Disclaimer: How many times will I have to say that I don't own Pokemon?

Author's Notes: I've always been a fan of the Rivals in each game. The R/B/Y/FR/LG rival was a big favorite, as he somehow manages to beat you to the gyms and Elite Four and yet always loses to you (obviously). So I took the liberties of… this fic.

A Step Ahead

"Heh."

Rain ran a hand through his spiky orange hair as Leaf's Charizard fell to the tiled floor of the Pokemon League's interior. His Blastoise had easily knocked out her last Pokemon with two consecutive Surfs. Leaf smiled sadly as she withdrew the fire dragon.

"You've really gotten good, Rain," she said quietly.

"Hm. I did beat the Pokemon League before you," he reminded her coolly. "And I got my eighth badge before you."

"But…" Leaf started weakly. "Look at your Blastoise. He's so tired."

In truth, the giant turtle's cannons were drooping slightly, and he was panting. Rain gave him and Leaf an irritated look as he withdrew the Pokemon.

"What's you're point?" Rain demanded.

"If… If you can't treat your Pokemon right… Then you can't truly win," Leaf replied, her voice getting stronger with each word.

"Please," Rain snorted, rolling his eyes. "Don't give me more of that. Don't you know? Pokemon battling is the same as any sport… Every athlete has to get hurt every once in a while on his way to getting better. Every trainer has to be rough with his Pokemon every once in a while to bring out their true strength."

"That's…" Leaf paled.

After a moment, the brunette girl turned away from him. She looked as if she was going to leave the room, and Rain almost expected her to. However, she faced him again after a moment, and a single tear rolled down her cheek.

She forced, "Well, in sports, in order to be good, you have to work as a team. If the players don't work as a team and trust each other, then everything falls apart."

"That's idiotic," Rain muttered, ignoring the flush to his face. "When sentimentality gets in the way, you can't fully tap into your Pokemon's battle potential. Your Charizard, for example, is one of the most powerful fire Pokemon out there. You, however, got too attached to her to let her battle to her fullest."

Leaf fell silent. Rain smirked appraisingly; he knew Leaf was trying hard to come up with a counter. He was surprised when she did.

"Well, I suppose our little rivalry is over now that we've proven who's 'better'," she said calmly. "But you know what? Now that we're at the end, I have what really matters. I have six friends who will stay with me because they want to. You have six pets who will stay with you because you want them to."

Leaf did leave the room this time as she turned away from her rival—no, former rival. As she returned to Lance's chamber and presumably to the Pokemon League's lobby, Rain leaned against one of the Dragonite statues of the Champion's room. It was ironically fitting. Dragons were powerful, and so was he. That was how he'd managed to stay a step ahead of Leaf; he'd been willing to use the full strength of his team of six.

And yet, Dragonite were known both for their intelligence and their friendliness. Mere pets… Had he made a mistake training them that way after all?

No, he couldn't have. He was the best, and that was all that mattered now.

After several slow moments of pondering, Rain glanced through the window as a shadow dropped through. Leaf was clinging to her Charizard's neck happily, and the red dragon turned through the air, much to her trainer's delight. Trust. That was what they had.

Perhaps Leaf was really a step ahead of Rain, after all.