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Love and Other Nightmares

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by diamondpearl876, Apr 4, 2016.

  1. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Back in late 2015, I promised I would attempt to rewrite this story. I've spent plenty of time re-reading old reviews, re-reading the original chapters, and re-planning certain aspects of the story. A lot is going to be changed... but a lot is going to remain the same. A lot of new things will be added, too. I admit I initially went into this story having no idea what I would do with it. I didn't even know if this was a story I wanted to write for the longest time, but now I know that this is definitely something I want to see through to the end. I can't say I have this story pinned down from beginning to end—because what fun is it if there's no surprises along the way—but I hope what I have to offer now is much more pleasing and fulfilling to read. Any and all comments are appreciated. Further edits will be based off of readers' comments.

    Limited time, limited abilities. The legendary Kyurem says she can be cured in exchange for saving those who need saving.

    Nominations
    Kephi for best non-human supporting character (serebii)
    Best journey fic x2 (bulbagarden)
    Virokoe for best pokémon character (bulbagarden)
    Annie for best protagonist (bulbagarden)
    Best pokémon chaptered fic (serebii)
    Annie for best human main character (serebii)

    Awards
    Best new pokémon-chaptered fic (serebii)
    Best trainer fic (serebii)
    Annie for best human main character (serebii)
    Kephi for best non-human main character (serebii)

    Index

    prologue – the reawakening

    part one | sinnoh

    chapter 1 - like real people do
    chapter 2 - spare the guilt
    chapter 3 - playing nice
    chapter 4 - at first sight

    [​IMG]
    * Wonderful artwork courtesy of Cresselia92

    LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES

    prologue
    the reawakening

    *​

    Humans are illogical, my friend. They ask us gods to provide more guidance than what Arceus has already offered Himself. Arceus wants humans to trust each other and work to create for themselves the answers they seek. Instead, humans hold on to their own personal truth, all the while imagining an ideal life that, in reality, isn't so far out of reach.

    I'm sorry to say that it's been like this since the very beginning, my friend. And I can't think of a plausible explanation for how an entire group of living creatures could bring about so much suffering for themselves without it simply being in their nature.

    I should take caution in what I say, I know. Arceus is the Supreme God, and I am merely a shard of ice. It stands to reason that His priorities lie elsewhere, and it’s undeniable, the proof I possess to support this claim of mine.

    My friend, listen to me. The proof sits before your very eyes. Somehow, I still exist. I am still here. Too much time has passed for any human to have lived in the presence of my original form, but you may recall it. Alas, the holes in my own memory are part of what hinders me, and so, I have come to you for assistance.

    I need you because I seek change, my friend—not only for me, but also for the world as a whole. And you, more so than the other gods, are aware of how change can bring about peace. How change can make you feel complete when you finally possess what you've spent your whole life looking for.

    I understand your ability to travel to the past when your presence is needed... You depend on others as much as I do, do you not? Without Dialga, time would not exist as a definable concept. Without Arceus, there would be no living creatures to utilize the flow of time.

    Similarly, without my original form splitting into three beings, the world's history would have taken an entirely different path.

    The search for Reshiram’s truth and Zekrom’s ideals should be unnecessary. Strictly speaking, it still is unnecessary, and restoring my original form is impossible. Why bother, then? Why am I asking you to do what I want you to?

    I feel compelled to at least try. I was born in the midst of chaos. My punishment is that I cannot become complete. I did not ask for chaos... nor did I contribute to its creation... but still I cannot become complete like Arceus’s absolute truth promises. I am simply leftovers. Leftovers from the original form. I look the part. I've heard the researchers whisper about how my features are asymmetrical, the ice hardened on my body is cracked, and how they thought I'd be larger, more intimidating in size.

    If humans can capture and banish me, they can save me, too. And if they can save a god, they can save themselves.

    Despite my constant raving about Arceus, however, His gift of ice grounds me to the present moment, so much so that sometimes I can't help but marvel at the Hardship I was trusted with.

    So I’m torn, my friend. Is there something I'm not seeing? Is there something you're just... not telling me? As it stands, I would gift Him with sadness in return. The sadness of knowing that I lay alone, within the Giant Chasm, for ages. The sadness of knowing that I was put there unwillingly and then He did nothing about it. The sadness of knowing that His sadness could have been prevented.

    My patience is wearing thin, my friend. You know that I have given humans a chance. I've found humans that have the potential to be heroes just as Reshiram and Zekrom have had, humans which made me feel confident that I can leave the confines of the Giant Chasm someday.

    These potential heroes, they looked so broken when I first met them. Their faces sullen and bodies sluggish, I could tell they needed something—anything—to mend their wounds. I made promises to them. I would provide for them whatever they wished if it meant they’d work to prove or disprove Arceus’s absolute truth.

    You look at me strangely for that, my friend. I am a god, but I do not work with miracles. I hope you understand. I am going to need your help for my next potential hero, after all.

    ...I suppose that does suggest that all the others in the past have failed. This is true. Humans as a whole still wish me gone. I, too, have learned to want to disappear... To die would mean to disappear... But since I cannot die, I’ve created my own natural disaster: a temperature of absolute zero, which I can sustain as long as I wish and lock myself away indefinitely if I so choose. I have not found the courage to do such a thing permanently yet, but I am satisfied for the time being, knowing the option is there.

    I cannot give up hope now, especially since I have only barely begun to expand my search outside of Unova.

    I have found a girl in the Sinnoh region. It seemed to be the next best place to go to, for my home of Unova has failed me time and time again. The girl currently lives near Sandgem Town's oceans. She lies not on the beach, enjoying her youth as she should, but instead in a hospital bed, comatose and on the brink of death. From what I hear, the doctors know no symptoms, no outward signs that foreshadowed the stroke which she may or may not recover from.

    Well, I can ensure a safe and speedy recovery. The divine energy of ice, however illogical it might sound to you, is sufficient enough for that. In dealing with the underlying problem, however, I am severely limited. Arceus will have to cure that ailment, should she prove herself worthy. She may fail, but she will try. ...How do I know that, you ask? She won't refuse, my friend. She won't because she can't. She is guaranteed a short life otherwise.

    So she will journey across Sinnoh. She is twenty-two years of age, and has no pokémon of her own. Her parents, when speaking with the doctors, revealed she has never shown interest in the creatures before, nor the idea of traveling. She was studying to become a therapist in college. Her goal, then, will be to create a team of pokémon that are damaged and in dire need of her services. There are plenty of those to be found, believe me. She will become overwhelmed if she realizes that fact, and so, I will encourage her to seek only foreign pokémon—which are difficult to come by in any region. I am sure they exist. I do not care who they are, or what burdens they bear. I only care about the outcome of that journey, whatever it may be.

    You ask again, my friend, what I am asking you to do. The answer is simple. The underlying cause for this girl's stroke is not only physical, but also mental in nature. There are memories that she has repressed, memories that led to her developing the condition that is currently threatening her life. I myself do not know what these memories are, nor do I have the power to see them.

    You, my friend, have that power. I am asking you to show me these memories. Help me understand these memories. And, most importantly, I need you to help the girl herself remember. ...A complete life will be impossible without her remembering. Arceus will play a major part in the cure by Himself, but He cannot change the past. He trusted you with that Hardship long ago.

    If this all fails...

    You bring that up again? I cannot stand thinking of it. I suppose I should put to use my control of an absolute zero temperature, in that case. I cannot die, but I do not need to exist. I bear the Hardship of incompleteness. The world is not complete if I am not here. Such a shame it would be if I disappeared.

    My friend, I'm sorry that I've dwelt on this time and time again. I'm frustrated, though. Arceus is the Supreme God. I... am Kyurem. A mere shard of ice. Still I wish humans would quit taking my life from me. I wish I didn't still sympathize with them as well as I do. I wish I could be something other than a god, something that cannot hear prayers or confessions about regret.

    ...You say you'll help, my friend? How good to hear. This girl will wake from her coma soon, knowing full well what needs to be done. Absolute zero versus the absolute truth... Which will save me? That answer, it's all I want to know, my friend. And it's all I live for.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  2. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Bah. Managed to get so far behind in my reviews that I didn't even have anything for you by the time you got your rewrite out; sorry about that. I'll include some thoughts about the previous version at the end of this, but for now, the actual new prologue:

    This is certainly way different than the prologue you used last time! Loads more Kyurem and no Annie whatsoever. It was nice to get more of an insight into what's up with Kyurem and why he wants Annie to go off on her journey; it makes me wonder whether he'll be a more active/involved character in this version of the story than he was in the previous one. I mean, Annie's team in your sig even only has five members in it... What if the last pokémon she's supposed to capture... is Kyurem? :O

    Huh, so you're going with the idea that pokémon intelligence increases with higher evolutionary stages? That seems like it would have some serious implications for the pokémon characters in the story... like, wouldn't that mean that Obieme is going to be basicallly an animal?

    Like I said, it's nice to get some insight into what Kyurem's up to with the whole journeying thing, but it was a little much for me to take in all at once. For something that worked as the culmination of Kyurem's story, I think it would have been great in terms of laying out exactly why the way he thinks he does and the various things that have happened to him to put him in his current situation. As it was, though, it was a little bit of a big info-dump for me. I would have preferred to have it parcelled out a little bit at a time over the course of the story if possible. Of course, if Kyurem isn't going to play much of a role after the prologue, that would be a bit difficult.

    I also had a little trouble understanding what Kyurem was going on about with Arceus and gods and Hardships, particularly in the middle couple italicized sections. I think to some extent Kyurem's supposed to be confused and not really sure what Arceus' motives are, so it would make sense that they'd be hard for me to understand. I thought that those sections went on a bit long, though, and were maybe a bit redundant--but overall I just didn't quite get what Kyurem was saying. However, I was also a little out of it when I was reading that part, so it might have just been me.

    I find it kind of funny that evidently the whole Unova pokémon thing is just Kyurem messing with Annie. "Yeah I'll tell her to go look for foreign pokémon, there should be a few of those around, but it doesn't really matter which ones she gets."

    Your version of the Unova backstory was interesting, though, and certainly establishes what kind of character Kyurem is. It's still not *entirely* clear what he expects his "hero" to accomplish--to prove whether or not it's possible to lead a complete life? Not sure how she'd show that one way or another, but perhaps Kyurem doesn't really know what he's expecting, either. Whatever the case, it gives a little more shape to Annie's quest. It sounds desperate in more ways than one, and it may not actually be possible for her to complete--and she doesn't even know the truth of it, really. Not sure whether that's going to have much immediate impact on the direction of the story or overall how different this version will be than the last, but it looks like it'll be going interesting places.

    Moving on to the previous version of the story, then. I think what I liked best about it was how much it was a trainer story that focuses on the actual training, if that makes sense. Like, a lot of OT fanfics will have the trainer catch a bunch of pokémon who happen to work together fine, who don't really have any serious issues of their own and where most of the actual "training" part of being a trainer is reduced to a bunch of battles and maybe a scene or two about a pokémon learning a new attack or something. With love and other nightmares, on the other hand, the actual training part feels much more important, with Annie's struggle to get this disparate crew of characters to somehow work together and become an effective team being the primary focus. It's also nice in that it means that the usual gym challenge, which can feel a bit pointless in some longer trainerfics, especially if there are larger issues to worry about, is actually pretty relevant, as how well the pokémon are able to battle together is a good readout of how well they and Annie have progressed in their healing process. Of course there might be "larger issues" to worry about if Kyurem's ice storms return and turn out to be something Annie has to deal with, but I think that even in the absence of more life-threatening sorts of things for her to deal with, the gym challenge should give her and the pokémon enough opportunity to challenge themselves and grow over the course of the story.

    I think you also did particularly well with the pokémon characters. They all have their own distinct personalities and foibles, and there's some indication of what hangups they might need to get over in order to heal and grow. They also play off each other pretty well, and there's plenty of room for conflict between them. Of course, too much conflict can bog the story down and make it hard to get anywhere because the characters spend so much time bickering, but I didn't see that being an issue in the previous version. Overall they make for a solid cast.

    For me, I would say Annie was probably the weakest part of the story. She's a very erratic character who seems to have at least as many problems as her pokémon. I'm assuming that's intentional, but it made the plot feel jumpy to me; while Annie has a clear goal in mind, she doesn't really act on it outside of seizing onto the opportunity to go after Unova pokémon when she sees them. She pretty much just careened from one predicament to another, and while that worked well enough in the beginning, I think it would have started becoming a problem once Annie ran out of pokémon to catch. She also didn't seem to be doing a ton to help the pokémon she already had; hadn't been doing much to "heal" them, or not consistently. She pretty much treated her pokémon the way I'd expect any other trainer would, or even a bit more leniently than I would expect. Mostly she was trying to appease them or run damage control for whatever hijinks they got into, without a real sense of her actually trying anything to address their issues. If what she was trying to do was just offer a listening ear and not push them/impose any kind of treatment on them, that's fine (and perhaps even what's most appropriate for this sort of situation; I don't know anything about psychotherapy myself). However, in that case, I would have liked to see some indication that Annie's consciously choosing not to directly address their problems; as it was, it looked to me like she wasn't seriously addressing that aspect of her mission. Basically, Annie didn't take a lot of initiative in the story, and I didn't see the theme of her healing her team or becoming a therapist come through very clearly with what you'd posted up to the end of that version. Of course, it's also perfectly fine if she's supposed to screw up her attempts to help the pokémon early on, or for her to not know what to do, etc.; I just would have liked to have seen more indication that she was trying, or at least thinking of trying if instead she was freezing up and too scared to go forward with it.

    You were putting some more focus on this in the later chapters with the reintroduction of Gregory, I think, and it worked well enough. Since I think you enjoyed writing him, I figure we might see more of him/have him reappear earlier on in this version anyway. I did think he seemed kind of involved in Annie's life for an occupational therapist (do they normally kind of hang out with their clients for a couple days like that?), but I've also never worked with one, so I don't know. In any case, I like the kind of stuff you were doing with him and Annie towards the end of the story. You may also not need to worry about Annie's lack of direction so much this revision, since you said last time you really didn't know where you were going with the story, and that may have contributed to her wandering nature. Now that you have a better idea of what you intend to do, that problem might clear right up.

    Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what you do differently this time around; I'm particularly interested to see whether the characters will be pretty much the same (I'm guessing?) or you'll be making changes to any of them. One way or another I hope you have fun with it! If it's going to be long and complicated, it sounds like it'll be different than your other stuff, and that's always interesting to see.
     
  3. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Lol, that's okay. I'm certainly way behind in reviewing myself. At some point I found writing to be an impossible feat, and I found a fantasy novel series that's been inspiring me to brainstorm and write, so I've just kind of neglected everything else in favor of that. Oops. XD

    As in the original, he won't be playing much of a role outside of appearing in interludes. There'll be subtle signs that tell Annie he's still there, but other than that, not much. Much of the prologue focused on how divine intervention seemed to make things worse than it had to be, and so Kyurem himself would want to stay out of the way. Kyurem would also see any results that came from his interfering as untrustworthy, if that makes sense.

    Also, dun dun dun to capturing Kyurem. XD Would be an interesting twist.

    Not necessarily. It's not much different from aging and development from humans (though perhaps I implied the opposite?). Though it does bring up the question of what happens when a pokemon doesn't - or can't - evolve, which I intend to explore at some point. I may or may not have already brought that idea up in what I posted of the original LaON, actually...

    Kyurem is pretty confused and apologizes himself for being redundant a couple times. XD He's the type to replay/rethink situations in his head so much that he ends up making things more complicated than they are. Though that shouldn't impact the writing, so I'll go over those italicized parts and see what I can do with them.

    Yeahhh, my lovely lack of planning regarding the Unovan pokemon thing really shined through there. The way Kyurem worded it probably makes it seem like a cop-out, but the idea isn't too far off from what Kyurem wants Annie to do in the first place. :C Kyurem wants Annie to show him a complete life is possible, yes. What that entails, he doesn't know, as you were wondering, and part of the quest is figuring out what that entails. I would say that healing deep wounds is part of that "complete life", so if the pokemon can do that, they prove to Kyurem that it is possible. Kyurem can't really see that, though. He's too fixated on humans simply because they banished him.

    I almost pretty much just typed the ending to the story in trying to reply to that, so I should stop there. XD

    I feel this is something a lot of readers liked in the story, and it was also one of the things I enjoyed writing most about the original. I don't intend to get rid of that, but would rather like to expand on it and make it more... therapeutic/healing-oriented from the very beginning (which will hopefully fix the "Annie wandering about" issue you pointed out as well).

    Thanks, I'm glad you liked them. I think I'm most confident about characters when it comes to writing, and now I'd like to work on plot/worldbuilding/all that other stuff. We'll see how that goes. XD

    Didn't quote the the whole Annie paragraph since it was super long, but. XD She won't be getting a complete makeover, but... Another complaint I got about her was that she had too many flaws, no apparent strengths. I want to start by adding those strengths - and some direction to her plan - and I'll see how things go from there.

    As for Gregory, no, occupational therapists don't really "hang out" with their clients, and the setting for the therapy itself is very different. XD With the traveling aspect + having the therapy be for pokemon rather than for Annie, though, I kind of had to ignore how the real world works. At any rate, Gregory will be pretty important to the story overall, so he'll be back.

    Thanks so much for the comments! If you continue to read, let me know what you think. XD
     
  4. PhalanxSigil

    PhalanxSigil BONK!

    So, let me get this straight. You change the prologue from a sick girl talking to an ice dragon, to an ice dragon ruminating on the backstory of his home region?

    I LIKE IT!

    Anyway, I'm not gonna go into a whole lot of detail on the prologue, as Negrek already said everything I wanted to say, but I like the fact that you went into more detail on the stance that Kyurem had due to his exposure to humans in the past. Unova seems like it used to be a very violent place (just like its inspiration!), so that definitely explains his...coldness (I'm sorry)...towards humans. The fact that Annie wasn't in the prologue also makes sense, as SHE'S SICK!

    However, I liked Annie in the previous version. I do get why some people was a weak character, but I liked her for who she was. However, I'm interested to see where you take her in the new version, along with the pokémon.

    Put me back on the PM list, I'm excited for this!
     
  5. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    aka I changed the prologue from really cliche to slightly less cliche. XD Glad you liked it.

    Haha, puns.

    But yes, Annie's sick, and the blatant dream sequence - the original prologue - didn't leave room for much potential, I think. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, Annie isn't that important to Kyurem. Kyurem wants her to be important, but deep down he thinks she'll be like everyone else and fail him. No need to put the spotlight on her at this point.

    Thanks. Like I said to Negrek, she won't undergo a complete overhaul. The flaws will all be there - but we'll be able to see some strengths of hers, too, to make her a more well rounded character.

    Done and done. Thanks for reading/commenting!
     
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Ooh, what series?

    My bad, I meant I found that bit funny as in humorous, not funny as in strange or undesirable. I enjoy the disconnect between Annie thinking this is a Serious Important Task and she needs to get these specific pokémon because Kyurem mandated it, while Kyurem himself is just like, "Nah, man, I sent her off to get whatever foreign stuff happens to be lying around, we'll see what she manages."

    Oh, I thought Gregory was Annie's occupational therapist, not the pokémon's? Or was he just doing some pro bono stuff for her 'mon as well because he wanted to help out? (I imagine if he were trained in human occupational therapy it would be fairly different than the pokémon version, though?)

    Anyway, it sounds like you have some cool ideas you're planning to work with in the revision! And no worries, I'll definitely be hanging out (and trying to be much better about keeping up with my reviews this go-round).
     
  7. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive series. There's only two books so far, but I'm a slow reader so it's kept me busy. I'm almost done with the second book, at which point I'll be catching up on all the fics I'm behind on. Hooray!

    Oh. Well. XD Glad it doesn't seem like a cop-out, then.

    The latter. I just meant that with the traveling aspect + helping a pokemon rather than a human changes the setting of the therapy completely, since you'd normally see it all happen in a hospital, clinic, wherever. My bad. XD Still Annie's OT, with him helping Kephi because it should in turn help Annie as well.

    Anddd human OT versus pokemon OT is different indeed. Annie never questions why/how he learned to specialize in both in the original, though she should have. Another thing I'll have to fix.
     
  8. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Awww yeah, original flavor Kyurem (and Reshiram, and Zekrom). Thanks for reminding me about one of the most interesting things about that particular legendary: Kyurem looks the part of a remnant on account of being one.

    And yeah, his role in this might be smallish. Indirect. But I've long been of the mind that characters in the spotlight aren't the only ones who can, like, have character. I feel like I've gotten to know Kyurem a little better this time around, somehow.

    Which is good for another reason. Kyurem is just one of those names I consistently typo for some reason. I pretty much always catch myself typing "Kyrem" and have to fix it. So I'm glad I got a few more opportunities to get my hands around it here, heh.

    Anyway yeah, looking forward to eventually finding out what else is new here in LAoNville. :D (No, hands. Not LOaNville.)
     
  9. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    I think I meant to put some description of how Kyurem's body literally looks like the remnant of something broken. Didn't fit in with the third person omniscient narrator, though, and Kyurem describing his appearance seemed weird. Oops.

    EDIT: Just kidding, I did put something about it. I used the word "leftover" not "remnant" and got confused. XD

    Good to hear. Hopefully that'll make his next appearance(s) more fulfilling to read, even though they'll be few and far between.

    I can type it well enough, but pronouncing it? Forget that.

    I'll accept LOaNville if it gives me money.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2016
  10. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    I trimmed down the prologue by about 1500 words, mostly focusing on Kyurem's monologue so that it doesn't feel repetitive/confusing and all those other lame things. A two post prologue is now one post. Chapter 1 is coming along pretty well, expect it relatively soon!
     
  11. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.


    LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES

    // PART ONE. SINNOH \\

    Find what you love and let it kill you. — Charles Bukowski

    chapter 1
    like real people do

    *​

    I've never really felt this kind of cold before.

    This coldness... isn't normal. It's piercing and exhausting and terrible, but I’m not shivering. I'm not rubbing my hands together or running to get warm like I should be. I'm not sure what I'm doing at all, because I can't even see my body in front of me and the darkness is suffocating. Warmth, then, becomes an afterthought.

    Maybe this is a dream. Maybe I'll wake up and I'll never feel this kind of cold again.

    I should wake up, if I can. Again and again, I try to cry out or scream, but it's useless. What I hear instead sounds inhuman. The cold settles on my skin, creating a stinging sensation in my hands as if I've just crushed a throat or smashed some glass. I think my heart should be beating faster than it is, and in fact I don't feel a heartbeat at all. Maybe there’s a hollow spot in my chest where one might fit perfectly, if only...

    There’s a voice. There’s a voice, just one, cutting in and out like radio static. It’s hard to focus as the voice speaks vehemently about a past that would be best left to the imagination. I hear bits and pieces about my own life, my hometown and my studies. Part of me wonders if I’ve met whoever’s talking, once upon a time. The other part of me doesn’t care.

    My body betrays itself constantly like this. Things it should feel and remember, it doesn’t. Everything always turns out to be piercing and exhausting and terrible.

    I struggle to breathe because I don’t want to listen to the voice anymore. Can anyone see me? Is anyone else listening? I don't know. I just want to breathe. The cold, coming from all directions, the darkness and the gasping...

    The voice grows louder, more bitter and sad. A foreign-sounding name is mentioned. Kee-yur-emm. Kyurem? Unova’s god of ice? I guess somebody’s watching after all. The cold makes sense now, but the thought fails to comfort me.

    There's a light. I can see the cold in the light, moving like smoke. It's cold and then it's actually warm. I want to keep warm but the cold comes back with a large, hazy face staring straight at me in the distance. The face reminds me of a kid I knew once. Some night two years ago, maybe five or ten, a lot of things went wrong on Sandgem Town's deserted beach. I stood with the kid afterward, both of us shaken up and confused. We watched the black, quiet surf carry the sand, white as sugar, as it washed over our feet and rooted us in place. After that night, I wondered if the light in that kid’s eyes would stay gone forever.

    It’s strange that I want nothing more right now than to thank the kid and see how they’re doing. I think I get it now, though. The cold’s meant to drive away the numbness I'm accustomed to. If I wake up, will the numbness disappear forever?

    Kyurem… Kyurem wants me to wake up. He wants me to see reality for what it truly is for some reason. That’s what he says, and what a god wants, he gets. But for a god, his logic is haphazard and hard to understand. It doesn't matter either way. I don't trust gods. I don't trust anything.

    The light shines even brighter, telling me that living isn’t a choice.

    Simultaneously, breathing feels more natural, and the view becomes clearer. The kid’s gone, and two people looking down on me now are more like a watercolor painting than anything. My parents? No, not likely. I'd hear them speak a prayer to Arceus at a time like this, and the only word I understand of what’s being said now is blood. The voice doesn’t belong to Kyurem, and whether Kyurem’s done with me for now or for good, I don’t know.

    I used to make jokes about Arceus and all his holy lackeys up there, before... this. I used to be more carefree. This will be the last joke: I think He's been forgetting about me since the day I was born.

    New voices, obviously a doctor’s and a nurse’s this time. I don't want to hear what they have to say, but it’s time to stop fighting and just wake up.

    I flex my fingers, twisting the cool, smooth sheets below me. I reach out and my hand falls on my stomach, which is probably overrun with all kinds of medicine I don't know about if I’m in a hospital. I reach out again, keeping my hand suspended. I find nothing. What am I even looking for?

    A hand, and a voice. Another voice, my sister's. Her tone, sudden and frantic, becomes louder. Louder. If only I could make out the actual words. I can see her pale skin, her wavy blonde hair, so she's close. She's here for me, here to save me from the cold and the doctors. She's here to take me home, but a moment later she's pushed away. She cries and leaves the room and it hits me that whatever's happening, it's real.

    I have to go with her. I have to test my senses, figure out how to make them all cooperate at once, and present myself like a normal, healthy person. But the more I explore what my body can and can’t do, the less confident I feel. Everything feels wrong and numb. Leftovers from Kyurem's cold, or something like that.

    My sister's back. She's back! She's wearing a gown now, and I can understand what she's saying. She's repeating my name... over and over, between sobs.

    Annie!

    I trust she'll help me get out of here soon enough. I trust her not because I want to... but because I have to. Living isn’t a choice, but maybe I'll be surprised by what it brings me.

    Annie...!

    I'm in a hospital and there's a ton of machines and wires. All of them with a different purpose, all of them working together toward the same goal. Wouldn’t it be something if Kyurem’s working toward the same goal as me? Wouldn’t it be something… if neither of us had to feel that kind of cold ever again?

    Annie...

    *

    In my less disoriented state, I feel even colder and the light makes it harder to keep my eyes open. Flashes of color dance around the hospital room while my eyes continue to adjust. Again I hear my sister’s voice, and the colors scatter when I turn my head toward her. She’s fixing the sleeve of her gown with one hand because it’s a bit too long for her arm, and she pushes away a table tray with several plates of untouched food on top it so she can get closer to me. Her hand trembling, she reaches out to me just like I reached for her.

    I say her name. Renee… And I want to ask her why she didn’t take the food sitting there, but I already know she was too worried to eat and anyway, my voice sounds awfully raspy. So I just hold her hand and we sit there listening to the rhythmic beeping of the machines monitoring my vitals through the wires. I can’t help but notice that her grip feels weak, like she has no energy left to spare. Her expression is emotionless, her eyes exhausted.

    For a moment I wish she were still screaming at the doctors, scrambling to my bedside as if nothing else mattered. It's wrong and I know it. I open my mouth to apologize, but my voice rebels against me once more. That’s fine with me. I don’t even know what I want to say exactly, or I do know, but no doubt my voice would run out of strength before I got to the point.

    “Where am I?” I manage, eventually.

    Renee’s gaze shifts back and forth with a pained look on her face. Well, it’s not like I’ve traveled far from Sandgem in years, so where else would I be? I shouldn’t let her answer needlessly because of how tired she is.

    “Sandgem Medical Center,” Renee tells me anyway.

    “Oh,” I say stupidly, adding this conversation to the list of things I feel guilty for. “Right… Makes sense.”

    “Come on, Annie. You don't have to talk right now...” Renee trails off to allow a broad-shouldered doctor with a drooping mustache to step forward and introduce himself. I forget his name immediately in favor of the glass of water he puts into my hand, trying not to dwell on how his fingers overlap mine as I gulp it down. At least this way, I’m able to savor the taste and not embarrass myself by spilling everywhere like a kid.

    “You had a stroke, Miss Willems,” he says to me. His tone is as unreadable as his face, what with the surgical mask covering his mouth. “Your blood couldn't get to where it was supposed to go because your blood vessels were blocked. You fell into a coma and when you were safe and stable, we administered a treatment known as therapeutic hypothermia to prevent the stroke from damaging your brain any further.”

    My jaw tightens, and I grit my teeth. Hypothermia? Does that mean my subconscious had the god of ice pop up in my dreams randomly? I’d suspected that originally, but Kyurem’s story contained too many specific, historical details that I can’t recall having ever learned. Not to mention he’d gone on a tangent about some plans he had for me in exchange for a cure, which… would be foolish of me to ignore.

    But... the cold prevented further damage to my brain? What's that supposed to mean?

    The doctor goes on and says, “Your body's temperature is back to normal now, and has been for a couple days. We won't know how successful the treatment was, or what effects the stroke will have on you in the future, until we have you assessed by our specialists.”

    I'm almost too afraid to ask more about what’s going to happen. I’ve spent the last several years looking for answers to questions about how bizarre and out of place I feel by just… existing. Kyurem’s promise of a cure doesn’t provide me with any concrete answers, no, but at least the offer suggests that there’s hope.

    “So...” I start, “we'll see what I can do. And what I can't do. Then we'll figure out how to adjust things accordingly.”

    “Yes. The rehabilitation process, your discharge date, and anything else you might require will be determined afterward.”

    I glance at Renee, curious to see her reaction to all this. She nods to me and smiles softly. The realist in her appreciates the doctor’s honesty, whereas his rehearsed speech has me skeptical about how good he really is at his job.

    His mere presence is rather discouraging, really, especially since his lack of interest in explaining anything further is obvious. He stares at me expectantly, probably waiting for a barrage of questions. If I want to hear more information, which I don’t, I guess I’ll have to ask. Luckily, the doctor’s patience wears thin quick, and he allows me time alone with my sister after another robotic speech about how to call the nurses if I need them for any reason.

    Now, if I could just find a reasonable way to request that Renee leave the room, too, without sounding heartless—or worse, ungrateful—then I could attempt to process everything going on. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach, because having a discussion with my innocent, wide-eyed sister about communicating with a higher power wouldn’t end well. I’d been persistent about rejecting my religious upbringing, after all. So I have no doubt that she’d focus on that, when for me, it’s irrelevant.

    I simply ask her where our parents are.

    Renee takes a step back and peers out the window with a frown, which says it all. “They’ve been here to visit,” she claims. “They just... Well, it's been hard on them, Annie.”

    “I'm sure. Oh, well,” I say, like it’s not actually a big deal. “Waiting by your daughter’s bedside every waking moment for a miracle to happen is a nice idea, but not a realistic one.”

    “Yeah…” Renee says reluctantly. “I came right after school let out, and it just happened to be the perfect timing!” She smiles, but it fades quickly as she adds, “I’ll stay with you until Mom and Dad show up, okay?”

    The stroke spared my ability to speak but I don’t reply. I’m afraid I might blurt out Kyurem’s name just to get it off my chest. Why hasn’t she noticed that I’m hiding something?

    I lay there with my sister holding my hand again, stroking it lightly and saying she’s glad I’m back. She promises it’ll all be over soon. I just have to listen to what the doctors want me to do so I can go home, but first, I want to lay here and be good-for-nothing a little while longer. So that's exactly what I do.

    *

    Two hours later and my parents haven’t shown up yet. The sun could shrink below the horizon anytime now, and the afternoon shift’s working on passing the torch to a new set of doctors and nurses who possess enough energy to lecture me.

    “Strokes aren't common in people your age, Miss Willems.”

    This particular doctor calls himself an occupational therapist. I must’ve appeared unimpressed, because after introducing himself, he became determined to put on a show to prove to me that his title is no joke. To not overwork my muscles but to help rebuild their strength, he encouraged me to switch positions in bed every so often. He instructed me to stay relaxed lest my muscles tense up and make moving feel even more uncomfortable.

    Once practical stuff was out of the way, he began his lecture, his real reason for visiting.

    “I know. Sucks, but what can I do?” I say, shrugging and refusing to look him in the eye. “I'm twenty and my biggest problem should be about whether I'll sleep through my alarm for class tomorrow.”

    “Was that your biggest problem before?” he asks. He smiles genuinely, sadly, pulling over a cushioned chair from nearby. He places it the wrong way, his elbows resting on the backrest. “We found out about your smoking habit through blood tests, saliva tests...”

    He stops. I tell him I don’t deny it—arguing would be useless—but I certainly don’t bother hiding the bitterness in my voice.

    “Miss Willems, the last thing I want to do is add to your stress. However, I do wish for you to know that quitting is highly advised. My job is to incorporate healthier, more fulfilling ways to spend your time.”

    His tone resembles that of a therapist’s, compassionate with a subtle undertone of pity. With his lopsided smile, I get the impression that he knows more than he lets on. I swallow and clear my throat. This guy’s wrong about whatever he thinks he knows. Probably. I suppose my files might contain information I haven’t been told about the stroke yet...

    The better question is, why am I allowing this man to make me so nervous? On a crowded street nothing about him would stand out. Plain black suit, white undershirt that’s perfectly cuffed at the sleeves, straight blue tie. Neat goatee, wire-rimmed glasses, the works. Nothing out of place, nothing intimidating or cunning. I want to tell him he’d fit in better at an office job, where he could be boring in all the right ways.

    Still. I run my tongue along the insides of my cheeks, my mouth too dry to speak fluently like a normal person.

    The occupational therapist sighs. “I trained the ice-type that administered the therapeutic hypothermia,” he goes on. “She’s been on my team for years, and recently became certified by the league here in Sinnoh to work in the medical setting with me. Her part in all this is finished. I need your cooperation for the next step, Miss Willems.”

    “But I don’t know you.”

    The words come out before I can reason with myself to keep quiet. Instead of declaring how offensive my remark was, he recites his name: Gregory Holster.

    “Again, I don’t want to stress you out more,” he assures me. “We’ll get started with assessments first thing tomorrow. Rest well, all right?”

    He turns to disappear into the busy hallway. Something about him strikes me as odd, but dwelling on it implies that I care. I can’t deny that it’d be nice if I thought someone cared, but I’ve learned from past mistakes. Being the one who cares first puts you at a huge disadvantage.

    “Uh, Dr. Holster?”

    “Yes?” he says, turning back toward me.

    “What kind of pokémon is she? I mean, I know you said she’s an ice-type, but…”

    Gregory laughs heartily. “Froslass,” he answers. “I went to find her the moment I found out you’d woken up, and she wishes you a speedy recovery.”

    Froslass… The species is native to Sinnoh, but I haven’t the slightest clue what they look like. As an ice-type, though, she definitely has to know about Kyurem. And as a pokémon, she could describe what Kyurem meant about the journey he wants me to undertake. The idea of it makes me shudder.

    “Where is she now?”

    “Resting… as you should be.”

    “Oh,” I say, wincing. “Is she, uh, okay?”

    Gregory hesitates before answering. “Yes. The therapy… The therapy just requires over twenty-four straight hours of her tuning in to and controlling her ice-type abilities. It’s draining, but not in a damaging way.”

    “No one took over for her after a while?”

    “Couldn’t chance it,” he says, shaking his head. “Every second matters in a procedure like that.”

    Well. I can understand that. I nod my head and let him leave this time.

    *

    Tomorrow rolls around before I know it, and as Gregory promised, the onslaught of assessments begins. I have to give the doctors credit, really, for ensuring that I understand the instructions rather than just watching me fail spectacularly. Each one varies in terms of complexity and how much time they take, and I’m far too busy fretting about the possible results and my parents’ still being MIA to properly pay attention.

    The imaging tests force me to stay focused, though, because otherwise they’ll have to be redone. A pounding headache creeps in while the machines snap their x-ray pictures, but at least no one rushes to me saying there’s leftover internal bleeding or lesions in my brain post-stroke.

    Next, I try my best with the language and motor movement tests despite my tiredness lest it’s declared that I need treatment when I don’t. I’m relieved when the speech therapist ends the assessment early after I make up a wild but coherent story based on a simple, colorless photograph she shows me.

    As for the physical therapist and psychologist… Well, their expressions never falter, which screams bad news to me. I leave with a sore body and a craving for sleep.

    Positive thinking usually winds up being a waste of time for me, but I try to imagine that the assessments gauge just how well Kyurem followed through with his promise to heal me. The assessments also gauge for me whether or not Kyurem even exists. He needs someone functional to journey through Sinnoh, after all, not someone limited, and rehabilitation would be a huge setback.

    Positive thinking doesn’t cross my mind as an option anymore once a nurse comes to let me know I have visitors: my oh so loving, faithful parents.

    My mother stands at the receptionist desk, holding a pen in one shaking hand and holding her wrist with the other. She signs her name, takes a step back and breathes deeply, already on the verge of a breakdown. My father, unlike her, moves gracefully and with purpose. Anyone just meeting him could easily mistake him for a doctor, not a visitor, if he weren’t wearing casual clothes.

    I dawdle from the hallway to my assigned room and plop down on the edge of the bed. Massaging my arms and legs relaxes me as I wait. Looking up, I notice myself in the tall mirror hanging from the bathroom door. A smudge blocks the spot in the mirror where I should see my face, and for a moment I feel more ghost than human. I doubt I’d have any chance to pass for normal if the psychologist assessed me now.

    The first thing I want to tell them is how kind it is for them to drop by and say hello to their daughter a full twenty-four hours after she woke from a coma. The words stick in my throat and I smile at them instead, and silently, I yell at myself for hiding for my disappointment in them.

    My father, stoic as he is, smiles back. He rubs the back of his neck and has to fix his tie when his hand accidentally brushes it out of place. His vulnerability surprises me, but I can’t let my guard down. I’ve kept a mask on for a very long time and I’d like to keep it that way, although my mother’s sobs radiating throughout the room and out into the hall, attracting the odd stare from passers-by, obligates me to console her somehow.

    I look in her general direction and say, “Arceus was wonderful to me, wasn’t He?” And then smiling for them becomes no trouble at all. Having your child admit they’re no longer skeptical of Arceus’s divinity is what all religious parents with agnostic children pray for.

    My mother pulls herself together enough so that she can talk. “Yes, He has. I spoke with the pokémon that did the ice therapy. With her species being part ghost-type, who knows how long Arceus will want her on the earth, accomplishing great things like she did with you…”

    “Wait, froslass are really part ghost-types?” My jaw tightens to keep myself from blurting out anything else I might regret. Honestly, though, who thought it was okay to let ghost-types roam hospitals, where death is too commonplace as it is?

    I mention some offhand comment about how Arceus must have plans for me, too, and I guess my mother takes that as permission to drop the froslass subject. “Of course He does,” she says. “Naturally, you’re a bit behind with classes, but with His help, you’ll be out of here soon. You’ll catch up and be another step closer to graduation.”

    …Right. It’s just about springtime, and classes will end for the year in early May. I have to approach this delicately and act like the goofy, levelheaded, determined daughter my parents think they know, which is the front I put up the most. To lie well, you just have to lie often, and then the guilt becomes nonexistent.

    “You know, I’ve thought about it real hard,” I say, twirling my hair with my index finger. “I’m going to withdraw from this semester’s classes.”

    My father crosses his arms and stands next to my mother, their shoulders barely touching. “Why is that?” he asks sternly.

    “It’s as good a time as any, isn’t it? I’m behind, like Mom said, and I’ll have a valid explanation if I’m ever asked about the withdrawal grade.”

    “Your mother also said you could catch up, and she’s not wrong.”

    “Well, yeah, but I don’t want to stress myself out more than I have to,” I say. I’ll have to thank Gregory for that excuse later. “I have to get better, and I’ll go back when I don’t have to worry about my health as much. I mean, the stroke… could happen again. I want to make sure it doesn’t.”

    Wrong thing to bring up, I know. My mother’s face scrunches and Dad removes his glasses. He can’t see me without them. At least I didn’t admit that I didn’t think this through at all, and that my goal is to actually find out if Kyurem’s plans for me are real are not.

    “Hey, now. I’m making sure it doesn’t happen again,” I say, struggling to keep my voice even.

    “Renee says you’ll quit smoking, though?” my dad asks, still awkwardly adjusting his glasses.

    “Yeah, I’ll work on it,” I say. I probably won’t, to be frank, but being honest like real people do would only upset them more. “You guys can keep an eye on me anyway. I assume I’ll be stuck in the house for a while.”

    “Honey, maybe… Wouldn’t staying here benefit you more?” my mother says, stuttering between words. “The doctors here would be able to measure your progress better than us, and can stop any problems from getting worse.”

    My mother fails at being subtle. What I really hear is that my mother is tired of my unpredictable behavior at home. She would never tell me that outright, but once, I overheard her discussing it with my dad in the middle of the night. If I fall apart mentally in the hospital, then she can count on the doctors to deal with it.

    Neither the house nor the hospital sound appealing in the long-term, let alone the short-term. I’ll have to choose one or the other regardless, because I saw it in the mirror and I can feel it now. In the mirror hanging on the bathroom door, I’ve watched myself move my arms or legs while talking to my parents. And every time I’ve moved, a strange dull sensation ran through my body. Sometimes it felt like a burn. Sometimes it felt like bugs were crawling on my skin, or it was a simple ache, like a pulled muscle.

    Whatever’s going on, I can’t let it get worse. Worst case scenario, I have another stroke and die earlier than expected. Best case? I… don’t know. Usually I’m more optimistic, but not today.

    Intrusive, illogical thoughts invade my head again. My memory and my attention span and my morals have all been thrown out the window, more so than before the stroke. I can’t let these problems get worse, either. I don’t blame my mother for not wanting to deal with that. It hurts regardless. Is that why they waited to visit me?

    I tell my parents I need more time to think now that we’ve talked. They understand, or seem to. Mostly they seem relieved to have an excuse to go, ‘cause they’re out the door in under a minute. I don’t know what’s going through their heads. I know nothing, and I feel like I’m nothing. Maybe I am nothing. I just want to know what’s happening, and what’s going to happen from here on out. I want to be… anything.

    Anything at all.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
  12. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.


    LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES


    chapter 2
    spare the guilt

    *​

    The doctor brave enough to explain the assessment results to me calls the weird sensations in my arms and legs a result of something called left-sided hemiparesis. He pauses afterward, to monitor my initial reaction before getting into all the nitty-gritty details. The only thing that occurs to me is that the diagnosis makes for a pretty good tongue twister, and I’d rather not have us stare at each other awkwardly, so I make a half-hearted attempt to say it quickly a couple times in a row. The doctor raises his eyebrow when I mess up, unamused.

    “Do you feel any numbness right now?” he asks, voice low and firm. His eyes fall to the clipboard at his side.

    I shake my head. Flipping through my patient forms, he mumbles something about how my speech and language assessments had turned up normal. He hurriedly scribbles down a note when he finally finds the page he’s looking for.

    “Seriously, it’s fine!” I say. He stops writing and stands there eerily still. “It’s just—not as tough a name as some other problems, so I wanted to see if I could say it. Silly, I know, but… Well, I’m rambling. Sorry.”

    The doctor waves away my apology. “I just want to make sure that the information written down is correct,” he says, tapping the clipboard with his shiny pen. “Differentiating signs of an oncoming stroke and post-stroke symptoms is essential.”

    “Makes sense,” I mumble as a response.

    “No need to worry, Miss Willems. You’re in a safe place.” He waves at me again, this time with the clipboard itself. “Now, to discuss the matter further… Stop me if you have any questions, okay?”

    “Yeah, sure.”

    “The areas in the right hemisphere of your brain that control motor movement were damaged. What you’re experiencing as a result are random, transient bouts of weakness on the left side of your body.”

    The doctor stops himself, presumably to let the facts sink in. I bite my lip as I remember a neurology class I had to take for my psychology major last year. The subject was complicated and confused me more often than not, but hey, the basics stuck with me.

    “So you’re saying I’m going to feel bad once in a while, but I’m not a cripple. I’ll just lie down in the middle of the road and take a nap if my legs give out, I guess.” I wave away the serious look that forms on his face. “And I’m not even left-handed, see?”

    He sighs deeply, and I wonder how many difficult patients he dealt with before me. “Tasks like carrying a heavy object with both hands may be a struggle. Through rehabilitation, we want you to ensure that you won’t have to think twice about doing normal, everyday activities,” he says.

    “…It’d be nice not to put everything on hold when my body acts up, yeah.” And by that, I mean it’d be nice not to have to postpone my search for Kyurem any longer than necessary. “All right. Um, anything else I should know?”

    “Left-sided hemiparesis can cause visual spatial impairments, but the tests we ran indicate this isn’t a concern for you. Do let us know if that changes,” he says. “You might also experience symptoms that are more mental in nature, such as lack of insight, impulsivity and poor concentration. These symptoms are difficult to accurately assess in a short period of time. We’ll discuss some self-care techniques you can use if needed, and we’ll inform your parents if they should watch for anything in particular once you’re discharged, since these kinds of symptoms can also be difficult to identify on your own.”

    “My parents? Oh…” The possibility of involving them alarms me, but surely the doctor already has it written down somewhere in my files. I heard it myself, my parents warning the nurses outside my room before they left—albeit reluctantly—about my past history of unexplainable outbursts.

    “Our records show that you still live with them, correct?”

    I nod dumbly, hoping that that changes soon. A little rehab couldn’t hurt, I’ll give the doctor that much. But prolonging the healing process seems risky when I take Kyurem into account. How can I simply continue on with my life when there’s even a small possibility that he exists and will help me? I don’t trust gods, but Kyurem hardly considers himself a god. That has to count for something, right? Maybe I could learn to trust him.

    “They’re around you the most” – that’s how the doctor justifies my parents being part of my support system, his eyes brightening now that the hard part of the conversation is over. “With a mild case like yours, you could even perform the rehab from the comfort of your home, if you’d like…”

    My hands clench at my sides, and the room suddenly feels too small. I guess I can add the doctor to the long, long list of people blind to my parents’ indifference toward me. I’m twenty years old and they still can’t explain why I’ve basically lost my mind a handful of times. I suppose most people would assume it’s a simple matter of not having found the right kind of doctor or medication. No one considers the truth.

    I pushed aside the thought till now, but if my parents can’t be bothered to deal with their daughter, why would Kyurem care? Studying psychology hasn’t enlightened me as to what could possibly be wrong with me, so doesn’t it make sense to drop out and find Kyurem if he can help? If I was supposed to die but in the end I lived, doesn’t that mean what I heard and saw from Kyurem could’ve been real?

    I pay no mind as the doctor continues his long-winded speech. His mouth moves while my ears refuse to listen. Literally everything else in the hospital appeals to me, the quietness and the organization. I’m not used to either of those things.

    I can just help myself, I guess. I’ll be okay. I have to be okay so I can get out of the hospital and find Kyurem if I can. The cold and the numbness could’ve occurred as a side effect during the hypothermia therapy, but I haven’t heard from anyone else but Kyurem that they really care and that they want me happy, want me alive.

    My parents, Renee, the doctors—they don’t have to burden themselves with helping me. It’s fine. I’ll help myself. If I fail, no one but me will have to take the blame. How convenient for everyone else. And how thoughtful of me to spare them all the guilt.

    *

    My discharge date, of course, doesn’t seem to be anytime soon. And as it turns out, rehabilitation here at the hospital costs more money than my parents will spare, so I acquiesce and sign the papers for Gregory to conduct the sessions at home. Mom says that Gregory will visit the house and make some changes before I’m discharged. Then, when I’m finally home, the house will already be Annie-proof. I can barely contain my excitement.

    In the meantime, I practice my daily exercises in hopes of lessening the amount of work my muscles will need down the road. The nurses acknowledge my efforts and grant me some of my independence back.

    Strolling through the halls alone for the first time, the nurses still scrutinize me as they make their rounds in case they need to rescue me from another unforeseen disaster. I like to imagine I’m not actually here as a patient. In my mind I’m a robber, here to sift through all the stations and storage rooms for a list of cures that haven’t been released to the public—you know, because they’re reserved for people who matter.

    The nurses leave some doors leading in other patient rooms open, and, curious, I take to overhearing conversations between family members. One patient consoles her fiancé with stifled sobs, the brother of another patient relates a story about a friend who had a nasty case of diabetes, too. To add to my robber fantasy, I picture the police handcuffing me and ruining my plans to find the list of secret cures.

    The search for Kyurem sounds equally impossible, plain and simple. One thing I want and could find, however, is a cigarette. Or two, or three. Not a single visitor on the floor excuses themselves for a smoke specifically, but most leave for work or a quick trip down to the hospital’s cafeteria, where the food tastes mediocre at best. If I hurry, I can catch up and note which visitors smoke and which don’t.

    The button for the main floor in elevator behaves just half the time, so I opt for the stairs. Each step marks the start of a new adventure with my temporary lack of dexterity. Fifteen minutes later, I’m outside and I come to my senses. Stealing a cigarette would get me booted, most likely. So I settle for patrolling the smoking only sidewalk and breathing in the pungent smell wafting by.

    After a week of experimenting with secondhand smoke, I run into my mother on the elevator. I just finished my walk down the sidewalk, too, dwelling on Kyurem’s definition of “journey” along the way. Handling pokémon isn’t my forte, that’s for sure, though I won’t deny that the creatures can be useful to have around.

    For example, if I owned a chimchar, it could act as a makeshift cigarette lighter. And if I owned the bigger, evolved form of chimchar, I could use its size as an excuse to not ride the elevator with my mother because there wouldn’t be room for all of us to stand together.

    In reality, I don’t have a legitimate reason to push her away. I curse the main floor button for not breaking as usual. I join her, saying nothing. She, with her mouth agape, somehow seems surprised to see me here.

    “Uh, hello?” I say to her, drawing out the words. “Were you looking for me?”

    She regains her composure and wrinkles her nose. “Annie, you weren’t smoking out there, right?” she asks.

    I shake my head, secretly proud of myself for not having to lie. “The hospital needs to move the smoking area a little further away from the entrance,” I say, shrugging.

    “Or the nurses shouldn’t let patients off their respective units without supervision.”

    “Patients—that’s the key word there. We’re not prisoners, Mom.” I press the second floor button, eager to find out whether she’ll leave as planned or follow me. Unfortunately, she chooses to do the latter.

    “They should at least have a log for you to sign in and out. Would’ve saved me all that time.”

    “Oh, so you were looking for me,” I say, more as a statement than a question.

    We reach the door to my room. Like an overprotective parent, she watches as I walk in, maybe waiting to see if I pull a pack of cigarettes out of my gown. She must feel so disappointed when I don’t.

    Making her way over to the magazine rack right inside the door, she fumbles through a dog-eared magazine featuring an Alolan rockruff on the cover as she says, “Well, I wanted to talk to the doctors. I couldn’t find you on the way out, and I’m supposed to meet your dad for dinner soon, so…”

    Conversations like these tend to run in circles, so I don’t bother to continue it. “Did you talk to them about anything, uh, interesting?”

    “Your discharge date,” she says, fixing the creases in the rockruff magazine before sticking it back on the rack.

    “Oh.” Silence. “And they said…?” I add, gesturing for her to get to the point already.

    She shrugs. “No concrete date yet.”

    Her nonchalance tempts me to make a quip about how, naturally, I’m entitled to know the discharge date before her when the they decide on one.

    “Well, Mom—“

    “I plan to push the issue,” she adds. Her words blend together with how fast she interrupts me. “I have an appointment with Rowan next Thursday, and I want you to come with me.”

    The image of Professor Rowan, an old, busy family friend we rarely see these days, trying to tame a thrashing chimchar pops into my head. If I become a trainer, he could gift me one for real.

    But I know my mother has something different in mind. Sinnoh’s famous professor met her long before she even met my dad. He introduced her to a shelter in Twinleaf that cares for abandoned pokémon, and once she learned what happened to pokémon that no one wanted to adopt, her bizarre obsession with adopting them all herself began.

    “Renee and Dad will be there, too. I caught Rowan up to speed on your situation, and he said a couple pokémon on the list might be helpful to have around the house.”

    Any hope I had of her visit being more about me and less about her vanishes. “Oh, okay,” I say, because anything else I’d say could cause a scene.

    I mean, Professor Rowan’s great and all, but I’ve never held a one-on-one conversation with him myself. So why does he know about my near death experience? Not to mention my interest in pokémon waned years ago. It pains me to think that my mother would let herself forget what happened with the very first pokémon she adopted.

    “Great,” my mother says. She breathes a sigh of relief, like she expected me to throw a fit. “Dr. Holster’s froslass performed a miracle. I just thought… Well, there’s bound to be other pokémon out there that could do the same.”

    “That makes sense, I guess, but—“

    “And we could save pokémon from certain death in the process,” she finishes, smiling for emphasis.

    Now it’s my turn to sigh. “That sounds nice. Really. I wish we could do that. Gregory’s froslass was specifically trained to do what she did, though.”

    “Gregory?”

    “Erm. Sorry, I meant Dr. Holster.”

    “Trained pokémon reside at the shelter, too, and Rowan will have one of those dex devices with him. It’s always got all kinds of information, so we should be able to determine right then and there who’ll be useful to you.”

    My mother tends to take in the pokémon left behind by trainers, because the domesticated pets are usually adopted in no time flat. I think I understand her reasoning, but the pokémon never warm up to her or feel compelled to stay.

    Arguing about it more seems like a waste. I curse under my breath. Why did she have to be so stubborn?

    “Fine,” I say, scowling. “I’ll call you when I know the date for sure. I can’t guarantee it’ll be by next week, but, you know, I’m trying.”

    “Keep trying, all right?” my mother says. She checks her watch, taps it with her finger and checks it again. “I’ve gotta head over to the Bluefell Promenade now before I’m late. Dad will be happy to hear that you’re doing well.”

    I wave goodbye to her with my good arm. The door creaks shut behind her. A few minutes pass and it’s safe to say she’s really gone. I flop down on my bed carelessly, reveling in the fact that my body doesn’t protest. The sluggishness from all the drugs pumped into my blood lately seems to be gone, too. I have energy again, and with that energy, I’m just craving a cigarette. Especially after seeing my mother.

    Well, that’s not exactly right. I don’t crave the cigarettes themselves, per se, just the idea of using them because they can hurt me. That’s me blatantly asking to be hurt, at least. My hurt then becomes something I can control. And right now, control is something I desperately crave.

    *

    A stupid, illogical part of me almost wishes that the stroke had affected the other side of my brain. I’d be incapable of talking to people and maybe understanding them, too, but I can’t see the downside to that. Really, I’d just have the perfect excuse to act standoffish in front of others.

    Of course, I can talk to people, and I can understand them, but I’ve never been comfortable with even the most basic forms of socializing. So when Gregory visits me again and announces that he has a better idea of how to work with me now that the assessments are done, I instinctively put up my guard.

    He promises to keep me updated on the rehabilitation programs he’s outlining. Oh, and he says he hopes I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get my life back on track. I laugh at the irony.

    “What’s so funny?” he asks, half-smiling. He pities me, which only adds to the joke. I’m gonna ditch my hometown in pursuit of a legendary pokémon on the off chance it exists and will reward me for the journey by making all my problems disappear, that’s what’s funny.

    “Nothing,” I lie. “You seem nice, don’t get me wrong, okay? And the food tastes kind of good here, surprisingly, but skipping rehab or speeding through it sounds a whole lot more appealing than working my butt off until I’m given special permission to live my life again.”

    Gregory steps farther into my room, thinks twice and turns to close the door before he makes himself comfortable in a chair by the window. “We can’t force you to do anything, Miss Willems,” he says, sighing. “We advise rehab because it’s needed. But if you decide it’s not for you, we’d hand you a list of resources to utilize in case you ever changed your mind.”

    I avoid making eye contact. The smell of sweat mixed with ammonia distracts me. “Yeah, just so I don’t sue you guys for negligence or abandonment. Or whatever the term is,” I say.

    I expect him to lecture me next, but I don’t care. I don’t like how he’s here. He could’ve simply made his announcement and moved on to another patient, but he had to be persistent about pretending to care instead.

    “That’s true,” is all he says. “There’s a lot of flexibility with occupational therapists, though.”

    “What, like, you can hold my hand all day, every day? Work my shifts with me, go to school with me, and—”

    I stop when Gregory laughs. Goddamn him, that wasn’t funny, was it? I guess he has to steel himself from the inevitable doom and gloom of his job somehow.

    “Not quite.” He stifles another laugh. How nice of him to grace me with such an eloquent reply. “This means you had a job before…?”

    I pause, unable to register his question for a moment. “Yeah, at Esker’s Bar,” I say, “but I’m sure I was removed from the payroll by now.”

    “And why do you think that?”

    Looking at him, I hate how his face hardens into a frown. He honestly wants to hear my answer. “I’m the… or I was the… You know, the bartending job requires me to hold glass and steadily pour strong drinks to people who could get violent on me in return if I’m not careful.”

    “So you’d have to use your hands a lot.”

    “And carry a weapon. Knowing me, I’d end up hurting myself in a fight with one somehow, even without the hemiparesis interfering.”

    Gregory rubs his hands through his greying hair, contemplating before saying, “A bar's not the most ideal place for trial and error, frankly.”

    That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. “I mean, how often would you really be around?” I ask him, tired of dancing around the point. Unsurprisingly, Gregory just can’t fathom how I find the cobwebs growing on the ceiling where the walls meet and the dead flies littered on the windowsill more inviting than my own home.

    “Three times a week, minimum, to assure a full recovery.”

    Now it’s Kyurem’s word versus Gregory’s, apparently. They both aim to heal me. It’s sad, how all I can think of is how there must be a catch to this phenomenon.

    “I’ll give it a shot,” I say, sternly as I can. “I don’t like it, but I will.”

    “That’s all I could ask you for right now, Miss Willems.”

    This man is relentless. I want to cry. He must have this conversation with patients pretty often.

    I nod and try to derail the conversation. I ask him what occupational therapy is really supposed to entail, and he just says he has to know a lot about everything. He’s not an expert on most things, he admits, but that doesn’t hinder him. He swears I have nothing to worry about, he’s helped so many people in so many different settings, but that’s how you learn to lie well—the more you know, the easier it is to do, and then you just lie a lot and about everything, to the point where you don’t even realize you’re doing it anymore.

    In the end, I ask him, too, not to call my parent’s house my home. It feels like exactly the opposite.

    “Fair enough,” Gregory whispers, like he already knew. “Miss Willems, do you mind if I call you Annie?”

    “What? Oh, yeah, whatever. I don’t care.” I really don’t, even though I guess my name means something prophetic about gods and how graceful they can be. “And, uh, I can call you Gregory?”

    It hits me, then, that I’ve been referring to the OT by his first name this entire time, anyway. Thinking of him as just another doctor doesn’t sit well with me for some reason.

    Well, I just made an agreement with this man who should be my doctor but instead my subconscious has been trying to make me consider him as a friend. Arceus help us both.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2017
  13. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I'll admit it's been a long time since I read the previous version of this fic, but already I think Annie is handled better. Her voice is fairly immediately distinctive, and the pattern of her thoughts is like visible but understated, in the kind of way you'd want it to be with a character like her: you can see it, if you look, but you do actually have to look, rather than expecting it to just reveal itself. I like the vicious little touches of irony, the occasionally haphazard logic, the quiet resentment, the hope-that-doesn't-quite-dare-identify-itself-as-hope. Was all this stuff that was in the first version? I'm not sure. Even if it was, I think I remember it wasn't as polished as this, so that's all good.

    While I appreciate the more extensive information we get with this longer prologue, I feel like it maybe goes a little too far. The draw of Love and Other Nightmares was always, I think, Annie and her journey and the attention you gave to the nuts and bolts of how the whole thing worked, and putting an enormous amount of pure information in front of that gets in the way of it a little. If you can't sacrifice any of it, I'd maybe consider breaking all of that up into what you might call interludes between chapters, spaced out at intervals, to let Kyurem's story unfold more naturally and at a more manageable pace for the reader. As it is, it feels like the first chapter of a completely different story rather than a prologue that sets you up for Annie's narrative. Not that what it contains isn't interesting, I just think that the placement of all of that stuff in one giant block before you get into the main action of the story could be a bit off-putting.

    Other than that, I don't have many reservations, and I think I'd want to wait a little longer to see how you do the day-to-day business of training and the other characters in this iteration before I ventured any comments on topics other than Annie or the prologue. I enjoyed the first version of this fic, I think this rewrite has done some good things to it, and I'm really looking forward to see what you plan to do with the rest of it – and ultimately where you end up taking it.
     
  14. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Nope, she's changed a fair bit from the original. In the original, her sarcastic quips and her impulsive behavior stuck out a lot more than the rest of her personality. I've tried to balance her out more here, and it looks like I've hit the mark this time round. 8D

    The prologue wasn't intended to turn out as a massive infodump mixed in with Kyurem's POV, but, you know, things happen. :p I've already cut several thousand words out of it and it doesn't seemed to have made a different, sadly. I do think the fic would benefit if I split it up, in that case. I've just spent so much time editing instead of writing new content that I'm hesitant to put that idea into action right now, but it's definitely one I plan to revisit and implement the next time I reach an interlude. (Since I had planned to have several interludes anyway, it's not really too far-fetched an idea that'll require any more massive changes.)

    Every time I think about this fic now, all I can think about is how close I am to getting Kephi and Virokoe back in the picture. I personally can't wait, so! I hope you enjoy their return and all the training stuff when I finally get there. 8D Thanks for reading and commenting, as always!
     
  15. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Went back and cut down a ton of words, mostly repetitive stuff that bogged down the pacing. Anddd now, a real update!


    LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES

    chapter 3
    playing nice

    *​

    Before the stroke, I marched to classes through the snow, holding my jacket over my face to block the terrible breeze always blowing in from the beach south of Sandgem. A warm front slowly took over while I was a patient and spent time outside, snooping around the smoking area. And now, the local jumpluff are drifting along the wind currents, clumps of their spores floating to the ground. Once spring officially rolls around and the vegetation starts to grow back, everyone in Sandgem will hoard a bunch of the spores and use them to cultivate their own fern plants.

    Stepping through the revolving doors of the hospital’s entrance for the final time immediately revives some of the motivation I’d lost. I could be one of those people who carries wicker baskets full of gardening tools and competes over the best crops of the year. Not that I want to, but at least the option exists.

    At home, the tension between me and my parents looms stronger than ever. Renee encourages me to get out of the house as often as I can. That was my goal from the start, except Renee goes overboard by offering to skip school and join me. “Whatever you want to do,” she says, her face etched with worry, “we’ll do it, okay?” I manage to convince her that I’ll be fine as long as I stay where people can see me, in case my hemiparesis acts up. It just wouldn’t do me any good to have her hanging around while I plan my trip away from Sandgem.

    Renee really isn’t my biggest problem, though. I have no specific destination in mind, which makes this whole journey thing super difficult to map out. Scrutinizing every little thing Kyurem told me doesn’t help, and besides, I know how memories tend to fill in all the empty gaps with false information in an attempt to make everything fit like a puzzle.

    Every morning, I retreat to the library and stay huddled there throughout the afternoon. I study less about the traveling aspect of my upcoming quest and more on the differences between Sinnoh and Unova due to Kyurem’s… history with the region. Kyurem mentioned foreign pokémon teaming up with me, and if possible, I want to narrow down the number of species I could run into.

    For a few weeks, I pull a massive book off the nonfiction shelf full of pokédex entries, both old and new ones compiled by professors, gym leaders, scientists, and other famous trainers. Unova’s section spoils my mood with all the primordial, mythological entries filled out without any practical facts to go along with them. Even the more useful entries assume that pokémon of the same species have no individuality, like trainers could handle them all the same way.

    I can’t complain about the lore when I finally come across Kyurem’s entry, of course. I knew very little about the ice behemoth until my stroke, but everything recorded under his basic information mimics what he told me in my comatose state. My subconscious didn’t learn about Kyurem and pass the information on to me in my sleep. So that means this isn’t just all in my head, right?

    I can’t help but want to search for a connection between Kyurem and Sinnoh, because really, why would a Unovan god look here for refuge instead of another region like Kanto or Alola? But I fail to find any clues in Sinnoh’s pokédex or in a bunch of other books I sift through. At this rate, I’ll have to meet another trainer chosen by Kyurem on the road to get any concrete proof that he exists, or meet the ice god face-to-face.

    Yeah, as if.

    My parents ask me to come home to join them for dinner every night by six o’clock, which has been the strictly enforced time to sit together and eat ever since I was a little girl. I’d like to think that there are more important things in life to be conscientious about, so I take the long way home. Besides, I couldn’t care less about saving face with them anymore.

    Ambling through the streets of Sandgem each night, it’s hard to ignore all my surroundings when I might not see my hometown again for a while, if ever. Not for the first time, I question if my decision will be worth it in the end. Really, the easiest thing to do would be to make the best of the time I have left to live in Sandgem.

    Each night, the same family of five hangs around the edge of the beach with their pet staravia to fly kites until well past dark. Our local ice cream stand set up on the sand usually sticks around until way past sunset to make a few extra bucks from the passers-by now that it’s warm again. A few blocks down from the beach is Vernon Avenue, the busiest street in Sandgem. I watch as people run their last errands of the day and scramble home to whoever’s waiting for them. The smaller retail stores lock their doors, and groups of teenagers wander about aimlessly or meet up at the ice skating rink, which doubles as an arcade.

    I don’t strike up conversation with anyone unless I bump shoulders and mumble a half-hearted apology for not paying attention. When the street gives way to a long and narrow gravel path, I’ve reached the end of Vernon Avenue and home is just around the corner. My pace slows and I struggle to find an excuse to turn back, but there’s nothing—no school, no friends, no money to waste.

    Some nights, I turn around anyway and trudge on with my head hung low and no destination in mind. The asphalt below my feet is full of mediocre chalk drawings obviously made by some kids, and the lights from the 24-hour drugstores spilling out onto the street taunt me.

    Some nights, I find myself in the drugstore and buy a couple essentials for my journey. I still haven’t done any research on traveling. I don’t know what the seasoned trainers recommend for rookies, and I don’t know how I’ll earn money to use on the road. But I can’t go wrong with the basics—toiletries, a map of Unova, sunscreen, bug repellant, shoes especially made for hiking, a cooler with wheels to store food longer than normal, and a large, durable backpack that I can reasonably carry on my shoulders.

    Of course, I can’t go wrong with things I know I should buy based off of past experience, either—a paring knife to cut food, a box of matches, eye drops, pain relievers, and other first-aid stuff you forget about until you need them.

    I hide everything I buy in a tall patch of grass on the side of our house, and once everyone’s gone to sleep, I stash it all under my bed. Every night, I update my list of berries and foods that won’t spoil too quickly so I remember to pick them up on the way out of Sandgem, or in the next town if I can manage it.

    Every night, I check to make sure no one’s messed with my stuff, because I can’t afford to have Renee or my parents get suspicious. The three of them would do everything in their power to stop me, and I wouldn’t blame them for trying. Logically, I know my decision to leave Sandgem isn’t a sensible one, not even because of the whole Kyurem fiasco, but because of my past attempts at becoming a trainer ending up in failure… on the first route.

    Kyurem really couldn’t have picked a worse person to send out into the world, but, you know, I have to try. I won’t forgive myself if I let the chance to have Kyurem heal me simply slip away.

    *

    I expected Gregory to transform my parent’s house into something like an indoor gym with rehabilitation equipment, but thankfully, he didn’t set up that much. He positioned each piece of equipment in low-key, out of the way places, and nothing’s too big or too heavy for me to move even when the hemiparesis strikes.

    Most days, I can scrape by without bumping into a reminder of how weak my body’s gotten. I wonder whether my recovery’s progressing faster than expected or if I've been turning a blind eye to my health on purpose. I want to ask Gregory at the start of one of our sessions so he’ll force me to take my life seriously, but I chicken out and make a joke about pokémon journeys, of all things.

    “I feel pretty all right, you know?” I say, standing in front of a full body mirror, eyes closed. “I feel as strong as a… as a dragonite. Yeah, I could totally fly around the world as a dragonite right now, maybe even beat the current record.”

    I can’t see the OT, but he’s probably rubbing his goatee, contemplating what he thinks is a witty answer while I picture myself spinning my arms in circles over and over. Apparently, I can trick my brain into sending signals to both sides of my body just by imagining beforehand the movements I’m about to do.

    Gregory, naïve or maybe just stupid, instigates an actual conversation. “The world record now is, what, sixteen hours? That’d be tough,” he says. Suddenly a beeping noise starts up, and he places his hands firmly on my shoulders after he resets the timer. “Here, let’s switch again.”

    I open my eyes and he redirects me so that all I can see in the mirror is my right hand, which I have to keep stretched out in front of me for the next several minutes. The goal here is to pretend that the hand in the mirror is actually my left hand, and as I move, my brain once again is tricked into thinking both sides of my body are in sync.

    “Okay, but sixteen hours is nothing compared to how long trainers roam around a single region collecting those badges,” I say to him, trying not to focus on how ridiculous this exercise would look to anyone passing by. The mirror’s propped up in a corner of the upstairs hallway, where no one goes unless they’re headed to the attic, but still. I guess Gregory must have sensed how worried I was when I agreed to work with him.

    My hand twitches at the thought, and he taps his wristwatch, prompting me to continue until the timer pings again.

    “Remember,” he adds, “you’re going to get tired quickly during these exercises for a while, and that’s fine.”

    “Maybe I’m not ready to tackle that world record yet after all,” I mumble half-heartedly, not bothering to point out that he misunderstood his observation.

    “You’re certainly not exerting as much energy as a dragonite circling the globe. However, you trigger the same parts of your brain whether you’re performing an action or simply visualizing an action.”

    If I’d stayed enrolled in college, I might have learned about this motor imagery therapy in a neurology class and then forgotten the details after the exam like a typical student. Instead I learned the hard way, the hands on way, and I’m obligated to repeat the workout three times a week with Gregory.

    Time passes. When the timer rings, Gregory nods to me. I know the drill. He knows I know the drill, and he knows I’m more functional than not. I trust his judgment somehow, so I stick with my line of questioning and dare to ask, “Do people like me get to, you know, actually travel?”

    Gregory raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t remind me that I should close my eyes, he just says, “I don’t see why not,” and pauses the clock.

    His simple answer is all I need, really.

    What Gregory doesn’t know is how easily influenced I am. He requested that I do these exercises outside of our sessions, in different spots in the house or anywhere I can find a mirror, so the therapy method eventually becomes second nature. But without Gregory around to monitor my progress, I’m afraid I’ll mess up and trick my brain the wrong way.

    It’s an irrational thought, for sure. My brain specializes in senseless reasoning, and you know what? It got to be that way without my permission. I can’t trust myself, and out of the pool of people helping me out right now, Gregory seems the most reliable.

    I close my eyes and imagine my body moving the way it should. “Well, you did say your job’s flexible. What if I was traveling, like, as a tourist or a trainer?”

    Again he says those simple, powerful words: “I don’t see why not.”

    “And is that allowed for me?”

    Gregory nods.

    “Seriously?” I shake my head and blurt out, “No, no more questions. This is great. Perfect. Let’s do it.”

    Gregory doesn’t complain or try to convince me that I’m crazy. For the rest of the session, I imagine myself walking in faraway cities like Celestic and Pastoria, rolling a pokéball around in my left hand, ready to throw it at the first sign of danger.

    *

    Somehow, the paradox in all this doesn’t hit me straightaway. I haven’t invented an excuse to tell my family when I leave yet, and Gregory’s liable to announce my plans to them before I’m ready for them to know. When he shows up for our next session, I sprint to meet him at the front door and swear him to secrecy.

    “I don’t know if mandatory reporters are required to tell parents about this kind of thing, but…” I trail off, trying to catch my breath so I stop stuttering between words. I feel winded and shaky, like I just finished running a marathon.

    Gregory stares at me with a perplexed look on his face before answering, “How old are you again?”

    “…Twenty?”

    “That was a rhetorical question,” he says, chuckling softly. “You’re old enough to make your own decisions.”

    And with that, the focus of my rehabilitation shifts more toward coping with the hemiparesis as a vagabond. He starts small, with the equipment I’m already familiar with. He gives me a sturdy compact mirror to practice the motor imagery exercises anywhere I go, and he sits with me at a couple restaurants and even at the beach on Vernon, to confirm I’m not too self-conscious to do them in public.

    “People will stare,” he tells me. “But any downtime you get, you should work on keeping your muscles active to help stave off the numbness.”

    Gregory so kindly demonstrates other, less embarrassing exercises to do, like writing left-handed, ways to stretch my legs when I sit, and how to properly use stress balls and dumbbells for arm and wrist strength. Each session he brings with him too a handful of aids specifically designed for stroke victims. I expect the aids to be complicated and fancy, but instead they’re simple, and the concept behind some of them baffles me. Seriously, who knew the world needed specialized cheese graters and shoelaces?

    My homework, as Gregory calls it, involves learning which aids I might want to take with me on my journey. All the normal, everyday activities people can accomplish on their own—showering, dressing, walking, cooking—don’t feel so normal with the aids, even before the numbness sets in. More than once I find myself tripping over the shower chair in the bathroom, or cheating when no one’s around to see because I just don’t have the patience to put my sneakers on with a shoehorn.

    Gregory always asks how the experiments went before introducing me to the next batch of aids. I bluff my way through the conversation, only accepting the smallest, least invasive aids to add to my pile of traveling supplies. When the OT points out that I’ve tolerated the rehabilitation process a lot better than he assumed I would, I admit to him that it’s hard not to be a little optimistic. A huge amount of people cared enough to spend their time and effort eliminating all the obstacles they could think of for stroke victims like me, after all.

    “And there’s still people who care, Annie,” Gregory replies. His pace slows as we make our way down Vernon. He glances at a crowd gathering outside a perfume shop to get free samples from the owner’s aromatisse, his lips pursed slightly. “By the way, your mom wants me to tag along with you guys to Rowan’s lab, to get my opinion on which pokémon he should give you. Do you mind?”

    “Not really. I don’t think the choice is that big a deal, so…”

    “Well, the likelihood of finding a pokémon qualified for rehabilitation services there is almost nonexistent.” I roll my eyes, and before I can open my mouth, Gregory adds, “But we won’t know until we try, I guess.”

    That’s an accurate description of the reasoning behind which pokémon Mom chooses, at any rate. The appointment, no doubt, will end up as a waste of time. Things could be worse, I guess.

    We pass by a bench area where a few people are ignoring each other, sifting through the daily newspaper. An older, frail looking woman steals glances this way and that, probably waiting to meet someone. I wait until they’re out of earshot to talk again.

    “So, uh, Gregory,” I say, “would I be able to travel if I needed… I don’t know, more extreme rehab?”

    The OT shrugs. “You’d set a date to leave, and I’d make it work,” he says.

    I certainly don’t hesitate. “Huh. In that case, I’ll sign the papers in my name, and, just for you, I’ll write with my left hand. How ‘bout that? Anyway, my parents aren’t gonna be too happy, so the pokémon should be my official starter. After Rowan gives me his cliché training spiel, I want to leave as soon as possible.”

    My voice trails off. I watch Gregory for a reaction. Part of me anticipates a lecture that’ll talk some sense into me, and part of me wants to hide in embarrassment for rambling on like an idiot. This journey isn’t going to be some fun, soul-searching game like it is for most trainers.

    Gregory, poker-faced as ever, just shrugs again. “You got it,” he says.

    *

    There’s some perks to knowing Rowan personally, I suppose. He purposely invited us over at a time when he’d be focusing on the pokémon up for adoption instead of his designated starters. That means his lab is free from ten year olds squealing and scrambling over each other to grab the first pokéball in sight, a problem which tends to degenerate into a horror story involving fistfights and police officers way too often.

    It’s pretty quiet except for the occasional clacking of computer keys and the whir of a fan hanging overhead. Rowan’s pinning a newspaper clipping on a cork board behind his desk when we arrive, and as Mom greets him on our behalf, he opens a set of shutters to reveal an assortment of pokémon roaming in the courtyard. Beyond that I can see the shelter he had built back when I was a toddler just learning to walk.

    Gregory shakes the professor’s hand and asks permission to enter the courtyard with me. Rowan opens the backdoor and steps aside, leaving the two of us alone to check out the available pokémon. Rubbing my left arm awkwardly, I let Gregory do that thing where he looks lost in thought as he strokes his goatee like he’s an actor in a cheesy drama movie. I’m no expert at this, after all, and as far as I can tell, none of the pokémon here are foreign.

    A few full minutes of silence pass until the OT finally points at a luxio finishing its afternoon snack at the feeding station. It sprints away, leftover bits of a raw blissey egg dripping from its mouth. The lion-esque pokémon stalls near a group of fire-types practicing their ember attacks with one of the lab assistants. He shouts something about how the electric-types will get their turn next before shooing the luxio away with the flick of his wrist.

    “Okay?” I say, drawing out the word to emphasize just how unimpressed I am.

    Gregory understands the hint. “Electrical stimulation can send signals to your brain and force your weakened muscles to move. It’s a relatively common method these days,” he says. “Your mom didn’t mention my recommendations, I take it.”

    It’s not even a question, the way he says it. I nod.

    “I planned on explaining them to you here, anyway,” he says. And it might just be my imagination, but I notice a twinge of pity in his voice. His tone changes and his expression turns thoughtful again as he says, “Actually, water- and fire-types aren’t good for therapy, per se, but for a new trainer…”

    “Yeah, fresh water and easy made fires sound, uh, nice.”

    “No worries either way. I’ll guide you through whatever’s needed before you go off on your own.”

    “Gee, thanks,” I mumble, bitter because the on my own part of that is worrisome. “What about ice-types? You know, like your froslass.”

    “They’re best suited for experienced trainers,” Gregory says. He shakes his head and motions to nowhere in particular. “Besides, there’s none here. Sandgem doesn’t have the right climate for them to live in.”

    “Oh,” I say lamely. I hate when he uses logic against me like that. “Well, water pokémon can learn ice moves, too. In case hypothermia needs to save my life again or something.”

    At this, Gregory’s blinks, looking dumbfounded. “You were at least told about the pokédex, right?”

    “Very briefly, yeah.”

    Frustrated, the OT inhales and lets out a deep, slow exhale. “That’s…” he starts, but thinks better of it. “Even before you let me in on the trainer idea, I’d discussed with your mother about you owning a pokédex. With it, you’ll be able to call me or any one of my pokémon in an emergency. All of my outpatient clients get one until services aren’t needed anymore.”

    It occurs to me, then, that I never did thank the froslass for helping me out. I mean, she was just doing her job and all, but, well, it seems like the polite thing to do. Especially if I might end up needing her again in the future.

    I mimic Gregory’s exasperated exhale. “Okay, good to know. Can we move on now? No more surprises, please.”

    “If I’m being honest, there’s one more surprise, but a good one. Promise.”

    “…Better be.” Because my ability to play nice is already wearing thin, and I don’t want to blow the opportunity to get my starter and skip town.

    “Anyway, if you don’t have any requirements for your starter in mind…” Gregory trails off, scanning the courtyard again. Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand, his gaze stops at a lone bug napping in the grass. “I wasn’t sure if Rowan still had the little guy, but look at that. Come with me, Annie.”

    Up close, I can see why Gregory had trouble spotting the bug-type. With the hump on its back, it has the appearance of a discolored boulder, but as luck would have it, the pokémon’s foreign. Even better, it’s a venipede, which are native to Unova.

    Some Unovan species and even a couple from Hoenn are hiding on the other side of the courtyard, too: a ferrothorn swinging from tree to tree, a fraxure sharpening its tusks on a pile of river rocks, and a lotad floating lazily in a fountain. I can’t even imagine the amount of research and money Rowan puts into taking care of such a diverse group of pokémon.

    In fact, Gregory informs that there’s one, maybe two… no, three important things to know about the venipede, should I actually adopt it as my starter.

    One, venipede are half poison-type. Gregory discloses this first, because poison is nothing to mess with and a poison sting gone awry can lead to another hospital stay. Gregory swears he’ll understand if I look elsewhere just for that. I can’t tell him, of course, that if Kyurem’s really on my side, he isn’t going to let me die to poison.

    Two, the venipede’s previous trainer apparently turned him into a monster in every sense of the word. Most trainers want a cuddly, friendly pokémon that’ll obey all their commands without question, and the venipede certainly doesn’t fit the bill. Honestly? That sounds like we’re two peas in a pod, so whatever.

    Three, the venipede suffered an incident that weakened part of his body, much like me. Gregory reveals this to be the main reason he wants me to consider the venipede: I wouldn’t be alone in my rehabilitation.

    “So he’s not getting any help with Rowan?” I ask.

    “Not yet. He’s only been here a short time. If he joins your team, I’ll provide services to both of you. Your family’s insurance would cover that.”

    Okay, my mother’s crazy obsession with adopting doesn’t sound too bad now. And speaking of her… “Does my mom know? You said you wouldn’t tell,” I ask, feeling rather childish for whining.

    “And I didn’t. That’s for you to do when you want. Right now, Rowan’s giving your mom the details about how to file the pokédex with your insurance. He’ll give her details about the venipede, too, if you take him.”

    I look away, opting to stare at the venipede instead. Its—or his, I guess—antennae twitch as Gregory keeps talking and I wonder if he’s only pretending to sleep. The venipede’s body rises and falls calmly with every breath, so maybe not. His thorax, magenta in color, and the green and black bands covering his abdomen are well groomed. Really, the venipede doesn’t have the appearance of someone who needs rehabilitation. But I know better than anyone how dangerous assumptions like that can hurt.

    I know for sure that Mom would disapprove of the venipede. Let a poison-type in the house when it doesn’t do anything for my rehabilitation besides provide emotional support? Yeah, right. Not that I’m staying, but… Okay, the venipede does have battle experience and my mom prefers that. So that could be my argument.

    …I don’t like to argue with her. I usually let her have her way, but there’s something to be said about Gregory noticing and going out of his way to make sure I keep my mental health intact. I don’t want to shut him down for my mother’s sake.

    I told myself I trusted Gregory, and Kyurem wants me to travel with foreign pokémon that need help, right? Well, here’s my chance to do something good for myself. Here’s a foreign pokémon that needs help.

    I can’t bring myself to say no, so I don’t.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2017
  16. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Venipede! :D

    Okay, that's out of my system now. I can't actually remember how this part went in the previous version, so I'm not going to compare it with that – but it stands alone very well. I mentioned in my last response that one of the things I was anticipating in this story was the way it deals with the day-to-day business of pokémon training and/or living, and this chapter really delivers on that front. It's one of those parts where the fine detail of the setting works really well, and you get a very clear sense of the newness, the strangeness and uneasiness of it all for Annie. Rehab is difficult and also really bloody annoying, and you do a good job of conveying that, I think.

    The detail also works massively to your advantage in the sense that this is in many ways a journey fic, and journey fics always seem to be to be made of two main parts, the evolving character of the trainer and the world they travel through. Previous chapters have already established that Annie's a pretty compelling protagonist, and the discussion around choosing a starter in this chapter goes a long way toward establishing the mechanics of the world. Typing, temperament, utility outside of battle; all of these are important and interesting considerations and they're well handled here.

    Also, I feel it would be remiss of me if I didn't excerpt the line 'a poison sting gone awry can lead to another hospital stay', because, you know, just because. Most pokémon have a lot of narrative potential, but venipede always strike me as particularly interesting just because they're very small and yet their pokédex entries have them as both 'brutally aggressive' and very open to the idea of fighting things much larger than themselves – which is a really interesting thing to put up against the kind of harmonious ideal of pokémon training. If by 'interesting' you mean 'someone's going to get hurt', anyway. (... those are synonyms, right?) Anyway, the point that I think I'm trying to make is that it seems a very appropriate pokémon to start with in a story like this one, with its mix of hostility and vulnerability, weakness and defiance.

    In terms of character, I know I said I wasn't going to compare this chapter with its previous incarnation but I have a feeling that the relationship between Annie and Gregory wasn't so well-drawn last time around – correct me if I'm wrong, but I think she was more overtly hostile, or if not that then the relationship was at least not as complex as the kind of give-and-take you've described here. Possibly I'm misremembering, but if I'm not, that's a really cool change, and in either case the fact that she doesn't respond to Gregory in only one way does a lot to round out her character.

    And that's about all I have to say about this chapter, I think! It's pretty great, all things considered. I look forward to more.
     
  17. Bay

    Bay YEAHHHHHHH

    Hey, so I talked to you a bit on my thoughts on the prologue and the first two chapters a while back, so I apologize if some stuff I said are repeats. Let's go!

    On the prologue, I do agree with Cutlerine the prologue was overwhelming due to the length and how a lot of it we already know from Black/White's lore. It's interesting though how you have Arceus mixed in B/W's lore there and your take on Kyruem. The last few paragraphs where Kyruems mentions Annie will meet Pokemon who needs help (the same way how she's trying to get her life back together after her storke) also pulled me in premise wise.

    I haven't read the first version of this story, but I think you balanced Annie's sarcasm, irony, and the other tones Cutlerine mentioned fine. I remember talking to you about how I thought it's off to a slow start, but after mulling over that I can see perhaps this is the best way to go considering it'll take time for Annie to adjust the daily tasks, let alone going on a long Pokemon journey.

    The beginning chapters has some big focus on her interactions with Gregory, which is cool to see since Gregory seems to be chill but firm. His idea of Venipede traveling with Annie for emotional support I think is cute. Should be interesting how their relationship, in a professional way I mean lol, will develop once Annie does go to her journey.

    Overall, neat premise so far as I mentioned and looking forward to more!
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2017
  18. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Words can't express how happy I am to have this lil guy back. 8D Now I've just got to get Virokoe back in the mix and we're good to go! And Obieme, though I didn't have much time to get attached to him in the original, lmao.

    I mean, it's for the best that you don't remember, to be honest. It was literally just Annie searching the first route for Unovan species and then taking like two hours tops to find one when they're said to be a lot more rare compared to less rare like I imply in the rewrite here.

    At any rate, good to hear! This chapter took a while to get out because, well, I wasn't sure that I was portraying enough of the day-to-day living stuff. But if I had gone too much into everything, Annie would never leave home. So I had to compromise. c:

    When I was working out the finer details of this scene, I first thought, "Oh, crap, I'm writing a lab scene where the MC's choosing a starter. This could end up sounding really cliche if I'm not careful." Then I thought, "Oh, crap, I wrote myself into a stupid plot hole because how can she get an aggressive poison-type for a starter and not have everyone question her sanity?" But seems I worked it out well enough. XD

    Lol, hmm, a venipede causing someone to get sent to the hospital for poison-related injuries... Sounds familiar, right? ;) And for writers, yes, interesting is synonymous with characters getting hurt. XD But yeah, good to hear this on the Kephi front because, again, I wasn't sure how sensible I could make it in this version.

    Yeah, she's a lot less hostile compared to the original. I've learned a lot more about Annie as a character myself since the original, and since several past reviewers implied that they thought Gregory was some shadow background character of little importance, I was determined to change that as well because that was never my intention.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! You da best. 8D

    Heh, no problem! I'm just glad you were interested enough to come back and read again + review. 8D

    Yeahhh, I'm working on splitting that up before diving into the next chapter. The prologue wasn't meant to be that massive, but, you know, writing never goes according to plan. Ever.

    Nah, that makes sense if it feels slow. I think it's going slow, too, but that's my intention - it's just my task to make it not feel simultaneously boring. It certainly doesn't help that I've gone so long between updates, lmao.

    Chill but firm indeed! I'll be interested to see what you think as he changes throughout the course of the story. I've got plans for him, muahahaha.

    Why, thank you for the comments!
     
  19. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Much too late! Reviews for the next two chapters!

    Chapter Three

    Really emphasizes the tragedy of it all, doesn't it? Annie doesn't trust people because traditionally the people who were supposed to care about her haven't. She can't even trust her own body. In light of that, why not risk everything she's got on the small possibility that her vision was true?

    I think this is my favorite of Annie's random fantasies, heh.

    How old is Gregory? I was thinking he was in his thirties somewhere, but that's a little early for gray hair on most people.

    Annie sure is cranky this chapter, isn't she? It was nice to see an extended scene with her and her mother; you really are playing up the importance of her relationship with her family in this iteration, and this scene is the best so far, I think, at getting across why Annie's relationship with them is so bad. And the way Gregory treats her compared to the other doctors and to her mother shows up very clearly--it makes sense why Annie starts to warm up to him, even though she was quite hostile to him at the start.

    I liked this chapter quite a bit, but I can't really put my finger on why. I'm excited to see Annie get rolling with her journey and how that ends up intersecting with Kyurem, and this chapter is another one where that doesn't happen. It does expand on her relationships with other people, though, and Annie's relationship with her family, in particular, looks like it's going to be more important in this incarnation of the story. I guess this is just a quiet character-building chapter, and I think it came off well. You probably don't want too many more of these before getting into the journey itself, but while this is a slower start than most journeyfics have, I think it works fine here.

    Chapter Four

    This is a neat little insight here: sometimes the best thing about recovering from an illness isn't so much gaining back the ability to do the things you love, but just gaining options, any options, even if they're ones you aren't really interested in.

    Hmm, I wonder why Annie has such strong convictions on this front. Given that that's how the reference books portray things, it's probably common understanding of how things work. So why doesn't Annie agree? In this version at least she tried a journey(s), but it didn't work out, whereas in the last version the family had a deerling that died; I wonder if that has something to do with it.

    A cooler? Do you use magical item-shrinking tech in this 'fic? Because otherwise that's really not going to work out well for Annie. XD

    * I've

    * reports

    This chapter really highlights why Annie gets on so well with Gregory. It seems like he's one of the only people who's willing to listen to her non-judgementally and supports her decisions, rather than having an agenda for her that he's trying to get her to conform to. (Except maybe Renee, but we don't see the two of them interact much.) Makes his larger role in the plot make a little more sense than in the previous version. He's still mysterious, though--hard to know what he's really thinking. I look forward to getting more insight into him later; from what I remember in the previous version, it was kind of implied that he had some kind of sketchy past, which could intersect with Annie's journey in cool ways.

    Looking forward to the next chapter, where presumably Annie will get to meet her starter for the first time. Poor Gregory--he can't have ever met Kephi in person, or he'd never have recommended a venipede with anger issues as emotional support for anyone. More fun for me, though!
     
  20. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    No problem, of course! Glad to see you back. :3

    Indeed. I like to make people suffer. But! I get the impression here that Annie's reasoning for leaving is much more pronounced, because that's the exact logic she follows.

    That was a fun little thing to write, so I'm glad you liked it. XD

    Nope, 30s is right. I had a little bit of gray hair myself starting at age 21, and I know a few other people in the same boat. Genetics, genetics.

    She's usually cranky. *shrugs* XD At any rate, yes, her parents are a huge reason of why she's leaving, so glad to see their uncaring-ness for Annie's issues has come across pretty well.

    I'm trying to get her out the door, I really am. XD There's just so much to cover!

    Thanks! There's not a lot of things Annie really loves, anyway, but she does appreciate the options.

    I was surprised no one had commented on her having gone on a previous journey until now. XD But yeah, it's a mix of that + just another reiteration of how everyone has treated her issues.

    Hmm, I more or less imagined it being a small cooler for a small amount of food to last her between cities. Maybe that still wouldn't work?


    D: Dreaded typos me and my beta both missed.

    Yeah, Annie actively avoids Renee for reasons. There'll be a goodbye conversation between them in the next chapter, then Annie's finally out the door, lmao. And yep, the sketchy past thing will still be in effect here - it was mostly an idea introduced by his unique team of foreign pokemon in the original, which I haven't gotten into yet in favor of other things.

    Lmao. Yep, Kephi's still same cranky, swear-loving, hateful bug, so it'll be fun. ;D Thanks for reading and commenting!
     

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