Broken Souls (Part 2)
by Cori Falls
All I've undergone
I will keep on.
Underneath it all
We feel so small.
The heavens fall
But still we crawl.
All I've undergone
I will keep on.
-- Nine Inch Nails "The Way Out is Through"
Chapter 3 -- Something Worth Living For
James frowned as he watched Jessie bolt out the door. "Jessie! Come back!" he cried, but to no avail.
Determined not to let her get away, James got up to follow her, but as soon as he stood, he became dizzy and collapsed on the bed again. The suicide elixir may not have taken his life, but it sure had taken its toll on his strength.
Damn! he said to himself as he reluctantly laid back down. Why the hell did I have to say that?! Why the hell am I always screwing things up?!
James closed his eyes and sighed. It seemed like all he ever did was make mistakes....
His parents certainly thought so. Nothing he did was ever good enough for them -- being perfect all the time was what was expected of him, and on the occasions when he managed to achieve this lofty goal, he was ignored for mediocrity. The only way to win their approval was to be better than perfect. And how could he possibly do that? The answer was, he couldn't.
And as bad as his parents were, his fiance was even worse. His parents betrothed him to Jessiebelle when he was nine, in hopes that she could teach him to become the high-class Southern gentleman that they wanted him to be. And whenever he didn't meet her expectations, he actually found himself wishing that she would just ignore him.
No such luck. Whenever Jessiebelle was displeased, she'd break out her whip and "discipline" him. And Jessiebelle was always displeased. Ever since the day his engagement was announced, he hadn't had a moment's peace -- Jessiebelle insisted on following him wherever he went, pointing out everything he was doing wrong and punishing him accordingly.
After almost a year of this torment, James finally decided that he'd had enough, and he ran away from home. He attended Pokemon Tech for awhile, in hopes of becoming a pokemon master, but he flunked out after the first semester. After that, it was back to the streets. And since he had always lived a sheltered life of privilege, finding a job and surviving on his own were real challenges.
Of course, Jessiebelle didn't make things any easier -- after he ran away, she followed him, and she'd been stalking him for years. He could never stay in one place for an extended period of time because she was sure to find him. And if she ever captured him, there would be no end to the torture she'd put him through!
When James's flight from Jessiebelle led him to Viridian City, he heard rumors about a new invention that the scientists from Sylph Co. had come out with -- the suicide machine. It was originally supposed to be used in hospitals for euthanasia, but the government disapproved. Then, one of the inventors sold the prototype on the black market, and the devices started popping up everywhere in the shadow world.
To many, the thought of suicide machines was horrifying, but to James, it was a dream come true. Finally, he could escape from Jessiebelle once and for all and put an end to his suffering! All he had to do was find one....
....And find one, he did...in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the city. The device was simple enough -- a small needle went into a vein on the arm, and with the push of a button, the machine would inject a lethal elixir that shut down the body's nervous system. But once James had hooked himself to the machine, he began to have doubts as to whether or not he should go through with it.
Why? Why, after all of his misery...all of his torment did he have doubts? His life was a waste, and life would only mean being in constant fear...or pain if his stalker eventually found him. What was it that held him back?
It was Jessie. He was sure of it. Something...some supernatural force must have made him aware of her presence and stayed his hand. It delayed him from pushing the button that would end his life long enough for him to meet her, at least.
James closed his eyes and smiled as he thought about the strange woman with the long, red hair -- he just couldn't get her out of his mind! Sure, she looked exactly like Jessiebelle, and she even had a similar name, but the moment he saw her, somehow he knew she was different.
It was her eyes. It had to be! There was something about those two brilliant sapphires...something which gave him the feeling that she had a soul as tormented as his own.
Who are you, Jessie? he wondered. Why have you come into my life? And more importantly...why didn't you do it sooner?
He sighed. Why, indeed, had she shown up at the moment she did? Something told him that she had no reason to be in the warehouse earlier that day, but she was. And she had nothing to gain by stopping him from killing himself, but she did anyway. She even stayed at the hospital to make sure he was okay, and she bought him a rose! Nobody, not his parents, not his fiance, nobody had ever shown as much concern and compassion for him as this complete stranger.
But now she was gone.
A tear rolled down his cheek as he looked up at the rose Jessie had bought for him, and he found himself wondering how she had known about his love for roses. The rose had always been his favorite flower. When he was a child, he sometimes escaped from his parents and Jessiebelle by going for a walk with his pet Growlithe, Growly, and hiding out in the family's rose garden. Among the roses, there was no criticism...only unconditional love. Among the roses, he was free to be himself.
And in a lot of ways, Jessie was like that rose -- its velvety crimson petals were the exact same color as her hair, and the sapphire-colored vase that it came in was the same shade as her eyes. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen -- as beautiful as the rose blossom itself! But beneath the beauty, he could see the sharp thorns that protected her fragile soul. She wasn't a gentle woman, but neither was she cruel -- it was just that a hard life had made her into a hard person.
Yes, Jessie had been hurt. She had been hurt badly...just like him. When he looked into her eyes, he saw a reflection of his own soul, and something inside told him that his destiny lay with this woman. For the first time in his life, he felt complete, and for the first time in his life, he knew what true love felt like.
But she was in so much pain that telling her this had scared her away.
"I won't let it end like this," James whispered into the darkness as he drifted back to sleep. "I'm through screwing things up! Now that I've finally found something worth living for, I'm not going to lose it! I love you, Jessie...and I'll do whatever it takes to make all of your pain go away...to make you happy! I swear it!"
Chapter 4 -- A Random Encounter
Once James was discharged from the hospital two days later, he decided to begin his search for Jessie. He didn't even know where to start, but as he looked down at the rose she had given him, he got the feeling that she was somewhere nearby. He was sure she lived in Viridian City...it was just a matter of finding out where.
Jessica.... James thought as he inhaled the flower's heavenly fragrance. Suddenly, he found himself wondering how he had known her full name was Jessica. Somehow, he just did, and this made him more determined than ever to find her.
He knew that shambling aimlessly down the street in hopes of bumping into her wasn't going to work, so he decided to go back to his apartment and think about how he was going to go about his search. He had to find her address, her phone number, where she worked...anything! But at the same time, he didn't want to come on too strong -- it certainly hadn't worked the last time. Besides, he didn't want Jessie to get the wrong idea and think he was stalking her. (He, of all people, knew how terrifying it was to be hunted by someone with an obsession!)
But as he started heading home, he heard somebody scream. Turning to see where it had come from, he saw a butcher chasing a gang of Meowths out of his deli. The cats knocked James off balance as they raced by, but one of them was a little slower than the others...maybe because he was running on his hind legs.
Before James could realize how odd this was, the butcher caught up to the Meowth and started beating him savagely with a broomstick.
"That'll teach ya to stay outta my shop, ya mangy flea-bag!" the butcher shouted as he clubbed relentlessly at the cat.
Well, even if he was only a stray, and even if he was stealing, James couldn't stand to see a pokemon being treated so cruelly -- the sight of it made him sick. "Hey! Leave him alone!" he cried, intercepting the butcher before he could strike the cat again.
"Why the hell doncha' mind yer own business, pretty-boy?!" the butcher snapped. "This mangy fuzzball and his friends just robbed me blind!"
James scooped the injured Meowth into his arms and cradled him protectively. "So, what?" he shot back. "That's no excuse to abuse him like that! Besides, the poor thing is probably starving! Wouldn't you steal food if you were hungry and didn't have any way to pay for it?!"
The butcher shook his broomstick menacingly, but James held his ground and shot the man an icy glare. Finally, he relented. "I'll let the little flea-bag go...this time," he sneered, holding his fist up to James's face. "Just get him the hell outta my sight, and make sure he stays that way! He won't be so lucky the next time I see him!"
James frowned and hugged the pokemon even closer. "You heartless bastard," he growled.
"Goddamned bleedin'-heart," the butcher mumbled as he reluctantly returned to his deli.
Once he was gone, James looked down at the little cat. He was covered with blood, and the golden charm on his forehead was cracked in several places. "Oh, what has he done to you? How can a person be so cruel?"
The Meowth trembled and closed his eyes.
"Poor thing," he whispered as he stroked the cat's soft, cream-colored fur. "You're going to be okay...I promise."
He trembled again, but didn't wake up.
"Don't worry, little Meowth," he said soothingly. "I'll get you to Nurse Joy. She'll have you feeling better in no time!"
With that, James wrapped the unconscious cat in his jacket and headed for the Viridian City Pokemon Center as fast as he could.
"Welcome," Nurse Joy said cheerfully when she saw the young purple-haired man enter the lobby of the pokemon center. "What can I do for you today?"
"Please, ma'am. You've gotta help this Meowth!" he said, handing her his bundled jacket.
Nurse Joy's smile quickly became a frown when she unwrapped the jacket and found a battered Meowth inside. His fur was matted with blood, and his golden charm looked like it was ready to fall off! "Oh, my God! How could you let your pokemon get into such bad shape, you irresponsible trainer?!" she scolded him.
"He's not my pokemon," the young man told her. "He was a stray. Some guy was beating him...."
"Oh, dear, what a shame!" Nurse Joy said sadly. "I'm sorry, I yelled at you, sir."
"It's okay," he replied. "I was pretty upset about it, too. Can you do anything for him?"
Nurse Joy nodded and smiled again. "Just leave it to me."
James paced nervously around the pokemon center's waiting-room and looked up at the clock. Half-past four. Nurse Joy had been in the operating room for the past two hours! How much longer was it going to take?
He didn't know why, but for some strange reason, he felt compelled to stay and find out if that Meowth was going to be okay. Maybe it was because of Jessie. She had done the same for him when he almost died three days ago. Now it was time to pass on the good deed.
Suddenly, the doors to the OR slid open, and Nurse Joy stepped out. She looked pleasantly surprised to see that James was still there.
Nurse Joy smiled and made a vee-sign. "Meowth is going to be just fine," she replied before he could finish his question. "He's in the recovery-room now. Would you like to see him?"
James nodded. "Yes, please."
The Meowth was sleeping peacefully on a small bed when James arrived. All of his cuts and scrapes had been bandaged, and his charm was glued back together. He would be as good as new in no time.
"He's a tough little fellow," Nurse Joy remarked. "But he's still lucky you came along when you did. Any more beatings, and he may have had some broken bones...or worse."
"How can people be so cruel to other living things?" she sighed.
"I've often wondered that myself," he told her.
"All these stray pokemon. It's so sad...."
"But it doesn't have to be," James said as he reached down and gently stroked the cat. "I think I'm going to take this one home with me...I just can't see putting him back on the streets after what he's been through."
Nurse Joy smiled at him. "If only more people felt that way. The world needs more trainers like you."
James returned the smile as he wrapped the sleeping Meowth into his jacket once more.
Maybe Jessie was right about me, he thought as he left the pokemon center. Maybe I'm not so worthless after all....
Chapter 5 -- Memories Long Forgotten
It was dark by the time James finally made it back to his apartment. Since he hadn't planned on ever returning when he left three days ago, he didn't bother to lock the door behind him, so he was able to just walk right in now. Slowly, he pushed the door open and set the sapphire-colored vase with the red rose in it on the table. Then he switched on the light.
And what he saw shocked him.
Normally, James was a tidy person -- he always did things neatly, and he always picked up after himself on the rare occasions when he did make a mess. But he had been so angry and depressed on the day he tried to kill himself that he had completely trashed his apartment before leaving to find the suicide machine.
So imagine his surprise when he saw that everything was now spic-and-span. The broken dishes had been swept up, the overturned furniture had been set right, and his clothes, which had been rumpled and strewn about, were now neatly folded and stacked on his bed.
James shrugged. He guessed the landlord had cleaned up after him, hoping to rent the place out to a new tenant once his death had been confirmed. Not that it mattered -- the whole building was falling apart anyway! Cleaning one trashed apartment was about as effective as putting a band-aid on a severed limb.
"Oh, well," he sighed as he layed the sleeping Meowth on his bed.
The cat stirred slightly and yawned, but he still didn't wake up.
James smiled and stroked the Meowth's fur once again. "Looks like I've got myself a new pokemon," he said.
Then, he suddenly remembered something.
"Oh, shit! Koffing!" he cried, jumping to his feet.
Frantically, he searched the apartment until he found a poke ball resting on one of the shelves. He threw the poke ball to the floor, and a small, poisonous cloud emerged.
"Koffing!" the pokemon exclaimed when he saw his master. His face, which was usually plastered with a goofy grin, was now frowning.
"I'm sorry, Koffing. I'm so sorry," he said, throwing his arms around his pokemon.
"Koffing? Koff-koff? (What happened? Where were you?)"
James raised an eyebrow. He was expecting Koffing to be angry with him -- he certainly had a right to be after he had left him behind the way he did, but he wasn't. If anything, Koffing was just worried! This only made James feel more guilty.
James hung his head and began to cry. "I can't believe I just forgot all about you like that, Koffing! How could I do such a terrible thing?!"
Koffing nuzzled against him.
James embraced his pokemon once again and sat down on the bed next to the Meowth.
"Koff-koffing? (Why were you so upset the other day, James?)"
James smiled at him. "I guess I just got to thinking about my life a little too much," came his reply. "And I decided that I'd be better off ending it...."
Koffing frowned again.
"Yes, I tried to kill myself...and I almost succeeded, too," he continued. "But then, she came along...."
"Oh, Koffing, she was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen!" he exclaimed. "I swear, she was an angel on earth -- she saved my life...and made me realize that it's a life worth living!"
James closed his eyes and smiled as he conjured an image of Jessie in his mind. "She had big blue eyes that were the color of sapphires...and the longest mane of crimson hair! Her name...her name was Jessie...."
Koffing backed away and stared at James in disbelief. "Koffing?! Koffing, koff-koff?! (What?! You mean that vine-whipping lunatic fiance of yours?!)"
James shook his head and laughed nervously. "No, no, no! My fiance was JessieBELLE. This woman is just Jessie. And, yes, on the outside she's almost identical to Jessiebelle, but she couldn't be more different on the inside!"
Koffing nodded, deciding to accept his master's explanation. "Koffing! (I'm just glad you're okay now!)"
"Me, too, Koffing. Me, too," James sighed. "For the first time in my life, I realize just how much I have to live for!"
Koffing nuzzled against him once more.
"But I shouldn't have tried to kill myself in the first place," James told his pokemon. "I didn't even stop to think that I'd be abandoning you. I'm so sorry...."
Koffing smiled at him. "Koffing. (It's okay. I forgive you.)"
James returned the smile. "I'll never leave you behind again, Koffing," he promised. "You're one of my only friends in this world, and I'll take better care of you from now on...."
As James sat on his bed, embracing Koffing, memories of how he had gotten his pokemon suddenly came to him.
He had been about ten years old at the time, and it was getting close to Christmas. He had flunked out of Pokemon Tech earlier that year and was now wandering the streets of Celadon City, looking for odd jobs so he could make a little cash.
After a busy day of shoveling snow from peoples' walkways, James had earned enough money to buy himself a hot meal, so he went to the local mall. As he made his way to the food court, he passed by the Celadon City poke mart -- the largest pokemon store in the world. He had always wanted to visit the store and see all of the pokemon, so, he decided to make a quick stop before getting his dinner.
Wandering the aisles of the store, he found that most of the pokemon had already been bought (it was Christmastime, after all). But finally, he came to a cage that had two poisonous pokemon inside -- a Koffing and an Ekans. When James saw the silly grin on the Koffing's face, he knew he just had to have it! Sadly, even though the two pokemon were being sold at an incredibly low "Reject Liquidation" price, there was no way he'd be able to afford both the Koffing and a decent meal.
"Like the pokemon, kid?"
James turned around and saw a girl standing behind him. She looked to be about his age, but her face was obscured by the bill of a large cap, and she was dressed all in black. A large red "R" was emblazoned on the front of her turtleneck sweater -- she was a Team Rocket trainee!
"Uh...y-yeah," he stammered.
The girl's lips pulled into a smirk. "I can get it for you at a significant discount...if you're interested," she told him.
James looked around for a moment to make sure nobody was watching. "You mean stealing?" he asked, his voice dropping to a whisper.
The girl nodded. "This is my first assignment...and I'm really nervous," she whispered back. "If you help me shoplift these two pokemon, I'll let you have one of 'em."
James wanted to refuse, but then, the girl lifted her cap slightly and gazed into his emerald eyes. When he gazed back into her sapphire ones, he knew that he couldn't say no to her. "Okay," he said softly. "What do I have to do?"
The girl's eyes drifted to the store clerk. "Keep him busy while I swipe the pokemon," she said under her breath.
James nodded. Then, he slowly made his way to the checkout counter, not wanting to draw attention to himself or the girl.
"Can I help you, little boy?" the clerk asked.
"Ummm...yeah," James said. "I wanna get a pokemon as a Christmas present for my friend...."
"What kind of pokemon does your friend like?" he asked.
"Fire types," James replied, thinking of his beloved Growly. "You got anything like a Growlithe?"
"Sorry, kid. We sold out of those about a week ago."
"Well, do you have a...Vulpix?"
"Nope. Same deal."
"Are you kidding? The Eevees were the first to be sold out! The waiting list for those things is a mile long!"
"What about a...."
Suddenly, the clerk snapped his head up and looked at something behind James. Turning around, he saw that the clerk was staring right at the girl. She hadn't yet stolen the Ekans and the Koffing, but she was eyeing them.
"Goddamned Rocket," the clerk muttered, reaching for the silent alarm beneath his counter. "Let's see how the little bitch likes a stint in jail...."
James could have turned on the girl and pretended that he didn't know her, and common sense told him that he probably should, but he thought about her big blue eyes again and knew that he could never betray her. So, he quickly jumped over the counter and intercepted the clerk before he could sound the alarm.
"RUN FOR IT!!! HE KNOWS!!!" James shouted.
The girl looked up and saw James struggling with the clerk, doing his best to keep him from pressing the alarm. Quickly, she pulled two poke balls from her belt and held them out to Ekans and Koffing. "Get inside! Hurry!" she cried.
The poke balls activated, and the two pokemon allowed themselves to be drawn inside. Then, the girl clipped them back to her belt.
At that moment, the girl could have escaped. She could have made a clean getaway and left James to take the rap for her, but she didn't. Instead, she pulled a smoke bomb from her belt and lobbed it at the clerk.
When the bomb detonated, the clerk stopped beating James and began choking on the clouds of white smoke. As James gasped for breath, he felt a hand clamp down on his wrist and pull him away.
"Come on! Let's get outta here!" It was the girl!
Quickly, the two children ran out of the store and fought their way through the enormous throngs of Christmas shoppers. Once they reached the parking lot, they decided that it would be safe to stop.
"Thanks, kid," the girl said. "I couldn'tve done it without you."
"Thank you for not leaving me behind," James replied.
The girl gave him another smirk-smile and took the poke balls from her belt. "Well, I promised you a pokemon for helping me, so which one do ya want?" she asked.
James grinned. "The Koffing!" he exclaimed.
"Coolness! I wanted the Ekans anyway!" she said, tossing him one of the poke balls. "Now we both have poison pokemon! We match!"
James hugged the poke ball to his chest.
Suddenly, the girl stepped closer to him. "I just noticed something else, too," she said.
"What?" James asked.
The girl pointed up at the lightpost they were standing next to. It was covered in Christmas decorations. "We're under the mistletoe. You know what that means?"
James licked his lips. "A...a kiss?" he said tentatively.
She nodded and cupped his chin in her hand. Then, he felt her soft lips pressing against his mouth. After a moment, he put his arms around her and began to kiss back.
They remained that way for several minutes. Finally, the honking of a car horn in the distance broke them apart.
"That's my ride," the girl said, a hint of sadness in her voice. "I've got to go...."
"Wait," James said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "What's your name?"
But before she could answer him, a black sedan pulled up, and a young man about eighteen years of age leaned out the window. "Come on! We gotta get back to HQ before the cops come!" he snapped.
"Hang on, Antonio!" the girl snapped back.
"Get your ass in the car, NOW!" he commanded.
The girl cast a sad look at James before turning to face the older Rocket. "Alright, alright," she sighed.
A tear rolled down James's cheek as he watched the girl reluctantly climb into the sedan. He knew she was probably going to get a beating for her insubordination later that night, but there was nothing he could do to help her this time. He didn't even know the girl, but there was something about her...something about those beautiful sapphire eyes that resonated in his soul...something that would haunt him forever....
Suddenly, James's eyes snapped open.
"Oh, my God! That was her!" he cried, jumping up from the bed.
"Koff! (What the?!)"
"Koffing, do you remember that girl who gave you to me?!"
Koffing closed his eyes and thought for a moment. Then, he nodded.
"That girl from Team Rocket! That was Jessie!"
"Koffing?! (How do you know?!)" the pokemon demanded.
"Those eyes...." he whispered. "I'll never forget those eyes...it had to be her!"
But before Koffing could tell James what a crazy notion that was, he heard a soft moaning sound.
Both he and James turned and saw that the Meowth had awakened.
"Hey, kitty. You feeling better now?" James asked softly, kneeling down next to the Meowth.
But when James reached out to pet the cat, he trembled and backed away.
"Still scared, huh?" he said. "Don't know as I blame you."
The Meowth stared up at him with wide, frightened eyes.
"Would you like some food?"
When he heard this, the Meowth stopped trembling and licked his chops.
James smiled tenderly at him. "Come on. Let's find you something to eat."
With that, he gingerly took the cat in his arms and went into the kitchen. Koffing followed them.
"I'm afraid I don't have any cat food right now. I'll have to go to the store and buy some Meowth Mix tomorrow," he said. "Meanwhile, I've got some leftover take-out Chinese...."
But the cat wasn't picky -- at the mere mention of food, his ears perked.
James chuckled and set him down on the floor next to Koffing. Then, he opened the refrigerator and pulled out the leftovers. He put some chunks of sweet and sour chicken on one plate and some spring rolls on another and threw them into the microwave for a couple of minutes. Once they were warm, he gave the chicken to Meowth and the spring rolls to Koffing.
While the two pokemon were eating, James got a box of cold pizza and a can of soda out of the refrigerator for his own dinner. As he cracked open the soda, he found his gaze drifting back to Jessie's rose, which was sitting before him at the table.
Now that he knew who she was, James was sure that they were destined to be together! Something had brought the two of them together as children, and now, that same force was at work again. It couldn't be denied!
Jessie, he said to himself. I really am in love with you! I always have been...and I always will be! The two of us were meant to be....
As James continued to stare at the rose, the events of his day finally caught up to him and he realized just how exhausted he was. He closed his eyes, hoping to rest them for a moment, but once he did, he was gone -- drifting off to sleep...and into pleasant dreams of living happily ever after with Jessie.
Once the Meowth had finished eating, he licked his chops once more and looked up at the young man who had rescued him, fed him, and given him a new home.
"....Thank you," he said softly.
But James had already fallen asleep, so engrossed in his wondrous dreams of Jessie that he wasn't even aware the cat had spoken.
To be Continued....
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