Disclaimer: I do not own Pokemon.

"Typhlosion! Lava Plume!" In desperation, Kotone cried out her Pokémon's best attack- but her opponent was faster.

"Dragonair, Hyper Beam!" Clair gave the crisp, sharp command. The blue Pokémon opened its mouth, took a deep breath – and let loose a dazzling beam of enormous power. It hit its target with a loud bang. Typhlosion gave a deep, long groan, and keeled over on the smooth floor of the Blackthorn City Gym.

Kotone let her eyes fall with her Pokémon, as well as her hopes. "No," she breathed, falling to her knees. "Not again." She numbly stared at her hardly-breathing partner. She didn't notice when a tear rolled down her cheek, dripping onto her Pokémon's warm fur.

Clair took a step closer, clicking her Pokéball shut. She gazed at the broken young trainer, her hopes shattered for the third time. "…Kotone." She started, but the girl's shoulders started to shake with barely suppressed sobs. "No, Leader Clair." She murmured, getting to her feet. "It's my entire fault. I haven't trained enough." She fumbled for her Typhlosion's Pokéball, recalling the fainted Pokémon. "I'll leave now." She turned, wiping tears from her cheeks. "Thanks for battling me. Goodbye." She left, leaving a single tear trailing in her wake, like a glittering crystal bead.

Kotone concentrated only on putting one foot in front of the other as she walked out of the Gym, past the astonished caretaker, past the houses with the glowing lights, into the Pokémon Centre with its concerned Nurse Joy. She got her Pokémon healed, then trudged upstairs to her room.

Once in the small but serviceable room, she reached for her Typhlosion's Pokéball. With a flash of white light, the towering Pokémon materialized beside her, looking down at her mournfully. Kotone held it in for a second more, then she threw herself at her Typhlosion and burst into tears.

On a bright, sunny spring day, in a small, windy town called New Bark, a ten-year-old girl started on her Pokémon journey. She was one of the many aspiring young Trainers who wanted to become the greatest Pokémon master of all time. She chose her starter Pokémon, a Cyndaquil, set off, and caught many others, all the while making new friends. She grew strong enough to challenge the Gym Leaders of each town, earning herself badges and a name. As she grew stronger, as her Pokémon grew stronger, as the bond between them grew stronger; the region of Johto came to hear about a young Trainer with a kind heart and an invincible team.

Her name was Kotone.

The sun shone through a chink in the curtains onto Kotone's face. A knock came on the door. Kotone didn't hear it, but Typhlosion did, and gently nudged his Trainer. "Mmmhmm…" she mumbled and rolled over. The knock came again, more insistently, and Typhlosion gave up, going over to nudge it open himself. In the end, it was the voice that spoke that woke Kotone up.

"Well, good morning, Typhy old pal. Where's your sleepyhead Trainer?"

"…Huh? Hibiki?" Kotone rolled over and sat up. Hibiki, her childhood friend, stood on the threshold, grinning, hands in pockets usual. His Marill chirped happily by his side.

"'Sup, 'Ne? Heard about yesterday."

When Kotone was five, she got lost in the dense woods beside her home. Tired, cold, and hungry, she wandered around crying for hours, thinking that she would never get out again. Just when she was about to give up hope, she bumped into a boy around her age, a boy with raven hair and bright gold eyes.

Surprised, she asked, "Are you lost, too?"

The boy shook his head. "Nope. But I can see that you are. Want me to show you the way out?"

Kotone was so relieved, she threw herself at him. "Oh, thank you!"

Laughing, the boy peeled her away from him and started walking, motioning her to follow. He looked back over his shoulder.

"Oh, by the way, the name's Hibiki."

Kotone fell silent, and busied herself with folding the sheets. "…I don't want to talk about it, Hibiki." To her surprise, Hibiki crossed the floor in a few quick strides, grabbed her shoulders, and spun her around. "You can't run away from it forever, 'Ne." He used his old nickname for her, his dark gold eyes glowing fiercely. Lara looked away. "It's really hard. I've tried, and I can't do it." Hibiki relaxed his grip, just a little. "I know it's hard. Don't you think it's hard running all the way here from New Bark Town? Don't you think it's hard struggling to get through Dark Cave without Flash?" Kotone gulped. "…I'm sorry. I didn't know-" Hibiki let go of her shoulders. "It's all right. That's what friends are for. Oh, by the way, I've figured out a way to get you toughened up. First thing tomorrow morning, we're headed to the Dragon's Den."

Kotone froze. "B-But... it's filled with really strong wild Dragon-type Pokémon and Trainers. Mine will never be able to make it-" Hibiki sighed once, sharply. "Kotone? Shut up." Kotone complied, her eyes wide. "If I say you can do it, it means you can," he continued. "So shut up and do as I say." Kotone was silent for a full second, then the reaction Hibiki had been waiting for happened.

The first smile she'd smiled in days graced her lips.