It's been a while since I had anything new, so here's something new for you guys. By the way "this" and "this" are human speech and thought. "(This)" and "(this)" are Pokémon speech and thought.

And now to get this out of the way. I do not own Pokémon.

Chapter 1: From Bad to Worse

"The winner and this year's Sinnoh Champion is Paul from Veilstone City!" This was not how things were supposed to go. He wasn't supposed to lose, not after all the work he and his Pokémon put in. And yet here he was, Ash Ketchum, on the losing end of yet another battle against his rival Paul. The Pallet Town native was staring out across the battlefield in shock. The championship battle between the two rivals started nearly half an hour ago. Ash started off on the right foot when his Infernape scored a quick KO of Paul's Weavile, but after that it was all downhill. Paul went on to record six straight KOs, his Electabuzz scoring the last one over Ash's Pikachu. While Ash was in shock Paul showed no emotion. He didn't acknowledge the crowd's cheers as he recalled his Electabuzz. He barely acknowledged Ash as the defeated trainer walked out onto the battlefield to tend to his fallen friend. As Ash scooped Pikachu into his arms the Mouse Pokémon looked up at his trainer with apologetic eyes.

"(Sorry… Ash… I guess… I… wasn't… s-strong… enough,)" he said.

"No, buddy. You don't have anything to apologize for," Ash told him, flashing a weak smile. "You and the others battled with everything you had, and I couldn't ask for anything more." Pikachu managed to smile at his trainer's words. Ash returned that smile briefly before standing and facing Paul. Though he hated to admit it he knew he had lost to the better trainer that day. And so he walked over to his bitter rival, extending his hand.

"Congratulations, Paul. You were the better trainer today," he said, though every word tasted bitter on his tongue. The Veilstone trainer looked at Ash's extended hand briefly before turning his back to him and walking away.

"I was always the better trainer, and don't you forget it," he scoffed. Ash glared daggers at his retreating form, his hand that was offered now clenched into a tight fist.

"Why that no-good…" Ash's anger was as high as it had ever been. He had lost to Paul before, but this time was different. It wasn't just some random battle between the two of them. This was the one battle that meant the most to Ash, and the one that hurt the most.

The closing ceremonies for the Sinnoh Championship had concluded close to half an hour ago, but that was the furthest fact from Ash mind. He was currently sitting alone in the Pokémon Center, having elected not to attend the closing ceremonies. He had told Brock and Dawn he wanted to get his Pokémon to the Center quickly, but that was only half-true. The fact that he had lost to Paul still weighed heavily on his mind and contributed to his decision to leave the stadium early.

"What did I do wrong? How was he able to beat me that easily?" Ash questioned. He went over the battle time and time again in his head, trying to determine if he had made some kind of mistake that Paul capitalized on. After much thought Ash came to the same conclusion each and every time: Paul was better than he was. Ash let out a sigh of defeat.

"I guess he really is better than me," he admitted. Right then a chime went off inside the Pokémon Center, letting Ash know his Pokémon were through with their check-ups. As he approached the front desk he saw Nurse Joy waiting with Pikachu and a tray holding his remaining Poké Balls. When he was close enough Pikachu jumped onto his usual spot on Ash's shoulder.

"How you feeling, buddy?" Ash asked.

"(Great, thanks to Nurse Joy,)" the mouse replied.

"All of your Pokémon have been restored," Nurse Joy said.

"Thank you, Nurse Joy," Ash said, a bit of sadness in his voice. Nurse Joy, having caught on, smiled at him.

"I know you're disappointed, but try to look on the bright side. You managed to make it to the finals. You should be proud of that," she told him.

"Perhaps you're right," Ash said. He thanked her once again before returning to his seat. Once there he began to think about the Pokémon who had battled along side him during the Sinnoh Championship tournament. Pikachu… Infernape… Torterra… Buizel… Staraptor… Gible… all six of them gave it there all, and yet they still fell short. He felt bad about losing, but more for the Pokémon than himself. They were the ones who were out there battling and deserved to win the most. In a way he felt like he failed them as a trainer.

"(You okay, Ash?)" Pikachu asked, sensing his trainer's depression.

"Not really, Pikachu. I'm still bummed about losing the championship to Paul," Ash admitted. "I feel like… like I was the one who failed you guys." Pikachu had a feeling that's what was on Ash's mind.

"(You didn't fail us, Ash. This was a team effort. We win together and we lose together. There's not one of us who's more to blame for losing than another,)" Pikachu explained.

"I'm glad to hear you say that, but I wonder if the others feel the same way?" Ash questioned.

"(They do. Trust me,)" Pikachu answered. Ash smiled as he reached up and scratched Pikachu behind his ears. If there was one thing he could count on it was having Pikachu there to cheer him up whenever he was down.

"Thanks, buddy. I needed that," Ash said.

"(Hey, that's what friends are for,)" Pikachu replied.

"Speaking of friends Dawn and Brock should have been back by now. What's taking them so long?" Ash wondered. Pikachu brought a paw to his chin.

"(Knowing Dawn she's probably buying up every Capsule Seal here, and Brock's more than likely being dragged off by Croagunk after another failed attempt at picking up a date,)" Pikachu guessed.

"I can picture the scene right now," Ash chuckled, thinking about what Pikachu had said. During this Dawn and Brock walked into the Pokémon Center.

"I still think you should talk to Ash about this," Brock said.

"I'll be fine, Brock. I've grown a lot since the day Ash and I first met," Dawn argued.

"I don't deny that, but I still think this is something he needs to know about. He really cares about you," Brock told her.

"I know he does, but this is still my decision to make," Dawn replied.

"I know Dawn, but I… just promise me you'll talk to Ash, even if it's just to let him know what you've decided. He deserves that much," Brock pleaded.

"Okay, I'll talk to him," Dawn sighed. "Now let's finish up here so I can…" A sudden gust of wind interrupted her. Looking towards the front desk she saw what caused it, for there was Brock on one knee holding Nurse Joy's hand.

"My darling Nurse Joy! Though the battle for the Sinnoh crown has been won a heated battle still rages within my heart… a battle for your love!" he declared. The poor nurse didn't know how to react.

"I beg you, please help me bring an end to this lonely battle... Help me put an end to the heart-breaking struggle… help me…"


"GAH!" Brock crumpled in pain right in front of the nurse after receiving yet another Poison Jab from his Croagunk.

"Please… help me…" he groaned while being dragged off by his Pokémon. Dawn sighed as she watched the spectacle.

"All it takes is a pretty face to make Brock lose all control," she commented.

"Dawn! Hey Dawn!" The Twinleaf Town coordinator looked up in time to see Ash and Pikachu approaching her.

"We were wondering what was taking you guys so long," Ash said. "Hey, where's Brock?" Dawn shrugged her shoulders.

"Wherever Croagunk dragged him off to," she answered. Ash just shook his head, Pikachu mimicking his actions.

"He'll never learn," he sighed.

"(I guess not,)" Pikachu agreed. While Pikachu and Ash commented on Brock's antics Dawn was trying to figure out what to say to the trainer who had become her mentor. She knew she promised Brock she'd talk to him, but she didn't know what to say or even how to say it. It was something that weighed heavily on her mind.

"Hello, Earth to Dawn." She was snapped back to reality when Ash waved his hand in front of her face.

"Huh, wha?"

"You were spacing out there for a bit," he told her. "Is everything okay?"

"Oh yeah, everything's just fine!" she lied, putting on her best smile.

"Oh… well that's good. Then as soon as Brock gets back we can hit the road again," Ash announced. Dawn inwardly groaned for not telling Ash what she had to right then, and now with him ready to leave as soon as Brock returned she realized time was running out. With that in mind she gathered up her courage and spoke.

"Actually, there's something I have to tell you."

"Go ahead," Ash said, giving her his full attention. Looking at his face Dawn knew he wouldn't like what she had to say, but regardless of that she went through with her promise to Brock.

"I don't know how else to tell you this but… I've decided to travel with Paul for a bit." The look on Ash's face was unreadable. There were so many emotions present. Shock… disbelief… anger… all that and more.

"What do you… are you… this has to be a joke or something!" Ash stuttered.

"I had a feeling you wouldn't like the idea," Dawn said.

"You're darn right I don't! Why would you want to travel with a jerk like him?!" Ash questioned.

"I'll admit that Paul does tend to rub people the wrong way, but I really think I can learn to be a better trainer if I travel with him. Maybe I'll learn something along the way," Dawn explained.

"Like what, how to be a jerk to everyone you meet?!" Ash spat. Now Dawn was starting to get annoyed.

"Okay Ash. I understand that you're still upset about losing to him in the finals, but that doesn't mean I have to sit here and put up with your attitude," she scolded.

"You expect me to be okay with this?!" Ash argued.

"I expect you to be happy with my decision," Dawn replied, a bit of attitude lacing her voice.

"Be happy that you want to travel with Paul?! That's not going to happen!" Ash yelled.

"You can be so stubborn, Ash Ketchum!" Dawn yelled.

"Why do you want to travel with him anyway?!" Ash questioned.

"Because I want to get stronger!" Dawn answered.

"And what makes him a better teacher than me?!" Ash asked.

"He always beats you!" That last comment really hit Ash where it hurt. He stopped his arguing immediately, but Dawn kept on going.

"You've tried time and time and time again, but each time he's beat you! First at Professor Rowan's lab, then in Stantler's Forest, then again at Lake Acuity and now at the Sinnoh League!" Dawn continued. "Face it, Ash! Paul is the better trainer!" Ash stood there stunned, as did Pikachu. Neither of them could believe that this was the same young coordinator they met back in Twinleaf Town over a year ago.

"Well, I did what I came to do. I told you what I wanted, so now I'm leaving," she announced. Without waiting for Ash to reply Dawn turned and walked out of the Pokémon Center. As soon as the electronic doors slid closed Ash walked over to his seat and sat back down. Pikachu leaned over to try and look at his trainer's face.

"(Ash?)" he called.

"I never would have expected to hear that, not out of Dawn at least," he said, barely above a whisper. "I guess that's what makes this hurt so much."

"Makes what hurt?" Ash looked up and saw that Brock had recovered and made his way back to the Pokémon Center.

"I didn't know you made it back," he said.

"I just got back," Brock told him. "I passed Dawn when I came in. Did she say anything to you?"

"She had something to say alright," Ash replied. He spent the next few minutes telling Brock what he and Dawn had said, finishing with Dawn's harsh closing words.

"Wow… I never would have expected those words coming out of her mouth," Brock said.

"Neither did I," Ash added. "Do you… think I was out of line? I mean… I just don't want her to do something she'll regret later."

"I'll admit that you may have come on a bit strong, but your intentions were good," Brock told him.

"Thanks. I just wish Dawn would have seen it that way," Ash admitted. Ash was still feeling down about what happened between him and Dawn, making what he heard next even more unbelievable.

"Listen Ash… I want to let you know I'm staying in Sinnoh a bit longer," Brock announced.

"You're staying?" Ash questioned, making sure he heard right.

"Yeah, I am," Brock repeated. "During our journey I realized that there's so much I still need to learn if I'm to become a top breeder. For that reason I want to stay here a bit longer and learn as much as I can. You understand, right?" After his argument with Dawn Ash was shocked even further by Brock's decision to remain in Sinnoh. However he told himself he wouldn't make the same mistake he made with Dawn.

"I… I understand," he said.

"I know this is a lot for you to take in all at once," Brock admitted. "Truthfully I hoped to tell you this under better circumstances."

"It's okay, Brock. You have your dreams just like I have mine," Ash said. "We've both got to do what we feel we have to in order to achieve our dreams." Brock could tell Ash was hurting, but he was glad to see Ash taking it as well as he was. The two long time friends shared one last handshake.

"Take care of yourself, pal," Ash said.

"You too," Brock said.

"(We'll miss you, Brock,)" Pikachu said.

"I'll miss you guys too," he replied. With their farewells said Brock walked out of the Pokémon Center to pursue his dream. At that moment Ash realized he was now on his own.

"Well, I guess we should head on over to the port," Ash sighed.

"(Yeah,)" Pikachu agreed. With their business concluded trainer and Pokémon left the Center on their way to the port.

An hour later Ash and Pikachu found themselves on the last ship leaving the Sinnoh League. The ship would take them to Sunyshore City where they planned to catch the first ship to Kanto. As the ship sailed south towards the Sinnoh mainland Ash's mind was on the events that recently took place. In the span of an hour he had lost the biggest battle of his life as well as two of his friends. All in all it had been a disastrous time.

"I'll be glad to get back home to Pallet Town and just forget all this ever happened," Ash said.

"(Do you think Dawn will be okay with Paul?)" Pikachu asked. Ash looked at him, a look of concern on his face.

"I don't know," Ash answered. "All we can do is hope she will."

Back on shore Paul was deciding where to go next. Dawn sat on a rock nearby, waiting for his decision. The sound of a horn in the distance drew her attention out to sea where she saw a ship leaving the port. Somehow, through some unexplainable feeling, she knew Ash was on that ship, and that she'd probably never see him again.

"Ash…" she murmured.

"Having seconds thoughts?" Paul asked, glancing back to look at her. Dawn turned to him, a stern look on her face.

"No," she answered. "I want to learn from the best, and right now that's you." Paul turned back around, his facial expression never changing.

"And don't you forget it," he warned. Then, without warning, he started to walk away.

"Let's go," he called.

"Right behind you," Dawn replied. Like a lost soul looking for guidance she got up and followed Paul, his destination still not known.

Days later Ash and Pikachu arrived in Sunyshore City and, after a short stay, got on a ship heading for Cerulean City. The trip would take close to a month, much longer than Ash would have hoped.

"(Try to look on the bright side, Ash. We'll be back home in Kanto in about a month's time,)" Pikachu said, trying to lift Ash's spirits.

"Yeah," Ash replied, though in his mind he wished it was sooner than that. To him this would be the longest, loneliest boat trip he would ever take.

Things for Ash went from bad to worse. After losing to Paul in the Sinnoh finals he experienced a harsh falling out with Dawn, followed by the hard task of saying goodbye to Brock. Now he and Pikachu are left to travel back to Kanto alone. What will they do now? Find out in the next chapter of Search for Power!

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