This fic goes by the idea that after the Pokemon League happened, the series did not continue, although things continued to happen, differently to Ash going to Orange League and so on. I apologise for the quality. -_-;
Ash looked at the ground. Pikachu lay unconscious before him, charred and battered. A loss.
Gary, his opponent, smiled widely. "I knew you couldn't compare. It was a waste of my valuable time to challenge you in the first place!"
He recalled his Arcanine.
"Come next Pokemon League," he added, "I'll challenge you again, and win again, and then I'll finally have the title I deserve."
Ash watched him turn and leave, surrounded by chattering cheerleaders. He stamped the ground in frustration, before picking up Pikachu.
The kitten sighed.
"Mother, why do we always have to stay in this cave?"
"So the humans don't find us, dear."
"But it's dark and cold in here."
"You'll get used to it, dear."
"Why do we have to stay away from the humans?"
"We are rare, powerful and valuable. They would try to capture us, dear."
"It is what humans do, dear. They want us to become strong themselves."
"Where does that strength take them, anyway?"
"Humans have a goal called 'Pokemon Master'. All of them try to be that, dear."
"So, this Pokemon Master is the reason for all this?"
"I suppose you could say that, dear."
"What is their name?"
"Ash Ketchum, dear."
"He must have some weakness. Everyone has a character flaw."
"What are you thinking, dear?"
"Mewww, I was just thinking this should end, mother."
Ash sighed, and Pikachu echoed it. Both were in low spirits, and neither liked to lose.
"I'm kind of fed up with being beaten," said Ash.
"Well, okay, it was the first loss in a while, but a lot of people have beaten me over the years."
"Chuu," his Pokemon reassured him.
"I bet they're all still thinking what a lousy trainer I am."
"Pokemon Master or not. They might think I got here by a fluke. That's what Misty would say."
"I am not paranoid. Pikachu, I have an idea. Let's restart our Pokemon journey."
Ash looked around him and smiled. The first road he and Pikachu had ever walked down together. So much had happened since then, but he was full of nothing but anticipation. He thought he had no goals left, but now he had rediscovered one.
"This time, Pikachu, my goal is to be unbeatable."
Pikachu looked faintly worried. Dreaming to be a Pokemon Master was one thing, but not coping with losing at all was unhealthy.
"Samurai, you beat one of my Pokemon before, it's not going to happen again!"
Samurai looked up, and recognised the person standing before him.
"I know you! You're that Pallet kid! Ash, right?"
"Let's have a rematch. See how well you can do this time."
He tossed out his Pidgeot. Samurai knew it was against trainer rules to decline a fight. He reluctantly sent out his Pinsir, and the two Pokemon began to battle.
It wasn't much of a battle. A Pokemon belonging to a Pokemon Master, with elemental advantage and a desire to win mirroring its trainer - it could never lose to a Pokemon kept as a hobby by someone in a forest of weak Pokemon.
Proving this, Pinsir fainted almost instantly, but Ash did not indicate that Pidgeot should stop attacking.
"Come on, Pidgeot, what are you waiting for? Give it another wing attack!"
Samurai vainly tried to recall his Pokemon, but the red beam struck Pidgeot instead, and again, and again, as the bird Pokemon flew at Pinsir again and again.
When Ash had decided that enough was enough - and it was more than enough - he recalled Pidgeot and faced his opponent.
"Care to try your luck with Metapod?" he teased.
Samurai stared in disbelief.
"Are you the same Ash? The one who snuck out by himself in dangerous territory to rescue a Pokemon in trouble?"
"I don't see any other Ashes around," he said, "except maybe what your Pinsir's reduced to. I have a Charizard if you care to see it..."
Samurai backed away, leaving his dead Pinsir to run away.
"What a coward," muttered Ash, "can't believe he managed to get us last time."
Pikachu looked worried but said nothing. His master - his friend - would not do something like this without a reason.
After Ash had destroyed AJ's Sandshrew, Chopper's Golem and Duplica's Ditto, Pikachu wasn't so sure.
"Now we gotta track down that kid with the Farfetch'd," said Ash. "But first, remember what time of year this is?"
"This is the time when Bulbasaur go to the mysterious garden to evolve."
Ash grinned at Pikachu's worried expression. "Relax! Every Pokemon has to evolve eventually. It's about time Bulbasaur learned that. Ivysaur are stronger, everyone knows that."
"Kachu pii?" asked Pikachu, quietly. Ash didn't hear. His Pokemon had asked "and Raichu?".
Ash looked at the beautiful forests around him. The flowers seemed to sparkle, despite that it was night and in normal times, they would have slept. Pollen glittered and spun through the air, and the trees stood strong. He had no thoughts of how nice it all was. He just smiled with satisfaction. It was the time.
"Well, Pikachu," he said, "this is it. Memory says that the evolution festival should be right this way. Bulbasaur, come out!"
Bulbasaur materialised and immediately recognised his location. It sniffed the air curiously, and began to automatically walk towards the garden...
Ash and Pikachu followed closely.
The garden was much as they remembered it. Many Bulbasaur were gathered, and the Venusaur that overlooked them was old and had seen many festivals. It did not see Ash's Bulbasaur, who was near the back and looking up at its trainer curiously. It had beaten Chopper and Duplica, but knew that Ash cared for his own Pokemon, so it trusted him.
At a signal from Venusaur, all the Bulbasaur in the garden began to glow. It affected Ash's, but it knew it could resist evolution and did so. Ash knelt next to it, as it had a pained, intense expression on its face.
"Bulbasaur," said Ash quietly, "I order you to let yourself evolve."
It started, and as it turned to stare at Ash in disbelief and confusion, Bulbasaur's concentration broke, and it could not control its condition. It glowed the more brightly and became an Ivysaur.
"Good," said Ash, "you are useful now."
"Ivysaur," whispered the new Pokemon. Pikachu looked sad.
"Ash!" exclaimed someone, and a boy ran up to him. A Farfetch'd was perched on his shoulder.
Ash smiled at Pikachu. "Looks like we don't even have to look for him."
"I'm glad to see you again!" he said, "I wanted to show you, I've got Pokemon now, of my own! I wanted to become a Pokemon Master like you. Thank you for helping me start out and realise that Farfetch'd could be strong."
"Fetch'd far far," agreed the duck Pokemon.
"How strong is it?" asked Ash, "let's have a little battle!"
"O...okay. I'm honoured!"
They left him after that, left him crying unashamedly over his fallen friend, who wouldn't be able to help him attain the title of Pokemon Master.
Pikachu realised what had happened and what would happen. If Ash was to challenge all the people who had beaten him... that would include his own friends, whose Pokemon Pikachu knew and liked. Did Ash have a reason? Or was his own competitivity warping him?
"What did you hope to acheive from this, dear?"
"Better for Pokemon to die than to have trainers. And it is good that people should be worried of this Pokemon Master. It might discourage them from having such things."
"I will not stop you, dear. Yet I think that you do not understand the concept of trainers fully."
"I do not think humans do either, mother."
"Pika," said Pikachu, sharply.
"What is it, Pikachu?"
"He beat me before."
"Anyone who beat me would get a big head, and they'd think I was a bad trainer."
"What is that supposed to mean? I am not becoming a bad trainer! You saw me, Ivysaur creamed that stupid duck!"
"Pikachu, pikachu pika."
"That sort of philosophy is for little kids, or idiots. If I'm a Pokemon Master, I have to act like one, not this 'respect Pokemon' thing."
"What about you?"
"I don't care. You've gotten spoiled. Remember, I'm your master. You have to listen to me!"
"Working together didn't help us before!"
Pikachu turned away, offended, and did not speak any more. It was, however, thinking about what Ash said. Ash had reached his status because of friendship with Pokemon. If he decided to end that so suddenly, what would happen? And Pikachu was Ash's main Pokemon... they said a trainer and his main Pokemon would reflect each other.
"Scratch yet another gym leader," said Ash, pleased. Blaine was standing, staring at his Magmar in disbelief. Jumping on Pidgeot's back, he recalled Pikachu to its Pokeball, and they flew from the volcano.
He had seen his name in newspapers and on television reports. That which was being said of him was no longer as complimentary as it once had been. News spread that the boy who had once loved and respected Pokemon was now mercilessly slaughtering the favourites of anyone he challenged.
The Pokemon League was worried, as Ash represented them. They were also afraid.
Ash was camping out. For the first time since beginning his journey, alone. The stars were the same stars, the sky was the same sky. The world didn't change, even if people did. He could feel anger, his fighting spirit gone wrong. In the back of his mind, he wondered if this anger was his own.
"Only a few left," he said, mostly to hear the sound of a human voice, "do you know who they are, Pikachu?"
He remembered that Pikachu was in a Pokeball now.
He went to sleep.
Having developed the habit of sleeping lightly, he woke to a slight scuffle, a whisper, a trace of motion. A dim white through closed eyelids. He quietly opened one eye and saw the beam of a flashlight, as someone rifled through his backpack beside him. He listened.
"The brat doesn't have the Pikachu," whispered one, a female. "I wonder what happened to it?"
Ash smiled grimly. Team Rocket. Being of a nomadic turn, they probably had not seen the latest news, and knew not of his newfound nature. If Ash had been as he was, he would have been angry that they would try to steal his Pokemon. Now, he could remember nothing but the occasions when they would beat one of his team.
Ekans and Koffing, double teaming Pidgeotto. Arbok, paralysing Squirtle so it could not attack.
That's what I'll use, then, he thought. He sat up, quickly pulling Pokeballs out of his pockets. Team Rocket whirled at the sound.
"You guys don't honestly think I'd leave my Pokemon in my backpack for you to just walk by and take, do you?"
The trio predictably launched into their motto, but Ash wasn't really listening. He sent out Pidgeot and Blastoise and irritably waited for them to finish.
"Meowth, that's right!"
"Very nice," said Ash, "now it's my payback time."
Team Rocket looked a little wary, but not being prone to using common sense, accepted his challenge.
They regretted it.
"Arbok, return!" ordered Jessie, holding up her Pokeball to bring back her fainted Pokemon.
"You too, Weezing!"
In the system they had established, Pidgeot zipped in between the trainers and their Pokemon, blocking the red beams.
"You'll have to do better than that," mocked Ash, "prepare for trouble! Blastoise, stomp!"
"Get out of the way you stupid bird!" barked Jessie, "Arbok, return!"
Pidgeot tilted its beak towards Jessie, eyes gleaming cruelly. Its expression, in fact, was not unlike that of its trainer. It roughly tackled her, sending her crashing against a tree. She groaned and tried to prop herself up.
"Jessie," said James nervously, "are you alright?"
"Of course I'm not alright!" she snapped. "Meowth, we could use some help here!"
Meowth preferred to hide than to help. After Blastoise trampled their Pokemon to death, Team Rocket never quite forgave him for that.
Ash sat alone in a crowded restaurant, unnoticed - or at least, unchallenged. Of the newspaper in front of him, he skim-read another article about himself. He thought bitterly that it took him almost six years to establish a reputation for himself, but only a few weeks to destroy it.
"I'll take my Primeape back now," said Ash coldly, entering the ring.
The audience members recognised him. Anthony recognised him. Everyone froze. The P1 tournament froze. Everyone waited.
"Why are you using my Primeape to fight with?" he continued, "you said you would just train it. I was nice enough to loan it to you. Now give it back."
Primeape, paused in mid-battle, looked up at Ash and recognised him. It remembered how Ash dove to save it.
"Okori," it said happily, and jumped onto Ash's shoulders, hugging him. Ash pried it off, and with a sharp word or two, pulled it into a Pokeball.
Primeape had been happy to see the trainer it remembered. But Ash was not the trainer it remembered.
"Oh yeah," said Ash, before he left, "I just remembered, your Hitmonchan once beat my Pikachu, didn't it."
Anthony's face froze with horror. "But that was - you can't mean -"
"You know a trainer can't back down from a challenge," said Ash.
The audience did not want to watch it. Pikachu did not want to do it. Neither of these had a choice. The P1 Tournament ended early that year.
He woke one morning to find someone kicking him in the side.
"Cut that out," he snapped. He pushed the foot away and got up. He saw who had woken him. He smiled.
Gary glared at him. "You're a disgrace to the title of Pokemon Master. The League chose me to dethrone you. Then you'll probably get arrested, and you deserve it."
"Wow, nobody has challenged me for a while," said Ash, "I wonder why that is?"
"Shut up, Ash. Are you going to battle or aren't you?"
"I don't know that it'll be much of a battle."
"The League's not going to let their representative go around killing opponents. I thought you were friends with Pokemon, Ash!"
"That's lame. Anyway, aren't YOU scared? You're my greatest rival. I am going to defeat ALL of your Pokemon."
Gary looked at him steadily. "I don't know what got into you. But don't underestimate someone who respects Pokemon."
Ash smirked and cradled a Pokeball in the palm of his hand. "Last chance to back out, chicken," he teased.
Gary responded by pulling a Pokeball from his belt.
It came down to, as any important battle seems to, a dual, a matter of each trainer being down to their last Pokemon.
Somehow, Ash's Pikachu knew what this meant, what this battle meant. It obeyed orders instantly, it stayed on its feet. It did what its master told it to. And it fought terribly.
Gary's Arcanine had little problem defeating it. Pikachu's electricity seemed to have run out. Its thunder was a few small sparks. Its quick attack wasn't. Its thunderbolt was more like what one experiences after a thoughtful friend has rubbed their feet back and forth on a carpet and touched them.
Pikachu collapsed under a fire spin, and stayed down. Ash stared at it in disbelief.
"You beat all my Pokemon," he choked out, "Pikachu..."
He knelt beside his first Pokemon, who cringed away, expecting to be scolded for deliberately losing.
Ash it up and held it carefully to his chest. The two looked at each other for a few long moments.
"Pikachu," he said again, and Pikachu's eyes widened. The dark look on his face was gone.
It had taken a loss to realise what everything meant. It had taken seeing his old best friend cringing away from him in fear to remind him. Somehow, the anger was gone.
"What's the matter, dear? You started suddenly."
"I... what happened? He escaped my mind!"
"Oh, do you mean the Pokemon Master, dear?"
"He was defeated... I do not think the humans understood yet... I think that Ash is not Pokemon Master, but the title isn't gone."
"Did you expect something different, dear?"
"Yes... but now I can't reach him at all. I have to know what will happen next! I can't stay here, mother."
"You must! You must stay here! Don't think about leaving, dear! Don't think about it!"
"But I've seen the world from his eyes. Even if he was angry, the world outside this cave was beautiful!"
"But the humans, dear, the humans -"
"I can't learn it from being in him. I have to go. I have to find out what happens."
Gary stared at Ash, watching his face carefully. Something seemed to have slid away. He couldn't place it. Arcanine wagged its tail.
"Pika pi," Pikachu choked out. It *could* place it. Its friend was back.
Ash smiled weakly at Pikachu. He had not heard Pikachu say that for a while.
"What happened?" asked Ash, finally. "It seems kind of like a bad dream."
"No, I can remember it, but... was that really me?"
Ash looked up, startled, as a Pokemon appeared in front of him. Gary's eyes widened.
"Mew," he said.
The Mew spoke to him. "Your mind was too open, Pokemon Master Ash, and your main fault was so easy to see, your competitive nature. I don't see how you broke away. How did you?"
"I... I didn't know I did," said Ash, "but I just saw Pikachu and I was worried about it, and -"
"I see," said Mew, "so you are friends with your Pokemon sufficiently. I did not expect that of a Pokemon Master."
"Why?" asked Gary, "that is what a Pokemon Master should be. Someone who is good with Pokemon, not just at ordering them."
"Pokemon Masters are emulated," said Mew thoughtfully, "all trainers try to be one, try to be like them. And trainers are mean to Pokemon. They hurt them, they don't care about them, and they capture they who've no desire to be caught. I assumed that they derived this from Pokemon Master, what they had ambition to be."
"There are bad trainers," said Gary, "but there are bad people too. They don't represent the League."
"What are you going to do now, Ash Ketchum?" asked Mew.
"I shoulda fought more," he said lowly, "it's my fault... all those Pokemon... the trainers really CARED for those Pokemon!"
"I was wrong," corrected Mew, "I thought that no Pokemon in captivity could be happy as such."
Gary patted Arcanine, who wagged its tail again. The two kept quiet and watched. Mew thought for a moment.
"Ash, I would like to become your Pokemon, if you would accept me."
"Of course," said Ash, "if you want to."
"You are very forgiving. Why?"
"You're a Pokemon too."
Mew wasn't sure what to say to that. "Well... I'm glad you said that... I have a lot of power. We might be able to undo some damage."
"Do you really think so?" Ash was willing to believe anything. Mew smiled.
"Of course, human. I left home because I hated it. I did not want to come out in case I was caught by a trainer. But I think that not all trainers are bad. I would rather be caught by you and be captive than have to avoid real bad trainers."
Ash fumbled in his backpack for an empty Pokeball.
"I'll tell the League," said Gary quietly. Ash smiled weakly, and Gary gave him a thumbs-up. Gary may have beaten him again, but this time, he felt no rivalry towards him.
"Oh, and Gary," said Ash, as his friend turned to leave, "congratulations on becoming the Pokemon Master."
Gary laughed, and rode off on Arcanine.
There were no rivals, decided Ash, not any more. Only friends.
Pikachu was happy.