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The Intangibles [A Ghost Town Side Story]

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by Cutlerine, Oct 25, 2018.

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    You probably don't need to have read Ghost Town to read this, but it might help. It does contain spoilers for parts of that story's ending, though, so if you think you might want to read it in future, maybe give this a miss for now. Content warnings for strong language, depression, anxiety, homophobia, and having the kind of argument with your parents that more or less ends your association with each other. There's probably a more concise way of putting that, but I'm not sure what it is and I felt I should warn for it anyway.

    I conceived of this as a one-shot, but it turned out there was more I wanted to say, so now it's a novella. As such, I've split it up into a few sections for ease of navigation. Here's a table of contents:

    I
    II
    III
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    The Intangibles
    a Ghost Town novella

    I'm nervous, of course. It's not my first time in Goldenrod, but it's close to it, and even just the walk from the station is much more than I'm used to: so many people, so much traffic, cars and bikes and trams all inches from collision at any one time. But I made it, even through that awful trip on the metro where I held up a line of angry Goldenrodders for five minutes while I struggled with my ticket, and now here I am at the Pokémon Centre, back in familiar territory at last. It's comforting: that yellow light spilling through automatic doors, the red-topped desk and colourful chairs in the lobby. They build these the same all over the peninsula. So that kids on their journey always have somewhere like home to come back to.

    Home for me too, for a while: I spent pretty much my last few ducats getting here, staking everything on the fact that Dr Spearing would be able to do something that no one else could. If she can't … well, then I'm going to have to deal with that.

    It's a problem for another time. The receptionist is looking at me around the side of her computer monitor, eyebrow raised.

    “Can I help you?”

    Okay. Moment of truth. I smile hesitantly and take my trainer card from my pocket.

    “Hi,” I say. “I'm … I need to see Dr Spearing.”

    The receptionist nods. High cheekbones, immaculate hair. A little too intimidating for a Pokémon Centre receptionist, I think, but maybe eleven-year-olds don't notice that kind of thing.

    “You have a ghost-type?” she asks. I nod. “Okay,” she says, turning to her computer and tapping at the keyboard. “I can check her availability for you, one moment … Right. How serious is it?”

    I swallow.

    “Pretty bad,” I tell her. “I don't know if … she can't really hold her shape any more. Her hearing's gone, too.”

    Sympathetic smile. Her teeth are very white and even.

    “I'm sorry,” she says. “That does sound bad.” She speaks like someone who really knows what she's talking about; looking past her shoulder, I can see her arbok coiled behind the desk, odd notches in its heavy head and a milky film over its eyes. It's hard not to stare. I don't know what could have torn up its face like that, but it must have been horrific. “Okay. I think I can get you in tomorrow, but it will have to be first thing. Eight o'clock okay?”

    “Fine,” I say. “Any time, I just … need to see her.”

    “Sure.” She looks up from her screen. “Name?”

    “Uh, Morty. Morty Fletcher.”

    “Are you staying with us?”

    “Yeah,” I say, already handing my card over the counter. “Here.”

    “Thank you, Morty.”

    She starts putting in my details, delivering the usual spiel on autopilot: mealtimes, laundry costs, computer room access. I've heard these words so many times now that they have the comforting ring of familiarity, even though the content is less than pleasant. As a kid, I could stay here for weeks, but they don't extend that kind of courtesy to people whose journeys are over; you get five days, if you're still a registered trainer, and then you're on your own.

    She keeps talking. I stare past her without hearing, at the blind arbok with its broken face.

    They saved it, right? Some doctor who knew about giant snakes put its head back together and it slithered on out of that operating theatre and back into its life. So it stands to reason that this doctor who knows about ghosts …

    I'm getting my hopes up, I realise, and try my best to squash them. Ghosts are impossible to treat, right? Weird and incorporeal and mostly immune to medicines. I need to remember that. There are no promises here.

    “Any questions?” asks the receptionist.

    I try to smile.

    “No,” I say. “I'm good, thanks.”

    “Okay. Room 24, then. Second floor.” She smiles back. “Don't worry,” she tells me. “Dr Spearing is the best at what she does.”

    “Sure,” I say. “Thanks.”



    I sit on the narrow Pokémon Centre bed, eyes closed. If I stretch out my left arm as far as I can, my fingertips will just about touch the mirror; if I reach above my head, my hand will be three and a half inches below the beige shade of the ceiling light. I could straighten my leg, and about ten degrees before it reaches horizontal my foot will tap against the far wall.

    I know this room. It's mine. More mine than the bedroom I left behind two months ago, anyway. In a minute I'll take my stuff out of my bag, put it away in the same drawers I did when I lived in this same room back in Azalea; and a couple of weeks after I leave, just when I can't stay out in the wilderness a moment longer, I will return to this room in another town and do it all over again.

    I open my eyes: inoffensive colours, flame-resistant paint. The kind of carpet that can take a pokémon chewing on it.

    It's kind of shitty that this is home, but I guess this isn't the kind of thing you get a choice about.



    At half seven the next morning, I'm already walking down the little glass-walled corridor that connects the Centre to the Royal Westside Hospital. Most Centres have an infirmary wing, but given that Goldenrod's is right next to the beating heart of pokémon medicine in Johto, I guess it made more sense to the planners to simply join the two.

    I'm in a hurry, but I can't stop myself pausing: from up here on the third floor, the city looks strange and new all over again. Smoke streaks on the buildings. Pidgey swaggering around on the rooftops, shoving regular pigeons out of their way with the confidence of pokémon among animals. Below me, the streets are eerily empty: one man with a dog and a growlithe splashing through puddles of last night's rain, barking at each other; one girl in the phone booth across the street, kicking idly at the wall as she speaks.

    It looks so peaceful. Like Mahogany in January, when the snow covers the town and buries everything in gleaming white silence.

    I don't want to think about that. I take Roddy's ball from my pocket, reminding myself why I'm here, and hurry on across the bridge into the hospital.

    I have instructions from the receptionist; apparently I want the Intangibles Clinic, which is all the way over on the other side of the building, tucked away on the fifth floor. She offered me a map, but I was too embarrassed to take it, so I lied and said I had a good head for directions. In the end, I have to ask two other people, first the receptionist at the main desk and then a nurse clearly on his way to a smoke break, and even then it takes me a full fifteen minutes to find my way through the labyrinth of blandly pale corridors to the scuffed green doors of my destination.

    It's different in here: between the deep blue walls and the heavy curtains, it feels like dawn hasn't come yet. What light there is comes from an eclectic mix of lamps scattered across the waiting-room; it looks to me like someone just went around a series of charity shops and picked out every floor lamp going.

    “Hi,” calls someone, seeing me hovering in the doorway. “Come in. Don't mind the dark, it's to keep the ghosts happy.”

    The speaker is a handsome guy in his late twenties, leaning out of a window let into one wall. Warm eyes, bright red hair. That medical professional kind of look on his face, calm and competent.

    “Hey,” he says, as I approach. “First of the day, huh? I guess you must be Morty.”

    “That's right.” I try to smile, to be a personable kind of guy who this man will be nice to, but now that I'm actually here I can't seem to make my face do what I want. It's finally happening. So many weeks of waiting, and now there's nothing left but to sit down and wait to be told whether Roddy is going to die. “I, um, I have an appointment at eight. With Dr Spearing.”

    The man smiles back, with much more success than I had. His name badge reads LORNE.

    “Sure,” he says, scribbling something on a piece of paper. “Everyone's appointment is with Dr Spearing. She's the expert, after all. Have a seat, Morty. I'll let the doctor know you're here.”

    I want to say thank you, but my worry seems to be a solid thing now, climbing up through my throat and blocking my voice with a tangle of spiny legs. I nod instead, gripping Roddy's ball so tight it hurts, and find a seat over by one of the uglier lamps.

    My watch ticks. Across the room, a gastly flows up from behind a painting of a boat and watches me with wide, curious eyes. It changes shape so fluidly, morphing from trickle of gas to smoking orb in just a second, and though I really don't want to be that guy I feel my eyes prickle a little in response. I think the gastly knows; it sticks out its tongue and dives under the clinic door, vanishing away to who knows where.

    7.53. My stomach growls, but I'm not hungry. Haven't even been able to think about food this morning. There will be time to eat later, after I know what it is that's going to happen.

    Click. A speaker somewhere crackles, and I hear a woman's voice, deep and husky: Morty Fletcher, room 1, please.

    Lorne smiles at me as I get up.

    “Good luck,” he says. “I'm sure it will be fine.”

    I wish I had his optimism, his instinctive kindness towards a stranger in pain. I look at him for a moment, trying to respond, then give up and head down the corridor to the first door on the right. It's ajar, but I knock anyway, and get a response:

    “Come in.”

    Her voice has a north Johto burr to it, under the polite veneer of her bedside manner. It makes me even more nervous, in a way – I left that part of the world for a reason – but okay, I'm here, I can't back out now. I push open the door―

    ―and freeze.

    Dr Spearing looks up from her desk, her hair swirling around her head in muddy purple curls.

    “Hello,” she says, smiling. Her mouth and eyes are full of green light, like windows onto some otherworldly furnace. “Please take a seat.”

    I knew she was dead, of course. She's practically a legend in Mahogany: the kid genius who won a full scholarship to study medicine in Saffron, got killed on her way home one Christmas and then came back from the dead to invent a methodology for treating ghost-types. Except that as much as people talk about her achievements, as much as she is an emblem of small-town pride, she never comes home, and nobody really seems to want her to.

    So yes, I knew what I was going to see when I walked in here. I've seen her photo in the Mahogany Courier a thousand times. But even so, it's impossible not to stare.

    “Sorry,” I mumble. “I, uh …”

    “It's all right,” she adds, looking faintly amused. “You'd be surprised how many people aren't expecting it. Have a seat.”

    I sit, still staring. I have some experience with ghost-types, of course, but not with the kind that used to be people. Spearing is tall and bulky and eerily ageless, made up of purple fog that curls off her skin in thin, smoky wisps, and though I know I should be making an effort, that she's probably sick to death of seeing fear in people's eyes, it is very hard not to be intimidated right now.

    “Now,” she says, swivelling her chair to face mine. “Before I begin, I should introduce my colleagues Audrey and Horne here.”

    I didn't even notice, but she's right, we're not alone: there's a younger woman sitting in the corner, a notebook and pen in her hands and a misdreavus hovering by her shoulder. The misdreavus sees me looking and pulls a face, his eyes glowing a brighter orange for a moment.

    “They're shadowing me today,” explains Spearing. “Is that okay with you?”

    “Um, sure, I guess.”

    “Great.” Spearing clasps her hands together in her lap. “So, Morty. You're here about your partner? A haunter, I heard?”

    “Yeah.” It's harder to raise my hand than it should be. As if Roddy's ball has suddenly turned to lead. “Here. She, um … she's kind of lost her shape. And I don't think she can hear me, either.”

    “Okay.” Spearing holds out one hand. Her wrist and forearm are covered in slashes of the same green light that forms her eyes. I think I might know what this means, but I really hope I'm wrong. “May I see her?”

    I hesitate – I know, I shouldn't, but I do – and then put the ball into her palm. Her fog is surprisingly warm to the touch. Almost like living skin.

    “Thank you.” Spearing turns the ball between her fingers. “What's her name?”

    “Arianrhod. Roddy.”

    She raises her eyebrows.

    “Like the princess, or the assassin?”

    Johto has two famous Arianrhods in its past: a princess from nine centuries ago who ran off with a Kantan knight, and a killer who worked for the Blackthorn dragon clan a hundred and fifty years later. I actually didn't know about either of them back when Roddy and I first met; I just thought it sounded fancy, and she seemed to like it.

    “Both,” I lie. “I guess.”

    “Fair.” That's a touch of Mahogany there. I wonder what she sounds like when not at work. Like my mother, maybe.

    God. Why would you think about that, Morty?

    “Well, let's have a look at her.” A flash of light, and there she is, spilling over the desk in a dark, sludgy puddle: Roddy. My haunter, though you'd never know it to look at her any more. “Hm,” says Spearing, leaning over her. “Okay.” She motions in Audrey's direction. “Separation. Quite advanced. Look here …” I turn away sharply: her fingers are in the puddle now, probing through Roddy like a crow poking at roadkill. Makes my stomach turn. “Crystallisation. Bits of something else, too. I'll need to get these under a microscope, but they give us something to go on in terms of her genre.”

    I can't decide whether all this jargon makes me feel better or worse. She clearly knows what she's doing, which I guess should be a comfort – but there's something awful about being confronted with the depth of my own ignorance like this. How did I think we were going to make it on our own? I don't even know what a bloody genre is.

    Roddy moves slightly, lapping at Spearing's fingers. I'm still not looking, but I can hear it: that gentle liquid sound, like a pool of water just barely disturbed.

    “Okay,” says Spearing, and I force myself to look at her again. Her hands are back in her lap; on the desk, Roddy slithers back and forth, white grains moving around inside her without ever quite forming an eye. “Your partner has separated, Morty. Something has gone wrong with the force that holds her together, and the physical components of her body have split apart from each other. It's not uncommon among ghosts, and though it looks dramatic it's quite an easy symptom to treat – but it can have any number of underlying causes, and unless I can determine what the root of the issue is, I'm afraid that it's very likely to happen again.”

    Easy to treat. I heard easy to treat in there somewhere. That's good. Less encouraging is the bit about it happening again. I know she's not threatening me, just explaining, but it's so hard to take it that way.

    “Okay,” I say. “Um … so she's going to be all right?”

    “Almost certainly.” She's got that same medical professional face as Lorne, although in her case the fact that her hair keeps crawling around on her skull kind of detracts from the soothing effect. “Your partner's physical form is by far the smallest part of her, Morty. Ghosts are mostly made of emotion. Which is to say that a sufficiently passionate ghost can come back from anything.” Brief pause. “Are you and Roddy close?”

    The day they figured it out. I'd left my instant messages open, but I'm sure I locked the computer; I guess Dad must have been using the admin account to monitor what I was doing. Or maybe there was some other clue, some mistake I made. But that day when we fought, and as our voices rose Roddy exploded into the space between us, making herself huge and dark with borrowed shadows, and almost glassed Mum's meganium when he tried to intervene.

    They only let me keep her after my journey on the condition I teach her to obey them, too. And she did, for all those years, until she had to pick a side and chose me without a second thought.

    “Yeah,” I say. It sounds so dumb, divorced from all the memories, but I think Spearing gets it.

    “Then she'll probably be fine,” she tells me. “If she cares, she will come back for you.”

    An uncomfortable kind of silence, lying thick in my throat and sinuses. I really hope Spearing and Audrey can't tell how close to tears I am.

    “Um,” I say, swallowing hard. “Okay. Okay, that's … good to know.”

    Spearing smiles in a way that makes me think she deals with a lot of kids.

    “I hoped it might be,” she says. “If it's all right with you, I'd like to keep Roddy here a while and run some tests.”

    “Uh, sure, if that'll help.”

    “It will. I do need to ask you a few more questions, though. That okay?”

    Yes, anything. She asks if I know what genre Roddy is, and when I say no explains what that means; apparently ghosts are too weird and idiosyncratic to form species, but they can at least be sorted into rough groups. Have I battled with Roddy? Yes: all the time; I've started again recently. She raises her eyebrows, asks me if that's a hobby or what.

    There's something strange about the way she asks it. I pretend not to notice, just tell her yeah, it is, maybe I'll enter a tournament, and though she gives me a look, all she says is okay, well, you must be familiar with her typing and capabilities then.

    The questions get more technical and less suspicious: much easier to answer. I think Spearing has something in mind, because after a couple more (where did you two partner? is she good at taking electric-type moves?) she turns to Audrey and asks for her opinion; Audrey looks startled, but suggests that maybe Roddy's in the eleventh or thirteenth genres. Spearing nods, pleased, and says that's her read too. Partly expressed ground typing, she says. Better simulate the elemental interactions before running any tests. Now, how would you describe her health in general? When did you start noticing these symptoms?

    Nothing dangerous here. I keep talking, easing my way past my fears, and Spearing nods and writes everything down as if every word matters. Hell, maybe it does.

    “All right,” she says, when I'm done. “Thank you, Morty. That's very helpful.” She recalls Roddy and straightens up in her chair. “Do you have any questions of your own?”

    Only one. I hesitate, not wanting to commit the weight of it to my tongue, but it's Roddy, it's all I have left, and so in the end I have to ask:

    “Is she gonna die?”

    Spearing shakes her head.

    “No,” she says. “That's a very remote possibility. As I said, we can treat the symptoms. Once I have the preliminary test results, recoagulating her will be a half hour job, and after that I'd like to run a couple more tests – but if I'm right, she'll just need a few days of therapy and some time to convalesce. I can't say how long it will take to find the underlying cause, but I promise you that we will find it.”

    She's confident. I wish I could share in that.

    “Okay?” she asks, when I don't respond.

    “Okay,” I murmur. “Okay.”

    “Good,” says Spearing. “Good. I'll take her down to the lab now, and we can get started right away. Come on, I'll walk you out.”

    She stands. Audrey starts to as well, Horne floating up towards head height, but Spearing motions for her to stay sitting.

    “Just a moment,” she says. “I want your opinion on something in a minute.”

    “Oh,” says Audrey, looking slightly worried. “Sure, Tacoma. Dr Spearing. Sorry.”

    Spearing waves her apology aside, and I follow her out into the dim light of the hall.

    “As I said, she'll have to stay here a while,” she tells me, as she shuts the door behind us. “At least a week or two. You have somewhere to stay in town while you wait?”

    I know then, of course. I'm not surprised. Something about her burning eyes makes me think she can see right through me.

    That's not to say I'm not afraid, though.

    “Yeah,” I tell her. “I'm at the Pokémon Centre. But, uh, this isn't my journey, so …”

    “Ah. Only five days?” She shakes her head. “All that money on move R&D, and the League still can't spare anything for older trainers … doesn't matter. I'll page the Centre. You can stay there as long as it takes.”

    A place to stay. An actual place to stay, for more than the next few days. And one meal a day, laundry, healthcare …

    I can't believe it. It must be visible on my face, too, because Spearing grins and says:

    “Yes, really.”

    “Thank you,” I say. The words sound so inadequate, so stupid in my mouth, but like before, Spearing seems to understand.

    “Great. I'll have Lorne send any updates over there.” We're at the waiting room. She stops in the entrance, unaware or careless of the guy sitting across the room and staring at her over his magazine, and gives me a serious look. “The results will come back late today or early tomorrow,” she says, “but you can get the receptionist at the Centre to call the clinic if you have any more questions, all right? Or if you … need anything.”

    She looks slightly uncomfortable, which means … I don't know what it means. It means something, for sure.

    What is she offering me here? Not medical advice, that much I'm certain of. And maybe I'm in a position where I can't turn it down, whatever it is – but she's a stranger, and she's spooky, and she's north Johto. So.

    “Right,” I say. Can't quite keep the wariness out of my voice. “Thanks.”

    She pauses a moment longer, as if expecting more, but if she is then she's out of luck: that's all she's getting.

    “Okay,” she says, reaching vaguely towards her face and then seeming to think better of it. “Well, I'd better get Roddy down to the lab. Bye, Morty. And try not to worry.”

    She turns around and glides away, barely touching the ground. I stare obviously, rudely, and then glance around, feeling guilty. Both Lorne and the guy with the magazine are watching.

    “Mm,” I say, not quite succeeding in my attempt to be nonchalant, and head back to the Centre with bowed head and burning cheeks.



    Lunch is the one meal a day I get for free here, as a trainer on the road but no longer officially on my journey. It's okay. I still don't have much of an appetite. But I'm here, I need to make the most of it, and so I force myself through the nauseating smell of food and into the canteen. I get a bacon sandwich, which seems like the least depressing thing on the menu, and sweep some bread and apples into my bag for later. I checked with the receptionist, and apparently Spearing did extend my stay, but I guess she couldn't get me any more meal credits.

    I take my haul to a corner, where I hope my age and sour expression will insulate me from the kids. It's October, and a lot of kids on their journey must be starting to think about breaking for winter, but summer lingers here by the coast and the Centre is still heaving with eleven-year-olds and their partners. I don't even know if I've seen a single other person my own age here. There was one punk girl who must be a few years older than me coming out of the bathroom last night, but even if I wanted to speak to her (and I really don't) she's much too intimidating to approach.

    After a while, you don't really notice the noise. I've spent a lot of time in Centres, over the past two months; forks on plates, excited voices, barking and whining and scratching, have all faded into one dull hum at the back of my head. I pick at my sandwich in silence, worrying about Roddy and about what Spearing will do with her suspicions, until a shadow enters the corner of my vision and I look up with a kind of annoyed relief.

    “Hi,” says the guy from the waiting room. “This seat taken?”

    There is very obviously no one at this table but me.

    “No,” I say.

    “Mind if I join you?” he asks.

    I sigh.

    “I guess not,” I reply, trying hard to communicate in every way but verbal that I do, and watch him sit down.

    Longish hair swept neatly back from his face. Nice clothes. A light smattering of acne over one cheekbone. He looks – and speaks – like someone who doesn't spend a lot of time in hostels like these.

    “I'm Eusine,” he says.

    “Eusine?” I ask, despite myself. It's a hard name to ignore, no matter how much you want to be left alone to brood.

    “I know,” he sighs. “But my sister's called Hypatia, so I figure I got off lightly.”

    “Hypatia,” I repeat. “Wow. I'm, uh … Morty.”

    Eusine pauses, fork halfway to his mouth.

    “As in, short for Mortimer?”

    “Yes. Technically.”

    A serious nod.

    “You know the burden, then,” he says, voice dripping melodrama. “I got the dumbest name in Kanto and you got …”

    He trails off, realising what he's about to say.

    “The dumbest name in Johto?” I finish for him. “Thanks.”

    “Crap. Didn't mean that.” He scratches nervously at his acne. “Uh, okay, let me take another run at that one. I saw you at the clinic and thought I'd say hi. You're in town 'cause of your partner?”

    “Yep.”

    “Cool. Or not cool, I guess, I'm sorry. But, uh, me too. My gastly, he's got all slow? Like he's in a video playing at half speed while the world is normal.”

    I don't even know what to say to that. It sounds like a joke, but ghosts are weird, and one thing I'm learning today is that despite almost six years of partnership I don't know a goddamn thing about them.

    “Sorry,” I say. “My haunter is … I don't know. Dr Spearing says she's separated, which I guess is the medical term for turning into a pile of gloop.”

    I didn't mean to sound so bitter. Or maybe I did; maybe I want this guy to shut up and sod off. Leave me to worry in peace.

    “Sorry,” he says, eyes wide. I think he means it. “Sounds rough.”

    I shrug. I honestly do not want to talk about it, even if it's all I can think of. Makes me feel stupid, almost as much as it frightens me. I should have found more partners when it became clear was how I'd get by. But what would I have fed them? The only reason I could take Roddy was because she can spook people and eat their fear.

    “Dr Spearing knows her stuff, though,” Eusine persists. “I guess both our partners will be okay.”

    “Yeah,” I say. “I hope so.”

    I force down a bite of my sandwich. He spears a piece of sweet potato and pops it in his mouth.

    “She's something though, huh. I heard she was … well, what she is. But I guess I still wasn't really expecting it, you know?”

    “She's from my hometown,” I answer, without thinking. “So―”

    I cut myself off, wishing I hadn't spoken. That just invites a follow-up question – and sure enough, here it comes:

    “Oh, cool,” says Eusine. “You know her, then?”

    “No, I just …” I sigh. “Where are you from?”

    “Celadon.”

    A big Kantan city. Not Goldenrod or Saffron big, but still a city, so I guess he wouldn't know.

    “Maybe this doesn't make sense to you,” I say. “But I'm from Mahogany, and literally the only two people from there who anyone has ever heard of are her and Pryce Aske, so. She's kind of a big deal back home.”

    I say home as if that's what it is. Eusine, for his part, looks at me like he believes it.

    “Right,” he says. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense. You ever met her before, or …?”

    “No. She left town a long time ago. Lots of us do.”

    “Us?” he asks. “You don't live there any more?”

    Goddamn it, Morty. Try thinking before you speak, why don't you?

    “No, I do,” I lie. “I'm just here 'cause of Dr Spearing.”

    “By yourself?” God, he's persistent.

    “Yep. Just me.”

    “Right,” he says again. “Right.”

    A pause. I think he might have finally run out of questions to ask. I give him two seconds, stretching my patience to its limit, then make my escape.

    “Well, nice talking to you,” I tell him, standing up and grabbing my tray. “Bye, Eusine.”

    “Oh,” he says, looking at my unfinished sandwich. “Um … yeah. I guess I'll see you around? Like here, and at the clinic.”

    “Yeah,” I reply. “Sure.”

    I walk out, past the noisy rows of kids and squabbling pokémon, and I can feel Eusine's eyes on my back every step of the way.



    Tonight I have the nightmare again, the one where it goes wrong. Where he didn't just threaten to hit me but he did, and Roddy flew into his face the way she is forbidden to do to anyone, and he breathed her in and fell down on the floor, clutching at his throat.

    It's not a nightmare because he gets hurt. It's a nightmare because as I look at him writhing on the carpet, my mother's voice fading in my ears, I don't feel anything but satisfaction.



    I wake early, and take some coffee to an armchair in the corner of the lounge, where I sit with my Game Boy and try to look unfriendly. It seems to work; those kids who have nothing better to do than hang out here at the Centre – tired from travel or waiting for their partners to come back from the infirmary – give me a wide berth.

    On the screen, my pixellated little knights and clerics have their health bars sliced away by rogues and their sneasel, over and over. I'm much too worried to concentrate, although I guess it doesn't really matter. Since I left home― no, let's call it what it is: since I ran away, I've spent a lot of time hanging out in Pokémon Centres near plug sockets, and I've beaten this game three times already.

    When are they going to call? I should have asked Spearing, but I just didn't think. (Story of my life.) Since Azalea, getting Roddy to the ghost clinic has been the only thing in the world; I never really thought about what might happen once we actually made it here.

    On the wall, the hands of the clock click around in anxious circles. The lounge fills up, empties out. Someone's marill comes over to tug curiously on my Game Boy's charging cable; before I can react, his partner is right there to drag him away, red-faced and apologetic. I smile at her – I was a nervous kid on a journey too, once – but she just runs off back to her friends.

    I kill a wizard and a sigilyph. (Creighton's Vow of Silence combined with Sarissa's Pike Charge beats all magic users before the endgame; I can do that even on autopilot.) I make another cup of coffee. (Too much milk and sugar; I keep adding spoonfuls just because my hands need to be busy.) I think about going for a walk, but then worry I might miss a call and settle myself more firmly in my chair.

    And finally, just as my stomach starts me thinking about how to time my lunch so I miss Eusine, I hear a familiar voice crackle from the tannoy:

    “Morty Fletcher? Message from the clinic for you.”

    I jump up, scaring a pair of zubat drinking in the sounds above the radio, and head out to the lobby, where the receptionist from yesterday is back on duty at the desk.

    “Hi,” she says. This time I get her name: TAMIKO, winking at me from the badge on her lapel. “I've got good news for you. Lorne from the Intangibles Clinic says your haunter is awake―”

    “Can I see her?” The words are out before I've even realised I'm speaking. “Sorry,” I say. “Didn't mean to …”

    She smiles her perfect, picket-fence smile.

    “It's fine,” she says. “I know I was like that when Makoto woke up after her operation.”

    Behind her, the arbok uncoils, turning her sightless head towards her partner with unerring accuracy. I don't really know how smart snakes are, but she seems to know her name.

    “Anyway.” Tamiko gestures at her computer screen. “Dr Spearing actually wants to know if you can come over and see her right away. I think she – um, your haunter, I mean – is a little scared and confused, and she'd appreciate a friendly face.”

    “Okay,” I say, legs already itching with the urge to be away. “Okay, thanks so much, I―”

    “Go on, Morty,” says Tamiko, looking amused. “No need to be polite.”

    I'm too impatient even to blush; by the time she's finished speaking, I'm already halfway over to the stairs.

    “I told you!” she calls after me. “Dr Spearing is the best!”

    I guess she is, but I don't have the spare breath to agree.



    I arrive breathless with anticipation, and also with having run as much of the way as I could manage without getting glared at too much by passing medical technicians. The clinic is as dimly lit as ever, though much more crowded; I guess there aren't a lot of options for sick ghosts. I do my best not to look at anyone waiting, feeling guilty about the fact that my partner is recovering while theirs aren't, and follow Lorne's directions down the corridor, past the consulting rooms and through the doors at the end into a long, dark room filled with the kind of creepy noises that can only mean ghosts.

    I stand there, momentum arrested with the need to adjust my eyes, and then out of nowhere a vivid orange glare leaps into my face.

    “Uumuluuoo,” burbles Horne, in that weird can't-quite-manage-words ghost way. “Ubulumuuu.”

    “What my partner means to say,” says Audrey, stepping from somewhere to beckon him away from me, “is that Roddy's right over here.” She smiles. “Hello, Morty.”

    “Mm,” I reply. It's about all I can manage; I'm still trying to get my heart to slow down. Bloody ghosts. Roddy hasn't tried to scare me for years now, but it took her eight very long months among humans to kick the habit. “Um … thank you.”

    “No problem. This way.”

    We walk down the ward – if that's what it is. I still can't see more than vague outlines, though I can hear gibbering and babbling and people talking in low voices. Kind of disorienting. Every step I take, I'm half afraid I'm going to hit my head on something.

    “Ah. Morty.”

    The dark heaves, swirls, and opens a pair of burning green eyes. Spearing fades into existence around them, and in her arms―

    “Roddy!”

    She bursts out of Spearing's hands in one long fluid movement, reaching out for me with her long, sharp fingers. She can't touch me – she's one of those haunter who are too corrosive for that – but she brushes her hands up and down my sleeves, body flying round and round my head.

    “Mollolloy,” she whispers. Her voice is weak and hoarse, barely even audible. “Mollolloh, lolloh, loy.”

    “Yeah,” I say, resisting the urge to stroke her. “Yeah, it's me, it's Morty.”

    “Mollolloy.” Roddy twitches suddenly, one of her hands collapsing into a cloud of dust; she hisses, pulls it back together and pats my shoulder. I smell scorched fabric, but it's fine. She ruined this jacket a long time ago.

    “As you can see, she's not quite back to usual,” says Spearing. “But that was as much as I could do without you.”

    I look up from Roddy into her glowing eyes.

    “Without me?”

    “Yes. Remember I told you that ghosts are mostly emotion? In partnered ghosts, quite a lot of that emotion is attachment to their human.” Spearing gestures at her, still bobbing around me like she can't believe I'm here. “The more she sees of you, the stronger she'll be, and the better able to recover.” She claps her hands together. “Speaking of which, I can now offer you a diagnosis. Have you heard of an epistemic allergic reaction?”

    “No. Is that what it is?”

    “Yes, I think so. I'm waiting on some more results to determine the specifics, but based on preliminary testing, I suspect Roddy has had an extreme allergic reaction to a dream or concept. As for why I called you in …” She smiles. “I just thought the two of you could do with seeing each other, is all.”

    I'm glad it's so dark; I feel like I'm blushing pretty hard right now. Although I suspect Spearing might have the night vision to see it anyway.

    “Um,” I say. “Thanks.”

    “Sure. I'm sorry to appear so suddenly, by the way. She was very scared when she woke up and couldn't find you; I had to take her into the shadows to calm her down. I think she thought you might be in trouble.”

    There is just the faintest hint of a question in her voice.

    “Yeah,” I say, looking at Roddy rather than her. “She worries.”

    Understatement of the century. Since my little disagreement with my parents, Roddy has been even more vigilant than usual, looking for trouble in every face we pass. I've tried to explain to her that there was a very specific reason that Mum and Dad turned on me, that she doesn't need to worry about everyone, but of course she doesn't get it. Haunter find us as difficult to understand as we do them.

    Spearing nods slowly.

    “Of course,” she says. “Ghosts can be very protective.”

    I don't think this is the statement that it pretends to be.

    “Yep,” I reply. “Sure can.”

    Pause. Audrey twists her fingers anxiously around each other and slips away, muttering something about another patient.

    Roddy draws her scattered hands back towards her body, curling her fingers into claws. She can feel it in the air too, even if she doesn't know what it is.

    “Roddy,” I say, pulling my sleeve over my hand and tapping her gently. “Don't strain yourself. Sorry,” I add, to Spearing. “Like I said. She worries.”

    Her smile is one hundred per cent fake.

    “Of course,” she says. “Do you have any other questions about her condition, while I'm here?”

    “Uh. Yeah. You said she had an allergic reaction?”

    “Yes, although that's not what the problem is.” She gestures at what I think is a chair. “Would you like to sit down?”

    “Are you about to give me really bad news?”

    She laughs.

    “No,” she says. “Just being polite. Here.”

    We sit, Spearing moving with confidence and me feeling around gingerly with outstretched hands. Roddy flows over with us, sticking close to my shoulder. When I first caught her, she used to be jealous of my pidgey, Vance, who rode around on my shoulder; after my journey ended and most of my partners went back to their old lives with their newfound strength, Roddy took up his spot with pleasure. Or as close as she could get without being dangerously close to my head, anyway.

    I never even realised how much I missed this. It's been two weeks. Two weeks of carrying her around as a puddle in a ball, desperately hiking my way north towards Goldenrod and its vaunted ghost doctor. It seems like nothing now, but at the time it went on forever.

    “So,” says Spearing, leaning forward in her chair. “As far as I can tell, a month or two ago, Roddy encountered an idea that reacted badly with her emotional substrate. This in itself wasn't enough to hurt her – there wouldn't have been any symptoms at the time. But some time after that, she must have picked up a minor illness – the ghost equivalent of a light cold, something that ordinarily she would have barely even noticed – and, with her essence still weak, it destabilised her to the point of separation. Are you with me so far?”

    Yes. Yes, I'm with her, and I know exactly what it was that Roddy reacted to.

    It's my fault. Just like everything else. It's my fault, and maybe I didn't mean to do it but that doesn't mean I wasn't the cause, and now Roddy's in hospital.

    “Yeah,” I say, “I'm with you.” Concentrate. Got to get the important details here. Nobody else will get them for me. “So she's … she's going to be all right, isn't she?”

    “Of course,” replies Spearing, and my heart lifts at the conviction in her voice: this is someone who means what she says, who doesn't just believe but knows that things are going to work out okay. “If I'm right, she just needs a couple of weeks to recover. I'd like to keep her here a while longer, though, to be sure that she's not going to relapse.”

    I can't tell if she means this, or if she's lying so that I can keep staying at the Centre. It's not something I feel much like questioning right now.

    “Okay,” I say. “Okay, great.” What else? Got to be more. Can't just sit here looking like some dumb kid, even if that's exactly what I am. “Um … So you're waiting on tests, right?”

    “Yes. I should be able to tell you more soon – tomorrow at the latest. Anything else?”

    I shake my head no. I feel like I should have more to say, but I just don't.

    “All right,” says Spearing, leaning back a little in her chair. “Now, I have some other patients I need to attend to, but you're welcome to stay as long as you like; just let someone know when you're leaving, and we'll help you explain to Roddy that she has to stay.” She stands up, or more accurately she sort of flows upwards out of her chair, trailing parts of herself behind her. “I'll leave you two alone,” she says. “You can draw the curtain if you'd like some privacy. The cord is there; I know it's hard to see in the dark.”

    I hadn't even realised there was a curtain. Maybe this is more like a hospital ward than I thought.

    “Okay,” I say, like a broken record. “Thanks.”

    “Not at all,” replies Spearing. “I'm glad we were able to help. Let someone know if you need anything.”

    She leaves. For a moment I stare after her, trying to tell if she walked off or straight-up vanished, but it's impossible to be sure. I give up, turn back to Roddy instead.

    “Hey,” I say. She bobs up and down, staring into my face like she could eat me with her eyes.

    “Lallyuh,” she hisses, gripping my sleeve as tight as she dares.

    “Yeah,” I answer, a warmth spreading through my chest. “Me too.”



    It takes a long time for me to be able to see the room properly; this is a place designed for ghosts, not for humans. When I do, I see it's both much smaller and much busier than I imagined: maybe twenty padded tables like they have in Centre infirmaries, most occupied. Gastly, haunter, a mismagius or two, several puddles connected to strange machines. A lone dusknoir, slumped with a horrible kind of solidity across its table, arm hanging off the edge. Nurses moving around, spectral partners making the dark quaver at their side.

    I watch people come and go, talking to their partners, doing things I can't understand. Audrey and a doctor draw a curtain around a gastly and its partner, and lights begin to pulse irregularly through the fabric. Spearing takes a haunter that won't stop screaming in her arms and the two of them dissolve into silence.

    None of it makes any sense, but somehow it's comforting anyway. I need it. Roddy is back, yes, but bits of her keep disintegrating, her eye or hand or mouth collapsing into airborne dust before reforming a moment later. I think the effort of holding together is wearing on her. After that first joyous burst of energy runs out, she sinks down onto the table at my side in a pool of herself, eyes closed.

    She keeps hold of my sleeve, though. Letting me know she's okay.

    I tell her about the Centre, about hiking up here through Ilex Forest and over the huge, windswept plains of southern Goldenweal. I look at the ghosts flying overhead, carrying strange devices that look half machine and half magic. I listen to the quiet, ordinary chaos of the ward.

    Roddy doesn't answer me when I speak. I keep talking anyway.



    I can't stay forever. I need to eat, for one thing. I also need air; I've spent enough time with Roddy that I don't mind the close, dark spaces she loves, but I'm still human, and sometimes a human needs light and space. I tell her I will be back, which wakes her up enough to babble some kind of argument with me, and head on out.

    Even the gloom of the waiting room is blinding. I linger for a moment in the doorway, dreading the electric light of the corridor outside, and while I'm there I hear someone call my name.

    “Hey, Morty!”

    Well, shit.

    “Eusine,” I say, turning around. “Hi.”

    “Hi.” He smiles. It's a very nice smile, which might be why it annoys me so much. “Heading out for lunch?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Same. I'll go back to the Centre with you.”

    “Oh,” I begin, meaning to say no, I'm going out, but a moment later I remember the whole 'completely broke' thing. “Oh, cool,” I finish instead. “Okay.”

    Out we go, into the brightness of the corridor. We both pause, stunned by the light, and then as one start walking towards the bridge over to the Centre, pretending that our eyes don't hurt.

    “How's your haunter?” he asks.

    I do feel a little bad then. He remembers. People don't remember unless they care.

    “She's okay, I think,” I reply. “Tired. Mostly back in her usual shape, though. Dr Spearing says she'll be okay, but they're doing more tests.” Come on, Morty. Reciprocate. “What about your gastly?”

    “Still slowed down.” He starts chewing the edge of his thumbnail, apparently without realising. “Dr Spearing says he'll get better, but it's going to take a while. There's this weird black drowzee? From Bulgaria, I think she said it was. It's doing hypnotherapy with him and he's terrified of it.”

    “Oh.” His case just seems to get weirder and weirder. “Uh … sorry?”

    Eusine shrugs.

    “Think he's getting used to it. I mean, he better, he's got to stay here a couple of weeks.”

    He sounds like it's an imposition. Like he has a home he wants to get back to.

    “Same with Roddy,” I say, trying to ignore it. “At least it's right next to the Centre.”

    “Yeah.” He sighs. “Not really what I had in mind for my trainer journey, though.”

    “What? You're still on your journey?”

    “Yep.” We go around the corner, part temporarily to allow a woman in a wheelchair to pass with her ponyta. “I know, I'm late to the party, but Kanto was weird five years ago. Those Team Brume guys and that poison fog?”

    I nod. They didn't really cross the border at all – why would they? There's nothing here, even for the likes of them – but Kantan news tends to be Johtonian news too.

    “And then, you know, I had school, there wasn't really a good time … anyway, we all figured I'd better do it now before I ended up putting it off forever. Grandpa's idea to come to Johto. Money goes further here.”

    “Right.” Keeping my voice neutral. “How's it going?”

    “It isn't, yet. I got off the train from Saffron last week.”

    Last week. Wow. Imagine that: start your trainer journey and immediately have your partner fall sick. If that had happened to me back when I was eleven, that would have pretty much destroyed me.

    “Oh, man,” I say. “Sorry. Rough start.”

    “It's fine.” He scowls. “Wait. No. It's not fine, but … but you know what I mean.”

    I find myself laughing, though not in a way that sounds very happy.

    “Yeah,” I reply. “I do.”

    Eusine gives me a sidelong look, something sharp revealing itself for an instant beneath his hapless good humour. For some reason I think of a dagger glimpsed momentarily beneath the sweep of a velvet cape, and have to suppress a shiver.

    “Yeah?” he asks.

    “Yeah,” I say.

    He doesn't ask anything else.

    This suits me just fine.
     
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    ***​

    I can't sleep. I toss and turn almost all night, have a weird half-awake dream about being strapped to one of the tables at the Intangibles Clinic while ghosts shine lights in my eyes and ask incomprehensible burbling questions, and end up slipping downstairs at six, unable to bear my room a single second longer. In the lobby, the night receptionist is reading a taped-together paperback, his sentret keeping watch on the desktop. When it sees me, it squeaks and pulls on his sleeve.

    He looks up, says hi. I murmur something inadequate and half run out the doors into the thinning night.

    It's cold out. For a moment I wonder if I should go back and get my jacket, but I can't go back in now, not after that, and so I just start walking instead. The light is blue and unfriendly, but I can see the glow of sunrise over the tops of the buildings, and for no reason other than that it seems like it might be slightly nicer I start heading west towards it, working my way through the deserted streets.

    I always thought Goldenrod never slept, but maybe I'm thinking of Saffron. There are just a couple of other people around: someone in a fluorescent jacket picking up trash, a woman in an unfamiliar uniform hurrying off with a pair of jumpluff drifting after her, speckling the air with falling fuzz. Grass-types in autumn. Bet they shed everywhere this time of year.

    Trees up ahead, branches winding through iron railings. A park. Maybe locked up, this early in the day, but maybe not, and if I can get somewhere more open I might be able to find that sunlight. I cross the road and follow the railings along to a gate and a sign: Silvermoor Gardens.

    It's a nice park, as parks go. I can't name any of the plants, but they are huge and dark and glossy, like an old meganium whose skin is on the verge of hardening into bark with age. They crowd out the city as soon as I'm far enough down the path that I can't see through the gate, the distant traffic fading away beneath the deadening wall of leaves.

    The weirdness of the dream is starting to leave me, dissolving in the chilly air. I feel like such a hick, fleeing the big city for the comfort of trees, but I guess there's only so far you can run before home starts to catch up with you.

    I follow the path around a stand of birches, into an open green sloping down towards a pond. There's a little island in the middle with a statue of an ampharos, but I don't know what it commemorates and it's too far for me to read the inscription.

    “Guess I'm not the only early riser in Goldenrod.”

    I jump, turn sharply to see a familiar purple figure sitting on a park bench, smoking a cigarette and watching me with interest.

    “Oh,” I say. “Um. Hi, Dr Spearing.”

    She makes a face. Something in her chest flickers with a faint light, and I see for the first time that there's some kind of shattered stone floating inside her, in the space where a live woman's heart would be.

    “Name's Tacoma,” she tells me. Her voice is all Mahogany now, without a trace of her professional bedside manner. “How're you, kid?”

    “Okay, I guess. Couldn't sleep.”

    “Mm. Me either.” Spearing – Tacoma – slips sideways along the bench without actually moving. “Here, have a seat.”

    I hesitate – this feels kind of weird – then sit down. She transfers her cigarette to her other hand, keeping the smoke politely away from me.

    “I'd offer you one,” she says, catching me looking, “but I feel like that wouldn't reflect well on me as a doctor.”

    “I don't,” I tell her.

    “Probably for the best. Bad habit. Not that it matters for me.” She chuckles, to let me know it's a joke. “Keep it to yourself though, eh? My partner's trying to quit, and I'm meant to be giving up too in, uh … the spirit of solidarity, I guess.” A rueful glance at her cigarette. “I'm not doing so great at that.”

    I frown.

    “Your partner?”

    “Huh? Oh.” She shakes her head. “Not my partner partner, she died years ago. My – well, I'd call her my wife if it was legal, but it turns out you can't marry the dead. Or other women.”

    Ah. I think I just figured out why she doesn't come home any more.

    Is what I'm feeling now relief? I don't know. It's like a waterfall rushing in reverse from the soles of my feet right up through my body to pound on the roof of my skull, something deep and important and completely beyond my ability to name. I want to know how I didn't realise it before – how it could have escaped me for so long that other people must have run away from Mahogany before, just like I did. That they would be out here in the world, waiting for me to find them and ask―

    Dimly, through the roaring of the rising water, I become aware that I am speaking.

    “Right,” I'm saying. “Yeah. That's … yeah.”

    Hearing myself makes me die a little inside. What I want to say is that I'm from Mahogany too, that I share something with Dr Tacoma Spearing, with this person who escaped out into the world and turned out not just okay but spectacular, but apparently all I can manage is to sound really fucking straight.

    “Sure is,” agrees Tacoma. Can't tell her reaction from her voice. I risk a glance at her face, and am relieved to see her smiling. “It's very yeah.” She takes a quick drag on her cigarette. “How are you enjoying Goldenrod?”

    “What?”

    “You're from Mahogany, aren't you?”

    “O-oh. Um, yeah!” It comes out much too enthusiastic. Now everything is completely weird. “I mean – yes, I am, but, uh, I'm not – I mean I'm not there right now.” I guess the hole isn't big enough yet, because I don't seem to be able to stop digging. “I had to – I mean I came here because of … of Roddy.”

    Tacoma's smile fades. I hope it's not because of what I said. Have I ruined things? Shit, I probably―

    “Ah,” she says. “Is that why you're having trouble sleeping? You really don't need to worry, Morty. She'll be fine.”

    “That's not it,” I say. “Or no, it … it's complicated.”

    She nods like she understands. I suspect she probably does.

    “Yeah,” she says. “I feel you, kid.” A quick tap on her cigarette, ash sloughing away like snowflakes. “How d'you think Goldenrod compares? To Mahogany, I mean.”

    “I don't know.” The question seems like a test, somehow. I wish I knew what answer I could give to make her like me. “It's … big.”

    She laughs.

    “Yeah,” she says. “Sure is. I still get lost from time to time. Jodi – my partner – she never does. I don't know how. She's from Mahogany, same as me. Drags me back there a couple times a year, against my better judgement.”

    “Huh? But I've never …”

    “Seen me there? No. I'd be kinda worried if you had.” She looks out over the pond, at a seagull that's just landed on top of the ampharos statue. “We keep a low profile. You can hide from even the gossips, if you know how. We're, uh. Not exactly welcome there any more.”

    “Oh. Um … sorry?”

    She shakes her head.

    “'S not worth being sorry about. All the best people leave Mahogany anyway. Present company excepted, of course.”

    “Oh, it's fine,” I say quickly. “I've left Mahogany, so …”

    Tacoma raises an eyebrow at me.

    “Yeah? Thought you said you came here because of Roddy?”

    Ah. Crap.

    “I mean yeah,” I say. “That's why I came here, but I … already left Mahogany.”

    Slight frown furrowing her brow. I can see the question forming in her mind: how old are you exactly, Morty? And you're not on your trainer journey? And from there it's just a short hop to the truth, that the only home I currently have is a worn-out tent and a series of identical Pokémon Centre rooms, and I cannot let someone who has any kind of access to Centre records to get hold of enough clues to put all this stuff together. Not even Tacoma, not even if I want to. It's just not worth the risk.

    “I'm moving on as soon as Roddy's better,” I say quickly. “Going to Kanto? To stay with my cousins for a while.”

    The frown deepens.

    “Right,” she says. “I see.”

    We sit there for a moment longer, not looking at each other. Across the water, a pidgey alights on the stone ampharos, tries to shove the seagull out of the way with a weak blast of wind; the gull shrieks, flaps, and drives its beak into the pidgey's neck. It flies away, cooing disconsolately to itself, and the seagull puffs out its chest, proud of having chased off a pokémon with nothing but brute animal force.

    I make up my mind, and get to my feet.

    “I need to go,” I say, although I don't have anywhere to be or even any excuse for leaving. “I'll, um … see you.”

    “Sure.” Tacoma grinds out her cigarette on the arm of the bench. “I guess I should get back too. See Jodi before work.” She raises a hand in a lazy sort of wave. “See you, kid.”

    She flows up onto her feet and walks away down the path, in the opposite direction to the one I came from. As I watch her go, I wonder if her apartment really is that way or if she's just trying to spare me the awkwardness of walking with her.

    I take a deep breath. It tastes of brine and wet leaves.

    “I'm going back to the Centre,” I tell myself, in case it sounds more like a plan aloud than in my head, and leave.



    The Intangibles Clinic starts seeming normal, if you sit in it long enough. By the time visiting hours are done, I've almost stopped noticing the constant stream of ghosts pushing in and out of the walls, or the illusions of tigers that the mismagius two tables down keeps generating to scare off imaginary enemies. Roddy tries to entertain me for a while, but with her control over her own substance so limited right now she can't make weird shapes or spooky faces the way she used to, and she just gets upset at her own incompetence. I turn on my Game Boy to distract her with the shapes and colours, and in the end she spends the afternoon watching me from the table, sometimes reaching out to touch her favourite characters (Sarissa, Leonhart) before remembering that she corrodes plastic and pulling back again apologetically.

    That evening, I return to the Centre and find Tamiko on duty again, checking in a brace of kids. She sends them on their way, then turns to me and asks how it's going. I tell her Roddy's okay, that I'm just waiting on the results of some tests to be sure, and she smiles and tells me she's glad to hear it.

    “Hopefully you'll be able to get back out there soon,” she says. “Make the most of the weather before it gets colder.”

    I smile painfully.

    “Mm,” I say. “I guess people are gonna start heading home soon?”

    “Yes, probably. I've started recommending it, especially to people who have a long way to go. I don't really want Blackthorn kids trying to hike through the mountains in December.” Her hand moves absently back and forth across Makoto's head, tracing the lines of her scars. “You're Mahogany, huh? Are you just here for the hospital, or on a journey, or …?”

    “Just the hospital.” It isn't quite a lie, although I don't exactly feel good about it. “If Roddy's better, I'll hike back, though. Make a trip of it. Assuming it's not too late. The Ecruteak-Mahogany trail is kinda rough in November.”

    “That's the Mount Mortar one, right?” I nod. “Yeah, I remember that.” She boops Makoto on the snout, and gets a leisurely flick of the tongue in response. “I had to rescue this one from a tree. She got up there fine, but was too scared to climb down again, the big baby.”

    If Makoto objects to this account of events, she doesn't show it.

    “Anyway.” Tamiko nods her head at something behind me. “Sorry, Morty, I have to deal with this.”

    I turn to see a girl clutching an unconscious pidgey, looking desperate.

    “Sure,” I say, turning back. “Uh, see you.”

    Tamiko nods.

    “Hi,” she says, as I head into the lounge. “Okay, sweetie, I need you to calm down a moment, I'm paging the doctor now …”

    I let the door close on them and slink back to my armchair. There aren't any kids here this evening; I think they must be eating. That or they're afraid of the punk girl, who is watching the news and massaging her grimer with a gloved hand, making it bubble gently in contentment.

    “… the first Chinese manned spaceflight,” the announcer is saying. “After twenty-one hours and fourteen orbits, the Shenzhou capsule has touched down successfully in northern China. The pilot, Yang Liwei …”

    “Crazy,” says Eusine, making me jump. “I didn't even know there was a Chinese space programme.”

    I look up sharply and see him sitting on the smaller sofa, near my chair. Must have missed him on the way in.

    “Yeah,” I say. “Me either.”

    “Crazy.” He sighs. “So, uh, how's Roddy doing?”

    “The same. Lars?”

    “Yeah, he's the same, too.”

    Pause. The punk girl glances at us for just a moment, then returns her attention to the TV. There are riots somewhere in southern Saffron, apparently. Someone died in police custody and some other people are unhappy about it.

    “Did Tacoma – uh, Dr Spearing – did she have anything else to say about the slowed down thing?” I ask. I feel like I have to say something.

    “Not really. It just takes time, I think.” He glances at me. “Maybe it's all right,” he says. “Goldenrod's a pretty cool place. Kinda like Saffron, except I can't read any signs.”

    “Lazy Kantan,” I say, because this is the joke you make at times like this. “Can't be bothered to learn the old alphabet.”

    “At least the new one doesn't have five different ways to write the letter A,” he fires back. “But yeah, I like it here. The people are cool.”

    “They are?”

    The words are out before I'm even aware what I'm saying. Brilliant, Morty. Way to demonstrate the fact that you've been here several days and talked to a grand total of four different people.

    “Yeah,” he says. “I mean, I can't sit with Lars while he's being treated, the drowzee has to concentrate, so I've been trying to keep busy. Exploring, that kind of thing. You know.”

    I'm finding it increasingly hard to deny the fact that Eusine is much less annoying when I'm not worried out of my skull. Is it just me? Am I the asshole here? I have a horrible feeling I might be.

    “Uh, yeah. Sure.” I hesitate, wondering if I should be encouraging the conversation or making excuses to leave, then take the plunge. “Found anything cool?”

    “Oh, the Museum of Johto? I mean you're from here, you probably know all that stuff already, but I'm an ignorant Kantan asshole, so I found it interesting. My grandpa's from Johto. Tells me the old stories and all that. Part of why I came here was to, y'know, see it all myself.”

    I could mock him for this, honestly, and the temptation is there, but he's already smiling at himself, and now it just feels like it'd make me look like I didn't get it. Self-aware asshole.

    “Looking for Ho-oh, huh?” I ask.

    He laughs and shakes his head.

    “I think you're overestimating my ambition,” he says. “No, dude, it's kinda dumb, I know, but I'm interested in Suicune? If you've heard of that one?”

    I have, of course. Apparently Suicune ran through Mahogany once in 1986; I'm not sure a month goes by without someone bringing it up again.

    “Sure. Think everyone in Johto has, probably.”

    “Right! Sorry, I'm just used to Kanto. Anyway, uh … I guess I just find it really interesting. You know the story, right? These pokémon die in the fire, then Ho-oh brings them back. And then … then Suicune spends the next hundred and fifty years running away.” He locks eyes with me suddenly, gaze intense. I can feel myself starting to go red. “I guess I wonder what kind of creature spends all that time running from the person that made it.”

    There is something about this that I feel to be pointed. But he doesn't know, right? He can't know. There's just no way.

    “Yeah,” I mumble, uncomfortably aware that we have an audience in the punk girl and her grimer. “Never really thought of it that way.”

    “Something must have happened, you know? And I dunno, I just always thought it sounded … lonely.” He laughs suddenly, looks away. “Anyway, it's nothing. Random thought from when I was a kid.”

    “It's okay,” I say. “It's … it's okay.”

    I'm looking at the TV again, at the weatherman saying that it's going to rain for the rest of the week, with all the nonchalance I can muster, but I'm pretty sure it isn't enough to fool him.

    “Hey,” he says. “You all right?”

    “Sure,” I reply, without looking at him. “Fine.”

    Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him opening his mouth, but he doesn't say anything.

    He stays here, though. After five minutes the kids start filtering through from the canteen and the punk girl beats a hasty retreat, but Eusine stays.

    For whatever reason, so do I.

    ***​

    These days are long. I spend as much time as I can in the Intangibles Clinic with Roddy, watching her slowly grow more and more capable of holding her shape. (Not long now. A week, maybe? It's good news, but I can't smile at it.) Tacoma tells me that the tests have proved her initial diagnosis correct, asks if I have any idea what might have triggered the reaction. I really want to tell her, and I think maybe that's why she's even asking, but of course I just shrug and say no, can't imagine what it was.

    Audrey watches us talking like she's trying to figure out what we're not saying, and then, when Tacoma looks up at her, starts and hurries off with Horne.

    Eusine keeps finding me. His gastly is somewhere deeper in the bowels of the clinic, where the weird drowzee can work without being bothered by the ghosts; we pass each other in the corridor, get lunch together. He doesn't mention Suicune again. Instead, he talks about his journey, his home in Celadon, his parents and sister and grandfather. He asks about my family, and I shrug. We're pretty normal, I tell him, and after that he adds family to the list of things he doesn't mention.

    I'm grateful for his shrewdness. Or annoyed by it. It's hard to figure out which.

    Roddy notices, of course. She asks, and I answer, and I may or may not go on talking about Eusine for quite a bit longer than I mean to. And she clasps her hands together and giggles in a way that sets my teeth on edge.

    The weatherman was right. It rains, and rains, and rains. Once or twice I go back to that park in the early morning, half hoping Tacoma will be there and half hoping she won't, but she never is. I guess it makes sense. I don't really know what she's made of, but heavy rain sometimes washes Roddy out of the air; maybe it does the same to her. Or maybe she's just sleeping better.

    The Pokémon Centre empties out, bit by bit: the kids go home for winter, the punk girl's five days are up, partners are discharged from the hospital. One day I go to the canteen for lunch and there's almost no one there; I think to myself that it's going to be hard to avoid Eusine now, and then I realise that at some point in the last eight days, I stopped trying to do that.

    Hey Morty, he calls, from that table in the corner that seems to have become ours. Over here!

    He's smiling his annoyingly handsome smile. I look at it, and hear Dad telling me no son of his will be a fucking queer, and with an effort I smile back and take my tray over to join him.



    The morning after the rain stops, when I'm on my way to see Roddy, Tamiko calls out to me across the lobby.

    “Morty? Do you have a minute?”

    Her tone of voice tells me everything. I think she knows I know, too; I can see the dread and sympathy in her eyes as I come over to the desk.

    “Hey,” I say. “What is it?”

    “I'm not sure how to say this,” she tells me, “but … I just got off the phone with your parents.”

    It's okay. It is. It would not be okay if I wasn't expecting it, but I am, and it is. I think.

    “Right.” It's my voice, but it doesn't sound mine. “I guess they called Azalea first, right?”

    “Ecruteak,” she says. “And then when they said they hadn't seen you, Blackthorn, and after that, here.” Her free hand moves restlessly back and forth over Makoto's head, making her squirm and pull away. “I told them that I needed some proof of identity from them. Which is true, by the way, but I also thought that would let me talk to you first.”

    I nod. The movement feels slow, almost sticky. Like pushing through honey.

    “Thanks. Quick thinking.”

    Tamiko's mouth moves. It's not a smile, just an acknowledgement.

    “How long, Morty?” she asks.

    “Two months. Give or take.”

    She sighs.

    “Camping?” I nod again. “What were you planning to do when it got colder?”

    I haven't felt a lot of this conversation, but I feel that. Once I saw a TV show about these African ants that move through the jungle in a giant swarm, climbing all over animals and even small pokémon and biting them to death, and that's what shame is. What was I planning to do? There's only one answer I can really give.

    “I wasn't.”

    Tamiko sighs again.

    “You're sixteen,” she says. “Legally, I don't have to tell them. But I also can't leave you homeless, Morty.”

    “I know.” Those ants have an incredible bite. Some indigenous people in the area use them as emergency stitches, making them bite down on either side of the wound and then snapping off their bodies so the heads stick in the flesh. Can you imagine? Jaws so strong it's like firing a staple into your skin. “I wasn't expecting them to …”

    Tamiko looks like she wants to hug me, but she just sits there. Probably for the best.

    “This happens more than you'd think,” she tells me. “I don't know what it was that happened between you and your parents, Morty, but sometimes people regret what they say. Two months is more than long enough for―”

    “I can't. Talk to them, I mean. I just …” Hard to breathe. I have to stop a moment, grip the edge of the desk. “I can't,” I manage. “I'm sorry, I can't―”

    “Okay,” she says, and now she is getting up, coming around the counter to get rid of the space between us. “Okay, Morty, I'm not asking you to do that, all right? Just calm down a minute.”

    “Sorry―”

    “It's fine,” she tells me. “Breathe.”

    I breathe. It's a little easier now, a little less like I have an ursaring on my chest and murder ants chewing off my skin.

    “I'm sorry,” I say again. “We, um … things were bad when I left.”

    Slow nod. Some kids bounce out of the stairwell in a sudden excitable racket and head out, trailing a young stantler and a couple of bickering spearow. We lean against the desk and watch them go.

    “Do you want me to make you an appointment with the Centre counsellor?” Tamiko asks.

    I don't even have to think about it.

    “No.”

    “All right, it's your choice. But be aware that the option's there.” She pauses. “Do you want to talk about what we do next?”

    Yes. More than anything. But that's not what comes out of my mouth.

    “No.”

    She doesn't push it. Makoto slithers through the silence between us, notched hood palpating on either side of her neck as she flows up and over the desk. She pauses when she touches my hand, then keeps going, sweeping her head back and forth in search of her partner. Tamiko brushes her fingers along her neck, guiding her towards her hand.

    “I don't know how you feel about snakes,” she says, “but would you like to stroke her?”

    We haven't answered any of the important questions yet. But maybe that's not something we can do right now.

    “Yeah,” I say, and I do, and Makoto freezes for a moment before curling loosely around my wrist and dragging it back down to the desktop. She feels hard and dry and incredibly strong, like the Police Chief's dragonite back in Mahogany.

    “She steals things,” says Tamiko. “I think she wants to steal you.”

    I look up. She isn't smiling.

    “We have to deal with this, Morty,” she says. “But if you need some time to consider what you want to do now, that's fine. I'm here till five thirty, and I'll be back in at nine tomorrow, okay?” A pause, waiting for an answer. “Okay?” she asks, when I don't give one.

    What am I meant to say? I'm not even sure why she's doing this. She's a receptionist at a Pokémon Centre, and I'm some random asshole taking advantage of an unexpired trainer card. This interaction we're struggling through doesn't make any sense at all.

    I can't hold her gaze. I look at Makoto instead, winding a second coil around my arm and making it disappear up to the elbow. If she wanted to, she could crush my arm to jelly in a second.

    “Okay,” I say, eventually. “Okay.”



    Mercifully, that's the end of that conversation. A couple of hours later, I'm sitting there in the clinic with Roddy, watching her test herself by floating higher and higher off the table. Every so often she collapses into mush again, but all this time in the dark, with whatever medicine it is that they're giving her, is definitely having an effect. It won't be long now before they discharge her. And then … then it's back to haunting the trainer trails and telling people that ten ducats says my haunter can take your feraligatr.

    Except pretty soon there aren't going to be any people on the trails. And I'm going to run out of Centres to steal food from and do laundry in. And I don't know what happens, at that point.

    Maybe I go home. Maybe I swallow everything, pretend it was all a mistake, and fake it until my parents believe it too. That could work. For a while. If I could get over the fact that if I ever put a toe out of line again all our comfortable domesticity will instantly boil over into violence.

    Roddy floats down towards me, hands outstretched. I pull my sleeve down over my hand and raise it for her to grab.

    “Mollolloy,” she says, clutching the smoking fabric in her claws. Not whispering any more. Her voice is getting stronger by the day. “Yuyolay?”

    For a moment, I think about lying, but I can't lie to Roddy: after all this time, we're too closely connected, my thoughts and emotions tied up in the weird forces that make her a living thing and not just a cloud of poison dust. I tried once, when I was twelve; she flickered and stared at me in a way that made me feel like I'd just stomped on a kitten.

    “Not really,” I tell her. “I think we're out of rope, Roddy.”

    She leaves her hand still holding mine and floats closer. I can smell her from here. Like baked earth and weedkiller.

    “Heerrr,” she says, straining to form the words with her soft, fluid mouth. “Royyiyy eerr.”

    I have to smile. Even with the oncoming winter hanging over me like the shadow of a skarmory.

    “Thanks, Roddy,” I say. “Least there's that, right?”

    She burbles something unintelligible but happy and drifts back to her table, tired from the effort of making human words. Her hand drips off my sleeve onto the floor before reforming and flying up to rejoin her.

    I hesitate – this is kind of a public place, even if I'm partly hidden by the dark – and then I figure what the hell, I'm not gonna be embarrassed that I care about my partner.

    “Love you, Roddy,” I tell her.

    “Lallyu,” she replies, and shuts her eyes.

    I stay there a few hours longer, waiting for her to wake up or maybe for Tacoma to show and fill me with some dumb get-out-of-Mahogany determination, but neither of these things happen, and in the end a nurse I don't know tells me that visiting hours are over and I just have to go.



    I leave the hospital via the main entrance and push through the Saturday crush to Silvermoor Gardens, where I sit down on a damp bench and watch people enjoying the break in the rain while I wait for Tamiko's shift to end. It's not exactly what you'd call model behaviour, but right now I don't really have a model life. So you know.

    The grass is still wet, but there are a lot of excited children and partners out here. Pets, too: there's a whippet playing with a racing growlithe, two dogs who love running chasing each other in irregular circles around the green. Furret, house-pinsir, even pidgey and spearow that strut around in front of their wild cousins, flaunting their humans.

    Someone even has a noivern, moving through the air so fast it almost seems to flicker. I have to stare. It's one of those small grey ones that live up in the mountains, not one of the giant Kalois ones, but even so, it looks like it could comfortably pick up the growlithe and throw it in the pond if it wanted. Where's its partner? I look, curious about what kind of person a noivern chooses to follow, but I can't see them anywhere, and after a while it flies off and disappears behind the treeline.

    I guess it's having fun, like all these pokémon and their humans are. Because after all, they can go home this evening when the sun goes down and the air gets chilly. And outside is nice when you have an inside to compare it to.

    At this point, it's getting tiresome even to me. My mind feels like a drowning spider circling the drain, making desperate circles around these same goddamn thoughts.

    I should go back. Talk to Tamiko, learn what my options are. Figure out how to make it through to spring.

    I don't do that, but I do promise myself I'll do it tomorrow, and then when it's dark and the parkgoers have been replaced by menacing shadows I slink back to the Centre to brood.



    Eusine's in the Centre lounge. I don't want company, like at all, and the plan was if there was anyone here I'd just go straight up to my room – but there's just him. Sitting there in the dark, staring at a TV that isn't switched on.

    I stand there in the doorway, thinking about sanctuary behind a locked door, and nice smiles and friendly attitudes, and ghosts hidden away in the dark to heal; and I tell myself I'm a fucking idiot and I go in and flip the light on.

    “Oh, hey Eusine,” I say, like I haven't been hovering outside for the past five minutes. “Didn't see you there.”

    He turns his head, and when I see his face my breath catches for a moment.

    “You, uh, okay?” I ask, knowing the answer, knowing he knows I know.

    “Isn't it kind of fucked up?” he says. “How they just say okay, good luck, and push you out the door?”

    Okay. Guess I didn't know the answer after all. Should've expected it. I don't have a great track record when it comes to judging people.

    “What's happened?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

    “I mean what if I were eleven?” he says, ignoring me. “What if I were eleven and I arrived in a foreign city and the first thing that happened was my partner got sick?”

    He looks at me like he expects an answer. I don't want to make him any angrier than he already is, so I give him the first one I can think of.

    “You'd … talk to the Centre receptionist, I guess? Call your parents?”

    He laughs bitterly. Like a murkrow in pain.

    “Talk to the receptionist,” he says. “Christ. Right.”

    I feel something then. Takes me a moment to recognise it as indignation on Tamiko's behalf.

    “No, I mean it,” I tell him. “She's genuinely pretty good.”

    “Yeah? Fix Lars kinda good?” He's wincing almost before he's even done talking. “Ugh. God. Sorry.”

    “It's okay,” I tell him. I'm not sure I mean it, but I think it's the right thing to say.

    “No, it's not. You've got your own shit to―”

    “So have you, man. So have you.”

    He sighs, drops his head into his hands.

    “Yeah,” he says, sounding tired. “Can't argue with that.”

    We sit there for a few moments without speaking. The Centre is so quiet now. Most of the kids have gone home to learn how hard it is to keep more than one partner with you in your house, and what happens when a pokémon that joined you to get stronger doesn't get the training it wants. I still remember my first winter break. Roddy and Vance were okay, but Bette was a terror. I had to let her go live in the woods outside town in the end, and hike out every couple of days to feed and train her until the snow melted and she rejoined me on the trail to Ecruteak.

    “I'm sorry,” says Eusine, head still bowed. “I guess I'm probably not making things any better by sitting here in the dark and complaining at random strangers.”

    “Not sure we're strangers at this point,” I reply. “Look, Tacoma's the real deal, right? Lars is gonna be fine.”

    “I know,” he says. “I know, I just … it's been five years, all right? I've heard everyone's stories, I was finally going to go out and make some of my own, and this – this isn't what I was expecting. At all.”

    This is getting kind of personal. I really wish we could do this in private, but the lounge has no door to shut; part of the receptionist's job is to keep an eye on the kids here, I guess. Hopefully the guy on the evening shift isn't paying too much attention.

    “Yeah, I get it,” I tell him. “Journeys are hard. No one ever really says it, though. I guess after a while you only remember the good bits.”

    That gets his attention: he looks up, surprise in his eyes and a faint scowl creasing his forehead.

    “What?”

    “I mean, I was so homesick. And I didn't manage to make any friends for like a month and a half. And all the hiking and camping was exhausting, and I didn't figure out how to train my pokémon at all for ages, and …” I shrug. “I don't think that was unusual. Everyone I met seemed happy, but I bet they were all the same.”

    Eusine keeps staring.

    “Shit,” he says. “I'm an idiot, aren't I?”

    “Least that makes two of us,” I tell him, and this time his laugh is barely even bitter at all.

    “Hey, you were smart enough to tell me.” He sits up straighter, scratching nervously at his acne. “Anyway. Sorry again. I guess I just didn't think.”

    “'S cool,” I reply, suppressing the urge to look over my shoulder and check for watching eyes. “And, uh, look, while we're apologising and stuff, I'm … sorry I've been so cold. Things are. Uh. Even without the Roddy thing, they're kinda rough.”

    Oh crap I actually said it oh god why would I do something like that now everything is completely―

    “Yeah?” he asks. I don't know what that is on his face. I'm afraid it might actually be sympathy.

    “Yeah,” I say, dropping my eyes to my lap. “Yeah, kinda … kinda quite a lot. Actually.”

    Long pause. I can see him moving slightly, out of the corner of my eye, but I can't make out any details.

    “You wanna talk about it?” he asks diffidently. Almost like he's afraid I'll hit him or something.

    Or maybe that's just me projecting.

    “Not really,” I tell him. “But thanks.”

    He doesn't have anything to say in response to that, though at this point it really doesn't matter. I said it, and he listened, and maybe I couldn't spit out the details but then again maybe I didn't need to.



    Eusine suggests we go out and get something to eat. Do us both good to get out of the Centre, right Morty? I'm reluctant, of course; I say I'm sort of broke, trying to make it sound like it's just a temporary thing, and he says I can pay him back later. And he smiles, and I try not to think about my dad, and I say okay, Eusine, fine.

    Great, he says. There's this cool little place I found just off Blackwell Street the other day. He says the name like I know where it is, and I choose to nod like I actually do. Lead on, I say. And he does.

    While we eat, he tells me that he's glad I found him earlier. I tell him so am I. He tells me about how he once found a budding gastly spore caught on some brambles on an undeveloped lot, took it home in a jar and watched it grow eyes and teeth and a personality shaped by his interest in its development. I tell him about camping in the woods south of Ecruteak, about a gastly that came to scare me and eat my fear but was too fascinated by the dreams she found to leave again.

    We tell each other so many things, trading little pieces of our lives back and forth across bowls of broth and noodles, and when the bill comes, Eusine picks it up and pays immediately without even letting me see how much it comes to. I guess it probably isn't much, but I still feel bad about it.

    Only a little, though. Because Christ, I'm alive again, I'm sitting here and eating food and talking to Eusine like an actual human being, and though I know that in a few days' time I'll be alone with Roddy once more on street corners and trainer trails I'm here now, and as I laugh I realise I had no idea how much I needed this until it happened.

    I wonder if Eusine is doing this deliberately. Then I decide I really don't care.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    ***​

    In the morning, the world seems like a watercolour painting of itself, thin and grey in the dawn light. I wake from a dream that a man without a face is beating me up, his fists a mess of blood and broken nails, and make some tea at the hot water machine in the lounge while I wait for the canteen to open. Centre food is never great, exactly, but on Sundays they do a brunch that's pretty decent; you eat enough there, you're good for the rest of the day. I go as soon as they start serving and stay there for over an hour, forcing down food and waiting for Eusine. But he doesn't show – sleeping in or gone out or whatever – and I end up leaving for the clinic alone.

    Need to speak to Tamiko, I remind myself, as I make my way down the hall. You promised and everything. I argue that there will be time to do that when I get back, and use this as a justification for going straight upstairs to the bridge over to the hospital instead of passing through the lobby.

    Today, the curtain has been raised around Roddy's table. I push through to see Audrey giving Roddy some kind of examination, gently palpating her body with hands wreathed in an insulating black glow by Horne. Roddy's eyes are wide and her hands pulled back as far away from Audrey as she can manage; I guess she's afraid of accidentally hurting her.

    “Hi, Morty,” says Audrey, looking up. “You're just in time for the good news.”

    Something lurches queasily in my chest.

    “Yeah?” I ask. “Let's have it, then.”

    “Roddy is doing really well,” she tells me, straightening up and motioning for Horne to cancel the spell on her hands. “I'll have to ask Dr Spearing to be sure, but I'm confident that we'll be able to let her go soon. Maybe even tomorrow, if she carries on like this.”

    It's not a shock. I knew what she was going to say even before she said it.

    But.

    “O-oh.” I force a smile. “Great! Yeah. Roddy's, uh … I'm glad. I was worried.”

    It is honestly a pretty pitiful performance, and Horne flashes me a scornful look, but Audrey is gracious enough to pretend to believe me at least.

    “No need,” she says. “You battle with her, right? I can tell; she's pretty tough. Keep up the training and she'll probably outlive you. Wait. No.” She bites her lip. “Sorry, that's a morbid thing to say.”

    “It's fine.” Roddy floats closer, mumbling worried nonsense under her breath. “I'm just glad she's okay.”

    “As are we,” Audrey replies. “Best possible outcome.” She smiles. “Anyway, I won't get in your way – unless you have any other questions, I'll leave you two alone.”

    “No, I'm fine,” I say. Then, a few seconds too late: “Um, thanks.”

    She pauses, one hand on the edge of the curtain.

    “It's literally my job,” she tells me, with a grin that for a moment makes her look uncannily like her partner. She might be younger than I thought. “See you later, Morty, Roddy.”

    Roddy warbles a goodbye, waving at her as she goes, and as soon as the curtain falls behind her turns to me with anxiety in her eyes.

    “Mollolloy?” she asks.

    “We're getting out of here,” I tell her. “Nice, right?”

    She hesitates, unable to decide whether I want her to agree. Too damn smart for her own good, sometimes. I sigh, pat her gently with my sleeve pulled down over my hand.

    “Never mind,” I say, reaching into my pocket for my Game Boy. “You wanna see Sarissa?”

    “Sah!” Her eyes light up, and despite everything I have to smile. She loves things so much, and I love her for loving them.

    “Okay, Roddy,” I say, pushing the curtains back and sitting down by her table. “C'mon.”

    She dives down to watch me, and when the title screen loads and the characters appear she makes all the appropriate happy noises, but in the corner of my vision I can see that her worried eyes are still on me.



    I have laundry to do, and probably just enough change for the washing machine. I've been putting it off, unwilling to leave Roddy – you have to hang around and keep an eye on your stuff in Centre launderettes if you don't want some kid dumping it in the corner as soon as the machine unlocks – but at this point I think I might be okay to leave her. On my way out, I run into Eusine; he calls to me in the corridor and I freeze, unaccountably nervous.

    “Morty,” he repeats, catching up. “Hey.”

    “Hey.” Pause. God. He's brought a little bit of last night with him, some kind of vitality that doesn't feel like it belongs in the anxious dark of the clinic. “How's Lars?”

    “Yeah.” It's not quite an answer, but it doesn't have to be, the way he's grinning. “Yeah, he's actually doing better! Way faster. I mean, still slow, but faster. You know?”

    I can't decide whether his enthusiasm is infectious or grating. I try for a smile anyway.

    “Nice,” I say. “Roddy's doing good too. Might be able to go soon.”

    “That's great, man,” he says. “You going back to the Centre? I'll come with.”

    We head down the corridor to the waiting room, stepping out of the way of an obvious foreigner and his deflated drifloon, and both stop at once: there's a noivern in here. The noivern, even; I think it's the one from the park. Same colour, same curious eyes.

    “Whoa,” says Eusine, eyes wide. “That's … not a ghost.”

    “No,” I agree, staring with him. It looks so much bigger inside, next to chairs and tables and people barely even pretending to read their magazines. “Sure isn't.”

    “Lorne, could you remind Dr Spearing that she's not working today?”

    The speaker says Dr Spearing the way Mum says Mortimer Fletcher when she's annoyed. I look up, and see the noivern's partner: a tiny woman leaning heavily on a cane by Lorne's desk.

    “Sure, Jodi,” he says, not even trying to hide his smile. “I think there's just one particular patient―”

    “Yeah, there usually is,” replies Jodi. Mahogany accent. Asking after Tacoma. I think I have an idea who this woman is. “Tell her we're in the waiting room and we're not leaving until she comes with us.”

    As she turns away from Lorne to find a seat, I see her face and draw in a short breath of surprise. She's a lot paler and thinner, but she looks distinctly like Ella Fields from back in Mahogany. A sister maybe? I know Ella has a brother who left town for university and never came back, but I'm not sure I've ever heard about a sister. Maybe it's because she's Tacoma's girlfriend. Mahogany is … well, put it this way: there's a reason I left town as well as home when things came to a head with my parents.

    Jodi sees me looking and smiles politely.

    “'Scuse me,” she says, and I move aside so she can get to a seat. Her noivern crawls after her with a weird gait that I imagine must be a bat thing, swishing its tail and eyeing me warily. I guess it doesn't like strange guys staring at its partner.

    Eusine clears his throat, and I tear myself away from this fresh mystery and follow him out. Just as I'm about to walk through the door, however, someone calls to me.

    “Morty! One second!”

    Tacoma's voice. What was it Lorne said? One particular patient. Is it Roddy? Is there something else wrong? Is she going to―?

    “Morty,” she repeats. “Sorry, if I could just have a word …”

    Eusine nudges me.

    “Dr Spearing,” he says. “C'mon.”

    It's the push I need. I turn around, just as Tacoma catches sight of Jodi.

    “Oh,” she says, startled. “Uh, hey Ms Ortega.” (Ortega. Ella was an Ortega, till she married. So they are related.)

    “Dr Spearing.” Jodi says it like she's annoyed, but something in her face suggests to me that she isn't. “You're aware you have today off, right?”

    “Well,” says Tacoma, scratching her head. “Yeah …”

    “You're also aware that Sam and Gabbi are expecting us in forty minutes?”

    “Yeah, and we are absolutely gonna be there, I just have to speak to Mr Fletcher here.” She gestures at me. I don't react. Part of it is being called Mr Fletcher, but the other, bigger part is the fact she wants to talk to me at all. Audrey said she'd have to ask Tacoma to confirm that Roddy was okay, right? So what if she isn't? Or what if she is, what if she's so okay that she's going to be discharged right now and we get evicted from the Centre?

    Jodi follows her outstretched hand to my face. Her gaze is unnervingly intense; it feels like she can see straight through me to the door beyond.

    “Right,” she says slowly, reaching down and putting a hand between her noivern's massive ears. “Well, far be it from me to come between a doctor and her patient. Be nice, Dr Spearing.”

    Tacoma's mouth twists in mock-indignation.

    “I'm not going to dignify that with an answer, Ms Ortega,” she says. “Morty? Can you come through to my office for a moment?”

    For some reason I glance at Eusine, as if I need his permission; he just shrugs, and I turn back to Tacoma with reddening cheeks.

    “Sure,” I say. “Coming.”

    “Thank you. Won't keep you long. I think we've both got people waiting for us.” Sly look at Jodi, who rolls her eyes and pops a stick of gum in her mouth. “Just through here.”

    We go down a fork in the corridor I've never seen before, through a door labelled DR TACOMA SPEARING into a darkness even deeper than the ward.

    “Ah,” says Tacoma, somewhere ahead of me. Back to her Mahogany voice. “Sorry. I'm such a ghost-type sometimes.” Purple flames flare from nowhere above my head, casting a spectral glow over a desk so heaped with paper there's barely room for her computer monitor. “Have a seat,” she says, indicating a chair. “Don't worry, nothing's wrong.”

    “So this isn't about Roddy?” I ask, as she flows round her desk and into her chair.

    “Oh. No, nothing like that. She's doing fine, I promise. We could let her go tomorrow, I think, provided you let her rest and don't battle with her for a while.”

    So no income, then. Could I make it to Ecruteak and rest her there? But I'd only get five days. Roddy will need more than that.

    “No, I wanted to talk about you,” says Tacoma, and somewhere deep inside me a voice starts screaming at me to run. “Look, uh … I'll be honest, I haven't ever had this conversation before. But you … well. You aren't visiting your cousins in Kanto after this, are you?”

    The shame-ants are back, pincers scything at my flesh. I leave the question hanging for a long minute, willing myself to really feel them biting, and answer.

    “I ran away.”

    Tacoma looks a little taken aback by my bluntness.

    “Yeah,” she says. “I figured.”

    Pause. Probably only a couple of seconds, but it feels like a month.

    “Look, I'm not judging,” she says. “I'm just thinking, y'know, I can't keep Roddy in forever, and you're gonna lose your place in the Centre when I do, so. Maybe I can help you out there.” She keeps plucking little shreds of mist from her scarred arm and releasing them to dissolve in the air. Guess even someone like her gets nervous sometimes. “You saw Jodi out there, right?”

    “Yeah …?”

    “She runs a refuge. Kind of. Like a hostel, I guess, but free, for kids who need a place to stay. Specifically for, uh, kids like you.”

    “Like me?”

    I wince at the sound of my voice: so defensive, so angry. She's not going to hurt you, Morty. She's got a girlfriend, partner, whatever. She ran away from Mahogany, just like you. And she is most definitely on your side.

    “Sorry,” I say, before Tacoma can react. “I'm just, the last time this―”

    “Easy,” she says, raising her fingers just a little from the desk. “It's okay, kid. I know it's rough.” She sighs. “And I know what it was that triggered Roddy's allergic reaction, too. She's very talkative, and very worried about you.”

    It's hard to meet her eye. God. My fault, again. My fault that Roddy dissolved into a pile of unconscious gloop. If I was just normal, if I wasn't a fucking―

    “Morty?” asks Tacoma. “You okay?”

    I am answering, I think. I only become aware of it a couple of seconds after the words start coming out.

    “They found out. I've been – I mean I knew, I've known for a while, but – and my friends, they―”

    “Slow down a sec, kid. Breathe.”

    Like Tamiko. Just calm down a minute. Breathe. I breathe, and it doesn't make the ants go away but at least I can think straight again.

    “I'm sorry,” I mutter. “What I was gonna say―”

    “Leave it,” says Tacoma. “You don't need to tell me anything, Morty. I'm just saying―”

    “I want to.” Another breath, deeper this time. “Dad saw my IMs somehow. Instant messages,” I explain, when Tacoma looks blank. “I found some friends online, I …”

    I always feel so dumb trying to talk about this. I mean, I don't even know all their names; sure, there's Raja and Ping and Jacob, but there's also xXLunarMemoryXx and avengingabsol86 and all the others who I only know as strange combinations of letters and numbers, and there's just no way to explain how this works to someone who doesn't already know it.

    Doesn't matter any more, I suppose. I did keep messaging them for a while after I left home, from the Blackthorn Pokémon Centre computer room, but I haven't even logged on for a month and a half now. Felt guilty about lying to people who cared about where I was.

    “Oh. Right.” Tacoma clears her throat. “Sorry, I'm old and uncool.” My lips twitch, just a little, and her grin comes back for a second, inflected with relief. “Look, uh … anyway. I'm sorry, Morty. This shouldn't have happened to you. You hear me? I know, it probably feels like your fault, like you did something and your parents reacted, but it isn't. This is on them, not you.”

    I can't answer. I was just starting to get my voice back, and now it's gone again. Because she says it like she means it, like it's an obvious truth, and when she says it like that it's hard not to wonder if maybe she might be right.

    “Listen, there's no obligation here,” she says. “You're sixteen, right? You're free to do what you like. But if you want to stop running, kid … the option's on the table.” She slides a piece of paper across her desk. I look at it without really taking it in, unable to focus enough to read what it says. “Here's the address and phone number,” she says. “Like I say, no pressure, and I'm not expecting an answer now. But I want you to know you've got options.”

    Pause. Something beeps, somewhere out in the clinic. I still can't seem to find where my voice has gone.

    “Hey,” says Tacoma, looking worried. “You okay?”

    “You're sure?” I ask. There it is. Doesn't sound much like I remember it, but given that there are only two of us in the room that must be my voice. “You're sure it's them, and not …?”

    Her face darkens.

    “Yes,” she says, emphatically. Her hair is moving faster all of a sudden, swirling and flickering around her head like the fireballs burning above us. “Yes, Morty. There is nothing wrong with you, and if anyone has ever told you otherwise then they're the one who has a problem.”

    Something is trying to get out of me, smashing its way upwards from the pit of my chest towards my head; I can feel it tossing itself against my insides, shaking my body with each impact. It's coming – and then suddenly it's there, a vast pressure pushing violently up my throat and out through my nose, and as I raise my trembling hands to my face I know that at last, after two months and thirty-six battles and hundreds of miles, I'm finally actually crying.

    “Oh,” says Tacoma. Somehow she's right here now on my side of the desk, putting a hesitant hand on my shoulder. “Um … yeah. Yeah, I know.”

    She really does. I want to tell her how much that means, but I can't talk through the shaking and the tears, and anyway I guess she probably already knows.



    Doesn't last long. I pull myself together, apologise; Tacoma won't have any of it, tells me that she's cried a whole lot more than that in her time. I start thanking her, too many times, and then I catch myself and say I'd better go.

    She says she should too, but she doesn't move, and nor do I. Some indeterminate amount of time later, we're back in the waiting room, where Eusine is leaning against the wall with folded arms, trying to look like he has a reason to be here. His awkwardness is kind of endearing, honestly. Ordinarily I'd feel bad about thinking that, but after that talk with Tacoma I think my defences might have been lowered.

    “All done?” asks Jodi, looking up from her noivern. “Crisis averted?”

    “I certainly hope so,” replies Tacoma. “Morty? I'll be in again tomorrow, okay?”

    “Sure.”

    She smiles and holds out a hand for Jodi to pull herself up on.

    “In which case, Jodi, you and I have places to be.”

    “You're telling me,” says Jodi dryly. “C'mon, Lothi. Let's go see what Jack's destroyed this week.”

    The noivern – Lothi, I guess – hoots softly and stalks over to open the door; it holds it conscientiously for Jodi and Tacoma, then glances back over its shoulder as if expecting me to follow. It's a smarter gesture than I anticipated from a giant bat; I stare for a few seconds too long, after which it turns away and crawls out.

    I glance at Eusine.

    “Thanks for waiting,” I say, wishing there weren't so many people currently sitting around us and watching.

    “No problem,” he says. “Wanna go?”

    There might be an are you okay buried in there somewhere, in the angle of his eyebrows and the tone of his voice. I don't really know how to answer, so I just nod and lead the way.

    “What did she want to talk about?” asks Eusine, once we're out in the corridor. “Uh, if that's okay to ask. It probably actually isn't, now I think about it.”

    “It's cool,” I say, and am surprised to find that it actually is. “She just … had some advice.”

    “Good advice?”

    “Yeah. I think.”

    We walk. I can hear Jodi's cane still, although I think she and Tacoma have gone the other way, towards the main entrance.

    “Who was she, do you think?” Eusine wonders, evidently listening too.

    “Tacoma's girlfriend,” I answer. “I'm pretty sure.”

    Only after I say it does it occur to me that maybe I'm not meant to tell people this. But no, they can't be hiding it, right? Not if Jodi's running that refuge.

    Eusine gives me a look. It's not a smile, but there's a smile inside it, fluttering like a butterfly against a window.

    “Yeah?” he asks.

    Well, what the hell.

    “Yeah,” I confirm. “She kind of sort of maybe told me.”

    The window opens, and the butterfly pushes through.

    “Well, shit,” says Eusine, luminous with delight. “That's really something, you know?”

    “Yeah,” I say, feeling my lips start to twitch. “I know.”



    Tamiko catches me off-guard, while I'm taking a big bag of wet clothes that I didn't have enough change to dry back to my room to hang up. I'd call it an ambush, except really she just says hey Morty while I'm walking past the doorway to the lobby. And I turn around, dragging my heels like the sullen teenager I am, and haul myself and my bag over to the desk.

    “Hey,” I say, mostly because it feels like it would be rude to just stand there.

    “How are you?” she asks. There's nobody else around; the Centre is really emptying out now. It's just us, and Makoto snaking around Tamiko's waist and chair like a huge, deadly seatbelt.

    I take a moment to think about it. When I reach it, the answer surprises me.

    “Pretty good,” I say, and watch her eyebrows rise.

    “Yeah?”

    “Yeah.” What do I say here, exactly? Probably just the truth. If Tamiko was planning to talk me through my options, I guess she probably already knows about Jodi's refuge. “I, um … I spoke to Tacoma. Dr Spearing.”

    “Oh?” She moves to lean in a little, but she's forgetting Makoto; there's no pushing past her, and she doesn't seem inclined to move. “Oof. Sorry, go on.”

    “Well. Uh. D'you know her partner?”

    “Ah, I think I see where this is going,” says Tamiko. “I was actually going to talk about the refuge with you.” She gives up on trying to move Makoto and rests her hand on her coils instead. “There are a few of them; some are better than others. I know I sleep easier when I've sent people to Moon Bridge.”

    That's the name of the place, according to the piece of paper Tacoma gave me. Moon Bridge LGBT+ Youth Community Centre and Refuge, in Moon Bridge, a part of Goldenrod I never even knew existed till now. Kind of a mouthful, honestly, but I can't actually think of a more concise way to say it.

    Wait a second. Did Tamiko say …?

    “You've done this before?” I ask.

    She shrugs.

    “Like I said,” she says. “It happens more often than you might expect. Everyone who runs away and still has their trainer card comes through a Centre at some point.”

    “That predictable, huh,” I reply, because I think if I don't make a joke I might cry again, but Tamiko doesn't seem to find it funny.

    “Look, you're not alone,” she says. “That's all I meant, Morty.” Her hands move back and forth along Makoto's back, restless, nervous. “So you're going to try Moon Bridge?”

    It's hard to answer. I know what I should say, what I'm going to say, but there is a part of me even now that doesn't want to admit it. Maybe Tacoma was right and the problem isn't me; I know I believed her when she said it, back in her office. But it's been over an hour now, and I'm starting to think that perhaps what I deserve is frostbite in a Johto winter.

    Roddy doesn't, though. I think of her, looking at me with those worried eyes, and suddenly I don't have any choice at all.

    “Yeah,” I say. “Guess I am.”

    What's that light in Tamiko's face? Relief? Hope? It's only there for an instant before she folds it back into her usual professional self, but I'm sure I wasn't imagining it.

    “I'm so glad,” she says. “It's a good one, you know? Lots of these places are basically just a bed that you can spend the night in, and if you're lucky some directions to advocacy services. Moon Bridge is more of a … a community project, I think Jodi calls it? You'll have all the support there that you could want. And Jodi is amazing too. She and Carmine Katz have been doing this practically for ever. Have you seen the photo of the psychic stopping the tear gas with her mind, from the riots back in the eighties? That's Carmine.”

    “You, uh, know a lot about all this.”

    She clicks her tongue and rolls her eyes at herself.

    “Sorry,” she says. “Full disclosure, me and Makoto volunteer there a couple times a month. Or I suppose I do, Makoto just … offers moral support. Right?”

    Makoto raises her head from the depths of her own coils and licks the air.

    “Anyway, I guess it doesn't take much to get me playing cheerleader for them,” says Tamiko. “Back to the point – will you call them today? You can use our phone.”

    I almost put it off until tomorrow. But it's been two months, two long, bleak months, and no matter what I think about myself I really want to know that Roddy's going to have somewhere to rest.

    “Sure,” I say. “Um. Actually, can I …”

    “Of course,” says Tamiko, pulling the phone across her desk and dialling. “Here you go.”

    She hands me the handset. I put it to my ear, hear ringing.

    “Hello,” says someone I don't recognise. “Moon Bridge, how can I help?”

    Everything is cold and quiet and slow except my heart, hot and relentless as a blacksmith's hammer.

    “Hello?” repeats the someone. “You there?”

    “Hi,” I reply. “I, um … I'm sort of in trouble.”



    His name is Leif, or Lethe; I can't quite make it out over the phone. They have beds available, a programme to help me find somewhere more permanent and access any social care I need. He'd be happy to discuss this with me if I wanted to come over. I ask about money and he says not to worry, that that's for him to worry about and the main thing right now is to make sure I'm safe.

    I thank him, and he says it's okay, and I ask if I can come today or if I have to wait till tomorrow, and he says whenever you're ready, Morty. Whenever you're ready.

    There's more. I can see it coming, like the hump of the ocean before it becomes a wave. I can see paperwork in my future, and conscientious adults in warm rooms talking about options. I can see all the boring things that go with being a person, and right now I don't know if I've ever wanted anything more.

    ***​

    Later that evening, after sitting for a long while in a cheerful office and talking to Leaf (his parents were hippies: his siblings are Rainbow and Forest), I return to the Centre, exhausted and fearful and nervous and more excited than I've been in a long time. I explained about Roddy, and Leaf said that given the circumstances, he'd be able to hold the place for me for a day, if I wanted to stay with her till she was discharged. I couldn't figure out if I did want that or not, but he told me that that meant I did, and to come back tomorrow with my partner.

    I look for Tamiko as I enter, but it's past six now, and I don't even know if she expected me to come back; behind the receptionist's desk is the evening guy and his tiny calico persian. I guess I don't really have any right to be disappointed – Tamiko doesn't owe me anything – but I am anyway.

    “Need something?” asks the receptionist; I realise then that I'm staring and shake my head, embarrassed.

    “No, just, uh, I was gonna speak to Tamiko. But it can wait.”

    “If there's something I can help with …”

    “No. 'S nothing like that. I'll see her tomorrow.”

    “All right,” he says. “If you're sure.”

    I make my escape before he can offer any more help and slip into the lounge; thankfully, there aren't any kids – the Centre is looking very empty these days – but there is Eusine, eating peanuts and watching that Kantan sitcom about the bikers that my dad likes.

    “Hey,” he says, without looking up. “How's tricks?”

    “How did you know it was me?”

    “Can I be honest with you?”

    “Sure.”

    “I've said that to three people who weren't you already.”

    I laugh.

    “You know, if you'd lied I wouldn't have known.”

    “But that wouldn't have been half as funny, would it?” He glances up, holds out the bag. “Peanut?”

    “No thanks. I'm allergic.”

    “Oh. Sorry.”

    “'S fine.”

    I sit down. Onscreen, the actors are all holding their weird just-made-a-joke faces for an unnaturally long time while the fake audience laughs.

    “I was looking for you earlier,” says Eusine, returning his attention to the TV. “Asked the receptionist, but she said you were out.”

    “I was.”

    “Anywhere interesting?”

    I hesitate. What would he say, if he knew? He's been cool, all things considered, but I really don't want his pity. And yet … I don't know, he'll be here for a while yet with Lars, right? So I could see him again, maybe. If he knew I was going to stay in town.

    Well, fuck it. I've swallowed enough of my pride over the last couple of days that I think I can stomach another mouthful.

    “Sorting out a place to stay,” I say. “Roddy's gonna be discharged tomorrow, so I have to leave the Centre.”

    “Oh, okay.” Then a moment later, when his brain catches up with his ears: “Wait. What? I thought you were heading back to Mahogany?”

    “Yeah,” I say, fidgeting with the cuff of my shirt. “About that. I, um … I haven't been home in two months.”

    He looks at me for a moment, face completely inscrutable, and then he mutes the TV and puts the bag of peanuts on the table.

    “Right,” he says. “Parent trouble?”

    “Yeah. Parent trouble.”

    He nods, slow, understanding.

    “I get it,” he says. “Not me, mine are― but. I have some friends who … you know.”

    “I know.”

    We sit. There's some kind of commotion in the hall; someone's running downstairs, I think. Several someones. And maybe a couple of pokémon. I listen to the receptionist intervening, to kids slowing and apologising, and I sigh.

    “Y'know, you didn't have to mute the TV.”

    “I guess I didn't,” he says. “But, well.” Pause. He doesn't unmute it. “Did you find somewhere to stay?”

    “Yeah. Yeah, actually, I …” Nervous little laugh. “It was Tacoma, actually. You know her girlfriend? We saw her at the clinic?” He nods again. “She runs a refuge. Tacoma sent me there.”

    “Oh. Wow.” He picks anxiously at his acne. “That's lucky.”

    “Yeah. Tamiko helped, too. The receptionist,” I explain, seeing his confusion. “Everyone here's been really …”

    I can't decide whether I want to say 'helpful' or 'kind', and in my indecision I end up not saying either.

    “I guess they're not like that in Mahogany?” asks Eusine.

    “No. They're not.”

    He sighs.

    “Well, I'm really glad you found somewhere,” he says. “I, uh … I don't know what it's like to be homeless, but I guess I know what it's like to be lost and alone in Goldenrod. And frankly that sucks, so. Good to know you've got a place to go.”

    God. He may actually be the only person on the peninsula who's more awkward than I am, and I kind of love that.

    “Thanks, man,” I say. “Not gonna lie, it's, uh … it is pretty good, yeah.”

    We look at each other for a while. I feel like we're saying something, but I'm not sure what it might be. Or maybe I just don't want to know.

    “You wanna keep watching this shit?” he asks, flicking the remote at the TV. “Or should we go … do something?”

    “Why?”

    “I dunno. Celebrate?”

    I shake my head.

    “Nah,” I say. “Let's just watch this.”

    So we do, and it's garbage but it's there; and I haven't felt this chill in a long, long time; and I'd like to tell Eusine this but you know.



    In the morning, Tacoma is waiting for me; I hear Lorne paging her as I pass him, and when I arrive at Roddy's table she's already there, a series of green glows in the dark.

    “Hey,” she says. My eyes haven't quite adjusted yet, but I can see the vivid slashes in her arm moving around, and something flying close by. Playing with Roddy, maybe. I feel a little weird about it – Roddy's usually only playful with me – but I guess I shouldn't be envious. “So you spoke to Leaf, huh.”

    “Yeah.” I squint through the dark and just about make out two pale shapes that might be Roddy's eyes coming towards me. “Hi, Roddy.”

    “Heeeh,” she says, brushing gently at my jacket. “Behr!”

    “Glad to hear it.” I turn back to Tacoma. “I'm sorry, I'm not sure I said before, but … thank you.”

    The green slashes jump from side to side as she waves my words away.

    “It's nothing,” she says. “D'you want to come closer? I'll draw the curtains.”

    She doesn't seem to move, but I hear the rattle of the curtains and assume they're closed anyway.

    “First off,” says Tacoma, “Roddy's free to go. I mean, I honestly could have discharged her a few days ago, but, uh, I was trying to figure out how to tell you about Moon Bridge. So yes: she's fine. Going to need a good couple of weeks of rest, still, but fine.”

    So far, so familiar. I think she probably has more to say.

    “Okay,” I say. “Thanks.”

    “Secondly,” she continues, “I had a couple of questions for you. If that's okay.”

    I have to fight the panic; it's fine, I tell myself, she already knows and it's fine. Nobody is sending me home. I don't know what I'm even doing tomorrow, but people are going to help, and it's fine, and I'm fine, and everything is fine.

    Roddy grips my sleeve, murmuring something wordless in my ear. I'd almost forgotten how much I've missed having her at my side.

    “Sure,” I say, and with her here I think I just manage to hide the unease in my voice. “What d'you want to know?”

    “Nothing that you don't want to tell me,” replies Tacoma. “But … correct me if I'm wrong, Morty, you've been, uh, homeless for a while, right?”

    Don't worry about why she wants to know, Morty. She's on your side.

    “Y-yeah,” I reply. “Two months.”

    I'm starting to get used to the dark; I can see her nodding now, the outlines of her head vague and mobile with the writhing of her hair.

    “Okay.” She sounds like she too is trying to keep control of herself. “I'm sorry. It's rough, I know.”

    “It's okay.” I don't know why I'm saying this. It's not okay. It's the least okay it's ever been in my entire life. “Roddy doesn't need food, so. That helps. Helped. Sorry.”

    “Not that much.” Tacoma sighs. “Betting on battles, is that it?”

    “Yeah. How'd you …?”

    “Oh, you know.” She gestures at Roddy. “You can tell when a pokémon's tough. And Roddy's one of the strongest I've seen in a while.”

    “Oh. Um … thanks?”

    “Sure,” she says. “I mean, it's not flattery, it's just true. I think she'd give me a run for my money, if you directed her right, and I like to think I'm pretty handy with the old shadow powers.” That fiery emerald smile flares just for a second, and then it fades again. “Look, so. Battling. You've been getting by on your winnings for two months?”

    I'm not sure what she's getting at. It's not like it's hard; it's just a matter of adaptability, really. Take that guy with the feraligatr: he knew his partner could take a few hits, he knew Roddy probably couldn't, and he had a dark-type move up his sleeve. So he says sure, you're on, and the fact that he's accepted tells me all I need to know. And so we start, I blind the feraligatr with Smog, Disable its Crunch as it misses, and pick it apart with Thunderbolts while its trainer is panicking and trying to think of other ways to take out a fast ghost.

    “Yeah …? I mean it's not anything impressive, I just pick the battles I know I can win.”

    “Huh,” she says. “So how many of these battles have you done?”

    “I dunno.” I do know: it's thirty-six. I have no reason to not tell her this, but for some reason I just can't. “Like thirty, thirty-five?”

    “And how many have you won?”

    “Not sure. I know I lost two. I think another one was a draw.”

    Another lie. I did lose the two, but I'm not sure I've ever had a draw in my life.

    “Two out of thirty?” Tacoma whistles. “Jesus, kid. I know pro trainers who'd like that kind of win/loss ratio.”

    I take an uncomfortable step back.

    “I mean, like I said, I pick my battles …”

    “Right, right. Still, it's not nothing, kid. I kind of thought you might be good, if you'd made it this far on your winnings, but I'll be honest, I wasn't quite expecting that.”

    “Rah!” Roddy moves forward a little with a triumphant kind of twirl, body spiralling while her hands stay floating in place. At least one of us knows how to take a compliment.

    “Sure,” says Tacoma, smiling at her. “You too. But look, Morty, I was thinking, since you're good at this and all … I mean, if you're not tired of taking advice from some old dead woman, there's something I thought maybe you could look into?”

    She almost sounds like me there, like she isn't even sure she should be giving advice. I guess she doesn't make a habit of intervening in the lives of her patients' partners. Maybe I'm just that pathetic.

    No, that's mean and unfair to both of us. It's probably just that she cares.

    “Okay,” I say. “So, uh, what did you have in mind?”

    “Have you thought about a Gym scholarship?”

    “A what?”

    “A Gym scholarship.” Tacoma's gaze is intent, focused. A problem-solving kind of face. “You've been on a journey, right? Seen all the kids in Gyms? They're there 'cause they've got talent, and in exchange for that talent in their downtime the League puts them through school. After that … well, up to you, but you'd be pretty well placed for a League role. If that's what you wanted.”

    I don't know what to say. It's a little much, honestly. Two months of increasingly desperate wandering, of watching the days shrink and my finances dwindle, and now … now maybe not just a place to stay, but an actual direction.

    I'm good at battling. I think. I mean, I pick my battles, but I am good at those battles. Right? I guess I trust Tacoma to know what she's talking about. So perhaps …

    “Of course, you'd need to find a second partner,” Tacoma continues. “Goldenrod Gym's water-type at the moment, as I'm sure you know. But if you've got the battling chops, Leroy and his crew could help with that.”

    She says the Gym Leader's name with an easy familiarity that leaves me a little awestruck.

    “I dunno,” I mutter. “I mean, uh … I mean you know, it's …”

    “Hey, no pressure.” She raises her hands, palms outward. “Just think about it, okay? Talk to Leaf, talk to Jodi. They can help.”

    “Yeah. Yeah, I know, I … I think what I'm trying to say here is 'thank you'.”

    Tacoma laughs and gets up with a loose, easy shake of her head.

    “It's really nothing,” she says, clapping one hand on my shoulder. “C'mon, Morty, I think you've spent long enough sitting around in the dark here. And you, Roddy. How does getting out of here sound?”

    I laugh too, caught up in her enthusiasm.

    “Sounds pretty good.”

    “Then I'll walk you out.”

    She moves her hand, and this time I see the shadowy fingers racing across the curtains, pulling them back. Kind of incredible. Roddy has some control over darkness, especially in low light – that's the basis of Shadow Ball and Punch, after all – but she's got nothing on Tacoma. I guess if she died in the seventies, she's had a long time to refine her powers.

    “Don't you have other patients to see?” I ask, hoping that the question masks my surprise.

    “Well, yeah, but right now I'm seeing you and Roddy.” She jerks her head in the direction of the door. “C'mon.”

    “Okay.”

    We walk, past the rows of tables and the constant flickering passage of ghosts about the room. There's a tiger on the ceiling, but it's just that mismagius doing illusions again, and after a second or two it turns grey and fades away. I think about the fact that I'm not coming back, that this is it and I will finally have a life outside of sitting here in the dark trying to occupy Roddy, and feel something bright lift inside my chest. She's okay. She's okay, and I'm okay, and things have been shit but people have been so good, and I think we might be all right.

    “Won't bother saying goodbye,” says Tacoma. “I'll probably see you later today, when I go to Moon Bridge to drag Jodi back home.” She glances briefly at me, and then, catching sight of my face, comes back for another look. “Hey, what're you grinning about?”

    “I dunno,” I say. “I guess I'm just happy.”

    She laughs again, the swirls of her hair standing out in silhouette against the glow of the emergency exit sign.

    “Well, all right,” she says. “I can definitely get behind that.”

    ***​

    “Hi. We're, uh … checking out.”

    Tamiko grins.

    “Well,” she says. “Sorry to see you go. And you must be Roddy,” she adds, looking up at her, floating above my head. “I've heard a lot about you.”

    “Hih!” Roddy replies, waving.

    “And you are very cute, huh.” Tamiko returns her attention to me. “Okay. Your room key?”

    “Yeah.” I hand it back to her. “Thanks.”

    “No problem, Morty.”

    I stand there with my backpack dragging at my shoulders, not moving. It feels weird to just … go, after everything.

    “Everything okay?” asks Tamiko.

    “I don't know,” I admit. “Feels strange.”

    “Well, you're welcome to come back any time.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Yeah,” she says. “That's what Pokémon Centres are for. And hey, I wouldn't say no to the company. Gets kinda quiet in here over the winter.”

    I glance around at the empty lobby, the empty lounge. I can't even hear any kids breaking anything.

    “It's pretty quiet now,” I say.

    We look at each other for a moment. Outside, the traffic goes back and forth, back and forth.

    I've told everyone else, right? Tacoma, and Eusine. I think I owe it to Tamiko too.

    “They kicked me out,” I tell her. “Or they didn't say that, but they didn't really give me any choice. I was trying to hide that I was … like, I like guys. They figured it out, we fought, I ran away.”

    Tamiko nods like she understands.

    “I'm sorry,” she says.

    “Yeah. Me too.” What was that? Do better. “Sorry,” I say. “I meant thanks.”

    She nods again.

    “You never told me what you wanted me to say to them,” she says. “Their identification came through earlier. I didn't want to push you, but I do need to ask now, before you go.”

    I mean to tell her that she shouldn't tell them anything, but what actually comes out of my mouth is:

    “Oh.”

    Roddy swoops down to hover protectively by my shoulder, not sure what's happening but ready to fight it; Tamiko just raises her eyebrows.

    “You're not sure?”

    “I am. I don't want them to … I mean, I don't think I …” I trail off, embarrassed. Why am I like this? “Sorry, I don't know what's wrong with me.”

    “No, it's okay.” She pins her tongue between her teeth for a moment, thinking. “Okay, look. I can't give away your information unless you consent to it, so if you're not sure then I'll tell them I can't say.”

    “Thanks.” Man. Everyone here has been so good to me, and all I can manage in response is this constant inadequate gratitude. “I just … I don't know. They're my parents.”

    “Oh, I know, Morty.” She hesitates, weighing something in her head, then gets up and comes around to my side of the counter. “Can I tell you something?” she asks. “And you can tell me to stop any time you like, if I've misinterpreted this.”

    “… sure.”

    “My brother is an asshole,” she says. “What happened to Makoto is his fault.” She gestures over the countertop, at Makoto's scarred head and milky eyes. “He was a teenager, and he was drunk, and his apology was terrible. All his apologies were. And he had a lot to apologise for, Morty. Much more than hurting Makoto, more even than I could make him understand. So I hated him for twenty years. I even moved halfway across the country so I'd have an excuse not to see him.”

    She's telling the truth. I can see it in the way she holds her hands, the tension of the skin over her knuckles.

    “But last year … last year I was rereading a letter he sent me maybe seven years before then. And it was this asshole kind of letter, you know? Asking me about my prospects, talking about his rich friends in Cherrygrove. I wondered why I'd even kept it, and then I thought, I kept it so I can reread it and hate him again, and then I realised that I had a choice. I could either hate him for the rest of my life, or I could let it go and we could try to have something.”

    She looks up at me suddenly, as if checking for something.

    “Not what we had before,” she adds quickly. “I wasn't going to forgive him for what he did. What he still does, sometimes, when his wife isn't there to keep him in line. We're not friends, but we have an understanding. And I met my niece and nephew for the first time.”

    She shakes her head. Something about the gesture makes her look so much older than I thought she was. Closer to Tacoma than to me.

    “I'm not telling you to go back home or to call your parents, Morty. I'm not saying that you have any obligations to them, either, not after what they did. But I'm saying, when you're ready, when you're in a place where you feel like you can have that conversation … don't forget, and maybe don't even forgive, but remember that it's not just a case of either cutting them out forever or giving into all their demands. You can absolutely not ever see them again, if that's what you need. But if not … well, you have more than two options. Okay?”

    I don't answer. I'm kind of busy trying not to cry. It just never occurred to me, is all. Because I do miss them, miss home; I miss it all so much it hurts, like a hungry centipede crawling around inside my chest and chewing at the walls. And as much as I never want to go back, I don't know if I want to go the rest of my life without giving us one more chance to understand each other.

    I feel kinda dumb for not realising I could do that before, but maybe there was no way I could have known without someone to explain it to me.

    “Okay?” asks Tamiko again, and I nod. Roddy is floating close now, holding my sleeve. I think she's been doing it for a while; I just didn't notice.

    “Yeah,” I mumble, blinking hard. “Um. Thanks, Tamiko.”

    She smiles.

    “It's my job,” she says. “I'm League, you know? This is what we're for.”

    “What, consoling random teenagers?”

    “Yes, actually.” She gives me a sidelong look. “Why do you think there are Pokémon Centres everywhere, Morty? We know trainer journeys are hard. But we think they're worth it anyway, so we're here to help you manage them.”

    “I'm not on a trainer journey.”

    “But you are wandering around Johto with a pokémon and no parental support.” She shrugs. “You know what my job description is? 'First point of contact and primary support agent for children away from home'. I'd say this fits pretty neatly within my remit.”

    I sigh.

    “Sorry. I guess I always just thought you were receptionists.”

    “Hey now,” she says, but she's smiling; I don't think it's a real reprimand. “Less of that. There's more to being a receptionist than you might think.”

    “Probably,” I agree. “Probably.”

    We stand there, leaning against the counter and watching the last golden light of autumn falling in honeyed slabs through the doors. I kind of don't even want to leave now. But there will be other moments, and other people with whom to share them. And like Tamiko says, I can always come back.

    “Well, I'll see you,” I say, pushing off from the desk.

    “Yeah,” replies Tamiko. “Next weekend, even. Me and Makoto will be down at Moon Bridge on Friday evening, doing our civic duty.” She spreads her hand towards the door. “Now go on. I think you two have an appointment to keep.”

    “I think so too,” I say. “Bye, then. And thanks. For everything.”

    Makoto rears up and pushes her head across the desk towards my hand. I give her one last head-rub, then pull away and beckon Roddy to follow me out into the sun.



    Except it isn't over. Except that there's someone waiting out here, leaning against the wall by the doors with his arms folded.

    “Morty.”

    Oh, shit.

    “Eusine,” I say, taking a step back that I know is pure instinct but which I despise anyway. “Hey.”

    He scowls.

    “What gives, man?” He doesn't sound angry. He sounds disappointed. This is much, much worse. “You're just sneaking off without even telling anyone?”

    The city moves around us: cars, birds, people with more important things on their minds than two kids and a haunter who's watching them with the ardent expression of a meowth watching birds from a window. I can feel my stomach dropping with every moment I stand here.

    “It's not like I didn't tell anyone,” I say, which on balance is more or less the worst thing I could have come up with. “Just not …”

    He draws his head back, eyebrows raised.

    “Wow, dude. I was kind of hoping for an explanation, not whatever the hell that was.”

    “Yeah, I … yeah. Sorry.”

    An awful, graceless pause. Someone crosses the road and glances curiously at us as he goes into the Centre. His eyes grind on me like sandpaper.

    “So did Tacoma tell you, or …?”

    “Yeah,” says Eusine. “I went in there to see Lars, and she was like, you haven't heard? Go back to the Centre, Morty's leaving. Which, by the way, man, I'm still waiting on that explanation.”

    “Right.” I look at Roddy, who gives me a stern look back. I'm actually starting to regret telling her about Eusine; I feel like she's kind of expecting me to come out of this with his number or something. “So yeah. Sorry. I just …”

    Just what, Morty? Just didn't want to drag things out? To get your hopes up with this funny guy with the nice smile, who's going to spend the next couple of years wandering around the country while you stick around here in Goldenrod and try to scrape a life together? Even if I have a chance, even if I'm right about him, there's no way that's going to work out.

    “I just couldn't face it,” I mumble.

    God, the look on Eusine's face. Like when I came home and saw my parents standing there, with that … that expression in their eyes.

    Mortimer Fletcher, said Mum, staring through my skull into my brain. What have you done?

    “You just couldn't face it,” repeats Eusine. “Nice. Look, I'm trying to understand, all right, but you're not making this easy. I thought we were getting along.”

    The way the tendons stood out along Dad's forearm with the tension of his fist.

    Why do you have to make this difficult, Morty?

    “We were!” I cry. “I mean – are. We are. I just – I guess I got scared―?”

    “Scared?” He steps away from the wall, unfolding his arms, and the part of me listening to my parents tenses up in anticipation of a blow. “Of what, exactly?”

    What exactly are you trying to pull here?

    Heart in my mouth, trying to step back but unable to move; the cars seem to be getting faster, louder, or maybe it's just the blood roaring in my ears. Can't look away to make sure. Stuck on Eusine's eyes, on my father's eyes. Wide and blue and angry.

    “I dunno,” I say, the words falling over each other in their rush to leave my mouth. “I dunno, I'm – sorry, I guess I'm just dumb―”

    “What are you talking about?” He raises a hand and I flinch, but he's just gesturing, frustrated. “That's not even what I said. Are you listening?”

    Are you listening to me, Morty? Are you fucking listening? No son of mine

    “Saahp!”

    Roddy dives between us, hands glowing red and braced as if to push us apart.

    “Saahp,” she repeats, leaving her hands there and twisting her body to stare into my eyes. “Ahoa.” A hiss of frustration. “Ahoha,” she repeats, trying to be clearer. “Ahhh-oma.”

    Yes, Morty. There is nothing wrong with you, and if anyone has ever told you otherwise then they're the one who has a problem.

    It's like a cold, dark wind, gusting through my mind and blowing my parents back into the past. I see Tacoma, the comforting gloom of the clinic, and through the memory pushes Roddy, claws resting on my shoulders.

    “Oay?” she asks.

    Okay? Well, not really. I'm standing here in the middle of the street and having some kind of crisis that's made Eusine mad at me. But at least I know that's what's happening now.

    “Okay,” I tell her. “Thanks, Roddy.”

    “Nah,” she says, drifting back and gesturing at Eusine. “Euhai.”

    He doesn't look frustrated any more, just confused. I guess this is better? Yeah. It's probably better.

    “I'm, uh … sorry about that,” I say, awkwardly. “I have, you know. Some issues, I guess.”

    “You're telling me.” He sighs. “Look, Morty, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you, I just … didn't expect you to sneak off.”

    Roddy nudges me with her fist. And, well, much as I'd like to run away, I think I probably owe it to her to take a stab at this.

    “Yeah,” I say. “I'm, um, glad you came and found me, though.”

    He blinks.

    “Yeah?”

    “Yeah.”

    For the past few minutes, the world has been just us; now it starts to expand again, filling up with cars and cyclists and raucous pidgey clattering across the rooftops. There are people pushing past us, trying to get by. We stand aside and let them.

    “Listen, Morty,” says Eusine. “I, uh … I'm gonna be in town for a week or so still, till Lars is discharged. So we can … I mean, you'll probably be busy, but, uh …”

    Another nudge from Roddy. I look at Eusine, at the brightness of his eyes and the blush rising in his cheeks, and with an effort I shove my parents from my head and think instead of Tacoma and Jodi walking out of the clinic together.

    “Yeah,” I say. “I think I'd like that.”

    His face cracks into a startled kind of grin.

    “Well, okay,” he says. “Good to know.”

    Roddy flings her hands skyward and warbles triumphantly, flying round and round us like an excitable moon.

    “Roddy,” I say, embarrassed. “C'mon.”

    “'S okay,” says Eusine, following her with his eyes. “I think Lars is probably gonna be the same, when I get back to him.”

    “Bloody ghosts, huh?”

    He laughs, surprised.

    “Yeah,” he says. “Bloody ghosts.” A businesslike sniff. “Okay, look, I've probably held you up long enough. But, uh, you can call me at the Centre?”

    I think he meant that to be a statement, but it comes out so hopeful it can only be a question. I'm pretty sure we would both actually literally die if I told him this, but it's kind of cute.

    “Sure,” I say. “I have the number.” I don't, but I'm sure I can get it.

    “Cool,” he says. “Well, uh … see you.”

    “Seeyah!” cries Roddy, stopping to wave.

    “Yeah, and you,” he tells her. “Make sure he doesn't get lost or anything.”

    “Laluleoh,” she says seriously, grabbing my shoulder. “Allay.”

    “Thanks,” I say. I'm trying to be sarcastic, but I might be a little too giddy to make it stick. “Uh … good luck hunting Suicune, I guess.”

    Eusine laughs.

    “You remembered,” he says. “Yeah, well, maybe next time we meet I'll have found it. Let you pet it if you like.”

    I smile.

    “Sure,” I reply. “Hey, maybe I'll find Ho-oh and you can ride on it.”

    “That'd be cool,” he says. “First one to the legendary wins?”

    “Wins what?”

    Sly smile.

    “I think we can figure something out,” he says. “See you later, Morty. Call me?”

    “Y-yeah,” I stammer, through lips that seem to have gone stiff and clumsy with heat. “I'll do that.”

    We pause for a moment, like we're going to shake hands or – or something, but we don't shake hands (or something), and then he goes back inside while I walk off down the street, resisting the urge to look back.

    Roddy nudges me again, hard enough to scorch my jacket.

    “Suhasorrey?” she says, her jagged mouth stretching into a grin.

    I sigh and look away, through the traffic.

    “No idea what you're talking about,” I tell her, and keep on walking.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
  5. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    Oooh, good to see your writing back on the forums. Had a good time reading this one today. Your side story novella was pretty straight-forward; the foreshadowing in the first chapter more or less was sufficient to guess what would happen in the rest of story. The stakes felt pretty low compared to your other stuff, but I think that's just because we already know all of Morty's problems from the start and the plot's him opening up to other people.

    I liked Morty and Eusine's gradual build up to friendship. It felt natural and their bonding over mutual problems worked well. Also, glad the Eusine got some more time; he's a fun character to work with. Wasn't really sure if you were going for romance with them at first, but I think you established a relationship between the two strong enough to support either option.

    Also, nice to see cameos of gay squad™. I'm glad that Tacoma got the focus because her issues of integrating into society seemed the most interesting thing to write about. Seeing Jodi's nice, but outside of her providing a place for Morty to go, she's just sort of a "yep, that sure is a character I like" cameo, so I'm glad she doesn't distract from the plot.

    Just a little nitpick, but having two characters named "Lorne" and "Horne" that are introduced within close together was a smidgen confusing. Perhaps it's just my skim reading, but I swore you were making typos at first. It didn't seem like there was a reason to have them have similar names, but changing one of them might improve readability.

    Also, considering that the story takes place just past the turn of the century, having the game boy having a charge cable is anachronistic, IIRC. Considering the rest of the details seems to fit nicely into 2003ish era, it seems early for that. IDK maybe he's playing one of the fancy new models and I'm just an idiot.

    Overall, nice story. Had a good time reading it. Cool to see you working with male characters. Fun (well maybe not """fun""") side story.
     
  6. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    I ship it.
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Yeah, not everything needs to be a great big ambitious statement story; sometimes you just write something for fun, something where you know our hero has some problems and that by the end he's going to start sorting them out. This was one of those things. So you know, it's not like great, but it's fun. For me to write, anyway. Glad you liked reading it, too!

    Hm. Possibly I need to make it clearer that it's absolutely meant to be romance between them? Like, they're pretty much openly flirting at the end, and Morty's whole deal is being helped to start getting over his internalised homophobia so that he can, like, get Eusine's number, and he spends half the fic thinking oh no he's hot, so I'm not quite sure what else I could do. I mean, they're teenage boys; they would probably pass out from embarrassment if they said anything openly to each other. I had to work with hints, and I made them as definitive as I could, but it may be that that's something I need to revise if I come back to this. Thank you!

    This is basically a coda for Ghost Town as well as a story about a kid named Morty who's one day going to have a weird obsession with Ho-oh and an inexplicable fondness for a man who dresses like an old-fashioned stage magician. So you know, I wanted to show that at this point in their lives, all our favourites from Ghost Town are still doing okay. There were times when they weren't, probably, and there will probably be times in their future when they won't again, but you know. Lives are like that. And I did want to revisit Tacoma in particular, because one thing I never really got to show within the two-week confines of Ghost Town was her getting back the outgoing nature she had as a kid, or at the very least learning to be social again. That was going to be even harder for her after she was dead, so I felt it was worth writing about. For my own interest, if nothing else.

    Fair point! I will reconsider that one.

    I mean, he's using a GBA, and I swear my GBA had a charge cable in 2003. Possibly I should've had him say it was a GBA? But like, I never called it a Game Boy Advance, I called it a Game Boy even if that wasn't the right name, and I figured Morty would do the same.

    Unless I'm just completely misremembering and GBAs of that era didn't have charge cables either. In which case, uh … oops? Not sure I can change that one, since I can't imagine Morty having the spare cash for batteries, so we could, um, put it down to the way the pokémon world is more technologically advanced than ours? Or something?

    Thank you! That's all it was meant to be, honestly. Just something fun, something slightly different, something unambitious and satisfying. So yes, thank you for reading, and thanks for the review! I always appreciate it.

    That's pretty much the result I was hoping for. :V Thank you![/QUOTE]
     
  8. Firaga Metagross

    Firaga Metagross Auferstanden Aus Ruinen

    I'm pretty oblivious to this sort of thing and it's not something I think terribly much about, so If I picked up on the vibes despite that, you've probably put more than enough subtext.
     
  9. Rediamond

    Rediamond Middle of nowhere

    So the original plan was to leave a real review after someone else posted, but then no one did and I didn't want to double post or ruin a perfectly good shitpost with edits, so. Here we are.

    To be honest, and I know this is ironic coming from me, I really like three shots or even thirty shots so long as it's an actual story that's somewhat likely to actually finish. It's such a rare thing in pokemon fan fic. So I did enjoy being able to sit down and read a complete story in one sitting.

    Morty is cute and awkward and hella gay and I love him. Eusine is... I'm in the weird place in life of being simultaneously the oblivious privileged friend and the one being weighed down by the most things, so I can relate to both of them in their own ways. He's sweet enough once the layers get pulled back. To be honest my ambivalence here is probably just because I've never cared much for him as a character.

    I am a sucker for pokemon medicine and anatomy and illness and that was beautiful. Also the little thing about not all pokemon being able to cuddle their humans, even if they wanted to. There's a thing (that I can now back up with data!) where writers /really/ like pokemon that have common pet analogues and you defy it a lot. I appreciate that.

    It's also nice to have a league that is true to the games (kids get sent out, mostly alone, and told to fend for themselves in a world where feral tyranitar can spark atom bomb metaphors), but also reconstructs it by having the league be... ok, still irresponsible and reckless, but there are at least some fail safes.

    No kangaskhan tho :(

    But lothian is qt as always :)
     
  10. TheAlpar

    TheAlpar Journey Enthusiast

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    HOW DID I MISS THIS????? Honestly feel free to slap me in the face because I cannot believe you already wrote 3 chapters of a Ghost Town side-story and I didn't even catch wind of it. What has the world come to, honestly.

    No but seriously I'm so happy I get the opportunity to read more of your stuff again <3 and oh man what an amazing 3 chapters these were. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that it took me a really long while to realize who this Morty was, I only caught it the second time he talked to Eusine. Yes, I'm THAT slow. But oh well, at least the moment of realization was super worth it.

    You have a sweet spots for lost kids and I love that, because you really do understand and it shows through your writing. The slow reveals all throughout the chapters felt real and well-paced, and the end was sweet while also challenging, like you usually make them. There's always hope, there's always a way out, there's always a second chance, but it's gonna be difficult. But also... it's gonna be worth it, because these people are strong.

    It was so nice seeing Tacoma again. Can you imagine how proud she must be of herself? She's a ghost doctor!!!! She can do all kinds of spooky stuff and be badass and also nice and understanding, I love her so much. And I'm glad she found a place for herself in the world, she really seems to be an expert at what she does. I would love to see her interact with Fantina, but that's maybe because I have weird headcanons about her. Anyway, I'm so proud of her.

    AND JODI AND LOTHIAN!!!!! Man... it sucks that they're not... really welcome in their town anymore but at least they have a place, you know? And Jodi gets to be the best person ever and opens up that refuge for people like Morty and I'm dying of sweetness, they're just too good. I wonder how strong Lothi is now, I imagine he must be very protective. Tho I'm sad to hear that Tacoma's Pokemon passed away ):

    This was such a sweet thing to read, and once again I gotta thank you for it <3 You really have a knack for these things. I really hope you continue writing and I can be there to read whatever that is.

    Cheers!
     
  11. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Fair enough. Thank you!

    I know the feeling, and commend your dedication to the joke!

    I'm glad to provide! I really don't like leaving things unfinished – I only post things that I know are going to be completed, for instance; if I've got to the stage where I'm posting a thing, it's because I have the rest of it in my head and am just going through the process of putting it all down in words, so hopefully mine is a name you can count on when it comes to things being seen through.

    That's like, everything I was going for, so thanks for that!

    It may also be because I've never been that interested in him as a character, either. He definitely isn't as well developed here as Morty is – although tbh, I wasn't that interested in Morty either until I realised that he was probably a kid with a haunter at some point, which is something I do find interesting, and also that he calls you up on your Pokégear to talk about Eusine and awkwardly admit to not being into the same legendaries as him, which I felt is the mark of a really cute dork, and on which I based his entire personality in this fic. He's only sixteen here; he really doesn't have the whole 'cool ghost-type master' thing down yet.

    I'm glad people liked that; it was something I had a lot of fun with when I was writing it, so much so that I wrote thousands and thousands of words about the diagnostic scene and I had to end up cutting a bunch of it to keep it all in balance. I was on the fence about leaving so much of it in, but from the feedback I've got here and elsewhere, it seems like that was a good decision.

    I mean, I like monsters, basically. :V I cannot imagine that in a world where I could have either four million types of magic dog or like, a garbage bunny or a slime dragon or the ghost of dead seaweed haunting a shipwreck as my weird friendpetsiblingthing, I'm going to go for any of the magic dogs. But also – I do like to keep it varied, and keep using different species of pokémon, not least because each time I start thinking about a different kind of pokémon I'm forced to invent a bunch of lore about it, and it just makes for a more fun and interesting creative process. Whereas if I were going to write about eevee or something, I'd … honestly just be sort of bored.

    Basically, I wanted the League to be kind, as far as possible – at least in terms of the people who make it up, who believe in the ideals it embodies even as they work to mitigate the harm those ideals can cause. I don't think it's possible for any of the pokémon leagues as represented in-game to be entirely positive forces, and I'm sure they engage in a lot of dubious behaviour, but I think that when it comes to the kids, at least, they mean well. Even if some of those kids, you know, get caught up in tyranitar attacks and have both legs really badly broken and two of their partners killed.

    Sadly not. With most pokémon, I base their lifespans on their real-world equivalent, if any, and then add in a few extra years because they're basically magic; unfortunately, given that Nikki was already at least eleven or twelve at the time of Ghost Town, there wasn't really any way I could have her still be around in 2003.

    And sure, bats don't live that long either, but Lothian is also a dragon, and I kind of feel like with dragons all bets are off and you can say they live however long you feel like without anyone pointing out that this is weird. Also, y'know, I wanted to write some Lothian again, even if only for a couple of paragraphs.

    Anyway, thank you for the review! I always appreciate it.

    Don't worry – I actually posted all three chapters together as one thing, because they're really meant to be read in one go, and then they vanished off the front page with all the posting, so it's not too surprising that it passed you by. But I'm glad you found it in the end!

    I'm pleased you liked it! And that's fine; like, apart from the fact that Eusine and Morty are a pair in-game (they say 'friends', but I choose to interpret that as them being coy in front of a stranger), there isn't much indication at the start of the story that this guy's going to become the Morty we're familiar with from the games.

    Thank you! Like, this is a story whose cast is pretty much entirely on Morty's side, who are all trying to help him in different ways, and I was a little concerned that that might end up not being very interesting, even with the various difficulties and barriers I placed in Morty's way, but it looks like that wasn't the case.

    And there's the other half of the reason for writing this! In this story, Jodi and Tacoma have completed the journey they began in Ghost Town and become another Sam and Gabriella, protecting the next generation. Given that in Ghost Town there was no assurance that everything would turn out well, only that there would be good things and bad things in the future, I did want to revisit these two at a point when there's more good than bad in their lives. Like, Tacoma's not quite over becoming a ghost yet, but she's made a huge amount of progress, to the point where she's embraced what she is and what it means she can do: she's the one who pioneered the study of ghost medicine, and she's now the authority in the field. And she's so much better at talking to people, too, even if she's not quite as good as other people.

    Yeah, after what they did back in 1976, there was no way that things could have ended well for them; I assume that the time immediately following Ghost Town was, uh, pretty bad for both of them. But that's why I skipped forward 25 years, after all – aside from the fact that I wanted to write about Morty and Eusine, that is. I did write something about the two of them set in 1977, but given that that was a Halloween special, I think I missed my chance to crosspost it over here from the forum it's on now.

    Anyway, yeah, Jodi and Lothi! They're doing great too, as you say. Sadly I couldn't really think of a way that Nikki would have lived 25 years after the end of Ghost Town, given that she was already eleven or twelve in 1976, but since Lothi is a dragon I felt pretty justified in giving him an unreasonably long life for a bat. :>

    Thank you! <3 That's really sweet of you to say. I'll definitely keep on writing, and at least some of it will definitely be pokémon fic, so stick around and I'm sure you'll see it when it turns up. And finally, thank you for your review! I really appreciate it.
     

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