Professor Oak handed out starter pokémon on the first day of the summer holidays and Pallet Town kids were always eager to have them. Nicola managed to secure a place near the front of the crowd with a mix of early rising and elbowing. Nobody would stop her getting her dream pokémon! Charmander was the cutest little orange dinosaur ever to grace the Earth. As for its evolutions, what charmeleon lost in cuteness, it made up in coolness and as for charizard… She could already see herself sitting on its back soaring high above Kanto. The air up among the clouds would be freezing, but charizard would keep her warm and safe. They would take the league by storm together.

The lab's door opened and an assistant ushered them inside. Nicola wanted to sprint ahead, but didn't know where to go exactly and didn't want to seem rude, so she trotted along obediently. When they reached Professor Oak, she continued fighting her desperate impatience as he droned on about the World of Pokémon. She'd heard all this in school! Finally, Oak said the magic words, "What pokémon would you like?"

"Charmander please!" Nicola blurted out, getting in first. The other kids made their demands almost as quickly and just as loudly. Except for Red, who deliberated before pointing, and Blue, who waited for Red to pick so he could get a type advantage, because he was that kind of guy.

After some confusion, everyone got the pokémon they wanted. Well, everyone except Caesar, but that was his fault for wanting a tyranitar. He settled for a charmander after a screaming fit. Nicola felt a little sorry for his charmander as she cradled her pokéball. Charmander was a wonderful creature that didn't deserve to be second choice, though it would doubtlessly win him over in no time.

Hers already had. It seemed impossible that charmander could be even cuter than imagined, but hers was so totally adorable as she lay curled up in her pokéball. Nicola had secretly hoped for a female charmander, though it wouldn't have mattered, and now she was holding one. Oak's dossier also contained things like her birthday, notes on her personality and advice on feeding, care and training. That would be read carefully, but later.

Nicola raised the pokéball to her face. Now she knew which of the names she'd been considering was the perfect one. "I'll call you Ember, if that's okay?" Ember's flame glowed a little brighter.

"Well, I guess you'll see me on TV when I become champion!" Blue smirked.

Before Nicola could correct him, Caesar yelled, "No, that'll be me!" Violet immediately announced the same and Leaf upped that by saying she'd go undefeated.

Nicola wanted to laugh. It was obvious that she would be the champion. "Not only will I go undefeated, none of my pokémon will be defeated either. So there!"

Oak did laugh. "That's plenty of enthusiasm! Now why don't you all run along and fulfil your dreams?"

Nicola nodded and left quickly. She couldn't wait to introduce Ember to her family.

oOo

Nicola cradled Ratty in her arms as she hurried to Viridian Pokémon Centre. He wasn't badly injured, but that had been a hard knock. Who knew metapod could move? She would keep that in mind, though a swipe of Ember's burning tail had settled the battle in her favour. Nicola grinned at the memory of shaking the bug catcher's hand. Her first battle, her first victory.

Just as she reached the pokémon centre, Blue stepped out. "Say, for someone whose pokémon would never be defeated, that rattata looks pretty beat."

Nicola drew a sharp breath. Yes, she'd said that, but the evidence of her failure lay in her arms, breathing softly. "Ratty isn't actually my pokémon!" she stammered, surprised to have hit upon a solution.

"Ember and Ratty? Truly a font of originality." Blue walked off before she could think of a retort.

Her cheeks burned. Glumly, she went to the counter to get her pokémon healed. Her journey had started so well and now this… She wouldn't go back on her word though. Time to return to Route 1.

Three hours later, she reached the spot where she'd caught Ratty. She'd been roasting bread on a stick over Ember's flame when he emerged from the tall grass. Now she'd return him home. It'd only been a day, surely he'd cope.

Nicola pressed the ball's release and Ratty materialised on the dirt. "This is your home, Ratty. I thought you might like to go back to your friends and family." He looked at her with his soulful red eyes. Her throat felt constricted. "You're a good pokémon. I think you can find a better trainer."

Eventually, Ratty scampered off. Nicola clenched her fists, trembling. She wouldn't let this happen again.

oOo

Onix was huge, Ember tiny. Stone didn't burn. Brock's champion ploughed into her charmander, sending her flying. This was the end. Nicola struggled with the pokéball in her hand, managing to recall Ember just as she hit the ground. An icy numbness washed over her. Ember lost. Staring at the ring where it had happened, she started to cry.

Brock recalled his onix, walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. "That wasn't badly fought, though I can't quite give you the badge. I liked the dodging! You'll get there eventually."

Nicola shook her head, sobbing. Not without Ember she couldn't, wouldn't. What should she do? Take her back to Oak? No. "I can't do it again! I lost!"

"Well, that's what pokécentres are for." Brock smiled. He didn't understand.

"I vowed that I..." The rest of the sentence was chocked off.

"Oh." Brock paused. "It is generally important to keep your word, but who would be hurt if you just forgot about it?"

"Nobody, but..."

"I'm a gym leader, so I hope you'll believe that I have a certain amount of expertise in this. I see lots of new trainers, many of whom have sworn such things. Basically every one of them fails. Only one person can be champion at a time, but there is no limit to how many people can be the best trainer they can be."

"That's true, but..." She hesitated for a moment, then told Brock about Ratty. "So I'm a shitty person already."

"That was foolish, but it isn't an all defining moment. You didn't leave Ratty somewhere he couldn't survive and he was a wild pokémon." Brock stopped again. "I'm not sure I should say this, as I don't want to create false hopes, but..."

"But what?"

"You could head back to Route 1 and see if you can catch him again. But don't be disappointed if you can't find him. Ratty really will be doing fine."

Nicola nodded eagerly, her tears now only salty streaks. She would do just that.

The End