CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains strong violence, blood, gore, body horror, depictions of sexual harrassment, character death, misgendering, and a mention of attempted suicide. There's also infrequent, mild swearing

Chapter 1 – The Haven

He lay down upon a cold, wet patch of grass, though it may as well have been a bed fit for a queen. It was soft and enveloping, like the sudden drowse that was pleasantly consuming him. He yawned, covering his mouth with his hand—her hand, pale-skinned and branching out into five separate fingers.

This was not his hand. This was not his point of view.

Something sky-blue appeared over the pale hand—his own, much simpler, fused hand, surrounded by a soft, multicolored glow. He looked into her eyes, though he knew he didn't need to. He knew they were closed, knew that their owner slept. On some level, so did he, yet he remained awake. After all, it was only her sleep, which he happened to be experiencing vicariously. A second-hand sensation.

Her last.

He recoiled from the sudden, stark vacuum where her lifeforce had been. Part of his own went with it, and the torn edges burned white-hot with pain. Disarray exploded in his mind—his cumbersome nervous system hadn't unsynched in time, and now he couldn't tell for certain whether he was living or dead, whether he was himself or the lifeless figure lying before him. Overwhelmed, he staggered backward until something caught under one of his pods and nearly tripped him.

His perception, all of his many senses, abruptly froze. For a moment, reality returned. Then he saw the object he'd just stepped on—red, white, and round—and the distinction between himself and the friend he'd just lost blurred even further. This poké ball was his—but also hers…

The poké ball rattled as he lifted it in his shaking hands. The vestigial joints at his knuckles constricted around it, and with a final, caterwauling scream tearing its way through his throat, both the poké ball and his psyche broke into shards…

- o -

The crack of the poké ball's implosion blasted him out of the dream, just as it had every time before. He groaned feebly, wishing it had done so sooner. An ordinary nightmare was bad enough. He didn't need to suffer it from two different perspectives at the same time.

But now, at least, the dreams really were only dreams, no matter how twisted. The pain wasn't really present; it was only a shadow of the feeling, somewhere between remembered and imagined, and it was finally confined to those nightmares. For too long, it had followed him into his waking life, too.

Peace had been hard-won through the efforts of many over years in the Haven. Lazily, still yet to fully awaken, he opened his eyes and let their inner membranes slide back for one last view of his room there. It was a simple, small space, shut away from the outside world and its rude sun, perpetually shadowed in his preferred darkness.

He flexed his spine and his limbs, detaching his jaws in a massive yawn. There was a series of faint snaps as his joints relocated, followed by another sound: the trilling of the door alarm.

As he got to his feet, the lights came on slowly, gently, a feature for which he was quite grateful. It allowed eyes like his, accustomed to near-total darkness, to more gracefully adjust to the brightness on the other side of the door, which would only open once the light-adjustment process was finished.

He'd have personally preferred for the lights to not come on at all, but most of the Haven's staff were chansey. Their kind had nothing like the night-vision of his own; they required light to be active and able to perform their sometimes critical work. He'd often wondered why they didn't just employ some nocturnal species to tend to the dark-sighted, but he'd always let the matter slide.

At any rate, he could tolerate light rather well for one of his kind, for he was used to it. Living with humans (and the hours those humans kept) for part of his life had caused him to develop diurnal habits. He suspected that he'd probably end up half-blind before his first century and wholly so halfway through his second, but it would be worth it. He'd loved those years he'd spent with the humans, and outside of the occasional nightmare, he could now recall them with more joy than sorrow.

The door slid open, and in stepped a chansey, beaming proudly. A nametag clipped to her fur identified her as Teresa. She carried a form attached to a clipboard; somewhat awkwardly, she turned it around so that the paper faced him.

Wobbuffet, male, the form read in unown-script. Designation: Esaax Evergray. He'd been denying that name and the history that came with it ever since his new life among the humans had begun. But now, in his "second new life", he embraced it once more.

After all, once one gets over a thing like a spontaneous extinction, a little adolescent heartbreak is nothing…

He shook his head clear of such thoughts, determined to stay in the present, and returned his attention to the form. His eyes scanned its surface quickly, skimming over several more lines of personal data until he found he was looking for: 4/15/14…

"Well, this is it!" Teresa said cheerfully, matching Esaax's thoughts at the moment almost word-for-word. Today, he would leave. Today, at last, he could. "Are you ready for your final tests?" the chansey asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Esaax answered, careful as always to prevent the automatic door from closing on his tail as he followed the chansey out of the room.

"Now, you do realize this means you'll have to go see Adn just one last time."

"I'm not scared of Adn," the wobbuffet said, and for the most part he wasn't. A measure of dread snuck into his voice all the same.

"Never said you were, but still, I know his method isn't the most comfortable…"

"…But it's what it takes and you're gonna do it anyway, so…" Esaax shrugged in mock surrender.

"Right. Anyway," Teresa said as she led Esaax down the hall, "we'll be saving him for last, which is fine since we have other things to take care of anyway. We'll just get you in when he's finished; he's with another patient at the moment."

Another door opened to admit the two of them. Therein were all the necessary resources for a basic physical exam, including a living resource: a pokémon who served as Teresa's assistant—or, more precisely, as her hands. Specifically, this was a mr. mime by the name of Madeline. Her large and agile hands were well-suited for tools and equipment made for the very similar hands of humans, the sort of things for which the tiny, nearly-featureless paws of a chansey tended to be inadequate.

"Why, look at you!" Madeline said. "We don't really need to look him over, do we, Terry? He's the very incarnation of health right here, I'd say."

She came up to stand before him and studied him with an eyebrow raised and a finger resting on her lips in a way that one might gaze at a work of art. Then she smiled and said, "Still working out, I see. Bet we'll fill this place twice over after you get out with all the women you'll drive crazy, you handsome blue devil."

Esaax averted his gaze. Flirting and teasing from Madeline wasn't exactly anything new, but it put an unpleasant taste in his mouth regardless. He sincerely hoped she was just joking around, but if she wasn't… Esaax tried very, very hard not to think about that possibility.

At any rate, her observation was correct—or the part about him working out was, anyway. Esaax had indeed been on a devout physical training regimen for quite some time now. Though Madeline liked to make him out to be some kind of beefcake, such wasn't the case at all. The effects of his training, though visible, weren't dramatic. Esaax was no bodybuilder; the point of his training was simply to help him harness and become aware of the strength that he already possessed.

The idea to start him on such a program had originally arisen from the poké ball incident that had inspired so many nightmares. As was common among his kind, Esaax hadn't known the full magnitude of his own physical strength on account of being unable to use it against another living creature. As such, Esaax had been told that it might do him some good to become conscious of his "idle power", lest anything else fall victim to it.

He'd agreed to this instantly. All his life, he'd broken things by accident; the chance to learn how to leave his klutzy side in the past was irresistible. On top of that, he'd soon discovered that the workouts also had the benefit of keeping his mind as busy and strong as the rest of him.

While he no longer needed the exercise in the therapeutic sense, he still enjoyed it as a hobby. He'd often wondered where he might train once he was released and had ultimately decided on the old human gym down the street, which fighting-types frequented.

He imagined that if he did go there, some machamp or maybe a hitmon of some kind might pick a fight with him—he figured they'd be unable to resist the allure of a psychic they could whale on without fear of eating psybeam. One or another of them would just let loose with the mega punches and seismic tosses, only to have those attacks thrown right back in their face, doubled in power…

The thought of such a thing was just too funny. Esaax started chuckling aloud, but stopped when something cold pressed itself against his chest. He looked down at the stethoscope for a moment, then met the gaze of the mr. mime who'd put it there.

"Uh… Teresa? Are you okay?" Esaax asked. "You've never had to have her do this part before."

"She insisted," said the chansey.

Madeline just stood there with a smile suggesting that she had more on her mind than anything Esaax's heart was doing.

"In fact," Teresa went on, "Madeline asked if she could handle the entire examination herself. And I told her she could."

Esaax's mouth opened to protest, but something made his voice die in his throat. All he managed was a sigh. Just get it over with…

- o -

Minutes later, Esaax left the room alongside Teresa, trying not to think about what had just transpired. More than ever, he was grateful that his time at the Haven was nearing an end.

"…So now what?" he asked, hoping the answer was something other than just waiting around. A distraction sounded like a very good idea right about now.

"Well, you could have your RE test now, or would you rather have something to eat first?"

An easy question. "I think you know."

"I do," Teresa said with a chuckle.

The two stopped in their tracks as another chansey stepped into their path from around the corner. "He's here," the newcomer said.

"Oh good," Teresa responded. "Tell him to wait in the cafeteria, okay?" She turned to Esaax. "I forgot to tell you, Esaax. A friend of yours has come to pick you up. You can chat with him over breakfast."

The news took a second to click. "Wait, really? Who?"

"Go and find out for yourself! I'm going to check up on Adn again and see if he's anywhere near ready. See you later!"

Esaax watched Teresa waddle off, then made his way to the cafeteria, feeling awfully puzzled for someone who was supposed to have achieved clarity at last.