Plip. Plip. Plip.
I opened my eyes to darkness. I knew immediately I was dreaming. And I had a feeling this dream just might be a continuation of the other two dreams I'd recently had.
I kept hearing that "plip" sound and I was pretty sure I knew what it was: water dripping on stone. The floor I was sitting on felt like stone, too.
I bet I'm in that damned castle again...
I wasn't about to let that frighten me. After the day I'd had I figured I could take whatever this dream threw at me.
My hands were bound. I tried to stand up, but I couldn't. There was a metal shackle on my left ankle; a short chain attatched it to the wall.
Now I was getting irritated. This reminded me of the time I'd been captured by Clay and Allison. I'd hated the helplessness I'd felt then -- and I didn't like it now. But I'm not going to panic. After the day I've had, I'm sure as hell not gonna be afraid of a dream.
I heard the creak of a door opening. I looked up. I could see light beyond the open door. Someone was standing in the doorway. It was Ash.
"Oh, great," I muttered. "As if I didn't see enough of this asshole while I was awake today."
Ash walked up and looked down at me. "You've done it now, Gary."
I rolled my eyes. "Whatever."
"Now everybody's gonna know you're friends with Team Rocket. You're gonna be in big trouble."
I smirked. "I've got three words for you. So. Fucking. What."
"Be a smartass all you want," Ash said. "But you'll pay for your friendship with Team Rocket."
I shook my head. "You're wrong. You can threaten me all you want, but it won't work. I'm not afraid of you when I'm awake and I'm not afraid of you in dreams."
Ash pointed an accusing finger at me. "Everybody will hate you! You'll never be able to be with your family--"
Ash frowned. "What's so funny?"
"You," I said. "You're so full of it. But ya know, I think I'm beginning to understand these dreams." I continued. "See, I'd wondered what people might think if they knew I was friends with three Team Rocket agents. Not because I'm ashamed of my friends, but because I know how narrow-minded people can be. But now I know the people that matter -- like my family -- will understand and accept my friends. And the rest of the people -- in other words, the people in this castle -- well...their opinions don't really matter now, do they?"
Ash opened his mouth, then closed it again. He had nothing to say.
"You don't have any power over me," I pronounced. "Not you and not anyone else in your petty little world. You might have hurt me once, but all you've accomplished by it is to show me what a pathetic bully you are."
"I don't understand how you could choose to be friends with Team Rocket!" Ash whined.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand," I said. "But I've made my choice and I know it's the right one. I chose my friends. I love them and I know they love me and I'll stand beside them no matter what. You don't understand friendship and loyalty, Ash. And that's really, really sad."
Ash said no more. He almost seemed to fade before my eyes. He backed out the door, closing it behind him.
I let out a breath. It's done. I was pleased with myself. I could remember Aunt Rowena telling me once that if someone confronts you in a dream, you meet them head-on and don't back down. And that was just what I had done.
But what do I do now? I don't want to be stuck in this room...
I heard a metallic clank high above me. I lifted my eyes to the walls. I hadn't noticed it before, but there was a narrow window about twenty feet up the wall. From the window ledge a pair of bright, feline eyes gleamed.
I broke into a wide grin. "Meowth!"
I saw a glint of white teeth as the cat returned my smile. "Dat's right! Hang on, Gary. We're gonna get ya outta dere!"
I heard a woosh and a thump and a long coil of rope fell from the window ledge to the floor. Meowth quickly climbed down.
"Boy, am I glad to see you!" I exclaimed once he was beside me.
"Hang on a sec..." Meowth dug into the pocket of his cloak and pulled out his Swiss Army Knife. "Always prepared!" He winked at me.
He cut the ropes that bound my hands, then moved to the shackle on my ankle. I saw him extend a claw. "I'll have dat off before ya know it!" He picked the lock and the shackle clattered to the floor. "Can ya climb da rope okay?"
I stood up and stretched. "Just watch me!"
Meowth and I climbed the rope. It was rather precarious up on the window ledge, so I felt better after we'd wound up the rope, turned the metal hook that held it and climbed down the outside wall to the courtyard below. Meowth flicked the rope so the hook came loose from the window ledge. Once the rest of the rope fell to the ground, he began winding it into a coil.
The moon was bright enough for me to see by, and I scanned the courtyard. "Where are Jessie and James?"
"Right behind you."
I turned at the sound of Jessie's voice. She and James stepped from the shadows, leading the three Rapidashes from the earlier dream.
"We're sorry it took so long to get you out," Jessie said.
"Not a problem!" I said. "You got me out, and that's what counts!"
James surveyed our surroundings. "I'm afraid we need to get out of here right now."
Jessie handed me the reins of a Rapidash and I swung up into the saddle. Meowth hopped onto the saddle in front of me and Jessie and James mounted up on the other two Rapidashes. The unicorn pokemon shuffled nervously as if they, too, sensed we needed to leave soon.
James spun his Rapidash around and galloped through the courtyard and out the main gate, heading north of the castle. The rest of us followed him. Hoofbeats sounded like thunder as we raced to put distance between us and the castle walls.
"What's da hurry?" Meowth called to James.
James's face was set with determination. "We're going to have company very, very soon."
I heard it then: a sound that drowned out the hoofbeats of our pokemon. I turned my head and in the moonlight I saw what looked like a black tide pouring from the castle's main gate: an army of mounted knights.
"Oh, shit!" I yelled above the din. "Don't tell me they're all chasing us 'cause I escaped!"
Meowth laughed bitterly. "Okay. I won't tell ya."
I shook my head in disbelief. "They can't care that much if I get away, can they?"
Meowth turned his head and looked up at me. "Yer a real popular guy."
"Right," I said.
The knights were rapidly gaining ground on us. "We're not going to be able to outrun them," Jessie said grimly. "We'll have to make a stand!"
"We'll get our asses kicked!" Meowth protested.
"Then we go down fighting!" Jessie answered. She urged her Rapidash on and took the lead, leading us up a hill. Her crimson hair streamed out behind her as she rode; she looked very much like the drawing James had shown me. At the crest of the hill she brought her Rapidash to a halt. "This is as good a place as any!"
James and I brought our mounts to a stop, too. Meowth drew a small crossbow from beneath his cloak. Jessie brought out a longbow, then unhooked a short sword that hung at her belt.
She tossed the sword to me. Without even thinking about it I snatched it from the air with my right hand.
I grinned at her. Damn! I bet I couldn't do that when I'm awake!
The army of dark knights was still heading toward us. I was scared, but there were other emotions, too. I'd spent nearly half my life reading books and stories with scenes like this, so I felt a wild thrill of exhilaration.
James sat still on his Rapidash, his emerald eyes fixed on the oncoming horde. If not for the wind blowing back his blue-violet hair and the fiery mane of his Rapidash, he and his pokemon would have appeared frozen.
Meowth cupped a paw at his mouth to make his voice carry. "Earth ta James! Any ideas how da four of us can take on all dose guys?"
James turned to face us. "We can defeat them. But not with weapons."
"Aw, great," Meowth moaned. "What are we gonna do then? Challenge 'em ta checkers? Charades are always good or maybe one of 'em's got a croquet set, or..."
Meowth continued to talk. James ignored him and looked at me. "Don't be afraid, Gary."
I brought my chin up. "I'm not afraid."
"But you have been afraid, haven't you?"
I met his gaze. "Yes," I said honestly. "Afraid about my friendship with you and Jessie and Meowth. Afraid I would lose you three; afraid people wouldn't understand and might try to keep me from being with you."
James smiled. "You don't have to be afraid. You're not going to lose us. I promise you that. You're free, Gary -- free to be our friend, free to see us any time you like, free to be honest about us with your family."
I blinked away the tears starting to well up in my eyes.
James continued. "That horde coming at us -- it's all the fears you've had, all the doubts, all the negative influences that have tried to make you stray from the path your heart knows is the true one." He extended a hand. "Take my hand and we can drive them away."
I blinked again to clear my vision and reached to clasp his hand in mine. Jessie rode up and turned her Rapidash so she could reach out and cover James's and my hands with her own. Meowth jumped up onto my shoulder.
"So how do we get rid of dose guys comin' at us?" the cat asked. "Yer da wizard, Jimmy-boy, so yer gonna have ta tell da rest of us what ta do!"
"Just concentrate with me," James said. "I'll conjure something to drive them away." He looked down at the front of my tunic. "I know what would be perfect!"
I concentrated, trying to send all the positive energy I could James's way. I heard a rumbling sound and what looked like a storm cloud began to form overhead. The cloud expanded and spread out, seeming to draw the darkness of night into itself, merging into a recognizable form...
He was looking at the dragons on my tunic! I realized.
It was a dragon -- a massive black dragon that grew more and more defined by the second. The wings tapered to sharp points, its claws and horns and the spikes on its back took shape. Every scale on its body threw off a glint of moonlight. The beast threw back its head and opened its jaws; its ruby-fire eyes gleamed.
"All right!" Meowth cheered as he watched the dragon. "Whatta we do now, Jimmy?"
"We give all that fear and doubt coming at us a taste of its own medicine!" James commanded.
The dragon dived. It soared down toward the advancing horde, its roar loud enough to shake the ground. The knights didn't hesitate a moment -- they turned tail and ran!
"Yeah!" I shouted. "We've got 'em on the ropes!"
As the dragon passed over the retreating horde, its enormous wingspan casting a moonshadow black as midnight, the dark knights began to fade away. Soon there was nothing left of them but wisps of smoke. Far off in the distance, I could see the castle, torches burning along its walls and parapets. And then it began to fade as well. The dragon flew off across the valley, finally disappearing into the night sky.
My heart was pounding from awe and excitement. "That was just too cool!"
James smiled at me. "You don't ever have to fear for your friendship with us again, Gary. Our friendship is yours."
"It always has been," Jessie said.
Meowth gave me a thumbs-up. "And it always will be!"
I woke up and rolled over onto my side. Meowth was standing at my bedside holding a cup and saucer.
"Hey, Gary!" he said. "Good mornin'!"
"Jessie and James went ta da grocery store early dis mornin'," Meowth continued. "And now James is cookin' a big breakfast. I came inta see if ya were awake. We thought ya might like some hot chocolate while ya wait fer breakfast."
I sat up and took the cup and saucer from him. "Thanks, Meowth."
"James is goin' all out," Meowth said. He counted off things on his claws. "Dere's waffles and bacon and hash browns and scrambled eggs and...well, anything else James decides ta make!"
I suddenly realized just how hungry I was. "That sounds great." I started to get up.
Meowth shook his head. "Oh, no ya don't. Yer gettin' breakfast in bed."
Meowth held up a paw to silence me. "No arguments. Ya had a shitty day yesterday, so yer gettin' some special treatment today."
Meowth put his paws on his hips. "Just keep yer butt in dat bed. It's Jessie's orders dat yer gettin' breakfast in bed. And I don't know about you, but I ain't arguin' with Jessie's orders!"
I laughed. "You've got a point."
By the time I'd finished my hot chocolate, Jessie and James arrived with a tray of food. "It looks and smells delicious!" I told them.
"Enjoy!" Jessie said.
I did enjoy it -- every bite. After I was finished, Jessie came for the tray. "I want you to stay in bed today and rest," she said.
"But I feel fine," I protested.
"The doctor said you're supposed to take it easy," she reminded me. "You can read and write and watch TV on the couch with Meowth and Wobbuffet, but I don't want you exerting yourself."
"Okay," I relented. "But I've got that gift certificate for the Lakeside Grill and I'd like to use it tonight."
"Deal," Jessie agreed.
"I...need to talk to you and James and Meowth. About another one of those dreams."
Jessie nodded and left the room. She returned a moment later with James and Meowth. Meowth hopped up onto the bed at my side.
"I had another odd dream," I began.
Jessie, James and Meowth exchanged looks. "We know," James said softly. "We were there."
"You..." I began. Then I understood. I looked at my friends in wonder. "After we fought Ayesha, I remember having a dream like that. A dream where I wasn't just dreaming about you three -- a dream where you were really with me."
"I remember that, too," James said.
I tried to sort out my thoughts. "The first couple of dreams I had were just dreams about you. But in the last dream, you were there."
Meowth explained. "A while after I fell asleep last night I ended up in a dream with Jess and Jim. James was able ta figure out what was goin' on -- he knew we had ta get ta dat castle and get ya out!"
I turned to James. "And the part where you banished my fears and doubts..."
"That was real, too," James assured me.
I knew he spoke the truth. "I do feel a lot better now about everything...a lot more assured and at peace." I looked at my friends. "I feel like everything's going to work out now...for all of us."
"It will," Jessie promised.
I smiled. "Thanks for helping me out in that dream. You three are always there for me."
"And we always will be," said James.
Meowth grinned. "I've told ya before -- yer stuck with us!"
"I can't think of a better fate," I said.
Just as Jessie had ordered, I spent the day taking it easy. I wrote in my journal and watched a couple of DVDs with Meowth and Wobbuffet. After enjoying the taco salad James made for lunch, I took a nap. Jessie and James tended to my pokemon throughout the day while I rested. Even though I didn't feel bad physically, I had to admit it was nice to have some time to recover from my ordeal.
In the early evening I got ready to go out to dinner. When I left the bedroom I found Jessie, James and Meowth were ready, too.
"Feel better?" Jessie asked.
"A lot better," I answered. "Thanks for letting me rest today. I guess it really was the best thing for me to do."
Meowth chuckled as we got into the jeep. "Nurse Jessie always knows what's best!"
The Lakeside Grill was a large, rustic building right on the shore of Lake Woodruff. During warmer months, you could dine out on a large dock, though the weather was too cold for that at present.
"We'll have to come back in the summer," Jessie suggested. "This would be a great place for a vacation."
"Yeah," I agreed as we checked our menus. "I'd love to go swimming in the lake."
"And I could spend all day fishin'!" Meowth added.
James reached for Jessie's hand. "And Jess and I could rent one of the rowboats and take it out on the lake." He brought Jessie's hand to his lips and kissed it. "Boating out on the lake under the stars--"
"Sounds like Heaven," Jessie finished for him.
Meowth snickered. "Yeah! And I don't think youse two have ever done it in a rowboat! And den dere's da ever-popular skinny-dippin' ta think about, and--"
Jessie tweaked one of Meowth's whiskers. "Quiet, you!"
We managed to get Meowth calmed down by the time the waitress arrived. The specialty of the house was trout, fresh from the lake, broiled with lemon and dill. The four of us ordered that, with a side dish of grilled vegetables. The trout was flaky and buttery and the vegetables were cooked to perfection. I couldn't help but smile as I watched Meowth relishing his fish. For dessert, our waitress recommended the hot fudge brownie sundaes. The brownies were baked fresh at a little bakery down the road from the restaurant -- and the Lakeside Grill even made its own homemade ice cream!
"Now dat was a great meal!" Meowth said later, as we left the restaurant. We all agreed. "I think ya got the best prize of da whole event!" the cat added.
I watched Jessie and James embrace beneath the stars before we got into the jeep. I looked at Meowth's wide, happy smile. I knew my friends were the real prize.
As we drove away from the restaurant, I noticed the bakery the waitress had mentioned was still open. I leaned forward from the back seat. "Can we stop here for a minute, James?"
Meowth laughed. "Still hungry, Gary? Yer gettin' as bad as Me-owth!"
I flashed him a grin. "There's something I want to get. It won't take long."
Jessie turned to me and raised an eyebrow. "What are you up to?"
I shook my head. "I can't tell. It's a surprise."
In the bakery, I bought half a dozen red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing. I also bought a small package of birthday candles.
"What's in da box?" Meowth asked when I got back in the jeep.
"I told you," I said. "It's a surprise."
Back at the cabin, I set the bakery box on the kitchen counter. "Keep your paws off," I told Meowth.
The cat folded his arms across his chest. "Yer no fun."
We fed our pokemon. James whipped up a couple of BLTs and some soup for a late dinner for Wobbuffet and we changed into more casual clothes. I went into the bedroom and got Jessie's birthday present from my backpack.
Wobbu had just finished his dinner and was putting the dishes into the sink. "Wobb?" He wanted to know what was in the bakery box, too.
I smiled at the blue pokemon and Meowth. "Okay, guys. You finally get to see what's in the box."
Everyone took a seat at the kitchen table and I opened the box. I set one of the cupcakes in front of Jessie, then gave cupcakes to James, Meowth, Wobbuffet and set one on the table for myself. I opened the box of candles and put one into the center of Jessie's cupcake.
Jessie looked up at me. "What's this?"
"I know your birthday isn't till the 13th," I said. "But I'll be back in Pallet then and I might not see you guys till after the holidays...so I wanted to have a little early birthday party."
Jessie's sapphire eyes sparkled. "That's so sweet!"
"Now," I said. "I need a match..."
Meowth found some matches in a kitchen drawer. We sang "Happy Birthday" to Jessie as I lit the candle.
"Blow out da candle!" Meowth cheered once the song ended.
I watched the little flame glow. "Make a wish."
James leaned over and kissed Jessie on the cheek. "Make it a good one, angel." Jessie thought for a moment, then blew out the candle.
We all cheered and clapped our hands. "I hope your wish comes true," I said.
James squeezed Jessie's hand. "I know it will."
I brought out Jessie's present and handed it to her. "Happy Birthday, Jessie."
I watched anxiously as she undid the blue and purple paper and opened the box. She gasped when she saw what was inside. "Oh, Gary..."
"What is it?" Meowth wanted to know. Jessie held up the framed photo so everyone could see. "It's a picture of Momma and Daddy," she said softly. She turned to me. "Where on Earth did you get it?"
"Grandpa has always taken pictures of the trainers who get pokemon from him," I explained. "Especially back when Grandma Oak was alive. I'd hoped he had a picture of Miyamoto -- and he did. And the fact that Dorian is in the picture, too, made it even better." I looked at Jessie. "Do you like it?"
"Like it?" Jessie said. "I love it. It's one of the most wonderful presents I've ever received." She stood up and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. "Thank you so much, Gary."
"You're welcome," I said softly.
Jessie blinked, tears starting to well up in her sapphire eyes. "I'll always treasure this." She brushed her fingers against the glass. "They were so beautiful..."
James kissed Jessie. "And so is their daughter."
We finished our cupcakes (I figured Meowth and Wobbu could decide who got the one that was left over later), then I excused myself. There was a phone with a vid-screen in the family room and I wanted to call Mom and Dad and May and Grandpa and let them know how I was doing.
After I made the calls, I returned to the kitchen. "Everything okay at home?" Jessie asked.
I took a seat at the table once more. "Everything's fine. I told them about winning that preliminary race and the good time I've been having. I'm going to head back to Pallet Town tomorrow."
James nodded. "I'm sure you'll be happy to be back with your family."
"Yeah," I said. "And as soon as I get home I'm gonna tell Mom and Dad everything -- including what Ash did to me." I closed my eyes. "It's gonna be hard because I know it'll upset them, but I don't want to keep things like this from them anymore." I sighed. "It'll be especially hard on Mom. She's always been really protective of me."
"We can certainly understand that," Jessie said.
"Dat's right," said Meowth. "We're real protective of ya, too."
James agreed. "We've told you before you've become like a little brother to us..."
"You're family, now," Jessie finished. "So we'll always be here to look out for you."
"And we're here if you need someone to talk to," said James.
"Thanks, guys," I said. "That means a lot."
Later, we watched TV and I brought out my laptop to check my email. There were emails from my family...and one from BreederBrock@gymtrainers.pewtercity.net. "Hmm..." I said as I opened the email and began to read.
"What is it?" Meowth asked.
"I got an email from Brock," I explained.
"He's got yer email address?" Meowth asked.
"Yeah," I replied. "A while back I was at home in Pallet and he called Grandpa about a problem he was having with Geodude. Grandpa wasn't home at the time, so I talked to him. I gave him my email address in case he ever wanted to ask any more questions." I continued to read the mail. "He's apologizing again for what Ash did yesterday."
Jessie scoffed. "Ash should be the one apologizing. But that little shit weasel is unrepentant."
"Yeah," I said. "Anyway, he and Misty want to know if I'm okay, and... Oh, shit."
Jessie looked concerned. "Is something wrong?"
I shook my head and started to laugh.
"Looks like nothin's wrong," Meowth observed. "But what's so funny?"
"We were right," I said.
"About what?" Meowth wanted to know. "C'mon, Gary -- let us in on da joke!"
"Since Ash won the race, he was entitled to a prize," I explained. "A pokemon from the Shelby ranch. Mr. Shelby brought it by a while after we left."
"And..." Meowth prompted, knowing there was more to this story.
"And it's in one of those egg-type poke balls," I continued. "So..."
"So Ash thinks it is an egg!" Meowth exclaimed. He began to laugh, too.
Jessie rubbed her brow. "Oh, no..."
"Brock says that Ash is waiting for it to...um...hatch," I said.
Meowth continued to laugh. "We can call dis one Ketchum Hatches Da Egg!"
I sighed. "I feel sorry for whatever pokemon is in that thing. It doesn't deserve a crappy trainer like Ash."
"That's true," James said. Then, again to me: "You should email Brock and Misty and let them know you're okay."
"I will." I clicked on the reply button and typed up an email thanking Brock for his concern and letting him know I hadn't suffered any lasting damage from Ash's attack. I hit the "send" button. "I feel kinda sorry for Brock and Misty, too. I know they've been complete assholes to you three in the past -- and I hate that -- but I do wish they'd wise up and dump Ash."
"I think they may be beginning to lose faith and trust in him," James said. "So maybe someday soon they'll leave him."
"I hope so," I said.
Not long after that, I excused myself to go to bed. Meowth and Wobbuffet had already fallen asleep in their chairs. I looked back over my shoulder at Jessie and James sitting on the couch. Jessie was still holding the photo I had given her. She smiled up at James with a sweet expression on her face. A look passed between them and they kissed.
I smiled at my friends. I'm glad the picture made you happy, Jessie. After all the shit you've been through in your past, you deserve all the happiness you can get.
I turned and went into the bedroom.
I pulled my jacket tighter around myself as the wind picked up. The gust whipped at the waters of the lake and whistled through the pine trees. Wispy white clouds were scattered across the December sky. Winter's definitely on the way, I thought.
"Good mornin', Gary!" Meowth said as he joined me on the dock.
"Hey, Meowth. Good morning to you, too."
"Yer up early."
"Yeah," I said. "I've already packed so I'll be able to leave soon."
"Well, James is gonna make sure ya have a big, fillin' breakfast before ya go," Meowth said. "He's fryin' up some ham and eggs and guess what! He's makin' stuffed French toast, too!"
I rubbed my hands together to warm them. "That sounds great."
Despite the prospect of all that food, Meowth sighed. "I'm really gonna miss ya after ya go. It's been nice bein' able ta spend so much time with ya. I wish we could travel taggeda all da time."
"I wish we could, too," I said. I saw the sad look in Meowth's eyes. "Don't worry. I'll email or call you guys every chance I get. And we'll have plenty more chances to see each other soon. I promise."
Meowth smiled, though he still looked a little wistful.
Soon Jessie arrived to tell us breakfast was ready. As I enjoyed the delicious meal and my friends' company, I was reminded of how much I would miss them when I left for home.
After breakfast I helped Jessie, James, Meowth and Wobbuffet wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. I went into the bedroom and put a sweater on over my shirt, then a jacket. I picked up my backpack.
"I'm heading out now," I said. "I know things got a little rough there with Ash and all, but I don't have any regrets. I learned a lot about how strong my friendship with you all really is."
Jessie, James and Meowth smiled at me.
"I can't thank you enough for everything you've done for me," I said. "For taking care of me..."
"It was our pleasure," James said.
Jessie nodded in agreement. "And we'll never forget the way you stood up for us."
"Yeah!" Meowth said. "You rule, Gary!"
I laughed softly. "You guys do, too. It's been awesome getting to spend so much time with you."
"Well, there are lots more good times like this to come," James said.
Jessie concurred. "He's right. This is only the beginning."
James shook my hand. "Take care, Gary. And keep writing in that journal."
"I will," I said. "And you keep drawing those beautiful pictures."
Jessie hugged me. "Have a safe trip." She adjusted the collar of my jacket. "Are you going to be warm enough?" She knew how sensitive I was to the cold.
I nodded. "I've got a sweater and this jacket over my shirt. And..." I reached down into my backpack and brought out a blue wool scarf, which I tied around my throat.
Jessie smiled in approval.
Meowth grinned. "I think Jessie enjoys motherin' you."
I returned Jessie's smile. "I don't mind one bit." I knelt in front of Meowth and gave him a tight hug. "Behave yourself."
"I ain't makin' no promises I can't keep."
I smoothed the fur on top of his head. "I wouldn't have it any other way." Meowth started to look forlorn again, so I put my hand beneath his chin and lifted it. "You'll see me again soon. And that is a promise."
Meowth gave me another hug.
I stood and picked up my backpack. Wobbuffet saluted me. "Wobb-buffet!"
"I'll see you soon, too, Wobbu."
We walked outside and I let Smaug out of his poke ball. He rumbled deep in his throat and nuzzled his nose against my shoulder. "I'm not gonna try to make it all the way to Pallet in one day," I said. "So I'll spend the night somewhere along the way. I'll be home tomorrow night and I'll email you then."
James put his arm around Jessie. "And Jessie and Meowth and I have some things to discuss...and some more descisions to make."
I shouldered my pack. "Just remember if you need my help for anything...and I mean anything, don't hesitate to call on me."
"Thanks, Gary," Jessie said. "And thanks again for the picture of Momma and Daddy."
"You're welcome." Smaug knelt down and I climbed up onto his back. He spread his wings.
"Okay, Smaug!" I called. "Let's go!"
Smaug leapt skyward, catching the winds blowing across the lake. I looked down at my friends as my Charizard and I gained altitude. "See you soon!" I called as I waved goodbye.
They waved back. "See ya soon!" Meowth called.
The weather was cold for flying, but for once I didn't mind. Since Smaug was a fire type, he generated a lot of body heat, so I stayed warm. I watched Johto pass beneath us, the mountains and valleys and rivers, the towns and fields and houses. I stroked Smaug's neck and sighed. I miss Jessie and James and Meowth already.
At lunchtime, I stopped for a bite to eat at a diner. It seemed odd eating alone after sharing so many meals with Jessie, James and Meowth. I looked out the windows and watched people going by on the street. I missed having someone to talk to.
Smaug and I continued on our way, but as the day wore on the temperatures dropped. There were even some snow flurries! By late afternoon I decided to call it a day and stopped at a town called Rosecrest.
Rosecrest had a pokemom center and I was able to get a room there. I let Nurse Joy revitalize Smaug while I walked a couple of blocks to the local Taco Bell for a quick dinner.
When I returned to the pokemon center I took a shower, then decided to call May again. I wanted to talk to her about what had happened before I got home.
"Hey, Gary," my sister said when she answered the phone. "How are you doing?"
"I'm good," I said. "I'm on my way home. I'm in a town called Rosecrest. I should be back in Pallet by tomorrow evening."
May smiled. "Great. We've all missed you."
"I've missed you all, too."
"Mom and Dad have been busy," May continued. "Professor Clarke from Celadon University sent over some tomb rubbings from his dig near Abydos, so they've been occupied with those."
I smiled. "I remember Mom and Dad talking about stopping by his dig the last time they were in Egypt. I guess Mom's all absorbed in the hieroglyphics."
May chuckled. "You know she is." Then she became more serious. "Grandpa and I are fine, but Tracey screwed up one of the computers at the lab again. Then Grandpa had a stack of notes he'd printed out and Tracey spilled Mountain Dew all over them and ruined them."
I rubbed my temple. "Jeezus."
"I know," May said. "Tracey didn't even apologize. All he could do was complain about how bogus it was that he'd spilled his Dew. Grandpa's just about had it with him."
"I can imagine," I said. "Grandpa's probably the most patient man in the universe, but even he has limits."
May nodded. "Then I ran into Delia at the grocery store today. She kept going on and on about how Ash is going to win the Johto League. I felt like puking."
I scowled at the mention of Ash's name.
"Gary? Is something wrong?"
"I...I had a run-in with Ash a couple of days ago," I said.
I told her. By the time I had finished my story, May was visibly upset. "Oh, shit, Gary," she whispered. "You're sure you're okay?"
There was deep concern in her indigo blue eyes. "And the doctor said you're okay?"
"I'm fine, May," I repeated. "Although I'm still really pissed about it. And so are Jessie and James and Meowth."
"No wonder!" May said. "I'd like to strangle the little asshole myself."
I laughed bitterly. "You'd have to get in line."
"Are you going to tell Mom and Dad?" May asked softly.
"Yeah," I said. "I am. I'm going to tell them about Jessie, James and Meowth being in Team Rocket, about what Ash did. Everything."
"I think that's for the best," May said. "Though Mom and Dad are going to want to kill Ash when they find out what he did."
I glanced downward. "I know."
May and I talked a while longer, then said good night. After I hung up the phone I changed into my pajamas and let Umbreon out of his poke ball. I got into bed and Umbreon curled up at my feet.
I felt nervous about having to tell Mom and Dad the things I'd been keeping from them -- though I knew it was something important I needed to do. I reached down to run my hand over Umbreon's ebon-black fur. "Everything's going to work out fine," I whispered, letting the feel of his soft fur soothe me.
Umbreon looked up at me and blinked his ruby-red eyes. "Bree," he said in agreement.
I'd hoped to get an early start the next morning, but when I woke up and looked out the window of my room at the pokemon center, I saw there was at least an inch of snow on the ground. Deciding to wait a while before leaving, I climbed back into bed. Umbreon didn't seem ready to leave yet, either, and he snuggled closer to me. I pulled the blankets up around myself and went back to sleep.
When I woke up a couple of hours later the sun was shining and nearly all of the snow had melted. I got dressed, got some breakfast and let Smaug out of his poke ball. We were soon on our way.
As I traveled I collected my thoughts and the nervousness I'd felt resolved itself into happiness about seeing my family soon. I stopped a couple of times along the way to eat and give Smaug a rest. The sun was going down as we crossed the Cobalt Mountains. We encountered some snow flurries, but pressed onward. I smiled when I finally saw the lights of Pallet Town below. I was home!
I landed Smaug in front of my parents' house. I returned him to his poke ball and charged up onto the porch and let myself in the front door. May was reading in the family room and when she heard me come in she rushed to me, catching me in a tight hug. "I'm so glad to see you," she said.
"I'm happy to see you, too -- and to be home," I replied.
"How was your trip?" May asked.
"Pretty good," I answered. "I ran into some snow in Johto and in the Cobalt Mountains, but otherwise it was smooth flying." I gauged the look in May's eyes. There was concern there, and not just about my trip. "May? What's wrong?"
"I'm still upset about what Ash did," she admitted.
"I'm fine," I assured her. "You don't have to worry."
She hugged me again. "I know you can take care of yourself. But you're my little brother and I love you. I...I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I love you, too," I said. "But I promise nothing's going to happen to me."
I heard my parents coming down the stairs. "I'm so glad you're home, sweetheart," Mom said as she embraced me.
"I missed you, too," I said.
Dad hugged me, too. "Welcome home, Gary."
I looked from Mom and Dad to May, then back again. I took a deep breath and met my parents' eyes. "There's something important I need to tell you."
I looked at the tears in my mother's eyes. "I'm sorry," I whispered.
She reached up to brush back my hair. "Don't apologize, mon petit. You haven't done anything wrong."
Her words didn't entirely console me. My parents had been very understanding when I'd told them about Jessie, James and Meowth. But when I'd told them about Ash getting Pikachu to Thundershock me, they'd become extremely upset. Though that was the reaction I had expected, it upset me, too -- especially seeing how hurt my mother was. I loved Mom so much and I knew she loved and adored me more than anything and now I'd made her cry. I felt like someone had plunged a knife into my heart and twisted it.
"I'm sorry," I apologized again, unable to stop myself. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you and Dad everything from the start. And I'm sorry I wasn't more careful around Ash..."
I was sitting on the couch between Mom and Dad. Mom pulled me closer and stroked my hair. "Please don't apologize," she said again. "Your father and I aren't angry at you or disappointed in you in any way." She lifted my chin. "You know that, don't you?"
"Yes," I said.
Mom leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. "We're proud of you for having the courage to tell us what happened."
"And we're proud of you for standing up for your friends," Dad added.
"Jessie, James and Meowth feel terrible about what Ash did," I said. "They were really upset, too. But I told them it wasn't their fault."
"Of course it isn't," Dad said.
I looked down. "I was a little concerned you might not want me to hang around with Jessie, James and Meowth as much now...for fear Ash might do something stupid again." I blinked as tears started stinging my eyes. "But I can't do that, I can't..."
"We know how much you care about your friends," Mom soothed. "And how much they care about you."
Dad put his hand on my shoulder. "You can see your friends any time you like, Gary. Your mom and I would never want you to give up that right -- and we sure as hell won't let Ash take it from you, either."
I wiped my eyes. "Thank you."
"Besides," Mom said. "You said your friends aren't going to follow Ash any more. And hopefully they'll be able to leave Team Rocket soon." She smiled at me. "Be sure to tell them we'll help them in any way we can when that happens."
"I will," I promised.
Dad frowned. "I wish something could be done about Ash. I hate the idea of him hurting my son and getting away with it."
I sighed. "Ash has the uncanny ability to worm his way out of trouble. His Pikachu has shocked lots of people and Ash never gets called on it." I shook my head. "Grandpa told me Pikachu even shocked all the people who came to see Ash off the day he left Pallet Town on his pokemon journey."
"At the very least I'm going to have a talk with Delia about reining in her son," Dad said.
We turned at the sound of May's voice. She'd gone into the kitchen while I told Mom and Dad the story so I could have some privacy.
"Everything's fine, cheri," Mom said.
May smiled in relief. "I was going to make some tea..."
Dad stood. "I'll help you, sweetie," he said and followed May back into the kitchen.
Mom brushed her fingers against my cheek. "You remind me very much of your father."
She nodded. "By the way you stood up for your friends. There's a story I need to tell you. About your dad's friend, Charlie."
I was curious to hear this story. I'd known Charlie my whole life. He was an archaeologist like Mom and Dad and had gone with them on nearly every one of their digs.
"Charlie and David were friends when they were little," Mom began. "Unfortunately, Charlie's home life wasn't very good. His mom had passed away and his dad never paid much attention to him. And when Charlie was fourteen, he ran away and joined Team Rocket."
I sat up. I was very surprised to hear this.
Mom continued. "He was a Dan'in for about two years, then he quit and went back to school. He was living in Celadon City at the time and he and David had lost touch with each other -- but they met up again when he started attending Celadon University with David and me."
I continued to listen to my mother's voice. "It was a while before Charlie confided in David about his time in Team Rocket," she said. "I know he feared David might think badly of him. But David never once condemned him for the decision he'd made -- he was just happy to have his friend back."
Mom frowned. "But not everyone was as understanding as David. You know how people gossip. It wasn't long before people found out that Charlie was a former Dan'in. A few students used that as an excuse to treat Charlie poorly and call him names and such. He always tried to simply igonre them, but David would get so angry about the way Charlie was treated."
"I can imagine," I said.
Mom nodded. "One day a group of us archaeology students were at a dig near Lavender Town. We were excavating a buried temple. There were some spectacular paintings on the walls, but unfortunately the ruins were a lot more unstable than we knew. While we were working, the ruins began to collapse. Everyone was able to get out but Charlie. He was trapped."
I shook my head sadly. "Oh, no."
"We were worried the ruins might completely collapse before the authorities could come and get Charlie out," Mom continued. "We looked around until we found an opening in a hillside that led down to where Charlie was trapped. Someone would have to go down and get him out." Mom scowled. "Most of the students were afraid to volunteer. And one even said no one should -- that it wasn't worth risking one's life for a damned Rocket. David punched him in the face."
I grinned. "Good for Dad!"
Mom went on. "David decided to be the one to go down and rescue Charlie. I knew he was running an awful risk. David and I were so much in love and the thought of losing him terrified me. But I also knew he had to try and save his friend. David went down and he was able to bring Charlie out." She brushed back my hair again. "Charlie had a couple of broken ribs and David broke his wrist during the rescue, but otherwise they came through unscathed. And Charlie was the best man at our wedding."
I was awed by what she had told me. I'd always known my dad was brave and true and he was so gentle and kind with May and me. But after hearing he had once risked his life for a friend I had even more respect for him.
Dad and May returned from the kitchen with four mugs of tea. "Everything okay, Clarice?" Dad asked as he handed a mug of tea to Mom.
"Oui," Mom said. "I was just telling Gary about the time you saved Charlie."
I looked up at Dad as he handed a mug to me, too. "You were amazing, Dad!"
"You saved Charlie?" May asked as she took her own mug and sat down.
She hadn't heard the story, either, so Mom and Dad told her, too. When they were finished, she hugged Dad and kissed him on the cheek. "You were a hero, Daddy."
Dad chuckled. "Well, I don't know about that..."
Mom brushed Dad's spiky hair out of his eyes and kissed him, too. "Well, you've always been my hero."
"And now I know why you and Mom didn't have a problem with me being friends with Team Rocket agents," I said to Dad.
Dad nodded. "I wouldn't judge your friends by the difficult life choices they've had to make any more than I would ever have judged Charlie."
I blew on my tea to cool it. "I'm going to tell Grandpa about Jessie, James and Meowth tomorrow," I said. "I know he'll understand."
"Of course he will," Mom said.
I looked down at my mug. "I'm going to wait till after the Johto finals to tell him about Ash's attack, though. Grandpa gave Ash that Pikachu and I don't want him to feel guilty about it -- even though there's no way it's Grandpa's fault."
"Whatever you decide to do, we'll support," Dad said.
I started up my laptop and logged onto the internet. I smiled at Umbreon, who was already asleep at the foot of my bed.
After Mom, Dad, May and I had finished our tea I'd fed and groomed my pokemon. I'd fed Blaze, Umbreon and Houndoom in the kitchen, but Smaug, Pidgeot and Ryhdon were too large to care for inside the house. I'd taken them outside to the yard to care for them. Though it was fully dark by then and the December night was a bit cool, it had made me feel warm inside to look back at the lights of my parents' house and think of how my family was safe within those walls -- and that I'd be spending the night at home.
With my pokemon taken care of, I could get ready for bed. I was tired after my long flight and a bit drained from confiding everything to my parents, but I wanted to email Jessie, James and Meowth. I'd promised I would email them when I got home and I always kept my promises.
I logged onto my email account, clicked on their address, and began to type....
Jessie, James and Meowth---
I wanted to let you know I made it back to Pallet Town safe and sound. The trip went fine, although the weather was cold (don't worry, Jessie -- I had plenty of clothes and Smaug helped keep me warm) and I even saw some snow. I spent last night in a town called Rosecrest and just made it back to Pallet this evening.
I miss you guys A LOT! I've been with you so much recently and it seems odd not to have you here to talk to and hang out with.
I talked everything over with Mom and Dad like I'd planned. It went well -- better than I could have imagined, actually. I knew they'd be understanding and supportive, and they were. But I also learned something cool about my dad. I found out one of his oldest and dearest friends is a former Team Rocket member. Remind me to tell you the whole story the next time I see you -- I think you'll really like it!
Mom and Dad said to tell you if you ever need help, we're here for you. I'm going to talk to Grandpa tomorrow. I think I'm also gonna see what I can do about Tracey. I'll let you know how it goes.
I'm going to sign off now. I'm pretty tired from my trip and I need some sleep.
I miss you guys!!
I logged off and shut down my computer. Careful not to wake Umbreon, I got into bed. I lay back and pulled the blankets up around me. It felt good to be sleeping in my own room, in my own bed.
It felt good to be home.
"Bree. Bree, breon."
I awoke to the feeling of Umbreon's cold nose nuzzling against my hand. I opened my eyes and watched the morning sun streaming through the opening in the blue curtains on my bedroom window. I scratched Umbreon behind the ears. "I guess you're ready for breakfast, aren't you?"
I got dressed and headed downstairs with Umbreon at my heels. Mom, Dad, and May were already awake and in the kitchen. Mom and May were cooking breakfast while Dad fed Blaze and Houndoom. Dad poured some poke-chow in a bowl for Umbreon, too, while I took the poke balls with Smaug, Rhydon and Pidgeot outside and fed the rest of my pokemon.
After breakfast (Mom had made one of my favorties: chocolate chip pancakes), I put my six pokemom back in their poke balls, put on my winter coat, and headed to Grandpa's.
It was a cold morning, but I didn't let it bother me and instead concentrated on enjoying a walk through the streets of my hometown. Though I had to supress a shudder when I passed the Ketchum house and could hear Delia's weird Mr. Mime screeching inside (her Mr. Mime had always given me the creeps).
As I continued on my way, I saw some of my other neighbors. Mr. Harris was filling his bird feeder with bird seed, the Davises were putting up their Christmas decorations, and Mrs. Martinez was walking her Growlithe. Everyone waved and said hello and asked how my pokemon journey was progressing. They also wanted to know how Grandpa was feeling -- it seemed word had gotten around town about how Ash had recently let his Bayleef attack Grandpa. Most of the people in town found Ash to be an annoyance (despite the fact Ketchum labored under the delusion he was some sort of hometown hero), and their opinions of him seemed to be rapidly sliding downhill!
When I reached Grandpa's place, I released my six pokemon so they could rejoin my other pokemon. I wathced as Rhydon went to meet Nidoqueen and Nidoking, while Pidgeot flew off in search of Dodrio. Umbreon, Blaze and Houndoom began chatting with Arbok, while Smaug swooped over the small lake where Gyarados and Kingler stayed.
It was noisy inside Grandpa's house. I scowled in distaste when I noticed why. Tracey was dead asleep on the couch, the TV blaring. Empty bags of pork rinds and other junk foods were scattered everywhere. What a pig! I thought as I stepped toward him. A half-empty bag of potato chips crunched beneath my feet. When I reached the coffee table, I pushed aside several empty Oreo bags and about a dozen beef jerky wrappers till I found the TV remote. This guy is gonna give himself a heart attack by the time he's twenty, I thought, as I turned off the TV. Tracey continued to snooze.
Relax while you can, Sketchit. I'll deal with you later.
I found Grandpa in his lab, working on one of the computers. When he heard me come in, he turned and smiled.
"Well, hello, Gary! When did you get home?" He stood and opened his arms.
I crossed the room to him and hugged him. "Late yesterday evening."
"Did you have a good time with your friends?"
"Yeah," I said. "I did."
"I got your email that you won one of the preliminary races in Exeter," Grandpa said.
I nodded. "I didn't win the big race, but I gave it a good try."
Grandpa smiled. "I know you always do your best. And I'm always very proud of you."
I returned his smile.
At length, I spoke again. "Can I talk to you for a while, Grandpa? Unless you're too busy, or..."
"I'm never too busy for you," Grandpa said as he shut off the computer. "Let's go to the kitchen and I'll make some tea...and we'll talk."
"Thank you for telling me this, Gary," Grandpa said.
I ran a finger along the rim of my teacup and looked up at him. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner."
"It's quite all right," he assured me.
I'd told him about Jessie, James and Meowth being in Team Rocket. "Thank you for being so understanding," I said.
Grandpa set down his teacup. "I always supported David in his friendship with Charlie and I'll support your friendship with Jessie, James and Meowth the same way. Besides, I've known my share of students at the university who were former Team Rocket agents, and I never held it against them. I'd never condemn your friends for the choices they've had to make to survive."
"Things are starting to turn around for them now," I said. "And I hope things will keep getting better and better."
Grandpa finished the last of his tea. "I'm certain they will. And I know your friendship will be a source of strength to them."
"And you tell those friends of yours I'll be willing to help them any way I can," Grandpa said. "And if they'd ever like to send some of their pokemon here to the lab, I'd be happy to take care of them."
"Thanks, Grandpa!" I said.
Grandpa leaned back in his chair. "So what are your plans for today?"
I took the two empty teacups and put them in the dishwasher. "I thought I'd spend the day helping you."
Grandpa's smile grew even wider. "Wonderful! I'll need to finish up that computer file I was working on, but after that we'll head out and check on all the pokemon."
"Take your time," I told him.
After he went back to the lab, I went back to the family room. Tracey was awake now, and sitting up on the couch. When he saw me, he made a face. "What are you doing here?"
I took a seat across from him. "I'm home for the holidays. I came by to help Grandpa today."
Tracey ran a hand through his greasy, black-green hair. "Whatever." He didn't like me, I didn't like him. Neither of us really tried to hide the fact.
I noticed his left hand was bandaged. I arched an eyebrow. "What happened to your hand?"
Tracey shrugged. "Professor Oak's been hassling me about my pokemon. He says I don't work with them enough. I try to tell him I'm really busy."
Right, I thought. Busy sitting on your fat butt watching TV.
"Anyway," Tracey went on, "he told me to start training my pokemon again. But they won't listen to me anymore! I tried to work with them and Venonat bit me! Then Scyther got all cranky and slashed up my lucky red shorts. I've, like, had those since I was in the Orange Islands." He shook his head sadly as if this were the tragedy of the century. "It was so bogus."
"Yeah, that's a real shame," I said sarcastically.
Tracey frowned. "You are such an asshole. Ya know, Ash had told me you were the biggest jerk on the planet, but I never knew how true that was till I started working for Professor Oak."
"What's so funny?" Tracey demanded.
I smirked. "You saying you work for Grandpa. I never see you doing any work."
Tracey opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, and closed it again.
"But I don't have time for this bullshit," I said. "I need to talk to you about a few things."
Tracey rolled his eyes. "Here we go again. Every time you come home, you walk in here all high and mighty and get on my case about some shit or other. You're so uptight!" He sighed. "So what is it this time?"
I stood up. "First off, I want you to treat my grandfather with respect. When he tells you to do something, you do it now. And you can stop calling him dude or hey, man."
I continued before he could interrupt further. "Second, you need to start doing some serious work around here. And here's a news flash: breaking equipment, ruining experiments and stuffing your face with pork rinds don't qualify as work."
Tracey stared down at the junk food wrappers and pretended to ignore me.
"Third, you need to leave May alone."
He looked up and grinned. "Dude, I can't help it if your sister's totally hot--"
Tracey yelped in pain as I slapped him. He put his hand to his cheek. "What was that for?!"
"What do you think it was for?!" I snapped.
Tracey stood up. "You don't have the right to talk to me like this!" he whined.
"The hell I don't," I said. "I'm defending my family, so that gives me the right!"
"Shut up, or I'll..." Tracey threatened.
"Or you'll what?" I asked evenly. "Bring out your Scyther and get him to give me a mohawk...or maybe slash me across the face?"
That shook him up. Tracey's face went pale. "How did... Who..."
"Jessie, James and Meowth told me," I said. "They're friends of mine."
Tracey snickered. "You're friends with Team Rocket? You've done it now, dude! I'm so gonna tell Professor Oak. You are so screwed now!"
I smirked again. "He already knows."
"You heard me," I said. "He knows. He doesn't have a problem with it." I leaned closer to Tracey and gave him a wicked grin. "But I have a problem with what you did to Jessie and James and Meowth. A big problem. You try and pull something like that again and I'll kick your fat ass from here to Houen."
I knew what Tracey was going to do next before he did it. He took a swing at me. But he was clumsy and slow and I grabbed his fist before his punch could connect.
"Leggo!" he screeched.
I released his hand and he stepped back. "You bastard!" he hissed.
Both of us turned. Neither of us had heard Grandpa come into the room.
"P-P-Professor Oak..." Tracey stammered.
"Explain yourself, Tracey," Grandpa said. He looked angrier than I'd ever seen him.
Tracey shuffled his feet amongst the junk food wrappers. "Well...see...I...uh..."
Grandpa folded his arms across his chest. "I'm waiting."
Knowing he was in deep and serious trouble, Tracey began babbling. "Gary started it and he's being a big jerk and he's friends with Team Rocket and he totally started it!"
Grandpa threw up his hands. "That's enough, Tracey. You're fired."
Tracey's jaw dropped. "What?!"
"You're fired," Grandpa repeated. "Pack your things and leave."
Tracey pointed at me. "It's all your fault!"
"It most certainly is not Gary's fault," Grandpa snapped. "You brought this on yourself."
"But..." Tracey began.
Grandpa silenced him. "I let you work here because I thought you genuinely wanted to work with pokemon. But you've done nothing of the sort. I've let you take advantage of my hospitality for far too long. You've slacked off during your entire stay here and bothered my granddaughter and now you have the nerve to threaten and insult my grandson. I've been more than patient with you, but my patience has run out."
"Whatever!" Tracey yelled. "I'm leaving! I'm sick of this place anyway! It's so lame here! There are lots of other places I can go and tons of other stuff I can do!"
"You can take your pokemon--" Grandpa began.
"I don't want 'em!" Tracey snapped. "They suck! You all can keep 'em. I don't give a rat's ass!"
"Grandpa..." I began as Tracey stormed upstairs.
Grandpa shook his head. "It's okay, Gary. This is for the best."
I knew what he said was true. I got the trash can and started cleaning up the junk food wrappers.
"I was planning to let him go after the holidays," Grandpa said. "His behavior has been worse than usual lately...so when I heard him call you that name..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I shouldn't have let him stay on as long as I did."
"It's okay, Grandpa," I said as I tossed away the last of the bags and wrappers. "You let him stay because you're a kind person. Don't fault yourself for that." I hugged him. "But he's leaving now, and you're right. It's for the best."
I didn't want to encounter Tracey again on his way out, so I excused myself from the room. I went to Grandpa's reading room.
Grandpa had a large main library, but he also had this smaller, auxilliary room. There were two large, comfortable leather chairs and a desk and several bookcases that housed the Golden Age science fiction books and pulps he'd collected as a boy. When I was little, I'd often sit in the room with him and look at the old books. And, just like today, my attention would be drawn to the three framed portraits on the walls.
The first was a painting of a young man about seventeen years old. His long, spiky dark blue hair was pulled back in a ponytail and his dark brown eyes seemed to gaze out at the observer with calm self-assurance. He was my great-great grandfather, Darren Oak, and the portrait had been painted around the time he'd won the Indigo League. He was dressed in black and gray, a gray cloak around his shoulders. There was a pokemon at his side. In form, it looked a bit like an Espeon, though its fur was pale blue. There was a crescent moon a darker shade of blue on its forehead; the tip of its tail was shaped like a crescent moon as well. It was a Luneon, a pokemon evolved from Eevee with the use of a Moon Stone. Luneons had been rare by the early twentieth century. Now they were unheard of.
The second portrait was a hand-tinted photo in an oval frame. The man in the photo was in his early twenties, and with his spiky auburn hair he bore an uncanny resemblance to me, though his eyes were hazel while mine were indigo. He was my great grandfather, Gary Powys Devon, the man I'd been named after. He was dressed in a suit and his arms were folded across his chest. He was leaning against the side of a black Packard. There was a bold glint in his eyes, a look that seemed to say he could take on any challenge. His lips were curved into a slight smile, which had always made the photo more intriguing to me. I'd seen so few photos from that era (the picture had been taken in 1924) where the subject was smiling.
The third portrait was a large photo of a beautiful woman. Her long, auburn hair fell to her waist and her eyes shone like polished amethyst. She wore a long, flowing gown of blue and a green and gold pendant: the same pendant I now wore.
I reached up to brush my fingers against my pendant. Grandma...
The picture had always made my heart ache. Vivien Oak had died before I was born. I'd wished I could have known her, and now, in my own way, I did. Since Jessie, James, Meowth and I had battled Ayesha of Yew, Grandma Vivien sometimes came to me in my dreams. Though I wished she were still alive, especially since I knew how desperately Grandpa missed her.
I heard the front door slam and a few moments later Grandpa entered the room. "He's gone," he said.
I gave Grandpa another hug.
He sighed. "Goodness knows I gave that boy plenty of chances to prove himself, but..."
"But he squandered all those chances," I pointed out. "He took advantage of your good nature, Grandpa. You shouldn't feel bad about letting him go."
"I don't," Grandpa said. "You know, just as you said your friends were making positive changes, so this was a change I needed to make." Then, he changed the subject. "You always liked this room."
"I still do," I said. I looked again at the three portraits. "I wish I could have known them all. And I wonder what they would have thought of me."
"They would have been crazy about you," Grandpa said. "And I see a bit of each of them in you." He looked at the portrait of Darren Oak. "I remember that Grandfather had the most amazing bond with his pokemon. It was almost supernatural. Sometimes it even seemed as if he knew what they were thinking." Grandpa put his hand on my shoulder. "And I see that in you, when you work with your pokemon."
He looked next at the picture of Gary Devon. "And I remember Vivien's father well." He laughed softly. "I understand he was a bit of a hell-raiser in the twenties -- though he'd mellowed by the time I knew him. He was one of the kindest people I ever knew, yet there was a boldness about him and he was fiercely protective of his family and friends." His brown eyes sparkled. "Vivien used to say, Daddy never took any shit from anyone." Grandpa laughed again. "Remind you of anyone?"
I laughed, too. "Yes."
Grandpa looked at Grandma's picture. "And you remind me so much of Vivien. Your spirit, the way you carry yourself. Your sensitivity and compassion..."
I felt tears welling up in my eyes. "That means a lot." I wiped my eyes. "I know one reason I always liked this room. It reminds me of where I came from. And also where I'm going and the kind of person I want to be."
"I'm proud of you, Gary," Grandpa said. "And I'll always be proud of you. And I know Grandfather Darren and Gary and Vivien are proud of you, too.
I hugged Grandpa again and when he pulled back, I noticed he was wiping tears from his eyes as well. "Well," he said, "I suppose we should get some work done."
"Sounds good to me," I said. "And, Grandpa, if you need any extra help with anything now that Tracey's gone, just ask. I've earned all my Johto League badges, so it's no problem for me to come home any time you need me."
Grandpa scratched his chin. "Well, there is one errand you can run for me."
"Do you remember Professor Maple?" he asked.
I did. "Sure." Professor Maple lived in Johto, but I'd met him a couple of times when he'd come to the lab to see Grandpa's research. Professor Maple specialized in studying grass type pokemon.
"He's doing a major study contrasting chlorophyll levels in grass types in Kanto and Johto," Grandpa explained. "I've been preparing some cellular samples for him from the grass types here and they should be ready by the middle of the month. I need someone to take them to him in Cedar Creek."
"I'll be happy to do it!" I said.
"Normally I would simply use the transporter," Grandpa said. "But the samples are very sensitive and there's always a tiny chance the transporter might alter the samples on a molecular level..." He glanced at me. "I hate to ask you to run an errand in the middle of your holiday vacation..."
"I don't mind at all!" I assured him. "I can take the samples to Cedar Creek on Smaug and it'll only take a couple of days."
"Thank you," Grandpa said. He put an arm around my shoulders as we walked outside. "Now let's go check on the pokemon. A trainer sent his Nidorino here the other day. The poor thing broke his horn during a battle and he's healing nicely, but we need to check on him again today. And another trainer's Lanturn is feeling under the weather, and..."
May nudged my shoulder. "Want to check out the front window of Rawley's Department Store?"
I grinned at her. "Sure!"
Grandpa and I had spent most of the day working with the pokemon at his lab (May had joined us about an hour after Tracey left). Afterwards, Mom and Dad wanted to take the three of us out to dinner in downtown Pallet. The meal was delicious (Pallet might have been a small town, but it had some excellent restaurants) and I'd greatly enjoyed having dinner with my family. While we ate and talked my thoughts kept turning to how lucky I was -- I had a wonderful family and wonderful friends.
After the meal, Grandpa had headed back to the lab, but Mom, Dad, May and I had decided to do some window shopping in downtown Pallet. Despite the fact it was early in the month, many of the stores already had their Christmas decorations up. As I looked at all the wreaths and trees and twinkling lights of green and red and white it was impossible not to feel the holiday spirit.
I couldn't help but smile as May and I stood in front of the front window of Rawley's. As long as I could remember, Mr. Rawley had decorated his front window for Christmas. He'd go all out, creating an elaborate display with antique tin and cast iron toys. Some of my earliest memories were of Dad holding me up to see the display of model trains and toy robots and cars and airplanes. Mr. Rawley had retired to the Seafoam Islands a few years ago, but his son continued the tradition.
"I loved this as a kid," May said. "I couldn't wait till Mr. Rawley put up his display. When I saw it, I knew Christmas really was on the way."
"Me, too," I said.
May winked at me. "I remember! Dad would lift you up and when you'd see all the toys your eyes would get so big!"
I chuckled. "Oh, yeah!" I continued to look at the display, watching the tiny tin trains (which really worked!) move around the tracks, past equally tiny, lighted cardboard towns and through a paper mache tunnel.
May tapped me on the shoulder. "Look."
I turned to see Mom and Dad standing just down the sidewalk from May and me. But they weren't paying any attention to the Christmas lights or the window displays or the shoppers who passed them. Dad had his arms around Mom's waist and she stood up on her toes to kiss him. When their lips parted, Mom reached up to brush back Dad's spiky hair.
"That's so sweet," May said.
"It sure is," I agreed, thinking how nice it was that my mom and dad were just as much in love now as they had been when they were teenagers.
Still smiling, May rubbed her gloved hands together. "Well, all this has gotten me in a holiday mood. Why don't you and I drive up to Viridian City tomorrow and do some Christmas shopping? We can make a day of it."
"That sounds great," I said. "I picked up a few presents while I was in Johto, but I need to do some more shopping. And I need to buy presents for Jessie and James and Meowth."
"You miss them a lot, don't you?" May asked.
"I do," I said. I looked at the Christmas lights strung over the doorways and windows of Main Street and wondered where Jessie, James and Meowth were at that moment.
"Things are going to get better and better for them," May assured me. "Just you wait and see."
I was certain she was right.
Mom and Dad joined May and me and we walked back to where the Land Rover was parked. As I walked down the streets of my hometown on a cool December night, I thought once again about the loyalties I had to my family and friends. I knew I could travel with my friends any time I liked -- and I always had Pallet Town to come home to. I found myself looking forward to moving home in the spring. The battles and badges and tournaments were fun, but my family and friends and home were more important.
Looks like it's time for me to make a change, too, I thought.
I'd finally gotten around to unpacking from my trip to Exeter. I'd taken out the presents I'd bought for my family and put them in one of the dresser drawers and had set my journal on my desk. Then I'd begun unpacking my clothes.
The blue shirt and jeans I'd worn as my main traveling clothes were covered with scorch marks from Pikachu's attack. I could try to clean them, but I had a feeling they were trashed. It wasn't much of a loss -- I had other pairs of jeans and, frankly, the shirt had begun to feel tight across my shoulders and chest.
I needed to switch to a new pair of boots, too. They hadn't been damaged by the Thundershock, but I'd nearly worn them out. They were beaten and scuffed. And they were rather tight now, too.
I tossed the shirt and jeans into the trash and put the boots in the closet. As I did, I looked up at my hooded gray cloak hanging inside. I ran my fingers over the soft cloth, remembering how Sela had given it to me just before I'd left for the Johto League. It had held up well, though the hem was a bit frayed from travel and it was beginning to be a little short on me. I won't get rid of it, though. Too many good memories attatched to this cloak...
So what should I wear for the last leg of my trainer journey? I pondered. I tried on a few different things, finally deciding on a black shirt and pants and the gray jacket and boots Mom and Dad had given me for my birthday.
I looped the cord of my pendant around my neck and checked myself out in the dresser mirror. But the round mirror was small -- I wanted to have a look in a full-length mirror. So I went across the hall to May's room.
The door was open, but I rapped on it anyway. May was putting away some books in her bookcase and she smiled when she saw me. "C'mon in, Gary." She noticed my outfit. "New traveling clothes?"
I nodded. "What do you think?"
"I like," she said as I moved to the mirror. May had an old Victorian full-length mirror that had belonged to Grandma Vivien. May came to stand beside me. "You're nearly as tall as me now," she said.
"Yeah," I said. I'd had a bit of a growth spurt lately. I briefly wondered how tall I'd be when I finished growing. Dad was really tall -- almost six feet, but I figured I'd probably end up being 5'8" or 5'9".
May sat down on the edge of the bed. "Grandpa told me about what happened with Tracey. I'm glad he's gone. He was a complete pig." She shook her head. "I can't believe he called you a bastard in front of Grandpa."
I adjusted the collar of my jacket. "Grandpa was furious. He's the nicest, kindest, most patient man you could ever know -- but even he has limits!"
May grinned. "Especially when it comes to his grandkids!"
"That's right," I agreed. "God only knows where Tracey will end up. He didn't even take his pokemon with him." I smoothed the front of my jacket. "That Scyther of Tracey's is pretty erratic, so Grandpa said he's gonna send it to Professor Ivy to be released back into the wild in the Orange Islands. But Marill and Venonat should be okay at the lab."
May covered her mouth and snickered.
I arched an eyebrow, intrigued. "What's so funny?"
May's eyes sparkled with amusement. "When you mentioned Marill it made me remember a funny story I need to tell you."
Now I was even more intrigued.
May began. "About a month ago, four students from Celadon University were planning to stop by the lab to observe Grandpa at work. Tracey found out that three of the students were girls, so..."
I chuckled. "So he figured this would be a great chance to hit on them."
"Right," May said. "He kept watching out the window, waiting for them to arrive. And when they did arrive, he took off downstairs."
"I bet that was the fastest his fat ass had moved for years!" I observed.
May nodded. "No doubt. Tracey had a plan that he'd use one of his pokemon to impress the girls. He brought out Marill. But Tracey has barely worked with his pokemon the whole time he's been here, and Marill got all confused and used his Water Gun on Tracey. It hit him right in the crotch."
I broke out laughing.
"Tracey put Marill back in his poke ball," May said. "Then the students walked in. The whole time they were at the lab they kept giving Tracey these disgusted looks. I know they thought he'd pissed his pants."
I was now laughing so hard I could barely stand. "Oh my god! I'm sorry I missed that!"
May laughed, too. "I know." She shook her head. "I won't miss Tracey. And I know Grandpa and I will have a lot less work now that he's gone."
"That's for sure," I said. I stepped away from the mirror and noticed some white cloth on May's desk. "What's this?"
She smiled. "A costume I'm working on. The Lord of the Rings movie is coming out later this month and I'm going to go see it in Celadon City with some friends from university. We're all planning to dress up, and I'm going as Galadriel."
"Oh, that's so cool!" I told her. "I'll probably be in Johto running that errand for Grandpa when the movie comes out, but I can catch it there."
"Want me to make a costume for you?"
I turned to her. "Really?"
"That'd be great!"
May looked thoughtful. "Who should you be... Frodo maybe?"
I liked that idea. "Yeah!"
May seemed pleased at my enthusiasm. "You'll make a great Frodo. I'll download some screenshots tonight to get some ideas. And we can buy some material tomorrow in Viridian City."
I was so touched by her offer. "Thanks, May. You're the best."
"So are you, Gary," she said. "So are you."
Back in my room, I turned on my laptop to check my email. Much to my delight, there was an email from Jessie, James and Meowth. They were happy I'd made it home safely and that my talk with Mom and Dad had gone so well. And they missed me a lot, too. They'd written to tell me that they were now back in Kanto too, and that they'd spent all day in a meeting with their boss. A lot of strange things had been going on behind their backs at Team Rocket Headquarters, but they'd managed to get everything straightened out. They promised to tell me all about it the next time they saw me.
I hit the reply button and began typing:
Jessie, James and Meowth--
Thanks for the email. I'm so happy to hear from you. And I still miss you guys, too.
Sounds like you've been busy since I left. I can imagine you and your boss had a devil of a time sorting out all of those problems, but I'm glad that you did get everything worked out. I look forward to hearing more about it.
I talked to Grandpa today -- and he was supportive and understanding just like Mom and Dad. He said to tell you all if you ever need anything (or if you ever want to let some of your pokemon stay here at the lab), to let him know and he'll help any way he can.
Something else cool happened, too. Grandpa fired Tracey. After I confronted Tracey about the shit he's been pulling and how he's been taking advantage of Grandpa, he made a complete asshole of himself. He took a swing at me (don't worry -- I blocked the blow. Tracey's such a pansy) and called me a bastard...and Grandpa overheard him. That was more than enough for Grandpa and he fired Tracey on the spot and told him to hit the road! I wish you could have been there! I'll tell you all the details the next time I can call or see you.
Needless to say, I'm really glad he's gone. Now he can't screw things up at the lab and take advantage of Grandpa's kindness and bother May. And whenever you guys come to visit me, you won't risk running into him. Good riddance!
I'm going to sign off soon. May and I are going Christmas shopping in Viridian City tomorrow and we want to get an early start. I hope you three have a great Christmas (don't worry -- you'll get more emails from me before then and maybe I'll try to call, too).
I wanted to thank you again for everything you've done for me. You're the best friends I ever had -- and don't you forget it!
I hope I get to see you soon.
I miss you...
I logged off and shut down my computer. I changed into my pajamas and got into bed. I reached down and ran my hand over Umbreon's soft fur. "G'night, Umby."
"Bree," he murmured sleepily.
I was tired, too...and it didn't take long for me to fall asleep.
I opened my eyes. I knew immediately I was dreaming. I could feel the warmth of the sun, the soft ground beneath me, a gentle breeze blowing through my hair. A sense of peace filled every fiber of my being. I smiled and rolled over onto my back, looking up at the flawless blue sky.
At length, I sat up. I was dressed in an outfit similar to the one from the previous dreams, though this one was all of indigo. I ran a hand down the front of my tunic and looked at my surroundings.
I was sitting in the middle of a lush green meadow. I could hear the wind blowing through the tall grass. I could hear a creek flowing somewhere in the distance, too. As I turned, I noticed a small copse of oak trees not far away. Someone was standing there.
I knew who it was and I stood and ran to her. The woman in the long, blue gown opened her arms and I let her fold me into her embrace. "Grandma," I whispered.
"Hello, sunshine," she said.
"I'd hoped I could see you soon."
She tilted my chin up. "And I sensed you needed to talk to me."
"It's always so wonderful to see you," I said.
She reached up to brush the hair out of my eyes. "And I cherish every chance I get to see you." She smiled gently. "You're growing up so fast."
I returned her smile.
She sat down on the moss beneath the trees and I sat beside her. "I wanted to talk to you about those dreams I had," I said. "About Jessie, James and Meowth and the castle and Ash..."
Grandma nodded. "I know about those dreams."
I looked down. "I know they were about my fear of losing Jessie, James and Meowth's friendship somehow. And I know they were a warning about Ash. A warning I didn't heed."
Grandma touched my cheek. "Even the wisest of us can't heed every warning, sweetheart. Don't condemn yourself."
I looked up into her amethyst colored eyes.
"It pains me that Ash hurt you," Grandma continued. "I would have stopped it, had it been in my power. But know this -- he'll never hurt you like that again."
I found myself smiling once more. "Jessie, James and Meowth promised me that, too."
"You know, there was a test for you in what happened, too," Grandma said.
She explained. "During what happened with Ash you could have kept yourself out of trouble and harm by pretending you didn't know Jessie and James and Meowth. You could have even battled them alongside Ash. They would have forgiven you, knowing the circumstances you were in..."
"But I never would have forgiven myself," I said.
Grandma nodded. "It would have weighed upon your mind and heart for the rest of your life." She caressed my cheek. "Because of that, and because of the purity of your heart and soul, you did the right thing. You defended your friends and acknowledged them and accepted whatever came from that decision."
I loved the feel of her gentle hand on my skin. "So I guess I passed the test."
"With flying colors," she said.
"I know the experience wasn't a pleasant one...or an easy one," Grandma said, "But there is wisdom to be gained from it."
I knew that was true. "It gave me the courage to tell Mom and Dad the whole story about Jessie, James and Meowth. I learned how deep my friendship with the three of them is. And I learned I'm not going to lose their friendship. I don't fear that anymore. What happened took my fear away."
Grandma took my hand and squeezed it. "Jessie, James and Meowth's friendship is yours. It always has been and it always will be."
"That's what James told me," I said.
Grandma nodded. "And James is very, very wise. And he's correct. You'll have your friendship with Jessie, James and Meowth the rest of your life -- and beyond."
I looked at her. "What does that--"
She lifted a finger to silence me. "You'll find out some day, sunshine. Be patient. And till then, know this: Just as I am friends with Rose and Jim Morgan and just as Samuel and your mother and father once met Jessie's parents, so your friendship with Jessie and James and Meowth was meant to be. Your heart and your fate and your soul are tied to theirs -- and they always will be."
"Thank you, Grandma," I whispered. "Grandma?"
"Will Jessie, James and Meowth get that bright future they're dreaming of?"
"Of course," Grandma said. "And so will you."
I hugged her again and gazed once more into her amethyst eyes. "I love being able to talk to you in my dreams. But sometimes I wish..."
"I know," she said softly. "I wish that, too. I wish I could have been with you throughout your life, Gary. That I could have held you in my arms when you were a baby and told you stories when you were a little boy and been waiting for you when you came home from your journeys." She smoothed back my hair. "I would have spoiled you rotten, you know."
"I know," I said, and I smiled, though tears were now streaming down my face.
Grandma put her arms around me and held me tightly. "It's okay, sunshine," she soothed. "I'll always be with you...and I'll always love you."
"I love you, too, Grandma," I said. "I love you so much."
I awoke to the darkness of my room. I reached up to touch my face. It was wet. I'd been crying in my sleep just as I had been in the dream.
I sat up, feeling the wistfulness I always felt when a dream about my grandmother ended. Yet I was happy I could see her in dreams and I cherished the moments I could spend with her.
As I sat in my bed, I took comfort in the security of being home. I knew May was asleep in the room across from mine, Mom and Dad in their bedroom downstairs. Grandpa was asleep at his own house. Umbreon was asleep at the foot of my bed and the rest of my pokemon were asleep and safe, too.
I got up and moved to the window, looking out at the night sky. And I thought about Jessie, James and Meowth -- my best friends. Perhaps they were asleep, Jessie and James in each other's arms, Meowth all curled up in a ball. Or maybe they were awake like me, and looking up at the same stars I gazed at now.
I thought about Grandma's words: that my heart and soul and fate were tied with Jessie, James and Meowth, that it always had been that way and always would be.
From the moment I'd met Jessie, James and Meowth my life had changed -- for the better. I'd given them my friendship and loyalty and they'd given me theirs.
"You'll get that bright future, that white tomorrow you deserve," I whispered to the night sky. "And I'll be right there with you."
I turned and got back into bed. Maybe I'd have another dream about Grandma. Or maybe...just maybe...I'd have a dream about my friends, Jessie and James and Meowth...and the bright tomorrow we were all going to share.
This fic has been a long time in the making!
Just under a year ago, I wrote a story called More Than Allies. Cori and I had wanted to have Gary become friends with Team Rocket in our stories, so I wrote More Than Allies to explain how that friendship came about. Cori loved the story and I was pleased with it, too -- and we both loved the idea of Gary being friends with Jessie, James and Meowth. I was delighted when Cori let me incorporate the story into her timeline and started using Gary quite often in her own stories.
A couple of months after I wrote More Than Allies, I found out online that Gary would be making an appearance in an upcoming Johto League episode: an episode about a pokemon race. Gary's appearances are few and far between, so this was welcome news.
However, after I read the episode synopsis, any excitement I might have felt at seeing Gary again vanished. I learned that in the episode Team Rocket would attempt to steal Gary's Arcanine -- and even worse, near the end of the episode, Gary blasts them off! I felt like I had a potential disaster on my hands. I'd worked hard to establish that Gary was Jessie, James and Meowth's friend now, and here was an episode that could undermine and destroy that whole idea!
I talked things over with Cori, and we decided I'd write a WYDS of the episode. I struggled and struggled and finally came up with a plot to explain Team Rocket's theft of Arcanine, the blast-off, etc. But there was a problem. Even though the plot "worked," I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all!
As the Johto League dragged on, Cori and I became more and more disillusioned at what was going on on the anime series. We finally decided to break off from series canon and write stories in our own timeline, stories whose plots often diverged dramatically from what was happening on the show -- or which scrapped the show's plotlines altogether. It was a wise descision, and now I was free to write not a WYDS of "Extreme Pokemon," but a WRH. I was free to write a story that used a few of the elements from the episode, but which eliminated all the things I'd disliked (particularly the blast-off). In other words, a story where I could remain true to the characterization I'd established for Gary and his friendship with Jessie, James and Meowth.
The story you just read was the result. You'll notice it doesn't bear much resemblance to "Extreme Pokemon." In fact, it has very little to do with the pokemon race. It's more about Gary's growing friendship with Jessie, James and Meowth.
I also changed many things to make the story work logically within my timeline. For instance, I eliminated the whole messy business of mammalian pokemon hatching from eggs. I know all pokemon hatch from eggs in the game and on the anime, but not in Cori's stories and my own, folks. I'm also aware that by the end of the Johto League, Ash reconciles with Gary on the anime. This does not occur in my stories. Not due to any flaw with Gary, but simply because Ash is a shithead and doesn't deserve Gary's friendship. In my stories (and Cori's), Gary's loyalties lie with Jessie, James and Meowth. Which is what this story is all about.
In case anyone is curious, the Luneon mentioned near the end of the story is one of several Eevee-lutions I created in protest to the fact there were no new evolutions for Eevee in the Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire games.
In closing, I have to thank Cori yet again. Her help and constant support helped me to focus, especially during the times when I was dubious about getting this story written. She also assisted with lots of technical support -- everything from names of towns to suggestions for what the characters would order in restaurants to the idea for what Gary would get Jessie for her birthday. And she once again allowed me to refer to events in her fics such as New Directions, Where Angels Dare to Tread, Never Too Late, The Fellowship of the Rocket and Their Fu King Adventure, and others. And, best of all, she gave me the very great honor of having Loyalties be the second part of her trilogy about Jessie, James and Meowth and the new and better directions their lives are about to take.
Cori, I know I say it all the time, but this time it's even more true: I couldn't have done it without ya. This one, like all the others, is for you. *hugs*
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