Once up in her room, Misty collapsed on the bed and fell asleep within seconds. Her eyes closed, and a dream began. The whole transition was almost supernatural in its smoothness and speed.
At first, the dream felt like the stage show her sisters had strong-armed her into once–the magical mermaid swimming under the waves. Only this time, instead of a generic fish tail belonging to no Pokémon in particular, her lower body had the distinct tail of a Gyarados. She had sunk below the water, looking for a place where she could use her breathing apparatus out of view of the audience.
Except that the pool was vacant–impressively deep and spacious for swimming, but there were no props or sets, no shadowy areas of any kind. And she didn’t have any breathing equipment with her.
Tension built in her mind, telling her she had to surface. But her body told the opposite story–that she could stay under as long as she liked. The surface air was no longer something she needed.
Then the scene changed. She was leaning out of the pool, watching local news reports on a monitor. Headlines scrolled by exactly as Blue had described. The two Kanto gym leaders had been missing for months. Search parties had turned up nothing. An anonymous tip suggested Team Rocket might be holding them captive somewhere, but for what reason, no one knew.
I’m right here, Misty wanted to yell at the screen. Figure it out! I’m right here!
Misty gasped awake.
The first thing she did was throw off the covers and switch on the light. She was in her hotel room, the same human body as always, in the same bed as always. Her head still throbbed, but the pain felt a bit duller now. At least she could stand and keep her balance.
I need some fresh air.
She put on some slippers, which were shaped like two Magikarp trying to swallow each foot, and wandered out onto the hotel balcony. It was just before dawn; the colors of the sky were growing warmer, but the sun had yet to actually rise. Misty had never felt the island so quiet before.
At least until she herself broke the silence.
Misty glanced to the side and saw Brock sitting cross-legged in one of the armless lounge chairs. Thinking she had been alone out here and suddenly seeing someone beside her, even a friend, was enough to startle her. She let out a quick “Eeep!” as she jumped and covered her mouth.
Brock jumped too at the sudden noise, but he at least managed not to yell about it.
“You scared me,” Misty whispered, her cheeks burning.
“Sorry,” Brock whispered back. “I thought you saw me.”
Misty sighed and sank into the next closest chair on the balcony. A round rattan table stood between her and Brock–too small to hide behind in embarrassment, but convenient for staring at when she didn’t feel like making eye contact.
“You’re dreaming about it now, too, huh?” Brock asked.
Misty glanced up at him, confused. “Wait. You’ve had those same dreams? About the past?”
Brock shrugged. “I guess? They come off like they’re memories, and they’re pretty close to what Blue described. I’m half Steelix, you’re half Gyarados, and no one in Kanto seems to have a clue where we are.”
“I…see,” Misty said, unsure what else to reply. Brock hadn’t been in her dream at all. She stared out at the beach, counting the seconds between when each wave touched the shore and retreated back into the ocean. “That guy Grimsley talked about other realities…maybe we’re seeing something that didn’t happen in our timeline at all?”
“Who knows?” Brock said with a shrug. “I just know I don’t want to think about it anymore.” He uncrossed his legs leaned back in the chair a moment before adding on, “But…I shouldn’t have assumed you didn’t want to think about it. I know I basically dropped the topic and left you to figure everything out on your own. And…I’m sorry for that.”
“I-it’s okay,” Misty said. Brock wasn’t the type to fumble with apologies, but he still sounded oddly formal laying out his offenses like that. This whole conversation was in serious need of tension-breaking before one of them passed out from the sheer awkwardness of it all.
“Hey, you want to get some coffee?” Brock suddenly said. “I think the cafe down the road opens in a few minutes.”
You read my mind. Misty smiled and nodded. “Y-yeah. Coffee sounds perfect. Just let me throw on some different clothes.” She walked back to the balcony door but paused as her fingers gripped the handle. “You think…anyone else is having dreams like this? Or are we just special?”
“For the sake of everyone else?” Brock said. “I’m hoping we’re special.”
Misty nodded her agreement and went inside to find something a little more suited for the streets of Pasio than bubble-print pajamas and Magikarp slippers.
As shops across Centra City opened to a new day, N stood in the kitchen and cut the heat to the stove. He hadn’t set off the smoke detector in this morning’s attempts to make breakfast, which he took as a positive start. Of all the things he’d learned traveling the world, cooking…well, it wasn’t the weakest on the list, but it wasn’t the strongest, either. Baking was all right; it was more of less chemistry with food. Baking recipes had formulas to follow, and when you followed them correctly, the results were delicious.
Cooking often required in-the-moment decisions based made on experience. Which N lacked. So the fact that he’d made a panful of eggs with both a fluffy texture and a consistent yellow color was quite the accomplishment.
Even more so when he considered how little he’d slept.
N got out two plates and divided the pan’s contents evenly. He then set them on the table, one in front of Ghetsis at far end of the table and the other at his own spot at the head. He looked over his work with a touch of pride. Then he stifled a yawn.
Ghetsis looked guilty–at least from the way he turned his face, frowned, and stared at the floor. Childhood had hardly given N any references for what a guilty expression on Ghetsis would actually look like.
“You were…having nightmares again last night?” N asked. He phrased it like a question, even though it really wasn’t. N had woken up no less than three times when Ghetsis had cried out in his sleep. He’d only been woken up once the night prior. But the night before that, it had been four times.
“An accurate statement,” Ghetsis mumbled. Which was a step up from his typical, “That’s none of your concern.”
N poured himself an extra large mug of coffee before taking his seat. Now there was a perfect formula. “About what?”
“I’m not entirely clear.” Ghetsis took a single bite of food before pulling his own mug closer without actually drinking from it.
“You don’t remember any specifics, you mean?”
Ghetsis massaged his forehead. “I remember. What I mean to say is…I’m not entirely clear on how much those specifics reflect reality.”
N began eating his own breakfast, though to his disappointment, this did not prompt Ghetsis to elaborate. He shouldn’t have been surprised. It had been enough of a struggle getting Ghetsis to actually admit that 1) he had been shouting in his sleep at midnight and 2) a series of bad dreams were the cause. “You know,” N said thoughtfully. “If you stopped trying so hard to make every conversation as short as possible, ironically, they’d drag on less.”
“I am a short-sighted individual.”
N groaned. It wasn’t intentional, but the fatigue had certainly taken a number on his impulse control.
For once, Ghetsis took the hint and relented. “Tell me, N,” he said, staring down into his mug. “Do you think there are other versions of reality out there? Timelines where people took alternate paths? Or where the consequences for their actions unfolded differently?”
“It’s a bit hypothetical for me to say for sure, but I’m certainly intrigued by the idea.” This wasn’t where he expected the conversation to go, but as long as Ghetsis was finally talking, he wasn’t going to object.
After a long and heavy pause, Ghetsis continued, “Last night…what I believe I saw in my dreams…were other versions of myself.”
“Where Team Plasma was successful?” N asked, trying to keep the caution out of his voice.
Ghetsis actually drank some of the coffee. Which demonstrated how little he wanted to continue this conversation. “There was one reality where that happened, briefly. But even then, in the end…” He shook his head, his jaw clenched. “I saw little of Team Plasma. Except in relation to…how I behaved towards you.” He picked up the fork and speared more of the eggs without eating them. “I shouldn’t be here.”
“You’ve said that before.” N took several bites of his own breakfast. It would cold as a Glaciate attack if he waited for Ghetsis to share his full thoughts.
“And you should have listened to me then, too,” Ghetsis said. He took a single bite of food as if to show off that he could eat and simply chose not to. “N, no matter which reality played out in front of me, there was not a single one where I wasn’t hurting you or lying to you. Or worse.”
And what am I supposed to respond to that? N swallowed, the eggs feeling like a rock in his stomach, even though they’d tasted fine. Everything in his mind had built a protective barrier against the man who’d raised him. But the man across the table wasn’t that person. Both truths clashed against each other in an unsolvable puzzle. For as much as everyone regarded N as a genius, he couldn’t reconcile this. No wonder Ghetsis couldn’t, either.
All N could do was speak from his heart and hope something coherent followed. “Even if you were seeing different realities, they aren’t this reality.” He leaned forward on the table. “You’ve changed, Father.”
Ghetsis dropped his fork, his hand shaking violently. “Don’t call me that.”
“I-it slipped out,” N said. He covered his mouth, debating. “I guess…I was just thinking…I’m grateful we crossed paths again. If whatever happened to you remains permanent, then…” He took a deep breath, searching for the words that felt right. “We may part ways, but it won’t change the fact that I am grateful…that I’ll always be able to call you my father.”
With each word, Ghetsis seemed to grow more frightened. He watched N like one might watch a horrific accident unfold. “You said the same thing then.”
“What? In your dream?” N asked, hesitant to ask his next question but unable to resist. “How did you respond?”
Ghetsis shrunk back. “I…I hit you.”
“Oh.” N straightened. “Were we…having an argument?”
Ghetsis shook his head again and covered his face with his hand. “I was about to fall. You were…trying to save me. But I…didn’t want to be saved. I wanted you to let go. And I was angry…so consumingly angry that you would extend gratitude toward me after everything that transpired. I hit you…again and again and again until–”
The shaking worsened until his whole body convulsed.
“That’s enough,” N said, standing. Why did I push the topic like that? “You don’t have to elaborate.”
Ghetsis continued, his voice cracking as the convulsions worsened. He hardly seemed aware of the room around him, let alone N’s voice. “You were bleeding. And you weren’t moving. And I still–I-I’m sure that I–”
“I said stop!” N grabbed Ghetsis by the shoulders. The man’s frail body gave one last violent shake before it finally went still.
“Father?” N asked.
He didn’t move.
“Ghetsis?” N said, more urgently.
The man slowly lifted his head, his eyes red and wet, his jaw clenched.
N let out a sigh of relief. All that expended energy so he wouldn’t sob in front of me. He released Ghetsis and politely turned away. Exhaustion fell over him, invading his muscles along with his mind. He’d always been so sure that if his father could change, things would be better. He’d be able to put some closure on all the terrible memories of his childhood. Yet there was a certain simplicity to closing the door on his past and re-focusing on the future. He wasn’t ready for the complications that Ghetsis’s remorse would bring.
“I should take Kyurem out to get some fresh air,” N finally said.
Ghetsis nodded but said nothing else. N put on his hat and took the dragon’s Poké Ball from its place atop a high shelf in the entryway. It wasn’t the ideal housing, in his opinion, but Kyurem could be temperamental at the best of times and seemed to find comfort tucked inside the safety of the Poké Ball.
“I should be back in a few minutes,” he said, neither expecting a reply nor receiving one.
Pasio had few locations where one could release a massive dragon with privacy. Thankfully, the location of N’s free abode came with a convenient perk. The houses on this street were packed tightly together, but a series of storage units for the neighborhood stood only a block away. N had managed to find a closed-off corner where no passersby would see them, but Kyurem still had room to stretch and flex.
Out of caution, N still did a check over his shoulder before he let Kyurem out.
“Hello there, my friend,” he said quietly, hoping his calm tone would carry over to Kyurem as well. “How are you feeling today?”
Kyurem stretched each limb slowly and methodically. “I feel empty.”
It never gave any other answer, but N patted his friend’s neck with the same sympathy as he always did. The magnificent ice dragon was different from other friends N had spoken with. There was an aching inside Kyurem, a deep loneliness that could never really be filled. It had driven Kyurem’s desperate desire to fuse. With Reshiram. With Zekrom. With any creature it could make a connection with.
Maybe N couldn’t understand humans the way he could understand Pokémon, but he felt certain of one thing: If Ghetsis wasn’t so devoted to shutting down his feelings, he could form as strong a bond with Kyurem as any sync pair on Pasio.
“Would you like to try some of your moves?” N asked. “If you use them gently, we should be okay.”
Kyurem shook itself and blew out several icy breaths, causing a frost to form at the edges of the garage-like doors of the nearest storage units. Not a concern, as the warm temperatures would melt them within the hour.
Staring at the ice crystals, N could only reflect on the progress he and Ghetsis had been making towards any kind of familial relationship. That was to say, progress was frozen and unmoving. All because of these recurring dreams. N could move forward and perhaps when he’d first arrived here, Ghetsis might have been able to do the same. Now his mind was perceptually stuck in the past. Or in versions of the past where he had behaved even worse than N remembered.
Kyurem nudged N’s arm. “Share your thoughts,” it said. “So my mind is less empty.”
“It’s not any specific thought,” N said. “But…” But something doesn’t feel right. This time, he opened his mind to allow Kyurem to hear him as he could hear his friend. Kyurem never said much but seemed to enjoy listening to N carry the conversation, if only between their minds.
“Ghetsis has been here almost three weeks now, yet these nightmares of his only started a few days ago.”
“He is hurting,” Kyurem said.
“From a Pokémon?”
N rubbed his chin. A Pokémon? He’d been so caught up in the idea that Ghetsis’s nightmares were somehow of his own making, he’d never considered an alternate source. Yet the pieces fit together. Plenty of Pokémon had influence over dreams, and those that did could be quite persistent in attacking their targets.
“It certainly could be,” he allowed.
“You should find the Pokémon, then,” Kyurem said. “Request for it to stop.”
“If that is the cause, then yes, I agree. But I want to be discreet about investigating this. It’ll take time.”
N shook his head. “By your standards? Probably not.”
“Live many centuries. Then ‘much time’ will feel like ‘little time’ to you as well.”
“I appreciate the advice.”
Kyurem gave a low rumble of a yawn and stretched once more before retreating into its Poké Ball once again. N stared at the ball a good long while before finally returning it to his belt. Perhaps his friend had a point. He would start asking the Pokémon around town what they knew. And maybe he could finally find some closure not only for himself but for Ghetsis, too.