Where Angels Dare to Tread

by Cori Falls


Chapter 1 -- Omens

It was a clear, balmy evening in late summer. A cool breeze rustled the leaves of the trees, and a flock of Pidgeys soared through the liquid gold skies as a lone pokemon trainer made his way up the road, his only companion the jet-black Umbreon at his side. Gary Oak smiled wearily and shifted the weight of his backpack when he crested the hill and beheld a small town nestled in the valley below.

"This must be Grove," Gary remarked as he consulted his map. "It's only ten more miles to Blackthorn City from here, Umbreon!"

"Breon! Bree!" Umbreon said cheerfully.

Gary reached down and scratched behind Umbreon's ears. "Come on, buddy. It's been a long day -- let's go get some dinner and take a rest."

In the four days since Gary had earned his Glacier Badge at the Mahogany Gym, he'd been doing some of the most intense training of his life. He'd sent Rhydon and Pidgeot back to his grandfather's lab and exchanged them for Nidoking and Nidoqueen, hoping that the dragon and ice attacks he'd taught them would help him defeat Claire's dragon pokemon and win the Rising Badge...the last one he needed in order to compete in the Johto League finals.

Gary's smile grew even wider than it already was as he and Umbreon made their way towards Grove. "I bet James would do really well at the Blackthorn Gym," he mused. "He taught his Growlithe Dragon Rage last summer, and his Articuno is gonna have some really powerful ice attacks when he gets older! Jessie's Wobbuffet could take out pretty much anything with Counter and Mirror Coat, too!" Gary paused for a moment and sighed. "It's a shame so many gym leaders are so snotty about letting Team Rocket members compete for badges -- if anybody deserves the chance to earn badges and compete in league championships, it's Jessie and James. They're good trainers...and good people...."

"Bree!" Umbreon said, as if to agree.

It had been a couple of months since Gary had befriended Jessie, James, and Meowth, and during that time, a day rarely went by when he didn't think about them. The last time he'd seen them had been two weeks ago at a fire pokemon tournament, where Jessie and James had won a pair of Fire Stones with the help of their Vulpix and Growlithe...and then, he'd helped them humiliate Ash in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. And even when he didn't get to see them in person, he exchanged e-mails with them whenever he had the chance to get online. Jessie with her beauty and kindness, James with his wisdom and sensitivity, Meowth with his sarcastic wit -- whenever Gary thought about the three of them, it lifted his spirits and put a smile on his face.

Suddenly, however, the happy image of his friends shifted to one of horror -- Jessie was lying on the ground, writhing in agony, and James and Meowth were kneeling at her side and crying. Gary squeezed his eyes shut and brushed away the cold sweat that was forming on his brow as he tried to shake the image from his mind. Whenever he thought about the difficult pasts they'd had and the cruel and degrading treatment they often suffered at the hands of Ash and his friends, it made Gary sad, but nothing he'd ever seen before in his mind's eye was as vivid or intense...or disturbing as the vision he'd just had.

Umbreon flattened his ears and pawed at Gary's leg. "Breon, bree?"

Gary shook his head and opened his eyes again. "It's...it's nothing," he said at length. "Probably just my nerves -- we do have some difficult battles ahead of us, after all."

Satisfied with his master's answer, Umbreon nodded and continued on his way.

"Just my nerves...just my nerves...." Gary whispered again. But as he cast a look over his shoulder and saw black storm clouds gathering in the western sky, he couldn't help but wonder if that was really all it was.


Meanwhile, in a Team Rocket cabin a few miles from a town called Rowandale, Gary's three friends were settling in for the night.

"It's a shame we couldn't keep dat staff and mask," Meowth sighed as he watched James open a package of chicken-flavored ramen noodles and add them to the pot of boiling water on the stove. "Even if dey was a royal pain in the ass, we coulda sold 'em."

"Yes. I'm sure an art collector or a museum would've paid a fortune for artifacts like those," James agreed. "At the very least, we could've gotten enough money for groceries."

Meowth scowled. "Goddamned fuckin' twerps! It ain't like we was stealin' -- dose things was up for grabs, and we found 'em first!" The cat paused for a moment and looked over at the bedroom door. "Besides, it ain't like Queen Jessie coulda taken over the world, or anything. Why is it any skin off dere ass if we wanna earn an honest buck so we can stay alive?!"

James ran a hand through his blue-violet hair and sighed. "Beats me. All I know is that I'm at my wit's end with those brats. I guess I can see why they get pissy when we try to catch their pokemon, but they've really been crossing the line lately. I don't know how much more of their bullshit I can take."

"I hear ya, Jimbo," said Meowth.

After a couple of minutes, James removed the pot from the stove and began spooning the ramen noodles into bowls. "Meowth, will you tell Jessie that dinner is ready, please?" he asked.

"Tell her yerself," Meowth grumbled.

James raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

Meowth's expression softened when he saw the look of shock on James's face. "Sorry. I didn't mean for it ta sound like dat."

"Then what did you mean?"

"I'm just sayin', if ya want Jessie ta know dat dinner's ready, you'll hafta tell her yerself -- I ain't talkin' ta her," he clarified.

James buried his face in his hands. "Meowth, don't tell me you're still upset about Jessie using that staff to make you dance!"

"Well, how the hell do ya expect me ta feel?!" Meowth demanded. "She humiliated me, James!"

"You think I don't know that?" James retorted. "Do you think I enjoyed it when she took control of Victreebel and sicced him on me?!"

"No...I know," he conceded. "But it ain't really the dancin' dat upset me, even if it was embarrassin' as all get out! It's dat power-trip she went on. James, ya can't tell me it didn't hurt when Jessie declared herself queen and acted like we wasn't any better den a couple a slaves!"

"You're right, Meowth. It did hurt...and I was mad at her about that," James admitted.

"Den why ain't dis buggin' you the way it's buggin' me?"

"Because I know that wasn't the real Jessie doing all of that stuff today."

Meowth's eyes widened. "Ya mean she was possessed?!"

James chuckled. "No. I'm just saying that she had a momentary lapse in judgement and did some crazy things that she wouldn't normally have done. That's something we've all been guilty of -- like the time you had those islanders banish me and Jessie so that we wouldn't ruin your chance to be a god...or the time I thought I was a Moltres-type and tried to usurp control of the team. Today it was Jessie's turn to let a bit of power go to her head, and that's why it's not a big deal to me anymore," he explained. "Besides, Jess had a choice today. She could've stayed in those ruins forever and kept all of those amazing powers, but she didn't -- she gave them up in a heartbeat so that she could stay with us!"

"Kinda like how you chose me and Jess over yer inheritance, and I gave up the chance ta be a god so I could stay with youse guys?" Meowth ventured.

James nodded. "Precisely!"

"Good point," he said, breathing a sigh of relief. "Ya know, for a moment dere, I thought ya meant dat dere was some sorta evil spirit in the mask and dat it took control of Jessie, or somethin'. I guess dat's kinda ridiculous when ya stop and think about it, but...."

"It is, isn't it?" James agreed. "But I can see where you're coming from -- everything that happened today was very...bizarre, to say the least."

"You can say dat again, Jimmy-boy!"

James smiled and gave Meowth a playful nudge. "Come on. Let's go get Her Majesty -- I'd like to eat dinner before it gets cold."

Meowth smiled back. "Yeah. And the sooner we talk ta her and get things straightened out, the better."

When the two of them went into the bedroom, they found Jessie curled up beneath a layer of blankets on the bed. Her back was turned to them, and her breathing was slow and shallow, as if she were asleep.

"Hey, Jess," James said softly. "Dinner is ready, sweetheart."

"I'm not hungry," Jessie muttered.

"Whatsa matter? Smack Ramen ain't good enough for Yer Royal Highness?" Meowth asked. "Sorry ta burst yer bubble, queenie, but dat's all we've got!"

"Knock it off, Meowth!" James reproached him.

The cat smiled innocently. "I'm just kiddin'!"

James frowned at him and turned his attention back to Jessie. "Honey, we're not mad at you anymore about what you did this afternoon," he told her. "You don't have to punish yourself like this."

"It's...it's not just that," she replied. "I...I don't feel well."

Slowly, Jessie rolled onto her back and looked up at James and Meowth. Her face was a pale grayish-white color, and her normally sparkling sapphire eyes had gone dull and had dark circles under them.

"Holy crap! Ya look awful, Jess!" Meowth cried.

"Gee, thanks," she said sarcastically.

James sweatdropped as he knealt by her side. "Meowth is right. You haven't looked this bad since that time you inhaled Vileplume Stun Spores." The sweatdrop on his face doubled in size when he touched her forehead and took one of her hands in his own. "And you feel like ice!"

Meowth shuddered. "Dis ain't right, man!"

James smoothed back Jessie's hair and kissed her fingers. "What's the matter, honey? What happened to you?"

"I...I don't know, James," she replied. "I felt fine this morning...."

Jumping onto the bed, Meowth took Jessie's other hand in his paws and brushed it against his furry cheek.

"I guess it happened this afternoon," Jessie continued. "When we found that underground temple...I don't know. I just started feeling weird."

"How so?" James prompted.

Jessie closed her eyes and furrowed her brow. "I just...I didn't feel like I was in control of myself. It felt like something was making me grab that staff and put on that mask. And when I did, it just got worse -- I...I felt like...I was being pushed to the side. I knew what was going on, but I was saying things I wouldn't normally say...doing things I wouldn't normally do, and I couldn't stop myself...."

James and Meowth exchanged nervous looks as they listened to her.

"....And even after I took the mask off, and we left the ruins, I just haven't felt right," she went on. "I feel tired...so tired...."

"Maybe dat thing really was cuttin' off yer circulation," Meowth remarked.

James closed his eyes and thought for a moment. "I think I might know what's wrong," he said. "I think it was the magical powers in the staff and the mask."

Jessie looked up at him. "What do you mean, James?"

"Well, I'm not an expert on the subject, but my grand-mama was," he explained. "She had all kinds of books on magic and the old ways, and sometimes I'd look through them when I went to visit her and grand-papa. I remember, in one of the books I read, it said that negative spells often have a negative effect on the person who casts them. And if controlling others isn't negative, then I don't know what is!"

Jessie frowned.

James placed his hand on her cheek. "Don't worry, sweetheart. I don't think the effects are permanent -- you were only exposed to the magic for a couple of hours, so it probably just drained some of your energy."

"I hope you're right," she sighed.

"I'm sure that's all it is," he assured her. "Just take it easy tonight, Jess. If you're still not feeling better in the morning, we'll take you to a doctor."

Jessie closed her eyes again and nodded. "Yeah...." she muttered.

"But right now, you should eat some dinner," James continued. "Whether you're hungry or not, you need to keep your strength up."

"You're right," she said.

"Why don't I bring the food in here?" Meowth suggested. "Dat way, we can all eat tagedda, and Jess won't hafta get outta bed."

"That sounds like a good idea," James told him.

"Thank you, Meowth," Jessie whispered.

Meowth nodded and took his leave. He returned a few minutes later, carrying a tray with three bowls of ramen noodles, three sets of chopsticks, three cups, and a small kettle of tea on it.

After eating a couple bites of food, Jessie smiled weakly at James and Meowth. "Hey, guys?"

"Yeah?" they asked.

"I...I'm really sorry about the way I treated you today," she told them. "Like I said, I wasn't myself when I was bossing you around, and I feel awful about it."

"It's okay," James replied. "I know you didn't mean any harm. Besides, you proved that being with us is more important to you than being Queen of the Sandbox."

Jessie's pale cheeks turned a little pink. "James, if I were a queen, I wouldn't want you to be my slave or a lowly subject -- I'd want you to be my king! I wouldn't settle for anything less."

James winked at her. "I know that, too. Why do you think I said that I'd just kneel on one knee before you when we recited our motto today?"

"I figured that's what you were hinting at," she giggled. "Because I know that you don't have bad knees, James!"

"Can't fool you, can I?" he said.

She winked back. "Of course not! I am the queen, after all!"

James leaned closer and kissed her cheek. "I love you, Jess."

"I love you too, sweetie," Jessie replied, pressing her lips to his.

Once the three of them had finished eating, Meowth went to wash the dishes and feed the pokemon while James stayed in the bedroom with Jessie.

"Are you feeling better now, honey?" he asked.

"A little," she said. "Though I still feel kind of drained."

James caressed her pale cheek. "Is there anything you'd like me to do for you?"

"Actually, there is," Jessie told him. She smiled shyly and blushed again. "Don't worry -- I'm not going to make you climb a mountain to get spring water or go out and pick the reddest apple you can find...."

James smiled back. "I know. You're a much better patient when you really are sick than when you're just trying to get attention," he said. "But whether you're sick or not, I'll always do whatever you ask -- I love pampering you, Jess."

For the first time all night, Jessie's blue eyes sparkled. "And that's exactly what I want," she replied. "I just want you to stay in here and keep me company, James. I need to hear your voice...see your face...feel you next to me. Knowing that you're here makes me feel better."

"In that case, I won't go anywhere," James promised, taking her hands in his own and kissing them.

Jessie closed her eyes and sighed contentedly as she savored the feeling of her lover's touch. "You're too good to me, James."

"Nothing is too good for you, Jessie," he whispered as he held her closer and began kissing her neck.

Jessie wrapped her arms around James and rested her head atop his. She loved how soft and silky his hair felt and how the fragrance of roses always seemed to permeate it. "James?" she muttered.


"I just thought of something else I want."

"What is it?" he asked between kisses.

"If it's not too much trouble...do you think you could give me a massage?"

James's emerald eyes glittered as he met her gaze. "I'd love to!" came his reply.

Jessie planted a kiss on his forehead. "Thanks."

"It's my pleasure," James told her. "After all, what guy can resist the opportunity to caress every inch of a beautiful woman's body?"

Jessie gave him a playful shove. "You keep up that sweet-talk, and I'll make you give me more than just a massage, James!" she giggled.

James kissed the tip of her nose and laid her back down. "Offhand, I'd say you're feeling a lot better," he remarked.

"You know, it's strange, but I really am!" she said. "When I was alone earlier, I felt like I was going to pass out. I'm still not a hundred percent, but I do feel more...normal now that you're here."

"Maybe you just needed something positive to counteract all that negative energy you were channeling this afternoon," he told her.

"You're probably right, James," she agreed. "Because I can't imagine anything more positive than spending time with you!"

James smiled tenderly and kissed her again. "I need to go and get some lotion from my backpack -- I should only be gone for a couple minutes," he said.

"I'll be waiting," Jessie told him as she kissed back.

When James went back to the living room, he found Meowth and Wobbuffet sitting on the couch and watching TV. Arbok, Weezing, Victreebel, and Articuno were eating their dinner in the kitchen.

"Is Jess feelin' any better?" Meowth queried.

James nodded. "Yes, she is," he replied. "I think a little rest and a lot of cheering up were all she needed."

"Dat's good," said Meowth. "I was worried about her."

"I was worried, too," James told him. "But she seems to be doing fine now -- I think she's even in the mood for a little romance!"

Meowth and Wobbuffet snickered.

"But first, I'm going to give her a nice massage," he continued as he rooted through his backpack and produced a bottle of rose milk.

The two pokemon exchanged wicked grins. "Ah! Foreplay!" they said in unison.

James smirked at them. "Indeed. You've been warned!"

Meowth winked at James and gave him a thumbs-up. "Got it, Jimmy-boy! We won't come a knockin' when the cabin starts a rockin'!"

James said nothing, just shook his head and laughed.

When he returned to the bedroom, he saw that Jessie had already taken her clothes off and was now wrapped in a red towel.

"Ready for that massage?" he asked as he removed his gloves and jacket and seated himself next to her.

Jessie smiled seductively at him and got to her knees, letting the towel drop away. James's heart skipped a beat as he looked at her -- even though Jessie had been his lover for over a year, he never grew tired of seeing her naked. She was the most beautiful woman in the world to him, and every day she grew more and more beautiful in his eyes.

"Not quite," she whispered into his ear as she pressed herself against him. "I want something else first...."

James grinned and pulled off his shirt. "Your wish is my command, my queen!" came his reply.

Jessie rested her forehead against James's and ran her hands down his bare chest and stomach. Her pale cheeks turned pink once more when he unzipped his pants and guided one of her hands to his crotch.

"Why, James! Is that your royal sceptre?" she asked.

A mischievous light sparkled in his emerald eyes. "Indeed it is," he said as he finished undressing and laid himself on top of her. "Hail to the king, baby!"

Jessie gasped with pleasure as James became one with her. She always enjoyed making love with him, but tonight her need was especially urgent. A strange feeling of emptiness had been consuming her all evening...an eerie coldness chilling her soul. She wanted to purge herself of those feelings -- to fill the emptiness with love and chase away the coldness with warmth...and nobody she knew was filled with more love or warmth than James.

"Are you okay, Jess?" he asked as he ran his fingers through her hair and caressed her face. "You still feel a little cold...."

"I feel better than ever, James!" she assured him. "I always feel so safe and warm when you hold me...."

James smiled again and held Jessie closer when he heard this. "In that case, I won't let you go," he promised.

Jessie smiled back and melted into his embrace. As she and James nestled together and shared their bodies, she did, indeed, feel the chill going away. An hour earlier, she'd barely had the energy to even think about making love, but now she never wanted to stop. There was just something about James...something about him that gave her strength.

When James finished, he continued to hold her in his arms and cover her with gentle kisses. "Are you still feeling alright, honey?"

Jessie nodded and rested her head on his chest. "I feel wonderful," she sighed as she listened to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. "Thank you, sweetie."

James smoothed back Jessie's crimson hair and tucked a loose strand of it behind her ear. "I think I was right about the negative energy from that spell making you sick," he commented. "I don't know of too many medical illnesses that can be cured with sex!"

Jessie laughed. "Yeah! Something tells me this wouldn't work on the common cold!"

"So, are you ready for your massage now?" James asked as he rubbed noses with Jessie and touched his lips to hers.

"I sure am!" she replied.

James kissed her again and grabbed the bottle of rose milk as she rolled onto her stomach. Then, he poured a bit of the pink, rose-scented cream into the palms of his hands and began working it into Jessie's soft skin.

"You know, I think I figured out why I get so bossy with you sometimes, James," Jessie remarked as he kneaded the muscles in her back and shoulders.

James smiled and caressed the back of her neck. "You're not that bad," he assured her. "But what's your theory?"

"Well, you're always treating me like a queen," she explained. "You always do whatever it takes to please me and make me feel special...and I guess sometimes it just goes to my head. I spent most of my life being treated like I was worthless, but now that I have you, I really do feel like a queen."

"I'm glad to hear that," he told her as his hands moved to the small of her back. "Jessie, you make me so happy, but it always tears me up on the inside when I think about the life you've had to live. It's not fair that I always had so much while you had so little. I guess that's another reason I love pampering you...."

Jessie rolled onto her side and looked up at him. "James, just because you had a rich family doesn't mean you had it any easier than I did," she said. "I know I act jealous sometimes, but I don't mean anything by it. Money can't make up for the way your parents and Jessiebelle treated you...."

"Don't worry about it," James said, cutting her off. "It wasn't like my childhood was completely devoid of love -- I had my grandparents, after all. And now that I have you, I have more love in my life than I know what to do with!"

Jessie smiled again. "James?"


"Tell me more about your grandparents."

"What would you like to know about them?" James asked as he poured more rose milk into his hands and began massaging it into Jessie's arms.

"Well...your grand-mama and magic, for one thing," she replied. "I never knew about that...."

"I could probably talk forever about grand-mama and grand-papa and still surprise you, Jess," he chuckled. "They were remarkable people!"

"They must've been, to have a grandson like you," Jessie told him.

James blushed. "I learned so much from grand-mama and grand-papa -- they helped me find my way in life...and they're a big reason I met you," he began. "You see, they were followers of the old ways, and they kind of got me into it, too. When I was a tot, I always felt so empty and let-down when I went to church with my parents. I had so many questions that the hellfire and damnation philosophies of Southern Baptism just couldn't answer, and whenever I did ask questions, my parents always called me a troublemaker and told me to keep quiet."

Jessie frowned.

"Not so with my grandparents," James continued. "I remember, I went to visit them one Sunday afternoon after church, and I found them sitting together in their garden and meditating. They looked so peaceful, and as I watched them, it made me feel peaceful, too. When they saw that I was there, they invited me to join them. The three of us spent the whole afternoon like that, just holding hands and sitting together, enjoying the peace and quiet. It was while I was meditating with my grandparents that I found what I never could in church -- fulfillment.

"Grand-mama and grand-papa didn't ignore me or criticize me when I asked questions about religion and spirituality, either. They didn't preach or give me clear-cut answers to my questions since Paganism isn't about one religion being better than another, but they did give me the knowledge I needed to find the answers I was looking for and draw my own conclusions. The conclusion I reached was that I liked what grand-mama and grand-papa believed in -- it gave me the sense of belonging and peace that I needed, and it made faith a blessing rather than a burden. I think that's what religion should be about -- it should be a celebration of what you believe. When it's about suffering, living in fear of an all-powerful being, and fighting about who's right and who's wrong...well, that defeats the whole purpose."

"I couldn't agree more," Jessie said as James finished massaging her arms and moved on to her legs and feet. "Momma and I were never religious people. I remember, momma told me that my grandpa was Catholic, but he was excommunicated when he married my grandma because she was Shinto...."

James raised an eyebrow. "Catholic and Shinto? That's an interesting combination!"

"I never met my grandparents, but from what momma told me about them, they were quite an interesting pair. Grandpa was Irish, and grandma was Japanese -- that's how their daughter ended up with the name Miyamoto Parker!" Jessie chuckled. "But even though they came from two completely different worlds, it didn't change the fact that they were in love. Race...culture...religion -- things like that just didn't matter to them! I guess that's why momma and I never cared much for organized religion -- nothing good would ever try to stand in the way of true love."

"Good point," said James.

"I still believed in spirituality, though," Jessie continued. Suddenly, however, she frowned. "But when momma died, I became an atheist. I don't think any just or merciful supreme being would let children starve or take their mothers away from them, so it convinced me that God didn't exist...not a God that deserved to be praised, anyway."

Tears welled up in James's emerald eyes as he listened to her.

Jessie reached up and placed a hand on his cheek. "Don't worry, sweetie -- this particular story has a happy ending," she assured him.

This made James smile again. "How so?" he asked.

Jessie blushed. "I spent several years not believing in anything at all...not even myself! But then I met you, and it reminded me that even though I don't believe in God -- not the traditional concept of him, anyway -- there's no denying that angels are real! After my momma died, you were the only person besides Blissey who reached out to me...and you were the first friend who ever stood by me, no matter what. You believed in me, and that gave me something to believe in again. You're my angel, James."

"You're my angel too, Jess," James replied.

Jessie leaned closer and put her arms around him. Their lips met in a passionate kiss as James returned her embrace. When he laid her down again, however, Meowth came into the bedroom.

"Meowth, what do you think you're doing?!" James demanded as he grabbed a pillow and covered his crotch with it.

Jessie's face turned redder than ever as she ducked under the covers.

Meowth blushed, too. "Oops! I shoulda known ya wasn't decent...."

"Then why the hell did you walk in on us?!" James shouted.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't wanna interrupt youse guys while you was bein' intimate, but dere's a really hellacious storm comin'. Wobbu and I lost the TV reception, and...." His voice trailed off as a sheepish smile made its way across his mouth, and a sweatdrop formed on his temple.

As if on cue, a cold wind began howling outside. Then, a flash of lightning illuminated the dark sky, and a crack of thunder rattled the log walls and the glass window.

"And you wanted to come in here because you were afraid?" James concluded.

Meowth blushed again and averted his gaze.

Jessie looked out window and shuddered. "Don't be embarrassed, Meowth -- that storm is giving me the creeps, too. Nobody thinks you're a scaredy-cat," she remarked.

James's expression softened. "Yeah. I just wish you'd warned us before you came in, Meowth."

"I really am sorry about dat," Meowth apologized again. "I wasn't tryin' ta kill the mood."

"Don't worry about it," James told him. "Jessie and I already made love. Now we're just talking...."

Meowth smirked. "Talkin'? Dat ain't what it looked like ta Me-owth!"

"Oh, shut up," Jessie grumbled.

"What were ya talkin' about?" the cat queried.

"I was telling Jessie about my grandparents," James told him. "And then it led to a discussion about religion and our beliefs...and it was about to lead to something else when you walked in."

Meowth snickered. "So, I was right."

"Yes, you were," Jessie sighed. "Go ahead -- tell your raunchy jokes and get it over with."

He waved a paw at her and seated himself at the foot of the bed. "Ah, I ain't gonna pick on ya...not tonight, anyway. I'd actually like ta join in. On the conversation, I mean."

Jessie gave the cat a playful nudge with her foot. "We knew what you meant," she told him.

"We'd love if you joined our discussion, Meowth," said James. He paused for a moment and blushed as he looked down at his naked body and the pillow that he was using to cover himself. "But do you think you could give me and Jessie a bit of privacy so we can get dressed again?"

Meowth winked at his two friends and turned around. "You got it!"

Once the cat wasn't looking, Jessie put on her white nightgown, and James put on a pair of red boxer shorts and a black t-shirt.

"Youse guys decent now?" Meowth asked after a few minutes.

"Yes, it's safe to look," came Jessie's reply.

Meowth turned around again and smiled at them. "So, you was talkin' about...religion?"

"Sort of. I was starting to tell Jessie about how my grand-mama knew magic, and the topic shifted gears a little," James explained. "You see, in order to understand grand-mama's magic, you have to understand her religion...and it led to a discussion of our own beliefs."

"Dat's cool," Meowth remarked. "So...what is the deal with yer grand-mama and magic, Jimmy?"

James smiled. "Well, I never actually got to see her casting spells -- it required complete concentration, which meant that she had to be alone while she was doing it. Plus, she had a rule that she never talked to anybody about her magic secrets unless they were members of her coven. But I do know that she followed certain rituals for the changing seasons, holidays, and such. She also grew most of the herbs that she used in her garden. And in one of her private rooms, she had magic items like wands, staffs, a cauldron, a collection of candles and stones, and a whole shelf full of books on spellwork...."

"Cauldrons and covens?!" Meowth interjected. "What was she? A witch?"

"Actually...yes," James chuckled. "But real witches are nothing like the green-skinned hags you read about in fairy-tales. True witchcraft is about being in tune with the forces of the universe and using them to make positive things happen in your life and protect yourself from negatives...and that's precisely what grand-mama did. She never told me her secrets, but I was always welcome to read her books so that I could understand what she did and make up my own mind about it. That's a big tenet of Paganism and witchcraft -- everybody should be free to make their own choices and control their own destinies."

Jessie leaned closer and planted a kiss on his cheek. "No wonder you had the courage to stand up to your parents when they tried to make you marry Jessiebelle."

Suddenly, James's expression darkened. "Grand-mama and grand-papa had a big fight with my parents about that. When they tried to make mom and dad understand that I needed the freedom to make my own decisions, things got ugly. Dad called them a couple of hippies, and mom got into a screaming-match with them about how their sinful Pagan ways had corrupted me. It ended with my parents forbidding me and my grandparents from seeing each other anymore."

"Oh, James," Jessie whispered, placing a hand on her mouth. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I shouldn't have brought that up."

James smiled tenderly at her. "Don't worry about it, Jess. My parents may have tried to stop me from seeing grand-mama and grand-papa, but they didn't succeed -- I always snuck out and visited them whenever I could, anyway. When they died, I remembered everything I'd learned from them, and I used the money they'd left me to run away from home. That's what led me to meet you...and for that, I'll always be grateful to them."

"Your grandparents really were remarkable people, James," Jessie said as her sapphire eyes filled with tears. "I guess I should be grateful to them, too...for raising such a wonderful grandson and letting him come into my life."

"Well, it's like you always say, Jess -- everything in life happens for a reason," James told her as he took her hand in his own and kissed it.

"It certainly does," she agreed.

James began massaging Jessie's fingers and the palm of her hand. "Hmmm...you still feel a little cold," he remarked.

"I still feel a little tired, too," she told him.

James nodded. "Then maybe we should bring this heavy discussion to an end and get some rest. You'll probably be back to normal after a good night's sleep."

A mischievous smile made its way across Jessie's lips. "Hopefully. But if not, you can always give me more of your miracle cure!"

"Indeed I can," James whispered as he laid Jessie down and cuddled next to her. "Whether you need it or not!"

Jessie giggled and touched her lips to his. "I love you," she said.

"I love you, too," James echoed, returning her kiss.

"Now be sure ta keep dat hanky-panky to a minimum, youse guys!" Meowth chuckled as he watched his two friends pull the covers over themselves and snuggle together.

Jessie and James stuck their tongues out at him.

Meowth chuckled again and curled up at their feet. "Well, good night ta you, too!" he said. Then, becoming serious once more, "I hope ya feel better in the mornin', Jess."

Jessie smiled at him. "Thanks, Meowth."

"I hope you feel better, too," James told her.

"I'm sure I will," Jessie replied.

As she rested her head on James's chest, he responded by putting his arms around her and holding her as close as he possibly could. Meanwhile, Meowth closed his eyes and began to purr. And as the three friends laid together and shared their warmth, they listened to the sounds of the rolling thunder and the rain drumming down on the roof and let it lull them to sleep.


Gary put his arms behind his head and sighed as he rolled onto his back. After arriving in Grove three hours earlier, he'd gone straight to the pokemon center so that Nurse Joy could revitalize his pokemon, and he could get a room for the night. Once he'd gotten his pokemon back, Gary had eaten a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich for dinner and taken a shower. And now, he was tossing and turning in bed, trying to fall asleep.

Normally, Gary liked to stay up late whenever he got the chance to spend the night in town. He often took the opportunity to see the sights, or he'd go online to check his e-mail and chat with May. But tonight, Gary didn't feel like doing any of that -- he was exhausted from his relentless training and camping out in the mountains, and all he wanted to do was go to sleep.

But sleep just wouldn't come. For some odd reason, he couldn't stop thinking about the vision he'd had of Jessie, James, and Meowth in pain, and it was starting to frighten him. He cared deeply about his three friends, and he couldn't stand the thought that they might be suffering.

Unable to bear being alone with his unsettling thoughts anymore, Gary jumped out of bed and turned on his laptop. "I'll just write them a quick e-mail," he said softly, taking care not to wake Umbreon, who was asleep at the foot of the bed. "Couldn't hurt to check in on them...."

Once he'd connected to the internet, Gary logged into his e-mail account and saw that he had four new messages -- one from May, one from his parents, one from Professor Oak...and one from Jessie, James, and Meowth. After replying to the messages from his family, he clicked on the message from his friends. A smile made its way across his lips as he began to read:

Hey, Gary!

Congratulations on winning the Glacier Badge! We knew you could do it! We just wish we could've been there to see you battle -- it's so difficult to get time off from work. +P

"I wish you could've been there, too," Gary muttered as he read the beginning of their message. "It'd be nice if we could all travel together...."

Oh, well. Work or no work, we'll definitely be there to root for you at the Johto League Championships! (And Meowth says be sure to mop the floor with the twerp for us! ^_~)

Things have been really hectic this past week. Wobbuffet got lost last Friday, and we spent the whole day looking for him. We had to chase him in a hot-air balloon, Jessie jumped into a runaway speedboat with him, and we even had to rescue him when he was kidnapped and held hostage by a bank robber who was running from the police! Wobbuffet ended up defeating the guy when he sicced his Golem on us, but of course, Ash blasted us off and took all the credit for bringing him to justice. -__- At least we got Wobbu back, though -- this team just isn't the same without him! We had a pretty interesting adventure yesterday, too -- we met a guy called Simon who knows how to speak pokemon language! Unfortunately, Officer Jenny mistook Simon for a con-artist and tried to arrest him, and then she mistook us for Butch and Cassidy and tried to arrest us, too! >_< When the real con-artists showed up, they kidnapped Simon, but Meowth didn't want them to exploit Simon's gift, so we helped him come up with a rescue plan. We ended up getting all of our pokemon to break into the cabin and scare the con-men away -- it was pretty funny to see all those guys running out of there, screaming that the woods were haunted. (Kinda like a scene from "The Brementown Musicians!" XD) We ran into Simon again this morning, and Meowth talked to him for a few minutes -- he was really touched to meet a pokemon that knew how to speak, and it gave him faith in his abilities again. You should've seen how happy Meowth was to know that he'd done something truly heroic! Whether he'll admit it or not, dat cat has a heart of gold!

"He sure does!" Gary agreed. "You all do."

Tomorrow promises to be an interesting day, too. We're spending the night in a Team Rocket safe-house near a town called Rowandale, and rumor has it the ruins of an ancient city are in the mountains just a few miles away! Not sure if there's any truth to those rumors yet, but you can bet we'll be checking it out in the morning! If we find anything cool, we'll be sure to let you know -- a site like that would doubtless be an archaeologist's dream! ^_^

Guess that's all for now. We'll write to you again the next time we have a chance to get online (and we'll tell you about our adventures in more detail the next time we meet in person). In the meantime, take care! And good luck with your training and winning your final badge -- our thoughts are always with you.

~@~ Jessie, James & Meowth

When he finished reading the message, Gary looked at the date on it. "August 31st. They wrote this yesterday," he muttered. "That means they were okay last night. I just hope nothing's happened to them since then...."

Trying once again to banish the unsettling thoughts from his head, Gary hit the "reply" button and began to type....

Hey, guys!

It's been a pretty hectic week for me, too. I've been doing a lot of training with Nidoking and Nidoqueen so that they can be ready by the time we get to the Blackthorn Gym. I'm in a little town called Grove right now -- it's about ten miles from Blackthorn City. I may stay here for a few days and do some more training before I move on. I'm on a pretty demanding schedule, but other than that, there's not too much going on.

Sounds like you've all been busy, though. I'm glad to hear that Wobbu made it back to you safe and sound after his little misadventure. (Too bad Ash was such a jerk. X__x) That guy, Simon, sounds like he was pretty cool, too. I really wish I could've been there when you rescued him. "The Brementown Musicians" was one of my favorite fairy-tales when I was little -- I bet seeing your pokemon act out the best part of that story was a blast! >D I definitely wanna hear more the next time we meet...which will hopefully be soon. Until then, you take care of yourselves, too. ^__^

-- Gary

After sending the message, Gary switched off his computer and went back to bed. He was still worried about his friends, but knowing where they were and that they'd written to him the night before made him feel a little better.

Maybe it really was just my nerves, Gary told himself as he drifted off to sleep. If anybody can get themselves out of trouble, it's those three. I'm sure they're just fine....

To be Continued....

Special thanks to Shigeru1313 for the adorable illustration of Meowth eating ramen noodles! ^_^ And special thanks to Christine for the gorgeous illustration of Jessie & James in bed! *_*


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