's face, forcing him to look up.

"Because I want to know everything about you." Brendan smiled timidly up at him. "I like you."

As he soaked the simple words in, he wondered just how innocent this kid really was. Was he purposefully playing mind games with him? No, it didn't seem like something Brendan would do. But was he fully aware of just what kind of mental seesaw this had set in motion in Steven's head? He had his doubts, even there.

"I like you," Brendan repeated softly, fingering the edge of Steven's jacket. "A lot."

"You're only fifteen." Steven heard himself saying, his mind running in two directions at once. "You wouldn't understand at your age..."

"Understand what?" Brendan challenged.

"...It's too complicated." As though he wanted to try and explain the birds and the bees to Brendan at that moment, anyway. Doing so would call his own jumbled emotions in play also, and that was something he wanted to deal with on his own time, in private.

"Do you think of me as a child, Steven?" Again, the question. "Are you...afraid of me because of my age?"

Always the question – Steven's belief that Brendan had been made up of innocence, courage, and perhaps a dash of dumb luck was rapidly sinking under the waves of emotional turbulence. Brendan must have known what kind of dangerous game he was playing, at least on the shallow end. Pursuing romance with an adult was one kind form of complicated; making Steven want to shriek in agony over a boy was something else altogether.

"More than just your age," Steven murmured at last, setting his chin delicately in Brendan's mess of white hair. "Maybe everything about you."

Brendan pulled away just slightly, enough to unwind his arms from Steven's torso and trail them upwards. Perhaps unwittingly, he only emphasized just how much of a child he really was when his hands only barely managed to snake around his neck, tugging him down just a tad insistently. Steven moved with him, only because it was the easiest thing to do – really, he told himself – and turned his face to the side when Brendan tiptoed to kiss him. His lips landed on the corner of Steven's mouth, and lingered there.

"Why?" Brendan asked in a low exhale. Such a difficult thing to answer.

To make up for what probably came off as prudishness, Steven slowly draped his arms around Brendan's waist even as the sensible side of him howled, utterly scandalized. Brendan was a kid and he'd just been beaten by him and he probably had no idea what he was doing to his tremulous emotional balance... He pressed a chaste kiss to his forehead, closing his eyes. "You're just asking a lot out of me right now," he whispered, feeling Brendan stiffen in his arms.

Just how many boys did this, anyway? Fighting their way to the top and then beating their supposed romantic interest? Their relationship would be riddled with domination issues, that was for sure.

The hands wound comfortably around his neck suddenly darted down, pressed against his chest. "I – I'm sorry," he stammered, eyes darting about frantically, "I have – I – I don't – "

Steven let him dash away from him, knowing the Hall of Fame's doors wouldn't open again without his verification – some wretched form of security, ensuring that anybody that did get in couldn't get out on their own means. When Brendan realized this, he stood awkwardly by the doors, looking down at his feet.

"What's wrong?" Steven asked, dwelling in a moment of amusement he allowed himself.

"I...shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking..."

His voice trailed off into the stifled silence that permeated the Hall of Fame, and Steven smiled. "It's alright," he said to him. "You need to meet your friends outside, don't you? We can talk again a little later, if you want."

Brendan's shoulders tensed as he raised his eyes to meet Steven's. "Promise?"

He half-expected Brendan to add in a pinky promise, but when none came, he smiled more to himself as he reached out and linked the digits together, tugging Brendan to him gently. He heard Brendan's sharp inhale as he held their fingers to his chest, answer brushing against the teen's brow: "I promise."

Brendan smiled shakily at him as his small hand slipped away from Steven's. "Thank you."

The former Champion raised a hand to open the doors, and together they walked out to the final room of the Elite Four's challenge, where the others Brendan had fought and defeated stood waiting for them. Without thinking too deeply into it, Steven slid an arm around Brendan's shoulders, a comforting, near brotherly action that made Brendan blush profusely.

"The new Champion," he said calmly to the others, who nodded and smiled to varying degrees. They stepped out of their way respectfully as Steven led him back outside through an adjacent door, Brendan's eyes trained on the floor the entire time.

When they entered into the Pokecenter, May and Professor Birch jumped up from their seats by the sliding glass doors. Steven squeezed Brendan's shoulder lightly. "I'll see you sometime later, alright?"

Brendan murmured his assent, glancing up quickly to meet his eyes for a moment. "Thanks, Steven."

The older man smiled again, visible only to Brendan. "You know where to find me, and vice-versa. Whenever you're ready."

The cheeky, confident grin returned to Brendan's face, a familiar and welcoming sight. "Whenever I'm ready? What about you?"

Steven snorted, shoving Brendan along playfully. "The first rule of a champion: humility always."

"Yeah, yeah..." Brendan rolled his eyes but waved goodbye to him as he headed towards his companions. "Bye, Steven! Thanks for everything!"

Steven didn't follow them out, and it was probably a while until he noticed that he was still standing in the Pokecenter, smiling vaguely and staring out the glass doors. With a sigh, he turned around and headed back into the rooms of the Elite Four. He still had a job to do, after all.

END

I totally fail at endings. Argh.

The title doesn't really make sense anymore, but as I can't think of anything better, it's staying. Whatever. The last version of this fic absolutely sucked. I'm ashamed of myself. :( Where the crap did all the romance in the last one come from? It went from okay semi-Steven angst to just ROMANCE.

...Yeah. Well, here's the prettier, updated version. Less romance, but better characterization! ...Or not. I suck at this.