'Ash Ketchum is out of Pokémon. Advancing to the final is Tobias! Ash Ketchum is out of the Sinnoh League.'
Pikachu awoke as he felt himself get thrown across the room. Reacting quickly, he was able to stop himself crashing into the wall, using his tail to cushion his landing. He dropped to the floor glaring across the room, until he realized what was happening.
'Despite taking out two of Tobias Pokémon, Ash Ketchum has failed to defeat his opponent.'
"Pika, Pikachu!" Pikachu shouted at his trainer, who was thrashing around in his bed. The trainer who was completely ignoring his faithful starter.
'Ash tried hard, but he was ultimately a failure.'
"I'm not…" Ash muttered as his thrashing began to subside. "I'm no failure…"
Pikachu hopped up onto the table beside the desk, out of reach in case Ash started to lash out again. He gazed at his trainer closely, before peering at the clock beside him. 02:07. Ash had been asleep for less than an hour. The exhaustion was getting to both of them. Since Ash had lost, sleep had been hard to come by. Since he had gotten back two days earlier, it was even harder. Ash had managed less than three hours sleep since he had gotten home, and Pikachu was desperate for him to get some more.
'Only defeating two Pokémon Ashy-Boy? I thought you were better than that. I guess you really are a failure.'
Ash suddenly lashed out, and Pikachu ducked. The little Pokémonhad been half expecting it, and the fist flew over his head. Despite himself, his cheeks began to spark, preparing to shock Ash out of his nightmare. His trainer needed sleep, but he needed to wake up before he injured one of them.
"Get away from me Ashy. I don't want to talk to failures like you."
"I'm not a FAILURE!" Ash shouted as he jerked upright. "How DARE…" He stopped shouting as he looked down to see Pikachu's cheeks sparking. "I'm sorry buddy…" Ash said, his voice trailing off. "I woke you again didn't I?"
Pikachu nodded, before leaping onto Ash's shoulder and licking his face. Ash scratched the little mouse behind the ears, drawing a coo from him. "It's the nightmare again…" Ash said quietly as he scratched his Pokémon. "Driving our failure home."
Pikachu jumped onto Ash's lap before admonishing the trainer, poling him in the chest. "Pika, Pikachu, Pikapi, Pikachu, Pika."
Ash gazed at him, the exhaustion showing on his face. "Pikachu, we've been through this. We got two of them. After five years training, we got two of his Pokémon. That's pathetic."
"Pikachu! Pikachu, Pikachupi?"
"I think it is Pikachu." Ash said, before turning away. "And no, it wasn't Misty this time… It was Gary…"
"Yeah. The same. Telling me that we failed."
"Pika…" Pikachu said sadly, before yawning loudly.
"What time is it?" Ash asked instantly, before turning to the clock. "Wow… Pikachu, you should try to get some sleep. You need it after Sinnoh."
Pikachu shook his head, before tapping Ash on the chest. The trainer smiled slightly. "Don't worry about me Pikachu. I'll try to get some as well."
Pikachu looked at Ash for a moment, before nodding and curling up on the bed once more. Ash lay down again, his thoughts swirling around in his head. The defeat that he had suffered at the hands of Tobias had hurt him more than any other. It hadn't felt bad, but then had started to creep into his mind. Into his dreams. It had wormed its way in, until he could barely sleep. He glanced at the clock. 02:17. It was going to be a long night.
"Pikac…CHUUU!" Ash was jerked out of bed as the attack hit him, stifling his shout of pain. Somehow his mother had managed to sleep through his nightmares thus far and he was determined that he not wake her up. Although with the noise she had slept through thus far he could probably do what he wanted. He hit the floor, grunting from the impact. Pikachu flicked a lamp on, and its weak glow illuminated the room, to show the small Pokémon peering down at his master nervously. Ash sat up, wincing from the pain. He glanced at the clock next to Pikachu. 03:01. He groaned. Pikachu leapt lightly from the table to his trainer, who caught him and held him close. The two of them lay together on the floor, holding each other tight, before Ash finally levered himself up.
"You need rest Pikachu." Ash said quietly, gazing down at his starter. "You can't keep doing this."
Pikachu said nothing, just gazed into Ash's eyes. Ash met the gaze, then his head fell. "Alright Pikachu. I won't force you."
Pikachu licked his trainer's cheek before crawling onto his shoulder. Ash reached for the door, then paused for a moment. Turned back to his desk, and grabbed a sheet of paper, scribbling on it. He crept out of his room, leaving the paper on the kitchen side as he snuck out of the house. As he left Pikachu glanced back at the paper, his gaze tinged almost with regret.
I've gone to the ranch to see my other Pokémon. I'll see you later today.
Delia Ketchum stood, looking over the fields, looking for her son. When she had woken up, she had found his brief note, scribbled by a man in a hurry. She had smiled, and assumed she would see her son by lunchtime. After he didn't appear, she had assumed he had eaten at the lab. Yet hours later it was getting dark, and her son still hadn't appeared. She had called the lab, but Professor Oak hadn't seen him all day. She knew at that moment that something was wrong. Ash going to see his Pokémon for a day wasn't unusual, even if he rarely did it all day just after he got back. But not eating was worrying. And totally uncharacteristic for her son. She'd made one more phone call, before heading over to the lab. She had to find her son.
Professor Oak came up beside her. "No sign of him?"
"No…" Delia said quietly. "Samuel, where is he? Is he out there?"
Oak smiled. "Delia, if he's on my ranch, we will find him. Gary, do you have Umbreon?"
Delia spun to see Gary Oak strolling towards the doorway. He turned to his grandfather.
"Umbreon is already looking. He'll find Ashy-boy soon." Gary then turned to Delia. "Is he alright? He didn't seem so cut up about the defeat when it happened, but now it seems to be getting worse."
"I don't know…" Delia said. "I keep thinking I'm hearing noises from his room, but then nothing. And now he's been gone all day, leaving just a note. It's not like him."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Gary asked, drawing a surprised gaze from the two older people. "What? He may have been my rival, but he was also once my friend."
"It's probably best if you don't push it Gary." Delia said quietly. "I know you have good intentions, but something is very wrong. This is so unlike Ash… I don't think I've ever seen him so despondent…"
Before Gary could say anything else, there was a purr. All three of them glanced down to see Umbreon stood in front of them. In the near dark, the Pokémon was almost invisible.
"You've found him?" Gary asked. Umbreon nodded. Gary turned back to Delia. "Follow Umbreon. He'll take you to Ash then come back." Delia nodded, worry in her eyes as she turned away. As she followed Umbreon into the darkness, she heard Samuel Oak's voice behind her.
"Ash will be fine. It just takes a lot to get over a defeat like his."
Ash sat, his back against Snorlax' sleeping form, Pikachu and Bayleaf curled up alongside him. Many of his Pokémon were sleeping, having been up most of the night with him after he had reached the ranch. Not a single one of them believed that Ash had let them down, despite everything he continually protested. They had spent the day with him, comforting him and trying to make him sleep. Despite their best efforts, he remained awake, and couldn't face going home for another night of darkness. He heard a twig snap, and his head snapped around to see his mother walking into the clearing, hesitantly. She looked down at her son, concern written into her features.
"Hi Mum." Ash said, his voice quiet.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. Just wanted to spend some time with my Pokémon."
"Have you eaten anything Ash?" Delia asked.
"Since when?" Her son responded, a slight grin on his face.
"All day?" Delia asked gently.
Ash shrugged. "I'm not really hungry."
Delia gazed, trying not to let the shock show. Ash was always hungry. "When are you coming home?" She asked.
Ash looked around before gently easing Pikachu off his lap. Quilava who was awake across the clearing sat up at the movement and Ash nodded. "Come on Quilava. You can stay the night at mine."
His mother watched him walk away from his sleeping Pokémon, before turning her attention to the path. As she took her gaze from her son, she didn't see the effect leaving his Pokémon had on him. Each step seemed to be heavier, as the well of comfort he had spent the entire day hiding in crept away from him.
"You're a failure Ash. You've always been a failure. You've never won anything. Never achieved anything. After five years you could only beat two Pokémon. That's pathetic. I don't know why I thought I could learn anything from you."
"No…" Ash muttered. "May, you don't think that."
"Doesn't she? Why wouldn't she? I came second in my first ever Grand Festival, and narrowly lost. You made the last four before somebody put you out of your misery, and that was after five years."
"Dawn?" Ash said, twisting about in his sleep. "No… Don't say that…"
"A failure Ash. That's all you'll ever be. And to think I once liked you. Guess I dodged that bullet well enough. You'd never be worthy of me."
Ash surged away from sleep, sitting bolt upright. The room lit instantly, as the flames on Quilava lit up. Ash stared at his Pokémon, trying to work out why he was in the room. Then it all came rushing back, and he fell back onto his pillow, groaning. A glance at the clock told him what he didn't want to know. He had been asleep for a mere forty minutes this time. He got up, knowing that to return to bed would be to return to the nightmares that held him. He moved across the room silently, Quilava padding along at his side. Ash looked at the photos on a shelf in his room. The first one was of his time in Kanto, with Misty and Brock. His closest friends, then and forever. The man that was like his older brother, and at times the father that he had never had. And Misty…
Misty, the girl who had only started following him because he had broken her bike. With the other girls who had followed him, they had at least wanted his help with something. May wanted his help getting places, and he had eventually ended up teaching her as they went. He had done similar with Dawn. Yet Misty… The one girl for whom it had been the other way around. Ash grinned slightly as he remembered the moment that he usually cringed about when he thought about it. The moment that he had sent out his Caterpie to fight a Pidgeotto. What she had shouted at him still stuck.
"Pidgeotto is a bird. Caterpie is a worm. Bird's eat worms Mr Pokémon Master!"
Ash put the picture back. He glanced along the rest of the photos. All of them with his friends. The same friends who were now tormenting him in dream form. Reminding him that he had let them all down. All he felt as he looked at them was a deep feeling of anger at himself. He knew none of them would ever say that he had let them down, none of them would ever think he had failed. But he felt differently. Five years of training, and he got two of his opponents Pokémon. He sighed, and turned away, striding to the window. Quilava nuzzled his leg, before looking back at the bed pointedly. Ash shook his head, before looking out into the darkness. Moments later, he was on his way out of the house, Quilava at his side. If he couldn't sleep, he would be with his Pokémon. Although this time he would be back at home before his mother awoke to find him gone.
Misty jogged into Pallet Town. She had moved fast to make the distance in such a short space of time. After Delia had called last night, saying that Ash was struggling she had left instantly. Her gym was shut, but that didn't matter. She had barely taken a day off for years. Her only true close friends were Ash and Brock and they were always away. So when Ash needed help, she could easily come to see him. Travelling through the night, with only a few hours break for sleep, she had hoped to make it to surprise Ash at breakfast. Her friend whom she had barely seen for years, barely spent time with in all that time. The boy she missed more than anything. She chuckled to herself. If you'd told her seven years ago that the boy she fished out of the river, the boy who had trashed her bike, whom she had followed around for three years, would have become her best friend, she would have laughed at them. Actually, she corrected herself, she would probably have smashed their head in with a mallet. She still might.
Misty reached the Ketchum residence and glanced down at her watch. Potentially banging on the door at 5am was a little early. And Ash would be in bed anyway. He would be sleeping for hours yet, if his past record of returning from months away was anything to go by. Misty sat down in the front garden and pulled a Pokéball from her pocket. She toyed with the idea of releasing her Pokémon, but eventually put it back on her belt. She lay down and let herself doze. While she was glad she had pushed herself so hard to get here, she didn't want to be exhausted when she saw Ash.
Ash moved through Pallet Town quietly, almost silent. He had spent the night training some of his Pokémon, who had seen his desperation and matched it. Others of them had been sleeping, but for the first time since he had come back to Pallet he felt a sense of belonging. Being with his Pokémon was something he loved. They were the family that had travelled with him for so long. As the night had worn on, a plan had formed in Ash's mind. How to ensure that his humiliation was never repeated. Somewhere he could sort himself out before he went to another region, or back to an old one. Time spent with his Pokémon in the way he had spent the night and he knew that they would be able to get stronger. But until he knew where he was going, he had to get home and ensure his mother didn't know about his insomnia.
The gate at the front of the house opened with a slight creak, which Ash ignored. Quilava was providing a slight glow, so he had no problems seeing where he was going. About halfway up the path he noticed Quilava had stopped moving. Ash turned to see something lying on the ground off the side of the path. Quilava was gazing at it, as it shifted. Then started to sit up.
"Quilava, give us some light." Ash said quietly. As the flames on the back of his Pokémon grew, Ash stared in shock at the figure who was staring straight back.
Delia Ketchum put more food on the table, watching her son eat. He wasn't eating with his normal gusto, it was more a mechanical process, but she was just pleased that he was eating. Across the table, Misty was chatting away to him, without getting much response. Not that she was expecting it, with Ash eating she was expecting him to be fully focused on his food. And she was only babbling to keep up appearances, Delia didn't know that Ash had been out in the morning, and Misty wasn't going to tell her. As Ash finished eating, he stood up and smiled at his mother.
"We're gonna head out Mum." Ash said. "I'll see you tonight for dinner?"
"Of course Ash." Delia said. "Just make sure your home tonight?"
Ash nodded as he left the room, leaving Misty to follow and Delia to stare after him. He seemed to have perked up since Misty had arrived, but she was trying to work out if it was an act. As the two left the house seemingly chatting away she decided she didn't care. As long as Ash ended up happy, that was the important thing. If Misty could stay for a few days, she hoped Ash would be back to normal.
"You should go back to Cerulean." Ash said. The two of them were sat on a hill overlooking Pallet Town, with a few of Ash's Pokémon lying around them. He had taken the Pokémon with him when he had left Professor Oak's ranch in the morning, but Pikachu had still been asleep, recovering from the days of no sleep.
Misty stared at him in shock. "I just travelled through the night to get here!" She burst out, eyes flashing dangerously. "You think I'm going to go straight back?"
Ash didn't answer, just turned his gaze away from Misty, staring out over his home town. Misty followed his eyes before turning back on him.
"Ash?" When there was no answer she raised her voice, her temper rising. "Ash Ketchum! I just travelled through the night to get here, the least you can do is actually talk to me properly!"
Ash stared at her. "Why did you come Misty?" he asked, his voice breaking slightly.
Misty met his gaze. "Your mother asked me to. She thought there was something wrong."
"And you agree with her?"
"Yes Ash I do. You were out in the middle of the night, something you clearly don't want your mother to know. You're trying to get rid of me, you've barely spoken to Professor Oak since you've gotten back and you've not even got Pikachu with you. Even from you, with your history of odd moments this is wrong."
Misty smiled, hoping that her attempt to lighten the mood could bring a laugh from Ash. All it got was a confused look.
"My history?" He shook his head. "Look Mist, I'm fine. I've been spending time with my Pokémon, some of them have barely seen me for years since I've been leaving them at home when I go to new regions. And Pikachu is with them, they are his friends as well."
"And you were out at night to spend more time with them?" Misty asked, not bothering to try to hide the doubt in her voice.
"Yes." Ash said. "I've found that I sleep better outside with my Pokémon. And I can't bring them home."
Misty stared. "And you don't want your mother to know?"
Ash hung his head. "How would she feel? How would you feel if your son didn't want to sleep in the same house as you?"
Misty nodded slowly. "So why are you trying to get rid of me Ash?" She asked. "Don't you want to see me?"
"I do want to see you Mist." Ash said. "But you've got responsibilities in Cerulean."
"And yet I'm here." She said with a smile. "Ready to bang some sense into you."
"Misty you can't abandon your Gym." Ash said seriously. "You've spent years of your life building that place up."
"And I've come her to see…" Mist started but Ash cut her off.
"Don't be stupid Misty." He said, then smiled slightly. "Feels weird me telling you that."
Misty laughed, a sound that was mirrored by Ash. "Go on then Mr Smartass." She said, grinning. "How am I being stupid?"
"Abandoning a gym to come see somebody who at the moment is completely free and could have come to you." Ash said in a rush. "Or didn't you think about that?"
"Didn't you say something about not wanting to upset your Mum?" Misty asked. "Wouldn't leaving to go to Cerulean do just that?"
"If she's willing to call you here, I think she'll be fine for me to go visit you." Ash said. "It will help persuade her that I am fine."
"Are you?" Misty asked, her voice suddenly serious.
Ash looked her in the eye. "Misty, I'm fine. I'm upset about losing in Sinnoh, but isn't that natural?"
Misty gazed at him. "Ash, do you blame yourself?"
He turned away slightly. "No."
Misty didn't say anything, just gazed at her friend, waiting for him to speak again.
"It's just hard you know?" Ash continued, his voice low. "All those years training, and we only get two of his Pokémon? It's just hard to take."
"Ash…" Misty said softly. "Don't. You were the only one to beat Darkrai, and you got Latios as well. That is an incredible achievement to take out not one, but two legendary Pokémon. You should be proud."
Ash turned back to look at her, not saying anything.
"You did us all proud." Misty continued. "You were the best at that tournament. And everybody knows it."
Ash nodded slightly. "Thanks Misty. I appreciate it. I should be fine in a few days, and I'll come visit you."
Misty stared at him. "Promise?"
Ash forced a smile onto his face. "If I'm still in Pallet in a few days, I'll come visit you, if it makes you feel better."
Misty smiled and gave him a quick hug. Ash grinned the familiar grin that Misty knew so well.
"Wow Mist, if I didn't know better I'd say you missed me."
Misty drew away and glared at the boy with his tongue stuck out. "Good think you know better Ketchum, because otherwise it might be painful."
Ash laughed, but it didn't reach his eyes. "It's fine Mist. I miss you too when I'm away."
Misty tried to stay angry but couldn't stop a grin spreading across her face. "Fine, you win Ash. I'll head back tonight to watch my gym. And you'd better come and visit."
Ash slipped inside his home once again. His mother wouldn't be up for at least another couple of hours, so he could get into his room, pretend he'd been there all night. After Misty had left the night before he hoped that he would have been able to sleep, but he hadn't. He'd slipped out again, but when he'd been training with his Pokémon he'd begun to feel tired. Making sure that he had an alarm set, he'd tried to get some sleep. And to his surprise, he had slept. For the first time since he had gotten home from Sinnoh. As he headed home once again, he knew what he had to do. The plan that had started to form the day before was taking flesh in his mind. He would go away for a few weeks to train, to improve his team, to become stronger. To wipe away the shame of his defeat. And when he came back he would prove that he was strong enough.
Ash reached his room and climbed into his bed, lying down, with Pikachu next to him. Neither of them intended to sleep. Having spoken to Ash about his plan, Pikachu had embraced the idea enthusiastically. The idea of a few weeks away with all of their friends, training to become stronger sounded like a dream for him. They planned to spend the day at home, and that evening broach the subject with his mother.
Delia had just started to walk out towards her garden when she heard the voice of her son.
"Mum, I'm leaving again." Ash said. Delia Ketchum turned around to look at her only son in surprise
"Where are you going this time?" She asked.
"I'm not sure." Ash answered. "I'm not going running off to a new region… After what happened in Sinnoh I want to get better. I'm going to leave to do some training."
Delia's face showed surprise at his words. This wasn't something she was expecting.
"Who will you travel with?" She asked.
"I'm not planning on travelling Mum." Ash said. "I'm going to find somewhere to settle. Get stronger. Then I'll start again."
"I see." Delia said. "When will you leave?"
"Tomorrow." Ash said. "Now I've decided I want to get to it as quickly as possible."
Ash turned away and left the room, Pikachu at his side, leaving his mother gazing after him. It would be nearly eight years until she would see him again.
So I wanted to leave a little note here. This will not be on a regular update schedule, more will be filled in when the fancy takes me. It will be a series of snapshots from Ash's life between Sinnoh and before the Lost Master. I'll try to include some kind of calendar as we get further into those seven years. I have no idea how many of these I intend to write, but if there is a particular thing that happened and has been referenced in the Lost Master say and I'll fill it in. Most things I had a story for just never wrote it fully. And it will be a little different from the Lost Master at first, since he was a long way away from being the powerful trainer he comes back as. Just something a bit different. Should be fun!