One year from beginning to end! Happy new year, and I hope you enjoyed the ride.


CHAPTER 38: Parting Ways

September 2nd 341 – Wednesday

Anabel's question had been met by thrums of enthusiasm before she'd even finished. She'd know, of course, but now she could feel why Uncle Merle loved figuring out new things. His curiosity was like a music of its own.

"Twins?" Uncle repeated. "That's… Honestly, I can't say 100%. They're growing and training normally?"

"Well, Seth didn't notice anything weird…"

"I'll get them tested. I'll take a fur sample. I'd say the biggest risk is that they're infertile."

Infertile? "Oh…" Had Espeon and Eeveevee wanted babies? Fluffy pointy eared kits with -. Anabel sniffed. "But why? How do you even get twins?"

"That breeder of yours may have used fertility drugs, to boost the amount of eggs each female will lay. They're illegal, because most pokemon don't tolerate them, and there haven't been enough tests to assess side-effects."

"Foxy… that must've been the Eevees' mom. She didn't –"

"He saved our Journey, Ann."

Anabel had always known that V's face wasn't good at showing her true feelings. V's voice had been soft, her frown there but not upset-looking. And yet fiery spikes, anger and fear, concern, beat against the golden mist that kept V in control. Anabel hated that she had to take a step back from her best friend, hated not knowing if her own sudden burst of anger and fear were truly hers or just some kind of freak mirror effect that made her feel others' feelings when she got too close to them.

"He was nice to us. He's the reason Gengar's not with the criminals anymore."

"No, that's you, V. Cinders kept loads of secrets from us." But despite everything, Ann was kind of fond of the man.

"Maybe it was a one-time thing." V crossed her arms as she faced Uncle. "No twins hatched while we were there, Professor."

Couldn't she call him Merle already?

"Valeria, relax, I won't get him arrested. I want you to trust me, and call me whenever you have questions." Anabel watched fascinated as Uncle's words melted most of the spikes around V. "Don't wait so long next time. Don't be afraid, not of me."

V smiled faintly. "Does he mean it?" she whispered at Anabel.

Anabel huffed. "I don't think lying's an emotion." Her lips broke into a grin. "But sure, he means it, don't you, Uncle?"

Uncle nodded solemnly, chimes singing a low tune (everyone had their own tunes – Anabel desperately wished she had more words to describe it) as he winked at her.

"I got confirmation," he added. "Abra's very welcome at the Village. They're familiar with such psychic connections. We'll need him to be bound to a pokeball."

She wouldn't be alone! Uncle Merle stumbled when Anabel flew into his arms. She giggled as they almost fell over, chimes tumbling all around. He had some muscles, but compared to dad, he was pretty skinny.

"First Abra, next Espeon," V said, a scheming look on her face.

Anabel's chest tightened. She didn't even want to think they might not let her take Espeon. "What about Gengar?" she asked, desperate to change the subject. "When will you see him?"

Anabel felt suddenly very, very frustrated. Ugh. V was shooting tiny fire explosions everywhere. A ragged breath escaped Anabel's lungs. She had to back away from V, again. She clutched her ears with her hands, her eyes shut, but of course it didn't help. "Uncle, it's not right! You've got to do something!"

"What's happening exactly?"

V scowled, arms crossed. "I called Officer Targe, that's the Jenny with burn scars I'd talked to. I called her like she said, after two weeks. She said everything was okay and that Gengar had been sent to Lavaridge to the Rangers. She said the investigation was ongoing and that the Rangers would be the ones finding a specialist for the tests that will tell if I'm allowed Gengar. Targe promised she'd ask them to let me talk to Gengar. But she didn't call back! So I did, two days ago, and I got upset. That's when she admitted the Rangers weren't telling her anything except to wait. They say it's also to protect me, but that's so dumb!"

V suddenly giggled, a cloud of bubbles covering the fire bursts. She waved at Anabel and Anabel realized she was standing a good five yards away from her best friend, and she still felt the hot anger.

"Sorry, Ann. It's okay." Along with V's words, a mist of gold sucked back most of the anger. It was still there, but locked-in, controlled. "After evolving Eeveevee, I'll go to Lavaridge myself to see the Rangers. They won't be able to say they're too busy then."

"Call me if they bully you," Uncle said. He looked concentrated and far away. That had to mean he was taking this seriously and thinking. Anabel let it make her feel confident.

Valeria eyed Uncle thoughtfully. "Could you be my uncle too, Professor? Ann, do you mind sharing?"

"I don't accept nieces who call me 'Professor'," Uncle warned with a smile.

Anabel laughed and rushed back next to them, her ears filling with chimes and bells.

Oo*oOo*oO

Anabel gasped. She'd have fallen had she not been seated on the sofa already. Black spots filled her vision. Her stomach was somersaulting. They should have done this before lunch.

"Ann?"

The living room was a blur. Tiny cutting flakes swirled all around. Concern. Uncle, V, Mom, Dad. They weren't standing too close, or it'd have been worse.

Anabel's stomach heaved, sweat pearling on her brow. Free him, now. A pitiful croak left her mouth. She had to wait. One, two, three, four –

She took a deep breath, tears filling her eyes as her vision cleared. Abra looked just as miserable, hugging himself on the floor.

"You don't have to keep him balled, but he has to be bound to a pokeball," Uncle said. He did sound sorry at least. "Well done for not breaking out of the ball, Abra."

The small pokemon miserably held his big head between his paws and barely twitched his thick yellow tail.

Anabel gratefully took the glass of water Dad handed her. "Why was it so bad?"

"You interrupted the ceremony where Abra was linking himself to his circle. To simplify, he linked to your psychic energy, your mind, instead," Uncle explained. "The pokeball tries to separate you, and it's unpleasant. When you'll both be more mature, psychically, it won't be an issue anymore."

"Okay," Anabel said, wiping her eyes. Ghosts, she didn't want to go through that again. "Let's free Metagross. It's big and scary. Please don't get scared."

"We're never scared!" Dad said, scrunching up his face in a hideously offended expression.

Anabel laughed, wishing it were true. It hurt that she might have believed him until she'd met Abra.

"Of course we feel fear," Mom said with a soft smile. "Fear that doesn't control you is just another facet of caring."

The golden strands around Mom's spiking fear were solid and tight. Ann grinned, cocking her head when she glanced at V. "Did you just smash your own emotions?" It was weird, like a solid slab of control, except-

V flinched. "Um… I'm just waiting for you to free Metagross."

"Bells, stop peeking and free the beast."

Despite the smiles, Anabel realized Dad had just told her off. A stone lodged itself in her stomach. She didn't want to be rude with her empathy, it's just…

"I have the Berries," V announced. "Go for it, Ann."

"Masterballs put the pokemon inside them to sleep instead of the light hypnosis of regular balls," Uncle said. "Metagross should come out calm."

Espeon and Abra stood closest when she freed Metagross. The blue steel robot hovered awkwardly, its four legs spasming. It didn't seem to register its surroundings.

"You're right, Uncle," Anabel said. "It's not angry anymore."

Metagross' feelings stirred awake. Cutting icycles spiked all around it, but weirder still, they sprung from different places near the center of the pokemon. Four diff- Anabel's eyes widened. Of course. Thin golden threads linked Metagross' four poorly merged brains together. Too thin. They were fraying on every edge, sliced by the continuous barrage of exhausted panic.

Was it in pain?

She had to remove its fear, then maybe the four brains would become one properly. She reached out instinctively, like she had with Mom. She had to get closer.

"Keep the masterball in your hand. If we shout, you press it," Mom urged, wisps of fear wriggling past her control. "Take no chances."

Anabel slowly walked up to the huge robot, her face barely reaching the silver cross covering half its central piece. Red unfocused eyes failed to register her presence.

Until she touched it.

Metagross' four legs extended, striking the ground with a heavy thump. Anabel stiffened but didn't pull back. She'd allow no emotions, dissolving every last spike of fear. Anabel could already feel the beginning of a headache. She gasped, her mind clearing and focusing as Abra joined her.

She smiled in awe. ~It's easier now, thank you.~

Metagross was staring at her, the golden threads thickening, but it wasn't enough. It didn't have the strength. Alone, the robot pokemon would never be in control.

"It needs to eat," Uncle said. "If you can keep it focused while it battles, it will grow in energy until you've brought it to the level of a regular metagross. Right now, it can't generate a magnetic field strong enough to sustain itself."

"Do you understand? If you want to feel good, you need to get stronger. You need to use your moves."

The voice was gravelly and metallic, forming a string of echoes instead of a coherent sentence. "Beldum, beldum, beldum, beldum." But it sounded like agreement.

"It looks like it barely has enough poke-energy to keep upright." Ann didn't have to turn to know Dad was frowning.

"I'm counting on the fact it evolved enough to be able to absorb extra energy from Berries," Uncle said. "What I fear is that it won't able to keep the energy. But even if it needs two dozen Berries a fight, it'll be worth it. I'll buy you a basket-load, Sparkle."

Metagross wolfed down the big blue Berries, chomping them down with its big sharp teeth. Immediately the golden bonds shone brighter.

"Watch it," Dad called, "it's shimmering light blue."

Metagross' eyes flashed blue, red, blue again. A bubble of knowledge suddenly filled Anabel's mind. "It's Psychic, the move."

~Thanks, Abra.~

"It would be Psychic if it could focus," Dad countered. "It's not managing it. How far back can you go without it panicking, Bells?"

"Can't Abra get close for you?" Uncle suggested. "He'll teleport if Metagross starts spraying energy everywhere."

Anabel shot Abra a look. He was more eager than truly confident, but she liked this: they were doing things together. Maybe this bond thing would work out.

She was shaking when they'd finished. Well, when Uncle had called a stop because Abra looked like he was about to faint. The little pokemon curled up on the grass, his eyes sleepy slits.

Anabel swallowed, feeling bitter. She should be able to do more- she- Anabel winced, her own thoughts feeling hollow, like illusions somehow.

Her head snapped towards V. Again, the big slab of control. Anabel's eyes widened, sludge was seeping through it, sludge filled with shards of cutting glass.

"V," she said shakily. "Whatever you're thinking, stop."

The control rippled. It was getting weaker. V had ducked her head, a fake calm blanking out her face.

Anabel shouldn't have freed metagross. She shouldn't have- Gah! Stupid thoughts! Not her feelings! She backed away, she had to.

"Your dad's an asswipe, kiddo. It wasn't your job to watch for his safety." Dad's voice was loud and tight, and nice compared to the scorching fury in his chest that only she could feel. "If I'd been in your place, I'd have left him rot down there. He brought all this on himself."

V's dad? Ghosts, Anabel should have known. But the wave of guilt had shrunk into something small that was way more manageable.

"It's going to be one tough pokemon," V finally said. Like nothing had happened. But her eyes had crinkled.

Anabel's smile was stolen by a yawn. Not so far away, Abra was fast asleep.

Ghosts, it wasn't even mid-afternoon.

Anabel swallowed her pride. "Listen, I love you guys, but I guess I need a nap too."

As she made her way up the stairs to her room, a hand on her shoulder startled her. Mom's grip was almost painful.

"Mom –"

"Ann, listen. This is important."

Anabel nodded, struggling not to let herself distracted by the fear that poked through the love.

"You're an empath, absolutely. But you're not just that. It's like saying you're loyal, or that you like exploring. It's something about you. It's important. It makes you who you are. But it's not all of you. The rest matters just as much. It's all very big for you now, but don't forget." Anabel nodded again, confused, but all too aware that Mom cared. Mom smiled faintly. "I don't like exploring, but does it mean we can't be close?"

"No, that… that'd be silly."

Mom hugged her. "Hold onto that. You're not a whole different person. You're still you. And you have nothing to prove to us. Nothing."

Anabel hugged her back, a bit overwhelmed, but happy to be wrapped in her warmth.

Oo*oOo*oO

Mom and Dad had gone to work for a few hours, but they'd given Anabel permission to eat a whole pack of uncooked cookie dough and Uncle was in the kitchen baking the rest of the cookies, so she couldn't decently feel too sorry for herself.

She was in the garden, lying on the grass with Espeon as a pillow and Valeria sitting next to her. Abra and Eeveevee were 'exploring' on the roof. Anabel narrowed her eyes as she popped another piece of dough in her mouth.

~If you find something that looks like a cable, don't touch it,~ she warned.

Abra's "why?"pulsed through her mind.

~It'll be electrical. It can hurt you. I'll ask Mom and Dad how it works later.~

She felt like a tiny kid asking a thousand questions, but Abra was making her realize how much she didn't know. It was kind of frustrating, actually.

"I'm sure Eeveevee would love to see if Metagross can make her float and fly around with Psychic," V said.

"It's not just floating, V. The move's damaging. It rips poke-energy out of its prey."

"Ouch. Well, at least we saw that you and Abra can work together even when you're standing two yards away. Metagross managed to attack Espeon. It'll just take a bit of time."

An exhausted laugh left Anabel's lips. Metagross had barely managed five focused attacks and only one had been strong enough to affect Espeon. It'd take a truck-load of Berries to get it stable enough not to need any help.

"I must get Uncle to convince them to let me take Metagross and Espeon with me. Metagross are valuable, right? If I get good enough, I could help every metang and metagross from the mines to evolve properly."

"Metagross are very valuable," V agreed with a growing smile, chimes now whistling around her.

"Please go ask Uncle for me?" Anabel's head weighted a whole ton, and that wasn't even all Abra's fault anymore.

V nodded sharply and sprinted back to the house.

Anabel rubbed her eyes. Seth had sent her a nice text telling her about pokemon school and asking her how she was doing. What was she going to tell her friends? Should she wait? How could she explain?

'She's a normal little girl,' Dad had told the alakazam.

Anabel shut her stinging eyes, keeping them like that until she was very sure she wouldn't cry. The place for psychic people was an island near Mossdeep, far South. Psyduck Village. Psyduck had horrible headaches. They were water-type but somehow had psychic abilities. They were like a failure of nature, miserable, kind of dangerous and out of control. It was a cruel name for a school.

She shifted in the grass, her hold tightening over Espeon. Uncle Merle had said there were almost two hundred adult psychics from Kanto to Sinnoh and just as many in Alola, Unova or Kalos.

He'd had meant to make her feel less freaky, but instead, Anabel was scared. One whole two hundred psychics, and she only knew of Sabrina and Sabrina's dad. She vaguely remembered that all psychic-type Gym Leaders were psychic too, or were they? and that old scientist who explained auras on TV... Where were all the others? Did they hide? Did they have to hide? Or was Anabel freaking out for nothing because they were all living normal boring lives?

Abra just added more questions to hers.

Oo*oOo*oO

"Will you tell her yourself, Captain Catesby?"

Uncle's merry bells had Anabel smile as he brought his vidphone in front of her eyes. A friendly-looking Ranger was staring back at her.

"Good luck with learning to master your abilities," the man said. "As I was telling your Uncle, those metang and metagross are critical to the mine's production, so we've contacted the staff at the ducks." The ducks, that's how they called psychics? "You'll be able to keep both Metagross and Espeon. Your success convinced us to recruit other empaths to help us."

Really? "But if you have real psychics helping, why would you need me?"

The Ranger Captain smiled. "Because your Uncle said keeping Metagross would make you happy, and you deserve a reward for helping."

Anabel beamed. V would treat Machoke and Skarmory well, but it would have broken Anabel's heart to leave Espeon behind.


THE END

Author's note:

So here are our heroes, a little more grown up, a little more confident, and ready for new adventures!

While writing this was a blast, I'll admit I was a bit put out by the lack of feedback. So while book two (where Valeria goes after Gengar, Anabel enters the psychic community, and both come to realize something dark is afoot) is a work in progress, it's on the back burner and I have no idea if/when I'll post it. If anyone is interested, please do drop me a word.