This is a work of fanfiction by Butterfree/Dragonfree/antialiasis and is not to be reposted without permission. This story is in no way official or endorsed by Nintendo, GAME FREAK, Creatures Inc., or The Pokémon Company.

Morphic

For more information on this story and a full list of chapters and extras, click here. Please note that Morphic is rated R (M if you prefer Fiction Ratings) for strong language, violence and other sensitive subject matter.

Chapter 14

Jack regained consciousness in a bed. His leg stung faintly, but not quite painfully.

His eyes snapped open as soon as everything that had happened came back to him. His parents were sitting by the side of the bed in quiet conversation, and that combined with the smell told him he was in a hospital.

“Gabriel,” he said quickly, or rather that was what he tried, but it came out mumbled and drowsy. “Where’s Gabriel?”

His parents looked up and were suddenly hugging him. He noticed properly now that his leg was in a cast, raised above the bed. “Is Gabriel okay?” he asked, his voice sounding a bit clearer than before.

“They don’t know yet,” his father said quietly, rising again. “His body temperature was far too high. Some of his internal organs may be permanently damaged.”

“What about the others?”

“Peter and Katherine are both alive and recovering – she might lose some strength in her arm, but they’re out of immediate danger. They say it’s a miracle, probably some of it thanks to the Pokémon DNA.”

Jack’s heart sank as his father hesitated. “So Will and Mia and Felicia...?”

His father shook his head slowly. He wasn’t sure why that little shake horrified him so much, after he’d known it already; really, with Peter and Katherine all right, it was much better than he’d dared to hope. But somehow, the confirmation that they were gone, dead, forever – it was suffocating. He wanted to say something but had no idea what; he swallowed, looking at his father.

His mother rose as well and looked at him. “What were you thinking?” she whispered, sounding less angry than just puzzled. Jack couldn’t answer her: he really didn’t know anymore what he’d been thinking. All the planning and excitement – that strange excitement over wandering into an obvious deathtrap – seemed faraway and bizarre, like waking up from a vivid, seemingly realistic dream only to then realize that it was nonsense from beginning to end.

“Gabriel has to be okay,” he managed to choke up at last. “He has to be, or they all... it was all...”

“You should rest,” his father murmured. “We’ll wake you if we hear anything.”

-------

The man chuckled, his stinging icy blue eyes focused on Jack as he raised his gun, except that Jack was actually Gabriel; the man began to burst into spontaneous flames and screamed in agony as he burned, but then all of a sudden Mia grabbed him from behind, scythed arm shining by his throat, and said, “Hey, Jack.”

His eyes flicked open and he wondered momentarily in a panic why everything was white all of a sudden; then he heard his name again, and as he looked frantically around, he realized hazily that he was still in his hospital bed – and it was Gabriel that was saying his name in the bed next to his.

“Gabriel?” he managed after blinking and shaking off some of the sleepy mist in his head.“You’re all right?”

Gabriel nodded; he looked tired but satisfied. He was propped up against the pillows, a crude transparent plastic sheet protecting the bed from his slime. It still looked brighter and somehow healthier than usual.

“Could you leave us for a moment?” Gabriel said after a second’s hesitation, looking at Jack’s parents, who were still sitting near his bed. They glanced at one another, then at Jack with concern, but finally stood up and left the room.

“Thanks for coming for me,” the Slugma morph said with a faint smile as the door closed. “Maybe I shouldn’t be thankful you did something like that, but I am, so shoot me.”

Jack couldn’t possibly find that funny considering the circumstances; Gabriel’s smile faded again and he looked away.

“What a joke,” Jack said after a moment, staring out the window on his side of the room. “I was so desperate to save you I dragged everyone else into it too, and in the end, you were the one that saved me and they suffered for it. Near as I can tell, you could’ve gotten out by yourself without anyone getting hurt.”

“But you didn’t know that,” Gabriel said, looking back at him. “It was brave – stupid, but brave.”

He knew Gabriel meant well, but hearing it called brave made Jack nauseous. He thought of Will, of his wide, staring, dead eyes, and realized with a knot in his stomach that the only time he would ever see him again would be in a coffin. He remembered Brian’s funeral, the crushing, suffocating atmosphere and the mildly sickening feeling of looking at him lying there and realizing Brian wasn’t actually there anymore. And when he thought of Felicia – Christ, she was just a dog – tears angrily started to burst out at the corners of his eyes. He looked away and tried to hold it in; God, he was so stupid. He’d told them all that everything would be okay, so fervently he had almost believed it himself, and now they were dead, all for nothing – it wasn’t brave. It was stupid and pointless and wrong.

There was a lengthy silence.

“I thought you didn’t have any Slugma powers,” Jack said after a while, without looking at him.

“That’s what I thought, too,” Gabriel replied. “But it seems my Slugma cells were just starving to death.”

Jack turned towards him and blinked.

“True story,” Gabriel went on. “My skin eats rocks. I haven’t been rolling around in sand much lately, so it wasn’t feeling too good. Then I got locked up in a really dirty room with bare concrete walls and no food, and it turns out I have badass fire abilities after all.”

Jack looked incredulously at him.

Then it turns out if I actually use my powers, my body temperature rises and my human organs start failing. So I’m back to sucking at life. Figures.”

There was another long silence.

“I don’t understand how you can be so cheerful about this,” Jack blurted out all of a sudden, looking back at him. “Hasn’t anybody told you that Will died? And Mia, and poor Felicia?”

Gabriel’s expression quickly sobered. He was silent for a while, and for a moment Jack was terrified that he honestly hadn’t known.

“Yeah, that’s kinda fucked up,” Gabriel replied eventually. “I know what happened, and it’s terrible, but I can’t get myself to feel like I did when Dad died. Heck, I killed a man in there. And I know I should be traumatized and never recover or something, but I’m not. I feel pretty good about it. Hell, I feel awesome. I can burn people! How cool is that?”

Jack felt sick; he looked away.

“You know,” Gabriel said hesitantly after a moment, his tone uncertain, “I thought this was what you meant when you talked about feeling violent and wanting to beat people up, show them you’re better than them, or whatever.”

Something stung in Jack’s chest as he recalled that conversation. “I don’t feel like that now,” he mumbled, feeling kind of terrible for ever having thought that way. And yet, in a way it had been exciting being about to walk into that church, and just earlier he’d wanted to punch Gabriel a little, but that was just being angry, wasn’t it?

Gabriel looked contemplatively at the ceiling for a few long moments without saying anything. Then he said, “Maybe it’s just that I won, and you lost.”

There it was again, that inexplicable feeling, that longing to show him that no, Jack didn’t lose, he wouldn’t lose in a fair fight, and as soon as his leg was out of that cast he could –

Jack cringed; Gabriel was looking at him, and he could tell that somehow, the other boy understood.

“I guess Pokémon feel like this all the time,” Jack said quietly.

“No wonder they love battling so much. One mystery explained for the ages, thanks to us.”

They looked at one another, and for a precious moment, Jack managed to forget all about the horror in the church and winning and losing and just be glad to have his best friend back, alive and well. Then the image of dead Will assaulted him again, and he turned back towards the window.

“You know, I think we’re all pretty fucked up in the head, one way or another,” Gabriel said after a while. “Mia was just the only one that didn’t hide it.”

Jack nodded silently. They had to be: why else would they have gone along with him?

-------

‘POKÉMORPH’ TRAGEDY AT CHURCH OF HOLY TRUTH

Yesterday, six of the human-Pokémon hybrids created by Heywood Labs in the fall of 2000 staged an assault on a Grace City church, the Church of Holy Truth.

The church had formerly been involved with protests against the creation of the so-called ‘Pokémorphs’, calling them ‘abominations’. The attack occurred after extremist members of the congregation had kidnapped a seventh Pokémorph, Gabriel Edwards, and held him inside the building.

During the attack, the Pokémorphs physically assaulted five men, killing two while another two have been hospitalized with severe concussions. In self-defense, the men shot and killed two of the Pokémorphs and an Arcanine, as well as causing minor injuries to three of the other Pokémorphs.

The reasons for the kidnapping are unknown. Investigation is still underway.

“Self-defense,” muttered Dave, putting down the newspaper. “What a load of horse shit.”

“What is it, Dad?” asked Jean as she spread butter on her toast.

“Nothing,” he replied, scratching frustratedly at his scalp. “Just the media being a bunch of biased hacks as usual.”

She nodded sagely, like she understood exactly what he meant. He picked up his cup of morning coffee and took a sip as he flipped through the rest of the paper with his other hand. He considered whether to read the in-depth article, but it would probably only piss him off more. Most of the time that wouldn’t have stopped him, really, but for the moment pissed off was just not what he wanted to feel. This was, in all likelihood, the calm before the shitstorm, the short period of mostly-ordinary life before the outraged public would swallow them whole. Ten years ago, he’d spent that calm being pissed off anyway. By now he could only be grateful there was a calm between shitstorms at all.

His phone started to ring, and he jumped, struck in a split second with a flash of memory, the smooth voice of the psychopath as he announced that they had Gabriel. He dug it from his pocket and answered it.

“Yes?”

“David Ambrose?”

“Speaking.”

“This is your daughter’s agency. Sorry to intrude, but we could not help but hear some, ah, rumours about the events of yesterday – is it true that she has... ‘evolved’?”

His hand tensed around the phone. “She may or she may not. What about it?”

“Well, we just wanted to confirm that you were aware that her acting contract for the Sarah Hooter film series includes a clause stating that should she become unsuitable for her role due to injuries or other unexpected physical changes, she would lose the right to the role of...”

He stopped listening somewhere in the middle of the sentence. “What? Really?” It had been obvious from the beginning, of course, but he’d had enough else to think about. “So she can’t have the role anymore?”

“We’re very sorry, but the contract...”

“Are you kidding? That’s the best news I’ve heard in months.”

There was a beat of silence on the other end. “Well, then, Mr. Ambrose, we hope you understand.”

“Absolutely. Thanks.”

“Goodbye.”

He hung up. Jean looked questioningly up at him; he took a deep breath.

“Okay, Jean, remember the Sarah Hooter movie?”

She nodded warily.

“Well, turns out they’re prejudiced pricks who don’t want you anymore because you look different now.”

She took it surprisingly well, truly – her eyes began to well up with tears, but he’d expected a tantrum the size of a freight train at the very least. “But, Jean,” he added anyway, “if they don’t want you, they’re not worth it. There are a lot of people who think you guys are pretty freaky, but you’re better than all of them put together, okay?”

She sniffled and nodded. Then, after a pause, she looked up and asked hopefully, “Can I torch them?”

Shit. “Ah,” he replied, scratching the back of his neck, “torching might not be such a good idea after all. You, uh, you saw – you heard what happened to...”

“Will,” she finished quietly, looking back down at the table. There was silence; she poked listlessly at her toast. He looked at her, unsure what to say. She hadn’t known Brian that well and hadn’t been particularly bothered by his murder; there hadn’t been a lot of explaining or comforting to do then.

“I’m glad you came back, Jean,” he ended up saying.

“Was it stupid to go?” she asked, looking up at him with a worried earnestness.

“Stupid?” He considered it. “Not exactly. You were just trying to be heroes. Thing is, the heroes you read about in books aren’t real. There’s always a writer watching over them and making sure they win out in the end and the bad guys get caught. In the real world, we aren’t that lucky. There’s nobody watching over us, and the bad guys win all the time. You could all have died and the universe wouldn’t care. That’s why you have to be careful and you can’t play heroes – because the universe doesn’t care, but the people you know care and they’re going to be heartbroken if something happens to you.” He paused to breathe, rather pleased with himself for the spontaneous life lesson. “Promise you’ll never do anything like that ever again, all right?”

Jean nodded wordlessly.

“Good.” He sighed. “Too bad it’s too late to tell that to Will and Mia.”

Unexpectedly, that sentence left a lump in his throat, and it refused to go away, so he didn’t say anything else and turned back to his newspaper.

“Dad?”

“Mm?” He took a sip of his coffee. It was getting cold.

“Do you miss Mia?”

He looked up, forgetting the cup halfway down to the table. “What?”

“I mean,” Jean went on, hesitantly, “I was friends with Will, and you were friends with Mia, right?”

“Friends?” He put the cup down, looking back at the paper. “I wouldn’t say friends.”

“Oh.” Jean paused, looking at him with those new red eyes of hers that he was still getting used to; they always gave him the strangest feeling she was reading his mind. “She didn’t really have any other friends, though. I think she really liked being with you.”

“Maybe.” He picked up the coffee again. Why were newspaper crosswords so fucking indecipherable?

“I think maybe she...”

Dave put the cup down, more harshly than he intended. “Goddamn it, Jean, she’s dead. There’s no point talking about her friends or lack thereof anymore. Just give it a rest. Christ.”

Jean closed her mouth and looked down at the table.

“And she was a fucking sociopath anyway. Odds are she wouldn’t understand the word ‘friendship’ if you gave her a goddamn dictionary to look it up in.”

Jean nodded vaguely without looking up.

Dave rose and put the empty coffee cup in the sink before rubbing his eyes. Calm before the shitstorm. Try not to spend it being pissed off or taking it out on her. God knew she’d been through enough in the past couple of days. “Sorry, Jean. I’m in a bad mood.”

“It’s okay, Dad,” she said with a sudden cheerfulness, like nothing had happened at all, and he took a moment to marvel at her ability to change her mood in less time than it took to blink. Did Vulpix even do that? Sometimes he wondered if she was just faking it to cope.

“Oh!” she exclaimed suddenly. “The Pichu Brothers are on TV!” And then she grabbed his hand and began to drag him over to the living room.

“Yeah.” He sighed. “Cartoons. Sounds good.”

-------

The funerals were simple and quiet, except for the protesters. Some were probably from the Church of Holy Truth; others held signs saying MURDERERS or DETAIN THE POKÉMORPHS. The police kept them at bay, but Cheryl couldn’t help getting the feeling that was not the only reason they were there.

Will got a few powerful eulogies of his own. He’d been a sweet, adorable kid, after all – anyone would put in a good word for him now that he was gone. But Mia... people exchanged awkward glances when Cheryl attempted to sort through what good could be said about her, knowing everyone who was listening had heard the rumours, that the Scyther morph’s last act in life had been cold-blooded murder.

It crossed her mind, many times, that they were all probably kind of relieved Mia was dead. It crossed her mind, too, that as much as she had tried to understand her, treat her as a person and act like she was just different rather than disturbed, some part of her was a little relieved as well.

Then, after she stepped down, Dave delivered a passionate speech that somehow managed to make the half-Scyther sound merely eccentric and unreasonably persecuted, and though it reeked of half-truths and was a little awkward to listen to, she somehow really appreciated it.

Lucy had been silent ever since the incident. She just watched, her eerie red-and-yellow eyes hypnotic and somehow accusatory, as the coffin was lowered into the grave, and spent the rest of the day standing around dully, only communicating in more haunting stares at anyone who tried to get her to talk. Even while concerned about her, Cheryl felt some irrational envy at the fact she could feel such unconditional love for her sister, without a trace of the fear and alarm that tainted her own feelings.

Perhaps it was just the Misdreavus girl’s innocence and naivety. Or perhaps she just had nothing to fear. After all, she had terrifying power, possibly more terrifying than Mia’s had ever been – she just acted more normal about it.

That night, as they were watching television in the living room, she tried to hug the girl, but she had made herself insubstantial and showed no reaction to the gesture at all.

“Lucy,” she murmured, “even though Mia is gone, we have to move on. You can’t refuse to talk forever.”

Lucy’s gaze locked onto her, and Cheryl found herself unable to look away – actually, physically unable. There was a resentful coldness in the girl’s ghostly eyes, and Cheryl’s mind was suddenly assaulted with flashes of raw emotions: pain, injustice, hatred, a disturbing longing to hurt. Then it was gone, so quickly she almost thought she might have imagined it.

She could move again; she pulled away, shivering, and averted her eyes from her daughter for the rest of the evening.

She considered mentioning it to Howard that night, but didn’t.

-------

Jack looked at Dave, then at the other morphs’ clueless faces, and then at their parents standing near the hospital wall, looking grave. “So what is this about?” he asked, his throat dry. If they were all here, it couldn’t be good.

“Well,” Dave began. “The good news is that you’re all legally juveniles and employed force only after provocation. Lawyer thinks he can get you off completely in court, Pokémorphs or not.”

They looked at one another, waiting for the continuation.

“On the other hand, a committee is being put together to establish a ruling on whether you’re ‘dangerous nonhumans’ and what should be done about it.”

Jack stared at him, his stomach twisting itself into a knot.

“Thing is, there was a precautionary law put in place before you were born to ensure that if you turned out psychotic or otherwise apparently a danger to society, they’d have a solid basis on which to put you all away. I managed to talk our way out of it when Mia just scratched some guy, but it’s kind of hard to do the same when two people are dead, no matter how justified. So there’s a committee, there are going to be special hearings, and depending on the outcome you could all get institutionalized, or forced hormone treatments, or whatever those bozos think up.”

“What?” Gabriel asked in disbelief. “All of us?”

“The fuck do you think they understand about genetics?” Dave replied irritably. “As far as they’re concerned you’re all the same thing armed with different ways to kill people. It might have been easier to convince them you’re okay if it were just Mia, but you guys weren’t exactly Gandhi in there either. Burnt corpses tend to leave something of an impression on people.”

Gabriel glanced uncomfortably around at the others. After his victorious euphoria had worn off and his skin had returned to more or less its former condition, he’d been considerably less enthusiastic about that particular part of the events at the church, but Jack supposed Dave would never let that stop him from rubbing it in.

“So is there nothing we can do?” Katherine asked hesitantly.

“Well, odds are they’ll call at least some of you in for a hearing. Some of us, too. Only thing to do is to act normal, tell them something that sounds good and hope to earn enough sympathy for them to miraculously decide to let you off.”

Jack’s heart sank, but the feeling was dulled with familiarity; by now it was just a faint little sting, and he couldn’t help thinking, the idea somehow horrifying him, the day would come that he would stop feeling it at all.

-------

“Mr. Ambrose, what is your connection with the Pokémorphs?”

“I made... had a part in making them. I’m also the father of Jean Ambrose, the Vulpix Pokémorph.”

“What was your experience of their characters before this incident?”

Dave sighed. “They’re great. Wonderful people. Wouldn’t harm a fly, except I guess Mia.”

“And what made you think that?”

“Same thing that makes you trust anyone else you know.” He paused. “Some of them are a little eccentric, okay. We didn’t touch anything we thought was connected to personality or behaviour, but genes are complicated and there’s always something. But when you talk to them and spend time with them, they’re human and normal. They have normal hobbies and normal interests and talk about normal things, for the most part. They have a normal understanding of what’s good and evil. There’s nothing unstable or dangerous about any of them, except maybe Mia but she’s not the issue here.”

“We trust you are aware of the circumstances of Isaac Daniels’ death...?”

Did they think he was a fucking idiot? “That was self-defense. The man had just kidnapped and threatened him and shot at least two of his friends, and he was aiming the gun at a third – he’d just shot his dog, for Christ’s sake. Did you expect him to stand around and watch? Nobody would stand around and watch. Nobody should stand around and watch when you could be stopping a psycho from murdering someone in cold blood. I don’t see why you’re even bringing that up.”

“There is testimony to the effect that Gabriel Edwards continued to deploy fire for an extended period of time until it proved lethal.” Fuck, who told them that? Jack?

“Look, he was in shock and scared for his life. Why would he be thinking of trying not to kill the guy? Roasting him until he stops moving makes sense to me, when it’s a psychopath who’d kill you if you took your eyes off him.”

The committee looked down at him with irritatingly neutral expressions. “Do you believe the Pokémorphs did the right thing, Mr. Ambrose?”

“No,” he replied patiently. “But imagine being in their shoes. All your life you’ve been reading Sarah Hooter books and having it ground into your head that kid heroes can go up against dangerous criminals and win. And sure, you realize that kids aren’t solving crimes and saving lives left and right in real life, but things are going to get a lot fuzzier in your head when you actually have superpowers. Combine it with the adults in your life being unable to do a thing to save your friend whereas you think you can? Your kids would’ve done the same thing. They didn’t go in there wanting to kill anyone, for Christ’s sake – they just wanted to save Gabriel’s life. And if it turns out they need to Flamethrower the ringleader behind the kidnapping in the process, they’re going to do it – because they have to, not because they have a genetic predisposition towards murder.”

Clackity-clack went the typist as he caught his breath. Yeah, write that down, he thought. That needs to be on the record.

The head of the committee cleared his throat. “What about Mia Kerrigan’s attacks on her schoolmates and subsequent murder of...”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he blurted out before he could stop himself, “she’s irrelevant. Yeah, she was a little screwed up, I admit, but she got three bullets through her brain and the rest of them aren’t half Scyther, if you haven’t noticed. Plus those kids at her school kept provoking her.”

There were a few tense moments of silence.

“So are you of the opinion that the Pokémorphs should walk free?”

“Of course I am. They’re not animals to be kept in cages. They’re smart, nice, well-raised human kids who look at a little different. That’s all.”

The members of the committee wrote something down, impassively, neutrally, as if this was an issue with multiple valid sides to consider instead of a matter of basic, supposedly inalienable human rights. Fucking bureaucrats.

The man in the center finally looked up. “Thank you, Mr. Ambrose. That will be all.”

That was it. All he would get to say before they took them all away. He wanted, burningly, to make a glorious exit, to tell those committee shitfaces exactly what he thought of them, but bit back the urge, for the sake of the morphs. It would only hurt their already hopeless case.

They were all basically his kids, for fuck’s sake.

With a deep breath, he stood up, nodded vaguely to the committee and turned towards the exit.

-------

It wasn’t as bad as Gabriel had thought, honestly. Restrained from society at large sounded bad, but they tended not to be around society at large much, anyway. He’d miss the comic book store, but most of his and Jack’s friends’ parents had already voiced their full permission for their kids to continue to visit if it came to that, and there were always computers – hell, video chats, even – to keep in touch with Ben. The morphs had always spent a lot of time at home, and they’d still be able to see each other if they were driven between places during the night. And though the warning signs posted around their homes made him cringe, there was a strange sense of relief in never having to see that repulsed look on people’s faces or those nervous sideways glances again.

Which wasn’t to say everyone agreed. Dave, for one, thought it was a travesty of justice. But after spending what felt like years thinking he might live out the rest of his life in solitary confinement, punctuated with a gripping, irrational fear that somehow the ‘Put the Pokémorphs Down’ group would get their way after all, it felt downright liberating.

(He’d had nightmares about being strapped down on a table, with faceless figures in black suits giving him injections, then woken up paralyzed and convinced that his breathing was slowing down. By now he wasn’t sure any realistic result would’ve disappointed him, really.)

The night before the law was to formally take effect, he snuck out to see the town properly with his own eyes for probably the last time. The streets were empty in the harsh light of the streetlamps. Everything was silent, in that beautiful, calming way rather than the heavy, unsettling way. He walked around rather aimlessly, turning at random; there wasn’t anywhere in particular he wanted to see so much as just taking in the neighbourhood. He didn’t know it that well; he’d lived in a different part of town with his dad.

Eventually he wandered into a nearby playground. For a moment he looked at the deserted swings and slide and was a little sad he’d never see little kids playing in them again. Then it hit him that every time he actually had, the kids would notice him and scream or run to their parents.

Really, wasn’t he a lot better off just enjoying the world through photos and movies, where he could pretend his presence didn’t just fuck everything up?

He sat down on the edge of the sandbox and sighed, laying his hand on the nearest mound of sand. Almost immediately he felt warmth trickle up his arm; he shivered. It felt nice, satisfying.

And, against the doctors’ advice, he couldn’t resist burying his other hand in the sand as well.

He felt his skin heat up as a sensation of power spread through his body. He removed his hands quickly and stood up, feeling a little lightheaded.

His left hand swept across the air, flames sprouting in its wake. It took only a moment of concentration to send a long tongue of fire into the air from his right hand. The sheer destructive force he knew he had was incomparably thrilling.

He thought back to Isaac Daniels’ charred body, felt powerful and victorious, and then sat back down, shuddering and a little horrified at himself. It took a while for his high to wear off before he felt safe around his own thoughts again.

Maybe it was really for the best to keep them away from society.

-------

What if?

That question haunted Katherine, never leaving her alone for very long at a time. She’d grown pretty used to it, but it didn’t stop pounding in her brain, and she wasn’t sure it ever would.

Peter was still just a kid. To him, it had just been a mistake – one that very nearly cost him his life, maybe, but he was still at that carefree stage of life where he could look at it afterwards and think of it as an adventure, to some extent. Will’s death affected him, but there was a certain disconnect between it and the rescue mission in his mind.

Katherine couldn’t do that. She was the fastest-growing morph, for all intents and purposes in her late teens. They were kids and wouldn’t know better, but she should have known better – she had known better, but she’d gone and given in to Jack anyway for some reason she couldn’t even begin to comprehend now.

She should’ve been more responsible.

Again and again, her mind imagined what might have happened if she’d simply refused to go. Would Jack ever actually have taken the car? Surely not. And then Gabriel would have discovered his powers and escaped on his own, and made his way home, and they’d have called the police, and everything would have been okay. She clung to this fantasy, imagining it vividly again and again and wishing desperately that she could will it into existence or rewind time.

But with every new time she imagined it, there was more time to rewind. The tangibility of the fantasy was slowly fading away, replaced with a cheesy fairy-tale-like glamour. It was silly and still she couldn’t stop thinking about it: what if?

She sighed wearily, turning her swivel chair away from her desk. There was an essay she was supposed to turn in by mail, but she couldn’t focus on it. She let her pencil drop and shook her arm; her right shoulder stung with phantom pain. Maybe she’d been lucky to be left-handed, after all. It would have sucked if she’d been shot in her good arm.

There was a sudden knock on her door. She looked up to find Peter opening the door carefully.

“What is it?” she asked.

Peter shrugged nervously, stepping inside. “Just wanted to talk, I guess.”

She turned her chair towards him, and he took that as an invitation to sit down on her bed. Her brother hesitated once there, looking around; his neck moved in small, birdlike jerks, indicating he was either nervous or just not trying.

“They’re...” he said after a moment, “they’re not going to let me continue my Pokémon journey next year, are they?”

“No,” she replied flatly. “You can’t be around normal people ever again, unless they choose to come to you.”

He contemplated that for a few seconds. “If they come to me? So technically... I could be a Gym leader?”

She stared at him, and he tilted his head questioningly, like a pigeon. “Somehow I think parents would have a problem with that,” she said, raising her eyebrows.

He paused again, thinking. “But what if there’s a barrier and a remote-controlled Pokéball thrower, so that we can have the Pokémon battle but I wouldn’t really be able to go near the challengers?”

She couldn’t help it; something about it just cracked her up. He didn’t take offense to it, she hoped.

“I haven’t seen you laugh in a while, Kathy,” he said, conversationally, when she’d stopped giggling.

“There hasn’t exactly been much to laugh about, has there?” she said dryly.

Peter shrugged, looking out the window. It was gray and rainy, but knowing him, he probably still wished he was outside. That was certainly going to get a lot harder for him now.

“You know, maybe you can be a Gym leader one day,” Katherine said after a moment. “Crazier things have happened.”

He smiled a little. “You don’t have to say that. Thanks, though.”

She looked at him, and he looked back at her, thinking. “How’s your arm?” he asked.

“Better, I think,” she said. She wasn’t sure it was better at all, or would ever be better, but there was no reason to worry him. He’d suffered enough because of her thoughtlessness.

Peter was looking longingly out the window again now; he sighed. “What are we going to do?” he asked, jerking his head back to her.

What were they going to do? What sort of half-life could they have, confined outside society forever? In theory they could have jobs if they could do the work at home – school still worked, just about – but what employer would hire them?

She looked at her brother. “We’re going to live,” she said. “Somehow. And maybe the law gets repealed sometime in the future and we can pretend to be normal again. Until then, all there is to do is survive and make the best of it even if it sucks. That’s what we’ve always done.”

Peter nodded silently, looking at the window again.

“You can probably be outside if you stay within the fence,” Katherine said eventually. “It’s not like anybody’s going to be there. Just ask Mom and Dad first.”

His face lit up. “You think so?”

“Sure. Just be glad we don’t live in the city.”

“Maybe I can even train my Pokémon,” Peter said excitedly, standing up and taking a step towards the door.

Suddenly he hesitated and turned back to her. “Are you going to be okay?”

“I’ve got roses for hands, Pete. I would’ve had a crappy life anyway.”

He gave her a skewed smile in response and then left the room. She heard the echo of his footsteps through the closed door.

Yeah. Her life would’ve been shit anyway. This probably didn’t change that much for her, aside from definitively ruling out those violin lessons, but really, who had she ever thought she was kidding with that?

She just wasn’t so sure about the others.

-------

Jack stared at the sidewalk below, hands clenched around the railing.

He’d always had those little flashes of morbid thoughts. When he handled a knife, for instance, he’d briefly imagine slitting his own throat with it, or even stabbing someone else. It wasn’t anything he would ever act on; it just came up as a dramatic hypothetical, and usually it would make him shudder and then cut his toast and forget about it. It was the same with high places: he’d look down and some part of him would think, what if I jumped? It would just never have crossed his mind to take it seriously.

Until now.

He was on the balcony of their apartment, looking down. It was oddly thrilling, just standing there contemplating what it would feel like to fall from this height. He imagined the momentary rush of air and the sudden sharp shock at the end. He imagined looking down at his own body, lying in a heap on the pavement, blood dripping from his fractured skull. It didn’t make him shudder this time; in fact, the thought was strangely appealing.

Slowly, trancelike, he stepped onto the base of the balcony railing. His stomach fluttered and he closed his eyes; the breeze tickled his skin as the handrail swayed ever so slightly under his weight, fragile. He imagined it breaking, tumbling down and taking him with it. Again, the thought was more fascinating than disturbing.

Some desperate instinct was starting to warn him off, that no, no, this was a stupid thing to do, stupid and selfish and pointless – but its objections seemed flat and feeble. He swung his leg over the railing and stepped down on the outside of it instead. His other leg followed, and he turned carefully around to face outwards, his hands wrapped around the handrail as tightly as he could. That wasn’t very tightly; his fingers were still webbed and weak, after all.

He looked down, feeling his heart thumping. Again there was that indescribable thrill of being so tantalizingly close to falling: he imagined leaning forward until his hands were too weak to hold him up anymore, or just letting go and closing his eyes and going limp. It was so easy. It would be easy. Why wouldn’t it be?

He thought he heard something, but it barely registered in his mind. He closed his eyes and took deep, shuddering breaths. The cold wind ruffled his hair. It felt nice, peaceful. And wasn’t that how everyone wanted to go?

“Jack?” he heard Gabriel say from inside the apartment.

His eyes flew open. Jump, said his mind urgently; jump, before he sees you and stops you.

He heard Gabriel’s footsteps approaching the living room. It’s the only way. You have to. Jump!

It was too late. “Jack!” Gabriel screamed behind him. He tried to let go, but the hypnotic thrill of the idea was gone; suddenly the cold was biting and the height was terrifying. Gabriel rushed out onto the balcony, and he felt the Slugma morph’s slimy hands grab onto his arm, tightly. For some stupid reason he started to sob.

“Jack, for God’s sake, get back over here right now.” Gabriel’s voice was trembling. Jack took a few shaky breaths, his eyes closed. He imagined wrestling away from him and throwing himself down anyway. He imagined pulling Gabriel down with him, the Slugma boy’s eyes widening in fear as they plummeted towards the ground.

That was the thought that finally made his heart lurch in his chest, gave him that shuddery wake-up call. His stomach roiled as he looked down, and against his mind’s screams of protest, he started to turn around. His legs were like jelly; it struck him that without Gabriel to support him, he’d probably fall anyway. He tried to climb back onto the balcony, but he was too weak, and Gabriel had to half-lift him over the railing; then the Slugma morph dragged him inside and closed the door.

“What...” Gabriel began, as Jack collapsed on the sofa, shaking. The Slugma boy’s yellow eyes were wide, his expression concerned and alarmed. “What the hell, Jack?”

“You don’t understand,” Jack said, his voice cracked, looking down. “It’s all my fault, first Will and Mia and Felicia and now this house arrest th...”

“I don’t understand?” Gabriel interrupted, abruptly pulling him to his feet by the arm and forcing him to look at him. “Jack, I looked a man in the eye and burned him to death!”

Jack fell silent, a little puzzled by the remark, staring at his friend; there was a weird, desperate intensity in his eyes.

“Listen to me,” Gabriel went on, calmer but still urgent, not letting go of his arm. “Terrible mistakes aren’t fixed by making more terrible mistakes. And sometimes you don’t really want to go on living, but then you try to fix your life so that it’s worth living. You don’t just...”

His voice died down for a moment. “For God’s sake,” he started again, “what if I hadn’t been here to stop you?”

And then, suddenly, Gabriel pulled him into a hug. Jack was too stunned to react at first; then all he could think of doing was hugging him back as he broke into stupid, involuntary sobs again.

It was a few seconds before Gabriel relaxed his grip on him, stepped back and looked away. “I’m... I’m sorry,” Jack choked out. “It was just...” He shifted. “How can I have the right to just go on living like nothing ever happened, when they died because of me?”

“Well, you have to,” Gabriel said, jerking his head back towards him. “The last thing we need is more tragedy. It wasn’t your fault; it was the shooters’ fault. And even if it were your fault, it wouldn’t stop being it if you killed yourself. A murderer who dies is just a dead murderer. Death doesn’t fix things. It doesn’t work that way.”

Jack took a deep breath and sank back into the sofa. After a moment, Gabriel sat down beside him. They stared at the blank screen of the television.

“How do you deal with it?” Jack said quietly. “Having killed someone, I mean?”

Gabriel didn’t answer for several seconds. Jack looked at him.

“He killed my dad,” Gabriel said at last. “He killed Felicia. He shot Katherine. He tried to kill you. The guy who killed Will probably did it on his orders. He was a monster and he deserved it.”

Jack shuddered inwardly, guilt stinging at him: Will wasn’t a monster; he shouldn’t be dead. There was no justification for...

“But you know what?” Gabriel went on suddenly. “I didn’t even know who he was when I did it. I knew he was trying to kill you, and that was why I attacked him, but I don’t think that’s why I kept going until he was dead. I was enjoying it. And I wish that was because he killed my dad, but it wasn’t.” His voice was starting to break. “God, I’m so confused right now.”

He paused a moment, but then all of a sudden looked desperately at Jack. “You know, maybe I’m a monster too. But you aren’t a monster. You were just trying to help me, and it wasn’t your fault things turned out how they did. And yet here you are trying to kill yourself, and all I can think is, if you think you deserve to die, what the fuck am I still doing here?”

Gabriel looked away and fell silent. Jack stared at him for a few seconds, his brain frozen, thoughts jumbled, unsure what to say.

“Thanks for saving me,” he said eventually, quietly, looking back at the TV. “Both times. I’m sorry you had to do it again.”

Gabriel was still looking in the other direction; he shifted but didn’t respond. After a moment, Jack added, “I don’t think you’re a monster. You just did it to help me. That’s all.”

The Slugma boy turned around, his face doubtful. For a couple of seconds he just looked miserably at Jack; then his expression hardened and he said, “Yeah. I guess that was all.”

Jack dared to smile, tentatively; a wave of relief passed through him when Gabriel actually smiled back.

“Please don’t try that again,” Gabriel said quietly, and suddenly it struck Jack that the Slugma morph had already lost his father and Will and Felicia; to make him lose his best friend too was downright cruel, wasn’t it?

He shook his head. “I won’t. You’re right. It won’t fix anything.”

Gabriel smiled again, forcedly; then he suddenly stood up. “Want to play some Blood Sport III?”

The suggestion was a little suspiciously overeager, but Jack was grateful for it anyway. “Sure.”

After about a dozen rounds of brutally beating up various characters and adamantly pretending Gabriel wasn’t losing on purpose, Jack was actually beginning to feel almost okay.

-------

Dave opened a new can of beer and took a good swig of it before putting it down on the table and throwing himself into the sofa with a sigh.

Permanently grounded. What sort of a fucking life were they supposed to have after this? And yet people kept insisting it was pretty lucky because they could theoretically work and get education and see friends.

He drank a little more. To think that ten years ago making Pokémorphs had just seemed like an amusing idea. He’d been at that party, just drunk enough, and suddenly it had hit him – the way Pokémon and human genomes could be viably combined, even for wildly different species. It was a stroke of true genius, probably the greatest scientific insight of his life, and of course he’d had to do something with it. How could he not? Even Howard had been excited about it, and when was he ever excited?

Originally it had just been a proof of concept thing. He’d been sure it would work, but they’d had to silence the inevitable sceptics before the publication of their discovery would put them in the spotlight. Or something. It had seemed to make sense at the time. They’d all been well aware of the risks, of course; so aware of everything that was not quite legal or ethical about the creation of the embryos that it had never even crossed their minds that somebody would have a problem with the abortion.

That was the problem. The creation was already done; there was nothing to do about that after it got out. Keeping them alive was ridiculous, but it was the one thing that could be done to please somebody in the midst of all the general outrage.

He’d never wanted to have kids. At the time he’d actually thought that was the worst thing ever to happen to him. He chuckled mirthlessly at the thought before picking up his beer again and taking another long sip.

And then the morphs had grown up and he’d come to realize that they were the most fucking amazing kids in the history of the universe.

Oh, sure, people loved to pat themselves on the back saying everyone’s special. But Mia was fucking unique. There would never again be anyone like her. Vanilla humans were all identical fucking twins in comparison, and yet everyone, even Howard and even Cheryl – Christ, he’d thought she was better than that – stood around talking about Mia’s death as if nothing of value had been lost. And they mourned Will like he was just another sweet little bullied kid, too. It was fucking tragic.

He thought about the little rips and scratches covering the sides of the passenger seat of his car, and about Will beaming as he showed him how he could use Pay Day, and about buying hotdogs and arguing with the principal, and about Joe’s idiot kids he knew had treated their half-Meowth brother like shit all his life – all his measly fucking ten years of life –

– and this, he thought, emptying the beer can before squeezing it so hard it crumpled under his fingers, was why God didn’t exist: because a real creator would love his creations too fucking much to leave them to die in a world like this under the pretense of free will.

He tossed the can away as hard as he could. It hit the wall with a clatter, then bounced a few times off the floor before coming to a standstill. He looked at it for a few seconds and then, stupidly, he broke into uncontrollable sobs.

What the fuck.

He turned to face towards the back of the couch, waiting for it to pass, despising that his body thought that was going to fucking help. It was a couple of minutes before he’d gotten it under control.

“Dad?”

He sprang up in alarm only to find Jean standing by the couch in her pyjamas, looking concerned. He blinked and rubbed his face. Had she been watching him cry? “Shit, Jean,” he mumbled. “What are you doing up?”

“Um...” she said hesitantly, “I heard a noise so I came to check what it was.”

The can, he realized. “Oh,” he said, slumping back down on the sofa. “Sorry I woke you.”

Jean looked up at him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Why were you crying?”

Oh, Christ. “It was nothing. Go back to bed.”

She gave him a sceptical look, red eyes piercing accusingly into his. “You don’t cry when it’s nothing.”

He blinked. “Well,” he said after a pause, “I was angry with the bastards that killed Will and Mia.”

He walked over to the fridge, glancing at Jean as he took out a second can of beer and opened it. She watched him as he walked back over to the couch, taking a sip.

“And the committee that’s having you locked up like animals,” he went on, “and all the self-proclaimed Pokémorph supporters who think that was a pretty cool compromise.”

As he sat down again, she nodded, very slightly. It made him feel better, in some bullshit psychological Asch-experiment way.

“And Brian,” he went on without really meaning to after chugging down a bit more. “They shot Brian through the fucking heart, just because he had the audacity to be standing behind me. What the hell are you supposed to do in a world like that?”

Jean looked at him for a few seconds, her eyes sad and lonely and inhuman. Fuck, he wished he could just help her, help all of them. But there wasn’t any help to give. All there was to do was make some shitty attempt to be a father and try to hold a fucking beach umbrella over their heads when the world sent tsunamis their way.

“Jean,” he said, raising the can to his lips once more, “I’m sorry you have to live on this shithole of a planet.”

And then suddenly she sat down beside him, wrapped her arms around him and whispered, “It’s going to be okay, Dad.”

He blinked; it was almost like she was trying to reassure him instead of the other way around. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Was she worrying about him on top of everything else?

He felt her starting to sniffle into his shoulder. “Yeah,” he said numbly. “Everything probably is going to be okay.”

But that didn’t make her better, it seemed; she was shaking with sobs now, squeezing him tightly. He had no idea what to say.

“It’ll probably be overruled,” he managed eventually. “They’ll probably realize their mistake and give you all free rein again.” He paused; she was still weeping quietly.

“The church’ll be disbanded,” he went on. “Everyone will realize you’re just people like them. You can walk out in the streets all alone and people’ll just nod and smile. You’ll grow up and get jobs and have a great life. And...” And they’d take Will and Mia to a fucking Pokémon Center, and they’d get revived by a machine that goes bing, and everyone would live happily ever after. Wouldn’t that be nice?

At least Jean had stopped sniffling now.

“You should go back to bed,” he murmured. She shifted, nodding, and then stood up.

“Good night, Dad,” she said quietly.

“Sleep tight, sweetie.” He put his beer down on the table and watched her close the door.

Happily ever after. Yeah, wouldn’t that be fucking nice?

It was a good thing Jean couldn’t hear him cry through her door.

------

Author’s note: So that’s it. Morphic is done. I’m saying this because I realize it doesn’t feel much like a traditional end and if I didn’t state it explicitly I would undoubtedly get a slew of confused comments asking when it’s going to be updated.

That said, this fic is no exception to my compulsive rewriting syndrome, so you haven’t seen the last of it. A whole lot of things especially in the earlier chapters bug me, particularly because for a while my conception of the plot was limited to ‘there are Pokémorphs and religious fanatics try to kill them’ (and later to ‘religious fanatics eventually kidnap Gabriel for some reason and the others try to save him’). The first half of the fic just goes into slice-of-life introducing all sorts of stuff that never gets picked up on (the kids calling Mia possessed at school especially come to mind) with one random exaggeratedly evil villain-POV. I like to think that a rewrite could be a lot more focused, what with me actually knowing what the plot is like from the beginning. Which isn’t to say it would do away with the slice-of-life aspect – it would just try to make it feel like the fic is actually going somewhere interesting with all this and have a clearer idea of what’s relevant and what isn’t.

This prospective rewrite also means that your comments would absolutely not be wasted just because the story is already over. If something in any chapter is ridiculous or makes no sense or contradicts something else or whatever, now is the perfect time to point it out to make sure I’ll do something about it in the rewrite. So get criticizing, everyone! I will greatly appreciate every nitpick, provided it’s a valid objective complaint (as opposed to a plea to add a Mewtwo morph or to make the ending happy).

I also might (that’s a big might) possibly do a sequel at some point in the future, but please don’t get your hopes up; my ideas for it at the moment are extremely vague and have a ways to go before they start to make any real sense, if ever.

Page last modified July 14 2017 at 16:44 GMT